If you're wondering why a cemetery makes a good spot for a breath of fresh air, consider this
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Each year, from November 1-8, the Catholic Church offers a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions applicable only to the Holy Souls in purgatory when you visit a cemetery and pray for the dead.
One of my favorite places to go for a walk is in a cemetery. For me it’s a peaceful place, conducive for prayer and reflection. If you walk a cemetery especially in the first days of November, but really anytime of the year, here are a few suggestions as to what to look for or do.
Walk by the graves of family and friends
Vacationing people often will visit cemeteries, especially if someone notable is buried there. I just returned from Israel, and Oskar Schindler is buried in Jerusalem. I know many people seek out his grave.
People will visit cemeteries in Normandy to honor the veterans buried there or Arlington National Cemetery to visit the tomb of the unknown soldier.
But in our ordinary life we should periodically visit the graves of our family members. Some people do this on a regular basis because they need to water flowers, while others might do so on a special occasion.
When I visit my hometown, I park my car by mother’s grave, say a prayer, and then walk to our family lot in a different section of the cemetery where my grandparents are buried and my grandmother’s family. I then proceed to walk the cemetery roads, finding the graves of people I knew and remembering the impact they had on my life. Sometimes I will visit the Mausoleum in Green Bay and find the burial places of priestly role models. If you are walking in a cemetery, don’t forget to visit your family and friends.
Look at the gravestones
When I visit a cemetery I haven’t been to before, I will look at the gravestones and find the most unique ones. It’s always interesting to see the grave stones from 100 years ago compared to gravestones that are more recent. Some of the gravestones are ornate containing images etched in granite of Jesus, Mary, or the saints. Some of them will have scripture verses or poetic lines. As you walk and pray, don’t miss the beauty in the gravestone, and maybe it will have you start thinking about your own.
Use your imagination
One of my favorite songs is “The Green Fields of France” by an Irish band called The High Kings. The song recounts a visit to a cemetery and envision the life of Willy McBride, who was only 19 when he died as a soldier. Here’s the imaginative verse: “And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined Although you died back in 1916 In that faithful heart are you forever nineteen Or are you a stranger without even a name Enclosed then forever behind a glass pane In an old photograph torn, battered, and stained And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame.” Maybe as you walk by a grave, something you notice will strike you, and you will begin to ask questions like: Why did this person die so young? What did they do for a living? Do they have family that miss them? When I walk by people who died back in the 1800s, I realize that they may all but be forgotten. But what if we imagined who they were and their story? If we did, in some small way their memory will still be alive.
Do a good deed
Sometimes a grave plot might be neglected. Family members might decorate it with artificial flowers and put a statue of a saint there, but due to distance they might not visit as often as they like. With storms that happen, it’s possible a statue gets knocked over or the flowers are strewn about the plot. Stones may get covered in moss, making names no longer readable. As you walk through a cemetery, consider doing a good deed and straightening up someone’s grave if it needs attention. Such an action is a labor of love, and even though they can’t verbally express their gratitude, the dead thank you for the honor you showed them.
Pray as you walk
My go-to walking prayer in a cemetery is the Rosary, especially reflecting either on the sorrowful or glorious mysteries. The Divine Mercy Chaplet would also be appropriate. Reading the psalms or praying the Eternal Rest prayer. Or maybe as you walk, it will be a meditation about your life or on the joy of heaven. A cemetery can be a place where we walk, pray, and remember those who have gone before us in faith. Don’t miss the opportunity this November to pray for the souls in purgatory so that they can make their home with God forever in the Kingdom of Heaven.