Both my grandfather and uncle were good men, though neither was particularly devout. My grandfather enjoyed his solitude, and would frequently escape to his work shop when his grandchildren came to call. (Most often my sister Kate would follow, and she was inconsolable at his death.) My Uncle Dicky would always keep peppermints and quarters in his pockets, and call loudly for us as he entered the house for Sunday dinner. He was such a large man that hugging him was a physical impossibility ... but we knew he loved us.
As I heard the first reading this morning -- from the Book of Wisdom (3:1-9), my thoughts returned to these two men and to my grandmother, as she completes the final stage of her journey toward heaven. The reading, which is a succinct teaching of purgatory, speaks not of judgment so much as hope.
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.... they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.
"They shall dart about as sparks through stubble ... grace and mercy are with his holy ones." For many of those who believe themselves on the fast track to heaven, the teaching of purgatory sounds like a repudiation of the love and mercy of God and the sufficiency of the Cross. In reality, purgatory is mercy itself, the tender ministrations of a loving God who never loses sight of the perfection He wants to restore in us, His beloved children.
And so, today I'd like to offer this prayer for those Christians who find themselves in this "gray town," with no one to "pray them home." I offer it today for my grandparents, and their families -- lifelong Protestants who loved God as best they knew how.
we offer up to you our heartfelt intentions,
united with the merits of Your precious Son,
whose death ransoms and restores every soul
who calls upon Your name.
We seek Your mercy,
not only for ourselves but also for those
wandering in darkness, mystified and alone.
Send Your angels to guide them through
the water and the fire, till every blemish fades.
And when we meet again,
may we rejoice eternally not because we were right,
but because You are righteous.
And may we adore You
not because we escaped the fires of hell,
but because You are the true and lasting light.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
especially those who did not believe in life
that they would need our prayers in death.
Dear Jesus, be with those we love.
Especially those imperfect souls we loved best
while they were with us.
(c) 2006 Heidi Hess Saxton