Violet, purgatory, and hope

Homily – All Souls’ Day Mass, Nov. 2, 2022, at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Columbarium

Father David Boettner, rector of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Three things. First, violet. Secondly, I think we have to focus on purgatory. We need to talk about that. And then finally, hope.

So, violet. One of the (priests’) options for the day today is to wear white. Often for funeral Masses we wear white as a sign of our hope in the resurrection. But today on All Souls’ Day, we chose to wear violet, which is a symbol of our mourning and of our penance, that there is something we can do for those who have died. Our prayers do matter. Our prayers make a difference in the lives of those who are passing from this life to the next life.

We also have to acknowledge the grief that we feel. Grief is one of those strange monsters. It doesn’t operate under normal laws of physics. Grief comes out of nowhere. It overwhelms us and then it just disappears again. It’s the strangest thing, but it has to be given its due because if we don’t acknowledge the grief we feel, if we don’t really pay attention to the pain we experience at the loss of our loved ones, then grief has more power over us than it deserves.

There are two times Jesus cried. Once, he wept over Jerusalem. The other time he cried was when he saw the effect of grief on Martha and Mary, when he saw how difficult it was for them to get past their grief and to understand their hope of the resurrection. He cried because He saw how death affects us.

Death was not part of God’s original plan. Death did not have anything to do with the Garden of Eden. Death came into the world because of sin. And death and sin are the two things that the love of Christ conquers. The love of Christ is more powerful than the spurious things we can imagine: death and sin.

So, our violet color today is one, an acknowledgement of the grief we all experience. Griefs of different magnitude and griefs of different duration, but still grief. The pain of loss. Our violet color also is a reminder that our prayers make a difference. That is what leads us to talk about purgatory.

One of the unique things about Catholics is that we pray for the dead. That is not something that is very common among Christians. But in Catholicism, we pray for the dead because we do believe our prayers make a difference. They matter for the dead.

If you want to use an image, imagine that you died and you find yourself in a movie theater by yourself. You are looking at this big screen and the movie starts to play. And you realize it’s the story of your life. Not just the story of your life, but the story of all your mistakes, all of your worst moments. As it begins to play, that would be a painful movie to watch, right? None of us really want to watch all of our mistakes in front of us. As we watch it, we might even be tempted to start losing hope, to wonder where does this end. How does this story finish? Then suddenly one of your friends is sitting next to you with a box of popcorn. And he says, “Listen, I’ve seen this movie before, and I know how it ends. It has a great ending. Trust me.”

You would feel better, right? You would be encouraged. You would now want to see the end of the story, how this resolves. That’s sort of a very bad image of how our prayers work in purgatory because purgatory is where we have to let go of the things that don’t have a place in God, all of the things that are unworthy of God, all of the baggage that we’ve acquired, all of the unresolved issues that we have that have to be gone before we are prepared to see God face to face.

Purgatory gives us that opportunity to get rid of everything that is ungodly, everything that has no place in heaven. All of the griefs, all of the grievances, all of the hurts and pains that we have acquired, they have to go, they have to be let go of in order for us to be prepared to see God face to face.

So, purgatory really is that acknowledgement that if we die today, most of us would have some things left undone. Most of us would have some loose ends that need to be tied up. Purgatory isn’t a place where our salvation is decided. That’s already a given. If you’re in purgatory, you’re good. You’re going to make it.

That is where hope comes in. Purgatory isn’t intended to cause pain to us. It’s intended to free us from anything that is not worthy of God. That is where hope comes in.

The Gospel today gives us the words we need to cling to whenever we experience doubt. Jesus tells us in plain language that the will of the Father is that Jesus not lose anyone. If that’s God’s will, who are we to get in the way of that.

The only thing that actually can fork the will of God is our own will, our own selfishness, our own refusal to accept the free gift of God’s love and mercy. Today, we pray. We pray for those who have gone before us in death that they might be able to align their will with the will of God. God’s greatest desire is to gather all of His children together. He doesn’t want to lose anybody. That’s why Jesus tells us all of these parables about the lost sheep, the lost son, the lost coin. God is that crazy person who goes madly looking for anyone who is lost so that He might find them and carry them home.

Today, we pray for all of our loved ones who have died. We pray that our prayers might be a comfort to them and that our prayers might accompany them on their journey to the Father.

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