Sunday, November 27, 2011

All Saints, All Souls, Death, Purgatory, Hell, Heaven. (Phew!)

Hello Ladies,

In honor of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, which were November 1st and second respectively, I will be writing about the Catholic beliefs about death and explain what I mean when I say that it is a mother's duty to make her child fit for the kingdom of heaven. Let's go!

All Saints' Day

When I was growing up I wasn't all that impressed with this feast day. To me, a saint was someone who died horribly hundreds or thousands of years ago. Sad and tragic? Certainly. But I certainly wasn't going to be killed for refusing to marry a rich pagan. Sure, the stories were cool but it was more like reading folklore than finding anything in common. And to ask for intercession from these people? Why not go directly to Jesus?

Ok, so the Catholic church is really, really old. And people have gone through a lot to live their faith for a long, long time. You would think that I would have been a bit wiser in my assumptions but I wasn't. I just wasn't all that interested.

Until my beloved grandmother died. Ladies, she was a remarkable woman who turned the most isolating, hopeless situations into opportunities to do good. As a child I thought it was easy for her to be virtuous because it was her. It was only when I was a young woman that she admitted her fears and weaknesses to me. She told me of the times when she thought she couldn't cope. She told me of the dark days when she was literally battling for her life and she still had to raise her children and keep a farm running by herself because my grandfather worked and there were no close neighbors. She told me of the time when she had to carry two young children over a mile to the nearest busy road because her daughter was choking and she had to hitchhike to the nearest hospital to save her daughter's life. And it wasn't easy. Not one little bit of it. In short, she taught me what it is to have true, profound faith in God. She wasn't perfect. She didn't try to be. But she was faithful and it served her well.

I realized that this woman, who nursed me while I was sick and taught be about grace and forgiveness, would continue to do so after her death. I know that she was ready for her suffering to end but not to leave those she loved so much. What would heaven be for her if she had to leave us 'for good'?

The communion of saints suddenly made sense. I know that my grandmother, who struggled so much in life, is now in a place where she can love and guide me more freely. I firmly believe that she guards not only me but also my own children whom she never had a chance to meet in this life. I believe that she knows all about them and takes great joy even in their tantrums (which is more than I can say for myself).

So if I can turn to my grandmother in time of need, why not St. Joseph who guarded over the holy family? Why not St. Thomas Aquinas who struggled through his schooling and was mockingly called the 'dumb ox'? Why not Blessed Mother Teresa who gave her life for the poor? Or St. Monica, patron saint of wives, mothers, and abused women? Or Our Lady who gave even her own child to God?

I'm not saying that you shouldn't go to Jesus in your need. But the saints have been there, done that, as they say. Their struggles are wonderful examples of faith beating the odds. Jesus never said that we should never go to friends for help.

On All Saints' Day the Church comes together to honor those saints, like my grandmother, who led holy lives but are not known widely enough to be canonized. The Church, in her wisdom, does not pretend to have a monopoly on saints. All Saints' Day reminds us that we are all called to be saints. It is in our very nature to say 'yes!' to God. We are, after all, made in His image and likeness. We stumble. We fall. We persevere. That is the message of All Saints' Day.

All Souls' Day

If we are bound together through the ties of love to the saints in heaven, then it stands to reason that we are bound to those we love who are in Purgatory.

For Catholics, purgatory is a place where the soul is purified before she, the soul, can take her place in heaven. Mystics say that after death, the soul, unencumbered by a body and worldly distractions, sees God. If she is not bound for heaven, the soul joyfully plunges herself into a state of purgation. She is joyful because, beholding God's forgiveness, she can no longer offend God and no longer wishes to do so. Her will and the will of God are now one. She sees her own transgressions and willingly submits herself to God's mercy. Her gratitude knows no bounds.

There is a great deal of discussion amongst theologians as to the amount of suffering that goes on in purgatory. For some it's like a spa for the soul. For others it's a place of suffering but with the realistic hope of attaining heaven. Perhaps it depends on the soul. Theologians do agree on the following: It is the soul who casts herself into purgatory and not God and the souls in purgatory cannot pray for themselves. It is possible that the souls in purgatory can pray for us and it is said that once a holy soul, as they are called, attains heaven though the prayers of those on earth, that the one who has offered the prayers has a true friend in heaven. Sadly, the devotion to the holy souls has waned in recent years. Who wants to think about death, or sin, anyway?

I will not say much more about purgatory here but will refer you to an earlier post entitled For the Good of Us Both.


Ah, yes. Hell. You notice that there are no days honoring or praying for the souls in hell. This is because hell is for the people who have systematically and knowingly cut every tie to every loving relationship. They don't want our prayers. They want to be right. God is Love. If you are in a loving relationship you are automatically in a relationship with God. Many times it is possible to pick out people who are hell-bent. They are selfish, nasty, vindictive, petty, and self-righteous. They never admit a mistake and nothing, and I mean nothing you do will ever be enough. They are, in short, incapable of joy.

Years back I was friends with a woman who, unfortunately, I have since lost contact with. Her father died when she was young. I remember her describing the event as something blessed. He died in peace with his family around him. The room seemed light and warm. Nobody wanted to leave and even the hospital staff took their time removing the body. Everybody felt honored to be there.

She told me that when her mother died things couldn't have been more different. Before her death, the mother would wake from horrible nightmares that she was totally alone in a cold, dark place. She was forgotten and unloved. (According to my friend, her mother was a nasty piece of work. Yet my friend persevered in lovingly caring for her mother during her final illness.) My friend told her mother that this was a blessing from God; a sign telling her to repent and for once accept love into her life. The mother told my friend that that was 'crazy talk' and was determined not to die. But die she did. The room was ice cold in spite of the heater and dark in spite of the windows. The ambulance was called immediately to take her to the morgue and the attendants were eager to "wrap her up and get her out of there".

The Role of the Mother
Looking at my children it is impossible to imagine them in hell. They are so sweet. So innocent. Even the tantrums can be chalked up to lack of food or sleep, being overwhelmed, or a stage of development. And this is exactly true. They are children. But they will not be children forever.

I have always maintained that the role of the mother is to make her children fit for the kingdom of heaven. No matter what her situation, her choice or need to work outside the home or otherwise, she is responsible for her children. Many mothers don't understand this. They want their children to be "happy" and "successful".

I have no problem with kids being happy and successful. The pursuit of happiness used to mean being able to follow your dreams of becoming: becoming independent, being allowed to fully realize your potential without having somebody take it away on a whim. These days it's about 'having it all'. I know women who, feeling that they were cheated of their right to education, work, or sexual freedom, mistakenly instill in their daughters (or sons) that that is all there is.

Here is an extreme example: When I was in high school there was a girl who was 14 years old. Rumor had it that she had been having sex with several of the boys and had an abortion. I also heard (it was a small school so it is probably true) that she attempted suicide later that year. I did hear, while in the school office, her mother saying that she was shocked that her daughter was so depressed because her daughter was raised to be "enlightened, assertive, liberated, and successful". The secretary to whom the mother was speaking looked incredulously at the mother and stated "and do you think that having sex is making her happy or successful?". The mother looked shocked, stammered, and literally stormed out of the office slamming the door behind her.

There are so many directions I could go with this. I have rewritten this paragraph several times. I think that I will simply state that we, as human being and mothers, must always remember that God wishes us to be inheritors of heaven. The way to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven is to be a saint (which we are all called to be). The path to sainthood, to heaven, is a path traveled in the company of God. There. You don't have to live a secluded life. You don't have to fast for forty days. You might never have an ecstatic vision. But rest assured, heaven is the destination for the faithful. And our children are watching us.

I have heard it said that Mother is the name of God on a child's lips.

Ladies, one day we will die. One day our children will die.

Will we be the type of mother who believes that everything our child does is ok because it's our  child? Ok, yes, each one of us deep down truly believes that sunlight does shine from every one of our child's orifices. If we didn't we would sell our children for scientific experiments in return for a good night's sleep. But does that excuse raising our children to be strangers to God? Is, as the mother of the above example, correct in her assertion that worldly freedom is just a right of passage?

Scripture clearly states not. In Luke 15:11-32 (The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother), Jesus clearly states how the father perceives his son who rejected the love of his father and squandered his inheritance. "for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!" Did the father say that the son was going through a rite of passage? Using his rights? Going through a phase? No. The words 'death' and 'life' were very intentional.

So how do we raise our children to be fit for the kingdom of heaven? I know one mother who raises her children to call God 'papa' and to go to Him in their need. When I pray with my son I begin with 'friend Jesus'. (This gets interesting when he's praying to get his confiscated toys back.) I know one mother who was raising her child to kneel before a crucifix and say the rosary every day. I don't have the solution. Look for me and my kids in heaven in about a hundred years. If we're not there you know I couldn't figure it out.

But if I had to guess? I would say to teach them to love God. Love others. And be grateful.

Good luck, Ladies. This will be the most important thing we will ever do.

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