The beginning of November brings the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, along with ancient beliefs and practices that pre-date Christianity. So there’s a bowl of what looks like eyes on my dining room sideboard – suitably scary lollies for any trick-or-treaters who might venture up our side street this Halloween. IMG_2228

Even though it comes dressed up as skeletons, witches and monsters, Halloween sounds a lot more fun than the All Souls Day of my childhood, a day when we were encouraged to pray for the souls in Purgatory.

Purgatory is a specifically Roman Catholic belief as a place where one is readied for heaven. The word has links to the unpleasant process of purging – getting rid of something or someone in a violent way. It sounds more like something dreamed up by some long-ago church dignitary who thought that God was being seen as a bit soft on sinners, especially those who might have died in unexpectedly un-holy circumstances.

It doesn’t sound like the God that Jesus talked about, the God who knows we sin, but loves us unconditionally all the same. I wonder if the moment a person dies they realise how far short they’ve fallen of living up to the expectations that God had gifted them with. Maybe that’s their moment of Purgatory – shame, sorrow, love and forgiveness, all mixed up in God’s welcoming embrace.

Some years ago I lived in a one pub/ one shop/ two churches little town. Every year the catholic community gathered in the local cemetery to tidy the graves, light candles and talk about the friends and family buried there. I didn’t join them because I didn’t feel that I belonged in quite the same way. I recite the Apostles Creed and I say that I believe in the communion of saints, because I do. But I’m much more focused on the communion of saints that I know, the family and friends who have touched my life, those who have died and the rest of them, scattered around the world, catholic and whatever, but still part of me.

Recently I read about a practice called the 200 year present. You begin by looking back to the youngest age that you can remember and the oldest person who was part of your life then, and calculate back to their birthdate, roughly. And then you do the second part of the process, which is, you think about the youngest member of your extended family — minus two months. And then imagine how long she or he would possibly live? If you do this you can say that you were held and touched, and you will have touched the lives of people who cover a 200-year present.

I like that, knowing that in my present I can look both back and forward. I not only belong to a family but a community as well, friends and acquaintances with whom I share my life and who will touch into me after I die. It’s a version of the Communion of Saints that I can handle. I don’t pray for those I was told in catechism class were now the Church Triumphant, I pray to them.

And as for the trick-and- treaters who come knocking, I’ll welcome them as ‘companions on the journey’.

Judith Scully

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The 7 o’clock news

Now and again an echidna lumbers across the weedy stretch of rocky land that divides our block from that of the neighbours, exploring ant hill possibilities and poking its beak-like snout and long tongue into interesting little dirt hillocks hoping for a tasty worm or two. While I stay out of sight it seems oblivious to my quiet fascination and camera. But if I am foolish enough to approach, it curls itself into a tight ball protecting its vulnerable belly. Girl

Which is what I feel like doing when I watch the evening news. Like the echidna, when the news of the day approaches my comfort zone I want to curl up very tight and close my eyes and ears to all that is beyond my control – the suffering of people  caught up in policies that ignore basic Refugeeshuman rights, the greed for power and money that denudes land that has supported families for generations, politicians whose decisions are blindfolded to the reality of climate change, the legacy of pain that family violence leaves behind.


It only takes a click of the remote and it all goes away. But it doesn’t! The evening news mightn’t touch my skin but it does touch my heart. Which is why sometimes, I re-read this Franciscan benediction.

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.


Judith Scully (judith@judithscully.com.au)