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Part 5: Console the Sorrowful

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By Chris Sparks (Jan 22, 2016)
The following is the fifth in a seven-part series on the spiritual works of mercy.

There's a funny truth I've discovered over the years: When someone dies, those who love them want prayer.

It doesn't matter if a person claims to be an atheist.

It doesn't matter how loudly they protest against God, against faith, against the Church.

Sometimes, they just need someone to pray.

I've seen the death notices appear on Facebook, scrolling along under the same names I associate with radical pro-choice arguments, atheistic posts, and anti-Catholic memes. I've messaged them privately, telling them how sorry I am for their loss and mentioning that, if they'd like, I'll have the names of their loved one included in Mass intentions or put into a prayerlist.

I haven't once been turned down.

Sometimes, someone will ask slightly nervously, "Does it matter if they're not Catholic?" or I'll be told, "Well, they weren't really devout or anything." And I've answered, "Of course we'll pray for them no matter what! We pray for everyone at Mass anyway."

Again: I've never had someone tell me, "Thanks, but no thanks. Keep your prayers."

There are as many ways to comfort the sorrowful as there are people. Some things that some people will find incredibly reassuring and soothing may bug the living heck out of other people, and vice versa. And some things seem be fairly universally welcomed, like prayer or blessings, or simple good wishes. People know when a religious gesture is meant well. Praying for their dead? It seems to be nearly universally recognized as a beneficent gesture.

And indeed, praying for the dead appears across a great many cultures, including Judaism (keeping "Kaddish"). It's one of the many spiritual practices embraced by St. Faustina Kowalska, the Apostle and Secretary of Divine Mercy. In her Diary, she records:

I saw my Guardian Angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid. The flames which were burning them did not touch me at all. My Guardian Angel did not leave me for an instant. I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God. I saw Our Lady visiting the souls in Purgatory. The souls call her "The Star of the Sea." She brings them refreshment. I wanted to talk with them some more, but my Guardian Angel beckoned me to leave. We went out of that prison of suffering. [I heard an interior voice] which said, My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it. Since that time, I am in closer communion with the suffering souls. (Diary, 20)

To learn more about praying for the dead, visit our Holy Souls Sodality site.

That's one way to comfort the sorrowful. Another is to pray for the dying, either in an adoration chapel or at their bedside, using prayers such as the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Rosary to obtain heavenly graces to assist the dying person in their passage from this life to the next. Jesus told St. Faustina:

Pray as much as you can for the dying. By your entreaties [that is, insistent prayers], obtain for them trust in My mercy, because they have most need of trust, and have it the least. Be assured that the grace of eternal salvation for certain souls in their final moment depends on your prayer. You know the whole abyss of My mercy, so draw upon it for yourself and especially for poor sinners. Sooner would heaven and earth turn into nothingness than would My mercy not embrace a trusting soul. (Diary, 1777)

Indeed, to comfort the sorrowful often means performing works of mercy in response to the source of their grief, whether that be the death of a loved one, a hard financial or spiritual situation, the needs of a family member or friend, or the attacks of an enemy. Sometimes, the best way to perform this spiritual work of mercy is through the corporal works of mercy.

Other times, comforting the sorrowful can be as simple as merely being present, listening to those who are going through a hard time. Never underestimate the power of being there for someone, of making plain to them that they are not alone, that they have a friend, a support willing to be what they need, or who at least can point them in the right direction.

And then there are the times when nothing we say or do can break through certain sorrows, such as clinical depression. Discern the sort of help needed. If someone needs more than you can give, don't break yourself trying to do more than you are called to do. God has given you certain capabilities for a reason, and left you without certain capacities for a reason, as well. Do what you can, even if it seems radically insufficient. Always remember the infinite potential of prayer, but do learn to discern when to direct a person to a priest, a psychiatrist, their family, or other friends with greater resources than you.

So go. Bear witness to the love of God for the sorrowing through your own love, your own care, your own works of mercy. Pray for the sorrowing, far and near, at home and abroad, those closest to you and those farthest away. Inform yourself about the resources available for those in need so that you can direct people to them when you yourself do not have enough to ease their pain.

The spiritual works of mercy

Teach the ignorant
Pray for the living and the dead
Admonish sinners
Counsel those in doubt
Console the sorrowful
Bear wrongs patiently
Forgive offenses

We invite you to follow along with the series.

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