While we continue to pray for our nation as it endures the uncertainty of a contentious election, let’s not forget that the month of November is set aside to pray especially for the holy souls in purgatory.
Purgatory is for healing. There are many misconceptions of the doctrine of purgatory. It is well explained, I think, by the analogy of a physician who is performing surgery on a man. The man is otherwise healthy and not in threat of death. Even still, there is some unhealthy aspect of his body that is not permitting a full life, but remains an obstacle to such and has been caused by the poor choices he has made over the years. This unhealthiness must be removed before the fullness of life can be experienced. But the man is not able to remove it for himself at this point. He is beyond that point and he lacks the skill, the knowledge and the power to do so. So, he puts himself into the hands of a skilled and trusted physician. During the surgery, the man can do nothing for himself. He is totally at the mercy of the physician. Yet, he is willing to do this because he knows the physician is skilled and trustworthy. He has confidence that the physician will do for him in this matter what he cannot do for himself. As well, he knows the surgery will involve pain, but he is willing to undergo this for the much greater benefit he will enjoy after the pain is over. He is right on all scores! After the surgery, the man learns that the unhealthy part of his person has been successfully removed and, now that the pain is also resolved, he is in a position to live a full and happy life.
During our temporal lives, we sometimes make decisions that are sinful. These decisions impact the health of our soul. During our lives here on earth, it is possible for us to turn to God in prayer, fasting, alms giving and penance to address these sins, these unhealthy aspects of ourselves that weigh on our souls and act as obstacles to the fullness of life in Christ. Justice demands that we turn from our sin and do penance in order to right the wrongs we have committed, to repair the injury to our soul and to others we may have hurt or dragged down as a result of our sins. These temporal punishments for venial sins are the just consequences of our offenses (temporal as in temporary, as opposed to the eternal punishment that results from dying in mortal sin.) This includes the whole Body of Christ, since when one member suffers, so does the entire Body (1 Cor 12:26).
But, once we have died, we are no longer in a position to pray, fast, give alms or do penance for our sins. Those venial sins, or the temporal punishments we suffer as a result of them, remain on our souls as stains or unhealthy burdens that must be removed before we can enter into the kingdom, for nothing unclean will enter (Rev 21:27). We cannot do this on our own. Our temporal lives have passed. As such, we turn to the Divine Physician and place ourselves trustingly in His hands, to remove these stains, these unhealthy parts of us, and to heal us completely, making us clean so as to enjoy the fullness of life in His kingdom.
Every soul in purgatory is destined for the kingdom of God. Purgatory is not a “second chance” to make good on God’s offer of salvation for those who blew it during their earthly lives. Purgatory is for those who dedicated their lives to Christ but lived their life in Christ imperfectly, so that they die with venial sins or temporal punishments still staining their soul. That sounds like a lot of us, frankly! Those souls in purgatory await the cleansing, purging, healing power of Christ to purify their souls and ready them for the kingdom. The souls in purgatory are saints, part of the Body of Christ, and their salvation is assured.
It is for us, the saints who make up the Body of Christ here on earth, to pray and offer sacrifices for the souls in purgatory, that their purification may be accomplished quickly. The Church used to attach the number of days a holy soul would be remitted from their time in purgatory based on the prayers or sacrifices offered for their sake. The Church no longer does this, preferring to surrender such mysteries to the wisdom of God. But, our prayers and sacrifices remain efficacious for the holy souls in purgatory, and November is a month the Church sets aside especially for this purpose.
Here is a “Prayer to Have a Merciful Heart Toward Others” from the diary of St. Faustina Kowalska. It includes prayers for the souls in purgatory, as well as prayers for a heart of mercy toward all. St. Faustina was a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland and the recipient of the Divine Mercy visions. You can find this and other prayers for the holy souls in purgatory on the Churchpop website.
Prayer to Have a Merciful Heart Toward Others
O Jesus, I understand that Your mercy is beyond all imagining.
I ask You, therefore, to make my heart so big
that there will be room in it for the needs
of all the souls living on this whole earthly globe.
O Jesus, my love reaches beyond the world
to the souls suffering in Purgatory,
and I want to exercise mercy toward them
by means of indulgenced prayers.
God’s mercy is unfathomable and inexhaustible,
just as God Himself is unfathomable.
Were I to use the strongest words for expressing this mercy of God,
they are nothing in comparison with what it is in reality.
O Jesus, make my heart sensitive to all the sufferings
of my neighbor whether they be of body or of soul.
O my Jesus, I know that You act toward us as we act toward our neighbor.
My Jesus, make my heart like unto Your merciful Heart.
Jesus, help me to go through life doing good to everyone.
Source: Diary of St. Faustina, II, #132
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.