Seeds of the Word - When a dear friend goes to heaven

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The Christian response to the loss of a loved one

In November, we remember all souls and also all saints. A saint is not someone who has a halo around his head and his name written in the calendar; anyone who goes to heaven is a saint. The Catholic Church celebrates the solemnity of All Saints on Nov. 1. However, not everyone who dies goes straight to heaven. Many souls need to be purified in purgatory. So, on Nov. 2, we celebrate all the faithful departed and pray to God that they may become saints and go to heaven.

What a blessing it is to know that we don’t find saints only in a prayer card. There are saints in the world who live among us. They are hard to find, perhaps because we don’t take our Christianity seriously enough — if we did, we would know many saints.

I met Jaime in high school. We shared our faith like we did with no one else. We dreamed of becoming Marist brothers. God had other plans for us. Each of us formed a family, but we were always active in different apostolic works. My friend was a charming and affectionate person. He was cordial even with his enemies. When someone lives his Christian faith without reservation, enemies arise from time to time. But Jaime treated anyone who attacked him with an irresistible fondness.

Some years ago, my friend became ill. With time, his health declined. He couldn’t work anymore and couldn’t leave his bed. Some months ago, I was laid off and found myself looking for a job. After 12 interviews, I needed a new job really badly. One day, the phone rang. It was Jaime, calling from Mexico. He wanted me to know that he was with me in this difficult situation. “I have spent months in bed and I feel worse every time. You know, the cross is getting heavy. But there are only two choices, like the thieves in Calvary: Either you complain and make of your cross a malediction, or you rather make of it a cross of blessing and profit on it. I want you to know that I am offering to the Lord all my pain, so you can find soon the job you need.”

The following day, Jaime got worse and had to be taken to the hospital. I felt terrible. But that same day, I received another phone call. It was a job offer! Jaime’s sacrifice pleased the Lord, who answered by giving me the job I needed.

A few weeks ago I received a message from Jaime: “I hate to worry you, but I really need you to pray for me harder than ever before.” I went to St. James Cathedral (coincidentally, Jaime is the Spanish translation of James) and spent an hour before the Blessed Sacrament praying for my friend. I prayed that he never lose his strength, but especially, that he never lose his joy. I took a few pictures of the cathedral with my phone for Jaime. He told me my prayers and my pictures helped him feel better.

Two weeks later, Jaime died, on Sept. 8, the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To me, this was not by chance. I am convinced that my friend went straight to heaven from the hand of Mary. In him, the promise made by St. Marcellin Champagnat, founder of the Marist Brothers, was fulfilled: “To Jesus through Mary.”

Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jaime offered the cross of his physical pain for me, and God accepted his sacrifice. I have been the friend of a saint, whose feast day is Nov. 1. A friend who has taught me it is possible. It is possible to be a saint in this world.

Be passionate about our faith!

This is the English translation of the “Semillas de la Palabra” column that appeared in the November 2014 issue of NORTHWEST CATHOLIC.

Mauricio I. Pérez, a member of St. Monica Parish on Mercer Island, is a Catholic journalist. His website is