Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote, “As we enter Heaven we will see them, so many of them, coming toward us and thanking us, we will ask who they are and they will say, “A poor soul you prayed for in Purgatory.” This is the time of year to think of the deceased. We do this all year of course, but during the month of November especially. November is dedicated to the Holy souls in Purgatory. Are we praying for those who have gone before us?
Purgatory is a transitional state for souls who have, at least implicitly, chosen our Lord, but whose love still needs purifying. Purgatory is closely associated with Heaven. A teacher once said it’s like Heaven’s bathroom. Souls in this state might be compared to kids who come inside when called to dinner, but haven’t yet washed their hands. A child in the bathroom might not be at the banquet table but he’s certainly in the house.
Pope St. John Paul II once explained it in this way, “Those who live in this state of purification after death are not separated from God but are immersed in the love of Christ, His burning love purifies. Neither are they separated from the saints in Heaven, who already enjoy the fullness of eternal life, nor from us on earth, who continue on our pilgrim journey to the Father’s house. We all remain united in the Mystical body of Christ.” We all belong together in one enormous symphony of being.
As the catechism states a soul must be free of even the tiniest imperfections before entering Heaven. Our Lord wants us to completely enter into His joy, to share in His own life forever, and we can’t do so before being completely purified. God’s life, the life of the Trinity, is perfect love. How could a creature still bearing a trace of sin join in that life? In the words of St. Augustine, “To think highly of our deceased is charity, but to pray for them is a charity greater, wiser, surer.”
To pray for them is a charity greater, wiser, and surer. Building on this Pope Benedict XVI once wrote that, “No man is an island. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification.” Again, We all belong together in one enormous symphony of being.
St. Leopold Mandic was an Italian Capuchin who died in 1942. As a young man he had a great desire to travel east to proclaim our Lord and the Gospel. He wanted to make our Lord known in the East. But it wasn’t to be. St. Leopold had very poor health. He couldn’t see very well, he stuttered when he talked, he had constant abdominal pain, and arthritis that deformed his hands and bent his spine, so that he was no more than 4 ½ feet tall. He was shorter than Sr. Cyrilla. He was not a robust man and so his superiors didn’t think he had the stamina needed to go into the missions, and so he spent his life in Padua, hearing confessions for 12 to 15 hours a day. He was gentle and wise in the life of virtue and people flocked to him. If you wanted him to hear your confession, you had to wait a long time. Sometimes other priests would complain that he was too lenient with the people who came to him for confession. To this he would say, “If the Lord wants to accuse me of showing too much leniency toward sinners, I’ll tell him that it was he who gave me the example, and I haven’t even died for the salvation of souls as he did.”
For many years in the back of his mind St. Leopold persisted in the hope that he might be able to go east into the missions. But as he got older he realized it wasn’t going to happen. He was going to stay in Padua in his tiny confessional. So he changed his attitude. Since he couldn’t go to the missions in the east every soul he helped in the confessional would be his east. Every soul sitting before him would be his mission to the east. “Every soul will be the East for me,” he said.
The direction East has a very special meaning to Catholics. There is the ancient tradition of facing east when we worship. At one time all Catholic altars faced east. They were built this way because at the end of time our Lord will come from the East. And the sun a symbol of Jesus also rises in the East. In a symbolic way to face east is to face the Lord.
And so adding to St. Leopold’s quote we could say, every soul made in the image and likeness of our Lord will be the East for me. In looking towards a soul I will look towards the Lord. I will pray for the souls made in the image and likeness of our Lord. That will be my mission to the east.
Every time we face the Lord, every time we face the symbolic east may we remember in prayer the souls of our beloved dead, but most especially may we also remember the souls of those who have no one to pray for them. We all belong together in one enormous symphony of being. May our prayer for the dead play a small part in their purification.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon them
May they rest in peace.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
“As we enter Heaven we will see them, so many of them, coming toward us and thanking us, we will ask who they are and they will say, “A poor soul you prayed for in Purgatory.”
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley