The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: "Our prayer for them [those who have died] is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective" (CCC, 958).
We have experienced this many times since Brett died on October 15, 2015. I ask him to pray for many things but never without praying for him first. This is what Pope Francis refers to as a "communion of intercessory prayer - an exchange of spiritual goods" (see below Amoris Laetitia, 257).
The Church teaches that unless a person has a ST. (as in Saint) in front of their name (i.e. St. Juan Diego, St. Jose Maria Escriva, etc.) we cannot assume that they are already enjoying the Beatific Vision of God in Heaven and because of that we should continue to offer indulgences - prayers and sacrifices (suffrages) - for them to aid them in their journey to full union with God. There can be a very real exchange of spiritual goods between us and them. They cannot help themselves but they can intercede for us and they will if we ask them.
We pray and offer our good works for them and they pray for our needs so our relationship with them continues even now but it is in this new way.
We have experienced many blessings through my son’s intercession and I know that I am helping him too. This is so good for a grieving heart! It gives us something concrete and effective to “do” with our grief. It is also a great incentive to grow in holiness because as we grow in holiness, our prayers and works become more fruitful for our loved ones.
On my part, I offer my whole day, every day for my Brett and all the Holy Souls in Purgatory – every prayer, work, joy, sorrow and suffering; every difficultly – traffic, weather, rudeness from other people, difficult situations at work, headache, etc. I try to bear each one patiently, do my best and offer each one with love to God for them. I always pray for him this way & then, I ask him to pray for specific needs that come up! God answers those prayers so fast when I pray this way. Through these experiences, God has taught me that my relationship with Brett can continue and in this way we are creating new memories. I don't have to cling to the past as my only source of union with him.
The following story, from Nicole & Sam's wedding (and there are many other stories I could share) is a testimony of how God has allowed my son to help us and it was obvious it was his prayers that helped:
On the way to the dress rehearsal on Friday [September 8], Nicole and I said a prayer about the wedding and for God to be with us throughout the weekend and to watch over Sam & Nicole in their marriage. We then prayed for the repose of Brett's soul and asked him to intercede for all of needs of the wedding and for Sam & Nicole. At the end of the prayer, I asked God to somehow let us know that Brett was doing this and was with us. During the reception, Sam's cousin's girlfriend - Taylor Post - was walking down the hall and noticed the soda machine. At that moment she felt a strong desire to purchase a coke (even though we were serving them right inside the main room for no cost). When the coke came out, it had this name on it! I have never seen one with his name on it before. It made us, and so many other people, feel so happy that God was letting us know that Brett was with us!
The fruit of his prayers was truly felt throughout the wedding weekend. Three of the little miracles we experienced were:
The weather was perfect! It is usually super hot in early September in Georgia. That weekend it was sunny and in the mid 70's with virtually no humidity. There was a very slight breeze. This is a blessing in and of itself but when you consider that Hurricane Irma hit the next day, it becomes more obvious that there was Divine intervention.
This might not seem like a big deal but it truly was for Nicole. She is a die-hard Michigan Wolverine fan. This love for Michigan football is something that she shared with Brett. That day they won their football game and Michigan's arch-rival, Ohio State, lost. It was unusual for both of these to happen on the same day. Sam's favorite team, Clemson won too.
There was so much peace in the air. Everyone got along so well, even people that had a history of altercations and had never gotten along.
As I stated before, I never ask him to pray for anything without praying for him first. The Catechism of the Catholic Church #958 says that
“Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”
The closer he comes to God (the higher he goes in heaven) the more his intercessory power increases. This is because we are all members of the Communion of Saints.
It is better to assume that your loved ones need your prayers than to assume that they don't. If they are already in heaven, your prayers will send them to a higher place. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that even if our loved ones are already in heaven and we continue to pray and offer sacrifices for them, especially the Mass, their "accidental glory" (their intimacy with God and their intercessory power) increases because love (charity) is always creative and even in heaven we will be growing for all eternity. Through this union of intercessory prayer with my son (I pray for him and he prays for me and my intentions) we are growing in holiness together. We are advancing together deeper into the heart of God.
Here is Sam & Nicole's wedding video. It captures some of the beauty of this day:
Here is the full quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church 958:
Communion with the dead. 'In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and 'because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins' she offers her suffrages for them.' Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective."
Amoris Laetitia, chapter 6
POST-SYNODAL APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION
OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS
TO BISHOPS, PRIESTS AND DEACONS
CHRISTIAN MARRIED COUPLES
AND ALL THE LAY FAITHFUL
ON LOVE IN THE FAMILY
When death makes us feel its sting
253. At times family life is challenged by the death of a loved one. We cannot fail to offer the light of faith as a support to families going through this experience.280 To turn our backs on a grieving family would show a lack of mercy, mean the loss of a pastoral opportunity, and close the door to other efforts at evangelization.
254. I can understand the anguish felt by those who have lost a much-loved person, a spouse with whom they have shared so much. Jesus himself was deeply moved and began to weep at the death of a friend (cf. Jn 11:33, 35). And how can we even begin to understand the grief of parents who have lost a child? “It is as if time stops altogether: a chasm opens to engulf both past and future”, and “at times we even go so far as to lay the blame on God. How many people - I can understand them - get angry with God”.281 “Losing one’s spouse is particularly difficult… From the moment of enduring a loss, some display an ability to concentrate their energies in a greater dedication to their children and grandchildren, finding in this experience of love a renewed sense of mission in raising their children…. Those who do not have relatives to spend time with and to receive affection from, should be aided by the Christian community with particular attention and availability, especially if they are poor”.282
255. Ordinarily, the grieving process takes a fair amount of time, and when a pastor must accompany that process, he has to adapt to the demands of each of its stages. The entire pro-cess is filled with questions: about the reasons why the loved one had to die, about all the things that might have been done, about what a person experiences at the moment of death. With a sincere and patient process of prayer and interior liberation, peace returns. At particular times, we have to help the grieving person to realize that, after the loss of a loved one, we still have a mis-sion to carry out, and that it does us no good to prolong the suffering, as if it were a form of tribute. Our loved ones have no need of our suffering, nor does it flatter them that we should ruin our lives. Nor is it the best expression of love to dwell on them and keep bringing up their name, because this is to be dependent on the past instead of continuing to love them now that they are elsewhere. They can no longer be physically present to us, yet for all death’s power, “love is strong as death” (Song 8:6). Love involves an in-tuition that can enable us to hear without sounds and to see the unseen. This does not mean imagining our loved ones as they were, but being able to accept them changed as they now are. The risen Jesus, when his friend Mary tried to em-brace him, told her not to hold on to him (cf. Jn 20:17), in order to lead her to a different kind of encounter.
256. It consoles us to know that those who die do not completely pass away, and faith assures us that the risen Lord will never abandon us. Thus we can “prevent death from poisoning life, from rendering vain our love, from pushing us into the darkest chasm”. 283 The Bible tells us that God created us out of love and made us in such a way that our life does not end with death (cf. Wis 3:2-3). Saint Paul speaks to us of an encounter with Christ immediately after death: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Phil 1:23). With Christ, after death, there awaits us “what God has prepared for those who love him” ( 1 Cor 2:9). The Preface of the Liturgy of the Dead puts it nicely: “Although the certainty of death saddens us, we are consoled by the promise of future immortality. For the life of those who believe in you, Lord, is not end-ed but changed”. Indeed, “our loved ones are not lost in the shades of nothingness; hope assures us that they are in the good strong hands of God”.284
257. One way of maintaining fellowship with our loved ones is to pray for them.285 The Bible tells us that “to pray for the dead” is “holy and pious” (2 Macc 12:44 -45). “Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective”.286 The Book of Revelation portrays the martyrs interceding for those who suffer injustice on earth (cf. Rev 6:9-11), in solidarity with this world and its history. Some saints, before dying, consoled their loved ones by promising them that they would be near to help them. Saint Therese of Lisieux wished to continue do-ing good from heaven.287 Saint Dominic stated that “he would be more helpful after death… more powerful in obtaining graces”.288 These are truly “bonds of love”,289 because “the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who sleep in the Lord is in no way interrupted… [but] rein-forced by an exchange of spiritual goods”.290
258. If we accept death, we can prepare our-selves for it. The way is to grow in our love for those who walk at our side, until that day when “death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev 21:4) . We will thus prepare ourselves to meet once more our loved ones who have died. Just as Jesus “gave back to his mother” (cf. Lk 7:15) her son who had died, so it will be with us. Let us not waste energy by dwelling on the distant past. The better we live on this earth, the greater the happiness we will be able to share with our loved ones in heaven. The more we are able to mature and develop in this world, the more gifts will we be able to bring to the heavenly banquet.
281 Catechesis (17 June 2015): L’Osservatore Romano, 18 June 2015, p. 8.
282 Relatio Finalis 2015, 19.
283 Catechesis (17 June 2015): L’Osservatore Romano, 18 June 2015, p. 8.
285 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 958.
287 Cf. Therese of Lisieux, Derniers Entretiens: Le “carnet jaune” de Mère Agnès, 17 July 1897, in Oeuvres Complètes, Paris, 1996, 1050. Her Carmelite sisters spoke of a promise made by Saint Therese that her departure from this world would be “like a shower of roses” (ibid., 9 June 1897, 1013).
288 Jordan of Saxony, Libellus de principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum, 93: Monumenta Historica Sancti Patris Nostri Dominici, XVI, Rome, 1935, p. 69.
289 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 957.
290 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 49.