by Father Mark Goldasich
I stopped counting at 54 . . . and keep finding more and more as I go through my mom’s prayer books, purses, coat pockets and billfolds.
I’m talking about those holy cards that are handed out at Catholic wakes and funerals. Mom’s stack of them just keeps growing. No wonder she spent so much time praying.
Let me digress for a moment with this little story:
Some folks recently joined a new church. They were soon assigned to a small faith-sharing group in the congregation under the care of one of the church leaders. They were excited about their new membership and really wanted to feel as though they were a part of the church community.
The church, in an attempt to communicate its caring attitude toward new members, sent a letter that did everything but. It began:
“We want you to know that we’re concerned about you!” (Found in “Illustrations Unlimited,” edited by James S. Hewett.)
As far as the personal touch goes, this church failed miserably. Not only does a computer-generated letter feel cold, but the mistake of leaving a blank space where the new parishioners’ names should have been made the words feel hollow.
Names are important — not only in life, but in death. That’s why hearing of a pauper’s grave or a mass grave tears at our hearts. It’s a comfort to go to a cemetery and see the names of our loved ones inscribed on the stone.
Several years ago, Michael Podrebarac, the consultant for the archdiocesan liturgy and sacramental life office, wrote a column about a woman who was dying.
She made him promise that he’d take one of her memorial cards and pray for her regularly — by name — after she died. Michael suggested that this was a great practice for November, when the church asks us to remember our beloved dead.
Inheriting my mom’s collection of memorial cards has opened up a whole new avenue of prayer for me. One of the oldest cards she had was from 1948 for someone that I didn’t know. Among Mom’s cards are former pastors and priests from my home parish; nuns who taught at the parish school; fellow parishioners and neighbors; many, many friends; and, of course, her siblings and assorted relatives.
The card that was the most beat up was my Grandma Theresa Modrcin’s, my mom’s mom. She died in 1972. The card was disintegrating from Mom saying the prayer on the back, so someone laminated it to prevent further damage.
The names on those little cards trigger so many memories. It’s humbling to see the birth and death dates and to realize how long ago some people entered into eternal life.
It’s also enlightening to discover that people that I thought were “really old” when they died were actually quite young!
As I handle these cards and remember the person who died, I say the prayer that’s found there. Some have the Memorare; others, Psalm 23; still others, the Serenity Prayer.
A few have the Prayer of St. Francis; a couple have an Irish blessing; and some, a poem like “Two Smiling Eyes,” “God Saw,” or “Two Mothers Remembered.”
A prayer that appears on many begins: “O gentlest Heart of Jesus, ever present in the Blessed Sacrament, ever consumed with burning love for the poor captive souls in Purgatory, have mercy on the soul of (here I put in the name of the person on the card).”
I’ve found this an excellent way to keep this person alive in my heart and to thank God for their influence on me.
If you have some memorial cards, pull them out during this month and pray — by name — for those who have died.
If you don’t have any, find some old family photos and let them jog your memory of who has gone before you “marked with the sign of faith.”
And as we name these deceased relatives and friends, let’s pray that we’ll always answer, both in life and death, to the name we hold in common: Christian.