The longer you work in or with a church—whether paid or volunteer —the more you come to realize the many sorrows everyone bears. The friend across from me laments a son with a drinking and drug problem, a husband who doesn’t believe in God all the while mourning the loss of the woman who was her mother figure. Another woman never married but cares for her dying brother; she was also there to see to all the needs of both parents in their last hours. A man lost his wife over ten years ago and yet still loves her and misses her as if it were yesterday. An elderly mother has buried three of her five children, a husband, all but two of her eight siblings and outlived most of her friends. Another woman lost her husband when he tried to stop a crime in progress and one of her two sons to an accident; she also lost five babies to still births and always dreamed of having a large family. Her only surviving son lives over in Europe and is approaching 40; she quietly accepts that she will never have grandchildren of her own and lavishes her love on the parish children.
Death. It’s all around us. So is sorrow and grieving. We aren’t supposed to be a grieving society. We are affluent America. We’re supposed to be happy. It’s what American parents reportedly desire for their children and for themselves—happiness. And we want it in this life; we even expect it. Our own Constitution tells us it’s our God-given ‘right’, or the pursuit of it is anyway. I’ve never had much luck with ‘pursuing’ happiness myself, but that’s another story.
Interestingly, those same people who have – and are – suffering so much are often the most joyful people I know. They aren’t always ‘happy’, but they are usually full of His Joy.
Last night I discovered another such soul, a woman I’ve seen and known by sight around my parish for years. And she asked an interesting question, a question I’ve given some thought to myself.
She wanted to know why we as Catholics pray for the dead. Her husband has been dead for years now and their six children apparently are offended by the fact that she still prays for him. Like their mother, they loved their Dad very much and believe he was a very good man. Their reasoning is, if ‘Dad’ was such a good man, isn’t it an insult to his memory to pray for him? Why not have faith in his good life—or if not in him, then in God’s all powerful mercy—that this good man will go straight to Heaven?
Well of course I did think of the Biblical argument that there is ‘no one good but God alone’ but decided not to go down that path. Scriptural debates are all well good in their place. This was a matter of the heart. And anyway, I knew why this woman was still praying for her husband and it had nothing to do with her beliefs about her husband’s soul or God’s mercy and it had everything to do with her undying love for him.
You see if you really love someone, that love doesn’t stop with death. It doesn’t end; it can’t. It goes on just as that person’s life goes on in eternity. So whether or not we may be aware of it, it’s our need to reach out to our loved one which is met through our prayer for that person. Of course this isn’t the Church’s theological reasons for prayers for the dead and those are certainly worth studying too. But in this case, I think my friend will have more success explaining to her children that she prays for her deceased husband because she loves him. She loved him so much and for so long, she couldn’t—can’t—just stop because he’s died. So now praying for him allows her to express those deep feelings.
And what about the prayers?
What about them? Well, they are surely from her heart, so they are good prayers. In fact, they are probably the very best kind of prayers in the entire world knowing the sweetness of this dear woman.
So, if in fact, her husband does need her prayers, so much the better.
And if he doesn’t? Doesn’t this world need prayer?
Is there any doubt?
Are prayers wasted? If you believe in an all-merciful and all-loving God, as I do, I think you know the answer to that question. He has plenty of use for such prayer.
Is there anyone you are grieving? Anyone you miss more than your own life? Pray for them and be consoled. If they need your prayers, you may bring them to the arms of God. If not, you will still bring YOU—and perhaps some of your hurting brothers and sisters here on this earth—there with you.
Pray. Pray. And Pray some more.