Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

Today I had the privilege of praying the Rite of Committal - in layman's terms, these are the prayers said before a Catholic burial. The Rite concludes with this ancient prayer, followed by an intercessory prayer asking God's blessing upon those gathered to mourn the dead as well as the soul of the dearly departed loved one.

When Fr. Beaven, the pastor of St. Benedict's, asked me to go to the cemetery and "preside" over this particular ritual, I was, to say the least, slightly nerve-racked. Not being a priest myself (well, not yet, anyway), I felt uneasy leading any sort of ceremony that even slightly resembled a mass; I don't have the power to give blessings, I tend to get "stage fright" in front of people I don't know, and I had absolutely no desire to spend 1 hour+ in a car ride with a funeral director as he dropped me off at the cemetary grounds in Westchester, IL to commence the ceremony.

As much as I was dreading the impending experience, I also felt very blessed myself knowing that the pastor wanted me to do this - as egotistical as that sounds, I knew that my first "Rite of Committal" was bound to be an unforgettable experience. It's certainly not something that happens everyday, that's for sure. People crave new experiences; even with the dread that was at times threatening to overwhelm me, the anticipation brought about a certain positive tension in its own right. The strange concoction of conflict and confidence forced me into a precarious position; I wasn't sure exactly how I was feeling, and this left with one course of action: prayer.

I made sure not only to pray for myself, but also for the bereaved family and their loved one. Catholics believe in a little place called purgatory; a funeral is an opportunity not only to remember the earthly life of a loved one, but also a special chance to pray for their soul to be welcomed into the arms of our loving heavenly Father. The prayers of the Rite of Committal reminded me that my role as a minister was to unite the prayers of all present at the ceremony with the communion of saints – to allow us all to act as instruments of God’s grace to unite both their dearly departed loved one AND themselves to God. Is this not, after all, the ultimate end of our existence? The physical world is full of finite things, but our God is infinite. If we are to live with God eternally, won’t we eventually have to leave the material confines of earthly existence at some point?

It makes perfect sense to me now that the church considers “burying the dead” to be a corporal work of mercy. It is a special, grace-filled moment that serves to unite us with the father in a way that logical explanations cannot hope to accomplish. I’m very blessed to have prayed with this family today, and I hope that other opportunities to pray and cooperate with God arise again during my summer apostolate.

I also had the opportunity of reacquainting myself with a certain Fr. Terry Deffenbaugh, an Augustinian priest whose youth retreats are renowned throughout the country. Having experienced Fr. Terry’s retreats when I was in eighth grade myself, I was all to pleased to see that he was scheduled to do the retreat for St. Benedict’s eighth grade class of 2009 TODAY! While this particular retreat lacked a specific focus on catechesis or spiritual growth, it did a fine job at promoting reconciliation for a group of kids that had been in school together for years; I hope they remember Fr. Terry for both his flaws and his virtues as they begin their high school careers. For my part, I’m just glad that I got to see this remarkable priest once again; the fact that he managed to sell me his latest book, “No Longer a Stray,” is just an added bonus.

Mary, Mother of the Church, I beg your intercession as I end this day. Together with all the Saints in heaven, plead for me that your Son may grant me the grace needed for discernment as I continue my summer apostolate. May my soul, and the souls of the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. AMEN.

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