Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day and the Communion of Saints


This morning, I hoping to visit the cemetery where my maternal grandparents are buried. My mother's father was a veteran, after all. 

When I was small, we visited this particular cemetery whenever we could. Not because we were a sad, morose family. Quite the contrary - my parents just had (and have) a very strong belief in the communion of saints, which they passed on to me. 

When I was five years old, my grandmother died, after a long battle with breast cancer. I remember the moment I found out that she had died. The phone rang, and my mom talked to one of her siblings for a moment. When she got off the phone, she turned to us and told us that our "Grandma Emily" had died. Instantly, I thought to say a prayer for her and started to say one of the prayers I knew, "Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts..." My twin sister thought that was pretty funny. "No, Michele! That's not the right prayer." 

I didn't know what was, but in a moment that must have been extremely painful for her, my mom didn't fail to take advantage of the catechetical opportunity. What she taught me in that moment forever shaped the way I view the world. She taught me to pray a prayer for the repose of someone's soul, "Eternal rest grant unto Grandma Emily, O Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon her. Amen. May her soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through your mercy, O God, rest in peace. Amen."

Purgatory and heaven were more than two words to be defined when I was growing up - my parents helped me to see them as the realities that they are. I have numerous memories of my parents referring to their deceased parents as I was growing up. (My last living biological grandparent - now I'm blessed with a living grandma-in-law who I absolutely adore! - passed away the summer before my senior year of high school.) They taught me to pray for the repose of their souls from the youngest age, therefore imparting to me a strong and very real loving concern for those who may be in purgatory. They also, though, taught me about the power of having intercessors in heaven. From calling upon those who were canonized saints, to learning that my grandparents could intercede for me, too, once in heaven - the communion of saints was a living reality for me. It was not just a concept. Those in purgatory and heaven were part of my everyday awareness. 

This is still the case. I can't possibly imagine what my life would be like without my dear intercessors in heaven.

It's not much in vogue, these days, to spend time thinking about death. I'm not sure how many people of my own generation even visit cemeteries any more, and I doubt I would if my parents hadn't brought me up the way they had. 

But I think that visiting cemeteries is important. One of the greatest acts of charity we can perform is to pray for the dead. (In fact, it's one of the spiritual works of mercy!) Those in purgatory need our prayers, as they work through all the things that stand between them and God. For indeed, those in purgatory are already guaranteed salvation, but final preparations need to be made. As far as I know, I'm not in a state of serious sin at the moment - and I think many faithful Catholics could probably say the same. But that sure as heck doesn't mean I'm ready to go to heaven yet! I know that there are ways that I struggle with trying to be holy - I know that there are things that stand between me and God. I'm grateful for purgatory for that opportunity to work through those things before going to heaven, and I hope with all my heart that there will be people praying for me as I go through that difficult process. 

Memorial Day is an opportunity to hold in prayer men and women who have died. It is an opportunity to recall our own mortality - as we think of those who gave their lives for our country - but it is also an opportunity to recall the communion of saints. 

Have a lovely Memorial Day everyone!

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