10 August 2010

A curious acknowledgment

Two weeks ago, a meeting was held in Carlinville of the various directors of Catholic cemeteries throughout the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. We met to discuss the Cemetery Oversight Act (HB 1188), signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn in March.

The 150-page legislation was written in response to the tragic situation of Burr Oak cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, where the remains of the deceased were treated with little dignity or respect. This deplorable situation has also recently come to light at Arlington National Cemetery.

The purpose of the Cemetery Oversight Act is stated as follows:

The citizens of Illinois have a compelling interest in the expectation that their loved ones will be treated with the same dignity and respect in death, as they are entitled to be treated in life. The laws of the State should provide adequate protection in upholding the sanctity of the handling and disposition of human remains and the preservation of final resting places (emphasis mine).
That such legislation is needed at all is, to say the least, very sad indeed.

For many of us, such disrespectful treatment of the bodies and remains of those who have died is beyond understanding. It is our certain hope in the promise of the resurrection from the dead on the Last Day that makes such actions incomprehensible. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: “The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit” (2300).

From the beginning of the Church, the Christian faithful have always honored the bodies of their beloved dead and treated them with profound reverence.

There is a glimmer of hope in this piece of Illinois legislation that enshrines in law the “sanctity” of the bodies and remains of the dead. If our legislators recognize now the dignity of the dead, what is keeping them from recognizing the full dignity of the living, including those yet to be born?

Let each of us increase our prayer and fasting for the respect for life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. And let us also continue to pray for those who have gone before us in faith.

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