Every year when November rolls around, I find I know more souls to pray for who have passed on. I guess this is what happens as one gets older. And while I’ve always been aware that it is a good thing to pray for the dead, I have wondered what exactly I’m praying for aside from the basic “may they go to heaven.”
Understanding purgatory is not easy – that’s why it’s called a mystery. But I think God gave me a new insight into purgatory the day after my dad passed away. I was talking with my mom and she was sharing that she had asked my dad to let her know where he was, and that day she was certain he was in purgatory. She didn’t share this with dread or even depression, just matter-of-factly and with a calmness, because she knew how to pray for him.
As I prayed that day for Dad, my heart was opened up a bit more to God’s deep mercy. For years I had heard of the “fire” of purgatory, and although I knew eventually it led to heaven, I wasn’t particularly keen on finding out what that fire was like. It all meant punishment to me. And while there are effects of our sins to be purified so that we are ready to be in the presence of the almighty, loving God (forever, I might add), there was something new: it was a longing. Longing for God, for His love to be made manifest in our lives and to have the victory over death and sin in our world. I had experienced this longing in my prayer a few years before. I was in a time of deep healing, a time of “burning away” what was dead, and I longed for His Presence so deeply I could almost physically feel it. I longed for His love and the effects of it. I realized the day after Dad’s death that the souls in purgatory are burning with this longing for God. They are willing to undergo the purification of their souls, because they have had that first face-to-face encounter with Jesus when they died and they now know Who they long for, and He’s worth it.
I think it’s the wisdom of the Church to have the month of the Holy Souls just before Advent. We step from remembrance of their longing into ours, the longing for the Messiah, Jesus Christ. We remember the longing of Israel and especially of Our Lady, who became His mother. And we let our hearts be stirred once more with longing for His second coming that all may know the love and mercy of God, that the purification of souls will be over and we will spend forever with “He whom my heart desires” (Song of Songs 3:4).
Let us pray for the satisfaction of the longing of the souls in purgatory and for ours. Come Lord, Jesus!
Sr. John Paul Marie, CFR