21 November 2008

Purgatory and the Scenic Joys of Oregon

Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, writes a weekly column in Catholic Sentinel, the papers that serves the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon and the Diocese of Baker, which cover the state between them. Bishop Vasa has to travel vast distances as his diocese is nearly twice as big as Mindanao and more than twice the area of Ireland. He often writes about his trips and the people he meets on his pastoral visits. He can tantalize his readers with his descriptions of the scenery along the way, such as that in Wallowa County (above) where he spent the weekend of All Saints' and All Souls' Days.

More importantly, he uses his columns to give the Church's teaching very clearly and in a truly pastoral manner. Sometimes the word 'pastoral' is used when the language used is that of 'fudge' rather than of hard truth. He writes in the second part of his latest column about praying for the souls in purgatory and I've highlighted part of his message. I've been present at too many premature 'canonizations' and, while trying to point out the goodness of persons at their funerals, without eulogizing them, I try to stress the importance of praying for them.

I have used Bishop Vasa's columns on occasion in Misyon and he has given me permission to use his material.

Trips to Diocese of Baker parishes filled with scenic joys

By Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon
BEND — It seems like a long time since I have written about a recent travel experience within the Diocese. While there have been occasions of travel within the diocese other matters have been a bit more pre-occupying and have precluded any kind of detailed travel account. This week, however, even though there is an abundance of other matters to make comment upon, I need to make a couple of observations about a recent trip to Wallowa County. The two parishes I visited are the furthermost parishes of the diocese, Saint Katherine at Enterprise and Saint Pius X at Wallowa. While I did try to watch the odometer I can only guess that the actual one-way mileage is something in the neighborhood of 340 to 350 miles. Thus I spent a good portion of a Saturday traveling there and a good portion of Sunday traveling back. It was a most enjoyable trip.

The fall colors along Highway 97, through the Columbia Gorge, over the Blue Mountains and into the Wallowa Mountains were just short of spectacular. Low-hanging, wintry clouds portended rain or even snow and softened the otherwise harsh light of the sun. Clearly it is fall. There were any number of occasions when, rounding a curve or cresting a rise a brand new fall-rewritten scene began to present itself in such a way that I tended to strain upward or right or left to get just a little more of an advance view of what was coming. Both the trip there and the return were filled with these kinds of scenic joys. The most memorable for me, however, was the area between Enterprise and Wallowa on the return trip. The clouds were a bit heavier, just a little more foreboding of the coming winter, and yet so brightly lit that they were not the least bit unwelcome. The magnificent composition of clouds and sun and mountains and river and colorful trees and intervening river valley was wonderfully refreshing.

That portion of the trip was reminiscent for me of the wonderful spirit and attitude of the people with whom I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass, share meals and swap stories. Confirmation was held on Saturday evening for the seven children of the parish of confirmation age. The number seven made it possible for me to ask one gift of the Holy Spirit from each child which proved to be easy for the first several children and a bit more difficult as memories strained both to remember the seven gifts as well as to remember which had already been claimed. It also allowed the same process for the seven sacraments with a comparable two-fold memory strain. As usual, I think I enjoyed the questioning more than the children did.

I was very pleased that, at the end of Mass on Sunday morning, a parish representative at Enterprise stood and announced the support of the parish for the Powell Butte Retreat Center. Though the parishes at Enterprise and Wallowa are located in one of the most beautiful and retreat-like parts of the state and though they are the most distant from the retreat site they recognize that we are building something for the future which serves the whole diocese and they wanted to assure that I knew of their support. I commend them for their faith.

Since my visit coincided with the celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day it was not possible to avoid the topic of purgatory. It often happens at funerals that the consoling hope that the dearly departed is in heaven with God leads to an over-exaggerated statement that the newly departed is in heaven already. This, of course, is merely conjectured and not known. It is hoped for but not certain. Nonetheless these compassionate sermons can generate within us a profound sense of peace and even joy at the thought that our loved ones are with God. This does sound wonderful but we do not know if it is true or not. Imagine yourself having just died and having discovered that all of your past attachments to sin, which were never completely denounced, have trailed you into eternity. Imagine your shock as you discover that you must now spend (by analogy) one hundred years in purgatory. Imagine your hope as you recognize that the assiduous prayers and Masses offered by your friends and relatives on earth will greatly reduce your purgatorial sentence. Finally, imagine your shock and dismay as you see your family and friends still on earth “canonizing” you and rejoicing that you have no need of their prayers because you are already enjoying the beatific vision, already seeing God face-to-face. These are the ones whom we in the Church refer to as the Poor Souls.

Undoubtedly, it is consoling for us on earth to envision our loved ones as already united with God in heaven but it is much more consoling for the poor souls in purgatory for us to presume that they are not yet fully reconciled with God. There is no harm done in praying for someone as if they were still in purgatory even if they are, in fact, in heaven. There is, by contrast, great harm done in not praying for someone because of a conviction that they are in heaven when they are, in fact, among the Poor and forgotten souls in purgatory. Put yourself in their shoes and pray for them as you will want your children and grandchildren to pray for you. A simple test. Call to mind those whom you know and love who have died in the past year. While you will certainly have recalled them many times in memory, have you also remembered on those occasions to say a decade of the rosary for them, have a Mass offered for them or gathered the family together to pray a rosary for the happy repose of the soul of that loved one? It is good to be remembered, it is better to be remembered in prayer.

All Souls Day this year was particularly poignant for me because one year ago my family and I were keeping vigil with Mom during her last days. She died on November 3 and so the approach of that one year anniversary made this year’s liturgical passage through All Saints Day and All Souls’ Day very memorable. Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. Let us remember to pray throughout the year for the poor souls in purgatory.

1 comment:

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Shortly after posting this item I came across another item on the same topic: http://wdtprs.com/blog/2008/11/a-very-sad-fr-z-and-the-promise-of-a-mass/#comments