02 November 2014

Purgatory: The look and fire of His love (as seen in a statue)

In my boyhood church of St. John the Baptist (which was its own parish until 1999 when it was merged with St. Rose of Lima parish to form All Saints parish, which was more recently merged with St. Boniface and Immaculate Conception parishes to form Blessed Sacrament parish), a lovely statue of souls being freed from Purgatory could be found:

Photo: Keith Urbon

I spent many hours contemplating this statue when I was younger and,to this day, I have not seen its equal. I would dearly love to look upon it again, but - since it was sold - this not now possible; I do not even know to whom it was sold.

At any rate, above this statue was written the phrase, "Remember, me, for the hand of God has touched me." An allusion to a passage from the Book of Job which reads, "Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me" (19:21), the phrase also served as a constant reminder to the faithful to pray for the faithful departed because, as Pope Francis said today,
...we are called to remember everyone, to remember everyone, even those who no one remembers. We remember the victims of war and violence; the many "little ones" of the world crushed by hunger and poverty. We remember the anonymous who rest in common graves. We remember our brothers and sisters killed because they are Christians; and those who sacrificed their lives to serve others. We especially entrust to the Lord, those who have left over the last year.
These words are spoken by Job, who has suffered greatly and, according to his way of thinking, unjustly - because he committed no sin. Job demanded from the Lord to know the reason for his suffering, but never received it. Suffering as he did, Job found himself quite alone. "My kinsfolk and my close friends," he said, "have failed me; the guests in my house have forgotten me; my maidservants count me as a stranger; I have an alien in their eyes" (Job 19:14-15).

Even so, the holy man of God declared, as we hear from time to time at a funeral:
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me (Job 19:25-27)!
Returning to the statue, we see that as a woman receives "the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him" (James 1:12; cf. Revelation 2:10). As she is crowned by the Lord Jesus, her eyes look into his; from her flesh she sees God, her own eyes behold his face:

At the heart of the Church's teaching on the necessity of Purgatory for those who die in friendship with God but not yet fully purified (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1030-1032).

In his encyclical letter Spe salvi, Pope Benedict XVI suggested that the purification of Purgatory is the encounter with Jesus Christ:
Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms us and frees us, allowing us to become fully ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives becomes evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire.” But it is also a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally of ourselves and totally of God. In this way the interrelation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us forever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love… The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy (47).
The pain of the fires of Purgatory is the pain of knowing we have fallen short of the love God, it is the pain of our own disappointment.

As we pray today for our departed brothers and sisters, let us beg the Lord to let the light of his face shine brightly upon the souls of the faithful departed, that by the look of his love they may at last be fully purified.

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