John Clark is an author and speechwriter. His first book Who’s Got You? reached #1 in the Amazon Kindle “Fatherhood” category and his new book How to Be a Superman Dad in a Kryptonite World, Even When You Can’t Afford A Decent Cape was just released by Guiding Light Books. He has written hundreds of articles and blogs about Catholic family life and apologetics in such places as Seton Magazine, Catholic Digest, and Homiletic and Pastoral Review. A graduate of Christendom College, John and his wife Lisa have nine children and live in Virginia.
Today, on All Souls Day, there can be a certain sense of fear and discomfort for many of us. Because we are, to some extent, aware of the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory, the mere thought of it can be terribly unpleasant—especially knowing that Purgatory might await us on the road to eternal life. And so, we might opt to dismiss thoughts about Purgatory. That’s unfortunate, because regardless of our feelings on the matter, it is vital that we pray for the poor souls there.
As we approach this topic, it’s worth remembering the words in Saint Catherine of Genoa’s Treatise on Purgatory, in which the mystic offers a glimmer of hope about how to consider the state of poor souls: “There is no peace to be compared with that of the souls in purgatory, save that of the saints in paradise, and this peace is ever augmented by the inflowing of God into these souls, which increases in proportion as the impediments to it are removed.”
In Saint Catherine’s view, as souls’ attachment to sin is purged, their love for God burns ever stronger. Moreover, every single soul in Purgatory is joyful to some degree because they are certain Heaven awaits.
We pity the poor souls in Purgatory not for their absence of joy and peace, but for their presence of physical pain beyond anything most of us can imagine. As Saint Catherine of Genoa continues, “On the other hand, it is true that they suffer torments which no tongue can describe nor any intelligence comprehend, unless it be revealed by such a special grace as that which God has vouchsafed to me, but which I am unable to explain.”
Thus, charity dictates that we offer our prayers and suffering for them. The fact that there are souls in Purgatory who need our help constitutes a main reason why we Catholics see the value in suffering. There is a grace in recognizing this fact and this need. That’s a lesson I have learned over the years from my dad.
It’s hard for me to think about human suffering without thinking of my own father. My father, a Vietnam veteran who sustained injuries half a century ago and half a world away, has endured back and shoulder pain since before I was born. In fact, one of my first memories as a little boy was my father being taken away in an ambulance, as his back pain was so severe that he could not even get out of his bed. Medical personnel had to come into my parents’ bedroom and take him to the hospital. I still remember wondering whether my daddy was ever coming back home. In addition to this, as an amputee, my dad has suffered for two decades from terrible phantom pains, as his body and mind conduct a painful disagreement about whether his leg is still there.
Many nights, when I go to visit him, I try to express to him that I’m sorry for all the pain he’s going through. But he has a very hopeful response. My dad—gentleman, warrior, convert to the Catholic Faith—assures me that all his pain is accompanied by a little prayer: “There is one soul in Purgatory who has been suffering for a while, who is almost in Heaven. That soul might have no one to pray for him right now. All I want is for my pain to help him get to Heaven tonight.” As I hear his jolting nerve pain make him gasp throughout the evening, I get the sense that he is—as Padre Pio liked to say—emptying Purgatory. I’ll often tell him, “Dad, please leave a few souls in Purgatory for the rest of us to help.”
My father taught me that the way we treat the souls in Purgatory says a lot about us.
It is said that when we help release a soul from Purgatory with our prayers and sacrifices, that person prays for us until we reach Heaven. We need to ponder this more: The souls in Purgatory and the souls on Earth form an unshakable friendship that endures forever in Heaven.
Let’s pray for the poor souls in Purgatory today. Beyond that, let’s not make All Souls Day a mere 24-hour remembrance. Let’s make it a lifetime mission. Very soon, we’re going to be in the Advent season, and a wonderful way to spend that penitential season is to pray, fast, and sacrifice to help at least one soul make it to Heaven for Christmas. Let’s pray that the souls in Purgatory—now, joyful and suffering—will very soon be joyful and Triumphant.