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Why Bother Praying For Kevorkian?

When I heard that Dr. Jack Kevorkian died, my first thought was to pray for his soul.  Did I want to?  Not especially, but it was the same thought that occurred to me when Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein passed away.  While we often find it difficult to pray for people who did “bad things”, it’s something that we must do.  Here are 5 reasons why we should pray for Kevorkian, bin Laden, Hitler and all of the other people who we “don’t like”:

1. Some People Need More Help - By all accounts, Dr. Kevorkian assisted many people in committing suicide.  Osama bin Laden, Hussein and Hitler’s transgressions are well documented…they all did some “bad” things.  They have a lot to account for.  They need our prayers BADLY!

2.  It’s A Spiritual Work Of Mercy - Praying for the living and the dead is a spiritual work of mercy, as taught by the Church.  We are commanded to pray for all of the dead, not just the “good ones”.

3.  Show Mercy =  Receive Mercy - If we refuse to forgive or show mercy to Kevorkian, bin Laden, and other “bad men”, then we can’t expect the Lord to be merciful to us.  In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mt 5:7).  When it’s my time to be judged, I want all the mercy I can get!

4. They Can’t Help Themselves - We are given a finite period of time to merit the reward of eternal life.  Once we die, the time for proving ourselves is over.  The souls of the deceased can no longer help themselves and must depend on our intercession.  In an excerpt from her diary, St. Faustina documents the powerful message given to her by Jesus:

” Pray as much as you can for the dying. By your entreaties, obtain for them trust in My mercy, because they have most need of trust, and have it the least. Be assured that the grace of eternal salvation for certain souls in their final moment depends on your prayer. You know the whole abyss of My mercy, so draw upon it for yourself and especially for poor sinners. Sooner would heaven and earth turn into nothingness than would My mercy not embrace a trusting soul. (1777)

5. The Bible Tells Us To – In 2 Maccabees 12:46, Judas Maccabeus made atonement for the dead, in order that they may be delivered from their sin.  The fact that he prayed for them to be “freed from their sin” implies that it’s acceptable to pray for sinners!  Praying for the dead has been a constant practice of the Church as evidenced by the following statement from a bishop and doctor of the Church:

“Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.” (St. John Chrysostom)

Even though it’s difficult, the Church teaches that we should always remember our deceased brothers and sisters.  The fact that they committed evil acts doesn’t make one bit of difference.  Furthermore, when you are facing your own judgment day, some of these same “bad guys” may be praying for you!

21 Comments

  1. Howard says:

    It’s a bit of a stretch to go from, “2 Maccabees 12:46 tells us that Judas Maccabeus prayed for Jews who died fighting for Judea but who wore pagan amulets” to “2 Maccabees 12:46 commands us today to pray for Jack Kevorkian.” There are reasons to pray for him — you list several others — but if you want to play Fundamentalist, an isolated event in Jewish history does not constitute a timeless command. Example: David slept with his neighbor’s wife. David was a man after God’s own heart. Does that mean we should all sleep with our neighbors’ wives? Of course not.

    Frankly, if someone truly believes that bin Laden or Kevorkian is in Hell, I doubt a prayer from that person can be made with enough sincerity to be helpful. It would probably be better to simply pray “for the soul in Purgatory who most needs Your mercy.”

    1. Gary says:

      Howard – Thanks for the comment. The point I was making is that we must pray for the souls of ALL the deceased, including those whom we may not like. 2 Maccabees 12:46 is cited by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1032) as an example of the importance of praying for the dead. While I agree with your comment that prayers will not help someone in hell, the idea of believing that any one person IS definitely in hell is a dangerous assumption that is not supported by the Church. While we may strongly suspect that some folks are there, we don’t know for sure and should pray for their souls. The Lord will ensure that our prayers will be applied where they are most needed! Peace, Gary

      1. Howard says:

        I realize I’m quibbling now, but a few points.

        1. That’s why “the Church tells us to” would be a better reason than “the Bible tells us to.”

        2. There are strong reasons to believe that certain people are very likely in Hell. Maybe bin Laden had some split-second repentance and is now in Purgatory; likewise, even though Obama was born in Hawaii, maybe there is a super-effective conspiracy to cover up the fact that Joe Biden was born in Kenya. Neither would violate either Divine Revelation or is logically impossible, but a reasonable person might note the complete lack of evidence for either one. It would be very difficult for a reasonable person to seriously pray that Joe Biden’s secret Kenyan birth certificate would be made public; the person praying would have very little faith that the prayer *could* be granted. With that little faith, how effective would the prayer be?

        I’m not saying we should not pray for the souls of the dead, only that we should be honest with ourselves and with God. A dishonest prayer because we want to prove to someone — probably ourselves — that we’re good, caring Catholics remains a dishonest prayer. My guess is that someone who wasn’t serious enough to pray for Kevorkian’s soul while he was still alive may well be playing games if he prays for Kevorkian only after the time for repentance has passed.

        But we KNOW that there are people in Purgatory (a) who are forgotten or (b) whom everyone wrongly believes to be in Hell (or Heaven). My suggestion is to pray for these people, whoever they may be, because we can do so with confidence and real faith. If Kevorkian and bin Laden are in Purgatory, surely they fall into this category; this would be the way to aid them.

        1. Gary says:

          Howard – I don’t think you’re quibbling and I see your point. My “the Bible tells us to” contains an implied “according to the Church’s interpretation” :-) I completely agree with your last paragraph, that we should pray for ALL the souls in purgatory. However, there’s nothing wrong with sending up an extra prayer or two for any souls we wish to single out, either because we feel they could really use some help or because they are family members or friends who are dear to us.

          Thanks for making me think, brother…I enjoyed the dialog!

          Pax Christi,
          Gary

  2. Saint Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church, said that we should only pray for the dead if we were in communion with them on earth. This was the case with the dead Maccabean soldiers. Notice that they weren’t offering sacrifice in Jerusalem for the pagan Greeks that they slaughtered.

    The Catholic Church always prays for the “*faithful* departed.”

    We don’t pray for those who departed unfaithfully.

    ad Jesum per Mariam,
    Taylor

    1. Gary says:

      Taylor – I really love comments that require me to “dig out the books”. That’s how we learn about our wonderful faith and I appreciate the fact that you took the time to keep me honest! However, I must admit that I am a bit confused as to what you mean by “in communion on earth” and how we would know if we were in communion with someone on earth?

      According to my trusty copy of Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott, St, Gregory the Great did indeed express the opinion that prayers for the damned are worthless. St. Thomas Aquinas, agreeing with St. Gregory, taught that it is not the intention of the Church to pray for the dead. Although these statements are considered to be “sententia communis” (common teaching, although they are in the realm of free opinion), I believe that they accurately represent the teaching of the Church. The Church recognizes that prayers for those in hell are ineffective and it would be pointless to pray for someone who we KNEW to be in hell.

      While those in hell are not part of the Communion of Saints (which I believe is what you were referring to), the Church has never declared one individual to be in hell. Therefore, we cannot determine who is in hell and who isn’t. Feel free to correct me, but I have never seen any official Church document giving us the authority to determine which of the departed are considered to be “faithful”. Rather, she instructs us to pray for THE DEAD, with the understanding that we don’t know who is in purgatory and who is in hell. In the meantime, we have to pray for individuals such as bin Laden, Kevorkian and Hitler…just in case!

      God Bless,
      Gary

  3. Bender says:

    OK, acknowledging that God does not delight in the death of anyone, including evildoers, and repeating all that was said about praying for bin Laden, etc. –

    If we accept the premise that we should pray for Kevorkian, just exactly what should we pray for, and to what extent?

    In praying, for example, the Fatima prayer, “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy,” we necessarily pray for those such as Kevorkian.

    Do either justice or charity require more than that? Do justice or charity require that we pray more for Kevorkian (or pray for him specifically and by name) than for the tens of thousands of other nameless people who have died today?

    After saying something like the above prayer, as well as praying that God’s will be done (as should be part of all petition/intercessory prayer), do justice or charity require that anything more be said about him?

    Ultimately, it is between Kevorkian and God. And, as part of that, either Kevorkian repented of his twisted and perverted evil in his dying moments or he did not, either he opened himself up to the mercies of God while there was still time, or he obstinately persisted in his “love” affair with death. In short, either he chose life, or he continued to embrace death. If he chose death, as he did his time here on earth, there are no prayers that can move him from his self-chosen hell to be with a God that he had nothing but contempt for. If he chose life (and perhaps he did in his final moments – there are no news reports that he did, but we cannot presume to judge the state of his soul), then the God of Divine Mercy will ultimately forgive. Either way, pray that God’s will be done and, after that, what else should be said?

    Rather then engaging in some long prayer vigil for Kevorkian, we might better use this occasion to consider the state of our own souls. To turn away from sin while we still have time. To reject evil and embrace the good before it is too late. And to make amends for any evil that we have spread to others, most especially if what we have advocated has become like a cancer that has eaten away at society and ushered in a culture of death.

    1. Gary says:

      Thanks for the comment! While I’m not necessarily advocating a “long prayer vigil for Kevorkian”, I am recommending that we follow the Church’s direction to pray for all souls. In the case of Dr. Kevorkian, I was recommending that my readers say a prayer for his soul. If they want to include him in prayers with the other souls in purgatory, then I’m sure God can figure it out. The point I was making is that Kevorkian, bin Laden, and the others are people that “could be in trouble” when it comes to God’s judgment and who are also not the kinds of individuals for whom we “like” to pray. Saying some prayers for their souls would be an act of charity and would also follow the Church’s instruction to pray for the deceased!

      God Bless,
      Gary

  4. Nishant Jeyaraj says:

    @Taylor Marshall, hasn’t it long been a custom of the Church to allow priests to say private Masses for such persons? Correct me if I’m wrong. Public Masses are another matter, of course.

    @Gary Zimak, I agree. We should at least remember this man in our prayers. Our Lord did not cease to pray for those who wished to kill Him, even when on the Cross.

  5. Ron Conte says:

    There is, at the very least, a problem with emphasis here. Every time a person who lived a very sinful life dies, without any indication of repentance, some Catholics call for prayers for their souls. There is no emphasis on prayers for their repentance before they die. There is little emphasis on on prayer for deceased priests and religious, for deceased family members, for deceased fellow Catholics. But one can find plenty of blog posts on praying for the ‘repose’ of the souls of the unrepentant wicked.

    As for me, even in the very unlikely event that Jack Kevorkian were in Purgatory, I would not pray for his suffering there to be lessened. Instead, my prayer would be that, as Christ said, he not go forth from there, until he has repaid the last quarter (Mt 5:26). For he did much harm to many souls in this life, and so he deserves to be punished in the next life (most probably in Hell).

    God’s Mercy is infinite, but those who refuse to accept that Mercy by repenting from grave sin will not receive it. For the Mercy of God is also Just.

    1. Gary Zimak says:

      Ron – Thanks for the comments. As evidenced by the feedback (yours included), some people find it difficult to pray for Kevorkian’s (and other “bad guy’s”) souls. That’s exactly why I wrote the piece. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t especially feel like praying for some of these characters either. However, I do it because the Church tells me that I should. As far as a “problem with emphasis”…I absolutely agree that we should pray for all the deceased (priests, religious, family members, etc.), but I guarantee that people find it A LOT easier to pray for their parents, spouses and people like Archbishop Fulton Sheen than for Hitler, bin Laden and Kevorkian! It’s just a reminder that we should pray for all of the deceased and not exclude those we don’t like! Pax Christi, Gary

  6. Paul Rimmer says:

    Gary Zimak,

    Indeed, we should pray for all the souls of people we don’t like, such as Hitler and Kevorkian.

    Perhaps, once you are dead, we will pray for your soul, too?

    1. Gary Zimak says:

      Paul – I would GREATLY appreciate your prayers, both now and after I die :-)

      God Bless,
      Gary

  7. Dear Gary,

    By “communion on earth” is meant in communio in sacris on earth. So then, if a person did not share a certain communion with “us” (those in the Church), then we don’t pray for them specifically by name. For example, bin Laden did not share communio in sacris with the Church, so I don’t pray for him specifically. Why don’t I do this? I don’t pray for him because Gregory the Great is a Pope and Doctor of the Church and I trust him on this.

    I do prayer regularly throughout the day: “May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.” Rhat’s a catch all for all those in purgatory since every person in purgatory is “faithfully departed.”

    I worry that the new fad for praying for every single last soul – all the way down to Judas Iscariot) is based on Balthasar’s “theology of hope” which is based on his erroneous doctrine that Christ descended to Gehenna and even “despaired” and thereby had solidarity with the damned. This opinion of Balthasar is contrary to all the Father’s teaching on the harrowing of hell.

    May God richly bless you and please remember me today in prayers to our blessed Lady.

    ad Jesum per Mariam,
    Taylor

    1. Gary Zimak says:

      Taylor – Thanks very much for the insightful comments. I always enjoy learning more about our Faith and your initial comments prompted me to “dig deeper” and further investigate the Church’s position on prayer for the deceased. I would agree that your practice of praying daily for the faithful departed is very worthwhile and would certainly cover all of the souls in purgatory (including Kevorkian, Hitler or bin Laden should they somehow happen to be there).

      I originally wrote the piece to remind folks that we have the responsibility of praying for the souls of the deceased and also to point out that we can’t determine who is in hell and who isn’t. If the Church refuses to single out any particular individual who is in hell than we can’t either. When I read comments that people refuse to pray for certain individuals because they “know they’re in hell”, then I become concerned. Not only does that exhibit a lack of charity, but it is a departure from Church teaching. If someone doesn’t want to mention Kevorkian by name, but prays for the souls of the faithful departed, that’s fine. When they start excluding souls, based upon their own personal determination of someone’s “goodness”, then that becomes problematic.

      God Bless you, Brother, and keep on spreading the “Good News”! You’ll be in my prayers.

      In Christ,
      Gary

  8. Prophet says:

    Also a wonderful,considerate way for loved ones and relatives is to gain a Pleanary Indulgence for them while in Puragtory and certainly for other souls there !

    Yes Masses are ‘ More Beneificial’ before one’s death !

    I’d prefer ypur prayers now also , not later :)

    Bin Laden, Hitler and Kevorkian have no need for prayers or pity !

    1. Gary Zimak says:

      Thanks for the comments. I must say that I’m concerned with your comment that “Bin Laden, Hitler and Kevorkian have no need for prayers or pity”. While it may be true that they may be in hell and prayers cannot help them, we cannot make that determination. The Catholic Church has never declared that Judas, Hitler, bin Laden or anyone else is definitely in hell. Any such declaration on our part, puts us on “thin ice” and causes us to depart from Church teaching. That is not a good place to be!

      Peace,
      Gary

      1. Prophet says:

        Luke 22:3 ‘Then entered Satan into Judas’

        The Bible says that it would have been better for Judas and many other people not to have known the way of Righteousness, than having known it, to then turn away from it. Judas and all sons of perdition (ungodly men) will face the Lake of Fire

        Jesus replied, ‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But ‘woe ‘ to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would have been better for him if he had not been born’” (Matt. 26:21-24).
        This can mean no other place than hell for Judas

        Whenever Jesus says’ Woe’ concerning someone it means they will suffer eternally in Hell

        The Holy Spirit tells me Bin Laden, Hitler and Kevorkian are in hell

        1. Gary Zimak says:

          Prophet – Although the Bible seems to indicate that Judas is in hell, the Church has never declared so definitively. In his book “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”, Blessed Pope John Paul II states, ” The silence of the Church [on the subject of universal salvation] is, therefore, the only appropriate position for Christian faith. Even when Jesus says of Judas, the traitor, “it would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Mt 26:24), his words do not allude for certain to eternal damnation.” While this is just his opinion and not an infallible declaration, it does support Catholic Church teaching.

          My recommendation is to pray for the “souls of the faithful departed” which makes sure that everyone is covered. Once we start excluding people based upon our own personal interpretation of Scripture, we depart from Church teaching and her protection by the Holy Spirit and are on very thin ice!

          In Christ,
          Gary

  9. Prophet says:

    Gary

    If Judas were to enter Heaven at some time the following words would be a lie !!

    “It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Mt 26:24)

    The Mystics that speak of Judas confirms his presece in hell )

    Peace

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