By Janet Bradford, St. Francis parishioner
I was sitting on the edge of my seat torn between wanting to write down everything he said or just intensely listen and trust I would remember it later. I had never in my life heard anyone talk about the consequences of sin like this man did. I was at the 2010 Christ Our Life Conference, captivated by speaker Marino Restrepo.
While home visiting family in Colombia over Christmas, this playboy in the entertainment industry was kidnapped by Colombian guerrillas, tortured, and sentenced to die. While awaiting his death sentence with hands tied and a hood over his head, he had a mystical experience – an ecstasy where Jesus revealed to Him his sins. Marino was standing in a lake with water up to his waist. In front of him was a rock with a head of a man looking sideways. He didn’t know who it was at first. He looked down at the water where he saw fog hovering over it. When looking at it more closely, he realized that the fog were the spirits of evil of his sins. His soul knew them all. He looked to the left of the lake and saw the evil spirits go down into an abyss. He could see how deep down he had gone with his sins. He looked up to the man on the rock. It was his guardian angel showing him everything in the lake. The rock was filled with light and the light was Jesus. He couldn’t look at Him because he was standing in the midst of the darkness of his sins. On the right side of the rock was a presence. It was the Virgin Mary. He felt connected to her like a spiritual umbilical cord. Everything flowing out of his heart toward the Lord was going through the umbilical cord from Mary. After awhile, he was able to look up but was blinded by the light. Little by little, he was able to see the figure of Jesus in the light. He was rescuing Marino from the darkness of his sins.
He awoke from his ecstasies and remained a prisoner for five more months. During those months, while physically and psychologically tortured, he worried about his salvation and longed for confession more than freedom from his captors. After those five months, he was freed whereby at the first opportunity he went to confession. He then abandoned his life in the entertainment industry and became a Catholic Lay Missionary. Jesus appeared to him several years later saying that everywhere he was to travel was chosen ahead of time by Him and that every person that was to listen to Marino speak was chosen by Jesus by name. What Marino was describing was Purgatory.
To this day, it is hard to describe what happened to me during that talk in regards to the souls in Purgatory. I now longed to help them whereas before it was just a teaching of the church that I believed in ‘sort of kind of’ thinking about it ‘now and then’ with the ‘ole thumbs up and hearty nod of approval. I was all in now. This is a realm of people who desperately needed me (all of us on this earth) to pray for them. God’s love for them coursed through me after Marino’s talk. My heart ached knowing that most of them probably didn’t see it coming that the results of their inordinate focus on the pleasures of earthly life (sins) would land them there unable to be immediately and fully in God’s holy and perfect presence.
I learned as I dove into the church’s teaching on Purgatory that this state is an extraordinary act of God’s mercy and love. “The Church is clear that purgatory exists as a gracious gift of God’s love, a masterpiece of his supreme mercy. God loves us more than anybody else and more than anybody can. He burns for love of us and his love is likened to fire: ‘The Lord your God is a devouring fire’ (Dt 4:24) Purgatory exists because of God’s love AND his incomprehensible holiness. It’s his love that cleanses and purifies us to be able to stand before his presence. Because of our sin and selfishness we need purification and healing. This is a loving purgatory, not a purgatory of punishment.” (P 21 Praying with the Saints for The Holy Souls in Purgatory. Susan Tassone)
The souls in Purgatory cannot do anything for their deliverance. How important the redemption of the poor souls was for Therese Neumann shows in the bequest to her brother, Ferdinand: “Do not forget the departed. Pray every day for the departed, not only pray, but offer all difficulties coming on to you for the departed. As long as they are alive, we care for them and try to help them. Now, when they need our help, we usually don’t think of them anymore. But they are waiting and need our help. They cannot help themselves. However, now, being in the next world, they are closer to us than ever before they could be when alive.”
Fast forward to 2021. What am I doing to help the poor souls? On November 2nd, All Souls Day, the church focuses exclusively on honoring the poor souls. An indulgence is granted the Christian faithful who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray for the dead. This indulgence is applicable only to the souls in purgatory. It is plenary from November 1-8 and can be gained on each one of these days. Every year, I pick a cemetery during those first eight days of November and walk a section praying the rosary and/or reciting the seven penitential Psalms. (6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, 142).
I vary it up and pick a different cemetery or a different section of one I have visited before, bundle up, walk, and pray. One year, I mapped out several rows of gravestones, making sure I did not miss a single one in the row, walking all the way to the very end where a ground crew might have missed a weedy patch obscuring a flat, forgotten stone.
Another prayer I recite for the souls is the Gloria while playing the piano for Mass. While my fingers glide over the keys, I sing along with the souls in mind. That one gets a little tricky though because I don’t want to mess up the singing for the souls alive and worshiping in the pews!
My sensitivity to the departed souls has led me to a greater devotion to the Virgin Mary. “Blessed Alanus writes that many of the brethren had appeared to them while reciting the rosary, and had declared that next to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass there was no more powerful means than the Rosary to help the suffering souls. Numerous souls were released daily who otherwise would have been obliged to remain in purgatory for years.” St Alphonsus Liguori
During the last decade of the mystery of the day, I name every soul I know personally asking Mary to comfort them and Jesus to forgive them. The list is getting longer since I am getting older!
I also have a Mass said for my Mom twice a year who died in 2015 of pancreatic cancer. The Holy Mass is the highest act of worship and the highest form of prayer. “From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead by offering prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.” CCC 1032
My Mom’s death left a huge aching hole in my heart, but I have felt spiritually closer to her now than I ever did when she was alive. If she is in Purgatory (she did have last rites and confession and had made a commitment to a relationship with Jesus before her death), she is needing prayers and I am so honored, willing, and fervent in my commitment to be co-caught up in God’s merciful plan for her through these prayers and the Mass so she can be escorted by her guardian angel to heaven. This is the greatest act of love I could ever do as her daughter as she and I exist together in the ‘thin places’ – that fine line between earthly beings and heavenly souls as she prays for me and I pray for her.