Excerpts from a November 2, 2017 letter to our friars
by our Minister Provincial, the Very Reverend Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv.:
Peace and Good!
The 2nd of November in Latin American culture evokes a very different tone than the American Northeast. “All Souls Day” is commemorated … (as) … El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) and honors loved ones who have died, with carnivalesque festivals and lively celebrations. On El Día de los Muertos, instead of being morbid, all of the dancing calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls) celebrate the lives of the deceased, through merrymaking with food and drink, and by limning the human activities in which their departed loved ones found pleasure. …
During his Fraternal-Apostolic Placement (2015-2016) at Archbishop Curley High School (Baltimore, MD), our own Friar Max Avila Pacheco, OFM Conv. (Honduran Roots) taught all of his classes about the exhuberant “El Día de los Muertos.” He showed the Curley lads that the “Day of the Dead” combines Aztec ritual with Catholicism. Thoughtfully, he taught his students to understand the celebration as catechesis about life – an honest recognition that death is a normal and natural part of the human experience – on a continuum with birth – an Omega bookend balancing life’s Alpha.
Indeed, the cultural experience of the “Day of the Dead” has profoundly meaningful religious undertones. According to the El Día de los Muertos tradition, the Christian dead would nearly feel insulted by a spectacle of mourning and sadness. Better a joyful shout unto the Lord! The joyous aspect of the dancing skeletons bespeaks how happy are the disembodied souls in heaven of all those faithful departed who await the final Resurrection of their bodies and fullness of life in the world to come.
The great period of the “Franciscan Fast” begins each year during the celebration of the “Day of the Dead.” How appropriate this is! Our Seraphic Father in the Rule exhorted his Friars to fast from the Feast of All Saints to the Nativity of the Lord. Fasting friars are not to be glum like hypocrites, but buoyant like the iconic images of El Día de los Muertos. Sister Death, for Francis, is gentle and joyful – not a martinet called “Sergeant Death.” A seraphic perspective on our human condition breeds joyful hope. I pray that, throughout the next few weeks of mortification, our common observance of the Franciscan Fast will actually foster a tone of pious merriment in our friaries and among our brethren. Life in general may have its briars and thorns, but Franciscan life re-focuses the heart on the roses which surmount those briars.
May we support one another during this Franciscan Advent, and collectively raise a joyful sound unto the Lord.