Sunday, November 2, 2014

De Purgatorio

First Reading: 2 Maccabees 12:43-46 He acted in an excellent and noble way as he had the resurrection of the dead in view.
2nd Reading: 1 John 3:1-2 We shall see him as he is.
Gospel: Luke 7:11-17 Young man, I tell you, arise!

Today we celebrate the feast of All Soul's Day. This feast follows right on the heels of yesterday's feast: the feast of All Saints. All Saint's Day remembers and celebrates all those who have made it, all those who are now in heaven, worshiping God day and night. Today, All Soul's Day, we remember all those who have passed from this life, but maybe haven't quiet made it to Heaven yet. So it's kind of a somber day. The ordinary position of the Christian is one of joy, and while we never let go of that joy, at certain times we highlight other realities of the Christian life. So this is a good day to think about death and mortality, and what happens afterwards. It's a good day to think about Heaven, and the sins that keep us from Heaven.

Today you could pick any readings from Masses for the Dead, so I hand picked these readings to try and get is thinking about death and resurrection. If we look at the gospel we just heard, death and resurrection are obvious, but we've heard these dusty old stories so many times, we run the danger of becoming used to them. We stand for the gospel. Jesus made a dead man come alive. God has visited his people. Can I sit down yet? But imagine you were there, or imagine that happened here. Imagine someone walking into a funeral you're attending, or stopping the funeral procession on the way to the cemetery, and then speaking to the guy in the box and saying "Get up!" What do you do? At the very least, you're not bored anymore. That's the power of this guy: the dead came to life just because he told them to. And that's the love and compassion of this guy. He didn't raise everyone from the dead, not yet, but he found the only son of a widowed mother and raised him from the dead. That is true love.

And he can and will raise us up also. He has defeated sin and death, those primordial enemies, so that we might share eternal life with him, free from the pains of this earthly life. He will bring us into a perfect paradise where there is no sin and no imperfection. But for me to get there, I have to be free of all sin and all imperfection. That's why Purgatory exists.

Christ freeing the dead
We don't think a lot about Purgatory. Maybe you remember it from Sunday School classes a long time ago, but we talk about it so little now that you might think we don't actually believe in it anymore. Well, we do. In general, the Catholic Church is the only one that teaches Purgatory. But that doesn't mean that only Catholics go to Purgatory, while Protestants go straight to Heaven. That would be a ridiculous view of spiritual realities. No, Protestants will learn about Purgatory. Maybe not until they get there, but they will learn about it. When it comes to unseen realities: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, angels, the importance of Confession or the reality of the Eucharist, either they exist for everyone or they exist for no one. They don't cease to exist or cease to be important just because you don't believe in them.

Purgatory is a wonderful intervention on God's part, it's a provision God made for our benefit, so that if we're not perfectly holy at the moment of our death we may still make it to heaven. Our Catechism says that "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven" (CCC 1030). Our first reading today is an important text for us to understand Purgatory: even in the Old Testament, Judas Maccabeus (not Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus, a different Judas), took up a collection to pay for a temple sacrifice, because he understood that this earthly death is not the end and that those who have died can be helped on their way to heaven by our prayers. He "made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin." His kinsmen had committed idolatry, so he was trying to atone for their sin even after their death. He recognized that the dead are not beyond his help. He recognized that his prayers and sacrifices could help the dead in their ongoing purification.

To really understand the necessity of Purgatory, we need to understand the nature of sin. When we talk about sin, about breaking commandments, we sometimes fall into the danger of thinking that sinning is simply rule-breaking. God set us his rules, and if we don't obey them then that's a sin. Sinning is bad only because it's a thing God said not to do. But the nature of sin is deeper than that. Every commandment that God has given us is for our own good, because they help to draw us closer to the one that created us, and the God who created us is the only one who can give our lives meaning or purpose, he is the only one who can give us identity. Sinning isn't simply breaking rules, but it damages the most important relationship in my life: my relationship with God. And by damaging, by wounding, my relationship with my God, my sins wound me too. Even the sins that I don't think hurt other people, the evil thoughts I entertain or the things I do when no one is looking, they hurt that relationship, and so they hurt me.

Sin is not a trivial matter, and no sin, no trace of sin, will be allowed in Heaven. That's good and bad news. It's good because Heaven is going to be an unimaginably awesome place, we can't even begin to picture what it'll be like. Our second reading told us "We are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." You are going to be in a perfect relationship with the one who created you, knows you, and loves you more than anyone else does. The bad news is that our sins can delay this beautiful reunion. Because sin affects that relationship with God, if I'm still hanging onto my sins at the moment of my death, if I'm not literally a saint, then I can't just waltz right into Heaven like everything is alright. But if I sincerely love God and am truly sorry for my imperfections, then neither will I go to hell. Purgatory is there for my final purification so that I can indeed enter Heaven pure and ready.

I've said it before:
Even the Pope goes to Confession!
So today we mourn those we have lost, and we mourn our sins that separate us from God. But we don't have to stop there. We don't have to be stuck wallowing in this sadness, unable to do anything about it. You can pray for your loved ones who have died, praying that if they're not yet in Heaven that they may get there soon. And you can offer sacrifice for them. Whatever trials and sufferings you endure in your daily life, whether they are big or small, you can make an act of the will and offer those sufferings for the sake of the souls in Purgatory. You unite them to Christ's Passion, because his Cross endowed all suffering with meaning, and you can tell God that you want to offer your daily sufferings for the souls in Purgatory.

And for your own sins that separate you from God, we have the beautiful sacrament of Confession. Like I said early on, Confession, and all spiritual realities, are not just important for those who like it, or for those with huge sins to confess, while everyone else just confesses to God in their heart. Confession is important for each and every one of us, myself included. Confession doesn't exist for you to be judged, it exists for you to be loved. God can't wait to show you his love on Confession.

Confession and Purgatory are gifts from God to help us on our way to Heaven. They come to us from a God who loves us, who recognizes our weakness and loves us anyway. Accept the gifts, and let yourself be loved by God.

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