Sunday Sermon for November 2, 2014, the Feast of All Souls
Readings: Wis 3:1-9; Rom 5:5-11; Jn 6:37-40
Today we have the great privilege of praying in a special way for those who have died yet still await the fullness of life in Heaven. We remember today the holy souls who are in Purgatory. It is rare that we hear about Purgatory these days, so thankfully the Church reminds us of this great reality. Perhaps we need to consider the question of Purgatory before saying anything else.
There are many people today who think that the Church no longer believes in Purgatory. Others do not want to think about Purgatory because they think it is a place of punishment. To address the first issue, Purgatory is actually an infallible teaching of the Church. So, the existence of Purgatory is not a debatable topic, nor is it something the Church nor longer believes. It is sad that we do not hear much about Purgatory from the pulpit, but the fact it is seldom spoken of does not imply that it does not exist.
It must be understood that Purgatory not only exists, but it is also a place of mercy, not a place of punishment. It is true that the souls there are suffering greatly, but this is not because they are being punished. Instead, it is because they are being purified of anything on their souls that is keeping them from being able to enter into the face to face vision of God. This could be the effects of sin, attachments, selfishness, or any kind of imperfection.
When we hear these things we might ask why Purgatory is considered a place of mercy. It is so because nothing imperfect is able to enter into Heaven. Just ask yourself, if I were to die today, am I at a point of perfection such that I could go straight to Heaven? I think that most of us would have to answer in the negative. In other words, if it were not for Purgatory we would be lost forever. That is why it is a place of mercy. God wants us to be in Heaven and He has provided a place for us to be perfected even after this life. This is why we can say that everyone who dies in the state of Grace will go to Heaven.
So, the souls in Purgatory are all in the state of Grace and they will all be able to get into Heaven, it is just a matter of how much they need to be purified of before they are perfect. Once a soul is in Purgatory, they cannot go backwards. Please understand, the need for perfection is not some kind of extreme requirement that God has laid down for us; rather, it is a matter that we are not able to enter into the union of pure love if there is anything in us that is not pure love. God made us for love and in Heaven that is what we will do, but more than that, in Heaven love is what we will be. So, we have to be transformed into love before we can be united to God Who is Love itself.
Because the souls in Purgatory are in the state of Grace, they are Saints. While not yet in the Beatific Vision, they are holy and they are members of the Communion of Saints. They are doing everything possible to get to Heaven as soon as they possibly can. Since they can do no more on their own, we can help them. Our prayers and sacrifices for them are able to move them along more quickly so that they will enter eternity sooner than they could have without that assistance.
You can be assured that any souls you help to get into Heaven will not forget what you have done for them. It can truly be said that their gratitude will be eternal. This being the case, the charity you show them by praying for them, offering sacrifices for them, obtaining indulgences that you apply to them will all be repaid by them praying for you and for your intentions. They will also be praying for you when you are in Purgatory. We cannot forget these souls because they are our brothers and sisters, they are members of the Mystical Person of Christ, but they are helpless to do anything more for themselves than what they are already doing.
The Church allows that if we visit a cemetery anytime during the month of November, even if only in our minds, we can obtain a plenary indulgence that can be applied to the souls in Purgatory. Remember, you can only get one plenary indulgence each day, but what a wonderful act of charity to offer this gift to those who really need it and will be truly grateful for it.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.