The last shall be first (Spiritual Works of Mercy edition)

This week we’re learning about the Spiritual Works of Mercy, but as long as it’s November (the month where we particularly pray for those who have died), let’s skip the first six and go to the last half of number seven.


It’s important to remember a few basics about praying for those who have died.  First of all, it’s obvious that those who are already in heaven do not need our prayers.  They made it to eternal bliss!  They’re forever in the presence of God almighty, seeing Him in all His glory!  We ask them to pray for us to be with them someday (and they are glad to do it).

Next is a group that is on their way to heaven (without a doubt, that is their final destination), but due to the effects of sin they’re not quite there yet.  This group is in purgatory, a place where those who died with venial sin on their souls are undergoing a purifying fire that will get them ready for heaven.  Heaven is a place with absolutely no sin and God, in his mercy, provides a place where we can “clean up” before going there.  Catholics have always believed that the prayers of those on earth and in heaven can help these souls in purgatory get to heaven faster.

And last is hell.  Hell is real and is the ultimate destination of Satan and all the fallen angels.  It is also the place reserved for all those who deliberately, and with full knowledge, reject God’s love.  You cannot accidentally be bad enough to go to hell, and in fact, the Church will never definitively declare that any particular person has gone to hell.  This doesn’t mean that people are not there, only that we trust in God’s mercy and hope that even the most evil person repented in the last moment of his or her life.

With this in mind, there are a number of ways you can effectively teach this Spiritual Work of Mercy in your domestic church:

  1. First of all, don’t be shy about discussing life beyond this one.  Of course, you need to be sensitive, but sweeping the topic under the rug because it makes you uncomfortable is possibly not the best route.  Sooner or later, you’ll find a relevant time to talk about life after death with your kids and you might find it’s better to begin the conversation when you’re more detached, and not when you’re emotionally distraught by the death of a loved one.
  2. As a family, make a list of people you know who have died and display it on your prayer table.  As you’re making the list, share memories of these people and how they impacted your life.
  3. If possible, go to a cemetery to clean up loved one’s grave sites.  This is a natural time to pray for them and to remember their legacy in your life.
  4. If you are blessed to have Christian ancestors, talk about their influence on your faith today.  Do you remember praying the Rosary with your great-grandfather?  Did you always go to midnight Mass with your extended family on Christmas Eve?  These are the kind of things that mark yours as a family of faith!  It’s evidence that someone passed on the Faith to you, just as you’re trying to do with your own children.  Remember to thank God for these people and tell your kids about the legacy of faith in your family.  Anything you can do to reinforce the idea that your primary identity is that of a Catholic family will help your kids retain that identity in their own adult lives.
  5. Go to a funeral Mass of someone who is just an acquaintance when possible.  Again, it’s easy to be a little more detached if it’s not someone who is really close to you, and that makes it easier to increase your comfort level with the topic.  Going to a funeral is an act of charity that benefits the deceased (with your prayers) and comforts their family.  Even if you don’t get a chance to talk directly with family members of the deceased, it’s a huge blessing for them to see the impact their loved one had on the lives of others.
  6. Pray for those who have no one else to pray for them.  There are millions of people who have never heard of purgatory, or who have heard, but don’t believe in it.  Of course, that doesn’t make its existence any less true!  Pray for these “poor souls in purgatory” who have no one on earth to pray for them, that their time of suffering there may be as short as possible.

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