My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Our annual celebration of Memorial Day this year will be on Monday, May 27. Since becoming diocesan bishop in 2010, it has been my custom to celebrate Mass each year on Memorial Day at Calvary Cemetery in Springfield. This year, my vicar general, Msgr. David Hoefler, will take my place at Calvary Cemetery, as I will instead celebrate the Memorial Day Field Mass at Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, where my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and other relatives are buried. I was invited to celebrate the Mass at Resurrection Cemetery this year because my mother was buried there just this past March 19.
Visiting Resurrection Cemetery always brings back many memories for me. When I was a child, my family would often go to Resurrection Cemetery on Sunday afternoons because my grandmother wanted to visit the grave of her husband, my grandfather, John H. Paprocki, Sr., who died a few years before I was born.
To this day, I still remember the route we took through the cemetery visiting various graves. First we would stop at the Paprocki graves near the entrance of the cemetery, where my Grandpa Paprocki and his parents were buried. Then we would drive towards the back of the cemetery where my mother’s parents were buried. Next, we would circle back on the other side of the cemetery near the exit to visit the graves of my grandmother’s relatives, the Gorski family, including the grave of her brother, Father Aloysius Gorski, the founding pastor of St. Bruno Parish on the south side of Chicago.
At each stop we would get out of the car, stand by the graves, and pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Eternal Rest for the repose of their souls. Years later, whenever I go to Resurrection Cemetery, I follow this same pattern of visiting graves and praying for the dead, except that these graves now include both of my parents.
I don’t have any statistics in this regard, but I would suppose that people do not visit cemeteries and the graves of the dead as much as previous generations did, just as a smaller percentage of people go to church these days. Both of these trends are unfortunate, as they reflect a weakening of the faith, especially belief in eternal life.
A story published in the Chicago Tribune on the Friday before Mother’s Day earlier this month puts the issue of faith into perspective. Journalist Stephen J. Lyons wrote a commentary entitled, “Grieving over Mom: No, she’s not in a ‘better place.’” He wrote that, after his mother died, “some friends, relatives and acquaintances kindly reached out to assure me: ‘Mom was in a better place.’ ‘After all, she was not going to get better.’ ‘It must be a relief.’”
Reflecting on this, Lyons wrote that “this idea of a ‘better place’ did not exactly comfort me, because being alive remains the best place ever. Let’s review the facts: Mom is dead. Nothing will change that, even though for the past month I keep expecting her to call me. I wake up at night and think I need to be doing something for her. Then I remember that Mom is no longer here, on this planet, at this time. I cannot begin to describe how weird that feels. ‘A better place’ is not a crematorium or pricey casket stuck in the ground. … After some time, Mom’s ashes arrived. They are whitish-gray, heavier than expected and sealed with a round metal clip with the number 5869. Is this the better place? Hardly, but it’s a comfort to think that some part of her is here with me. And that among those remains and the memories they will trigger is a path forward through this crushing grief.”
As I read this, I thought: How sad! He thinks all that is left of his mother are some ashes in an urn. There is no mention of belief in an afterlife, hope for heaven, or faith in eternal life.
All of this strikes home for me as many people expressed their belief and their hope that my Mom is now “in a better place” after she died this past March 13. Mom lived in a nursing home for the past four years with declining health, with loss of physical strength and her memory. So, yes, I do believe that my mother is now in “a better place.” People of faith indeed have hope for “a better place.”
The nursing home where my mother lived and died was called Resurrection Life Center. She is now buried with my father at Resurrection Cemetery. Resurrection. How fitting! My parents’ earthly remains were laid to rest at Resurrection Cemetery, but their souls live on, awaiting the resurrection of all the dead when Christ comes again at the end of time.
May God give us this grace. Amen.