for the Dead
Thomas A. Droleskey
The fortieth President
of the United States of America, Ronald Wilson Reagan, has died at the
age of ninety-three years in California after suffering from Alzheimer's
disease for the last ten years. As is the case with any other individual,
we have the obligation to pray for the repose of his immortal soul.
The Catholic Faith teaches us to pray for the dead, never presuming
the state of a person's soul until and unless the Church declares a
particular person to be a saint and is thus in Heaven as part of the
Church Triumphant. Although many will rush to canonize the late Mr.
Reagan, we know that we have the duty both in charity and in justice
to pray for his soul--and to pray for the conversion of his family members
to the Catholic Faith before they die.
A full review
of Ronald Reagan's public life is inappropriate at this time. I have
offered commentaries in past few months on the nature of the late president's
efforts to conditionally oppose abortion during his term in the White
House. Those commentaries will be revisited after a decent interval
has passed following the burial of his mortal remains. I will say at
this juncture, however, that while his efforts were principally rhetorical
and that he could have done far more in terms of substantive policy
than he actually did, the fact that he at least spoke about
abortion at all publicly elevated the issue to a position of national
prominence that it did not have during the 1970s during the administrations
of his three immediate predecessors (Richard Milhous Nixon, Gerald Rudolph
Ford, Jr., James Earl Carter, Jr.).
For the present moment,
though, I want to offer a few words about the nature of President Reagan's
death. Although it is possible that some Catholic priest was permitted
by his widow, Mrs. Nancy Reagan, to administer the Sacrament of Extreme
Unction to him before he died, it is probably the case that Mr. Reagan,
who was baptized a Catholic but brought up a Presbyterian by his mother,
Nelle, died without the sacraments. This is always a tragedy. The only
sure path to a happy and holy death is receive the Sacrament of Extreme
Unction and to receive Holy Communion as a final viaticum before death.
It is sad when anyone dies without such benefits. Mind you, judgment
alone belongs to God, which is why we offer our prayers for the repose
of a dead person's soul. No prayer is ever wasted. It is thus important
to have Masses said for the repose of the soul of a baptized Catholic,
Ronald Wilson Reagan. It is nevertheless sad that Mr. Reagan did not
practice the Faith of his baptism and might have died without
the benefit of the sacraments.
Reagan's death, therefore, provides us with a salutary lesson: never
be slow to make all possible efforts to bring back into the true Church
a relative who has fallen away from the practice of the true Faith.
We do not know how long any of us has to live. President Reagan was
given the gift of many years. It is perhaps possible that at least some
of his very many Catholic friends and associates tried to bring him
back into the Church after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease
in 1994. It is vital, however, that we make such efforts with our own
relatives as even a young person could be killed in an automobile accident
or in some other unexpected tragedy without even a moment's notice.
And lest anyone think that I am simply preaching to others, suffice
it to say that I have blood relatives, both middle-aged and quite elderly,
who have left the true Church and have resisted all efforts to bring
them back into the true Sheepfold of Christ. I have to ask myself if
I have done enough to bring back these relatives into the Church. Have
I prayed enough? Have I fasted and sacrificed enough? Have I said enough?
Thus, the death of President Ronald Reagan should give each of us pause
to reflect on our own duties to bring back those who have strayed before
One of the
best things we can do is to send a priest to a fallen away Catholic.
Most of us have "baggage" with our relatives. Our words and
our efforts are dismissed, partly because our relatives use our faults
and failings against us. How can the Faith be true, they rationalize
to themselves, when we have given them such bad examples? We must therefore
pray that someone, preferably a traditionally minded priest, who does
not have the "baggage" with our relatives that we do, will
be able to at least open up a channel of communication that can lead
to their reception back into Holy Mother Church. We can never presume
our own salvation, which is one of the principal heresies of Protestantism.
We can never presume the salvation of others, which is why we have a
very special duty as a matter both of justice and charity to lead the
fallen away back into the true Sheepfold outside of which there is no
must be offered at this time for President Reagan's soul and for the
conversion of his non-Catholic family members to the true Faith. We
must be reminded of our need to offer prayers and to have Masses said
for all of our own dead relatives, no matter how long it has been since
they may have died. Our Lady will direct the fruit of our prayers to
some other deserving souls if our relatives have no need of our prayers
(either because they are in Heaven or in Hell). There are many anonymous
souls in the Church Suffering in Purgatory who have no one to pray for
them. Our prayers and the Masses we have said for our own dead relatives
will assist also the suffering souls in Purgatory who have no one to
remember them by name.
Death is one
of the four Last Things we are supposed to meditate upon before we sleep
and after we have made our Nightly Examination of Conscience. Judgment,
Heaven, and Hell are the three other Last Things upon which we must
meditate every single night. Death is going to come to us all. We may
be able to prepare for it. We may be taken suddenly. We must always
know that it is a certainty and that we will have to face the sobering
moment of our Particular Judgment, a reality from which there will be
no escaping and no rationalizing away of anything we have ever said
or done that has not been absolved by an alter Christus in
the Sacrament of Penance. We will see ourselves for the first time as
God sees us. We will either be the unmerited beneficiaries of His ineffable
Mercy or we will know the sentence of eternal damnation that we brought
upon ourselves by refusing to seek out His absolution on earth in the
hospital of Divine Mercy that is the confessional. Oh, yes. Death should
be a reality upon which we meditate every evening; it should be uppermost
as a possibility as we go through the course of our daily lives.
occasion of the death of President Ronald Reagan to thank God for the
gift of the Catholic Faith we received in baptism, we pray to Our Lady,
she who is Mater Misericordiae, to help each of us live in
such a way so as to die a holy, happy and provided for death as members
of the Catholic Faith, consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, demonstrating
our fealty to her by wearing the Brown Scapular and the Miraculous Medal.
grant unto Ronald Reagan, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon
him. May his soul--and all of the souls of the faithful departed--rest
in peace. Amen.