…he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.
Our Gospel this week reveals God’s vision of humanity, and that this humanity, whether deceased in body or not, is alive in spirit. During this month of All Souls, where we remember, in a special way, those who have died, it’s good to recall the three branches of our Church, the ‘Triumphant’, the ‘Suffering’ (from Latin passio = to suffer, to endure) , and the ‘Militant’. We on earth are the Church Militant (= ‘one engaged in fighting, war or strife’) and we often forget the other two because our vision can be so focused on this particular world in time and space. But we have great friends in the other two branches, especially if we take time to pray for the Church that exists in Purgatory, where souls ‘suffer’ a transition, from some punishment or purgation due to sin, to the pure loving state of Heaven with the saints and angels.
“I thought Vatican II got rid of Purgatory” you might be thinking. Not at all. We did change some details of the Indulgences for prayers said to relieve the sufferings of Purgatory, but nothing the Church could say or do would eliminate Purgatory itself. It exists and there is plenty of evidence that reveals it. First off, how many of us are saints this precious moment? How many of us are pure, ready to worship and praise Our Lord for all eternity? It’s hard to get some people to sing on a given Sunday, much less for all eternity. Our disposition in this given moment is a sample of the state of mind and heart that we could die in. One seminary professor used to say, “As we die, so shall we live for all eternity.” If that is in an imperfect state, then we shall need a transformation to become perfect, ‘…as our heavenly Father is perfect.”
Here are some excellent scriptures that point to the existence of Purgatory:
Some soldiers had sinned and died, so Judas Maccabeus took up a collection and “… sent twelve thousand drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead). And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” (2 Maccabees 12:43-46)
St. Paul also writes about a person and their works being tested: "For other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus. Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay stubble: Every man's work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire." (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
Jesus Himself said, “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come." (Matthew 12:32) This suggests, obviously, that some words (that are not sins against the Holy Spirit) can be forgiven in the world to come, after one’s death. For more information on the teaching of the Church on Purgatory, see the Catechism, Articles 1030 – 1032 at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P2N.HTM or the Catholic Encyclopedia at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12575a.htm.
Next week, I hope to continue my discussion of what is expected of a parishioner at St. Stephen’s and my new role as pastor. Thank you for your prayers.
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