This week the Church celebrates All Saints (holy day of obligation) and All Souls on Wednesday and Thursday. Please check this bulletin for Mass times because they will be different from the normal weekday schedule. These feast days help us look more deeply into the Church’s teaching about Heaven and Purgatory.
What does Jesus say is necessary for a person to enter into Heaven? Jesus makes it very clear when a Jewish religious scholar asked him this very question. The answer given was to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:25-28) It is important to see that Jesus’ redundant use of “all” is meant to emphasize that our love of God must not be partial but complete and total. Jesus teaches us that we must love God more than every other person, including our family and friends, and of course to love even our enemies as we love ourselves. (Matt. 10:35-38, Luke 6:35, Matt. 5:44)
Jesus said that if we love God, we will keep God’s commandments. (John 14:15) Thankfully, we are also reminded that God’s commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3) If we feel that God’s commandments are burdensome, it is only because our love of worldly things is greater than our love of God. For example, if I use God’s name in vain or don’t keep holy the Lord’s Day, then my love of God is lacking. My love is also lacking if I’m involved in hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, etc. God says that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21)
What happens when a person dies with their love of God and neighbor tainted with impurity and selfishness of various kinds? Jesus tells us that these things are incompatible with heaven. God could leave such people to themselves for eternity or could mercifully allow them to rid themselves of their sinful tendencies. This is the purging that is implied in “Purgatory”. We read in Philippians 1:6 that God who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus, which is the Second Coming when God will judge the living and dead.
In the Old Testament, we learn that Judas Maccabeus acted in a very excellent and noble way in directing his companions to pray that the sins of the dead be forgiven. Judas and his companions gave themselves to prayer, begging that the sin committed might be completely forgiven. (2 Maccabees 12:43-44) In the New Testament, we learn that St. Paul acted similarly in praying for the dead. Since St. Paul knew those in heaven do not need our prayers and those in hell are beyond our prayers, the Church concluded he was praying for the souls in Purgatory.
In this month of November, let us extend the power of prayer and sacrifice to those who have died. We never abandon those we love in life, and we never abandon them in death either.