As Catholics, we don’t need to marvel in ghost stories; rather, we can share real stories of real people who walked before us.
We were on vacation in Maine this summer, and one of our goals was to visit the gravesites of our deceased relatives who established Harpswell, Maine. Learning that I am a member of the 13th generation of our family line here in this country was a powerful experience for me. Taking some time away from the beach to “meet the family” was a real highlight.
This day trip was spiritually powerful in many ways. The gravestones were old and difficult to read because they went back to the 1700s. I was blown away at the significance of this because my father was a convert to the Catholic Faith and the first Catholic in his lineage since before the Reformation. Returning to these sites to anoint them with holy water and pray for the poor souls in our family was momentous.
After we entered the small and historic graveyard nestled near a forest and across the street from the original Protestant church, the children began to explore. Each one of my children wandered around searching out their family namesakes, and many of them found them! They were able to read about their relatives and learn in a few words, how their families wanted them to be remembered: “mother,” “father,” “child of,” “wife of,” “ Sea Captain”… these small but significant phrases point to the reality that we are most often remembered for according to how we related with others in our lives. One tombstone caught my attention in a particular way with the inscription, “Our Beloved Mother.” It was an encouraging reminder of the importance of the vocation of motherhood. My heart stopped when I looked at the site of a young mother in her early 30s who was laid to rest because of childbirth and died on the very day I became a mother for the first time. The stark reality for these early pioneers was that motherhood often times meant a true sacrifice of their life.
One of my children stated, “these inscriptions can’t be English, I can barely recognize what they are saying.” As we began to decipher the writing on the tombstones, despite the grammatical changes, we were able to determine that most of these early settlers had a strong Christian faith, one that would probably humble us with their prayer and devotion.
As we continued our visit, I could tell that my 7 year old son needed a job. I asked this high-energy little boy to pray for the Pour Souls. All of a sudden he took off like a rocket! When I questioned where he was going, he yelled back, “I need to say a Hail Mary in front of every grave here…you never know who needs it the most, mom!”
As Catholics, we re called to live out the Spiritual Works of Mercy by praying for the living and the dead. In the busyness of life, it is important to find moments to teach our children the perspective provided by our Catholic Faith about the cycle of life and death. This family vacation has been a real gift to spend time at the beach, hiking, swimming, boating, eating lobster, but ultimately to bring to mind the family members who have gone before us. As Catholics, we can come to appreciate that our prayers are powerful and we do not forget those that go before us.
All of us mothers have generations of men and women who have gone before us who can benefit from our prayers for their souls. Take some time out and pray for your family members and, if you can, visit their gravesites and ask the Lord to have mercy on their souls and those of the whole world.
I never thought that the highlight of my vacation would be developing an appreciation for my lineage and the men and women who established this country. Their simple pioneer life is well worth appreciating and remembering. God bless the poor souls and may we all see the light of heaven someday. No matter where your relatives lay to rest, pray for them.
Here are some recommended prayers to pray for the dead:
“Requiem Prayer” or the “Prayer for the Poor Souls in Purgatory”:
Eternal rest grant unto him/her (them), O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon him/her (them). May he/she (they) rest in peace. Amen.
Prayer of St. Gertrude the Great (A.D. 1256-1301/2):
Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood Of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the Universal Church, those in my own home and within my own family. Amen.
*Refer to St. Joseph Book of blessing for the prayer for Anointing a Gravesite or contact your local pastor.
Copyright 2015 Emily Jaminet
Photos copyright 2015 – Emily Jaminet. All rights reserved.