The annual Commemoration of the Faithful Departed is always something of a melancholy day, marked as it is by both grieving for our beloved dead and hope in the promise of the resurrection. With its joy and sadness, All Souls' Day is one of my favorite days of the year.
I have not visited Calvary Cemetery where so many members of my family - including my parents - are buried back home in Quincy on All Souls' Day in many years, but at least that possibility existed and I have always been able to visit their graves within a few days of All Souls' Day. Now, of course, that possibility does not exist, which adds a particular sadness to this day.
Even so, I awoke this morning with a curious desire to do something, though I had no real idea what it was that I wanted to do. Wishing in the end to avoid the crowds, I decided to take a rather long walk along the famous Via Appia, leading south out of the capital city:
As I made my way along this most ancient of the imperial roads, I could not help but wonder how many hundreds of thousands of people had passed by this way before me. I wondered, too, about the many people entombed along this road and what grief filled their families when their graves were pillaged and ransacked by various invading armies. These thoughts seemed fitting on this day when Holy Mother Church prays for "us who are alive, [that] God may grant pardon for our sins, and to all the dead, a place of light and peace."
The Via Appia provides a charming and peaceful walk for many miles away from the burgeoning crowds in the city. The road is used today by pedestrians, bicycles, cars, and even horses:
Most of the tombs, as I mentioned, were destroyed centuries ago, but here and there something of the mausolea can still be seen here and there:
Despite all of this beauty, what caught my attention was something small, simple, and generally something people do not like:
Yes, I found myself delighting in dandelions because they brought back many happy memories from childhood and at the same time provided a meditation on death (it's been a long time since I last saw one).
"All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field," says the prophet Isaiah. "The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people is grass. The grass withers and the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever" (Isaiah 40:6-8). The Prince of the Apostles - who encountered the Risen Lord on the Via Appia - tells us "that word is the good news which was preached to you" (I Peter 1:25).
This good news includes these words of Jesus: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you,even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith" (Matthew 6:28-30).
God clothes even the humble dandelion in a bright yellow flower before its seeds are simply blown away by the wind. What is more, those who have been baptized into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus "have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27). Yes, he clothes us in himself and so we have confidence that "the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them" (Wisdom 3:1).
But more than this, the dandelion reminds us that "my life is a breath" and that "my days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle," that "they are soon gone, and we fly away" (Job 7:7, 6; Psalm 90:10). For this reason, we must pray to learn "to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" so that we might "dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come" (Psalm 90:12; 23:6).
Yes, we can delight in the simplicity, the brightness, and even - for lack of a better word - the fluffiness of the dandelion, even as learn from it.