Don’t Stop Loving the Dead

Fr. Jim celebrating a wedding

Today’s the second anniversary of the death of Fr. James Polich, a dear and beloved friend and mentor whom my wife and I were privileged to know and work with while we lived in Iowa.

My first comment in his regard is to solicit your prayers for his speedy journey into the Kingdom of God. As we can never assume anyone, unless they are canonized by the Church, is in Heaven, freed from the purifying mercy of God in Purgatory, it is a failure to love them if we cease to pray for them, to offer sacrifices for them or — above all — to have the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated for them. As we live in an age of no-offence and only-positive thinking, we often feel the need to place the deceased immediately in Heaven and promptly give up on all expressions of ongoing love for them in the form of spiritual sacrifices offered on their behalf. What a betrayal.

So, in addition to kindly indulging the request that you pray for Fr. Polich by name, I encourage you to daily, or at least frequently, pray and offer personal sacrifices intentionally and lovingly for the dead; especially those to whom you were closely connected in life.

Truth in Love

Okay, so since I mentioned Fr. Polich I have to share a story about him. Anyone reading this who knew him will smile and nod.

One day I was having lunch at his rectory to help prepare for an upcoming Board meeting for SJEC, my beloved place of work. Our lunches usually lasted 2 hours, and were accompanied almost always by a classical remix of Beatles songs. I wish I had that CD now. Anyway, he always insisted on serving me lunch at the table, and would not let me even stand up or come into the kitchen to help. He would say, in his utterly distinctive tone of voice with impeccable diction, “Now, just relax. You’re my guest. Your turn will come.” This meant I’d do this dishes later. We would always have a delightful and very helpful conversation about work, and he would always ask about my children, and his exquisite attention to detail always blew me away. “So, how’s Maria’s coming along in her drawing? Has Nicholas advanced beyond yellow belt yet? Now that Catherine, now she’s got personality! She’s what my mother would call an imp!”

But during this particular lunch, he was going on about the many popular Catholic speakers and teachers on the U.S. Catholic scene. “You know,” he said, “they’re very good at getting people’s attention and getting people all worked up about theology. That’s something new, and I’m glad they’re doing it. But I must say,” he said in his usual diplomatic way as he licked his fingers clean, “I think we also need more of the old fashioned style of teaching, without all the frills and excitement, and without putting the ego of the speaker on front display. Sometimes people just need to hear the meat and potatoes teaching and be able to forget about the teacher.”

I knew what he was saying, and I knew, in a way that you know with someone who is close to you, that he was also speaking directly to me. And I knew I needed to hear it. But the beauty of it was that, even though it hit home, it didn’t elicit shame. I knew its truth and I could respond accordingly and move on. And our friendship was none the worse, but only deeper.

Please join me in praying for him, and for all the dead:

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

We love you, Fr. Jim. May God grant you the full vision of His face this day.

6 comments on “Don’t Stop Loving the Dead

  1. oneview says:

    Thanks for this beautiful memory, and for the reminder to pray for all of the departed.

  2. WoopieCushion says:

    So good to have met him. I hope to again.
    Your thoughts stir new ones for me regarding prayer for the deceased. Prayer helps us abide in the communion of persons across the threshold of death and changes us into a people awaiting still the fullness of life’s paschal mysteries. This mystery that brings such strength and vigor to the virtues does unravel in the nice thoughts of unauthorized canonization so common today. To supplicate, especially at Mass, before the Lord for a beloved member of the faithful departed seems to engender this abiding that is the intention of the Creator. But I still know my grandma is rivaling the Cappadocian Fathers in glory!

    • I think it’s perfectly fine to *rejoice* in the confidence of the “already” within hope even as we *intercede* within the uncertainly of the “not yet” of hope for the dead whom we love. Thanks, as ever, for casting your fire into the mix!

  3. Hi Tom,

    Thank you so much for this post and for sharing your memories of Fr. Polich. I am a convert but have always had a…um…special relationship with the dead. Even before my conversion (I was raised Southern Baptist), I believed in praying for our friends and family who were deceased. Oddly, I received no instruction or faith formation on this aspect of Catholic doctrine during my RCIA. Nonetheless, I have made a habit of praying for Souls in Purgatory every day. Is it possible this custom may be another of those that fell to the wayside in the wake of Vatican II? I’d love to hear more from you on this.

    With love from your sister in Christ,
    Tara

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