A grave marker is seen at sunset outside St. Patrick Catholic Cemetery in Neenah, Wis. (CNS photo/Brad Birkholz, for The Compass)

Remembering our Deceased Priests

Keep close the memories of our brothers with whom we have lived and served

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Father David BonnarIt is a tradition in our diocese every July to have a clergy golf outing that brings the brothers together for lunch, golf and dinner. There is nothing quite like being with brother priests and to enjoy the company of deacons. To be together away from the stresses of the parish, chasing a little white ball, albeit for a few hours, is a welcome relief. After the round is played everyone gathers at the 19th hole where stories from that day and beyond abound. There is also the added feature of door prizes. Everyone goes home with something.

The outing for many years has been called “The Pittsburgh Clergy Memorial Golf Outing.” The word “memorial” is more than just a fancy word. It is, in fact, a reality because at every outing before dinner we have a prayer service in which we spontaneously call out from our tables the names of clergy who have gone before us. This prayer becomes not only a walk down memory lane but also a prayerful and reverent remembrance of our deceased brothers who fought the good fight. In many ways, it is like praying the Litany of Saints. Although some have been dead for years, their names are mentioned by the brothers repeatedly demonstrating their imprint on the life of our local Church of Pittsburgh.

In this month of November, it is the custom of the Church to pray for and remember the dead. This prayer of remembrance, however, transcends this month. In fact, every time we celebrate Mass we pray for those who have died.

How often, though, do we take time to remember our brother priests who have died? Every diocese or religious community has its own necrology, which is typically found in the ordo located in the sacristy. It is important to look at the ordo before Mass and to pray for our deceased brothers who died on that particular day.

An older priest with whom I had the privilege of living and serving with for nine years taught me another way to pray for our deceased brothers. Whenever a brother priest dies, he has a practice in which he offers a Mass for that priest. It was humbling every time I knew he celebrated Mass for these brothers. He, more than anyone else, really impressed upon me the need to do this for our brothers. He often says, “We do these things because we are priests.”

Another way for us to pray for our brothers is to visit the priest section of the cemetery. We can walk through it and look at the names and offer a prayer for their eternal rest and happiness. Behind every name there is a story. While the stories are different, we are nonetheless brothers comprising a great fraternity.

We can strive to keep close to our hearts the memories of those brothers with whom we have lived and served. We might also aim every day to remember the priests who helped form us. These are the men from our home parishes, Newman centers and places of priestly formation. We might even consider lighting a candle for them each day during this month of remembrance.

In his general audience for Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, Pope Francis said: “Praying for the dead is, first and foremost, a sign of appreciation for the witness they have left us and the good that they have done. It is giving thanks to the Lord for having given them to us and for their love and their friendship.”

As we pray for our beloved brothers we must never forget to embrace the corporal work of mercy of burying the dead. This means that we should as true brothers make every effort to attend the funeral of a brother priest. It goes without saying that our lives are busy. Death is never convenient. Regardless of what is going on in our ministry we need to make every effort to be at the funeral of our brother priest much like we would a family member, for as priests we are family to one another. In all of these acts of prayerful remembrance there is much to be gained, not only for them but for us, because in remembering them I believe they remember us.

This month we welcome Father Guerric De Bona, OSB, as a new voice with our Homily Helps. He replaces Father Daniel Ruff, SJ. Father De Bona will alternate each month with Father Richard De Lillio, OSFS, D.Min. We also are broadening the scope of Priesttalk by adding Father Ronald Raab, CSC. He will alternate with longtime contributor Father Patrick Carrion. 

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, follow The Priest on Twitter @PriestMagazine and like us on Facebook.

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