Photo: Felix Carroll
Purgatory: the Work of a Merciful God
By Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC (Nov 10, 2011)
During the month of November, the Church is especially mindful of those who have preceded us into eternity. The month begins with the solemnity of All Saints, and the Church follows that solemnity with the memorial of All Souls. We often refer to these two groups of souls as the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering; while we, living our mortal lives on earth, form the Church Militant, still struggling to win the victor's crown.
While we focus on the suffering of the Holy Souls in Purgatory during the month of November, we also should recognize purgatory as the work of a merciful God who is preparing the Holy Souls for heaven. As Pope Benedict XVI said, "I would go so far as to say that if there was no purgatory, then we would have to invent it, for who would dare say of himself that he was able to stand directly before God. And, yet we don't want to be, to use an image from Scripture, 'a pot that turned out wrong,' that has to be thrown away; we want to be able to be put right. Purgatory basically means that God can put the pieces back together again. That He can cleanse us in such a way that we are able to be with Him and can stand there in the fullness of life. Purgatory strips off from one person what is unbearable and from another the inability to bear certain things, so that in each of them a pure heart is revealed, and we can see that we all belong together in one enormous symphony of being."
Blessed John Paul II also spoke of the need for perfect integrity and purity of heart if we are to realize our full communion with God in heaven. "Every trace of attachment to evil must be eliminated, every imperfection of the soul corrected," he stated. "Purification must be complete, and indeed this is precisely what is meant by the Church's teaching on purgatory. The term does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence. Those who, after death, exist in a state of purification, are already in the love of Christ who removes from them the remnants of imperfection."
But as St. Faustina wrote in paragraph 20 of her Diary, only we, the Church Militant, can help them: "In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid. ... [I heard an interior voice] which said, 'My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it.' Since that time, I am in closer communion with the suffering souls."
The Marian Fathers' charism to care for the Holy Souls in Purgatory comes from Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski's personal charism of making sacrifices and praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. It was shaped by his mystical experiences that grew out of his prayer life. It remains our unique charism since Blessed Stanislaus founded the Marian community.
It has been said by his biographers that he had at least two intense experiences of purgatory between 1673 and 1675. Also in 1673, he was given a directive by the Bishop-Visitator for daily recitation of the Office of Dead, which, as a community, we still do on Mondays unless otherwise obligated.
In December 2008 at the General Convention of the Marians in Rome, Fr. Marian Pisarzak, MIC, presented a paper titled: "Help for the Faithful Departed in the Marian Charism: Historical and Theological Aspects." In this paper, he suggested two matters were closely related to each other and produced Father Founder's unique charism. First, Blessed Stanislaus was strongly influenced by his own deep mystical experiences of purgatory under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But equally profound was his concern to practice charity or mercy toward the faithful departed, such that no possibility "of reward, no gratitude, no praise can be expected." In other words, his motive was to be completely that of charity for a soul in need.
In this respect, Blessed Stanislaus is a teacher of love — Magister caritatis, for whom man is the temple of God, his heart is its altar, and his deeds (prayers and sacrifices for the souls in purgatory) the sacrifices most dear to God.
Some of the significant ways that the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception honor and pray for the dead in November are celebrating their memory in our Book of Remembrance at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy here in Stockbridge, Mass., and in the sung octave (eight days) of praying the Divine Office for the Dead at the Shrine (Nov. 2-9) each night. Our worldwide Congregation joins in this time of solemn remembrance and prayer for the faithful departed, including at each of our houses in the United States.
We also take other opportunities to pray for and honor those who have gone before us into eternity. At the Washington, D.C., House of Formation, for instance, our young men often visit the cemeteries of veterans, thereby honoring our Founder's concern for those who suffer the ravages of war as well his love of praying for the souls of fallen soldiers.
Let me share another example, which is more personal. When my Marian brothers and I are out driving, doing errands, or making a visit as part of our Parish Mission Outreach (bringing the message of Divine Mercy to parishes who invite us to make a presentation), we often pass cemeteries. Whenever we do, we take the opportunity to pray for the repose of the souls of those who are buried there.
I hope that these reflections will inspire your remembrance of the Holy Souls throughout the month of November.
Sincerely in The Divine Mercy and Mary Immaculate,
Father Dan, MIC