“He Leadeth Me” is the autobiography of Fr. Walter Ciszek, a Jesuit priest who spent 23 years in Soviet labor camps after being convicted of being a “Vatican spy.” He tells how prayer give him peace, comfort, strength and guidance in the midst of extreme difficulties. One of the most fascinating aspects of his book is the glimpse of everyday life inside Communist Russia. He mentions, for example, that Russians had a deep cultural connection to their deceased relatives. They had big funeral visitations and public processions to the cemetery. The family would gather for picnics in the cemetery and for anniversaries of their loved ones. Once Communism took over, however, work became paramount. Funerals could only happen outside of work hours. Processions were private events and had to avoid big roads. Anniversaries faded and cemetery visits became a thing of the past.
This struck me because of the remarkable similarity to modern American life. Many funerals happen on Saturdays so as not to interfere with work. Here we still make processions to the cemetery, but in many larger cities these have become a relic of the past. I have had many conversations with families trying to explain that the Church allows cremation but expects the remains to be treated with the same respect as a body would be — lovingly treasured and laid to rest in consecrated ground. Even Catholics do not seem to believe in, “the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting”, even though we profess these words every week in the Creed.
Jesus died on the cross “in the flesh” to save all of us, not just our souls but also our bodies. At the end of this age, Jesus will return with his angels. The trumpets will sound and the dead will be raised and our souls will be reunited with our bodies. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) A Catholic funeral is about pointing the dead, and ourselves, to this final resurrection.
The month of November is dedicated to praying for souls. On November 1st we celebrate All Saints Day, a holy day of obligation. We remember in particular all the saints in heaven who don’t have a feast day but are still examples of faith and intercessors on our behalf. November 2nd is All Souls Day for those still in Purgatory. We will have Mass at St. John at 7:00 PM that day and remember those who passed from St. John, St. Wenceslaus, and SS. Mary and Hyacinth from last October through this past September. During the first 8 days of November, you can receive a plenary indulgence for the holy souls by visiting a cemetery and praying for them, under the usual conditions (Confession, Communion, and prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father). I encourage you to put together a little display of your own deceased relatives and friends. Place their pictures on a table together and gather to tell their stories and pray for them. Know that they are praying for you, too. Because your turn as the guest of honor in a funeral procession may be closer than you think.