Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Nov. 2.
What happens to us when we die? It’s obvious from Scripture that those who die never having committed any sins at all — babies, for instance — go straight to heaven, and those who die in a state of mortal sin go to hell.
We celebrate those who are already in heaven on All Saints Day, which was yesterday. They don’t need our prayers because they’ve already arrived, but because they’ve arrived we ask them by means of prayer to intercede for us before God.
On the other hand, while there’s no point in praying for those who are in hell because they’re beyond the reach of our prayers, as a practical matter we don’t know for sure who’s there, presumably Hitler and Stalin, but we don’t know it for a fact.
And what about all those who do not die with the perfect innocence of a newborn babe — people like you and me? They can benefit from our prayers and that’s what today, All Soul’s Day is all about.
What happens to those who die without mortal sins but are not innocent enough to go straight to heaven? They undergo a process of purification called purgatory to equip them eventually to participate in the perfect joy of heaven.
The idea is this: Here we are, finite and limited, full of defects and venial sins and distortions of character, some the lasting damage of sins already forgiven but with interior effects not yet fully healed, on the right track but far from perfect, while heaven is everything that we are not: Perfect, infinite and unlimited, such that for us to be able to enjoy fully the infinite joy of heaven, God has to do something remedy our limitations, otherwise we’d be like 3 year olds on vacation in Paris. There physically but too limited to enjoy it fully.
Purgatory is the process by which God remedies all that is lacking in us and that’s where our prayers can help the dead. Just as in this life, so also in purgatory, growth and healing is much easier when you’ve got help, in this case the help of our prayers.
And once they get into heaven, they’ll surely reciprocate by interceding for us — that’s what the Communion of Saints is all about — helping each other on the road to salvation.
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