October 30, 2021 Essay: Praying with the Communion of Saints
Every morning I pray with two dear friends—our fellow parishioner Carlos Cuartas and Fr. Michael Sehler, S.J., who taught for 24 years at Loyola School next door. Though both died within the past 18 months, they remain my prayer partners. I pray for Carlos and Mike as they continue on their spiritual journey. And I ask them for support and inspiration as I begin my day—“Help me to do some good just as you did so much good in your time here.” On this eve of the month All Souls, I am filled with gratitude that our Catholic Tradition has tithed time to pray for and with our soul-friends on the other side of death.
Praying with the dead is grounded in our belief in the communion of saints. Fr. Ron Rolheiser, the spiritual writer, reflects, “This doctrine, so central and important that’s enshrined in our creed, asks us to believe that we are still in a real community of life and communication with those who have died.”
Though death separates us, our relationships with our departed loved ones deepen, grow and evolve. Carlos and Mike loved me and supported me here with their companionship, and continue to do so from their heavenly place. I have a Colombian rosary bracelet that Carlos once wore on his wrist. When he gave it to me (over a pint at Carlow East!) he said, “It reminds me that I am never alone.” When I put it on every morning I know that he is with me. And when I walk through the doors of Fordham Prep to begin my day of teaching, I make it my intention to bring Mike’s spirit of care, kindness, compassion, and fun to my classroom, as he did to his.
I am deeply grateful that I was able to say everything I wanted to say to Mike and Carlos before they died. But I recognize that it is a sad reality of the human experience that more often than not, much is left unsaid. The communion of saints affirms that there remains an opportunity for that unfinished business to be addressed. Recently a friend shared with me that his feelings about his late mother have evolved over many years, and he is finding that he understands her better and feels more inclined toward forgiving her for the ways she’d wounded and disappointed him. “Perhaps she too is desiring reconciliation”, I offered, “and is now reaching out from across the divide. Could that be why you’re feeling these emotions stirred?” He was silent and still for about a minute, then tears came to his eyes. Love is indeed stronger than death!
I have become more intentional about showing up in prayer with my soul friends on the other side. Besides my morning ritual with Mike and Carlos, I set aside time to simply be still in the presence of those I love who have died. I light a candle and call them to mind. I am also attentive to and reverence dreams where they visit me. When I journal about the dream I sometimes write alternative endings that address what was unfinished and unsaid. This spiritual writing exercise might be an opportunity for one to extend or ask for forgiveness, or say, “Thank you!” or “I love you.”
In the final months of his life, Carlos would often conclude notes to me with, “Managing daily, with the Lord at my side.” And the last thing Mike said to me while he could still speak was, “I love you.” Though they have gone to their rest, I know that Carlos and Mike are by my side daily, sending me love. I am especially grateful for them, and all my loved ones I will pray with in this season of All Souls.
– Brian B. Pinter, Pastoral Associate