What comes to mind when someone mentions “all souls?”
- people who have passed away
- all kinds of spirits – good and bad
- or perhaps a state of consciousness that exists in nothingness.
It depends on one’s belief systems.
In Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio, Virgil leads Dante into Purgatory – a place where all souls whose lives were not judged to be heinous enough to merit hell, yet not pure enough to be worthy of heaven dwell in a state of repentance until they may be united with God in heaven. Does such a place exist?
When Dante encounters these souls, they say to him, “So that, both penitent and pardoning, forth
From life we issued reconciled to God, Who with desire to see Him stirs our hearts.” Dante’s heart is moved for these “poor” souls; at which point they beseech him: “Thou be so courteous to me of thy prayers, In Fano, that they pray for me devoutly, That I may purge away my grave offenses.”
Purgatory - it’s all about mercy. Catholics believe in a merciful God that loves us so much that He endows us with a chance – not only to purge our sins, but to pray for those who need our prayers so that they may enjoy the fruits of God’s beatitude.
Most non-Catholic Christians reject the idea of purgatorio because, they say, it is not in the Bible. The book of Maccabees, found in the Bible from its very beginning states that:
“It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins” (2 Maccabees 12:46, DRA).
Only a couple of centuries later, St. Ambrose, upon the death of his brother Satyrus, writes that,
“Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life was condemned because of sin to unremitting labour and unbearable sorrow and so began to experience the burden of wretchedness. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing.”
A merciful God that did not plan for our demise from the beginning is a God that wishes for us to be reunited with Him in heaven. It is not within our human nature to be perfect, to merit heaven unconditionally. We need God’s grace, we need His forgiveness, we need to repent, to be sorry for our sins and to cleanse our souls so that we are worthy of spending eternity with God, the angels, and the saints.
The Feast of All Souls is a celebration of God’s mercy. It is a day to remember those souls, those people, who have died before us whose greatest desire is to be reconciled with God. When a living friend discovers he or she has been diagnosed with a grave illness and asks us for our prayers, would we refuse them? The Feast of All Souls is a reminder that there are many deceased friends who need our prayers – it is good that we should not refuse them as well. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. Let your perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls rest in peace with you. Amen.