All Souls Day is almost by definition an otherworldly day.
It embraces all the people who have ever lived and died on our earth, and invites us to pray that they may continue to live happily in God’s unimaginable world. It is a time for remembering the gift of people who are no longer present with us.
All Souls Day is also a deeply political day.
Not political in the sense that the votes of those who have died count, at least not in Australia. (In some nations dead souls have both voted and received pensions.) The Day is political in the broader sense that it displays the principles on which good politics is built. It offers a measure for our own political institutions and behaviour.
All Souls Day tells us that all people matter, whether living or dead, young or old, rich or poor, powerful or weak, citizen or refugee, careful or reckless, saint or sinner. Each person is deeply loved and is precious in God’s sight.
Each has a personal calling and a destiny beyond this life.
That destiny puts all our political arrangements into perspective. Governments and politicians must respect the human dignity of each of the people they represent. They may not limit people’s value to their wealth, status, intelligence or contribution to the wealth of society.
Furthermore, if people’s lives are not confined to this world, governments do not have the last word about how they treat them. They are to be judged by enduring standards and by a moral order that embraces living and dead.
All Souls Day emphasises that citizens are not simply individuals making competitive economic choices. The dead and the living are bound together by a shared humanity and a common destiny. Our abiding memory of those who have died stresses the importance of relationships for human flourishing.
For that reason we speak of the communion of saints. God’s people embrace the dead, the living and those who will live. In this world we depend on one another and reach our full potential only in relationships and in communities. Governments then need to look to the common good, and to govern for the good of each human person.
In reminding us of the dignity of each human being who has lived, All Souls Day inevitably first calls to our minds the dead whom we have known. It then draws us further to see the millions whom we have not known and especially those who lived in misery and died alone.
We believe that the injustices they suffered when alive do not follow them in their life with God. But we are also ashamed that our society has neglected the most vulnerable of our people.
All Souls Day then underpins our desire for a more just world and our determination to help shape a world in which the resources of all are made use of for the benefit of all, particularly of the vulnerable. Those who have died live beyond the reach of our political arrangements, but they provide a mirror for us to judge how we organise our world.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.