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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Purgatory - All Souls' Day

“All Souls Day”

Today is the feast of “All Souls,” also known as the “Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed.” And yesterday we celebrated “All Saints Day.” Many of you are probably wondering what is the difference between the two feast days. On All Saints’ Day, we commemorate those who are in heaven, those who are presently enjoying the beatified vision of God in their eternal glory.

Today, All Souls’ Day, is based on the theological basis that some of those who have departed from this world have not been perfectly cleansed from venial sin, or have not fully atoned from their past transgression. As such, they are temporarily deprived of the beatified vision until such time as they have been completely sanctified in Christ, and these departed souls are to remain in Purgatory. To assist them so that they may be freed from purgatory, we, their spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ, can help the faithful departed who are also members of the body of Christ, through our prayers, our alms deeds, and most important of all, through the sacrifice of the mass.

All Christians believe in the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Purgatory in not mentioned as one of the “last things” because, strictly speaking, purgatory is a part of heaven. Souls who go to purgatory are those who have been judged worthy of heaven, but not straightaway. They still need some purification before they are ready for heaven, because, according to Revelations: Chapter 21, Verse 27 “nothing unclean shall enter it.”

Some Christians have a problem with the teachings on purgatory because it is not mentioned by name in the bible. Yet the same Christians believe in the Trinity even though the “Trinity” is not mentioned by name in the bible. We arrive at the doctrine on purgatory the same way we arrive at the doctrine on the Trinity, by making a logical inference from what God has explicitly revealed.

To think that all Christians live perfect lives, are sinless, never make a mistake, or never use poor judgment, would be considered a false belief. And to claim that just because you cannot see something, that it isn’t present, would also be considered a false belief.

A perfect example of this would be when King Henry VIII granted himself to be the supreme head of the church in England, and one of the first things he did was do away with Purgatory. He announced “Purgatory – No More Purgatory,” because he couldn’t identify direct biblical proof of such. It is also interesting that since all of the convents and monasteries around England at the time had been given great monetary gifts so that the monks and sisters would pray for the dearly departed, Henry then decided to keep the money for himself, because he proclaimed that there was no more purgatory, and no need to pray for the dead. However, later when King Henry VIII lay dying, he called for a Roman Catholic Priest so that he might go to confession, and didn’t call upon one of those who had taken an oath of fidelity to the King. He wanted a priest loyal to the Holy Father in Rome and to the teachings of our Catholic faith that included a strong belief in purgatory.

The Church has a great tradition going back to the early days of praying for the dead and offering sacrifice as well as alms. In this account, in the year 202, St. Perpetua, who is mentioned in the Eucharistic prayer and was a martyr for the faith, had a dream where she saw her younger brother, who had died, imprisoned in a dark place, all covered with dirt, and parched with thirst. She began to offer up fervent prayer for him, and soon after, he appeared to her in another vision, but this time he was beautiful and happy.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary also offers another example after receiving the news of the death of her mother, Gertrude. She began to pray and offer great sacrifices on her behalf and soon after, she had the satisfaction of seeing her mother in a vision, showing her that her mother was delivered from Purgatory.

Lets explore this a little bit further.

I believe that it is very important to not dwell on our failings, but to accept them, embrace them, learn for them, and strive toward not repeating them.

I believe the Native American People possess wisdom in this understanding. Native American tribes are known for their elaborate and colorful quilts. Often the memories of the tribes are woven into large quilts used in religious ceremonies. Native American people are believed to be among the best quilt makers in the world. What many people do not know is that they have an unwritten law governing the art of quilting in that every quilt must have some flaw. Even when they could easily produce the perfect quilt, they go out of their way to introduce a flaw into it, since the quit for them is basically a representation of human life and the human condition, the symbolism is clear: no human life is perfect.

In a way, the feast of All Souls, which we celebrate today, echoes the same message: no human life is perfect, not even a Christian life.

The good news we celebrate today is that God loves us even when we are not perfect, and that the love of God does not abandon the souls of our departed brothers and sisters in the faith, even when they did not measure up to the ideals of Christian Perfection.

The following is a quote from the council of Leon, in the year 1274.

“Hence, the souls in purgatory must pay off their debt by enduring the pain, which God has laid upon them. Yet, we on earth can help to diminish their pains by offering for them the most perfect prayer, alms giving, other works of piety, and the holy sacrifice of the mass,”

It is amazing how long the practice of praying for the dead has been with us, yet we often forget.

Let this day be a reminder and a beginning to a new or revitalized start.

I am not sure what type of pain one might experience in purgatory, or how that process actually works, and we will probably not know for sure until that time hopefully comes. However, maybe C. S. Lewis can help us with a little insight. C.S. Lewis, who was not a Catholic, argues that our souls demand purgatory, stating:

Would it not break the heart, if God said to us “it is true my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the Joy?” Should we not reply, with submission, “Sir, if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first. God replying, “It may hurt you know,” and we reply, “even so sir.”

Could it be possible that when we die, and arrive in the presence of our Lord, we are then able to clearly see ourselves in the light of truth, unveiled from our human limitations, seeing every action of our life as it truly was, and then feel the shame, hurt, embarrassment and pain, while feeling an overpowering feeling of inadequacy, especially in the immediate sight of God.

Could this purgation be self inflicted……

Again, I really do not know the answer, but I do believe that we have a free will and do have the ability to choose Right from Wrong, Good from Bad, to Pray or to Not Pray, to do Acts of charity or Not. I also believe that this ability “to do” or “not do,” will cease when we die, and all actions will be of the past, and then it will be time for judgment.

Although my Father passed away abruptly 14 years ago, it was last year that this concept of transitioning from earth to heaven became so clearly understandable for me. It was almost exactly 1 year ago that my 5 brothers and I sat with my mother and watched her fade away and gracefully leave this world. We like to remember that special and holy time as what we call “walking her home.” Although she was a holy and devout woman, she was not perfect. I could clearly imagine words similar to C.S. Lewis’ coming out of her humble mouth as God greeted her. She would of desired to be completely purified from her imperfections in preparation for entrance into heaven and an eternal life of beauty, love, and perfection, even though the purification would not be free of pain or discomfort.

Take a moment and think about your thoughts on purgatory, your own life, the lives of your loved ones, alive and departed, and never forget the power of your prayer, especially in relation those awaiting in purgatory.

A wise and holy man once stated to me, that the last thing we should do as we lay down to rest at night, is to say a prayer for the souls in purgatory, since by morning we may be in their company.

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