A season of death? No, a season of life!

by | Oct 30, 2021 | Across the Ages


We begin the triduum of Allhallowtide. It is three days of commemoration that includes All Hallows Eve (October 31, shortened Hallowe’en), All Saints Day (All Hallows Day, November 1), and All Souls Day (November 2). Each of these has ancient roots in the Catholic church (no, not the pagans) that eventually were compiled into specific feast days. An interesting breeze through this history is provided at Catholic Word Report. A delightful collection of All Hallows Eve traditions, to prepare for All Saints Day, is given in Mrs. Florence Berger’s book Cooking for Christ: “We wanted to bring Halloween back to its proper place as a “build-up” for the festival of All Saints, rather than an end point after which we were too tired to even attend well at Mass.”  That sounds too familiar!

To those outside the Catholic church, this may appear to be a ghoulish triduum. Rather, it is a triduum of life, that of the Holy Spirit within us as church militant (here on earth), the church penitent (the souls in Purgatory) and the church triumphant (souls enjoying the face of God). A crude analogy might be made with a dishwasher. The pre-scrub cycle here on earth is our opportunity to cast away attachments and habits that catch our attention away from God. If successful, the rest washes away in Purgatory, and at the end of the cycle we sparkle, reflecting God’s Divine light as we bask in His presence. However, for those avoiding the pre-scrub on earth, the clean-up in Purgatory will be a greater agony.

 “It is not an uncommon impression amongst non-Catholics, that we Catholics make of Purgatory an intermediate state through which every human soul has to pass, as it were, by a psychological law. Nothing could be less in keeping with Catholic theology than any such psychological law. The fact of a soul going to Purgatory, the length of its exile there, the specific kind of suffering it has to undergo, are all free pronouncements of the Supreme Judge.” (Abbot Vonier)

A long-standing Catholic tradition is to offer our sufferings to aid the souls suffering in Purgatory. But if they are already ‘in process’ and a step away from Heaven, why pray for them? It can help to understand what Purgatory really is.

Purgatory is often described as a fiery furnace or place of physical suffering. However, those are metaphors. The body is in the ground and only the soul is in Purgatory. It is a moral suffering. Think about how difficult it is to break a bad or sinful habit, or even just to correct a small weakness. The more you try to rid yourself of it, the more it is on your mind. We can substitute chewing gum for smoking or snacking, use technology to avoid talking with someone, exchange a bad habit for a neutral one. In Purgatory, there are no exchanges or diversions. The soul is always fighting its own will, which is full of the passions, desires and attachments of this world. If you have ever experienced detoxing from an addiction or otherwise withdrawing from a powerful attachment in your life, you know the torment goes beyond the physical and psychological. It seems to encapsulate your very being. Your soul is in torment. In Purgatory, the soul is 100% immersed in the battle of its weakness and venial sin, spurred by its great desire to be with God. It never receives a break until fully cleansed. Ask God to permit your suffering to be used to ease theirs.

This triduum kicks off a month of recalling our loved ones who have gone before us. It is a time of remembering and of healing. At the surface, we sorrow for our loss of their presence in our lives. Underneath, we sorrow for all the important conversations that didn’t take place when they were with us, but needed to. Take comfort in knowing they are free of all the physical encumbrances that burdened them. They now pray for you and all their loved ones as they look forward to your being in Heaven with them, in God’s timing. Until then, we remain in spiritual communion through Jesus Christ.

This month, make that extra effort as a saint-in-training to apprentice to Christ all that you do. Examine your day to find its disorder. Take time in mental prayer for the necessary, honest conversations with God. And embrace the people God has put in your life, even and especially those who are the most difficult to love. 😊

“I believe that there is flowing through us – those on earth, those in purgatory, and those who have reached true life – a great, unending stream of the sufferings, merits, and love of everyone, and that our least sorrow, our slightest efforts, can through grace reach others, whether near or far, and bring them light, peace, and holiness.”  (Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur)

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. 😊



Image: Angels accepting ‘Pilgrim of cross at end of his journey’ into Heaven by Thomas Cole from Smithsonian CCO

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