I Cried All Day Yesterday

“I cried all day yesterday so that I could be strong for the family today.” If you should ever wonder what kind of people work at the Catholic Cemeteries Association, the quotation above says it all. We know that families need us to be strong when they are broken, to guide them with love and compassion. We give a piece of ourselves to that family as we help them through the most difficult of tragedies. Giving the family a piece of our heart is the only way we know how to do this ministry. I know that every single member of the Catholic Cemeteries Association staff willingly gives of themselves to serve when families need us most.

To all the families served by the Catholic Cemeteries Association staff, whether it is the CEO or the staff member preparing the final place of rest, know that we accept our responsibility with reverence and are devoted to the person loved by you and entrusted to our care.

 

– Andrej Lah, Director of the Catholic Cemeteries Association

 

The Hole

The days are getting shorter, the air is a bit cooler and the smells of fall are everywhere. The stores are filled with Halloween decorations and costumes. Our daily activities dominate our lives and distract us from so many other things happening around us. Many of us will look back on this past summer and remember a great vacation and other grand adventures but for some this summer will carry a different set of memories. Some are dealing with the recent loss of someone they love; a hole created by death that can never be filled.

News of the death of someone we love has different levels of emotional trauma. When it is a child, regardless of the age of the child, the trauma a parent experiences is beyond anything we can measure. The devastation is overpowering and causes such indescribable numbness that some are unable to see how they can survive to the next day. The news of a grandparent is also traumatic but when the deceased had recently celebrated their 100th birthday, everyone expected that one day soon the call would come. We are both traumatized by the loss and grateful for the time we were given. In either situation, those who have faith know that this separation is temporary and it is in our Catholic Cemeteries where the hope of our reunion comes alive.

Fall is the time when we celebrate Cemetery Sunday which is in conjunction with All Souls Day. We celebrate the mass to remember the deceased and pray for them. It is the time that we are reminded of the promise Jesus made to us in those days leading up to His ultimate sacrifice. While there are many sacred places, it is only in a Catholic cemetery where our Catholic faith is fully acknowledged.

Our faith gives us hope and in our Catholic cemeteries we find a truly sacred place to remember the person whose loss has left a hole in our life. It is in our Catholic cemetery where we find that the hole is a bit less painful, because we come to believe in the promise of paradise.

Each of us might reflect on where we would have stood on that very first Good Friday. What would we have done if we had been part of that crowd watching as a man wearing a crown of thorns and a makeshift royal cloak was presented to us for sentencing? Today we know what He did for us without hesitation but where would we have been then?

Today we can reflect on the promise He made and have hope that with our final breath He will be waiting for us along with all those who we loved while traveling along a faith filled path toward paradise. I see in our Catholic cemeteries only hope that our faith will be fulfilled on the last day when the promise made will finally be kept.

When we kneel at the grave of our loved one, their death causes us to grieve but it is the promise that gives us comfort in the knowledge that this separation is only temporary.

The Promise

The Catechism of the Catholic Church at 1026 reads that “By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has “opened” heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ”.  As we begin our Lenten journey and prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord and Savior, it is good to reflect on what was done for each of us on that first Good Friday over 2000 years ago.

I imagine being a witness to what was happening in those final hours of the life of this man who showed only love to all he met.  I knew him only as a healer of both physical and spiritual afflictions.  He was kind to everyone even that tax collector who we all despised.  I heard he had even protected an adulteress from being stoned.  What right did he have to stop the righteous from enforcing God’s law?  I saw a few of His miracles and heard of others.  Some of my friends told me that He even raised someone from the dead.  How could this be true?  Raising someone after four days in a tomb simply could not be true.  Maybe this man was possessed by demons like some said he was, but I felt sorry for this man because it appeared that this He was a good man.  Even though Jesus may have been a good man, He should not have challenged the religious leaders and the Romans.  His words and deeds were going to get him into trouble.

I was in the crowd that morning when He was presented to us and the Roman prefect asked what we wanted done with Him.  I hesitated because I didn’t know what to do but then everyone started screaming to crucify Him.  I thought to myself, what do I do? Jesus didn’t commit any crime, but He claimed to be the Son of God, the Messiah.  This claim is blasphemous.  Standing there bloodied and beaten, why didn’t He just free himself if He is the Son of God?  He has blasphemed and has not freed us from Rome.  My friends are looking at me and suddenly they start screaming for the insurrectionist, Barabbas.  I didn’t want to get involved but I knew Barabbas was fighting the Romans to free us from their oppression.  I don’t care if Jesus dies because I want Barabbas to live.  What has this Jesus done for me?  So I started screaming for Barabbas too.

That afternoon I went back to my daily activities without even realizing that Jesus died.  His death didn’t affect my life.  I did not know that His death changed my life and He brought forgiveness.  He even forgave me for my betrayal because He knew I didn’t know what I was doing.

Each of must reflect on where we would have stood on that very first Good Friday.  What would we have done if we had been part of that crowd watching as a man wearing a crown of thorns and a makeshift royal cloak was presented to us for sentencing?  Today we know what He did for us without hesitation but where would we have been then?

Today we can reflect on the promise He made and have hope that with our final breath He will be waiting for us along with all those who we loved while traveling along a faith filled path toward paradise.  I see in our Catholic cemeteries only hope that our faith will be fulfilled on the last day when the promise made will finally be kept.

When we kneel at the grave of our loved one, their death causes us to grieve but it is the promise that gives us comfort in the knowledge that this separation is only temporary.

Andrej Lah

OUR CATHOLIC CEMETERIES – EACH A PLACE OF HOPE

Come upon a monument in a Catholic cemetery and you will find a vast number of surnames, some will give the visitor some indication as to the ethnicity of the deceased and others will have been changed over the years to in an effort to embrace their new home. In either case, they lie together in peace as members of our Catholic family awaiting the promise of the Resurrection made on that first Good Friday. Gone are the prejudices and judgments that all human beings struggle with and the only thing that remains is our common faith.

As Catholics we believe there is one God and in His eyes we are all one. In this faith that unifies us we also struggle with our human failings and the things that separate us from each other. We all struggle with our human nature by distinguishing ourselves economically, socially, politically, racially, and sexually and sometimes by national origin. As Catholics we want to be tolerant and accepting because our faith teaches us to love but separation simply occurs. Often this separation is without intent. Despite this separation in life it is in death and interment in a Catholic cemetery where prejudgment and all of life’s labels are washed away.

In a Catholic cemetery you will come upon a majestic monument next to a simple grave. In a Catholic cemetery you will come upon the grave of two people who lived life in the shadows but now rest in God’s loving care. In a Catholic cemetery who you are and where you came from are no longer relevant. As Catholic cemetarians our corporal work of mercy is simply to bury the dead and the rest we place in God’s hands. In a Catholic cemetery, there is no quarrel with the dead. In our Catholic cemeteries we are granted the ability to see each other as God’s gift to one another without concern for status or station.

Each funeral procession arrives with family and friends grieving the loss of the person who will remain in this most sacred of places. We come as family united by an ancient and universal faith, a religion that teaches that this is a beginning not an end. We come each with different traditions but share in the same sacraments. We come each with different ideas and pastimes and yet with the same beliefs. We come together regardless of what makes us unique, to mourn the loss of a life lived and loved. Our differences wash away and we have only one purpose the Corporal Works of Mercy, to bury our loved one with dignity and honor.

Our Catholic cemeteries in the Diocese of Cleveland stand as a reminder that we are recipients of God’s mercy. Loved in life, we are united in death. We honor the value God has placed in creating each of us and acknowledge the beauty of our differences. We know that through our faith God will wash away the inequities of life and grant us eternal life free of intolerance.

Andrej N. Lah

President, CCA

A Friend’s Wish

I wish I had known! I wish someone had told me! I wish that they would have had some type of service! I wish I would have had the opportunity to say goodbye! I wish I could have paid my respects!

I wish becomes the common cry of those prevented from being a part of the final journey. It is what is felt when someone we know has died and we only find out by a chance conversation that often starts with a question, how is ___________?

Modern life has sent us in so many directions that relationships which seemed would be eternal are separated by time. How often do we see an old friend and after catching up and truly enjoying the time we say the same words: we really need to get together more often. Unfortunately, time and the bustle of life interfere with that meaningful intent and we find ourselves years later saying the same thing. Time and daily responsibilities are inescapable task masters, preventing us from doing all that we wish.

An old friend of mine died after a long battle with cancer. His family had what would be considered a traditional funeral; a wake, a funeral mass, the burial and a luncheon gathering. I am so thankful that the family made the decision to allow me, an old friend, the opportunity to grieve with them and to remember.   The traditional funeral allowed me to say goodbye, to hug his wife and offer her my sympathies and most of all to stand at the casket and say goodbye.

At the place of final interment we are given one last opportunity to say goodbye and to be reminded of the promise that on the last day we will be united in body and spirit. This promise made by our Lord and Savior is evident when standing in a Catholic cemetery surrounded by all those who have already begun that final journey to Christ. Walking the cemetery I come upon the resting place of my old friend and I can now take a moment and remember and for this I thank his family. They have given themselves and us a gift of a place to go to remember a life well lived. It is where we can go and smile because we had the privilege of being a part of a good man’s life.

Society is making it more acceptable to simply set aside the death of a loved one for the convenience of a later date or even to avoid it altogether through cremation and non-burial without any opportunity to remember.   Death does not arrive at a convenient hour and when confronted with its reality, all we wish is to have the opportunity to say goodbye.

When given the opportunity to grieve with the family through a traditional funeral and interment, the only wish left is the one where we wish we had more time.

Andrej N. Lah

It Wasn’t Him

A few weeks ago I attended the funeral of an old friend. One week prior, he died as the result of suicide.

Soon thereafter came the questions and for some, judgment. Why would he do it? He had a good life. He was always so happy. How could he do this to his family? How could he commit such a selfish act? For some, the determination was already made, he was selfish. Unless you take the time to learn about and understand suicide, it is best to limit your comments to “I am truly sorry for your loss”.

Suicide is the result of a mental disorder that leads a person to a dark place where light cannot penetrate and death becomes the only option. Death becomes the only way to relieve the pain. No one chooses to die. No one chooses to destroy the lives of the people they love and adore. Suicide is not a choice. My old friend did not come home that day with the intention of destroying everything. He did not choose to forever cause his children to question why. He was in a dark place and in that moment the demons were in control. The only way to get rid of them was to end the life that was filled with excruciating pain. The love of family was strong enough in the past, but it could not overcome the demons this time.

His wife stood before the congregation and talked to us about her husband. She said he was a loving person that adored her and his children. She wanted us to understand that the person who took his life on that day was not the person we had known for so many years. The person they knew and loved was overwhelmed by something that those of us who see the light at the end of the tunnel do not understand. Most understand that the darkness will pass and that the demons will be vanquished but what if our mind prevents us from knowing, then what do we do?

I ask you all to pray for those who cannot see that light or don’t know how to vanquish their demons. Understand that it isn’t them when they find themselves overwhelmed by the pain and in that moment the only way to remove their anguish is to end their life. Never forget that our merciful God embraces all of us and it is only He who truly knows our hearts. I believe that anyone who dies with the love of Christ in their hearts is seated at the table of our Lord. May God bless all who mourn for they will find comfort.

Andrej N. Lah

What Did They See

Lent is a time when most Christians reflect on a variety of life’s trials and tribulations. These forty days provides each of us with the opportunity to reflect on our relationship with Christ and our connection to the Catholic Church that He created. This is also a time when we remember those who have completed their earthly journey and through their faith find themselves seated at the table of our Lord. It is because we remember that we pray; it is because of our faith that we have hope. Sitting in a pew and gazing upon the Cross, one can only imagine the pain and anguish suffered on that afternoon in Jerusalem. Some jeered and even cheered and others wept because this man who had done no wrong was to be put to death in a manner reserved for the worst of criminals. To those who do not believe, I ask why was this fate hoisted upon this innocent man and why did He accept it so willingly if not for something greater.

Jesus disciples risen after resAs people of faith, we must be ever vigilant in the face of forces that ridicule us for our beliefs. When we are mocked for actually believing that there is a God and that this Father in Heaven had a Son and the Son came to save us from our sins, we accept this ridicule with grace. When we are told that this story is like those told of the gods of ancient Greece and Rome, we smile and accept this laughter. When we are told that the Holy Bible is a nice story written to entertain the masses, we simply smile and acknowledge the critics blindness. When Jesus is compared to Santa Claus, we pray for the denier and hope that the cloud will be removed from their eyes.

I am blessed to have been given the gift of my Catholic faith by my parents and have been further blessed because it has flourished because of my unwavering belief in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. If ever I find myself questioning my faith or the institution of my Catholic Church founded by Christ, I need only ask “what did they see?”

Hiding in a room terrified that they would be next, the Apostles found themselves lost. What do you do when the man who has been your rock for the last three years is brutally tortured and then nailed to a wooden cross? Fear is an overwhelming emotion and would cause many of us to simply hide and eventually return to our old lives hoping that we escape the fate of our leader. What did they see that made these men rid themselves of the fear and begin building our church? Is it possible that the story is real and that a man who we know to be the Son of God appeared to them and set them on the path to change the world? Only the Divinity of our Catholic Church can truly explain how a man who should have died in obscurity brought hope to our world, a hope that is as real today as it was on that day when a group of men and women witnessed a miracle.

Andrej Lah

The Greatest of Our Corporal Works of Mercy

The following article is a perspective on the subject of suicide.  Recently students, friends and families in the communities of Lorain and Brunswick have been affected by suicides.

We have the incredible responsibility of performing one of the most difficult Corporal Works of Mercy; burying the dead.  Families rely on us to guide them through the most difficult time of their lives and to help in the selection of the place where they will mourn until that time when they too join their loved one in paradise.  This week however has been that much more difficult because we were charged with the responsibility of burying two young boys who died as a result of suicide.

The reports we are receiving is that both were subjected to what we often refer to as bullying.  While we will never know why death seemed to be the only option, what we do know is that each of these young lives were taken much too soon by a mental illness that we are only beginning to recognize.  Thankfully the Venerable John Paul II changed our perception of this disease.  This mental illness caused such extreme desperation that for these young boys death was the only thing that could take away the pain.

We must come to the understanding that suicide is the direct result of unbearable anguish, when the darkness becomes so unbearable and living becomes impossible.  We bury these young boys in sacred ground because their act was not a choice because no one would choose death if they really had one.  These boys found themselves in a place where the light at the end of the tunnel was not there and the only way out of the darkness was death.

I implore these families to come to the understanding of this terrible disease and to not blame themselves for not seeing the signs.  Often there are no signs to be seen.  Never see this as a selfish act done to you but recognize that your love was the only place they found refuge and it may have been the only place where a faint light existed.  Your hearts and your love are where the darkness could not penetrate.

It is with such deep sorrow that I write this to all our families suffering loss from suicide and we will pray that you find peace as I know in my heart that your children were embraced by our Savior and they are basking in the light of salvation.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “we should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives.  By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.  The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”

May you find refuge in our Catholic faith and in the knowledge that our God is all merciful and that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is pure love.

(The above article was written by Andrej Lah, President/CEO, Catholic Cemeteries Association, Diocese of Cleveland on Thursday, January 23, 2014.)

 

A Christmas Prayer

As I watch the snow slowly blanket the earth and consider the silence of this time of year, and as I walk the sections and read the remembrances left behind by loving family, I am reminded of our responsibility as stewards of these our Catholic cemeteries.  I reflect on the year gone by and think about the families that have touched me in so many ways.  The parents whose child is now forever in our care or the spouse who will now celebrate those special occasions wiping away the rain drops from the granite memorial that marks that place of remembrance.

All of us struggle with the loss of loved ones and while some grieve with love and compassion others can only find anger.  The death of the one they love is so overwhelming that they can no longer find compassion for others and their view of the world is clouded as they suffer in the storm of this unremitting anger.   As Catholic cemeterians, we pray for all the families we have served over the years but in a special way I write this letter to those whose hearts have become hardened by the death of the one they love.  Anger at the death of their beloved becomes so overpowering that they find no peace, and despite their faith they find no place of healing.

All of us at the Catholic Cemeteries Association wish all of our families a blessed Christmas and New Year.  We pray that all will find peace as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.  His birth transformed mankind and lets us know that our journey to God is through the Son.  He takes our suffering and makes it His own.  We pray that those who suffer will find peace and those whose anger either knowingly or unknowingly prevents them from embracing His love, will know the peace of Christ during this most wonderful time of the year.

God became man to take on our humanity, to share in our love and our suffering.  He demonstrated an immeasurable love and in this love we find the promise of eternal life.  In this time of joy, set aside your suffering for a moment, remember the love you shared with those who now sit at the table of the Lord.

We pray that the gift of our Savior will allow your heart to heal during this time of year when the joy of the season can be clouded by the darkness of loss.

It Is Personal

As someone who works in what is commonly referred to as the death care industry, sadness tends to permeate my daily routine.   I am often told by those that work outside the industry that I can’t make it personal and all I can ask is how can I not?

Consider what we are told not to make personal:  A father and mother lose their 4 year old son in a tragic accident at home.  A father shares his anger for not recognizing his son’s pain prior to his death from a suicide.  A mother tearfully recounts her daughter’s painful death.  A wife brings her one true love to the cemetery.   A mom says goodbye to her son, reminds him to be careful, never to see him again.  A husband who cared for his dying wife brings her to the cemetery where he and his children will now have to visit her.

As Catholic cemeterians, we witness their suffering and we share in their tears.  At the moment a family calls upon us to serve, we accept without hesitation the responsibility of caring for their loved one in this sacred place.  We acknowledge a duty to each family and treat their loved one just as Joseph of Arimathea did when he took responsibility for the burial of Jesus.  As Catholic cemeterians, we have a bond with our families because we feel each interment.  In that moment when a family arrives at the gates of their Catholic cemetery, they are confronted with the numbing pain of finality.  It is in that moment a Catholic cemeterian becomes a guardian not only of the loved one entrusted to our care but also of the spiritual wellbeing of the survivors.

We acknowledge each person’s grief and we accept that their grief can be overwhelming as they leave their loved one behind in our care.  We are now ministers caring for the dead and providing comfort to the living who now turn to their Catholic faith for comfort.  It is in our Catholic cemeteries where our faith in the resurrection is alive, where our hope in what will be is validated and where the peacefulness of our surroundings allows us to remember.

It is personal because we understand that what we do is both a corporal and spiritual work of mercy.  Our Catholic faith reminds us that those who mourn are blessed and it is our duty to provide comfort to them.

~ Andrej Lah, Director of Catholic Cemeteries