About a month ago there was a tragic car accident in front of my house, resulting in the death of the driver. Within a couple of days there were a few flower pots set on the curb where the accident had taken place. Unfortunately, those flowers were left to wither and die on the makeshift memorial. The neglect really bothered my mom and I. We would drive by the rusting pots and wilted flowers, wondering if the family of the woman who lost her life had seen the forgotten vigil.
Finally, one night we went to the lightpole, took out the dead flowers and replaced them with silk flowers, tying them to the pole with ribbon. As of the writing of this article, the city has not ordered the removal of those silk flowers or pots. This experience got me thinking about the corporal work of mercy known as burying the dead.
The Corporal Work of Mercy: Bury the Dead
Now, on paper this corporal work of mercy looks self-explanatory: Don’t leave dying people on the streets to rot. Be like Mother Teresa and give them a proper burial.
However, like with all things in Catholicism, burying the dead is a lot more involved than just, well, burying people. What many don’t realize is that the concept of burying the dead can actually be a pro-life act.
Now based on the title, you’re probably wondering, “How can burying the dead be pro-life?” Yes, that does sound contradictory. Let me explain.
As Christians we are called to be pro-life people, and a huge aspect of being pro-life–if not the defining aspect–is recognizing the dignity of every person, born and unborn. God created every single one of us and placed within each person an inherent dignity that cannot be earned or taken away. This dignity is not just for those who are walking among us, but is also held by those who have passed on. If we are to stand up for the dignity of the living, we are also called to uphold the dignity of those who have died.
With all this said, here are five practical ways we can exercise this corporal work of mercy.
- Keep Burial Sites Clean
As mentioned above, burial sites are no strangers to litter, especially makeshift vigils like the one in my neighborhood. Now, in all fairness, not everyone has the time or resources to keep watch over makeshift memorials, but if there is one in your area, do consider removing any wilted flowers or debris, freshen it up, maybe even tuck a handwritten prayer into one of the existing pots.
- Offer Up Your Favorite Prayers for the Repose of Souls
My favorite go-to method of prayer is to say One Father and ten Hail Mary’s. Some people love saying the Rosary, others prefer the Anima Christie, and so on. Whatever it may be, structured or spontaneous, no prayer goes unheard by our Father Who art in Heaven.
- Respect the Wishes of the Family
The family of the deceased person may appreciate food brought to their door, a visit from a friend, or a phone call from a bereavement ministry. However, they might also (understandably) just want to be left alone for a time. Sometimes the best thing we can do for someone who is hurting is graciously accept their decline for our help. Well-meaning people often inflict unintended pain. Letting them know that you are available can be enough.
- Be Silent
There was the sudden death of a colleague at my mother’s work and word spread immediately that it must have been a suicide. Due to the lack of information available, people took it upon themselves to assume the worst.
If there is little or no information as to what happened to a deceased person, silence can be the best act of charity you can offer. Be respectful and resist gossip in the guise of concern.
- Pray for Victims of Abortion and Their Mothers and Fathers
Speaking of being pro-life, we know that abortion kills an innocent unborn baby, even though our society vigorously denies or simply ignores this fact. Though the pro-life movement has succeeded in saving many lives thanks to pregnancy centers and sidewalk counselors, there is still so much work to be done. We are not all called to be activists, but we are all called to be advocates. This can be accomplished in various ways. We can support pro-life organizations by donating money or time, we can speak out against abortion when the opportunity presents itself, and, above all, we can pray. Our prayers can be focused, first and foremost, on those who might be contemplating abortion. We should always lift up in prayer those innocent souls whose lives were cut short through no fault of their own. Finally, we must have compassion and pray for mercy upon the men and women who fell prey to the lies of the abortion industry and now must live with the consequences of their ill-fated choice.
Every Christian is called to perform acts of mercy, not as a show of piety, but as a calling from our merciful God. It occurred to me later that evening that numerous vehicles had passed by as we cleaned up the memorial. While we did not perform this act of mercy so that other people would see us, I considered that we had been witnesses in that moment. It is my hope that someone remembered that a tragedy had occurred here, that this woman who was loved perished, and that her life mattered. Maybe they even said a prayer.
Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.