Sunday, July 03, 2011

Little Acts of Mercy

The well tended grave of Humberto Cardinal Medeiros
Today is the one month anniversary of my dear friend's passing. Since I am unable to visit his grave today, I went last Friday on the 4 week anniversary. (The one month anniversary is very important in my culture and is set aside as a time of prayer and penance) It also happened to be the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Day of Prayer for Priests. I went to the cemetery to pray for him and to check on the progress of the installation of his new personal headstone (The ground was being prepared). I was pleased to see that there have been many visitors to his grave who have left rocks at his family headstone (He is buried at his family plot and not at the diocesan plot). At this cemetery each plot is allowed to have a small garden and there were also some new flowers planted there. I also added a small plant and tended the garden. Father was always well loved and he has not been forgotten, but his death is still very recent and I wonder how long it will be until people forget and move on.

From there, I went to the Diocesan priest's plot in the same cemetery and found a very different situation. In a cemetery where each grave has a small garden which is tended by the family of the deceased, these graves were neglected. Some of the stones were nearly hidden by the grass that was growing over the flat plaque stones, or they were obscured by dirt and other material. I took the time to clear each one. Only one grave had a small garden of flowers and they were perrenials that appeared to have been planted years before and forgotten. It made me wonder if anyone ever thought to pray for these priests or if their names were now simply entries into sacramental registers, parish histories and family stories about "when I was your age". They too had been loved by many people, but now??? Two of the priests buried there had served at my home parish. One was the priest who arranged for my baptism. He died tragically after routine surgery when he was only 38 years old. The other was the long time pastor of my home parish who died after several years of retirement, the enjoyment of which was stolen from him by Alzheimer's disease. There were several other priests buried there whom I had known personally and others whose names I recognized because of their legendary status in the diocese. Still, they appeared to be forgotten.

Perhaps it is a sign that as faithful Catholics we realize that our departed loved ones are alive and we are called to let go of them as they pass into the embrace of God, but I think there is a far deeper and a far more disturbing significance. I have heard it said that purgatory is filled with priests because they have no one to pray for them. Think about it: When was the last time you saw a Mass intention for a priest who had died? Most people will offer Masses for parents and grandparents even decades after their death, but most people either never think of or think it inappropriate to request a Mass for a deceased priest. Perhaps it goes back to the idea that the priest is in some way spiritually other, holier, or somehow in less need of prayers. Perhaps it is because people are uncomfortable or ashamed to make the request. Perhaps they just think someone else will do it. Of course, there is the even worse thought that many people don't believe in Purgatory.

I always make a point to visit the communal priest plot at diocesan cemeteries and the story is always the same. The graves are forgotten (not by the cemetery staff) and I fear their souls are forgotten as well. Pray for those deceased priests who touched your life and for all those who have served your parish. They spent their lives serving and praying for us and they deserve the same in return. They have no widow or natural children, instead they adopted their parishioners as their children and the Church as their spouse. The next time you visit a Catholic cemetery, look for the diocesan plot, clear away the leaves and the overgrown grass, and say a prayer.

1 comment:

Lee Gilbert said...


This is really a lovely blog and at the moment I haven't the slightest idea how I stumbled on it. Several of these entries ought to show up in the parish bulletins of many parishes.

You write beautifully, inspirationally, and I fervently hope you will keep it up.