Cardinal Cupich Reflects

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich Reflects

Preparing for the day we pray for the dead

Appeared in the Chicago Catholic, October 15, 2017


Christians believe that in our worship we express what we believe and who we are. This is the meaning of the ancient maxim "lex orandi, lex credendi." That principle will be on full display again this Nov. 2, as it is every year when we celebrate the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, commonly known as All Souls Day.

Just think of it. We set aside a single day exclusively for those who have passed from this life. Surely doing so testifies to our felt obligation to pray for them. That obligation is founded on our understanding and experience of being a member of the Body of Christ.

We are linked to one another by our common baptism in a bond that death itself cannot break. Death does not diminish our responsibility to support one another as fellow disciples, pilgrims who have accepted the call of Jesus: "Come follow me." Just as in life we accompanied each other, so too do we in death. We take that responsibility for each other seriously when we gather for the Eucharist to remember those who have passed on the faith, or when we visit cemeteries, and pray privately for all the dead.

This day of prayer for the dead also offers a corrective to the tendency to reduce our funeral rites to memorial services or mere celebrations of life. Surely there are good reasons to recall the virtues of those who have died, to acknowledge their contributions to us and the world. But these expressions are secondary and we should be careful that long eulogies do not send a message that is contrary to our belief that in death "life is changed, not ended." As such, Catholic funerals are first of all about the Body of Christ praying for one of its members.

We are confident that just as our prayers assisted the deceased in life, so too they do in death. Such prayer can also be very comforting to us who remain, for it unites us on a certain level with those who have passed in the firm and certain hope that we will one day be with our loved ones again.

All Souls Day also reminds us that those we pray for are in a state of purgation (not punishment). They are waiting, as the Catechism puts it, "to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven."

Some years ago, a group of teenagers pressed me to explain purgatory. Many of their friends could not understand it and they did not know how to explain it. I knew I had to respond in a way that made sense to them.

So, after taking a moment to look over the class in front of me, I turned to a girl sitting in the first row and simply said as I looked into her eyes: "I can see that you are really someone special." She blushed, just as I had anticipated. Then, I said to the class: "See what just happened. We often blush when someone pays us a compliment because deep within each of us are some dark doubts that we are lovable, special and good. Purgatory is about God looking into our eyes and telling us over and over again that we are loveable, special, loved by him until we really believe it and don't blush. His trying to convince us that he loves us, that we are loveable, purifies us of the darkness and doubts that do not allow us to believe in his love, and hold us back from being all that God intended us to be. We are purified when we are able to look into his face and not blush."

That explanation seemed to make sense to these young people, perhaps because they knew all too well how self-doubts often hold them back from being all God has created them to be.

God uses our prayers for the dead to help him do this purification, for in praying for them we join our voices to God's repeated insistence that they are loved. So, this Nov. 2, take seriously your faith, take seriously your responsibility to pray for those who have died and who await the purification of all that is within them that makes them doubt of God's and your love. Think of your prayer for them as a way of letting them know again that you love them.

Let us pray in a way that expresses what we believe and reminds us who we are.



Pastoral reflections from Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Peace be with you

Over my forty years as a priest, people have often raised with me questions related to preparing for death, for themselves or a family member. Such discussions in advance are rich opportunities to grow in faith and can ease the pain when loss comes. Fortunately, we are blessed in the Archdiocese of Chicago with the ever-competent services of the staff of Catholic Cemeteries of Chicago to help us in this regard. Consulting with them in advance of one’s passing has the benefit of relying on solid advice gained over more than a century of experience and which is rooted in our Catholic tradition. One particular question on people’s minds today is making a decision between cremation and a traditional burial. What is the best decision and how does one come to the right one for their family members? While people can in good faith choose cremation, it is important to have available professional, faith-filled and skilled personnel, like those at our cemetery offices, to learn about the benefits of interring in sacred ground those we love. The staff members at Catholic Cemeteries of Chicago stand ready to assist either in advance or, at the time of death, grieving family members who are struggling with decisions, and weighing such options. You can trust that their good advice is always there to serve you.

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