This Friday, November 22nd, marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Much has been written about the life and times of the late President, including his flaws (moral and otherwise) and achievements.
However, as many will engage in various events commemorating the sad occasion of Kennedy's death, I believe that, as a Catholic, the most appropriate way to remember him is to pray for the repose of his soul.
In the Second Book of Maccabees, we read the account of Judas who, finding out that those men who had been helping him in battle died because they wore pagan amulets:
On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers. 40 Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. 41
So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; 42 and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. 43
He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.
Every November, each council of the Knights of Columbus has a Memorial Mass wherein the members pray for the repose of the souls of their deceased brethren. The ritual, which takes place prior to the Post-Communion Prayer, features an empty chair on which the names of the deceased Knights are placed. A member reads of the name of each deceased Knight while another one answers aloud, "Present." The last name read at each ritual is that of John F. Kennedy. For all of his foibles, faults and issues, Kennedy died a member of the Knights of Columbus. He was the first Catholic and the first Knight to hold the office of President of the United States. Even after a half a century, the Knights throughout the United States of America still pray for the repose of Kennedy's soul.
We cannot and should not stand in judgment over the fate of Kennedy's soul. Only God can do that. We can call out bad behavior and questionable moral conduct. We cannot judge a person. Christ judged the conduct of the Samaritan woman at the well, Zaccheus and the woman who was about to be stoned to death; however, He also had much love for them. Judas Maccabees lamented over the evil that his warriors had committed. However, he had faith in God and he believed in the resurrection of the dead. If he made atonement for the sake of his dead soldiers, how much more can we do than to offer up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for one of our own?
I challenge my fellow Catholics to stop and say a prayer this coming Friday for the repose of the soul of President John F. Kennedy, whether at Mass or when engaging in whatever daily prayer regimen one has. It is a holy and pious thing to do and it is one of the spiritual acts of mercy.