And that is why we pray for them. Sure, I could knock you around with scriptural references galore for why Catholic Christians pray for the dead, from both the Old Testament and the New.
From the Old Testament, for example, I could trot out the prayers of Judas Maccabeus for his fallen troops from the Deuteroncanonicals. From the New Testament, I could show you St. Paul’s prayer for Onesiphorus in his second letter to Timothy. These might convince you that it is ok for Christians to pray for the dead, you know, because it’s Biblical.
Or I could drudge up the subject of Purgatory again, and try to convince you that dead people’s souls go “somewhere” and endure “something” after they step out of time and cross the threshold into eternity. Again, that might convince you of the sanity of praying for the dead. Our I could just throw the Catechism at you.
But before you shake your head and cluck your tongue at Catholics and their taboo practices (as if we are like King Saul visiting the Witch of Endor in a misguided attempt to contact the departed), consider who “the dead” are. Aren’t they our neighbors, whom we have been commanded to love, you know, above all else except for God Himself?
That is why we pray for the souls of the dead. And not just for our departed loved ones either, but for the hard cases too. Like our dead enemies on the field of battle, as well as our fallen comrades. For the murdered, as well as for the creepy psycho-killers who took the lives of our loved ones. I didn’t say it was easy, but loving both the good and the bad is no cake walk.
Because, if you think about it for a minute, prayers for the dead are like a dress rehearsal for we, the living, as we play the intercessors on behalf of others with God, our Father. As we will do when, Lord willing, we too are gathered in the Church Triumphant. So just like we jump at the chance today to pray for our familial brothers and sisters, and our tribal ones too, so should we pray for the departed now, as we will pray for the living when we are in heaven.
It’s the right, and neighborly thing to do. And as Our Lord informed the young scholar of the law, way back when, everyone is our neighbor. I have a feeling that along with the other questions Our Lord will ask us, such as “when did you clothe and feed the poor?” and “when did you visit the sick?” see, He just may ask, “when did you pray for the dead?”
I want to be able to say, “late, my Lord, but often!” Because we are the link between those who came before us, and for those who will follow us. Speaking for myself, I missed that connection for far too long.