If like me you’ve often wondered time again what Purgatory might be like [that much neglected -in my view- doctrine of Catholic truth] then naturally our imagination during this month of the Holy Souls might be drawn to ponder on this supernatural reality which lies ahead [hopefully] for most of us if we die in a state of grace and repentance. And if there is a baptism by desire, then surely there has to be a state of purification [after death] by desire too; i.e, purgatory; even if one cannot avail of final absolution [through no fault of one’s own] at one’s dying hours and moments?
There is a story about Saint John Vianney in which a woman sought him out regarding her husband, who had recently jumped to his death. But the line to see the Saint was so long that she gave up on getting a chance to speak to him. Suddenly the priest received a flash of divine insight regarding the woman’s plight. He yelled out over the crowd, “He was saved! Between the bridge and the water he repented!”
Now I accept that taking the example of suicide to illustrate the power of God’s mercy to intervene in a dire situation might be extreme. But the sad fact is, suicide brought on by terrible depression in most cases amongst other things, is a daily occurrence and blights so many families [as it has my own in the past]. So it naturally leaves us wondering about the fate of the soul in question and therefore our own when the time comes. Whatever manner a person uses to kill himself, it takes some measure of time. During that time, God can reach out to the person and inspire a genuine repentance. With this in mind, the Catechism concludes:
“We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to Him alone, God can provide the opportunity for repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.” – CCC 2282
And surely one of those ways for ongoing repentance for all us is to experience purgatory. Note; I say “ongoing repentance” not excluding some act however small, of repentance prior to death. So yes a final cleansing after death ought to be a source of comfort to us even if it’s very possibly and no doubt will be a painful [emotionally and spiritually speaking] process.
Think of how great it is to have one’s young children back in the house after they’ve been playing in the garden or outdoors and come in “stinking of fresh air” as my mother used to say (God rest her soul) and in need of a bath and wash. Parents are delighted to have the children back in doors in the home but before the comfort of a family meal perhaps and eventually bed, the washing and the cleansing of the face and body has to take place. Children, young ones especially are almost angelic when they are freshly washed and scrubbed from the dirt of the day.
I think that’s how the Lord sees us -in a way- through the process of purification after death. We are all his little ones as Jesus called his disciples and He wants us to be spotless again. And since like infants who cannot wash themselves properly without help, so too do the Holy Souls need us to pray and offer sacrifices up for them on their behalf to speed their final journey to heaven since they cannot pray for themselves. I think this is put well in the book “God and the World: Believing and Living in our Time” by Pope Benedict XVI and Peter Seewald where the pope states:
“With regard to turning out right, which is what we all hope for despite all our failures, Purgatory plays an important part here. There will be few people whose lives are pure and fulfilled in all respects. And, we would hope, there would be few people whose lives have become an irredeemable and total No. For the most part, the longing for good has remained, despite many breakdowns, in some sense determinative. God can pick up the broken pieces and make something of them. In any case, we need a final cleansing, a cleansing by fire to be exact, in which the gaze of Christ, so to speak, burns us free from everything, and only under this purifying gaze are we, as it were, fit to be with God, and able, then, to make our home with Him.”
Let us pray as frequently as possible…especially for the most forgotten souls and those most in need of God’s mercy in Purgatory…and especially on this Day of Remembrance and Remembrance Sunday the deceased of all wars.
Eternal rest grant unto them
Oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them, may they rest in peace.