Then, I accept the fact that winter is upon us and my thoughts turn to pumpkin flavored everything, thermals, hot chocolate, and the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
Is that creepy? I don’t know if it’s because I was raised by a Mexican mother who is always talking about death, or that I’ve been Catholic my whole life, that I feel so close to the Holy Souls in Purgatory and am so unafraid of death. Whatever it is, I like it.
Don’t get me wrong–some ways of dying scare the heck out of me. I won’t go into gory detail, but sharks and bears are at the top of the list. Aside from the way I die, though, dying doesn’t scare me.
Recently, whilst in Portugal filming for our upcoming series, The Faithful Traveler in Portugal, the topic of dying came up. My driver and guide Manuel and I were discussing it as we drove to the next of a long line of amazing sacred sites. When I told him that I actually welcomed death, he said he thought I was crazy.
“But what about all of the amazing things this world has to offer?” he argued. “The food! The experiences! The people!”
“Well, sure!” I said, “But I’d imagine that either they will all be in Heaven, or that Heaven will be so amazing, I won’t miss them at all! Plus,” I said, “it’s here where life is hard! Here, I encounter temptation and I sin. But once I die, it’s all over! I get to start paying off my time in Purgatory–God willing–and then, eventually, I’ll make it to Heaven!”
He shook his head. “I’ve never heard anyone say anything like this.”
He hasn’t met my mom.
As long as I’ve lived, my mom has talked freely and openly about dying. “When I die,” she’ll say, and list off a number of things my sisters and I are supposed to do at her funeral or after we bury her. I believe, so far, I’m supposed to play my trumpet at her funeral and I’ve promised to bury her beloved travel spoons with her–the dust collectors that she has collected over the years from cities she and my sisters have visited, and which she promised to bequeath to me. We’re always talking about when we die in my family, and it’s always seemed normal to me. It is, after all, the normal course of life. You’re born, you live, you die. The end.
As a Catholic, I would never presume to say that I am going straight to Heaven when I die. The thought makes me laugh. Me? Go straight to Heaven?! Psh. I’ll fling myself willingly into the fires of Purgatory a billion times until I’m clean enough to stand before my Lord and my God.
I recently had this discussion with a cousin who left the Catholic Church. She’s certain that she, and her parents, are going to Heaven. Hey. Good for you, I thought. I’m glad you’re all saints. Me? I know I’m a sinner and I’m going to need some cleaning up first. I told her that I prayed that I and my parents would make it to Heaven, and I do. And when my parents die, I’ll keep praying for them until the day I die. I hope everyone does the same for me. ‘Cause I’m gonna need it.
What do I think when people tell me that their loved ones who have recently died are “now in Heaven”?
Ugh . . . I know this is going to upset some people . . . but in all honesty, I think, “yeah . . . I’ll pray for them.”
Why? Is it inconceivable that some people go straight to Heaven? Oh, goodness no. But I think that that privilege is reserved for the real saints among us–the Mother Teresas, Pope John Paul IIs, Blessed Jacintas and Franciscos. Are you as holy as they are? Yeah, neither am I. You and I, well, we sin. And sin has consequences–earthly ones and spiritual ones. (Read more about that here.) Because we have free will to choose to sin, we also have to accept, and expect, the consequences of our sin to fall on us. We have to make it right. That’s where Purgatory comes in. (More on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory here.)
When I used to teach CCD to little third graders at Our Lady of Malibu, I used to explain Purgatory like this:
Imagine you’re going about your day, wearing your normal, everyday clothes. You eat a PB&J sandwich and a little jelly falls on your shirt–because it always does. You wipe it off and don’t worry about the stain. As you play outside with your friends, you trip and fall in the grass and, oh darn! You have a grass stain on your knee! Whatever. Mom can wash it later. When someone hands you a mango, you eat it up, slurpily, and wipe your hands on your pants because no one has a napkin and, whatever! They’re messy already, right?!
Then imagine that you go home, and your mom tells you that JESUS is coming over for dinner! And he’s bringing the Blessed Mother and the Holy Spirit, too! Oh, and God the Father is coming, as well . . .
Do you stay in those dirty, sloppy clothes?
HECK NO! You go upstairs and change right away into the cleanest, nicest clothes you have. You brush your teeth and hair, too. Can’t be clean enough for the Trinity.
That, my friends, is Purgatory.
Today, my soul is stained with sin, and the thought of standing before my Lord like this simply mortifies me. Instead, I will fling myself into the flames of Purgatory to cleanse myself of my sin, and when my time is up, and I am pure and white, I will still be unworthy of standing before my God, except for the fact that He made me so.
Then, I pray that I am given the grace to go on my merry way and join the other saints in Heaven. What awaits me there will bring me everlasting joy. Of that, I am certain.
November is dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and I encourage you all to devote a little time each day, if not as much time as you can each day, to pray for them. Our prayers for the Holy Souls speed up their time there. And when they get out, rest assured that they will then become little cheerleaders for you as you make your own pilgrimage toward Heaven.
Remember that old song: “Pray for the dead and the dead will pray for you”? It’s true. Except, while you’re praying for the souls in Purgatory, when they get into Heaven, you’ll have a whole crowd of Heavenly saints praying for you. Who doesn’t need a Heavenly cheerleading section?
If you can, be sure to check out Stories About Purgatory and What They Reveal:30 Days for the Holy Souls. I read this book every November, as it provides daily prayers and stories about the Holy Souls.
Other good books on Purgatory are:
- Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages, and Warnings from Purgatory, by Gerard J.M. van den Aardweg
- The Biblical Basis for Purgatory, by John Salza
- Purgatory: Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints, by Rev. Fr. F. X. Shouppe S.J.
- Fire of Love!: Understanding Purgatory by St Catherine of Genoa
Also, don’t forget that you can gain indulgences for the Holy Souls during the month of November by praying for the dead and visiting cemeteries!
Here is how you can obtaining a Plenary Indulgence on 2 November 2, All Souls:
- make a good confession within a week before or after All Souls
- be free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin, for a plenary indulgence
- visit a church to pray for the faithful departed
- say one “Our Father” and the “Creed” during a visit to the church
- say one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” for the Pope’s monthly intentions
- receive Holy Communion, on the same day or soon after
To obtain a Plenary Indulgence from 1-8 November
- make a good Confession within a week of before or after All Souls Day
- be free from all attachment to sin, even venial sin, for a plenary indulgence
- visit a cemetery and pray for the dead
- say one “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” for the monthly intentions set by the Pope
- receive Holy Communion worthily on the same day or soon after
Several indulgences may be gained on the basis of a single confession but only one may be gained after a single good reception Communion and prayer for the Pope’s intentions.
If you are not correctly disposed or if you don’t fulfill the prescribed works and/or the three conditions the indulgence will be partial and not plenary.
Indulgenced Acts for the Poor Souls A partial indulgence can be obtained by devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the departed, even if the prayer is only mental. One can gain a plenary indulgence visiting a cemetery each day between November 1 and November 8. These indulgences are applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory.
A plenary indulgence, again applicable only the Souls in Purgatory, is also granted when the faithful piously visit a church or a public oratory on November 2. In visiting the church or oratory, it is required, that one Our Father and the Creed be recited.
A partial indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, can be obtained when theEternal Rest (Requiem aeternam) is prayed. This can be prayed all year, but especially during the month of November:
Requiem aeternam dona ei (eis), Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei (eis). Requiescat (-ant) in pace Amen.
Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Many families add to the “Prayer Before Meals” the second half of the “Eternal Rest” prayer:
Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, Which we are about to receive, from Thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord, Amen. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
For more information on the Church’s teachings on indulgences, read the Enchiridion of Indulgences given by the 1968 Decree of the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary.
Last, but not least, I’d like to repost the prayer I try to pray daily for the Holy Souls of people that I knew or of the friends and families of loved ones:
O my God, deign to accept my every thought, word, and action as a loving petition to Thy mercy on behalf of the suffering souls in Purgatory, particularly:
[state names here]
I unite to Thy sacred Passion the trials and contradictions of this day, which I purpose to bear with patience, in expiation for the sins and infidelities which retain Thy children in the purifying flames of Purgatory. Amen
Pray for the dead. The dead will pray for you.