by Fr. Tommy Lane
What is awaiting us after death? God has a magnificent plan for us. You are aware of apparitions of Our Lady e.g. at Knock, Lourdes and Fatima, and apparitions of Jesus e.g. to St. Faustina and you are aware of apparitions of angels e.g. the angel to the three children of Fatima. God in his providence has also allowed souls in Purgatory to communicate with saints down through the history of the Church e.g. to St. Catherine of Genoa, the Curé of Ars, St. Margaret Mary, St. John Bosco, St. Faustina and we learn from them about Purgatory. In the first moments after death we see God in an obscure manner, but enough to cause great longing. This vision of God at death is much brighter than anything we have on earth but nothing compared to the vision of God in heaven. Then if we are not yet fit for heaven we choose Purgatory. If you were wearing very dirty clothes you would not want to embrace somebody wearing immaculately clean clothes. It is something like that for souls who have seen God and realize they are dirty and not yet fit for God’s embrace. It is not God who sends us to Purgatory, we choose Purgatory so that we can be purified. The word “Purgatory” means “cleansing.”
Before going to Purgatory the soul has already had a partial vision of God so in Purgatory the soul has nostalgia for that love of God. Purgatory is a “love wound” imposed by our impurity before we receive God’s embrace fully. In Purgatory we are cleansed of our sins so that we become fit for heaven. In Purgatory the souls are madly in love with God because they have already seen God, and it is this burning desire and longing for God that cleanses. Are the souls happy or sad in Purgatory? They are joyful because they have the certainty of meeting God. It is a joy greater than anything on earth and therefore they would never want to return to earth. The sadness in Purgatory is being separated from God but the joy is greater than the sadness. That is why I said God has a magnificent plan for us for when we die, and now I add that part of God’s magnificent plan for us after death involves time in Purgatory if we are not yet ready for heaven.
While we are alive we can earn merit from our sufferings, but when we die the time for earning merit and growing from our sufferings has passed. Suffering in Purgatory is for purification. In Purgatory the souls are dependent on the prayers of the living to help them. We have immense power to give happiness to the souls in Purgatory by praying for them. If a child fell in front of us we would not think twice but immediately help the child. In the same way we can help the holy souls. Obviously the best prayer for the holy souls is the Mass because it is Jesus offering himself to the Father. We can unite our sufferings with the Passion of Jesus for the sake of the holy souls. We can pray the Rosary for the holy souls. We can gain indulgences for them. In fact we could say it would be cruel not to gain indulgences for the holy souls when we know what immense good our prayers will do for them. From the mystics we learn that it is Our Lady who comes to take the souls from Purgatory to heaven and she often comforts them in Purgatory as do the angels also. So when we offer prayers for the holy souls or offer our sufferings united with Jesus’ sufferings, let us put our prayers and sufferings in the hands of Mary because she knows what is most urgent.
Is it possible to avoid going to Purgatory? Yes, it entirely depends on how we live. We can well understand why sins against charity, hostility, refusals to make peace, bitterness stored up inside, rejecting others and criticizing people we don’t like would send us to Purgatory. It is not without reason that pride is said to be the first of the seven deadly sins. What about the good thief? Jesus promised him Paradise the same day (Luke 22:43). Humility, love and abandonment to God are keys leading directly to heaven and the good thief displayed humility, love and abandonment so we can understand Jesus’ promise to take him to Paradise that day. In 1 Peter 4:8 we read, “love covers a multitude of sins.” St. John of the Cross wrote,
“Divine providence always provides in every life the purification that is needed to allow us to go straight to heaven when we die.”
What St. John of the Cross means is that God in his mercy allows enough trials, suffering, sicknesses and hardships to fall upon us during life so that we can go straight to heaven when we die. Why then do we not go straight to heaven? Simply because when such hardships and sufferings come upon us we rebel. We do not want to carry our cross after Jesus. Again the words of Peter are “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet 4:8)
So during this month of November let us offer our prayers and sufferings united with the sufferings of Jesus into the hands of Mary that she may do with them what she wishes and help many souls in Purgatory.
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
More for November 2nd - All Souls - Commemoration of the Faithful Departed
Stories about praying for the dead