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The Holy Souls : “The Souls of The Just Are In the Hands of God” -Wisdom 3
On April 27 2012 I was walking in the mountains with my friend and great Artist, Warren Kelly and his daughter Kaylie. I was gradually getting breathless, as if my life was a light dimmer - getting dimmer by the second- and mentioned that to Warren. He said “I hope it’s your breath and not your ticker.” At that point I knew it was my heart or ticker. I sat down and within a half hour I think, I was being flown to the Durango, Hospital in Colorado. They put me under and I was then flown to Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque. My Doctor, the incredible Doctor Carl Lagerstrom, said when I arrived, on a one to ten scale my heart was a one. I woke up two weeks later partially hallucinating because I’d had nine drugs put in me, but my sister Mary remembers I told her my hero-doctor St Hildegard had been in the room. I don’t remember this, but after that time, well into recovery , I believed she brought me back to life. Since early childhood I’ve been aware of the Holy Souls or the Souls in Purgatory. In grade school we were told that on All Soul’s Day, November 2nd, we could save a soul by saying a set of prayers and going in and out of the church-for each set. I remember not wanting to go home because I thought I could help another soul. I’d love to write in great depth about the change in attitude toward death after Vatican II, but can only say a little...the vestments (for a funeral) went, literally, from black to white. The last church Requiem written for a Funeral Mass was Maurice Durufle’s Requiem (completed in 1948). The music is so tranquil, soft and beautiful it sounds like the soul is floating down a stream, lit like a candle inside a tiny boat . Compare it to Mozart or Verdi, and you’ll see what I mean. There have been requiems written since Durufle but not to be sung at a funeral mass, they are concert pieces. This awareness of the Souls at this time of the year is in many many cultures, for example the ancient Celtic Sawan or Samhain. I personally experience, this “season of the souls” lasts about a month, from October 15-November 15. It’s a time to “embrace” those who have gone be before us and pray for them. The Mexican culture’s Dia de los Muertos (day of the dead) celebrations are entering into more American cities each year. After Raymond Moody’s book “Life After Life” came out in 1975, attitudes toward death began to change rapidly. I am very fond of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s “On Life After Death” and Kenneth Ring’s “Lessons From the Light.” Now there are lots of books on this subject. And so , what is Purgatory? Is it in some ways similar to the Tibetan Toll Houses? Not being a Buddhist I can’t say for sure. But I put myself on a journey to find out what different cultures believed about life after death when I was a Hospice chaplain in NYC in the 80’s. Now I can say that because of many saints and church mystics I believe we ourselves choose Purgatory. The Austrian mystic Maria Simma (1915-2004 - the Church has not officially approved of her revelations yet, so it may not be for you) and St Padre Pio have a lot to say on this, and the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church, is a very good start. But a quick explanation is that when we die there is so much we regret. Mostly withholding love and our human penchant for cruelty, vengeance and the belief we are right...at all costs. We all share in these sins against the unconditional love of God for us. We can also say an absolute no to God and choose Hell, and yet both Origen Adamantius (“rehabilitated” by von B) and Cardinal von Balthasar believed in an empty Hell at the end of time . So imagine the Light of God is so overwhelmingly filled with love that we can only take a little at a time. We feel we are not yet purified enough and we choose to be at a “safe” distance from this Light while still feeling it’s pulling us toward it. Meanwhile we wish we could go back to earth and clean up all the damage we’ve done, but it’s too late. So there is agony in knowing what we did and we can’t pray for or forgive ourselves. Those who have lived with us, and are still on earth, can pray for us and in Purgatory, apparently we feel these prayers like the most soothing balm. Then when the souls go into heaven completely, they never forget the help we gave them. This is why we say Mass for them, and pray the Rosary or any prayers that honestly do touch the Holy Souls. I am well aware this is way too brief but I know you can go on your own journey to look into our Catholic beliefs about Purgatory. I’ll close with an experience of St Gertrude the Great from Susan Tassone’s book “Day By Day for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.”
“One day St Gertrude was praying for the Holy Souls when Jesus admonished her for not praying with confident assurance, the faith and realized hope, that God hears and answers our prayers. He assured her: ‘It would not be past my justice to release those suffering souls for whom you are praying, immediately, if you pray with confidence for this petition.” Page 281
This image from the Book of Wisdom, chapter 3, was commissioned by my friend Fr Robert Fisher for All Souls Church in Denver, Colorado.
Fr Bill McNichols
“We’ve been around, we fall, we fly
We mostly fall, we mostly run
And every now and then we try
To mend the damage that we’ve done
Tonight, tonight I just can’t rest
I’ve got this joy here inside my breast
To think that I did not forget that child
That Song of Bernadette...”
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)