Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Thoughts on All Soul's Day
It's All Saints/All Souls day and the cemeteries come alive once again. It is good that we have this kind of celebration in our church calendar right before the closing of the year. Over the years, it has become some kind of a family affair, a time off from our busy lives to remember our dearly departed.
Whenever I visit the cemetery I always move around to look at "lapidas". What I am particularly interested in is not so much the names of the dead but their life spans. I would make a quick estimate of their age and compare it from one tomb to another. "Oh, this one lived for over 90 years!" I would say. "That poor fellow died when he was just in his 20s." "And that one over there barely reached the retirement age." etc, etc. Then I suddenly realize if there is any difference at all whether you lived up to 100 or perished at the age of 20. They are all dead now - rotting inside their tomb with just skulls and bones. Then I would also realize how short our life is here on earth, as short as the dash put in between the date of birth and date of death.
Here is the important part. Do you think that your dead loved ones are already resting in peace with God? Of course most of us would want to think so but is it really the case? Have you ever given a thought whether your loved ones are in a state of purgation or worse are damned in that place where their worms die not and the fires cannot be put out?
I do believe that many people go to hell when they die. Not that God condemns them there, but they CHOOSE to go there. Still, a greater majority of the faithful, I believe, do not go straight to heaven after death because they still have many imperfections and faults that needed to be expiated. Where? in Purgatory. Very few make it straight to heaven - aborted babies, children who died at a very young age, martyrs of the faith, and people who have reached saintly perfection.
The doctrine of Purgatory is very logical. If your dead loved ones are already in heaven, they have no need of your prayers. They already see God face to face. They are already saints. If they are in hell, our prayers are useless and of no avail.
What is Purgatory? In one of Fr. Benedict Groeschel's book, he injects humor into this topic:
"Purgatory has had a very bad press. Many people grew up with the image of purgatory as hideous pools of fire with naked holy souls bobbing up and down like French fries in a fast-food emporium."
How true this is but from what I've read and remember purgatory is a place where all unsettled debts that we incurred and contracted during our lifetime is paid up to the last farthing. When we commit sin we incur two things - guilt and temporal punishment due to sin. The former is remitted by the sacrament of confession, but the latter is not. It is only remitted when we have done sufficient reparation proportional to the gravity of offense committed. This reminds me of Zacchaeus in the Gospel, who offered to give half of his possessions to the poor and repay anyone he has cheated four times over.
The soul after separating from the body has this intense and overwhelming desire to unite itself to God, but seeing himself full of imperfections he is prevented from doing so. This separation from God is the principal punishment in purgatory and also in hell but with a big difference. Those in Purgatory suffer with a future hope of deliverance while those in hell suffer in total despair.
And so dear friends let us continue to offer prayers and sacrifices to our dear departed every chance we have. Let us not forget that praying for the dead is a spiritual act of mercy and those souls that will be released from Purgatory because of our prayers will be forever grateful to us and they too in turn will pray for us before the throne of God.
If you are interested in reading more about the topic of Purgatory, Treatise on Purgatory by St. Catherine of Genoa is a great resource. You can also read the book Read Me or Rue It by Fr. Paul O'Sullivan. Visit the website of the Prayer Warriors of the Holy Souls and find out more how you can help.
"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." - St. Augustine