As the weather turns colder and we prepare to give thanks and give gifts, it is a natural time for us to begin thinking of those that go without... the unnoticed, unwanted, the left behind. Last week we kicked off our Work It Wednesdays Series on the Corporal Works of Mercy with Jamie Orillion and Matthew Thomas' Mercy for a Hurting World photo exposition. Today we look at Burying the Dead. For the last several years the Diocese of Lafayette has offered a funeral mass for those that go unclaimed. It's an incredibly moving experience to pray for those who have had no one to pray for them and to walk with them quite literally to their final resting place. Here is a reflection from one of the Service Coordinators at Catholic Services of Acadiana, Jeremy Anderson.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen.
For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13 The sunlight began fading on the candlelit path of a funeral procession. The bodies of 39 individuals were committed to the soil, and their souls were set for their eternal reward in the afterlife. The service was the Funeral for the Unclaimed at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, where we prayed for their souls’ ascension into Heaven.
I clasped the handle of one of the caskets that brought one of the departed to his final rest. He was a client of Catholic Services of Acadiana. A few of his friends from St. Joseph Shelter for Men and a number of CSA staff members, including myself, served as pallbearers that day. Each one of us was given the task of preserving the dignity of a man that we served in life.
Working for Catholic Services of Acadiana has made it apparent that we, as an organization, are working with the most vulnerable parts of the population. These are people who are closest to the boundary between being in safe, stable, suitable housing and being on the cold pavement or park bench. More often than not we are dealing with the latter. These individuals are at more risk than the average person. The line between being well-nourished, having proper hygiene access, sleeping in a habitable dwelling and not having these basic needs is pretty thin. Essentially, the clients we meet are on the periphery, if not over the edge.
That is why every decision that we make at CSA - whether it is food preparation, administration, outreach, volunteering, management, client services - we do so with our clients’ circumstances in mind. We rebel against the Hobbesian notion that without community, the life of man is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Lives that are broken by hardship, strife, and circumstance can be mended by the salve of human kindness and respect that every life is sacred. We persevere in the face of conflict because we know in our hearts that we are made in the image of our Creator, and our Creator is deliberate with His creation. He does not make mistakes. We do not deliver or award any individual with this gift. It is already there. Dignity lives within the human soul. Sometimes, we must remind each other of the dignity that we deserve when the path is lost.
Let me remind you, dear reader, that you have that same dignity as a driving force. It allows you to recognize a human person and their own dignity. You are able to see each person as an image of our Creator, instead of looking at them as some sort of wrongdoer. The next steps are up to you. I encourage you continue in the spirit of dignity of the human person and even empathize with those less fortunate. To look upon the downtown cityscape with hope and not despair. Give what you can this season, even if it is the simple gift of acknowledging that everyone deserves a place to lay their head for the night. A place that is safe, warm and comfortable, with their hunger satiated and minds at peace. Remember that even when these lives have ended, the sacred value of human dignity mandates that they are equally deserving of the same peaceful slumber as ourselves.
Jeremy Anderson, a Service Coordinator with Catholic Services of Acadiana, is a Lafayette native with an educational background in Creative Writing, and Political Philosophy. He has earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from The University of Louisiana. Images from the funeral were taken by Layni Ward for the Advertiser. To read more about the service you can read this article from KLFY.