I knew our little talk about purgatory wasn’t going so well based on the size of my kids’ eyes. Thank goodness the Holy Spirit had my back.
by Becky Arganbright
Every time a relative or friend passes away, I call my kids up from their play and we pray for the repose of the soul of the one who died. We will usually pray a Hail Mary or a family rosary. Of course, doing this has led to many questions about death and what happens after we die, and if they are in heaven, why do we have to pray for them?
The day this happened, the day I had to snatch my kids out of their safe and warm cocoons of ignorant bliss, I told them about Purgatory. I don’t know if I did it right, because I saw their faces go from natural curiosity and quickly to alarm. I received the following questions:
“You mean there’s fire in heaven?!”
“You mean we go to hell?!?”
“So this place isn’t hell, but it’s not heaven?! It’s Jail?!?!”
“You mean God can’t hear our prayers??? Someone has to pray for you to get you out?!?!”
Backpedaling, I referred to our Catechism, Internet, and even stories of the saints who have visited Purgatory. “Hold on, you guys! It says here that Purgatory is a place of mercy!” I said helplessly, waving around a pamphlet on Purgatory.
Fire, isolation, and “jail” didn’t sound like a place of mercy to my kids. Needless to say, they didn’t buy it.
As I looked at the fear and anxiety on my children’s faces, I felt crushed. Everything I had worked so hard to accomplish over the years, infusing a trust that God loves them, was now somehow replaced by a fear of a vengeful God who would send you to a place of fire after you already died a horrible death.
Yet, Purgatory is real, and I knew it was my duty to teach my children this truth of our faith, even though I botched it up badly. I believed with all my heart that Purgatory is indeed a place of mercy, just like the pamphlet said. But fire does not sound like mercy. Being “jailed” after seeing the Face of God didn’t sound like mercy. I didn’t know how to explain Purgatory to my kids.
Thankfully, God sees and hears everything and I knew He was watching this floundering conversation. The Holy Spirit stepped in and helped me explain to my kids what Purgatory really is.
I began with Heaven. I told them that it’s a place of beauty, of love, of joy, and peace. It is pristine, immaculate, and holy. Everyone is good. Everyone loves. Everyone is happy. No sadness, no pain or suffering. No sin, no death! A place of perfection. My children’s faces began to relax again. “I want to go there” they talked amongst themselves, all nodding their heads in agreement.
I only touched a little on Hell, saying it was a place full of souls who don’t love God. I told them that they had no place in their hearts for God, they didn’t want His love or mercy. They chose to be there rather than with God. The general consensus from the kids: “I’m not going to Hell! I love God!” And that took care of that!
Then I focused on God’s love for us. I told them that He loves us so much that He wants to do everything possible for us to be with Him forever.Not only did He die for our sins, but He created us to live with Him in Heaven! But even though our sin is forgiven, it is still a stain. There are some sins–stains–that have not yet been cleaned from our souls. Maybe we have a habit of lying or maybe we like to gossip. Maybe we haven’t truly loved God as much as we’re able. These are imperfections–stains–that still remain on our souls. And very often, we die before these stains are completely cleansed from our souls, so we take these stains with us.
I reminded the kids how beautiful and perfect Heaven is. I asked them what would happen if God allowed all these imperfections and stains into Heaven. My children answered sadly that Heaven wouldn’t be perfect and pristine anymore.
More importantly, do we want to present ourselves to God with these stains on our souls? I asked them. Just as we want to dress nicely for church or for some important person or event, we want to be dressed our very best. So don’t we want to do this for God who is perfect and beautiful? We are created in His image, so don’t we want to be clean like He is?
I asked my children what they could do about these stains. They suggested getting rid of them. But how? I persisted. They were now facing God. They loved God and wanted to be with Him, so they did not deserve Hell. But they had these horrible stains that didn’t merit Heaven either. Where to go? What to do?
My kids looked truly perplexed. I knew they were thinking Purgatory would be the place to get rid of them but I could tell they didn’t want to suggest it. Here’s when I found my chance to show them the mercy of God through Purgatory:
God loves us so much, that even with stains on our souls, He’s willing to wait for us to be purified and cleansed so we can be with him. He’s created a place for those who want a second chance–even after death and all their chances are all used up– to be with Him. And even though there is suffering, the souls want to be in Purgatory in order to be with God again. They have seen the Face of God, and during this time, they have found all their joy to be complete. They knew after seeing Him, that they found their Home. They are willing to complete the last leg of their journey in order to see Him again, and so they gladly go to Purgatory in order to be completely white and pure, and stain free from all sin and imperfections.
They were not yet convinced. What about the fire? They asked.
The fire. Wish I never brought it up! Still, I had an answer for that.
“The greatest suffering that the souls suffer is not from the fire or isolation, but from a great longing for God.” I told them. “Now that they have seen the Face of God for themselves, and experienced such immense joy, all they want is to be reunited with Him. They are so passionately in love with Him; their hearts are literally on fire for the love of God!”
From here, our discussion went to how we can help the souls in Purgatory see the Face of God again. We talked about how a Mass said for someone who has died is the most powerful way to free a soul in Purgatory. There is no limit to God’s mercy and no limit to Masses offered for someone!
The rosary too, is also powerful. Little sacrifices made, such as eating a vegetable they don’t like is offered for a poor soul. Or saying a Hail Mary when we pass by a graveyard. Sometimes on a really hot day, the heat reminds us of those suffering in Purgatory, so we “offer a breeze” (a Hail Mary) for a soul in Purgatory. The possibilities are endless!
I think my kids very favorite way to help a poor soul though, is on All Souls Day. We go to the graveyard, and my kids “adopt a soul” to pray for that day. Then they say a Hail Mary for that person. Ideally, we try to remember the name of our adopted soul and pray all day, but at the very least, a Hail Mary is said at the gravestone.
A year later, Purgatory has been accepted by my children as a “pit-stop” to heaven. They understand it’s not necessary we go there, but that many souls do. And with this understanding, they have learned to have compassion for the souls of Purgatory and especially our own loved ones that have died. They have learned to have a passion to “get those souls out!” and bring them to the Face of God.
True, they rather think about heaven. Don’t we all? And they definitely don’t like to think about hell. But one thing that they do all agree on: they’re glad God gives second chances. And they’re thankful second chances are in Purgatory.