Msgr. Peter Elliott, writing about the notion of purgatory, once offered another beautiful thought:

"Eternal rest," "pardon," "peace," "refreshment," and "perpetual light" are words we use when praying for the dead. Each has its own tradition stretching back to earliest Christian times. Each has its own nuance, always pointing to our eternal goal -- union with God in the beatific vision. But each word reminds us that God wants us to play an active part in His mercy to the departed who are one with us in the Communion of Saints.

What a wonderful and comforting idea: that we, by offering our prayers and petitions for those who have died, are able to collaborate with God in His mercy. As a great old hymn tells us, "There is a wideness in God's mercy," a breadth that opens its arms to include all of us who have failed Him, disobeyed Him, even betrayed Him.

Mercy, of course, is also the recurring refrain of Lent. Again and again, Sunday after Sunday during this penitential season we cry out the words of the psalms that we will repeat again during the Easter Vigil:

Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned . . .
Lord, let your mercy be upon us, as we place our trust in you . . .
If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts . . .

Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned. That is our refrain, and our hope.

So, yes: we pray for Geraldine Ferraro. We pray for all who were baptized into Christ's death. We pray for all those struggling to find their way in a fallen world. We pray for all those who grope their way through the darkness. We pray for light -- hopeful, blissful, redeeming light.

We pray, ultimately, that God will be merciful toward those who have disappointed Him.

Which means, of course, that our prayers for the dead are prayers, in fact, for ourselves.