Saints in the basement

Angel statue milq124Down in our basement is “the Wall of Death,” so christened by my husband’s cousin, Pat. My husband and I had always kept holy cards from wakes we went to; he often talked of finding a place to keep them in view. One day he found the spot: the pegboard on our basement wall, where I had secretly been thinking of hanging our laughably small collection of tools someday.

There you’ll find cards bearing the names of aunts and uncles, his dad and mine, my brother, his mom. Cards mark the passing of friends, parents of friends, public figures. Chicago Cubs’ broadcasters Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse sit side by side. Mrs. Eleanor Daley, wife of our former mayor and mother of our current one, keeps a respectable distance from the Cub gentlemen, being a White Sox fan herself.

Sometimes, while waiting for the washer or dryer to finish up, I wander in and look at them all, our own little slice of the communion of saints. It’s very comforting somehow. I ask for their prayers often enough.

The communion of saints is one of those wonderful Catholic teachings: It tells us that those who have gone to God are still with us, all of us part of the mystical Body of Christ. The epistle to the Hebrews says we are “surrounded by this cloud of witnesses” (12:1-2).  (Saints in the communion of saints, by the way, does not mean canonized saints but is an old term for those committed to Christ.) We remember all the saints, official and not, this month on the feasts of All Saints, November 1, and All Souls, November 2.

Parents can waste a lot of energy trying to shelter their kids from death. I’ve even heard of parents objecting to having their children taught about the Crucifixion. Our society, too, tends to shy away from actual dead people: We have more memorial services and fewer funerals; more cremations and fewer burials. We seem to tolerate the dead, at a safe distance, only on TV and in the movies. Perhaps we think if we don’t look at them, the dead will just go away and take their uncomfortable questions with them.

Here is an opportunity for Catholic parents to be countercultural, if we have the nerve. We can take our children to wakes and funerals when appropriate. Remember that, for young as well as old, burying the dead is one of the seven corporal works of mercy. We can keep the images and memories of our deceased loved ones alive in our families. We can spread the good news: Dying is not the end; love is stronger than death. Or, as my friend Father Don Headley says, “Everyone is always alive to God.”

Our kids often say that they have to go to more wakes than anyone they know. I’m sure it’s probably true. (How do you think we ended up with all those cards?) If they complain, I just remind them of the words of immortal Yankees catcher Yogi Berra: “You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”

By Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for   four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

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