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Friends in High Places

Unlike most Catholics, who have “normal” devotions such as venerating the saints, the Blessed Virgin, or even Our Lord’s Sacred Heart, my spiritual north star is probably one of the least popular: I’m devoted to the Holy Souls in purgatory. My first few years after converting, I believed in purgatory all right, but it wasn’t until I read Purgatory Explained by Father F.X. Schouppe that I really “got” what it means to be purified of all stain of sin after death.

I still remember the night I was about halfway through the book. Suddenly, the enormity of my sins hit me and I fell to my knees. I sobbed there for almost an hour. Sadly, not for a holy reason, such as being sorry I’d offended Jesus, but because I realized I was so rotten I’d be spending most of eternity in purgatory and that literally scared the hell out of me. (Which may have been the author’s point.) The terror only abated after the priest assured readers we would experience profound peace in the midst of our sufferings there, because our wills are finally perfectly aligned with God’s.

Can anything beat the ironic joy of assisting a prominent atheist into heaven? You're welcome, Mr. Hitchins.

Once I realized that God would accept my meager earthly sufferings as payment for these souls’ enormous debts, I was hooked. Every bit of suffering and sacrifice from then on became an opportunity to usher someone into heaven. It was a heady thought that I, a mere stay-at-home Catholic mom, could assist such worldly heavyweights such as Christopher Hitchins, Liz Taylor, and Steve Jobs out of purgatory. It was like having a hidden superpower and yeah, I may have gotten a little drunk on it.

And like all drunks, I occasionally lost my good judgment and assumed crosses Jesus never intended for me, mostly through pride. The best thing about God, though, is that He can transform even our sinful actions into goodness: which is why He once allowed me to do something so idiotic and unnecessarily painful that it certainly released several hundred serial killers from purgatory.

A few weeks after we moved to Alaska, a new friend from the parish mentioned she was a “winter runner.” “Come with me,” she said, magnanimously ignoring the layers of fat and atrophied muscles peeking from under my clothes. She painted a Bob Ross picture in my head, complete with happy little snow-covered trees that shimmered like diamonds in the brilliant Alaskan sun. Well, why not? I’d run for 10 minutes on a treadmill once back in college and surely running in 15 below zero for an hour couldn’t be THAT different.

The next morning, I got up early and drove to her house. The first clue I was out of my league came when I saw what she was wearing: just your typical runner’s spandex, with a light jacket and ear coverings. I, on the other hand, was wearing so many layers I looked like a tick about to pop:

We put on our Yaktrax (springs you wrap around your shoes to keep from sliding over the ice) and she led us out of the neighborhood. The driveway seemed longer than I remembered, and before we were even on the main road, I was suffering. I mean, “Doing penance because you killed a busload of Mother Angelica’s nuns” kind of suffering. You imagine serious cold and you think, “numbing,” right? And it will…eventually. But first, the skin starts stinging. You try looking casual when it feels like wolves are eating your face off.

On the main road, my running partner informed me we were going to “step it up a notch” and actually run. Which alarmed me, since I thought that’s what I’d been doing. Initially, the hardest part was simply trying to breathe; taking in air that cold feels like a knife going into your chest. But it didn’t seem to bother my new friend, so I plodded on. She was chattering like a magpie, but I couldn’t hear a thing she said over the sound of my own ragged breath and hammering heart.

We crossed a road and got onto a bike trail. This was where it got scary. If you’ve ever run on a beach, you know that the give of the sand forces you to exert more effort to push off each step. It’s the same with snow. We’d gotten an extra inch or two over the past few days, so the path was extra slushy and uneven. I’d been running for 10 minutes when I realized my face was no longer freezing. I was pretty darn warm, in fact. But with each passing minute I could feel my energy pouring out like a sieve. We hadn’t even covered the first mile and I was on the verge of my heart valves just blowing apart into a dozen pieces right there in my chest. I was sure I could hear the sound of the souls literally popping out of purgatory thanks to me.

I finally slowed to a brisk walk, because I feared I’d be vomiting on the side of the road if I didn’t. The problem with slowing down is, the cold begins to creep in. Pretty soon, my choice became clear: I could freeze to death or die from a heart attack. Either way, I was a goner. I mentally berated myself for not going to Confession the week before. And for not bringing holy oil so someone could anoint me when I finally collapsed and died on the side of the road.

We turned around at a school about a mile and a half from her house. I was stoically trying to keep up the show, but privately nursed fears about how my husband was going to raise four kids on his own. Does he know where the wills are? Can he afford a Catholic Mary Poppins on my life insurance money? Would running in Alaska in February be considered “suicide” and void our policy?

I kept up a brisk walk with short, intermittent bursts of jogging to stave off the cold. I wasn’t too cold, but despite wearing thick wool socks and tennis shoes, my toes were stinging. I started swinging my arms and lifting my feet as high as I could, slamming them down on the snow to warm them up. I looked like a KKK member practicing her goosestepping for next spring’s rally.

We were on a long, clear stretch of road and I could see the street sign where we’d be turning back into her neighborhood. In reality, it couldn’t have been more than half mile away but that was the longest 2,600 feet of my life. After a few moments, I just put my head down and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other; I couldn’t bear the psychological torture of looking up and seeing that sign so far away again. At one point I seriously contemplated just flopping down in the snow, curling up into the fetal position, and telling her to go get the car for me. But I’d already bragged on Facebook about running in 15 below and the shame of not finishing fueled those final agonizing moments until we got back to her house.

As I hobbled back to my car, I remembered something important: I hate running. Then I thought about all the atheists, murderers, and celebrities I’d just got into heaven. And I thanked God He can write straight with crooked lines.

 

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Ink Slingers Patty

All Soul’s Day


Some people love Christmas best, others find great happiness in Easter, but my favorite Religous Day is All Souls Day and my favorite time of the year is the Octave of All Saint’s day. Far too many people forget All Souls Day because they are taken with the celebration of Halloween, or ‘All Hallowed Eve’, which is the day before All Saint’s Day.

Our beloved Church is divided into three groups of people: the Church Militant includes those of us on earth, the Church Suffering are those in purgatory, and the Church Triumphant consists of those souls who are enjoying eternal bliss with God and the angels in Heaven. All Soul’s Day is November 2nd, the octave of All Soul’s Day is November 1-8. We, the church militant, have an obligation to our brothers and sisters suffering in purgatory. Our deceased relatives distant and close may yet be suffering in the torments of Purgatory, what faithful Catholic does not feel pity for those souls and want to have a hand in their release? We have the unique opportunity to directly obtain the release of these souls during the Octave of All Saint’s Day.

I have always been the kind of person who cheers for the underdog. When two teams are playing, I root for the losing team. My heart aches when I see a child who is bullied and if I were to choose one particular cute little puppy or a kitten out of a litter, it would probably be the runt. Therefore, it is not a stretch to understand my sympathy for the poor souls in purgatory, many of whom have no one to pray for their release and have long ago been released from the confines of their physical body. The sufferings and torment of these souls is touchingly described in the book “Purgatory, explained by the lives and legends of the saints” written by Fr. F.X. Schouppe. I encourage everyone to read this book and not just to themselves, but to their families as the message of the poor souls is one that should be shared with as many as possible.

Many of us think that we are lucky if we go to Purgatory after we die, but the pains of those temporarily condemned to Purgatory are painful beyond belief and not one of us should want to spend so much as one second there. A moment in Purgatory seems to the souls suffering, as a week; an hour seems a year and a year feels as though a lifetime has passed by. Allow me to quote from “Purgatory:

 

Speaking in general, the Doctors (of the Church) agree in saying that the pains are most excruciating. The same fire, says St. Gregory, torments the damned and purifies the elect.’ Pg 33

 

We, of the church militant may feel at a loss to help those around us. Our most valiant efforts to save the soul of a loved one may be met with scorn and contempt. Our tears and pleadings may fall on deaf ears and our only recourse for these souls treading Satan’s path may be continued prayer and sacrifices.

Our prayers and offerings for the Poor Souls, on the other hand, are met with gratitude beyond imagination. The ability to release a soul from the agony of Purgatory is a gift beyond measure and one which the receiving soul will repay a thousand fold in prayers for the one who obtained his/her release. Can you imagine the joy of a suffering soul as he/she is released from the pains of Purgatory and radiant in the robes of sanctity immediately flies to the Heaven to enjoy the eternal company of Our Lord and Savior? Our feeble understanding of the majesty of God struggles to understand this unutterable joy. WE have the ability bring a Poor Soul to perpetual bliss all year through our prayers, offerings and sacrifices, but during the Octave of All Saints we are able to give the gift of release so easily!

How so, inquires the faithful Catholic? Well, I’d love to share that with you! These are the conditions in which a person may obtain the release of a soul each and every day from November 1st-8th.


[N.B. The grants of indulgence are contained in the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum (4th ed., 1999), in special grants of the Holy See, such as for the Year of the Holy Eucharist, and in special grants which bishops may establish for their dioceses.

To gain indulgences, whether plenary or parital it is necessary that the faithful be in the state of grace at least at the time the indulgenced work is completed.

N.B. Thus, one must be a Catholic in communion with the Pope, i.e. not excommunicated or in schism.

A plenary indulgence can be gained only once a day. In order to obtain it, the faithful must, in addition to being in the state of grace:

—have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin;

—have sacramentally confessed their sins;

—receive the Holy Eucharist (it is certainly better to receive it while participating in Holy Mass, but for the indulgence only Holy Communion is required);

—pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff- Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be while visiting a cemetery.

 

This indulgence, when obtained for a poor soul each day, is a Plenary indulgence, meaning all of the temporal punishment that the individual poor soul owes for the sins committed, is forgiven. ALL OF IT! In other words, upon successful completion of all requirements for the Plenary Indulgence, a soul is immediately released from Purgatory. I have known the power of Plenary indulgences since I was a child and yet I am still in awe of their power. Each year, my family (all of the children included) go to communion and confession and we visit a cemetery (when possible) every day. The kids are under this foolish notion that cemeteries are scary. I don’t comprehend this, ever since I was a child I found a sense of peace in cemeteries, more so now when I am an adult. I hope that one day, they will sense the tranquility of a cemetery too.

I do not know if requesting a certain soul be released is effective, but when I pray for a suffering soul I usually pray for the most forgotten, a soul who has committed sins like those I have committed, the ones who are the furthest from release and for family members. Knowing that I have been able to obtain the release of a poor soul makes my own soul sing with joy.