“We must empty purgatory with our prayers” – St. Padre Pio
Death is the great equalizer.
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.
All Souls and Purgatory
All souls day may immediately spark images in our mind of people dressed as skeletons parading through graveyards, but is more deeply understood as a day of unified remembrance of our faithful departed. We commemorate their memory, but more importantly pray for the repose of their soul. This idea of praying for one already dead is a topic that confuses both Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Yet this can only rest squarely on our own shoulders, as a culture that has automated a set of wings and the repose or rest (peace) of the soul as soon as it departs the body.
Oh no, here it comes, that dreaded talk of Purgatory. Don’t Catholics know that there are only two places you go when you die…not three?
Actually, we do. Heaven or Hell are the ultimate eternal destinations for a soul that has passed from this life to the next. However, both scripture and Tradition give us ample proof that there exists a process of “purgation” that souls must pass through in order to enter a final destination of heaven.
Sin Separates Us From God
“Your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear“ (Isaiah 59:2).
“But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Is 64:5-6).
Saint Paul was convinced that “nothing” can separate us from the love of God, and surely this is true. Nothing can separate us from the love of God…except us…except sin. All men are gifted with the free will to reject the infinite love of God, and in so doing deny themselves the love that is ingrained in their very being for the rest of eternity.
“Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift” (Rom 3:23-24).
Grace is a great gift, and truly the only shot any of us has at making it to heaven in the first place. Yet, sin removes us from this grace, until we confess and renounce it, and are again restored through his mercy (Pr 28:13, 1 Jn 1″7-9).
Purgatory is a Merciful Grace
How many times a day do we catch ourselves falling into sin? Curse words abounding in traffic, phone calls that slip into gossip, little white lies and shameful thoughts. How many of us if met with a sudden death would be worthy of Christ? How many of us live each moment in a perpetual state of grace? If we’re honest with ourselves we know the truth.
For those souls not warranting eternal damnation, yet not fully restored to the state of grace… there is a great mercy and sign of God’s unfailing mercy until the bitter end: purgatory. As gold is tested in fire, the soul is purged of the earthly sins it has died attached to, so that it may enter glory in its most perfect state. The joy of the soul in purgatory is the promise of immortality. “Yet is their hope full of immortality;chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them.”
St. Gregory the Great brought to light the Scriptural proof in Matthew 12:32, that certain sins can be forgiven in this age, as well as the age to come. Jesus states that “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” This gives clear indication that the power of Christ to forgive extends past our earthly lives.
In 2 Maccabees 12:38, Judas makes expiation for the dead. He and his companions gather the bodies of the fallen for burial. Finding the sacred amulets of idols under their tunics, they approach God in supplication through prayer, asking forgiveness for these sins of the dead. Judas collects an offering for a sacrifice to be made for forgiveness. Scripture records Judas as acting “in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind.” “Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.”
St. John Chrysostom, speaking of the dead stated “Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice [Job 1:5], why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them” (Homilies on First Corinthians 41:5 [A.D. 392]).
Remembering the Faithfully Departed
Let us not neglect our own dead, but rather learn from scripture, as well as the wisdom of the Councils of Florence and Trent.
God does forgive, even after death, and he honors the prayers made on behalf of the dead.
Let us work together so that on the day of final judgement we may not find our wedding garments stained at the feast.
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