Prayer gives voice to our longing

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Not only do we pray for the living and the dead, they pray for us

Thirty-five years ago, Mike was on my list of First Friday Communion calls. He lived near the parish, and I usually scheduled a stop at his house toward the end of the day. A visit with Mike was filled with sweetness and faith, the kind that would brighten anyone’s day.

Mike and his beloved Marie, who had died just a few years earlier, never had children, and their lives had been marked by single-hearted devotion to one another, and together, to God.

Entering their home meant taking a step back in time. The house was quiet and still, but sunlight flooding through open curtains warmed the silence with peace. Figurines collected over many years were displayed lovingly on shelves and mantels; photographs of parents from another country covered the walls. The place was immaculately clean, and lace doilies protected chair backs and tabletops. These were simple, working-class people, typical of so many in that parish; they had worked hard, and when several plants employing thousands in the area closed, they grieved their neighbors’ misfortune.

Mike dressed in his Sunday best for my monthly visits, welcoming the presence of the Lord with a reverence I have never forgotten. Invariably, after he received holy Communion we would look at photographs. Mike was a musician, and he was particularly proud of the pictures of his Catholic high school band, featuring a young Mike proudly holding his French horn in a lineup of early-20th-century teenagers dressed in suits and feathered alpine hats. After high school, Mike had played French horn for the Army during World War I.

After Marie died, Mike was heartbroken and lost. He kept the house as tidy as ever, but without Marie he spent more time away from home — at church, with friends, shopping. He tried heroically to fill the void opened by her death, and parishioners went out of their way to look after him with kindness.

‘Communion of all the faithful’

When I was transferred to another parish, I lost track of him for several years. One day after a funeral, I decided to spend a few extra moments at the cemetery visiting my father’s grave, and I caught sight of Mike standing in prayer next to Marie’s. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation, catching up on the latest news. And we made a promise.

From then on, whenever either of us was at the cemetery, we would visit each other’s family graves and say a prayer. I have tried to be faithful to that promise, and I have no doubt he was. When Mike himself died a few years after Marie, a visit to their graves would make me smile all over again, as I recalled our monthly Communion calls and their faith-filled love. Just a few months ago, when I was home in Memphis for vacation, I visited the cemetery and again kept my part of the promise.

In his Credo of the People of God, Blessed Pope Paul VI (who was beatified Oct. 19) wrote: “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are attaining their purification, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion the merciful love of God and His saints is ever listening to our prayers.”

Just as we pray for the living, so do we pray for the dead, and they pray for us. Our prayer is an expression both of our union with Christ and our longing for that union to be brought to perfection for everyone.

United with one another in Christ

Soon after I arrived in Seattle in late 2010, Rosemary, who had been my secretary in the Diocese of Joliet, died after a brave battle with cancer. We spoke on the phone several times as death approached, and one day I thanked her for all she had done for me during those four years.

She responded, “Well, I hope I can be of even better help after I die.” She was referring to words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, her favorite: “I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth.” Death does not place any barrier among the members of the Church that cannot be bridged easily by prayer and love.

During November, we remember our beloved dead, including souls undergoing God’s cleansing mercy in purgatory. Christians have prayed for their dead from the earliest days, because we long to be united with one another forever in Christ. Our longing is the result of our love! Prayer gives voice to our longing. We should not forget that the souls in purgatory pray for us, too.

The gifts I received from Mike, Marie and Rosemary did not cease when they died. Since what they shared with me during life came from Christ, I have every reason to believe that we still “exchange” those gifts today.

May their souls, and all the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace.  

Northwest Catholic - Nov. 2014

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain

Send your prayer intentions to Archbishop Sartain’s Prayer List, Archdiocese of Seattle, 710 Ninth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104.