As my friend and mentor, Cardinal Hickey, former Archbishop of Washington, advanced in years, he instructed me on what was not to happen at his funeral. “Don’t let them canonize me!” he said, “Tell them to pray for me!”
Cardinal Hickey was a man of devout prayer, virtue, who served the Church effectively and devotedly, and who loved the poor. My point here is not to canonize him but to illustrate a truth about the spiritual life. The closer we draw to God the more we recognize how glorious is His love and how much we need to be purified so as to share fully in that love. This is why Cardinal Hickey asked for prayers after his death. But those far from God may be inclined to presume God’s mercy, seeing him as a rich, kindly, but distant uncle, whom they never call or visit but who is expected to come through with their inheritance when the time comes. “God is rich in mercy” but because He is merciful He calls us to leave behind our sins so as to share in His pure, unbounded glory. During our lives on earth He calls us to the perfection of love and after death provides for our purification through “purgatory”, which remains a very consoling part of our faith.
C.S. Lewis put it this way: “Our souls demand purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into joy?’ Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know’ – ‘Even so, sir.’”
November is a time to pray for the dead, especially at Mass with the hope of eternal salvation and seeking for ourselves and for all the faithful departed the perfection of love.