Some people have a problem with the idea of purgatory, which is something I honestly just don’t get. Of all our teachings, this is one that is not only incredibly beautiful but also especially logical (as logical as things of the spirit can ever be) and especially compassionate, at least in my book. When I look at my life here on earth so far, I can’t imagine — despite all my good intentions — that I’ll be ready to meet God face to face when I die. And so I’m banking on purgatory and the possibility that I might be able to do in the next life what I haven’t been able to achieve on this side of heaven, namely, get right with God.
When I was at All Souls’ Day Mass today, the priest described purgatory as “a process, not a place,” and I loved that image, this image of ever-forward movement in the afterlife bringing us closer and closer to union with the Divine. What a merciful and beautiful belief, so full of hope and understanding of our human frailty and our trust that God can and will continue to perfect us even after we’ve taken our last breath. I think that’s why I love All Souls’ Day even more than All Saints’ Day. Sure, I like to celebrate the saints, but, even more than that, I like to pray for those who may still be in process, those who could us a little spiritual assistance on the path toward God for all eternity. I sure hope others will do the same for me some day, although based on today’s showing, I’m starting to have my doubts.
The priest today mentioned how when he was newly ordained years ago, parishes needed to celebrate three Masses on All Souls’ Day to accommodate the crowds in much the same way that they celebrated three Masses on Christmas. In other words, back in the old days people understood the importance of praying for those who have gone before us. Today the church was mostly an empty, and it made me sad, not only because it was a reminder of the sad state of religion in modern America but because it seemed to me to be a denial of some sort — of our mortality, of our human weakness, of our dependence on one another, of our humility before God.
For my part, I’m putting my money on that middle ground, the space between, where I just might finally get it right.