I celebrated Mass at Mount Olivet Cemetery, 3801 W. Morgan Ave, Milwaukee, this last Monday, Memorial Day, at 10 a.m. Some 250 individuals joined me in honoring those who paid the ultimate price to protect our freedoms as a nation.
They also honored their family members who served in the defense of country and have since returned home to the Lord. I reminded all present that every one of those brave family members carried baggage into the conflicts they faced and that baggage was the love of husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children.
It was these relationships that fashioned their responses to those enemies that would challenge our democratic way of life.
I feel sorry for those who do not believe. The emptiness of death leaves them without hope.
The material is all they have to embrace. Believers know that the sorrow of death gives way to the promise of eternal life. It is the promise of Jesus that gives us the assurance that we shall meet again and that our loved ones are members of God’s kingdom waiting for some future time when we shall join them.
I remember how important those visits to the cemetery were in my early child development. My immediate and extended family of uncles, aunts, cousins would all gather together and travel to Holy Cross Cemetery in the southeast suburb of the Archdiocese of Chicago to visit the graves of my relatives.
I never met my father’s dad or my mother’s mom or my Aunt Virginia, my mother’s oldest sister, but I can tell you they were true members of the family. We would visit their graves and offer prayers asking our deceased relatives to intercede for us before God.
Our living relatives would share various stories about their deceased loved ones, telling us about their interactions with the family. We came to know them. The cemetery is a place to call us together and help us to remember to know that we have a connection to our family history.
It pains me to think many are robbing our children of that connection to past relatives and friends when we take away the possibility of celebrating their lives and our connection to them.
I shake my head in disbelief when I hear of someone who wants his or her body cremated and then decides to have the ashes strewn across an open field or dumped in a flowing steam. I have even heard of individuals who choose to have their ashes put into pieces of jewelry and distributed to various family members. I wonder if family members argue whether they got more of auntie than another. She loves me more than you.
The church in her wisdom calls for a diocese to have cemeteries for the proper burial of the faithful. Even cremated remains are to be properly buried. We believe in the resurrection of the body and although it is the glorified body, our respect for this earthly body and the remains demands we recognize the sacredness of the life manifested in this earthly temple of the Holy Spirit.
At our Memorial Day Mass, we were all praying for our loved ones, and as I looked at the congregation that had gathered I knew that every one of them, including myself, desired that at the end of our lives someone would care enough about us to give us a proper Christian burial.
We are all in need of prayers and, even after our life on earth, we need the prayers of those still on earth, to assist us before God and help us in the purgation that lies ahead.
I am always celebrating Mass for the repose of the souls of family members and friends. It is a shame that some family members do not respect the faith practiced by their relatives.
Many are denying the final church services, Mass and committal because it’s too time consuming, because it’s inconvenient or because they no longer actively practice the faith.
Their insensitivity to the devotional life of their relative denies their supposed loved one, the church’s action affirming the life of the faithful joined to the Paschal Mystery of Christ.
I encourage all of the faithful to place instructions within their wills for a Mass of Christian Burial to be celebrated and that their remains be placed in a properly designated cemetery by the church or at least have their grave blessed according to church law.
We are fortunate to have beautiful cemeteries in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The grounds are indicative of the respect we have for those deceased souls and the modern use of mausoleums has given us additional opportunities year round to pay our respects and remember.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, our attention is drawn to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. One of the corporal works is to bury the dead and one of the spiritual works is to pray for the living and the dead. One of my responsibilities as archbishop is to remember the contributions of the various archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful who have contributed so much toward the success of our church. I pray for them and for you.
Every Sunday we pray the Nicene Creed, which begins: “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible…” and it ends with, “and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
When we end this earthly life, our life is not over; we need to be remembered and celebrated. We need to help the future generations understand and respect that prayer keeps us close to one another, whether living or dead, helping us to fulfill God’s will.