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The Conversation: A Catholic Perspective on End-of-Life Issues

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Spiritual Gifts Inventory - St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

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DEAR FATHER | Offer prayers for deceased loved ones through the person of Christ

May I pray for a family member who has died to intercede for me, or may I only ask canonized saints?

Fundamentalists tend to disagree with Catholics on praying to the dead, even to the saints. They cite biblical texts such as Deuteronomy 18:10-11, in which the Lord prohibits any oracles, or communication, with the dead.

A Catholic response to this objection begins by reading such texts in context. Then, one realizes that God condemns communication with the dead apart from Him. Such communication might be done by wizards or sorcerers who believe they can manipulate the spiritual realm at will. Indeed, the Church always has condemned such practices, teaching that they should be avoided.

How the Church envisions us properly praying to the dead is in the story of the Transfiguration. Here, Jesus converses with two saints of the Old Testament: Moses and Elijah while Peter, James and John observe. This event gave these three apostles an important insight into the life of heaven. When in heaven, the saints do live and converse with God.

Those in heaven, though, aren’t just those relatively few souls whom the Church has recognized through the process of canonization. Any soul who has entered into heaven is considered a saint. This means that even though our relatives and friends who have gone before us might never be recognized by the Church, they may also be considered saints as they enter into heaven.

But how do we know if we should pray to a loved one? What if they are in purgatory? Will God still hear our prayers?

We must look at how God hears this prayer. As we offer our prayer to them, we do it through the Person of Christ, through whom they receive life after death. If they’re among the saints, then, we can be assured that they will hear that prayer in union with Christ and bring our need speedily to Him as seen in the Transfiguration.

At the same time, God understands that while we may have a strong intuition or sign that leads us to believe that our loved one is in heaven, they may still be undergoing purification of love in purgatory. Be assured that your prayer is heard. God will hear this prayer, offered through the Person of Christ, and answer your request for His help when you do ask for it.

This column appeared in a previous edition of the Review.

Father Mayo is pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in St. Louis.

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