Another day has seen another massacre on American soil, the most deadly shooting in the history of our nation—Orlando, Florida, the site of such destruction. In its aftermath, I am sure we will see much discussion of biographies, histories, motivations, and any number of other qualifications. These are not my purpose here. The killing struck me—numb, desolate, miserable. The shock will fade with time, though the mark of evil remains. It is in this state of numbness that I was reminded of the importance of prayer for the dead—the one thing we may always do in the face of unfathomable (and yet already mundane) evil. We can lift ourselves up—voices, minds, and hearts—bow our heads, and call upon God’s infinite mercy.
This possibility defines our belief. As Catholics, our prayers may always be for the fallen, whom we believe live on; this sets us apart. In fact, among the first Biblical verses dealing with prayer for the dead comes from the Second Book of Maccabees—it deals with war, sin, and the pious desire for forgiveness:
On the following day, since the task had now become urgent, Judas and his companions went to gather up the bodies of the fallen and bury them with their kindred in their ancestral tombs. But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin. (2 Maccabees 12:39-46)
Praying for all those who have fallen, regardless of the quality or length of their lives is a truly Apostolic deed, a belief that separates us from most Protestants. God’s mercy is for all people—flawed, broken, and filled-with-sin, from shooter to victim. Each of those who died was a child of His, living and subsisting in a country and world flawed, broken by our faults. The Maccabees could even offer supplication for idolaters.
We remember the dead, sinners, not for their individual merits or for the holiness of their lives, but for the imago Dei, for the love God has for them as His children. Whether our family members, our rivals, our friends, or our perceived enemies, all are the children of God, and all those who have died deserve our tears and prayers. Let us, then, pray that St. Anthony of Padua, Reviver of the Dead, may intercede for us on this day of remembrance:
Dear Saint Anthony, I believe in the resurrection of the body. I have Christ’s solemn pledge that whoever believes in Him, though he should die, shall live again. Saint Anthony, Reviver of the Dead, through your mighty prayers life was restored to the dead. Confirm my faith in the resurrection. Make me a confident Christian who expects a glorious Easter beyond the grave. Please take my need to God in prayer.