Come, you who are blessed by my Father;
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Today I am going to tell you something that ought to be said at funerals. It never is said because of the grieving friends and family and because these words are for all and can be very heavy if all placed on the one person who has died, but today, All Souls Day, is an opportunity to say this more generally, without causing undo grief:
Getting into Heaven is hard.
No one is going to Heaven because they liked gardening nor because they baked very good cookies nor because they gave good advice that one time. And no one is going to Heaven because they volunteered for a few hours a week at the homeless shelter nor because they were nice to animals nor because they went to Mass occasionally.
Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor active homosexuals, nor thieves, nor drunkards, nor gossips, nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God. For we can be sure that everyone who is sexually impure or greedy has no inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.
Unless you are more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And NOT everybody who calls Jesus Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And if you have wealth, how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of Heaven! For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
No one is going to Heaven because they happen to love those who love them. What is unusual about that? No one is going to Heaven because they want to. Everyone wants to go to Heaven. Heaven is perfect and that means that only perfect can get in. Nothing unclean can enter Heaven nor anyone who does terrible things or tells lies. If you are not perfect, you cannot go to Heaven.
So thank God for Purgatory! What is Purgatory? St. Paul calls it salvation by fire. Christ does too. He tells us to avoid “Hell where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched, but everyone”, he says, “will be salted with fire.” He likens it to a debtors’ prison, where we will not be released until we have paid the last penny.
Some say that Purgatory is the imperfect soul getting used to Heaven, like a person dipping their toe in a hot bath or a cold pool. It hurts at first, but eventually we become accustomed to it and glad for the comforting hot water or the refreshing cold water. Or like walking outside after being in the dark, the light hurts our eyes at first, until we become accustomed.
Some say that Purgatory is like a gym for the soul. While the lazy souls in Hell lie down and never get up again, the lazy souls in Purgatory run 10,000 mile laps. While the gluttonous soul in Hell eats and eats until it throws up and then eats some more, the gluttonous soul in Purgatory fasts for 100 years. While the jealous souls in Hell claw at each other, the jealous souls in Purgatory have their eyes closed for a few centuries.
So thank God for Purgatory, because there is a way for the imperfect to get into Heaven: by becoming perfect. When a person dies, if they are perfect they go to Heaven; if they are imperfect and stubborn, they go to Hell; if they are imperfect but willing to change, they go to Purgatory. Purgatory is the final proof of God’s mercy – if he can get someone into Heaven, he will.
If someone gets into Purgatory, there is no chance of failure. Everyone stays there until they succeed. From Purgatory, the soul can see Heaven, so they embrace all the necessary suffering with joy, keeping their eyes fixed on the final destination. If a soul spends 10 million years in Purgatory, they know that they will have forever in Heaven. Ten million years is not even a fraction of forever.
We should understand that time in Purgatory and time on earth do not run by the same clock. So ten million years passes there and only a little while passes here. The time between the death and the funeral could be centuries in Purgatory. I know that some people put their faith in promises about being released from Purgatory on Saturdays, but in that time, as much time passes as is necessary.
So we, for our part, should pray ceaselessly for the faithful departed. Our prayers can do so much good for the souls in Purgatory. Not only today, but every day. Who knows how much time passes from one All Soul’s Day to the next? And the most powerful prayer, by far, more powerful than any special holy card you might find, is the Mass. We offer every Mass for the faithful departed. Every Mass has an intention for a soul in purgatory. Even if it is offered for some other intention, a sick person or thanksgiving or anything else, there is a separate intention for the souls in Purgatory.
And indulgences are powerful prayers too. What is an indulgence? It is a little suffering, like fasting or giving up time, that we offer to the souls in Purgatory. Just as a little time on earth is a great deal of time in Purgatory, so a little suffering here makes up for a great deal of suffering there.
It is true that there have been problems with indulgences. One kind of sacrifice is giving money to the poor, so if I collect money for the poor and tell you it is an indulgenced act, it could look like I am selling you an indulgence, which is of course nonsense. And if a few priests, hundreds of years ago, expressed this poorly, it does not void the truth.
Whether prayer or fasting or almsgiving, or any other suffering, such as a sickness or suffering injustice without complaining, we can offer it up and help the souls in Purgatory. And every suffering that we do, in addition to helping the souls now in Purgatory, counts as time off our own time in Purgatory. Every sin we commit adds to the time, even after it is forgiven, and everything we suffer subtracts from the time.
So, in summary: it is hard to get into Heaven, but easy to get into Purgatory, and everyone in Purgatory eventually makes it to Heaven. So thank God for Purgatory, and pray for those who are making their way through right now.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.