Each of the first eight days of November, my husband John and I find a local cemetery and then walk through the tombstones while saying prayers for those who are buried there.
Whether we know it or not, we are all-immortal souls- headed somewhere after we die.
I had never thought of the souls in Purgatory as my brothers and sisters until we happened to be in Half Moon Bay during the first week of November a few years ago.
One of the 3 priests there at the Catholic Church here preached on this subject at 2 of the daily Masses we attended that week. Clearly and radically orthodox, this young priest unabashedly delights in practicing what I have learned is the “extraordinary liturgy” each time he celebrates the Mass. His reverence and devotion seem to light up the altar when he raises the host.
Therefore, when Fr. Joe explained the plenary indulgence which can be gained by visiting a cemetery to pray for the souls of the dead and then invited those of us in attendance to join him when he prayed there, we were eager to join him at the cemetery not far from the church.
At the following morning Mass for Friday, Fr. Joe appealed once again on behalf of those powerless brothers and sisters in Purgatory; explaining that since they had no body, they could no longer act for themselves, their impotence was absolute and that we, here, could help them through our prayers in this sacred month of the dead. We can obtain a plenary indulgence for those in Purgatory by doing this very simple act.
CS Lewis lived and worked among atheists and agnostics- Oxford intellectuals- in nineteenth century England. A product of the enlightenment and the first world war, he was one of them. Until he wasn’t. After decades of struggling with the notion of faith, Lewis became one of the great Christian apologists of the last century. For Lewis, hell, purgatory and heaven were no mere abstractions, they were dogma. In fact, one of his books, The Great Divorce is a most intriguing journey to the land of the dead.
In this ‘enlightened’ 21st century, many no longer believe in purgatory. Or in the other place…hell. Where once the notion of our souls requiring purgation of all sin prior to appearing before God was accepted doctrine, today, heaven is a given, we all go there when we die. Or, for atheists, perhaps just disappear into the mists.
There is some logical consistency here. In a society where murder is a protected ‘freedom’ and the ten commandments are no longer even suggestions, the notion of moral or everlasting consequences is outmoded. Derided. Although it feels new, there is nothing new in the persecution of the Church and of Christians. It just wears a different face today.
I have spoken with more than a few Catholics who believe the concept of purgatory to be out-dated. ‘Surely a loving God would not condemn a good Catholic- or any good person-to purgatory or hell’. I hope they are correct, but that is not what I have been taught. Nor is it what we pray the Apostles Creed.
Quite honestly, when I think about God…the source of all Being…the All Good, the thought of an open door to heaven makes no sense to me. When I consider my own nature, thoughts and manifold unkindness’s, I consider my attainment of Heaven as pure grace and mercy from above. Practically speaking, perhaps our prayers in these cemeteries will gain us heavenly friends.
CS Lewis The Great Divorce
“Never fear. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”