I always think of November as the twilight of the year. The nights are getting darker, the trees are bare and it’s getting colder. But in the middle of that month, we celebrate Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving stems from a discovery of God’s greatness and glory, and we know that, in spite of all the problems we face today, we can still turn to a loving God in prayer.
But also, for us Catholics, November is special. In the Catholic tradition we set aside the month of November as a special time to remember those who have gone before us. Starting on Nov. 2, the Feast of All Souls, we remember our dearly departed loved ones.
St. Paul tells us that after death comes judgment and, perhaps, our imaginations conjure up a court trial with God as judge and ourselves as defendants with a lengthy list of offenses. But I tend to think that God is so much bigger that a list of good and bad. I like to think that God sees every fall from grace as simply a lack of love in some form or another, and that at the moment of death, God shows us His perfect love for us and our lackluster response.
When I think of Purgatory I reflect on the homecoming of the prodigal son. Yes, he is dirty, disheveled and unworthy like many of us at some point in life. Yet the father comes looking for him and does not listen to his self-accusation. He just takes him in his arms, and at that moment the son sees and feels the enormous love that the father has for him. He also sees how little his response has been to that love and that searing moment is Purgatory.
As the book of Maccabees tells us, it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead. I doubt any of us want to die. Not because our faith is weak, but because there is so much to life. We live for life. And inevitably in death, we must never forget the words of the funeral Mass—life is not ended, just changed.