I was busy Saturday….A wedding and later another Mass….So I didn’t get to see wall to wall coverage of the funeral for Senator Edward Kennedy. So… I may have missed something and you will correct me if I’m wrong. But here is my question: Did we pray for the happy reposeof his soul? As I went back and forth preparing this and that I saw parts of the funeral on TV. Surely I heard lots of praise for Mr. Kennedy. But did we pray or merely praise? Particularly alarming were the intercessory prayers of the congregation where the congregation prays for the deceased. They were directed not to Mr. Kennedy’s reposeor to the dead in general but rather to praise of his vision and the prayers for various causes. Not wrong per se but out of place at a funeral Mass at the very time we should be praying for the happy repose of of the deceased. Did we pray?
When I die please promise me that you’ll pray for me. You see, I’ll have a journey to make. I have an appointment to keep. The scriptures all say it but we like to ignore it:
- Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor 5:10-11)
- For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each of us shall give an account of himself to God. (Rom 14:10-11)
So when we die we are judged. We ought to pray a lot for those who have died. It is an awesome thing to go to God and to render and account. We who remain behind ought to offer heartfelt prayers for the faithful departed. And so I must indicate so frustration with many Catholic Funerals I have observed, both televised and not. Too often there are bold proclamations of how the deceased is in heaven now, in a better place, etc. Confidence in God’s mercy is good, but to completely ignore the judgment that Scripture promises and make no mention of it is poor pastoral practice and robs the dead of the prayers they are due.
Consider this, what if I were to say at a funeral “John Jones is in Hell and there’s no use praying for him.” Now you would be rightfully angry and tell me that I was “judging him.” And you would be right. I would be making a judgement I had no right to make. But don’t you see, if I say “John Jones is in heaven now” and do not ask you to pray, that I am sitting in the very same judgement seat and making a judgment that is NOT mine to make?
“But Father, but Father….What about confidence in God’s mercy and joy?” These are fine and have their place but they should be balanced with a sober appreciation that the dead can use our prayers. AND I actually HAVE God’s mercy in mind when I say we ought to pray for the dead who go to judgement. Remember, God has made a promise to us that when he was finished with us that we would be perfect as the heavenly father is perfect (Matt 5:48) Now are you there yet? What if you died today? Do you think the Lord will leave his work undone in you? That’s not very merciful. St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to completion.” (Phil 1:6) God is faithful to the promises he has made and he will not leave anything undone in us. But again let me ask you, if you died today are you perfect yet? You know you’re not. We all fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). All of us are carrying things in us that we cannot bring to heaven. Not just our sins, but also sorrows, regrets, painful memories and hurts. You know you can’t bring this stuff to heaven, it wouldn’t be heaven! So the Lord has to purge these things from us. Maybe that is what Scripture means when it says of the dead that Jesus will wipe every tear from their eyes (Rev 21:4).
Hence, when we die we are judged by God. But the judgement is not just between heaven and hell but as to whether Jesus’ work is complete in us yet. If it is not he will see that it is brought to completion. Here is the Catholic Dogma of Purgatory. It is purgatory where we let go of things for the last time, where we have tears wiped from our eyes and we have false notions corrected and where we shed the final vestiges of the world. Does it take tiem? How long? I don’t know. What is time even like after we leave this world and if there is the passage of time there, how does it square up with our assage of time? I don’t know. Just pray. Our beloved dead can use our prayers.
So, when I die, will you pray for me? Don’t talk too much at my funeral about what a great guy I was, only God is good. Don’t make silly statements about how I’m up there leading the music in heaven. Just pray because I’m probably, off to purgatory and could use your prayers. If I died today (not planning on it) I know I’d have some tears to be wiped from my eyes, some rough edges to my personality that need smoothing, some intellectual misunderstandings to be set right, some attachments to be freed of. I cannot judge myself, but applying Catholic doctrine to my situation it’s looks like I’d be bound for purgatory. So pray.
Finally let me ask you again, in the funeral rites yesterday for Senator Kennedy did you pray? Did WE pray? Oh, I know we said the usual prayers in the ritual. But honestly, things seemed more than a little out of balance to me. Celebrate what is good? Sure. But Edward M Kennedy shares the human condition and we all fall short of what God has in store. I am not his judge, but I can pray. If he is like me, purgation may well be necessary. I don’t know what sins or hurts he brought to the grave with him. But he did go to judgement and we ought to pray. And yes, I’ll mention the unmentionable: he was wrong on abortion and several other Catholic Moral teachings. Where we are wrong, the Lord needs to set us right. Mr. Kennedy was right on other moral issues and the Lord can grant reward for that as well. But just pray. Pray for him and all your beloved dead. Our modern understanding of death needs to come back to a proper focus: hope and confidence in God’s mercy? Yes! But balanced with a sober appreciation of judgment that awaits us all.