I really miss my Busia. This is what those of Polish descent call their grandmother. She was a great teacher who had a wealth of knowledge on basically everything. I am especially grateful for her transmission of her Catholic faith to her children and grandchildren. She had so many trials in her long life of 94 years, but her faith never wavered in God and in His Church, and she was a great example to us all.
When she died this past summer, I couldn’t thank people enough for the outpouring of love and prayers. Several people had asked me if there was anything they could do for me and my family. Those offers were very generous, and I thanked them all for their kindness. But when I thought about it, there was only one thing that came to mind, and from the bottom of my heart, I sincerely made just this one request of them:
Pray for my grandmother, Sophia.
Praying for My Family
I was happy to know that all these friends and relatives of mine were praying for my family, especially my mom and uncles, as they mourned the loss of their dear mother. But I could not help but think, “Will they continue to pray for my Busia? Even now, after death?” This is something we as Catholic Christians, and really, all Christians need to reflect on. Will we continue to pray for our deceased loved ones after death?
Praying For the Deceased is Overlooked Today
Now, of course, many of us may be familiar with the fact that Scripture is very clear (cf. 2 Macc. 12:43-46, 2 Tim. 1:15-18) in that we must pray for the dead. It’s something Christians have been doing since Pentecost. But this act of mercy is something that has become overlooked more and more today. As human beings, we feel empathy for our brothers and sisters who are feeling much sorrow. We try to ease their pain. Often times, following a death, we’ll hear people say things such as, “She’s an angel now; she has her wings!” or “She’s finally in heaven!” I admit, it’s hard to know what to say in situations like this, when we’re consoling our friends following the death of a loved one, but as a Catholic Christian who stands in the sure hope of the Resurrection and in the life of the world to come… I always cringe a bit when I hear these words.
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the thought behind such consolation, but these words (especially now that I have been the one facing the death of someone I dearly love, something I haven’t faced in many years) make me wonder if the person saying these things will continue to pray for the deceased. What would bring me consolation is knowing that all of these people are praying for my Busia’s soul. She is most certainly not an angel now; she’s something much better… a human being!
Because of the Incarnation
Why is being a human person so much better than being any other creature? This is all something that often gets glossed over during the course of a wake and funeral, and I think it’d be good to shine some light on what we as Catholic Christians profess to believe in.
The answer to the question is this- because of the Incarnation. Because of Jesus Christ, God Himself lowered Himself to become human, to become one of us! We have it way better than the angels! Jesus Christ, true God, also became true man because of His love for us, His love for my Busia! It’s like that silly song, “What if God was one of us…?” Well, the song is silly because it asks a dumb question; it was answered over 2,000 years ago. The fact is, He was (and is) one of us, in the person of God the Son! And as He became like us, we, too, can become like Him. This is why we should all continue to ask for prayers, as well as offer up our own prayers, for our deceased loved ones.
Again, like those of the early Church believed since Apostolic times, we as Catholics believe that prayers for the deceased who die in God’s grace and friendship are efficacious, because purification and cleansing of our sins, if not finished in this world, must be finished in the next. The Church gives the name of “purgatory” to this final purification.
The Eastern Churches, such as the Ukrainian-Greek Catholic Church my Busia was baptized into, refers to this as the “final theosis” or “final divinization”. St. Athanasius of Alexandria wrote: “God became human that human might become God.” St. Irenaeus of Lyons also taught that:
“He [Jesus Christ] would become the Son of Man for this purpose, that a human being also might become the son of God. […O]ur Lord Jesus Christ… did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”
What a wonderful thing that awaits our beloved deceased! And what a wonderful thing awaits us, too; that we share in God’s nature!
“God has given us, through these things, His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4)
The Communion of Saints
And here is what I love about being a Catholic Christian: we can help each other in this purification, this “final theosis”, because all those born anew in Christ belong to the Communion of Saints.
I truly love being a part of this family, this Body of Christ, known as the Communion of Saints. We here on Earth are intimately joined not only to each other by our baptism and faith in Jesus, but we are also intimately joined to those who have already triumphed in heaven, and to those in purgatory who still may be undergoing that purification to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joys of Heaven. And what better prayer than the Sacrifice of the Mass?
If you’re Catholic, you’ll notice in your parish’s bulletin that there are always names listed next to the Mass listings each week. Those persons’ loved ones are having the Mass, the greatest of all prayers, offered up for the soul of that deceased person listed there. They are praying that the deceased’s purification is hastened so that they may enter into eternal beatitude. St. John Chrysostom, a great saint and Doctor of the Church, especially revered in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, commented on this:
“Let us help and commemorate the dead. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”
Think about that… God loves us so much and understands that we love our family and friends so much, that He would allow us to help Him cleanse our loved ones by praying for them so that they may enter heaven more expediently. Picture the loving mother, who while washing the dishes after dinner, allows her very young child to help. Even though she could do it all by herself, and probably more perfectly as well, she lets her child spend the entire time carefully cleaning one dish. But it’s been cleaned by the child nonetheless. Can one honestly say the young child didn’t help? In the same way, God allows our prayers, especially those offered in the Mass, to cleanse and purify our loved ones so they may enter into that full joy.
Pray for the Deceased’s Soul
So this is why I ask you, friends, that when faced with the death of a loved one, or of a friend’s loved one, that you pray for the deceased’s soul. In the case of my Busia, I know she lived a good life, a godly life full of love. I have a firm and sure hope that she is with our Lord, but we shouldn’t let our knowing these things about her life stop our prayers for her.
He was a practicing Catholic, ‘practicing’ in the sense that he hadn’t perfected it yet. Or rather, Christ was not yet perfected in him. And only those in whom Christ is brought to perfection can enter heaven. We are here, then, to lend our prayers to that perfecting, to that final work of God’s grace…
Let us not show him a false love and allow our admiration to deprive him of our prayers. We continue to show affection for him and do good for him by praying for him: That all stain of sin be washed away, that all wounds be healed, that he be purified of all that is not Christ. That he rest in peace.
If you want to do something for your grieving friends and family after their beloved dies, then this is what you could and should do. It will bring much consolation to your friend and your family, and it will be much more appreciated than flowers or anything else. While there may be sadness in our hearts in the present moment, there is also joy there because we have the hope of the Resurrection and that we will be reunited again one day in Christ. If you haven’t prayed in a while, please do so today, if you can. If you’d like to offer a Mass for someone you love, or for the loved one of a friend, please contact your local parish, or follow this link to the website of a great congregation of priests committed to offering the Mass for our beloved deceased.
In Christ Jesus, we are still united to my Busia, and though I miss her now, I look forward with confidence to the day I will see her again. Please pray for her and for all the faithful departed. As Fr. Scalia said, don’t “allow our admiration to deprive them of our prayers. We continue to show affection for them and do good for them by praying for them.”