Hope for Those Who Have Departed

In the March 16, 2018 edition of Today’s Catholic, I wrote about a friend of mine whose strong faith during her intense battle with cancer inspired me to name her a “Hosanna” woman; someone who chooses to praise God while experiencing first-hand what it means to suffer with Jesus.

My friend died last month. She died one year after she was told by doctors she only had one month. In God’s Providence, she actively used her time to pray and seek a cure while she prepared her soul for Eternity and her husband and family for lives without her. She left us for her Eternal reward only a few days after she made sure her youngest son received his first communion; the sacrament which our pastor brought to her bedside so she would not miss it.

Her online journaling drew 15,000 followers. My friend did not meet anyone who did not like her, but I doubt even she had 15,000 friends. It was her words of faith in a God she knew intimately that called them. Her “Hosanna” faith inspired in them the desire to encounter this Jesus who she loves so much.

Two months before my friend’s death, my 52-year old cousin died. He was a lost soul riddled with addiction, a history of crime, family abuse and acute physical limitations brought on by years of self-neglect. He was called a teddy bear of a man for his gentle spirit, but his spirit was indeed troubled. He did not practice his faith for many years because he believed God thought he was worth what the world told him, “You are good for nothing.”

What can we say of the state of these two souls? We can say nothing because it is only God who can read the depths of a man’s soul. But we do have the wisdom of the Church to guide us.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we learn: “Heaven is assured for, ‘Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God forever, for they “see him as he is, ‘face to face'”‘” (1023). Purgatory is offered for, “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, as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (1030).

We may assume my faithful friend is in Heaven, but we cannot know that. We are not capable of comprehending what it truly means to be purified so that we may see God face to face. My mom, whose faith and suffering matched my faithful friend’s, told her five daughters before she passed, “You better never stop praying for my soul. I am counting on you girls to get your mother out of Purgatory!”

At my cousin’s funeral, I recall the reassuring words of the priest. He said, “Scott was baptized into the family of God which means Scott is a beloved son of the Father. I trust that he is being embraced by all the Church offers so that he will come to enjoy everlasting peace.” What a consolation for my aunt and his mother!

So, what does the Church offer?

When we pray for the souls of the living and the dead and offer our little daily sacrifices and sufferings, we are joining with all prayer and all who pray. This includes the prayers and sacrifices that monks in monasteries and cloistered sisters in convents offer 24/7 for our salvation. Think of it as a huge jug filling to the brim with grace to be poured upon a poor soul in need of healing and purification.

When we participate at Mass, lifting our hearts and minds along with the Sacrifice of Jesus at the altar, we are lifting all people living and deceased along with His perfect sacrifice. This is what St. Paul means when he writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).

What the Church offers is a way for us to help Jesus in his mission of Mercy; the Mercy merited by him alone through his one sacrifice for all, but which in his love for us, he allows us to help him distribute to ourselves and the ones we love.

Nan Balfour is the Events Coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope. This first appeared in Living Catholicism, our regular column in Today’s Catholic newspaper.