Homily, 11/1/20: All Saints Day
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
I want to share with you a certain letter that I received many years ago. This [gesturing to the envelope] is that exact letter. But before I read it, there’s a context to the letter. I actually rediscovered it, after not remembering it at all. This was when I was still a priest in the mainland, after I had already received permission to return home to Hawaii. Allow me to take you back to that moment.
On a certain morning, out of the blue, I felt somewhat compelled to sort through an old box of letters and cards, that I almost had forgotten I had. I didn’t overthink that feeling. I chalked it up to my wanting to simplify my possessions before returning home.
Going through that box, I eventually came across this letter. It gave me pause; because I recognized the envelope. It was a parish envelope, from the very church to which I was assigned at that time.
Immediately, I looked at the date that was post-marked on the envelope, and I saw that it had been sent on to me from that church on March 10th, 2008; seven years prior to that rediscovery. I thought back, and wondered where I was seven years ago from that moment.
Seven years ago, on that date, I had been a seminarian studying in Rome, Italy, and I had just recently celebrated my 31st birthday. I wouldn’t come to know for another four years that I would eventually be assigned to that same exact parish.
It amazed me that I still had this letter. You see, over the course of many years, seminarians can receive hundreds of letters and cards of support, from people whom they will never meet, and most are discarded over time. Somehow, in God’s plan, I still had that letter.
When I opened it, I saw that there was a picture of me from my seminary years taped onto the page. The letter is written in a child’s handwriting, which included a few spelling and grammatical errors.
The letter reads:
Dear Rheo Ofalsa,
I am in 3rd grade in school. I go to elementary Liberty School. I have adopted you and will always pray for you. Do you know the “Hail Mary”? I do.
Only her first name was written on the letter. At that time, I had thought to myself: if this child was in the 3rd grade in 2008, then she would have been about nine years old at the time; and probably about sixteen years old today (thinking back).
So, I wondered if I had seen this girl again in the parish. She had a Hispanic first name, and I did many of the Quinceañera Masses at that parish. We also had an active Hispanic youth group for girls, led by one of our religious sisters. Others assisted in our Catechism program. Her first name did seem vaguely familiar to me, after all.
When my secretary saw the envelope, she recognized her own handwriting immediately. From other markings, she knew that the letter came from our 3rd grade class in 2008. After looking at the roster for that year, she found the girl’s full name on the list of students.
When I heard Graciela’s full name, I felt that I had encountered this girl before, somewhere. Almost instinctively, I went back to my office, and opened the top drawer of my desk. I pulled out another small sheet of paper [gesturing to another sheet of paper]. On it, was the girl’s name and picture. Yes, as it turned out, I had seen this girl again. This smaller notice reads:
Graciela. Born: November 15th, 1998~Los Angeles, California; Died: December 2nd, 2014~Omaha, Nebraska.
In the previous December, a sixteen-year-old girl had died after suddenly fainting while on a school bus. This small sheet of paper, which I had forgotten in a desk drawer, was a notice for Graciela’s funeral and burial arrangements. Seven years after receiving her childhood letter, I would see this girl again, but we would never actually speak with one another, face to face.
I remember when I had first heard news of Graciela’s death. I was in a regular monthly meeting with other priests in our area, and one of the priests had mentioned hearing about this girl in the news. We were all wondering which Church she belonged to, and who might have the funeral.
As it turns out, as a child, she had received her first communion at the Church to which I was currently assigned, at the time. In the end, I was the priest who had been called upon to celebrate her funeral and to bury her.
When she was a child, this little girl had prayed for me, before we had ever met. Without knowing it, she had been praying for the very priest who would one day lay her body to rest.
Of course, I don’t believe in coincidences. God has dominion over all things. This letter had been postmarked: March 10th; I was looking at this letter on March 11th. It was as if time had stood still, and I was receiving that letter the day after it was sent; one day and seven years.
Seven years after writing her letter, Graciela’s words had finally reached my heart: I have adopted you, and I will always pray for you…
To this day, I believe that she continues to pray and intercede for me, as I pray for her. On the envelope, after rediscovering the gift of this person, I wrote: 11 March 2015: I found this letter again, and discovered that I celebrated the funeral mass for her. Perhaps this day, she is released from purgatory, and enjoys the vision of God.
The next day, I celebrated the Holy Mass for this beloved daughter of the Church. And, of course, I prayed a Hail Mary for her (the rosary).
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints; not just the familiar saints whose names we know, and are listed on the Universal Calendar; but all saints. And we hope that among them are our own Gracielas: our fellow parishioners, neighbors, friends, and family; who have died, but whom we pray now live in Christ.
We never truly comprehend how all of our lives are intertwined, especially in matters of the Spirit. But at the Resurrection on the Last Day, we will be able to look back, upon the entire course of human history, and see how the fabric of all of our existences, have been woven together into one beautiful tapestry, portraying the magnificent story of our salvation.
In this mass, as in every mass, we truly are one with the angels and saints in heaven. And their message to each one of us, is the same as a certain little girl’s:
"I have adopted you, and I will always pray for you."
Gethsemane by Carl Bloch 1834 -1890 [from Wikipedia]