For the Daily Double!

"God allows souls to suffer here so that they may be purified to share in His holiness."

What is Purgatory?


Whoops. Please excuse the odd locution. I'm still saddened by the death on Nov. 8 of Alex Trebek, the longtime host of the television game show "Jeopardy!" where contestants were given the answers and then tasked with coming up with the questions.

A well-mannered, no-nonsense fixture in American living rooms for 37 years, Mr. Trebek succumbed to pancreatic cancer. I miss him. My mother misses him. Many of us miss him.

This calls to mind something Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, would often say. He would mention that we should remember to pray for the eternal repose of entertainers who brought joy to our lives. We pray for deceased family members, neighbors, and friends, but what about those people we've probably never met who have meant so much to us, who have dazzled us and regaled us with their talent on the television and movie screen, or the performance stage and athletic court or field?

The first time I heard Fr. Groeschel say this, two comedians immediately came to mind: Danny Thomas and Lucille Ball. They were both known for their self-deprecating humanity and humor, and they used their popularity as a platform for their faith.

Consider this: Where would St. Jude Children's Research Hospital be without Danny Thomas? As the story goes, Mr. Thomas was a struggling entertainer trying to find work when he turned in prayer to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes. "Show me my way in life," he vowed to the saint one night in a Detroit church, "and I will build you a shrine." Mr. Thomas later said that his prayer to St. Jude marked a turning point in his life. He soon began finding work, eventually becoming one of the biggest stars in his day.

Importantly, he used his celebrity to fulfill his vow to St. Jude by spearheading the founding of the Memphis, Tennessee-based medical center that has since become a world leader on treating and defeating childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. (By the way, St. Jude's doesn't charge its patients a fee. How amazing is that?)

And what about Lucille Ball? She served as a supporter of Fr. Patrick Peyton, who famously promoted the family Rosary. It was Fr. Peyton who popularized the phrases, "The family that prays together stays together," and "A world at prayer is a world at peace." Ms. Ball even had an audience with Pope Pius XII who thanked her for promoting the family Rosary.

Let's pray for the souls of Lucille Ball and Danny Thomas. Let's also pray for the souls of other entertainers who have brought us joy throughout our lives.

This past year alone we lost the great songwriter John Prine (who penned "Angel From Montgomery" and so many other mysteriously beautiful songs that could break your heart and then rebuild it better than new). He died from COVID. May his soul rest in peace.

We lost the talented young actor Chadwick Boseman to colon cancer. We lost Sean Connery, Little Richard, Regis Philbin, Olivia de Havilland, Fred "Curly" Neal, Jerry Stiller, Kirk Douglas, Kenny Rogers, Buck Henry, Kobe Bryant, Neil Peart, and Wilford Brimley, too — just to name a few.

I'm sure you have other favorite entertainers who have died whose work delighted you, lifted your spirits, and helped instill a sense of transcendence in an otherwise ordinary day. Through God-given talents and incredible self-discipline, they may have made you more cognizant of the Divine Master who breathed life into existence.

Yes, in a roundabout way, the drumming of Neil Peart could do that. The basketball playing of Kobe Bryant could do that. They had talent that somehow seemed harmoniously tuned to the cosmic roar of creation.

Add them to your prayers.

Were all of these people paragons of Christian virtue? Most definitely not. I dare say many were what we might confidently call sinners not-yet-fully-cured, each one needing the grace of God. Just like so many of us!

But within the borders and nuances of their respective fields, to varying degrees, they gave form to what Pope St. John Paul II spoke of in his 1999 Letter to Artists: "Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savor life and to dream of the future" (16).

If these souls are in Purgatory, we can return the kind act they performed for us through their chosen livelihood. How so? By praying for them. These entertainers may have died wealthy and successful. But they might very well be "poor souls" now — poor in that they cannot help themselves to move forward in their purification in preparation for Heaven. They must rely totally on God's grace and on the prayers offered up on their behalf by the faithful on earth.

These beloved stars now rely upon our charity.

I've been praying particularly for the happy repose of the soul of Mr. Trebek who, each evening, brought a much-needed sense of consistency and stability to our anxious times. Did you know he had begun studies for the priesthood with the Trappists? Did you know he often hosted significant fundraisers in Canada and the United States? He championed good causes, including for children's healthcare, education, and the environment.

In honor of him, I pose the following — for the Daily Double:

"A common expression of gratitude."

What is "Thank you"?

Yes, "Thank you" is correct!

Thank you, Alex Trebek!