The night sky was bright with a large spring-planting-time moon. No lights were on in my house. As I drove into our small detached garage, I pictured Arnie, Niki and Tammie sound asleep in their beds. Earlier in the evening when Mom called to tell me that Daddy had died, I didn’t want to disturb my sleeping five and one year old so my husband stayed home with them.
At 31 years of age, my only experience with death had been the loss of a two month old baby twelve years earlier. That loss seemed like a long time ago and as though it had happened to someone else.
The May night was balmy without a hint of chill. As I stepped out of the garage an instinct prompted me to look up. Swooping down above my head was a huge horned owl. I watched as it glided silently up again though the night air to the roof top. Landing on the chimney, it hooted three times. I felt Daddy’s presence.
The sound of my voice startled me when I called out, “Daddy?” Staring up at the beautiful bird and feeling foolish, I questioned what I believed. The owl was not the spirit of my recently deceased father, but in some mysterious way, it seemed that he was present along with it.
After we had looked at each other for several minutes, the owl spread its wings and flew away into a different direction than it had come from. Instead of returning to a tall tree on the river bank nearby, it headed up river to an unknown destination. Again, I thought about Daddy and how he had taken flight out of this life and was now traveling away to spend eternity with Our Lord.
In the years since Daddy died, I have lost Mom, my husband Arnie, and a beloved son-in-law. I have developed a sad, stable familiarity with death. Though they are gone, they are seldom far from my thoughts.
On a recent Sunday during his homily, the priest said, “Remember that during November we should visit our deceased family members at the cemetery. Pray that if they are in purgatory, their Holy Souls may obtain plenary indulgences needed to speed their passage into heaven.”
Purgatory is not a new, radical idea. Praying for the souls of the dead is mentioned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Although Jesus died for our sins on the cross, salvation requires that we repent and ask for forgiveness. Often we are not fully contrite.
Imagine yourself working in the garden. A messenger comes and says, “Come with me immediately. You are to be the guest of honor at the wedding feast.” You look down at your clothing. Dirt is ground into the fabric. Your skin is smudged and sticky with sweat. It is unthinkable to attend the banquet looking and smelling the way you do!
What a kind and loving Lord we have to allow us to take a spiritual shower before stepping into heaven and into his presence!
After church I stopped at two different cemeteries on my way home. I prayed a chaplet of Divine Mercy for the dead in each. When these people were alive, I liked to do things for them. It made me feel good to know that I was still able to help in this way. If they were already in heaven, I asked that the graces from my prayer be used for any other souls in need. In faith I imagined rejoicing spirits ascending to heaven.
Purgatory isn’t a punishment. It is a privilege and the direction of eternity to which I want to fly at the end of this life. The alternative for a sinner is to go to hell.