Monday, October 27, 2014

The Last Things

This Sunday is All Souls Day. It is a day in which we pray for the dead. All Saints Day is Nov 1st and is focused on those in heaven. All Souls Day is focused on those in purgatory. The tricky part is we don't actually know who is in heaven and who is in purgatory so we typically just pray for the dead. 

November 2nd is also my mother's birthday. The reason that this connects is because my mother's health has not been that good. She is turning 81 and suffering from serious dementia. In some ways it feels like she is already in purgatory. Purgatory is a place of purging. A place where our remaining flaws are removed. It is not pleasant but it is necessary for us to enter heaven. I can see that in my mother. A woman who has had serious control issues for much of her life has become completely dependent on others. It is very hard for her. Yet it will allow her to arrive in heaven with a better heart. 

Purgatory is just that same process completed after we die. Really we all should be in that process now. We should be embracing suffering to grow in holiness. Christianity is all about cooperating with grace. God gives us a road to holiness but not an easy road. We need to want it. After we die all that changes is the choice. During this life we keep choosing between hell and purgatory every day. Our choice at our death is our final answer. If we choose purgatory we will get to heaven. 

If Purgatory always leads us to heaven then why doesn't God just zap us and make us perfect quickly and painlessly? One reason is that God knows us. St Augustine prayed, "Give me chastity but not yet!"  We are all prove to do that. We want holiness but we find reasons to wait. God lets us know that waiting until we die is not going to mean a quick and painless transformation. It is going to be more difficult than it would be if we stepped up the the challenge during our lifetime. That is not the only reason to pursue holiness now but God knows that adding that incentive will cause us to make better choices. Fear is not the best motivator. Love is better. Yet God will use fear.

So why have a day about it? Partly to remember where we are headed. November is the time when we contemplate the last things. They are Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. It is good to contemplate them because we will face them and we don't want to be unprepared. It is easy to go through life without really considering our mortality. We have been blessed with strong survival instincts. We don't like to think about the fact that nobody actually survives. Yet we need to think about it. So it is good that the church gives us an occasion to do so.

The other thing it does is it encourages communion. We are not in this alone. We are to pray for the dead. The dead are to pray for us. We can do penance on their behalf. We are all part of the body of Christ and we are to help each other even if we are separated by death. It is the most natural thing. People we knew and loved while they were alive we continue to love after they have died. Death does not have the victory. 

No comments:

Post a Comment