As we remember the souls of the faithful departed this month, let us consider how a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ can fulfill two of the seven spiritual works of mercy: comforting the afflicted and praying for the living and the dead.
Of course, a missionary disciple always seeks to imitate the Master, Who did something at the tomb of Lazarus that is expressed in the shortest verse of the New Testament: “Jesus wept.” (Jn 11:35)
Why did Jesus weep, especially when He knew, moments later, He would be raising Lazarus from the dead? Jesus wept because Martha and Mary, whom He loved, were wracked by grief. In His sacred heart—human and divine—He shared their pain, their sorrow. Yes, Jesus comforted these afflicted sisters by raising their brother from the dead, but He first comforted them by weeping with them.
As missionary disciples, there are many ways we can accompany the grieving and pray for the dead in our parish communities. Here are some practical ones:
• Pray for the souls of the dead, especially on or around Nov. 2, All Souls Day. An indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, is granted to the faithful who visit a cemetery and pray for the departed. This indulgence is plenary (full) each day from the 1st to the 8th of November.
• Attend funerals, even of people you may not know. Not only can you offer your prayers and participation in the Mass for the deceased, but your presence tells the loved ones you care. Do not underestimate the impact this has.
• Attend the vigil for the deceased (the “wake”) or visitation of the body, as this is a moment when more personal interaction and sharing can take place.
• Voice your care. Again, even if you didn’t know the deceased or their family well, a simple card or even an email or text can mean a great deal. For those familiar to you, it is even more important to reach out later, offering your continued prayers and support, when others have moved on.
• Do something practical to help. Bring to the bereaved a meal, a bag of groceries, a potted plant, a care package of some kind. Don’t just ask the generic question, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Tend more toward the specific, not the totally open-ended.
• Ask about the deceased. People are often reluctant to do this, fearing the emotions it may trigger. But those grieving the loss often welcome opportunities to reminisce, even if it brings tears. They long to talk, even perhaps to share a smile or a laugh, about this person they loved so much. If they prefer not to, they will let you know.
• See if your parish offers a grief group and if God might be inviting you to become involved in it. Parishes looking for ideas to help with this can find helpful links on the diocesan family life page at diolc.org/marriage.
I lost a younger brother to an unexpected heart attack last March, two days before Palm Sunday. We were stunned and grief-stricken. More than anything, we had to be there for Jerry’s widow, Vivian, and his grown children. As the waves of grief continue to wash over her, we have to be with her still. This is human, holy work, to “weep with those who weep,” in the words of St. Paul. But, continuing with St. Paul’s counsel, we “do not grieve like those who have no hope.” This is the delicate path of the missionary disciple, to accompany those who have lost a loved one, sharing in their sorrow while remaining true to hope in Jesus Christ, Who is “the Resurrection and the Life.”
By Chris Ruff, Director of the Office for Ministries and Social Concerns
Published in the November 2021 Issue of Catholic Life Magazine