Friday, November 2, 2012

Our Need to Bury the Dead

All Souls Day is a day that we pray for the dead-- a spiritual act of mercy.

I'm also concerned about a vanishing tradition of the corporal act of mercy--burying the dead. 

Did you guys watch the Sheen movie "St. Jame's Way?" It's about a Catholic Father coming to terms with the tragic death of his only son by hiking the traditional pilgrimage path in the Spanish Mountains. All during this movie, I'm gasping because the Father takes the ashes of his son and "scatters" them on the path.

This is not Catholic.

Catholics allow for cremation, however, the ashes of a body are holy and worthy of respect. They are supposed to be buried in the same dignity as a body. That means in the ground, or in one of those special vaults at a cemetery.  

Yet we are surrounded by a culture of paganism. The worse practice in Ancient Greece was to destroy the body of an enemy and "scatter the ashes to the wind." Now, we are in a place where taking a beloved grandfather, parent or child and "scattering their ashes" is seen as a good thing.

In the alternative, some grieving parents and children hold onto a loved one's ashes until they find the "perfect" burial spot. They can't bury their child right now because they will be moving soon, or can't afford a nice enough spot, or just aren't ready to drop a loved one in the cold hard ground and walk away. Those people have dead that remain unburied.

I truly get that death "sucks." It is not easy to leave someone you love in the ground. 

God's ways, however, are not our ways. God's ways are supernatural, because they are hard, but also because they are "healing." My husband and I have experience the healing that came from burying our son and burying his father.

In our culture, it's become hip to say "anything goes." "Oh you're grieving man, whatever brings you comfort." The Church, however, is our trusted Mother. She knows best. She urges us to do better.

Today, if there is someone that you love who still has the ashes of a dead loved one in their home, or who has plans to "scatter her ashes on Mount Kilimanjaro", pray for her. Then love her enough to tell her the truth.

Tobit, pray for us!

Reference: Catechism of the Catholic Church 2300- "The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.

2301-The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.


  1. My "pagan" husband, if he outlives me, insists that my ashes will go into his family tomb in Kyoto, and not scattered in the ocean as I wish. I suppose that once I'm gone, he will do as he pleases and it won't matter to me -- I will want him to do whatever would bring him comfort -- but I admit, I really love the thought of my ashes being released into the wind and water. And if I outlive him, I hope I get my final wish.

  2. L--The Catholic Church actually allows "burial at sea"--so it's possible to get your wish and give your body the respect it deserves as a member of the Catholic church.

    Why the disagreement with your husband in the first place? I'm really comforted that I'm going to be buried by my husband. We've moved around a lot so where ever he is now feels like 'home' to me.

  3. Well, since I am preparing to separate from my husband for at least a few years when I refuse to follow him on his next job assignment, there is a more pressing issue facing us than the final resting place of my ashes.

    I think I just love the whole idea of the remains of my body ending up the ocean. It's interesting, though, that "burial at sea" would be allowed, while scattering ashes in another beautiful but landlocked place would not be.

  4. Oh, also, just want to add that my Catholic parents told me that instead of going into the family plot in Connecticut, they want their ashes scattered in the Nevada desert near their home, and I can't see any harm in honoring their wishes. I intend to do this for them -- though I hope I don't need to do it for a long, LONG time!

  5. I've seen Martin Sheen address this in an interview with Raymond Arroyo. The father is supposed to be a fallen away Catholic and therefore wouldn't necessarily be up on or practicing all the church teaches. I've never seen the movie so I don't know how "appropriately" the situation is portrayed.