By Fr Philip Kemmy
During the month of November we are encouraged to pray for our deceased loved ones. But we would do well not to confine our care and concern for them to that one month in the year. St. Francis de Sales lamented how quickly we neglect our duty of love for our deceased family and friends saying: “Alas, we do not sufficiently remember our dear departed, their memory seems to perish with the sounds of the funeral bells.”
Our love for a deceased friend desires that they be at peace in the joy and glory of heaven, but as much as we desire that they be in heaven with the Lord – Jesus desires it more. However, as the Protestant CS Lewis pointed out – the holy souls would not ever contemplate entering heaven without the required purity and perfection which their exile in that place affords them.
When we leave this life, if we are in friendship with God, but not sufficiently ready, not sufficiently detached from sinful habits, not quite perfect – then God – for the sake of that friendship, for the sake of his love for us – will allow us to be made ready. That in a nutshell is what the teaching on Purgatory is. There the last finishing touches are put to our soul.
And that’s where you and I who are still in this world come into the picture. The work of getting souls ready in Purgatory to enter heaven is God’s work – but he allows us to participate, to assist those souls on their way to him. And the constant tradition of the Church has many ways in which we can help the poor souls in Purgatory, – who weren’t bad people; for Purgatory is not for evil, wicked & Godless people – but for good people who could have and should have done better, but who through human weakness, at death, aren’t fully formed as saints yet.
Often people are reluctant to consider that their loved one might need prayers and they might even be annoyed at the suggestion that prayer should be offered for the deceased’s soul. Often there can be a tendency to exalt the good points of the person, neglecting the need to implore the merciful God to bring to completion the work of salvation he has been accomplishing in that person their whole life long.
Only God knows the heart and only God can judge the soul. We should certainly think of our loved ones in Heaven – but we should, perhaps, pray for them as though in Purgatory. We entrust our loved ones to God’s mercy – not because we are focusing on their sinfulness, but because we love them and the most loving thing we can do for them after their passing is to pray and have Masses offered for them in case they are not yet arrived at the fullness of glory which we, with Christian faith and hope, believe is their ultimate destiny. They are the Holy Souls, not unholy souls. Their salvation is assured and despite the necessary remedial suffering which Purgatory inflicts upon them for their good – they experience a joy that this world does not know.
St. Catherine of Genoa, who was allowed to visit Heaven and Purgatory, said of her experience that the only place more filled with happiness than Purgatory is Heaven itself. Purgatory is filled with happiness because, at every moment, the souls in Purgatory are getting closer and closer to perfection and so closer and closer to God’s presence. And every second that they are delayed there is painful for them because of the great longing they have to be finally and totally with God. Like a drowning man strives in vain to catch the smallest breath of air, so the souls in purgatory yearn for the vision of God, but cannot attain it in their present state and must await the complete outpouring of God’s merciful love upon them to purify and perfect their souls. We can aid that healing process by means of our payers and sacrifices on their behalf.
It is only natural that we want our loved ones to be in heaven with God. But it would be a huge disservice to our family and friends who have died to presume that they don’t need our prayers.