November, Month of the Holy Souls.
I once had a conversation with one of my Dominican brothers, the superior of the community to which I was assigned. He remarked that All Saints’ Day is an opportunity to remember not only the Church’s canonized saints, but also the army of uncanonized holy men and women of our faith.
I am always reluctant to challenge a superior, especially on liturgical matters, but I replied that All Souls’ Day is the day to remember the uncanonized. My superior, who considered himself something of a liturgist, was not pleased by my response, but I observed that All Saints’ Day hailed back to the early days of the Church, when St. Boniface IV (Pope from 608 to 615) chose November 1 as the occasion to honor, on one day, all the saints whose individual celebrations had been ignored or slighted throughout the year.
And All Souls’ Day? Theologians can write volumes about what we believe, but the articles of our faith – what we believe in – are usually expressed pretty succinctly. The Creed is one good example, and what the Church teaches about Purgatory is another. I’m sure we all have an idea what Purgatory is like, and I suspect many of these images come from Dante; our imaginations have provided the rest – pictures vivid enough if not to scare us into being good, then certainly scary enough to frighten us into being careful.
As a preacher, I wouldn’t dream of contradicting anyone’s cherished childhood beliefs, but as grown-ups we may be interested to learn that the Church has this to say about Purgatory
The souls of the just which, in the moment of death, are burdened with venial sins or the temporal punishment due to sins, enter Purgatory.
The twenty-five words of this statement are as remarkable for what they do not say as they are for what they proclaim. All the Church says is that God provides a means by which those not altogether prepared for His Kingdom will be purified so they may worthily enter heaven.
Purgatory is not a second chance; it is the next-to-final step in a life-long journey that leads to God. Our faith tells us a grace is appropriate for each step of this journey, and Purgatory is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that he will be present at our last step with the same love that greeted our first. Purgatory is a challenge and an invitation to embrace the virtue of Hope, which allows us to live in the present “as if” we were already enjoying something we look forward to in the future.
Necessity forces us to say good‑bye when death intervenes, but God wills that nothing be lost. Throughout November, the Month of the Holy Souls, when we remember our beloved relatives and friends who have died, we claim our connection with them in the communion of God’s saints, and we acknowledge their – and our – power to do good for one another. Even after death.
May Mary, the Most Holy Virgin of Philermo,
Comfort of the Afflicted and Mother of Mercy,
be our companion during this holy month.