By Martha Pezo-Marin
If we are sure of something in this life, it is that sooner or later we are going to die. We like it or not, I think that we should meditate upon death, and specifically, meditate upon our death.
When speaking about death does not get us nervous or terrify us, but fills us with a great desire for its arrival, it is then that we can say that we are on the right path and that we have found the true meaning of what in reality death is: a door, a step to a new life, the Life that Jesus Christ promised us.
The day we commemorate the souls of the faithful departed and the entire month of November are opportunities the Church offers us to remember our beloved ones that have left this world. On this occasion, I want to think about the faithful departed and their closeness with God. Purgatory is presented to us as a place filled with a multitude of souls that are waiting to be purified before entering into eternal life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly explains: “All who die in God’s race and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death, they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC #1030). The Church teaches us that our prayers help in this process of purification and presents it to us as a spiritual work of mercy: “Pray to God for the living and the dead.” Many souls have people that pray for them, while others might not have anyone who remembers them and they will have to stay in purgatory for more time, expiating their faults.
Not too long ago, I attended the funeral of someone not very close to me but for whom I felt morally obliged to go because of her important role in the parish community. As many can imagine, I have attended many funeral Masses to say the last “good-bye” to the deceased person and to accompany the family in their time of pain. I’m also sure that you can remember the speeches at the end of Mass when a family member or close friend gives a summary of the deceased person’s life and points out their virtues and great works done in life. In this moment, all the bad memories are forgotten.
Going back to the example I was speaking about, in the funeral Mass that I attended, the person who gave the goodbye discourse was one of the granddaughters, now an adult, who had had a very close relationship with her. She underlined the personal virtues of her grandmother, who used them well amongst her family and at the service of her neighbors in need. She did this with her words and simple examples of her everyday life. Then a co-worker of hers, that had shared many years of work with her, stood up to also point out her human virtues of friendship, companionship, service, responsibility, etc. She asked the other coworkers present to stand up in honor of her. I was shocked by everything that I was observing and hearing, and I thought about the extensive “curriculum vitae” with which she was going to present herself before God. Like a popular Spanish saying says, “She went to heaven with her shoes and everything”. But in reality, we cannot know this because we only judge with human parameters and our mentalities.
The death of someone should be an occasion to meditate upon the meaning of our lives, what we have done or not done. It is also a time to meditate upon the meaning of our own death with hope in the resurrection for eternal life, like we say in the Creed. God, who is just and merciful, knows how He is going to judge each one of us according to the gifts and talents that He has given us. There are many passages in the Gospel where we find Jesus speaking about the Final Judgement and what we should do to gain eternal life. We cannot reach this encounter with our hands empty or half-full. Is it possible that God will ask so much of us? I will answer this question with the same words that Jesus said when he narrated to his disciples the parable of the faithful and prudent servant, and He concludes saying, “That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” (Lk 12: 47-48). It sounds a bit harsh, but here we find the answer to what we need to discern what God expects from us in this life.
Jesus was very clear when He said that to whom much has been given, much will be asked of him. We have to start by recognizing the talents that God has given to each one, and make them grow and fructify. We cannot ignore them because it is more comfortable or convenient, because that would be going against our own conscience, and our conscience is what permits us to know the will of God. Some say that it would be better to know less or to have fewer talents so as to avoid the great responsibility implied, but that is very comfortable position and a “lukewarm” behavior that God rejects.
Speaking about purgatory and heaven, one finds that there are many after death experiences that others have lived where they have seen purgatory or maybe a bit of Heaven, but then they have returned to life on earth. I want to share with you an experience that my mother had when she had a brain operation in 2011. I think this story can help us penetrate a bit more into the mystery of Purgatory. She remembers that during the operation, when she was unconscious, she had the experience of seeing Purgatory and Heaven. She found herself walking on a path with many plants and full of flowers. All of a sudden, she found herself before a big door. She knocked on it, it opened and she entered. It was Purgatory and a middle-aged person asked her her name to look for it in a big book that he had in his hands. When he found her name, he let her pass. She saw that there was a great multitude of people who were praying out loud and she united herself to those prayers. What surprised her was that there were all adults, of different races and skin colors, but there were no children. After a while, two angels appeared in front of her and led her to a different door. It was Heaven. There she saw another person, who seemed to be young, dressed in white. In her own words, my mother told us, “This person called the angels to dress me in white. Here I saw more people and they were all dressed in white and of all ages: children, youth, adults, and elderly people. There was an infinite number of stars on an esplanade that radiated great light. Everything was happiness. I couldn’t think of anyone or anything.” When she woke up from the operation, she was confused and didn’t know where she was. She would have liked to stay there, but God decided to leave her on earth for a bit more time. She is grateful to God for having permitted her to live this experience and she recommends that we should always have God in our hearts and radiate joy, giving thanks to God for everything that happens to us, good or bad.
As a personal thought we should try to dedicate more time to our spiritual life. We shouldn’t settle for just being good Christians, people who carry out religious practices. Rather, we should negotiate with the talents and gifts that God has given us, so that the day He calls us to His presence we can go with our hands filled with good works. And while we live in this world, we cannot forget to pray for the souls of the faithful departed (those we knew personally and those we did not) with the hope that they will do the same for us when they pass on to eternal life.
© HM Magazine; nº205 November-December 2018