|James Dean: 1931-1955|
Imagine if you had a thousand people praying for you every day, and a thousand people standing by at your deathbed ready to welcome you into the next life.
You may think I’m referring to the Saints. I’m not. And while the Saints will be there for you at your darkest moments, I’m talking about an even more powerful force: the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
Purgatory is a difficult thing to understand, and many non-Catholics seem to have a big problem with it. Protestants seem to think that Purgatory undermines Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, as if His once-and-for-all oblation still wasn’t enough to cleanse us and bring us straight to heaven when we die.
The way I like to think about it is this. God is a merciful and loving God, so much that He sent His Son to die in our place and take our guilt. Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross atoned for our sins completely and opened the gates of heaven to mankind; it was a perfect sacrifice, and more than enough.
But God made our salvation a choice for us: He does not coerce us to love Him and follow Him, as that would contradict our free will. He respects our choice to turn away from Him and to choose sin, to turn our backs on His great gesture of Love through the death of His Son. We can always say No to God, and He will allow us to choose either heaven or hell. It is that simple.
This is where Purgatory comes in. Even if we have lived a good and holy life, we still have many sins on our souls at the time of death: vices, lusts, attachments to worldly things, unrepaired relationships, and countless other things. And because God is a just God, He can’t just wave all our sins away and open heaven’s door to us like nothing is wrong. We need to do our part as well.
That is why Purgatory exists: to purify us from all the sins and attachments we wouldn’t let Jesus heal in this life. Nothing unclean can enter heaven, and quite frankly, we wouldn’t want to be in heaven gazing on the face of God with the stains of sin on our souls. C.S. Lewis put it this way:
“Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? 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, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleaned first.' 'It may hurt, you know' - 'Even so, sir.' ”
The best thing about Purgatory, though, is that our prayers can help the souls who are waiting there. Praying for these souls can shorten their time spent there and even release them completely. This might seem odd, but it makes sense when you think about it in the context of intercession. The souls in Purgatory are helpless: they cannot pray for themselves or each other, so they rely entirely on the prayers of the faithful still on earth and the prayers of the souls already in heaven. God loves to hear us praying for our beloved dead and works many acts of mercy on account of our prayers for them; it is essentially no different than praying for your friends and family when they were still on this earth. Once these souls reach heaven, they will in turn intercede and pray for us both in our earthly life and when we are in Purgatory ourselves. Even more so, they will be there to support and comfort us during the all trials of our lives and especially at the hour of our death.
|Hour of death? I'm already dying from exhaustion!|
Helping the souls in Purgatory is one of the ways we participate in the Body of Christ. Because Christ died for all of us, we are all obliged to help each other choose salvation and to help each other get to heaven. The Christian practice of praying for the dead goes back to before Jesus’ time (look it up in the book of Maccabees) and has continued ever since.
The souls in Purgatory are assured heaven; it is not a “middle ground,” a sort of Limbo, or a halfway point between heaven and hell. But the sad thing is that many of them stay there a very long time because they have no one to pray for them. God doesn’t hold this against them, of course, because it isn’t their fault, but the more we can help we can give the Holy Souls, the better. Padre Pio is known to have said “We must empty Purgatory!”
There are countless benefits for us if we befriend the Holy Souls. Once they reach heaven, they are eternally grateful to you and will pray unceasingly for you.
I often think about how people who were very famous during their earthly life (actors, movie stars, musicians) must be very lonely and forgotten about in Purgatory. Perhaps they had millions of fans while on earth, but not one of them thinks of praying for them now. It is very ironic. Many of these famous people are still revered and idolized today (James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lord, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart…the list goes on), but still no one thinks of praying for them.
|Vic Morrow: 1929-1982. Killed in freak helicopter crash.|
It is very helpful to offer up your Mass, Holy Communion, daily Rosary, etc. for the Holy Souls, especially those who have no one to pray for them. It is a beautiful and rewarding practice. There are even special prayers you can say that release souls from Purgatory, like the one below:
“Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in Purgatory and for sinners everywhere: in the Universal Church, those in my own home, and within my family. Amen.”
This particular prayer was revealed by Jesus to St. Gertrude and releases one thousand souls from Purgatory each time it is said. It is a nice thing to say over and over in your mind when you are at work or engaged in a particularly monotonous task; the most productive thing you can do is help your brothers and sisters in Christ, even if you accomplish nothing else that day!
One important thing
to remember is that releasing souls from Purgatory (or shortening their time
there) is done entirely through God’s grace and mercy and not through any
merits of our own. It’s easy to become prideful and think “I’ve released 10,000
souls today—whadda boss!” But the salvation of souls is entirely God’s work: we
are only His humble instruments through which He channels His grace.
|Rick Jason: 1923-2000. Took his own life.|
Finally, because the doctrine of Purgatory is so vast and important that it would be impossible to cover all of it in a blog post, here is a clear and concise resource: http://www.catholic.com/blog/tim-staples/is-purgatory-in-the-bible
Ask Jesus to save some souls today as you go through your prayers and daily duties. Every act, no matter how small, can be offered up to Jesus with love for the salvation of others. And you might even want to say a prayer for Vic Morrow and Rick Jason ;-)