Thursday, November 02, 2006

One last stage of our journey (All Souls homily)

We believe, as Catholics, that after death we have one last stage of our journey. If we leave this life a friend of God, we pass through a purification we call “purgatory.”

Now, some people don’t believe in purgatory. But as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Don’t our souls demand purgatory?” We can’t make ourselves fit for heaven; don’t we want God to make us fit for such a place? Also, sometimes we speak loosely of people going to heaven as if it were automatic. But if were really that easy, why did Jesus die?

The truth is, sin is a serious roadblock. Without God’s help—and those are the key words, “without God’s help”—sin would doom us. We need only look at the newspaper and see sin is serious business. Or think of our experience as Catholics in recent years, and of how the sins of a few have harmed us all, to realize that sin is serious business.

And it’s only when we see just how deep the problem is, that we realize how awesome the remedy is: God became man and died for us; Christ washes away our sins in his blood; and with his gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ gives us the power to change and leave sin behind.

God’s great project: of saving us, reclaiming us, restoring us and making us truly glorious, is a life-time project. Isn’t that Good News? You didn’t miss your chance! Maybe, when we die, the work will be totally done—anybody think that’s you? No need to raise your hands! Then you’ll have already had our purgatory. (No looking around now at anyone!) Or, if—all through life—we shut God out, Purgatory will be no use to us—we will have already rejected heaven and chosen hell.

But if we leave this world a friend of God, whose life still “a work in progress”—sort of like I-75—Purgatory is God’s last work of mercy, purifying us like gold in the furnace, to shine with the purity of Christ’s light.

That’s why we pray for the dead.

What is purgatory like? Does it last years, months, or the twinkling of God’s eye? That’s more than our mind can understand. What we do know is that no prayer goes unheard; and God never refuses to be merciful. The psalm we sang describes our journey: the Lord is our shepherd every step of the way. The path does take us through the valley of death, and many people we love have gone there ahead of us. Those ahead of us pray for us, and we pray for them, that we may all arrive safe at home.

And when we gather here, at the Table of the Lord, somehow, beyond time and beyond the boundaries of life and death, we are joined to those ahead of us. We and they are present together, and it is this Table the Lord spreads for us, his own Body and Blood, that unites us.
Beyond this life, beyond death, beyond sorrow, beyond fear, beyond time and beyond our knowing, we are united in the Shepherd who never leaves us.


Anonymous said...

I wish some of our relatives could hear this homily....I always am dismayed when everyone talks as if a deceased family member is automatically in heaven. They are doing that soul a disservice because they don't seem to feel a need to pray for them. And they get offended if you try to suggest the possibility that they might need them!
A blessed day to you, Father!

Anonymous said...

I tend to think the "fire" of purgatory is the laser beam of enlightenment, when in one moment God yanks away the cloak of our self-made darkness where we hide from the horrors of our own sins - the omissions, the failings of compassion, the cowardly and selfish acts, the betrayals, even the ignorances and prejudices we refuse to acknowledge in ourselves, all that we do that is hurtful or not helpful to others is suddenly revealed to us in a kind of "It's a Wonderful Life" in reverse; we see the devastation our sins and deliberate failings have made possible. I imagine there is one great searing gasp of agony from each of us when this truth is made manifest, and so purged I also imagine that Christ rushes forth to us with arms open,
perhaps to show us all the good that we have done as well, and followed by all our predeceased loved ones welcoming us to a new beginning with new possibilities.

Anonymous said...

The doctrine of Purgatory was the first uniquely Catholic doctrine that I believed in my journey from Baptist to Catholic. It was explained during Q & A session after a Bible study. THe way that Father explained it made perfect sense, that could not be shaken by anything that I did. (and I fought it will all the spiritual weapons that I had, at the time.)

So, I will always be grateful for it, and for those who talk about it.

Rachel said...

"The doctrine of Purgatory was the first uniquely Catholic doctrine that I believed in my journey from Baptist to Catholic."

Me too! (Except I'm converting from a Congregational church.) When I started investigating Catholicism I decided to take the most ridiculous and obviously man-made doctrine first, figuring if I couldn't reconcile myself to that one, I wouldn't have to bother with the rest. :) So I read about Purgatory, and realized very quickly that the Catholic view makes a lot more sense than the straight-to-heaven view, in light of what the Bible says about sanctification as a process, separate from redemption. Purgatory went from being the biggest stumbling block for me to being a strong argument in Catholicism's favor.

And Father, nice sneaky use of C.S. Lewis in there. That'll hit theology-loving Protestants right where they're vulnerable. :)

dutch said...

Ok though what about the thief on the cross? How come he got to go up pronto to heaven while the rest of us have to be cleaned up a bit first?

-dutch (heretical Protestant, flirting with RCC & Orthodoxy...depending on mood-swing)

Fr Martin Fox said...


About the thief:

1. No one claims everyone goes through purgatory. Our goal is to receive that purification here.

2. This man was nailed to a cross. We might understand his act of faith and acceptance of his cross as "offering up" his own crucifixion.

3. We don't know that he didn't experience purgatory -- we know that the Lord said, "this DAY you shall be with me in Paradise" -- for all we know, he arrived there after passing through purgation.