The Month of Remembrance

Br. Stephen, MIC (Nov. 1, 2018)

One night, St. Faustina had a vision of Purgatory that should very well have a profound effect on the spiritual lives of us all. Here's what she described:

[It was] a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid.... I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God.... I wanted to talk with them some more, but my Guardian Angel beckoned me to leave. We went out of that prison of suffering.... Since that time, I am in closer communion with the suffering souls (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 20).

As we enter November, the month the Church dedicates to prayerfully remembering the souls in Purgatory, St. Faustina's concluding sentence provides rich ground for reflection.

She comes into closer communion with the suffering souls in Purgatory. How can we understand this "closer communion," and what does it mean for our own relationship with the suffering souls?

First - we must recognize that the souls in Purgatory are persons - persons just like you, me, and St. Faustina. Sadly, unless we've experienced the death of a close family member or a friend, the souls in Purgatory may seem unreal, or so distant from us that we do not immediately recognize their continuing existence and personhood.

Saint Faustina helps us to understand how real they are. She looked them in the eyes. She recognized their humanity because she could see them beyond the veil of death, which our materialistic culture so often shrouds from our understanding.

Secondly - we must seek communion with the suffering souls by sharing in their suffering. Although we do not fully comprehend the sufferings of Purgatory, we have all encountered suffering on this earth. Saint Faustina also knew the sufferings of earth, and she herself had undergone much spiritual suffering before this vision. On that basis, St. Faustina immediately recognized and sympathized with the suffering of the souls in Purgatory. Through our sufferings, we can do the same.

Thirdly - we can enter into communion with the suffering souls through prayer. Their prayer for themselves, though "fervent," is of no avail. We, however, "can come to their aid" along with Mary and the saints, and assist their unavailing prayers. The closer we come into communion with the souls in Purgatory, the more effective is our prayer. This is a fundamental principle of the "communion of saints": The bond of love and prayer is never broken. Even in earthly justice, the ardent petition of a close friend will win more sympathy with the judge than the occasional advocacy of a distant bystander. Similarly, the fervent prayer of one who loves the souls in Purgatory is more efficacious with the God for whom they long. It opens the floodgates of His mercy for them.

Pope Benedict XVI once wrote that prayer is "nothing other than becoming a longing for God."

This leads to the fourth way of communion with the suffering souls - which combines the first three ways in a single gaze. Saint Faustina asked them one question: What their greatest suffering was. They replied unanimously: "longing for God."

Longing for God - this is the hinge on which the suffering of Purgatory turns. We were all created for union with God. At the hour of death, however, if souls retain an attachment to sin, they must be purified before entering eternal life in Heaven. The sufferings of Purgatory purify their imperfect love and turns their longing wholly to God, so that they might enter Heaven "in splendor, without spot or wrinkle" (Eph 5:27). Until they reach that perfect state, these souls are consumed with longing. They recognize that God is their greatest desire; however, they cannot possess Him until they are purified of lesser desires and He is their only love.

What Our Hearts Desire
In terms of the "hinge of all suffering," this is true on earth as well. Deep in the heart of man is planted an infinite longing for Divine Love. Every time we desire truth, goodness, and beauty (and reject falsehood, evil, and ugliness), it leads us to God who is all Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. If directed towards God, its ultimate end, this longing brings out the best in human nature: our capacity for union with Him. If wrongly directed, however, our longing will make created things into false gods, leading into the destructive powers of addictions, ambitions, and avarice.

As Pope Benedict XVI said in a Wednesday audience (Aug. 10, 2012): "Even the good things that God has created as paths that lead to Him, run the risk of being absolutized and thus become idols that replace the Creator." In short, misdirected desires become obstacles to our true desire. If not overcome in life, they must be overcome in Purgatory.

Saint Faustina had strong desires, and so she could identify with both the desires and the obstacles of the souls in Purgatory. She wrote in her Diary: "O my Jesus, how prone I am to evil, and this forces me to be constantly vigilant" (606). Her desire for God was strong, but she could still be distracted by secondary desires. She combated these secondary desires by focusing all her love on her primary desire for God. This longing for God was her greatest similarity to the suffering souls.

If we feel distant from God, the saints, and the souls in Purgatory, this should not discourage us. It is a call, an inspiration from God to remind us of the need to love Him and pray with them. We are, indeed, far from the communion of love for which we are created, but Our Lady, the saints, and the suffering souls in Purgatory can help us to long for it. This loving longing can bring us closer to God and closer in communion with the suffering souls in Purgatory, who are certain to be - as we hope to become - saints in Heaven.

Brother Stephen, MIC, is a seminarian with the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.


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