Each season arouses a different “something,” maybe a particular emotion, drive to take action, or greater awareness of an upcoming event.
November, in particular, with its change of season, brings a certain solemness, too. More so than any other time of the year. I think the darker colors, as well as the damp and cold days, call my attention to the same thing the Church does in this season: death.
The Church even refers to November as the “Month of the Dead.” Not in the Halloween spooky way, but in a real and holy light. As the Church invites us to pray for our beloved dead, we are reminded that death is a reality for each of us; our life should prepare us for death and the hope of life after death, which springs from the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We tend to shy away from pondering these realities. Often because we fear death, so we try not to think about it. But we really should think about it and prepare, as well as remember in our daily prayers those who have died. In November, especially, the Church encourages us to do just that, and even grants an indulgence to those who pray for the dead.
Even though we are halfway through November, you can still use these last two weeks to pray for a happy and peaceful death for yourself and pray for our beloved dead. Here are five questions I invite you to ponder and pray about as we heed the Church’s encouragement for this month.
Why Must We Die?
I think it’s everyone’s experience that death just doesn’t seem right. We always need or desire more time with a loved one. If God is love, why do we have to go through such a terrible thing as death?
As you can expect, God never willed death. He didn’t even design it. Death is a result of sin. When our first parents in the Garden rejected God, they took on death as a consequence. We continue to be impacted by this. That doesn’t mean God no longer loves us. On the contrary, as Dr. Donald Demarco says, “God sent his only begotten son to die on the cross to teach us that death is not final, but, instead, prefigures eternal glory.”
What Happens After Death?
After death, our soul separates from our bodies, and we go before God for personal judgment (CCC 1021-1022). Our soul is then sent to Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell.
“The one who has faith, there should be no uncertainty about what lies beyond death, nor does one have to resolve the seeming contradiction of the spirit’s dying by merely projecting something nice and wonderful and possible afterward.”
– Father Brian Mullady, O.P.
God created each one of us for Heaven because He made us for Himself, and Heaven is where God resides. Saint Ignatius of Antioch said: “Let me attain pure light. Only on my arrival there can I be fully a human being.”
So, Heaven is our ultimate end and fulfillment. It’s where we become who we were always intended to be. Those who are free from sin and have obtained a level of purification go to Heaven after death.
Purgatory exists for souls who died in a state of grace (meaning in a mutual friendship with God) but still need purification before they can be in the eternal presence of God. All souls in Purgatory are destined for Heaven after their purification stage, which is different for each soul.
It is vital to persistently pray for souls in Purgatory since we cannot know who is there or for how long, and we should want them to attain Heaven as quickly as possible.
Léon Bloy once said, “The only true tragedy is not to become a saint.” Father Michael Serper, in response to Bloy, says, “Surely, this tragedy happens if we fall from the “state of grace.” But it is also tragic to remain just in the “state of grace” without fulfilling all the amazing possibilities that grace provides.”
Souls who freely and willingly chose to reject God and his love go to Hell. Hell is complete separation from God. Every soul was created for union with God, so eternal separation from God is why the suffering of Hell is so painful.
How Do I Live My Life in Anticipation?
We have no control over death. But we do have control over our ability to understand death and prepare for it. When I talk with my own family about death, I always bring up the fact that earth is not our home and that death (even though it came about because of sin) gets us to where we need to go: our ultimate destiny into the love of God.
Has someone ever told you to ask Saint Joseph for his intercession for the grace of a “holy and happy death”? What does a happy death entail? Simply, it’s being in a state of grace (free of mortal sin) and having an active friendship with God.
When we think of death, may we believe more in living life intentionally, and may our actions follow those thoughts. When we live a life in anticipation of death, we live an intentional life at the same time. As Catholics, a purposeful life should always include reception of the Sacraments, active involvement in family life, and service to our communities.
What Should My Attitude Be Towards Death?
It’s only natural to fear death, especially the pain and sorrow that comes with it.
“Every human being has an immortal soul, which in death is separated from the body, hoping for the resurrection of the dead (CCC 366). Death makes man’s decision for or against God definite. Everyone has to face the particular judgment immediately after death (CCC 1021). Either a purification is necessary, or man goes directly into heavenly bliss and is allowed to see God face to face,” says German Cardinal Gerhard Müller in his Manifesto of Faith.
“There is also the dreadful possibility that a person will remain opposed to God to the very end, and by definitely refusing His Love, “condemns himself immediately and forever” (CCC 1022). “God created us without us, but He did not want to save us without us” (CCC 1847). The eternity of the punishment of hell is a terrible reality, which – according to the testimony of Holy Scripture – attracts all who “die in the state of mortal sin” (CCC 1035). The Christian goes through the narrow gate, for “the gate is wide, and the way that leads to ruin is wide, and many are upon it” (Mt 7:13).
Death is something we must and need to prepare for. Not just funeral arrangements, but our souls. Primarily because of the reality of sin. We know what is to come with death, and we don’t want to be eternally separated from God. How can we use the present to prepare for that moment? If we choose God now, we will grow in strength to choose him then, too.
Why Do We Pray for the Dead?
The souls in Purgatory will eventually go to Heaven. In Purgatory, though, they go through a process of purification. While there is nothing the souls in Purgatory can do, we the faithful who are members of the Mystical Body of Christ here on earth can help speed up this purification process by praying for the souls in Purgatory to get on their way to complete union with God! What a privilege that we can help these souls through prayer, fasting, and good works.
St. Gertrude, the Great, had a devotion to praying for the souls in Purgatory. This devotion came after Jesus appeared to her, gave her a prayer with the promise that each time this prayer is recited, one thousand souls will be freed from Purgatory. How can we not join the Church in this prayer?!
Will you join me in praying that prayer as we continue through November and beyond?
“Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.”