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November 3, 2013

A few years ago a priest was preparing a group of teens for Confirmation. The priest reviewed what they had learned and asked one of the boys, “What will God say on judgment Day to those who have led a very good Christian life?” Without hesitation the lad replied: “Come on into heaven and live with me.”

Then the priest asked a girl, “How about those who have led a very bad way of life? What will God say to them?” She answered, “You cannot come into heaven. You have to go to the other place.”

The priest continued, “Now, what will God say to those who are not good enough for heaven and not bad enough for hell?” A bright lassie put up her hand and gave this answer in modern but correct words, “God will say, “I’ll be seeing you later.”

This story highlights two of the many truths we need to refresh on this month of November, the month we set aside to pray for those who have died before us and those who are in PURGATORY. Of course, the salvation belongs to the mercy of God, not to our personal merits; but our life of faith tells us whether we let that mercy of God work in us or not and it will determine where we will go. The first truth is this: we do not live here forever; we have to die one day and death is not the end. The second truth is some are not good enough for heaven and not bad enough for hell. Where do such people go when they die?

Only the Catholic Church has the answer: they go to Purgatory. Most of other Christian Churches do not believe in Purgatory. For them we have been saved, when we die we go to heaven right away no matter what. If you attend a funeral service at other Churches, you would never hear a prayer for the dead. It is not that way in the Catholic Church. We pray for the dead at every Mass and especially at the Funeral Mass.

The other truth expressed by the girl is this: the greatest pain of purgatory is that the souls there do not see God. Just as God will be seeing them later, so they will be seeing God later. You cannot find the word ‘purgatory’ in the Bible, but you can find the idea. Our Lord Jesus implied that some sins must be atoned for in the next world when he spoke about the unforgivable sin of refusing to ask forgiveness (Mt. 12: 32).

Jesus also spoke about a certain prison where souls will be sent for certain sins. They will not be released until the last penny of debt has been paid off (Mt. 5: 26). St. Paul spoke of those whose work in this world is not perfect, yet they are saved as through fire (1 Cor. 3: 14).

Even the Old Testament points to Purgatory: Judas Machabeus, the Jewish leader, set aside sacrifices to be offered by priests in the Temple for the dead. “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins” (2 Macc 12: 46).

The holy souls cannot merit any longer and they cannot commit sins. They cannot help themselves but they can help us by their prayers. They suffer mainly because they long so much to see God but they can’t for now. They suffer a cleansing pain that can be compared to the pain of fire. “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1030). They are the future saints in our church family.

Many of these holy souls are loved ones of ours. We can help them by our prayers, our charity work and especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in which we pray: “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection, and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face.” (Eucharistic Prayer II).

Purgatory highlights many of the main truths about God especially his mercy for us. It fulfills the deepest desires of human heart: to be purified in the grace of God. Pray for the holy souls; offer Mass for them. Help them and they will help you. That is our faith we recite every Sunday: “I believe in … Communion of Saints…”