You drive down an Illinois country blacktop, passing fields of corn and soybeans, sometimes winter wheat or an occasional cattle ranch or dairy farm.
As you approach a country town, you don’t see its white, clapboard homes. You see a forest ahead of you—vigorous maples, elms that have somehow survived Dutch elm disease, and oaks. Townspeople with foresight planted those trees fifty or a hundred years ago.
But soaring above them all will be a spire.
Approaching the small town we lived in twenty-five years ago, you would see the spire of St. Louis Church, as lovely a century-old church as you could find. Built by poor immigrants, miners who labored in long-closed coal shafts, and farmers, the church was and still has been spared the wreckovations of the last fifty years.
We lived right on the edge of that town—my young wife, our toddler, our newborn, and me.
One of my favorite walks as I said the Rosary or did mental prayer was down the edge of the Fillmore blacktop about a quarter mile into the town and church cemetery
It is a cliché to say it was peaceful here, but it was. It was beautiful, not just in its lawns, flowers, and stately trees.
There on the gravestones you could read the history of the town. From the first settlers around the time of the civil war, to entire generations of families that had been born, lived, and died in that town—father, mother, beloved daughters, sons. Names you heard everyday in town, there engraved in stone. If you raised your eyes west, you saw the spire of St. Louis Church. I knew that the Blessed Sacrament resided in its tabernacle. That was part of the beauty, a heart flitting between the living back in our little apartment, and the dead beneath my feet, and the ever-living God waiting for us in that country church.
City people don’t realize how dangerous it is in the country.
We only lived there four years. During that time, a toddler drowned on his parents’ farm. He was the little brother of two of the children who attended the school I ran. This accident must have caused his parents terrible mental torment.
One day, a sweet and responsible young woman in her late teens missed a curve on the Taylorville blacktop and was lost. Did she take her eyes off the road for a second or did a deer suddenly appear in front of her? She had been adopted by a childless couple there. She had her life together. Her grave was up near the road.
Another day, the father of one of our school families was crushed to death under a piece of farm machinery he was repairing.
I just finished reading The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher. The journalist who returned to live in his Louisiana river town recounts a eulogy he heard given by a black preacher about the preacher’s mother. He spoke of how she was poor in money but rich in sacrifice. When the preacher was a boy sometimes his mother would make him eat a kind of cornmeal mush he did not like. He said in his eulogy that he would give anything to have her make him a bowl of that porridge again, and he would gladly eat it, just so he could be with her.
Then Dreher recounts something the preacher said that really struck me. He said that cemeteries are not graveyards but treasuries. The preacher’s treasure was about to be interred that cemetery.
The cemetery I visited often is likewise a treasury. It holds the bodies of so many good, if imperfect, persons. They are gone but not forgotten. Or, as time passes, gone and forgotten except for a name. But the Church spire and our Eucharistic Lord in the tabernacle look over that treasury.
We begin the month of November. The corn and soybeans are almost all in around that country town. The leaves are falling fast. People will rake them into the gutters of their brick streets and burn them, incensing the air.
It is incense for the other inhabitants. There are probably more citizens in the cemetery than in the town.
November is the month to pray for the repose of the souls of all the faithful departed.
We can pray every day for those we know who have gone. We owe them so much. And we can pray for those who have gone but have no one to remember them anymore.
Prayer for the Faithful Departed
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.