When I arrived back in July I began writing in the bulletin a little section called “Fun Facts with Fr. Brent.” I’m not sure how fun you think they are, but I enjoy writing them and I hope you enjoy reading them. This Thursday we printed the bulletins with this week’s ‘fun fact’ about indulgences and I used an example to try to illustrate my point: a child tossing a ball in the yard, when it accidentally breaks through a window. The point was made to show that forgiveness can take place, but that reparation must be made – the window must be fixed. I didn’t realize how strongly that imagery would strike me until Friday morning at around 1030, when Retta (our secretary) called me and said “Father, someone broke into [our mission chapel] St. Vincent’s.”
I got in the car and rode to up the chapel to find: a broken window. It turns out that someone, or multiple someones, threw something through the back window and helped themselves to the paschal candle stand, monstrance, some Mass vessels, and the candle money. After moving all of that they apparently were thirsty so they took the case of altar wine and – for no good reason – kicked the side door open to leave. The thing that hurt me the most, though, was the fact that when they threw the object through the back glass to get in, it also broke through our beautiful stained glass of Mother of Perpetual Help. In the several hours that I was here with the deputy, detective, and those helping to get things back in order, I often sat on the front pew staring at the window reflecting on my own words: we can forgive but something must be done – a window must be fixed.
I’m going to be honest and say that it’s hard to forgive. I’m trying to forgive them; I hope to be able to completely and perfectly and wish that I was holy enough to be able to do so right now. But it hurts. In the midst of that reflection I remembered a story of a monastery across the Atlantic somewhere that had a similar situation happen to them. Their church was broken into, vandalized, and robbed. Their response was what you would expect from monks: prayer. But what made the headlines was what they prayed for. They prayed that the persons responsible would have such a severe case of diarrhea that they would repent of their sin, bring everything back, and live as witnesses of the power of God. Now, I didn’t include that petition in our Prayers of the Faithful this week, but if I get a consensus from the community we might add it in the weeks to come.
In the midst of all of that commotion I was reflecting on just how much our world has lost a sense of sin and its consequences. The deputy was in shock that someone would have the guts to rob a church; I was too. And yet, that’s what our world is going to. We – all of us – can easily fall into thinking ‘Oh, that’s not a sin’ or ‘it doesn’t hurt anyone’ or ‘it’s not that bad’ or ‘God is good and forgiving’. In the midst of all of these and others such thoughts we forget the fact that sin has consequences. Just like actions in the world has legal repercussions, so too in the life of faith. But the thing is that sin doesn’t just break windows, which are easily fixed. Sin breaks relationships that are very difficult to rebuild. Almost every day I encounter people with broken relationships: siblings who no longer speak to each other, spouses sleeping in separate rooms, different friends who you know not to invite to the same gathering because it would be like lighting a match in a room full of gas fumes. Broken relationships are very difficult to heal and our relationship with the Lord isn’t all that different. Unlike our earthly relatoniships, God is always ready to take us back and forgive us infinitely. We can go 1001 times to the confessional and 1001 times God will speak those blessed words “I absolve you from your sins…” God is faithful to us and will always forgive, but there is still a ‘window’ that needs to be fixed, a relationship that needs healing. We have to show God that we want that relationship to be built up and we do it by praying more, by doing acts of charity, by offering little mortifications or sufferings to let God know that we mean what we say when we say ‘I’m sorry.’
The unfortunate part is that we don’t usually get just how destructive our sins are to our relationship with God. I’m quite sure the burglar didn’t intend to break the stained glass window when they broke through the back window of the Church, and yet they did and now we have to pay a serious price to fix it. And though we might not intend to do such damage in our relationship with God, sometimes we break something more serious than we realize in the moment and we have some extra work to do to heal the relationship. That’s the reason I hope the Lord lets me live a good long while. I’m only 30 years old but it’s impressive how much I can mess things up; I seriously think I should get a trophy sometimes for the accomplishments I’ve made in damaging my relationship with God. That’s why I pray regularly that the Lord would give me another 30 years to try to make up for what I’ve done, to help me come into a right relationship with Him again. But you know what – that might now happen. And here is where God shows us once more the infinite love and mercy that lies within Him.
|Angels 'quenching the flames of purification' from prayers of the Mass|
None of us will die perfect at the end of our life. I doubt any of us will be able to walk up to the pearly gates and say “Yep, I’ve got no sins and nothing to make up for from past faults.” We all will pass with a bit more healing needing to take place in our hearts. But God in His mercy provides a process for that: purgatory. We don’t often hear about purgatory these days and when we do it’s not always accepted quickly, but in truth it is a gift from God that we are undeserving to receive. It would be easy for God to sit at the seat of judgment and condemn every person that wasn’t absolutely perfect and ready for eternal perfect union with the Blessed Trinity. It would be easy to say “Well, you had your chance, sorry” and turn us away. But He doesn’t. Rather, He looks into our heart and judges us. If we are judged ‘worthy’ to enter Heaven eventually, then our soul is purged of those things that had separated us from God. Like Wisdom spoke in our first reading: the souls of the just are as gold purified in a furnace. Regardless of the description given to it, it is a place where our souls are prepared, our relationship toward the Father healed and perfect. When it is ready to behold God’s face, then it will take place and eternity will be our final stop.
Sin has consequences in our relationship with God, purgatory is the place where that relationship is healed, and it is reasonable to believe that some of our loved ones might still be there. And so we pray. That’s why we’re here today to celebrate All Souls’ Day – it is a day to come and pray for those who have died and aren’t yet in heaven, that the Lord would bring them there. Just as we can pray for one another, we can pray for them and God moves. Think about it, by the power of the prayer of us gathered here in this place, by the end of Mass there might well be in heaven souls who before we started Mass were in purgatory! Think about it! That’s why we’re here - to pray. So I encourage you not to miss the opportunity. Pray for all faithful souls in general, but pray for those you know by name as well. As we take the collection and bring up the offertory, pray for them to the Lord: those who have died this past year, those written in our book of remembrance, those resting in our cemetery and mausoleum, those resting elsewhere. Pray for them to receive the gift of glory today, knowing that they are praying for us to one day receive the same.