Whenever I go to a cemetery to bury a deceased person it is always a painful but solemn ritual. The family gathers around the grave as we wait for the mourners to walk from their cars. It takes a while. Usually I wait with the family, sometimes we talk, and most times we are silent. I don’t always personally know the deceased. I have a thing I do every time at the grave. While I am in the hearse I ask the funeral director to see the deed to the grave. Not because I am nosey, but because I want to know who else is buried in the grave. I want to pray for them as well. I want to mention them by name in the graveside committal prayers because it is important to the family. For some of those in the grave it is the first time they have been prayed for by name since their own burial. This is what priests do. This is what Catholics do. We pray for our beloved dead.
Of all the graves I’ve been to—and I’ve been to more graves than you will ever go to—one remains in my mind. There were others, like the lady who wanted to be buried in the south-west corner of Holy Rood so she could be near Fortunoffs; or the man who couldn’t decide which of his 3 wives to be buried with. But I will always remember Christine. As they were lowering her very old body into the grave I thought of the names on the deed. I asked her old son who John was. He said that was his father, he died so long ago he didn’t remember him. I asked him who Michael was, and he told me he was his uncle. I assured him we would pray for them. Finally I asked him who Mary was. He stopped and chuckled and filled with tears. “Mary, oh Mary, I haven’t thought of her in years,” he said.
He told me that they were very poor growing up many decades ago. Their father John had died and left his mother with three small children. The children often would go to the parish convent and the rectory to get food from the nuns and the priests. The family had nothing. And then one day Mary appeared. Mary was even poorer and had nothing and no one. Mary was taken into their home, fed, and allowed to live on the family’s porch. It was all Christine could give her. It wasn’t much, but to Mary it was a palace. And so the poor widow Christine now took care of three children and Mary who lived on her porch. To me this was not a surprise. This saintly Irish woman was so devout in her Catholic faith and so dedicated to her daily rosary that she would give all she had to a relative stranger. But Christine wasn’t done yet. There was still one final act of Christian Charity to be given.
Mary became ill and was soon to die. “I do not know where I will be buried,” said Mary on the porch.
“Why, you will be buried in my grave,” said Christine.
And so she was. And I now stood over that grave. Christine who had nothing, yet gave Mary a place to live on her porch, gave her one final gift: a place to rest for all eternity. She gave Mary her own grave.
I have met people who had opened their homes to others. I do not recall ever having encountered anyone who gave as completely as did Christine. One final act of Charity.
-Father Gerard Gordon