Will Anyone Pray for You when You Die?
The Confessions of St. Augustine (Week 9 of 15)
“Put this body away anywhere. Don’t let care about it disturb you. I ask only this of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord, wherever you may be.” – Saint Monica, speaking to Saint Augustine about her death; The Confessions of Saint Augustine (Book 9: The New Catholic, Chapter 11: The Death of St. Monica)
This past weekend, we packed everyone up and headed North for a Burbach Family reunion. Burbachs caravanned by plane and by car from as far away as New Jersey, Montana, Texas, and Wisconsin, making their way past cornfields and prairie to a small, nondescript parish center in the town of Fordyce, Nebraska, population 138. Cousins by the dozens came together to reminisce about old times and catch up with loved ones for two days over an endless array of sandwiches, pasta salad, chips and fruit. Delectables were unloaded by the truckload – cookies, cakes, breads, muffins, cinnamon and caramel rolls – even at 150 strong, the Burbach clan couldn’t make a dent.
Needless to say, we had a wonderful time. But on Saturday, as I looked around the crowd, I realized that my mother-in-law would probably be considered the matriarch of the family now. In-law though she was, there is no one left to fill the role. Deacon Bern, her late husband’s brother, is the sole surviving child of Adam and Mary Burbach. The rest have all passed on. These were all members of what’s been called The Greatest Generation.
Yes, these amazing individuals endured The Great Depression, WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam. But they were able to endure and even overcome those challenges because they had something we all need. Rock-solid faith. They may not have had all the snazzy resources we have today – book upon book to explain the Faith, countless speakers, Father Barron’s YouTube videos, websites on spiritual direction – but they had something so much more valuable. They had the reverent example of those before them and those all around them. These Catholics were taught by example to love God through His Church. They came together as a community and they believed that the Eucharist was the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. They were taught that His example was their model for life. And they lived their lives accordingly.
They were also taught that Purgatory is a likely stepping stone in death.
I know. Because I’ve witnessed it.
Five years ago this spring, my father-in-law, Marlen Burbach, passed away. In his last earthly moments, he was surrounded by his wife and children, and the priest who had been present commented that Mar had died a “perfect” death (which I understood to mean that he took advantage of every resource offered by God’s grace to help prepare himself for eternity). He’d received all the sacraments. He made his last Confession, received the Anointing of the Sick, and even received Communion, which until his last moments he’d had a difficult time consuming because the cancer had made eating virtually impossible.
Suffering played a significant role during his last months. After being told that his chronic and excruciating pain was caused by severe arthritis, doctors finally did an x-ray, only to find that his skeletal system resembled Swiss cheese, so much had been eaten away by cancer. Sadly, once he was finally diagnosed, Mar lived less than two weeks – his sturdy farmer’s build deteriorating by the second.
Mar’s holy death was preceded by an active holy life. A Eucharistic minister and member of the Knights of Columbus, he kept a weekly holy hour with his wife for over 35 years and prayed the rosary and other prayers with her virtually every morning. “Take a stroll with the Lord”, was one of Mar’s favorite sayings.
Despite his holy life, a very holy death and all the suffering he endured before taking his last breath, my mother-in-law took every penny received in memoriam upon Mar’s death and distributed it among his nine children, requesting specifically that the money be used to offer Masses at their local parishes for her husband’s soul. [For those of you with questions about Mass Offerings, please click here to read this from the blog, Canon Law Made Easy.]
My mother-in-law knew there are no guarantees, but that we all rely on the Mercy of God for our salvation. In her 85 years, she would never have considered Purgatory to be “outmoded Catholic teaching.” She understood that we are all part of the Body of Christ – the living and the dead – and that we depend on each other to intercede for our souls at the feet of Christ.
There’s so much information available about the Doctrine of Purgatory that I won’t take the time to explain it here.
But here’s my concern.
As I looked around at the progeny of that amazing generation, it occurred to me that one day our children may gather somewhere in Nebraska for a family reunion, after most of us – the aunts and uncles – have passed on. How will that next generation of Catholics respond to death? Will they (like my mother-in-law) follow the example of Saint Augustine, who said the following prayer, despite knowing that his mother had been a very holy woman?
Let no one sever her from your protection. Let neither the lion nor the dragon put himself between you and her by force or fraud. She will not answer that she owes no debt, lest she be convicted and seized by her crafty accuser. She will answer that her sins have been forgiven by him to whom no one can return the price which he owed nothing returned for us.
…O my Lord, my God, inspire your servants my brethren, your sons my masters, whom with voice and heart and pen I serve, so that as many of them as read these words may at your altar remember Monica, your handmaid, together with Patricius, sometime her husband, by whose flesh you brought me into this life, how I know not. May they with devout affection remember them who were my parents in this passing light, my brethren under you our Father in our Catholic Mother, and my fellow citizens in that eternal Jerusalem, which your pilgrim people sigh after from their setting forth even to their return, so that, more abundantly than through my own prayers, my mother’s last request of me may be granted through the prayers of many, occasioned by these confessions.
Will our children pray for our souls after we die? Or, like many in the culture – and even within the Catholic Church these days – will they just assume we were all catapulted into heaven, leaving countless souls to cry out in futility for their help?
These are questions for serious contemplation, and may require immediate action. Despite having diligently taught my children the Faith for the past 16 years, I’m not so confident about their conviction in this area. Will they even think to pray for me? Will my children offer Masses and make a special effort to remember my soul in their prayers in years to come?
What do you think? Will anyone pray for you?
Book 10. A Philosophy of Memory: Chapter 1-22 [Joy and Hope – The Only Happiness]
1. What do you think of the state of Purgatory within the Church? As in, do you believe a lack of knowledge and understanding has placed the practice of praying for souls in jeopardy? Please discuss.
2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!
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