By FR. KENNETH DOYLE
Question: Years ago, my parents purchased burial plots for my family in the local small-town cemetery where we lived. My family is not Catholic, and I wasn't at that time, either — so the cemetery is Christian, but not Catholic.
I have since happily converted to Catholicism and am wondering if there is a way I can still use my plot. Can it be blessed by a Catholic priest (or whatever ritual is required)?
I would prefer to be buried with the rest of my family if at all possible and not have to purchase a plot in a Catholic cemetery. (Wichita, Kansas)
Answer: Not to worry. You can be buried in your family plot, even though it is not in a Catholic cemetery. And you should be; I can imagine that your relatives might well be offended if you were to choose otherwise, and the church has no interest in separating families at death.
The Code of Canon Law, in fact, speaks directly to your question. Canon 1180 says, "Everyone . . . is permitted to choose the cemetery of burial."
As your question suggests, when a Catholic is interred in a non-Catholic plot, the priest who officiates at the committal says a prayer, which blesses that gravesite and reads in part: "Lord Jesus Christ, by your own three days in the tomb, you hallowed the graves of all who believe in you and so made the grave a sign of hope that promises resurrection even as it claims our mortal bodies."
If given the choice, my own preference, of course, would be for a Catholic burial ground so that the deceased would have the benefit of the Masses and prayers offered regularly for those who are buried there — but there is no church rule that requires this.
In your own case, I think that staying with your family's choice ensures that your loved ones will visit your grave regularly, take care of it and continue to remember you in prayer.
Question: I was a fallen-away Catholic for 20 years, but I finally made it to confession. I had been unfaithful to my marriage, and my question is this: How can God forgive me for so much sin, and did I tell the priest everything that I should have told him when I went to confession? I am nearing death now, and I have a lot of concerns. (Louisville, Kentucky)
Answer: I've found one of the hardest challenges in the priesthood is to convince people that God loves them. And yet the testimony to that is spread broadly across the pages of the Scriptures.
It happened that, on the day I opened your letter, the Gospel reading for that morning's Mass (Mt 7:7-12) had been the passage where Jesus invites us to "ask and it will be given to you." In those same verses, Matthew compares it to asking your father for some bread.
What father, says Matthew, would give his son a stone instead — and think how much more God loves you! St. Peter tells us in his first letter (2:9) that we are "a chosen race . . . a people of his own," and John's Gospel (3:16) says that "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."
So there's no need to fear. God created us out of love. He wants us to succeed, wants us to be with him for eternity and promises to help us get there.
What you might want to do is to ask a priest to bring you the anointing of the sick and, if you feel the need to, go to confession once more. The priest will pray, asking the Lord to treat you gently and to ease your passage to meet him.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.