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'Remember Me' - Should Catholics talk to their dead loved ones? 

Denver, Colo., Aug 18, 2019 / 04:57 am (CNA).- In the 2017 Disney-Pixar movie “Coco,” the main character, Miguel, accidentally passes over into the land of the dead on Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) while trying to reconcile his love of music with his family’s ban on it.

There, he learns that the dead can only visit their loved ones on that holiday if they can prove there is a photo of them on their family’s “ofrenda”, an altar with photos of loved ones, colorful decorations, and the favorite foods, drinks and mementos of the deceased.

“We've put their photos on the ofrenda so their spirits can cross over. That is very important! If we don't put them up, they can't come!” Miguel’s abuelita explains.

While in the land of the dead, Miguel bumps into his own deceased family members, and learns his true family history.

Though Miguel’s experience is fictional, it is not uncommon for grieving loved ones to experience what psychologists call “After Death Communication,” in which the bereaved believe that they see, hear the voices of, or even smell their dead loved ones.

These experiences, sometimes called “bereavement hallucinations,” can be healing and comforting for those who grieve, multiple studies have found.

But Catholics should proceed with caution when “communicating” with the dead, two Catholic psychologists told CNA, and they should ground their communications in prayer.

Dana Nygaard is a Catholic and a licensed professional counselor who speaks to grief groups and counsels clients through loss. Nygaard told CNA that because many Catholics misunderstand what happens to souls after death, she urges caution when talking about what it means to talk to dead loved ones.

“If they're speaking to a loved one, how are they doing that? Is it through saying, ‘Hey grandma, I think you're up there in heaven with God. I really hope you pray and look over me.’ Okay, well that sounds fine,” she said.

“Or...are they going to a psychic or a medium? Is this necromancy? How were they doing this?  I think that's an important question,” Nygaard said.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “all forms of divination are to be rejected” which includes the “conjuring up the dead.”

However, the Church encourages Catholics to pray for the dead as one of the spiritual works of mercy.

“From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead,” the Catechism states.

“Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”

“Prayer, prayer, prayer,” Nygaard said, noting that because Catholics do not know the state of the souls of their loved ones when they die, it is important to pray for them after their death, as prayers can help the souls in purgatory get to heaven faster.

The Liturgy of the Hours, a set of prayers said periodically throughout the day by priests, religious and some lay Catholics, includes a special Office of the Dead, a set of prayers said specifically for those who have died.

Nygaard told CNA that she often encourages Catholics who are grieving a loss to ask for the intercessory prayers of saints already canonized by the Church, which means that they are assured to be with God in heaven.

“Maybe it was that my great-grandmother was really close to St. Anne. I'm going to ask St. Anne, ‘Would you please look after my sweet great grandmother? I pray she's there with you in heaven.’ I've known people also to pray, ‘God, I'm asking you, do I need to keep praying for my father?’” she said.

Nygaard said that those she counsels through grief will sometimes, after a period of prayer, feel a deep sense of peace that their loved one is in heaven.

Dr. Chris Stravitsch is a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist, as well as the president and founder of Rejoice Counseling Apostolate, a group of Catholic counselors. Stravitsch told CNA that in addition to prayer, he counsels his clients to prepare for their first year of grief, which can often be the most difficult.

“There are a lot of ‘firsts’ to pass through: the first Christmas without him or her; their first birthday without them present; the first wedding anniversary alone; etc. I counsel people to prepare for these occasions in advance because we know it will be painful and difficult,” he said.

He said he tells his clients to plan in advance how and with whom they will spend these difficult days, and how they will remember their loved ones at those times.

“It’s helpful to surround yourself with other loved ones who understand your loss, while also setting aside a little time to be alone in prayer and reminiscing,” he said.

“These are meaningful days to attend Mass, so that you can cling to Christ and receive His consolation. Visiting the gravesite or a place where you have a special memory can also be meaningful, whether that is done alone or with the support of others,” he said.

“Furthermore, be sure to tell stories and talk about your deceased loved ones,” he added. “We need to continue coming together at various times to remember them in a spirit of love and prayer. This is a balm for the brokenhearted.”

Stravitsch said it is important for Catholics to remember that death and grief are painful things to experience, and that Jesus himself wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.

“(Jesus) wants to be with us and share our grief,” he said. This means Catholics should be sensitive towards those who are grieving, and avoid well-intentioned but unhelpful comments such as: “It was God’s will”; “It was their time to go”; “They’re in a better place now”; or “There’s a reason for everything”; Stravitsch said.

“Simply saying, ‘I’m sorry’, giving a warm embrace, sharing a tear, and remaining at their side as long as needed can be far more consoling,” he said.

Checking back in after the funeral has passed, and continuing to talk about the deceased with those who are grieving are other ways Catholics can show compassion, he said.

Both Nygaard and Stravitsch said that they have found that clients are usually deeply comforted by the Church’s teaching on the communion of saints and the promise of everlasting life for all souls who are united with God.

“In the Catholic Church, like we have the mystical body of Christ. And we know that the souls in heaven are surrounding the altar during communion,” she said.

“What I have found is that normally brings a great sense of peace,” to the bereaved, she said. “It's not just me sitting there when I go up for communion...we're mystically connected and that we can ask for the intercession of the saints,” which means any soul that is in heaven with God.

In his Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul recalls those already in heaven, and says that the faithful are surrounded “by so great a cloud of witnesses.”

“When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating 'in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is.’ All of us, however, in varying degrees and in different ways share in the same charity towards God and our neighbors, and we all sing the one hymn of glory to our God. All, indeed, who are of Christ and who have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together,’” the Catechism states.

These teachings are a “great consolation for the bereaved,” Stravitsch said. 

“Not only is there the hope of being reunited with our loved ones after death, but there is the reality of remaining mysteriously connected with them even today. Whether we are interceding for them as we pray for the repose of their soul or we are asking for their prayers, there is a sense that we are within reach of one another,” he added.

“The bonds of true love are not destroyed in death but are made ever stronger. The Church recognizes this in a unique way when we celebrate All Souls Day and we call to mind our deceased loved ones. We are united in Christ.”

 

Catholic aid agency to US government: Don't cut foreign aid funding

Washington D.C., Aug 17, 2019 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- Catholic Relief Services is speaking out against a potential reassignment of U.S. funds that Congress appropriated for foreign assistance programs, which aid agencies say could mean a loss of between $2 billion and $4 billion they would otherwise use for humanitarian efforts.

The Office of Management and Budget requested the temporary hold on the funding last week, asking for an “accounting” of all funding that has not yet been officially designated for specific purposes.

The letter identified 10 areas of aid to which the funding hold would apply, including development assistance, global health, contributions to international organizations, international narcotics control and peacekeeping activities, the New York Times reported.

Though the funding freeze was lifted Aug. 9, aid groups still worry that the administration may send Congress a budget that pulls billions of dollars in foreign assistance, Politico reports.

“Local churches and Catholic Relief Services partner with the U.S. government to reduce poverty, alleviate suffering, and foster peace around the world,” CRS said.

“Rescinding some of these and other international poverty-reducing funds will limit the United States’ ability to support poor and vulnerable communities, respond to global health challenges, address root causes of forced migration, and advance international religious freedom, global security, and peacekeeping.”

A cut of $4 billion from the aid budget represents 0.08% of the expected federal budget of $4.5 trillion. Still, CRS says, the funding makes a significant difference to their operations abroad.

“We urge the Administration not to rescind foreign assistance funds. We urge Congress to reject any rescissions that target poverty-reducing and peacebuilding accounts and require the Administration to obligate previously appropriated funds. The conflicts and crises today are dire. U.S. moral and financial leadership is necessary,” CRS concluded.

'Overwhelmed with graces': Walking across America for life

Washington D.C., Aug 17, 2019 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A three-month journey from California to Washington, DC, came to an end August 13, as 23 walkers of this summer’s Crossroads Pro-Life Walks made it to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. 

Crossroads Pro-Life Walks began in 1995, and have expanded from the United States to Spain, Canada, Australia, and Ireland. This summer, there were two walks crossing the United States--the “Southern” walk, which started in Santa Monica, and the “Central” walk, which began in San Francisco. Both walks ended in DC.

Victoria Bliss, a 19-year-old from Virginia, was one of the participants on this year’s Central walk. Bliss said the experience, while full of challenges, was one that strengthened her faith and inspired her to continue doing pro-life work.

“I’ve always been passionately pro-life, and attended the Marches and 40 Days for Life, but I really wanted to do something bigger and commit my whole summer to the pro-life mission, truly going out into the streets and spreading the gospel of life.” 

She told CNA that participating in Crossroads this summer was a fulfilment of a lifelong dream. As a child, past Crossroads walkers spoke regularly at her church following their arrival in DC. 

According to Crossroads Pro-Life Walks VP Martha Nolan, about 1,500 walkers worldwide have completed their journeys, averaging 40 to 60 miles per day, while visiting churches, pregnancy centers, and convents along the way.

Nolan told CNA that they drive “a little bit” when they fall behind. Previously, walkers would carry on by day and night, but after a tragic accidental death in 2012, the day’s walk now stops at sunset. 

Bliss told CNA that, in addition to the spiritual battles one sometimes faces on a pilgrimage, her group experienced logistical and physical struggles as well. One walker fell very ill and had to leave after three weeks, and their RV broke down numerous times.

Despite this, Bliss said “the Holy Spirit brought good out of every situation, and there was never a time when our team even thought about giving up. We were overwhelmed with graces, every second of every day.”

“There were a few threatening times when we got screamed at or chased,” she told CNA. “A couple of times cars swerved into the shoulder and we had to leap out of the way, but our guardian angels were clearly with us.”

There were also many joys that came along the 12-week journey. For Bliss, the biggest was encountering people each day along the route, many of whom broke down in tears when they saw their pro-life teeshirts. 

“We saw Jesus in so many people,” she said. “I came to realize how beautiful people are, no matter how broken, and how much they need us to radiate God’s joy and peace to them.” 

The route was dotted with what Bliss described as “Divine Providence instances,” such as abortion clinics being unexpectedly closed following the group’s prayer vigil. 

“One time, we had been praying all four mysteries of the Rosary, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and as we did the final Sign of the Cross, the lights in the clinic turned off,” she recounted.

Each day on Crossroads, the walkers attended Mass, offered “constant rosaries” when they as they went, and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day at 3 p.m. 

Bliss said that the experience helped her to fall in love with Christ “more than ever before,” and that she witnessed the power of the rosary. 

Now that her walk has ended, Bliss said that she hopes to continue mission work, including becoming a trained sidewalk counselor outside of abortion clinics. But most of all, she hopes to continue the momentum she started this summer.

“Standing up for the unborn is the thing I have always been the most passionate about and I want to do everything I can to raise awareness of the evil of abortion, and change hearts by portraying the truth with love.”

New Jersey judge temporarily blocks assisted suicide law

Metuchen, N.J., Aug 16, 2019 / 02:31 pm (CNA).- A judge in New Jersey has temporarily halted a law allowing physician assisted suicide, which had gone into effect August 1.

The law is being challenged by a physician who says that it is a violation of religious freedom protections in the U.S. Constitution and laws against suicide.

Dr. Yosef Glassman is an Orthodox Jew who says that he is opposed to facilitating suicide both due to his religious beliefs and his profession as a doctor. He also objects to the law’s stipulation that a doctor who objects to assisted suicide must refer patients to another doctor who will help them end their life.

The law’s demands on doctors, Glassman said in his lawsuit, present “not only a violation of the rights to practice medicine without breaching the fiduciary duties owing to those patients ... but also violations of their First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution to freely practice their religions in which human life is sacred and must not be taken,” the AP reported.

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, which passed the New Jersey legislature with bipartisan support, allows those deemed by a doctor to have less than six months to live to request lethal medication to end their lives. The patient then must administer the medication themselves.

The temporary injunction, signed by Judge Paul Innes of Superior Court in Mercer County, means that the state attorney general may not enforce the law while it is being challenged in court.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who signed the bill in April, said he will fight the lawsuit, the AP reported.

A self-described “lifelong, practicing Catholic,” Murphy said when he signed the bill into law that he was aware that the Church opposed assisted suicide, but after careful consideration and prayer, he believed assisted suicide was a personal decision and legalizing it would respect residents’ freedom and humanity.

Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen condemned assisted suicide as “a grievous affront to the dignity of human life” that “can never be morally justified” in a letter to his diocese on July 30.

“Passage of this law points to the utter failure of government, and indeed all society, to care truly, authentically and humanely for the suffering and vulnerable in our midst, especially those living with an incurable disease as well as the frail elderly, the infirm and those living with disabilities,” he said.

He stressed that despite the new legality of the practice, it remains gravely immoral, and said the Church would continue advocating for the sanctity of all human life and working to educate lawmakers and the general public about the dangers of assisted suicide.

“With this law there will be a further desensitization of the value of human life,” said the bishop, adding that the elderly, sick and disabled could feel pressure to choose suicide so as to avoid burdening others.

He also clarified that Saint Peter’s University Hospital, sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen, will not condone or participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Instead of assisted suicide, Checchio called for a renewed commitment caring for those living in pain and suffering while dying and who might otherwise consider suicide.

“Let us strive to help the sick and incapacitated find meaning in their lives, even and especially in the midst of their suffering,” he said. “Let us, as a society and as individuals choose to walk with them, in their suffering, not contribute to eliminating the gift of life.”

Assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as in Montana under a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling.

Planned Parenthood to pull out of Title X program

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest provider of abortion services, has announced that it will withdraw from the federal Title X family planning program, ending its access to millions of dollars in government funding.

The decision is set to take effect Aug. 19, the date by which funding recipients are required to make a “good faith” undertaking to comply with a new rule barring the referral of clients for abortion services.

After it was announced in final form in February, the Protect Life Rule was subject to court challenges from abortion providers and several states. In June, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the rule could come into force. In July, judges refused to issue a stay against that decision.

Planned Parenthood informed the court on Wednesday that, unless the reversed its refusal to grant a stay, it would leave the Title X program on Monday.

Planned Parenthood’s acting president Alexis McGill Johnson said the group refused “to let the Trump administration bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients.”

Calling the Protect Life Rule a “gag on health care providers,” Johnson said in a statement that the rule is “a blatant assault on our health and rights, and we will not stand for it.”

In addition to barring Title X fund recipients from referring women for abortions it also prevents participating groups from co-locating with abortion clinics and requires financial separation of government-funded programs from those that carry out abortions.

Planned Parenthood had previously intended to remain in the Title X program but refuse funding, an arrangement that HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary Diane Foley called “inconsistent” in a letter to the organization.

In guidance issued by HHS on Friday, the department responded directly to Planned Parenthood’s objections to the rule, noting that the organization operated less than 10% of participating sites nationwide.

“To the extent that Planned Parenthood claims that it must make burdensome changes to comply with the Final Rule, it is actually choosing to place a higher priority on the ability to refer for abortion instead of continuing to receive federal funds to provide a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services to clients in need of these services.”

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

The administration previously said in June that it would delay enforcement of the rule, provided that fund recipients submitted a compliance plan and made a “good faith” undertaking to comply with most of the rule’s requirements as soon as possible. Facilities are required to end co-location with abortion sites by March 2020.

Last month, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List, welcomed the 9th Circuit’s decision to deny a stay, calling the Protect Life Rule “greatly encouraging.”

“Without reducing Title X funding by a dime, the Protect Life Rule simply draws a bright line between abortion and family planning, stopping abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund.” 

Before announcing its withdrawal from the Title X program, Planned Parenthood and its affiliates had received some $60 million annually, about one-fifth of total Title X funds, making up approximately 15% of its annual federal funding.