A middle-aged man in a wheelchair approached the checkout of St Patrick’s Basilica bookstore in Ottawa. Seeing his need the clerk offered to help him with the items he was purchasing. His reply, in a joyful, playful tone: “Thanks, but I’ve got a long purgatory ahead of me.” The back and forth smiles and chit chat continued as the clerk, who knew him well kept me reflecting on the mystery of purgatory.
In my amazement, I asked the Lord what he thought? In the silence of an apparent non-reply, I felt that he was a candidate for a Purgatory exemption. While scanning books on Saints I began to see how I based my opinion on his being chained to a wheelchair due to some disability he’s been carrying. I compared it to my ease of movement and athletic gifts and therefore considered how long a Purgatory I have.
Suddenly, it seemed that our Lord was responding by channelling my thoughts away from human thinking into the mystery of the Father’s love and Mercy which I and the young man have experienced. All the book titles on the Saints and their writing steered me toward wonder and amazement of God’s love.
Nevertheless, even when we’re showering in the waters of mystical wonder, we think and speak in limited ways, because all of us have gone astray singing together every Easter Vigil, “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam that gave us so great a Redeemer.”
I tend to think more about my failures and sins as the measuring tool God uses for my after-death cleansing. I also tend to use the same tool to measure his judgement on others which he has told me never to do. I need to remember his mercy and love, his constant rescuing, consoling, even his discipline, and yes his yoke and burden he places on my shoulders which, as he told us is “easy and light”. And yes Jesus loves us, the Bible tells me so.
I abandoned my futile assessment of the Lord’s Purgatory timespan, my heart giving way to remembering his tender mercy from generation to generation. I embraced that wheelchaired child of God and his humble statement for what it is, a playful, even joyful word on the beauty of purgatory which sprang from a heart loved by so great a Redeemer.
Today is just a few days after All Souls Day. I’ve attended five funerals since August, the fifth on October 31 where I was a pallbearer for Jackie Duncan who happened to be buried next to my Mom. Four friends from Madonna House were buried in their cemetery by the Beautiful Madawaska River; Jackie’s funeral Mass was celebrated just a few steps from there at Holy Canadian Martyrs Church. Each funeral Mass and burial has given a wonderful closeness to death, Christ’s “last enemy to be destroyed” Saint Paul tells us. (1Corintians 15:26). How beautiful it is, O Lord, to taste your goodness in the harsh experience of life’s mortality singing, “I know my Redeemer lives and on the last day I shall rise again.” Your last enemy has taken those we love, yet each according to the unique gifts you gave them has carried your love to others, an everlasting love.
Surrounded by such mortality I haven’t reflected on Purgatory much, leaving that mystery to the One who brings us close to the incomprehensible mystery of His Love. Instead, I’ve been absorbing day by day St Catherine of Genoa’s words taken in part from Magnificat’s November 2 meditation:
“I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in purgatory except that of the saints in paradise; and day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls, more and more as the hindrance to His entrance is consumed.”
I’ll be travelling to Burlington in three days to attend another funeral, this one for a close friend’s father. Holy Mother of the Eucharist, how do you do it? Mark’s birthday falls on visitation day for his Dad. The funeral falls on November 11, Remembrance Day, one of my favourite days of the year which I place in the liturgical calendar right next to St. Martin of Tours who is often referred to in Remembrance Day services. Thank you, Mother of God, for making me aware of Jesus’ Mercy and care for Mark’s Dad and his family. And thank you for surrounding them with the mantle of your love.
I won’t be pondering Purgatory at all. Instead, I’ll be drawing close to Christ in Isaiah’s description of the One who was “crushed for our sins”, so that we might live. What a Love to behold that is. What a Love to bow before and give our all for.
But he was pierced for our offences.
crushed for our sins.
Upon him was the chastisement
that makes us whole,
by his stripes, we are healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
each following his own way;
but the Lord laid upon him
the guilt of us all.
(Isaiah 53: 5-6)