November 3, 2019 - Pastor Message10/20/2021
“Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is for nothing that the Scriptures say: ‘God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us?’ But he gives greater grace, therefore it says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament, and mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:410).
The month of November is traditionally a time when we as Catholics remember and pray for the faithful departed. It therefore provides a good opportunity for us to reflect on the mystery of death and how and why we pray for those who have died. In the particular judgment, the moment of truth that each of us faces at our death, our soul appears before God, who reveals to us the person we have become by the choices we have made in life and the ultimate disposition of our soul because of that: if we have chosen God and his mercy and have died in a state of perfect grace, we will become a saint and inherit a place of honor in God’s Kingdom, which we call heaven; if we have rejected God and his mercy and died in a state of unrepented mortal sin, we will become a lost soul, cast out into eternal darkness, which we call hell.
There is, however, a third possibility. Due to the divided nature of our hearts, longing for God yet tempted to sin, it seems unlikely that many people die in a state of perfect grace, wholeheartedly choosing God, or that many people die in a state of unrepented mortal sin, wholeheartedly rejecting God. Most of us die with our hearts reaching for God yet still stubbornly clinging to the things of this world, still carrying the baggage of our sins, and still with a lot of work to do to be ready to receive the unimaginable gift of eternal life with God. God in his mercy has prepared for this reality too by granting us a way to be purified of these faults, even after death, called purgatory.
The souls in purgatory are assured of salvation, which is a source of great hope. Yet, first they must pass through a process of purgation, or cleansing, of all that keeps them from fully accepting that gift; they must let go of all of the worldly things still laying claim to their hearts, so that they can give their hearts to God completely. While this process is painful, it is not punishment, though our faith tradition has sometimes characterized it as such, calling it “temporal punishment for sin.” Rather, it is more akin to the pain that someone goes through in a drug rehabilitation program. The physical and emotional distress of withdrawal from drug addiction images in a way the spiritual distress that souls in purgatory experience as they are freed from their “addiction” to sin. Just as the pain of rehab fades as the desire for one’s drug recedes, so too the pain of purgatory eventually passes as one’s desire for sin is replaced by one’s desire for God through the inflowing grace of his mercy and love until all vestiges of sin are washed away and God welcomes us, pure and spotless, into his Kingdom.
There is one final parallel between drug rehabilitation and purgatory: people don’t have to do it alone. Those who seek freedom from drug addiction benefit greatly from the loving support of family and friends, as well as the caring staff of the program, which helps them through. So too do our brothers and sisters in purgatory, which will be the subject of next week’s column.
Fr. Marc Stockton