Today we celebrate the feast of All Souls Day. Like yesterday, we once again gather to rejoice in the communion of saints- celebrating the unbroken unity that is the Church Triumphant (those in Heaven), the Church Suffering (beloved souls in Purgatory), and the Church Militant (those of us on earth striving to reach our eternal beatitude). While yesterday’s solemnity was a joyous celebration of virtues of those saints who stand in perpetual adoration of the Lamb of God, today’s celebration is a more subdued supplication for our beloved siblings in Christ who- though saved- have yet to reach the eternal celestial joy of the saints. The Church teaches that Purgatory is the name given to that final stage of purification of the elect; a purification that those who die in an imperfect state of grace undergo before reaching blessed communion with the Most Holy Trinity. Today’s First Reading reflects the scriptural basis for this doctrine which was reiterated through the Church Councils of Florence and Trent (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1031).
“The souls of the just are in the Hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed they be punished, yet their hope is full of immortality. Chastened a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of Himself (Wisdom 3: 1-5).”
I believe with my heart that our prayers can relieve the burden of the souls in purgatory. Yes, I believe it as a matter of faith because the Holy Church teaches it; however, I also believe it because I have personally felt its fruits.
Almost eleven years ago, I lost my Dad to multiple myeloma. I was devastated. My Dad – the kids’ Grandpa George- had been my hero, and my closest friend. I used to tell him that I felt I had an inkling of what God the Father must be like, because of his humility, and gentle goodness. Dad lived with us prior to his death, and his memories were everywhere I turned. My heart was in shreds. About three weeks after his death, it was my birthday, and I was feeling particularly low. I prayed my heart out, and begged Jesus for a sign. I remember asking very directly: “Lord, I know I’m not supposed to test you, please don’t think of this request as a test. However, I really need a sign that Dad’s O.K. I need to know he’s in Heaven. Pardon me for being specific, but could I please have a single rose- a white one, just so I know he is ok? Now I don’t want a dozen red ones, just a single white rose, would let me know he is ok. Thanks Lord.”
On this cold day in February, about a half-hour after I uttered that prayer, my doorbell rang. Astonished, I opened the front door, to find a floral delivery truck- “Flowers by GEORGE!” The delivery person was standing there with a single RED rose in a glass vase. I was thunderstruck! After I stammered something to the kind delivery man, I hastily read the card (which remains in my Bible to this day). It was from a woman named Mary, whom I had met once while touring the senior living apartment my Dad had hoped to call home had he survived the bone marrow transplant. Thrilled as I was to have received an immediate answer to my prayer, I was confused. This was a single RED rose. I had requested a WHITE one. I immediately thanked our Lord, and pondered what this sign meant. Was Jesus telling me- He picked the sign, that I shouldn’t? What could this mean? I took it to mean- at the very least- that Dad was ok. I still continued to pray for the repose of his soul (and do to this day).
Over the years there would be an occasional white rose in my garden, and I’d question- whether it might be the rose of my request. Though deep in heart, I always knew prayers were needed. About seven years after Dad’s death, we had just attended the All Souls’ Day Mass at St. Boniface- the very Church where we celebrated both of my parents’ funeral Masses. I was winding though the bottle-necked crowd with seven small children in tow, and counting heads to make sure all were present and accounted. Deacon Jim was deep in discussion with a fellow parishioner as my little convoy passed by, when he abruptly interrupted his conversation. He said, “Excuse me, but this lady needs this,” and proceeded to hand me the largest, most gorgeous long-stem, single WHITE rose I had ever seen. As my tears began to fall, there was a chorus of little voices at my feet- “Mommy, does this mean Grandpa is in Heaven?” I responded that it may very well mean just that. We returned to the Church, to give thanks. Later, I brought my precious white rose to the Shrine Chapel at Holy Hill, in thanksgiving to Our Lady for her intercession.
I have pondered often the significance of my sign. Truly I KNOW Jesus answers our every prayer- not necessarily in the way we want, nor in the time-frame we want. However, He does love us deeply, and responds to our needs from His Abyss of Love. I still pray for the repose of the souls of both my parents, my father-in-law, my godson Dan, and so many other loved ones. Yet, I know they are safe, and have every confidence in the words of today’s reading, “The souls of the just are in the Hands of God, and no torment shall touch them. . . .”
Please join me in praying for the Poor Souls, and have a Blessed All Souls’ Day- M.A. JMJ