November is the time of the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. Both of these feasts are important in the Church's liturgical calendar, and each is rich in its revelation of divine truth and of the human condition.
It is easy to see these feasts in a rather grandly sweeping, impersonal sense, considering ''all the saints,'' those unnamed multitudes of martyrs, confessors, and virgins to whom we attribute almost superhuman qualities and ''all the souls,'' without any individual identity.
When I write in this vein, and when I think of the Last Things, my thoughts so often reach back across the years to my early days in the priesthood.
I had not been ordained long when I heard of a young man, 18 years old, in the parish. I shall never forget him, a high school football star who had been accepted by a major university to play football and who had been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of bone cancer. Doctors had amputated his leg.
Joe went home after that surgery, but not for long. One morning only a month later his father called me to say that with the speed of lightning the disease had reached Joe's lungs. He was back in the hospital. They had drained fluid from his chest, but it was only a stopgap. Death was inevitable, and it would come soon.
I went to the hospital at once, with the oils and the Blessed Sacrament.
When I entered the room, I could hardly believe that I was in the presence of someone dying. Joe was sitting upright in bed, although I learned that this was more in an effort to breathe than it was a sign of vitality. He was watching television.
His voice was strong, however, and his actions sure, as he turned off the television, welcomed me and asked me to hear his confession.
Even though I was a priest with little priestly experience, I already had reached that stage of being a confessor when I could sense genuine sincerity. Joe was humble, with that wonderful humility of knowing himself, his limitations and his absolute confidence in God's mercy.
I heard his confession, anointed him and gave him Holy Viaticum. Then, I sat beside him and talked. This began the events that I shall never forget. He gave me a full clinical description of his case. ''Father, I will live only a few more days. I am afraid,'' he said. I told him that it was natural to be afraid under such circumstances.
Then, he began to tell me of how real God was for him. It was not grasping for a straw at a desperate moment. He meant it. The Sacraments were important because they brought him to God, and God to him. I knew that day that I had met not just an adult but a mature Christian and a wise man.
That night I went back to see him. We talked again. By God's grace, maybe I helped him. I devoutly hoped so. I know this much: he helped me.
The next morning was Friday. I took him Communion. We talked again. All this was in Knoxville, Tenn., where the main campus is of the University of Tennessee. On Saturday, the Tennessee football team, for which Joe had been destined, was playing Alabama. The Tennessee-Alabama rivalry has been a big game every year, I suppose, for almost a century. Joe was excited about the game.
That year, it was even more a contest. Both teams were being discussed as national football champions.
Early the next morning, I was back at the hospital. Joe did not know me. He never knew, at least in ways we understand, that his team beat Alabama that afternoon.
Around midnight, he went to God. I always pray to him, as well as for him, on All Souls' Day. I ask him to pray for me, and especially to pray for me when the time comes, with God's mercy, for me to join him in the house of the Father. I pray that such strong faith will sustain me.
I have taken the liberty of recalling this event not just because it was so personally important for me, but with the suggestion that we priests, as we preach on these great days of the Church, consider making our message a story of personal faith.
Maybe we shall speak of more simple good Catholics, the unsung heroes and heroines of God, like Joe. God has blessed all of us priests by taking us to so many of the holy as they approach the threshold of heaven. Each one of us can tell a story similar.
Or, we can speak of the many others on that wondrous list of the men and women who gloriously have lived with God, and who died with God, and whom the Church venerates as saints. And, before and after we priests preach, I hope that we shall remember that one day, with God's help, we shall be among All the Souls, consoled that one day we shall be among All the Saints. We have our own souls to save, we must never forget.
''Saints of God, pray for us!''
''May the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.''
''Our hearts, Lord, are restless until they rest in you.''
''Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him.''
''I am with you always, even until the end of time.''
''My Jesus, mercy!''
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We are happy to introduce a new columnist, Father Patrick M. Carrion, ordained in 1982 for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, after studying at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore. At present, he administers three parishes in Maryland and is the Baltimore archdiocese's Director of Deacon Formation.
We note that he is from the more junior clergy, or less senior clergy, and has responsibility for Permanent Deacons. He can speak to younger priests and to deacons.
I like his columns, and I am sure that readers also will like them.
Father Carrion succeeds Msgr. Bill Belford, our columnist for some years. As noted, Msgr. Belford's position as chancellor in New York leaves him with little time for other things. We wish him God's blessings as we repeat our sincere thanks to him for many (118) excellent columns in the past. TP