Fr. Stanley Rother (CNS)
Fr. Stanley Rother (CNS)

The 14th station, Jesus is laid in the tomb. We adore You O Christ and we praise you, because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world!

Have you ever thought what history would be like without Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus? It is conceivable that without them, the body of Jesus would have been left unburied. Remember it was Joseph who boldly went to the governor, Pilate, and asked for his body, took it down, and laid it in his own tomb. It was Nicodemus who came with 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes to anoint the Lord’s body for burial (John 19:38-39). Their actions on Calvary point to the truth that the body reveals a unique person, that even when someone dies, respect for the body reveals love for the person who mattered.

Though we may not think about the choices and sacrifices of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to bury Jesus, this corporal work of mercy bore the risk of association with a condemned man, carried a cost of time and money, and required them to use their own free will. Everything is connected and how we treat others, even in death, is how others will treat us.

St. Joseph of Arimathea is the patron saint of funeral directors. His feast day is March 17.

Father Stanley Rother, beatified in 2017, was known for his work with the people of Guatemala during an era of militant governments and guerrilla warfare. Anyone suspected of being a sympathizer of the “other side” was murdered and the body would be left on the front steps of the church. The body would be watched and anyone who claimed the body was flagged for surveillance as a sympathizer. Father Rother claimed every body. He stood in vigil at the steps before a body, giving the family courage to mourn their dead. Some bodies were left in the desert to rot. Father Rother would comb the desert to find bodies of missing parishioners and bring them back for burial. Father Rother eventually was killed for his work burying the dead and praying for the dead.

Sometimes we view the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as trite rather than according them their significance. Father Rother was a modern-day St. Joseph of Arimathea who risked his life, payed a cost, and made a bold choice to honor the life of a unique person by burying his or her body.

In our parishes, we do not face these extreme situations of daily murder and guerrilla warfare. Yet, there are people who die and there is a need to bury the dead. Would you let you parish ever get to the point where people would not bury the dead? Can you begin a funeral reception ministry, join a choir for funerals, and assist at funerals in your parish, even for parishioners you do not know well? To become workers of mercy, each of us must take a risk, pay a cost, and employ our free will in this noble work of honoring each unique person who passes from this life by caring for their body after death.

Cato is director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Portland. Fr. Libra, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, is director of pro-life activities in the archdiocese.