All Souls' Day is a favorite day of mine on the Church calendar. That comes across as morbid to some folks, but it's anything but. Then, again, I'm a big fan of purgatory, too. I like today's focus on the family and friends who have gone before us. I like to remember that we remain connected even though we are separated, that they are experiencing the eternal life that we are working toward. And I love the fact that purgatory hangs out there like a giant safety net, waiting to catch me if I don't measure up. And, really, how can I possibly measure up? I would not be so presumptuous as to assume that I will be fast-tracked to heaven when this earthly life is done. I think working my way toward perfection in purgatory sounds like a pretty generous offer.
I came across this quote from Pope Benedict XVI that really says everything I feel about purgatory but in a much more eloquent way:
"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 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."
Exactly. And that is why this day is so hopeful. In our remembrance and celebration of those who have died, we see second chances, opportunity, life. We see the path we will one day walk, whether we are ready or not. And if we are not quite ready, well then, purgatory will give us time to polish up our acts once and for all.
Here's another great All Souls' Day quote from Father Hans Urs Von Balthasar:
"Purgatory: perhaps the deepest but also the most blissful kind of suffering. The terrible torture of having to settle now all the things we have dreaded a whole life long. The doors we have frantically held shut are now torn open. But all the while this knowledge: now for the first time I will be able to do it -- that ultimate thing in me, that total thing. Now I can feel my wings growing; now I am fully becoming myself..."
And finally, I found this powerful and personal reflection on All Souls' Day on From the Field of Blue Children. Blogger Cathy Adamkiewicz posts about staring at her own tombstone, the one that marks the grave she will one day share with the daughter who has gone before her:
"Today, on the Feast of All Souls, I stood at my own graveside, but I didn't shed a tear.(Read the full post HERE.) Cathy has written a beautiful book about the short life of her baby Celeste. Broken and Blessed: A Life Story is a moving testament to the power of one tiny and fragile life to change the world around her. That book deserves a post of its own, which I promise to write later this month.
"I thought about my daughter, who awaits me there, and I remembered her life with awe and gratitude. I missed her with an ache that will never leave my bones, but my heart is not heavy. It soars to meet her.
"I looked at the descriptions cast in stone: husband and father, baby girl, wife and mother. The roles that will define us for all eternity.
"I suppose it is an excellent practice to ponder the fact that we will all be dust some day. As I stood on the very spot where I hope my grandchildren and their grandchildren will kneel someday, begging mercy on my soul, I realized the truth.
"It will all be over in a flash."