Tuesday, November 2, 2010
“Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.” 2 Maccabees 12: 46
Today we remember in prayer all those who have died. It is also a special day to offer sacrifice and atonement for the dead. Now some may wonder: why do we pray for the dead? What good will it do? If you die and go to heaven, prayers are not needed and if you die and go to hell, then prayers cannot help. And this is true. So what’s the point?
This holy day, when we pray for all the souls of the faithful departed, is a reminder of the doctrine of purgatory. And without purgatory, it does not make any sense to pray for the dead. So what is purgatory? Purgatory is a place or state of being, where souls who died in the state of grace, but with stain of sin, are purified before entering heaven.
When we sin, we either weaken our relationship with God (venial sin) or we completely break our relationship with God (mortal sin). This does not mean that God does not love us, but it means we did not love Him as we ought. As a person of faith, in these times of sin, we feel remorse and we go to the Lord in confession to seek reconciliation. But even after God has forgiven us, there is still atonement that needs to be made. Think about it this way: let’s say you are playing baseball in the backyard with a friend when one of you throws the ball too high and it goes over the neighbor’s fence and smashes their kitchen window. Doing the right thing, you go immediately over to the house and tell them it was an accident and you are very sorry for breaking their window. Being good people, they forgive you. Incident over, right? Wrong. While you asked for forgiveness and they forgave you, the window is still broken and someone still has to pay to fix it. This is like atonement and this is why at confession, we are always given a penance to help atone for our sins and re-orient our hearts toward God and away from the sin and the inclination to sin.
So the idea is that we can work to atone for our own sins while on this earth through prayers, sacrifices and penances, in order to rid ourselves of any attachment to sin and temptation we may have. Or, if we die with venial sin on our souls, we can atone for our sins in purgatory. The difference is that in purgatory, we can’t do anything to merit atonement and expedite our suffering. But those still on earth can. So we now see the power of this day: a day to remind us of all the poor souls in purgatory, still in communion with us through faith, but in need of our spiritual help to enter heaven. What an awesome thing to be able to help another along their way! Obviously, it is Jesus and the expiation of our sins that He merited for us on Calvary that brings us to heaven; and apart from this sacrifice, none of ours would have any power or meaning. But God, in His mystery and goodness, gives us the opportunity to share in this saving deed by cooperating with His grace and combining our own feeble efforts to His perfect offering—not just for our own sins, but for the sins of others. On this special day, let us remember in prayer all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of Christ, especially those who have been forgotten by everyone but God.
Dear Jesus, today I offer my life and my prayers for all the souls in purgatory. Through Your grace and mercy, may they enter into Your glory as soon as possible. Amen.