Father Joe Kempf has witnessed plenty of heartache lately.
many other priests, part of his ministry is comforting families when
they lose a loved one. But lately, some of the funerals he’s presided at
have been for people who have died at a young age. Witnessing tragedies
in the news, such as the shooting death at a Catholic Supply store,
also have evoked feelings of grief in many people, he added.
pastor of Most Sacred Heart Parish in Eureka said that the gift of faith
can help people process grief in healthy ways. Father Kempf has
addressed the topic — as well as finding God in moments of loss — in
several books and videos over the years, including “No One Cries the
Wrong Way: Seeing God Through Tears,” published in 2001.
that there is eternal life after life on earth can bring peace in the
midst of loss, he said, but it does not take away the need to grieve.
“How we grieve will vary according to how different we each are,” he
said. “There is no correct way to grieve and no time limit.”
where does God factor into this? Father Kempf said it is important to
take great care when speaking about God to those who are suffering.
“Phrases such as ‘God never gives you more than you can handle’ or
‘everything happens for a reason’ seem to suggest that God is the cause
of their heartache, and give many people a distorted image of God,” he
A more accurate image of God’s presence in the midst of
grief is shown in the Gospel of John, when Jesus stands before the tomb
of his deceased friend Lazarus. In the end, Jesus calls Lazarus from the
tomb, bringing him back to life. But the part of the story many people
miss is that Jesus first weeps at the death of his friend (John 11:35).
have often been with people who know great heartache and have sensed —
if they could see God — they would see God weeping with them,” Father
“No, God does not send us suffering or death” Father
Kempf stressed. But when suffering does happen, God is right there with
us to bring good out of them. “Often, there is something of God that is
forged in our souls through suffering that we would have not known
except through what we have suffered,” he said.
Grief is a
God-given gift and healthy process designed to help people survive a
loss, according to Suzanne Harvath, a psychologist, coordinator of human
and pastoral formation and associate professor of pastoral theology at
“We are learning how to adjust our life
and our beliefs and our feelings in order to go on in our lives without
wherever it is we have lost,” she said. “It is a lifelong adjustment
She cited four primary grief tasks developed by
psychologist William Worden of Harvard University, which are needed to
complete the mourning process. The tasks aren’t meant to be sequential,
Harvath noted, and people may move back and forth among each task as
they process their grief. They include:
• Accept the reality of the loss:
This entails eventually coming to peace with the fact the loss happened
— and that will take time. Our assumptive beliefs have been disrupted,
especially in situations where a loss happened suddenly. “We are all
touched by a death of a community member, whether we know this person or
not,” Harvath said. “But the other thing we are grieving is a loss of
innocence, a loss of safety, a loss of sense of well-being.” That’s why
people ask questions in an attempt to make sense of a tragic situation,
such as the shooting death of Jamie Schmidt at a Catholic Supply store.
“Here’s a nice lady who went to the store to buy rosary parts —
something like this shouldn’t have happened to her,” Harvath said.
• Experience the emotions associated with a loss:
It’s important for people to talk to others about how sad, frightened
or angry they are about a loss. Talking with others helps with the
healing process. On 9/11, for example, it was difficult to watch the
airplanes as they crashed into the World Trade Center buildings. For
most people, an acceptance of the situation grew over time. “We kept
talking about it, expressing emotions and getting help with those
• Adjust to the environment where the loss has occurred: Certainly a loss changes us, Harvath said, but we look for ways to adjust our ways of living in order to keep living our lives.
• Form an enduring relationship with the person or situation we have lost:
When a person dies, or we experience a situation where a loss has
occurred, we begin to see a shift from a relationship of presence to a
relationship of memory. We will never forget the person, or the
situation as it was before the loss, Harvath said.
Grief is unique
to each individual, said Harvath. It is important to respect others’
expressions and help them as they proceed in their grief, not being
afraid to acknowledge their loss or emotions, she added.
course, there are times in which grief becomes complicated. Recognizing
signs that a person is stuck in their grief is important, Harvath noted.
In those situations, support from a professional counselor or a trained
spiritual director can prove beneficial.
Through tragedy, Church offers healing through prayers, sacraments
Blessing, prayer service at Catholic Supply is one visible example of Church’s healing ministry
BY JENNIFER BRINKER | firstname.lastname@example.org | twitter: @jenniferbrinker
In November, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson gathered with a
small group for a prayer service and blessing of Catholic Supply in west
St. Louis County.
It was two weeks after a gunman came into the
store and sexually assaulted two women and killed 53-year-old Jamie
Schmidt of House Springs.
The prayer service was an opportunity
for victims’ families, Catholic Supply staff and others to communally
pray for healing for those who were impacted by the horrific events. “We
ask the Lord to dispel our fears, to heal the physical and
psychological wounds that have been caused by the evil that happened in
this place, and to bring comfort and peace in His ever abiding
presence,” the archbishop offered in the opening prayer.
As St. Paul once said, nothing — not even death — can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35).
prayer, the faithful can be sources of healing to others. That was
Archbishop Carlson’s reason for wanting to pray with others at Catholic
Supply, he said. “In the world today, there are people who are broken,
maimed, sad and desperate,” he said. “As Church, we’re called as best we
can in our own way to be a healer.”
Citing the story of the
multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Archbishop Carlson noted that
Jesus was teaching His disciples about relying on the Lord, even when
they felt they didn’t have enough food to give to the people. “He was
taking the disciples through the school of apostleship,” he said. “We
all have gifts, but our gifts are never enough. We always have to rely
on the Lord’s help.”
The Church is a path to healing, most visibly
through the sacraments. Members of St. Anthony of Padua Church in High
Ridge, for example, offered a Mass of remembrance for Schmidt, who was a
parishioner and member of the choir there. The Eucharist — the source
and summit of faith — united a hurting community and offered an
opportunity for healing.
“The prayer tonight healed hearts and
brought people closer together and closer to Our Lord,” pastor Father
John Reiker said after the Nov. 20 Mass. “You can feel it. You can feel
the power of Jesus here.”
Other examples in which the local Church
has offered healing include regular prayer services for victims of
sexual abuse by clergy or others; as well as the Rite of Naming and
Commendation for a Baby Who Has Died Before Birth, which is for families
who have lost a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion or
The archdiocesan Catholic Renewal Center also offers a
Healing and Deliverance Ministry. The method complements the sacramental
life of the Church and helps the person reconnect in their relationship
with Jesus, the source of all healing. There are more than 80 members
who are trained to offer healing ministry in the archdiocese.
the perfect world, everyone is healed — that’s the heavenly kingdom,”
Archbishop Carlson said. “But we have to be constantly involved in
healing now. In these very difficult times, like the evil that took
place at Catholic Supply … we should be praying for them,” he said.
reading the news about someone facing something difficult in their
lives, we should pray for them, Archbishop said. “Even taking the time
when someone dies to go to the funeral home — your presence makes a
difference,” he said.
Saint Louis Counseling provides professional counseling services throughout the St. Louis area. Visit saintlouiscounseling.org
The Catholic Renewal Center offers spiritual direction and a Healing and Deliverance Ministry. Visit www.archstl.org/ catholic-renewal-center