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Wise people reflect, and actively prepare for Heaven. As we occupy ourselves with ordinary concerns, it's as if we are on a walkway which moves slowly towards the moment of our death. Then, the quality of our relationship with God will be revealed - or even the lack of one. Some people will see God and leap into His embrace. Others gladly surrender to purification, ashamed at not being ready for Heaven. Others continue to do what they did on earth, ignoring or despising God, and freely walking away on the steep road to Hell.
People who have really loved God have offered thanks and praise, even amidst difficulties. These, if they persevere, race towards Him when they die, impelled by love to enter His embrace. But those who have kept His laws, but have grumbled a lot, because of their worldly desires or preoccupations, must, after death, do penance for their luke-warmness before they can enter Heaven.
We are indeed blessed if we are able to reveal our souls and lives to Christ, now, in prayer, to receive guidance, consolation and forgiveness. If we die, without having lost our state of grace, but without having really surrendered to Christ, we shall have to reveal our hearts and lives to Him in Purgatory, with nothing to distract us from our shame and remorse. Far better to trust in Him now, and strive for sanctity.
Some good souls cannot go straight to Heaven. It is common to hear people say, with a smile, that they will have to go to Purgatory, that they know they are not saints. Yet it is a tragedy, in their eyes, when they arrive, to be held captive there, as they see at last what lack of love for God, or laziness, kept them from achieving real holiness. What remorse they feel there, when they see that they could have become worthy to leap straight from earthly life into the embrace of their Saviour, Jesus.
Some Catholics believe that Purgatory is no more than a peaceful ante-room before Heaven. There are deep caverns of Purgatory, however, where those who led sinful lives but were saved at the last moment by the Last Sacraments are permitted by our merciful God to do the penance they failed to do on earth. They enter Heaven, later on, in humility and gratitude.
It is true that Holy Souls in Purgatory are safe in God's care, and certain to go to Heaven when they have been made ready to enter. But some are so long in Purgatory that they look on, over and over again, as other souls speed away to Heaven. It's as if those guilty of grave sin, but saved at the last moment of life by the Last Sacraments, have to watch one train after another go to Heaven without them. Their purification is very lengthy. They, especially, need our prayers.
We should remember that the Holy Souls are still members of the Church. We can picture the forgotten souls in Purgatory as being in the deepest valleys, between mountains, in a vast underground area that we cannot enter but that we can penetrate by our prayers. We can help the Holy Souls by the prayers we offer for them in Christ's name; and we can assure them that they are not forgotten.
Many non-Catholic Christians will be embarrassed, after death, as they realise what a dreadful error they have made in their refusal to honour Our Lady or to seek her help, as they drew a curtain over the most important Christian devotions of the first centuries. They will see just how much Christ loves His Mother.
The Church is a Divine Institution composed of sinful human beings on earth as well as Saints in Heaven and Holy Souls in Purgatory. To refuse to believe in the Church or the Papacy because some Popes were very sinful is as strange as to refuse to believe that public transport should be abolished because some conductors are immoral or that all schools should be shut because a few head-teachers prove unfit to be in charge of children.
We are foolish if we joke about 'a few years in Purgatory'. Those of the faithful who die in grace but are unworthy to enter Heaven go to Purgatory, as if along a dim corridor. Each realises that he is safe, but groans with sorrow and regret at how lukewarm had been his love for God, and how foolish and disobedient he has been.
Helped by our prayers, offered in the name of Christ, the Holy Souls make their way towards Heaven. All those who are about to be welcomed into Heaven are by now carefree, purified, and no longer remorseful or saddened by their sins. They see Heaven as an undeserved free gift, so their hearts and minds are full of thanks and praise - just like the Saints whose company they are about to enjoy.
Some souls lead lives of such resolute self-will that, instead of being full of Divine warmth and glory they are like snowy waste-lands, where the snow is frozen on the trees, or even like those places in Siberia where the permafrost never melts. These souls will need a lengthy purification in Purgatory - if they die in a state of grace; not mortal sin. Their love for God has grown very cold.
We should not forget our departed friends and relations. The Holy Souls in Purgatory are safe in God's care, as their purification prepares them for the glory of Heaven; yet they yearn to benefit from our intercessary prayers. They are helped to move closer to Heaven, by our prayers for their souls, as we pray in the name of Christ, Who wants everyone to act, to help them.
God wants us all to help one another, yet there are souls in the depths of Purgatory who have never been prayed for by their Protestant relations who do not believe either in Purgatory or in prayer for the deceased. But when we pray for the dead it's as if we let down a rope, to help people to rise up towards Heaven. We need to share reminders about the importance of such prayer.
It is a great grace for a lapsed Catholic to receive the Sacraments of the Church before death. This can change that person's eternal destiny, from being hopeless - if he or she was in a state of mortal sin - to being glorious. It's as if Christ carries that soul upwards, even if the soul must spend a while in Purgatory before reaching Heaven.
It is a cause for concern, when someone is following the Way of Christ, and had seemed willing to continue, but keeps pausing, wasting time, as he puts off doing the good things that he needs to do, to be worthy to enter Heaven joyfully rather than have to suffer in Purgatory. The temptations which threaten to overcome us could lead to our falling into the Abyss, nearby, and rising Eternal Loss.
If we are in need of purification in Purgatory, when we die, we should welcome it, because we would be unable to bear the sight of God's glory; so our purification can be seen as a sort of acclimatisation. When we are ready, we emerge, joyfully, longing to enter Heaven, just as a diver ends his slow acclimatisation by bursting joyfully though the surface of the water to be greeted by his friends.
We should rejoice, if we have the relics of a Saint amongst us. We should ask for the prayers of the Saints, and receive their wonderful help, which is God's help poured through them. No matter how little-known some are, each Saint is now glorious in Heaven, and is a powerful intercessor for members of the Church: for those of us on earth, and for those in Purgatory.
Whenever we offer up our sufferings, willingly accepting them in union with Christ in His Passion, we can know that we win graces for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, or for people on earth who are trapped in sin. We enable someone, somewhere, to leave gloom behind and to move towards the light of Heaven. We do their penance, for them.
Through the goodness of God the Father and the merits of His Son, our Lord, we can help the Holy Souls by our prayers, including those who usually have no-one to pray for them. We can help them towards Heaven, where they are greeted, and welcomed into glory, to join the Saints at God's Heart. It was with a similar welcome that Christ greeted the Saintly Souls, such as prophets and patriarchs, in the underworld, after His death and before His Resurrection; and He told them that their long wait was nearly over.
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