Thirty-second week, OT
But Jesus answered them, “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.” For this reason the Jews tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.
Jesus answered and said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, a son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will do also. For the Father loves his Son and shows him everything that he himself does, and he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes. Nor does the Father judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to his Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life. Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to his Son the possession of life in himself. And he gave him power to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation.
“I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.
Purgatory exists. I say that bluntly and directly because this is one of those doctrines that are brought into question in many different ways. Those who are not Catholic ask the question, "Where does this doctrine come from?" Those who are Catholic simply do not factor it in their daily moral life. Many have do not consider that there is punishment for our sins that can follow this life.
Purgatory exists. The entire reason why we celebrate All Souls Day flows from this knowledge that purgatory exists. We pray for our loved ones that their soul can be set free from the effects of their sins so that they can be quickly entered in the eternal kingdom.
We are all called to holiness. St. Peter reminds us to, “be holy in every aspect of your conduct.” (1 Pet 1:15) And the letter to the Hebrews encourages us to, “Strive… for that holiness is something without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14) The Book of revelations said, “Nothing impure will enter the kingdom of God.” (Rev 21:27) So when a Christian passes away it is our discipline as Catholic Christians to pray for the soul of that person, so that whatever remains from the effects of their sins can be purified and purged so that they can enter fully into the eternal kingdom of God.
This is the reason why we chose today the book of Maccabees for our first reading. In the book of Maccabees Judas Maccabees had some people who were in battle with him who gave themselves over to idol worship for protection in the time of battle. However, since they trusted in idols and not in the Lord they lost their life in battle. Judas however, “prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out …Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin." (2 Macc 12:42, 46) So these persons who died because of their sins were able to be purified AFTER their death and set free from those sins. Scriptures further says, “In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way.” (2 Macc 12:43) So logically this means that they are not in hell because hell is not a place from which you can be set free. They are not in heaven because you do not need to have your sins toned for. For in heaven you have already been atoned. So there is this middle place in which prayers can be affective for those who have died. This place is called purgatory.
This discipline for praying for the dead is something St. Paul himself had done whenever he prayed for a person called Onesimus. Onesimus was a person who passed away and St. Paul prayed for favorable judgment upon his soul. So we likewise pray for those who have died. This is, as scripture says, a very excellent and noble act.
We do pray for those who have died because we do not believe that death somehow stops our existence as a human person. We are continuous beings. After a person dies that persons being continues on into the life that follows. We see this in Jesus’ own resurrection because after Jesus rose from the dead he still had the holes from the nail marks in his hands, feet, and his side. Jesus did not cease being who he was. His life on earth was not somehow erased and then he started over with a clean slate the moment after death. Rather the reality of Jesus’ suffering in this life, His crucifixion, marked even his body after he rose from the dead. In the same way, the choices of our life, both those that are holy choices and those that are sinful choices, will have a lasting effect on us.
We need to remember that sin damages our soul. That is the definition of sin: acting in such a way that damages our full humanity and our full human freedom. We must atone for sin; we must heal ourselves from the damage of sin. For example if I were a child and I threw a rock through a neighbor’s window there is a problem; I shattered a window. Now my job would be to go to that neighbor and say, "I broke your window." Now there is more or less anger if I said, "I was angry at you, so I threw the rock and I don’t care." That would make the neighbor mad. However if it was an accident there would be less anger because there is less intentionality in that act. The neighbor can say, "I forgive you" but the next thing they would say is, "Now fix my window."
You see forgiveness is not the same thing as reparation. As we must repair a broken window, so too, we must repair the damage that is done by sin. Now truly intentional and negative sin or evil sin needs to be forgiven inside confession. But even venal sins need to be forgiven through an act of the heart that says, "I am sorry because I have damaged my soul.” Now God for his part can say, "I forgive you." But, like the window, we need to repair our soul, to fix the damage that is caused by sin. We can do that in this life. Through hard work, good habits, penance, prayer and fasting we can overcome the damaging effects of sin and avoid other sins.
But to the degree our soul is not repaired in this life, it MUST be repaired in the next. Remember the book of Revelations says, "Nothing unclean will enter into the kingdom of God." Therefore after we die we need to be purified from the effects of our sin so that we can enter completely into the eternal presence of God. We need to be made perfectly holy so that we can be in Gods presence who is Himself perfectly holy.
Very frequently people ask, "Is this in scripture?" The answer is yes. Several scriptures have already been quoted. However one of the most explicit scriptures we can find is in the book of First Corinthians Chapter 3:13-15,
“The work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire (itself) will test the quality of each one's work. 14 If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. 15 But if someone's work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.”
Notice in the scripture the word "Day" is capital, because it is referring to the Day of Judgment, one of the most important days of our human existence. Notice too the key passage, "The person will be saved but only as through fire." St. Paul here is using the image of fire for the process of purification, much like smelting purifies iron. So purgatory, the process of being purged, is the process of being purified so that we may enter into the kingdom.
The process of purification uses the image of fire so that we can recognize that it takes substantial work to be purified from our sins. But is this fire literally flames? A good example to explain the fires of purgatory is the process of overcoming an addiction. Overcoming an addiction is a true struggle. To takes real effort and hard work to undo the habits of addiction. This effort and struggle is a type of “fire” that purifies one’s bad habits. This similar to the fire of purgatory and the way in which we need to suffer to be able to be purified from the damaging effects of our sins.
This All Souls Day is a day for us to pray for our brothers and sisters who have died because we want them to enter into the eternal kingdom of God. This especially true in these first eight days of November when special graces are given to us when we go visit the grave our loved ones. Just as Judas Maccabeus offered prays on behalf of his slain brothers so too we are able to offer prayers on their behalf. Through our earnest prayer they can have that process of purification sped up and even removed.
There is a second side of this All Souls Day that we need to remember as well: it is good to have a healthy fear of sin. All too often we pretend to minimize the effect of sin on our soul. Yet we will have to overcome the damaging effects of our sins either in this life or in the life to come. There is a healthy fear of sin. It is good to fear damaging our soul It is good to fear the real possibly of losing our salvation. As St. Paul says, “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)
There is also a healthy fear of God. Jesus himself says, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna." God will not tolerate our sin. Nor will he tolerate any impurity in our soul. A healthy fear of God’s just anger can be a good motivator to stay free from sin and its effects.
It is also good to call to mind the moment of our own death as well. Are we prepared to go and meet our Maker? Are we truly concerned about the damaging effects of our sins? Are we really trying to overcome those effects so that we can be, “holy as our heavenly Father is holy?” (1 Pet 1:16)
On All Souls Day, as at a funeral, a priest can choose to wear one of three colors: black purple and white. Black reminds us of the true sorrow that comes with death. There is pain that happens with death. Even Jesus cried at the tomb of Lazarus. (John 11:35) Death is a cause of true human sorrow. So we can wear black to signify the sorrow we have for those who have gone before us. Purple is the most common color to use at a funeral. Purple is a sign of penance. It is also a sign of sinfulness. It reminds us to offer atonement on behalf of our loved ones so that they might be purified from their sins and set free into the eternal kingdom. White is the reminder of redemption. It reminds of the white robes of our baptism when we were purified from sin.
These three colors remind us of the three attitudes to have on All Souls Day: sorrow, penance and redemption. So let us pray for those who have died. Let us also remind ourselves that we too need to strive for holiness without which we will not be able to see the all Holy God.