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#PurplePurgatory…and All Shades in Between


“We must empty Purgatory with our prayers.” ~ Saint Padre Pio

Fresh off the heels of yet another thoroughly heartbreaking last second defeat on Sunday Night at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys, who took the field with a quarterback that had never started an NFL Game, the Minnesota Vikings, my favorite football team since 1976, fell to a record of three wins and four losses. 3-4 is a record that shouts mediocrity, in NFL parlance anyway. The Vikings have been a franchise that has, more or less anyway, defined the word mediocre, especially in recent years. In the wake of Sunday Night’s enormous letdown, a sports pundit who covers the Vikings tweeted out the following:

“The Vikings will never be good enough to win the Super Bowl and never be bad enough to blow it all up and start over.”

As previously mentioned, this is and has been true for the vast majority of the 45 years or so that I’ve been following them. Long time football fans might recall the likes of players such as Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, Chuck Foreman and Carl Eller. Mention any of these names to a football fan of that era and they will no doubt tell you that they were amongst the best players they’ve ever seen. In fact the Vikings appeared in 4 Super Bowls from the time period spanning 1969-1976, including 3 appearances in 4 years (‘73-‘76) a feat rarely matched in the history of the NFL. But in typical Vikings’ fashion, they lost all four games. None of the four were even close.

But it was the hashtag that appeared at the bottom of the tweet that stuck with me. In a nod to their uniform color coupled with their seemingly eternal plight, it simply read #PurplePurgatory.

All clever alliteration and grim poignancy aside, what is Purgatory? Where is Purgatory for that matter? Is it even a place, or is it instead a state of mind? The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the purgative process as “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030).

The Catechism goes on to clearly note that “this final purification of the elect is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1031). Our Catholic Faith teaches us that once a soul merits Purgatory, it has successfully escaped the eternal fires of hell. “The same fire torments the damned in hell and the just in purgatory,” explains Saint Thomas Aquinas, going on to say however that “the least pain in purgatory exceeds the greatest in this life.”

Suddenly being 3-4 doesn’t sound all that bad.

On a day in which our Church commemorates her faithfully departed, known more commonly as All Souls’ Day, one could argue that Purgatory takes center stage. After all, if a loved one, or anyone for that matter, is in heaven they are in no need of our prayers. If in hell our prayers for them are fruitless.

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For this reason, the entire month of November, All Souls Day in particular, affords those members of Christ’s Mystical Body still residing on this Earth, the Church Militant, to pray with great ardor for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, the Church Penitent. In 2 Maccabees 12:46 we’re told that “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”

Through our prayers, we can help those who have gone before us and who are now being sanctified and cleansed of whatever attachment to sin they were saddled with at the time of their passing from this Earth. I refer once again to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that "We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers" (Paul VI, CPG § 30, CCC, 958, 961-962). This speaks directly to the divine connection between the Church Militant, the Church Penitent and the Church Triumphant, those whom we celebrated yesterday on All Saints Day

“Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they?” This was the rhetorical question posed by the great C.S. Lewis. “Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into joy?’ Should we not reply, with submission, ‘Sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleansed first. It may hurt, you know-even so, sir.’”

As with everything; the blessings, the hardships, the difficult and the sublime, Purgatory too is a gift from God, designed to perfect us so that we can revel in the beatific vision and one day in the perfection of the New Heaven and the New Earth (Revelation 21:1-27). “It’s only common sense,” Mother Angelica would often say, “that we’d want to help these souls. To expedite their time in Purgatory so that they can quickly get to heaven.” Never one to allow those under her tutelage to get complacent however, Mother Angelica also famously said “Don’t shoot for Purgatory. You might miss.”

Every time you pass the cemetery be sure to offer up a prayer for the souls. Better yet, schedule planned trips to the cemetery to pray the Rosary.

“May eternal rest be granted unto them, Oh Lord. And may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithfully departed, though the mercy of God, Rest In Peace.”

Plenary Indulgences are available to those who pray for the dead at a cemetery during the early days of November as outlined here . I urge you to take advantage of this great opportunity to help a fellow soul as they complete their journey home.

Be sure to remember your family and friends, your enemies too. It is through the power of prayer, fasting and self-denial that we may help these souls to gain eternal and sublime happiness. I leave you with the words of the great Saint John Chrysostum, who saidLet us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”

Perhaps one day these grateful souls will return the favor for you?

Bring a Vikings fan just ain’t easy…

Bring a Vikings fan just ain’t easy…

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