Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Souls Day

All Souls Day

          Today (Nov. 2) is All Souls Day.  It is the day that we particularly remember all the Holy Souls being purified in Purgatory.
          Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in his series Life is Worth Living, says about Purgatory, among other things, that it is “where the love of Man tempers the injustice of Man.”  That characterization is what I would like to explore in this article.
          It is not my purpose to give a theological defense of the doctrine of Purgatory here, but it is important to note that Purgatory does exist.  Among some Catholics there can be confusion as to whether the Church still teaches the doctrine.  She does, without ambiguity.  Purgatory is that state, after death, in which those who have died in the state of Grace, undergo purification of the remnants of sins they still carry before entering Heaven, where nothing unclean can enter, as the Book of Revelation says.
          We all know that sin has many nasty consequences.  Even after we are forgiven, the wounds and weaknesses may stay with us.  We may even still harbor some attachment to our forgiven sin.  We can purify ourselves in this life through prayer, penance and acts of charity, but usually we still die in a state that, if we were to enter Heaven, would make it less than perfect.
          Those in Purgatory have died in friendship with God and through His Mercy have been given the opportunity to be made perfect through purgation before entering the Heavenly Kingdom.  Like on Earth, however, where spiritual growth is often born of suffering, suffering does exist in Purgatory.  The Church in Purgatory is even called the Church Suffering, as suffering is one of the things that distinguish Purgatory from Heaven.
          One of the beautiful things about Purgatory is that God has allowed those of us still on Earth to aid, by our prayers, the purification of the holy souls.  Just as we can pray for our loved ones who are living, and in a mysterious way our prayers can be channels of Grace for them, the same is true for our departed loved ones in Purgatory.  Our prayers can help them more speedily reign in the Heavenly Kingdom.
          This brings me back to Archbishop Sheen’s quote, that Purgatory is where the love of Man tempers the injustice of Man.  How many of us have suffered at the death of a loved one over things we wish we would have said, or acts of love we wish we would have done?  If only we had another chance, we wouldn’t miss those opportunities.
          We do have another chance.  My father died nearly five years ago.  He was a hero of a father and, like many sons, I certainly did not show him all the gratitude he deserved.  No matter how close our relationships, death often brings some measure of regret.
          But we Catholics do not have to wallow in regret.  Our acts of love do not have to stop because of the death of a loved one.  Hollywood loves to sentimentalize death, and there are very poignant things that people do in honor of their deceased loved ones.  We can do very powerful things for them as well.  Every morning I pray for my Dad.  I don’t know if he’s in Purgatory, but if not, I know my prayers will not be wasted.  And if so, I can in some way repay him for all the times he has helped me.  For all the times he remembered me and my needs, now I can remember him and his.  All the injustice he endured from me when he was alive (like those nasty teenage years) can be redeemed now through acts of love.
          What’s even better is the possibility that my dad can know of these acts of love.  A holy priest I know says Mass every morning for the souls in Purgatory and in recommending the devotion he tells us, “If you aid a soul in getting to Heaven, don’t you think he’ll pray for you when he gets there?”  What a beautiful thought, to think I can have this loving and real dialogue with my father beyond the grave.
          The Feast of All Souls gives us even greater opportunity.  If we pray for the dead at a cemetery during this time (between November 1st and 8th) we can gain a plenary indulgence for them (when all conditions are met).  Below is a prayer for the souls in Purgatory given to us by St. Gertrude that is easy to say any time.
          Eternal Father, I offer you the most precious Blood of thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, sinners in the universal Church, those in my own home and within my family.  Amen.