by Michael Podrebarac
“O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy.”
I’ve always loved this prayer, revealed to the children at Fatima by the Blessed Virgin Mary. I offer it several times each day, because it is in part a prayer full of hope, that even those “most in need” of God’s mercy might possibly be saved. We should never cease in our prayer for those “most in need” of the grace and mercy of God, for God’s loving will for our salvation excludes no one, as he “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4).
Of course, hell is a reality, our Blessed Lord taught us. And while God wills that all come to him and be saved, we are sobered by the thought that, ultimately, we are free to choose or to reject God. We cannot ignore this important prayer — that those who refuse to seek him, or having found him, refuse to follow him, will be drawn into that conversion which leads all to the free gift of his merciful grace. We must always pray for those who seek him “with sincere hearts” (Eucharistic Prayer 4). We pray also for those who have died in the friendship of God, but who must continue the journey toward his radiant face through the purification known as purgatory. Purgatory is not some sort of “second chance” to be saved after this life. The souls in purgatory know well that they are saved; this is their chief consolation. Purgatory is the frank admission that some will leave this earth eager to see God’s face, but in need of the requisite holiness to behold that blessed vision. Holiness is the goal of purgatory. Purgatory has always made sense to me. It’s always seemed reasonable that there will have to be something different between the me who is here now and the me who will be able to take in the sight of God’s holy face. That difference is accomplished in purgatory. Perfect holiness in this life is the only alternative.
Think of it this way. Waking in the middle of the night, our throats dry, we stumble toward the bathroom for a drink of water. We turn on the light. Ouch! The light is blinding, actually causing us pain. It takes a while for our eyes to adjust to its brightness. In time, it is accomplished. We are refreshed.
Dying in the friendship of God, our soul’s eyes may nevertheless be incapable of adjusting to the brightness of God’s face, a brightness we can only imagine. His radiance is blinding, so beautiful that, to eyes that have been accustomed and even content with darkness, it causes pain. In time, our souls are purged of their familiarity with darkness, and, supplied with holiness, they come to see God clearly. We are refreshed.
Even in this life we can strive for the holiness necessary to see God upon our deaths. St. Thomas More prayed that he might have the grace of God “gladly to bear my purgatory here.” Our penance on earth prepares us for heaven.
Pray for the poor souls who, still in this life, seem undeterred in their quest for hell. Pray for those poor souls who, still in this life, seek God with sincerity, struggling nevertheless along the way. Pray for the poor departed souls in purgatory, that their time of adjusting to the brightness of God’s face may be swift. And pray that God may have mercy on all of us poor souls!
Michael Podrebarac is the archdiocesan consultant for the liturgy office.