Among the corporal works of mercy — and the one that perhaps makes people feel the most uncomfortable — is burying the dead.
"They need to come in from the cold," he said.
As part of his ministry, Father Greene has been training grief ministers, many of whom have suffered the loss of a love one. "They place their healing hearts in the service of others," he said.
"You can only do that if you have done some healing," he said.
That is particularly the case at Cooper's Chapel in Oakland's Fruitvale District, where he has trained 10 grief ministers who some of have suffered the death of a child, some by murder.
Ministry to the bereaved is one of the hallmarks of Catholic Funeral & Cemetery Services, which under the leadership of Executive Director Robert Seelig, has reshaped the mission of the diocesan organization.
"I figured it would take five years for the financial turnaround," he said.
That was 2002.
"At 36, I was very curious: Are cemetery gates narrow and closed or open and wide?"
For baptized Catholics, Seelig said, burial in a Catholic cemetery is a "birthright."
"I didn't think cemeteries were a place of judgment," he said. "They need to be the place we take everyone in their brokenness," he said. "We're all broken."
"Death is a sacramental moment," he said. For those who mourn, it's a "reflection on our faith. Do I believe in the resurrection? How have I been living my life?"
He was also concerned with Catholic cemeteries' relevance, and the ability to serve changing needs of families.
"Are we losing touch with what's going on," he said, noting that people are more mobile than a generation ago.
Cremation was an example. Vatican II allowed cremation. "In 2002, we were still facing questions: If I choose cremation, can I still have a Catholic funeral?"
The answer was – and is – yes.
Scattering of ashes or keeping the remains at home in an urn are not acceptable in Catholic teaching. But the cemeteries didn't have many niches. "If you toured a Catholic cemetery in 2002, you couldn't see where cremation fit," Seelig said.
The care of the living became a high priority as well.
"The church needs to be actively engaged in ministry to families at the time of death," he said. Through the grief ministry, that service continues.
There's no timetable to grief, Father Greene points out. People put a limit on their support of grieving people, Father Greene said, usually ending on the first anniversary of the death.
"The deeper the love, the greater the pain, the longer it takes," he said. "You don't realize the power of relationships in our lives until we lose one.
"Death ends a life, but not a relationship."
For those who are grieving at Christmas, Father Greene suggests rituals may help. Set a place at the table for your loved one. Offer a toast with a favorite beverage.
"If we believe in the resurrection, they're with us," he said. "Their spirit envelopes us."
And if you're looking for something to say to someone who is grieving, a simple, "I'm with you," is a powerful message.
Coping with grief during the holidays
The death of a loved one is always traumatic, but during the holidays, the feelings of loss can be even more pronounced. Each person has to grieve in his or her own way. There are some general tips that can help you get through this difficult time.
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