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Friends unto Eternity

Some thoughts on two aspects of friendship that seem to have fallen on hard times.

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A couple of weeks ago, I penned a reflection on the importance of friendship in both its human and Christian dimensions. As I pointed out, friendship is not something that is ephemeral; indeed, it perdures unto eternity. Isn’t that what we mean by the “communion of saints” that we acknowledge in the Profession of Faith every Sunday? And that got me thinking about two aspects of friendship that seem to have fallen on hard times.

When I was in third grade, I noticed that Sister Mary Vera had a large black binder which she kept open on her desk, turning a page each day. Being a “nun’s boy” (as my mother dubbed me) and an inquisitive kid, I nudged up to her one day, peered over her shoulder and saw that the page had about 30 or 40 names on it. “Who are those people, Sister?” I asked. “Oh, Peter, you’ll be in that book at the end of the year. Those are the names of every child I have ever taught and every day, I turn a page and pray in particular for the children listed there. I pray that they are living happy and holy lives and that I will meet them in Heaven!” How incredibly loving and beautiful. Sister Vera knew the meaning of real friendship: praying for her former students to be “living happy and holy lives,” so that she would “meet them in Heaven.”

I am afraid that most of our prayers, whether for ourselves or for others, are for very mundane, pedestrian things like passing a test or winning the lottery. There is nothing wrong with praying for such things, but Our Lord admonished us: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” that is, our focus needs to be on the ultimate realities. He went on to assure us that our Heavenly Father knows that we need to pass a test or even, perhaps, win the lottery – and that He will give us precisely what we need for life here below, if our priorities are in order: “and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:33). Thus, true friendship includes prayer for the salvation of those we count as friends.

This failure to pray for our friends in ways that truly matter takes on epic proportions when we consider friends (and relatives) who have died. Praying for the dead goes back to ancient Judaism, as found in the liturgies of the Temple and synagogue – which means that Jesus and His disciples also prayed for the dead since they frequented those holy places with fidelity. A distinctive hallmark of Catholic spirituality has always been “getting a Mass card” for a deceased friend or relative. I was a weekend assistant in a parish in the 1980s where this practice was so ingrained in the faithful that the pastor had more Mass intentions than he and his assistant could handle and so supplied all four of us weekend priests with intentions as well. I am told that that parish now has hardly enough Mass intentions for the two full-time priests. How has this happened?

Well, for starters, it has been “in the air” for at least forty or fifty years that everyone goes to Heaven (except maybe not Hitler). A doctrine like Purgatory which, in another era, was perceived as a consoling and merciful teaching is now considered to be either totally out of date or vindictive. The upshot of that mentality has invaded the Sacred Liturgy, first of all, with the white vestments and “alleluias” for the Mass of Christian Burial. Ironically, though, nearly the only person in white at a funeral today is the priest! Sensible and sensitive people still dress in subdued colors. The coup de grace, however, is the funeral homily (let’s not even get into the even more troubled waters of eulogies). Who has not heard a priest exhort a congregation: “Don’t pray for Joe; pray to him!”? With the result that the dead are deprived of the suffrages of their loved ones – a failure in justice, charity and true friendship.

We are early enough in the new year to tack on one more resolution, namely, a commitment to follow the noble example of Sister Vera in praying for our friends to lead “a happy and holy life” now and to follow the very wise request of St. Monica who, on her deathbed, asked to be “remembered at the altar of the Lord.” Friends do things like that for each other.

One of the many prayers for the dead given us in the Sacred Liturgy would be worth keeping in our minds, in our hearts, and on our lips:

O God, giver of pardon and loving author of our salvation, grant, we pray you, in your mercy, that, through the intercession of Blessed Mary, ever-Virgin, and all your Saints, the members, friends, and benefactors of our community, who have passed from this world, may attain a share in eternal happiness.


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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 161 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the editor of the The Catholic Response, and the author of over 500 articles for numerous Catholic publications, as well as several books, including The Catholic Church and the Bible and Understanding the Sacraments.

7 Comments

  1. We need to go back to this at funeral Masses. With black vestments.

    DIES IRAE

    Attributed to Thomas of Celano (13th century)
    English translation, William Josiah Irons (1848)

    Dies irae, dies illa,
    Solvet saeclum in favilla:
    Teste David cum Sibylla.

    Quantus tremor est futurus,
    Quando judex est venturus,
    Cuncta stricte discussurus!

    Tuba mirum spargens sonum
    Per sepulcra regionum.
    Coget omnes ante thronum.

    Mors stupebit et natura,
    Cum resurget creatura,
    Judicanti responsura.

    Liber scriptus proferetur,
    In quo totum continetur,
    Unde mundus judicetur.

    Judex ergo cum sedebit,
    Quidquid latet apparebit:
    Nil inultum remanebit.

    Quid sum miser tunc diturus?
    Quem patronum rogaturus,
    Cum vix justus securus?

    Rex tremendae majestatis,
    Qui salvandos salvas gratis,
    Salva me, fons pietatis.

    Recordare, Jesu pie,
    Quod sum cause tuae viae:
    Ne me perdas illa die.

    Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:
    Redemisti crucem passus:
    Tantus labor non sit cassus.

    Juste Judex ultionis,
    Donum fac remissionis
    Ante diem rationis.

    Ingemisco tamquae reus:
    Culpa rubet vultus meus:
    Supplicanti parce, Deus.

    Qui Mariam absolvisti,
    Et latronem exaudisti,
    Mihi quoque spem dedisti.

    Preces meae non sunt dignae:
    Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
    Ne perenni cremer igne.

    Inter oves locum praesta,
    Et ab haedis me sequestra,
    Statuens in parte dextra.

    Confutatis maledictis,
    Flammis acribus addictis,
    Voca me cum benedictis.

    Ora supplex et acclinis,
    Cor contritum quasi cinis:
    Gere curam mei finis.

    Lacrimosa dies illa,
    Qua resurget ex favilla
    Judicandus homo reus:

    Huic ergo parce, Deus.
    Pie Jesu Domine,
    Dona eis requiem. Amen.

    Day of wrath and doom impending,
    David’s word with Sibyl’s blending!
    Heaven and earth in ashes ending!

    O what fear man’s bosom rendeth
    When from heaven the Judge descendeth,
    On whose sentence all dependeth!

    Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
    Through earth’s sepulchers it ringeth,
    All before the throne it bringeth.

    Death is struck, and nature quaking,
    All creation is awaking,
    To its judge an answer making.

    Lo! the book exactly worded,
    Wherein all hath been recorded;
    Thence shall judgment be awarded.

    When the Judge His seat attaineth,
    And each hidden deed arraigneth,
    Nothing unavenged remaineth.

    What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
    Who for me be interceding,
    When the just are mercy needing?

    King of majesty tremendous,
    Who dost free salvation send us,
    Fount of pity, then befriend us!

    Think, kind Jesu, my salvation
    Caused Thy wondrous Incarnation;
    Leave me not to reprobation.

    Faint and weary Thou hast sought me,
    On the Cross of suffering bought me;
    Shall such grace be vainly brought me?

    Righteous Judge! for sin’s pollution
    Grant Thy gift of absolution,
    Ere that day of retribution.

    Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
    All my shame with anguish owning;
    Spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning!

    Through the sinful woman shriven,
    Through the dying thief forgiven,
    Thou to me a hope hast given.

    Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
    Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
    Rescue me from fires undying.

    With Thy favored sheep O place me,
    Nor among the goats abase me,
    But to Thy right hand upraise me.

    While the wicked are confounded,
    Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
    Call me with Thy Saints surrounded.

    Low I kneel, with heart submission,
    Crushed to ashes in contrition;
    Help me in my last condition!

    Ah! that day of tears and morning!
    From the dust of earth returning,
    Man for judgment must prepare him;

    Spare, O God, in mercy spare him!
    Lord all-pitying, Jesu Blest,
    Grant them Thine eternal rest. Amen.

    (There are other translations, of course).

  2. Religious sisters, like Sister Vera, back in the day were of a different stripe altogether. They lived prayerful lives thinking of the Last Things and praying for what mattered most – human souls.

    When I was ordained some years back, I invited my 6th grade teacher, then known as Sister Leon, to the ordination. She suggested that I write down on a piece of paper those whom I loved most and insert it into my shirt pocket closest to my heart so that when I lay prostate during the chanting of the Litany of Saints, I would remember to offer prayers for them asking the Saints’ intercession. This I did. Sister Leon is still alive at 95 and living in a nursing home. I visited her on this past Christmas and I asked for her prayers, as she did mine.

  3. Father Stravinskas has blessed us all with these two articles on Friendship. No more dissertation is needed. They are truly special. And I will happily include him and Sister Vera in my new book of friends to pray for.

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