Wednesday, November 02, 2005

All Soul's Day and Bishop Skylstad

My daughter McKenna and I enjoyed a remarkable cultural experience this evening. We visited Holy Cross Cemetery in North Spokane in observance of All Soul’s Day.

All Soul's Day is a Roman Catholic day of remembrance for friends and loved ones who have passed away. This comes from the ancient Pagan Festival of the Dead, which celebrated the Pagan belief that the souls of the dead would return for a meal with the family. Candles in the window would guide the souls back home, and another place was set at the table.

Holy Cross Cemetery observes the day by setting lighted candles on many of the graves, making the grounds look like a sea of colored lights against a background of black. McKenna and I stopped to take pictures of the candles and then noticed a Catholic service in progress. McKenna said, “Daddy, I want to go in to see what they’re doing.”

I always enjoy observing religious ceremonies from a wide variety of faith traditions, so I naturally agreed. As we entered the sanctuary, a choir was singing the most heavenly music I’ve heard in a long time and the priest was blessing the Eucharist. The congregation moved slowly toward the altar to partake of the bread and wine. I felt the Holy Spirit in that moment impelling me to join the worshipers. I did not intend to receive communion. I only wished to join the procession, but when I reached the altar, I found myself standing face to face with Bishop William Skylstad of the Spokane Diocese. He held the host before me and said, “The Body of Christ unto you…” I couldn’t refuse. Then he made the sign of the cross over my daughter and said, “I bless you my child in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

I took the wine from a woman standing near the bishop.

I’m not sure I was “supposed” to receive communion, but I was baptized when I was a baby, and I did feel compelled by the Spirit. Afterwards, I felt a surge of happiness in my body. I think it must have been the right thing to do in that moment.

As we left the chapel, my daughter McKenna said, “That was so fun, daddy. It was very interesting. I like to visit other churches because they do things different than we do and it’s good to see different ways of praying.” These are wise words from an eight year old child!

As I reflect on this experience, I’m impressed with the spontaneity of this event. We didn’t plan it, but simply followed the flow as the events unfolded before us. I couldn’t help think there was some significance to receiving communion from Bishop Skylstad. He’s the President of the American Conference of Catholic Bishops, and while he had some involvement in the recent sexual abuse scandals in this country, he recently gained my respect when he stood up for gay priests and seminarians. The Roman Catholic Church was contemplating an outright ban on gay priests, but Bishop Skylstad said:

“There are many wonderful and excellent priests in the Church who have a gay orientation, and are chaste and celibate, and are very effective ministers of the Gospel. Witch hunts and gay bashing have no place in the Church.”

Whatever the case, I felt some deeper meaning to our simple observance of All Soul's Day.

No comments: