The Holy Souls in Purgatory

We Can Put a Face to Them

They are calling to us, these fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters from throughout the ages.

They built nations. They built our roads, our town halls, schools, libraries, churches, and civic organizations.

They created medicines to cure deadly illnesses. They developed technologies that made life a little less cruel for the suffering.

They produced art — paintings, music, literature, films — that redirected our affections toward the anointed realms of truth, beauty, and goodness.

They leaned into the wheel, working routine jobs to feed their families.

They belly-laughed at finely told tales.

They shook with sorrow from heartbreak.

They lived around the corner. They lived on the far side of the world.

They held a cool cloth to the head of a loved one sick with fever.

They got their hands dirty in autumn to ensure daffodils in the spring.

They were once little children, born of love.

They had fears for the future.

At times, they were troubled by their own actions.

They sometimes questioned if God really exists.

They sought love.

They desired peace.

They craved community.

They stocked the shelves at the soup kitchen.

They shook the hand of a new immigrant.

They made a little wish before blowing out the candles.

They gave anonymously to good causes.

They sang their lungs out during long, lonely commutes.

They had many dreams.

They had many regrets.

They made others feel loved.

They always went to the parent-teacher nights, to the plays, to the ball games.

They always went to the wake.

They always went to the funeral.

They sent kind notes.

They said a quiet, short prayer every time the sirens went by.

They died on a battlefield. They died in a hospital. They died at home. They died in a tragic accident. They died surrounded by loved ones. They died alone.

What they all share in common is this: They died in God's friendship. They may now be undergoing purification in Purgatory, and few pray for them.

They don't comprise some abstract reality. They don't reside "someplace else," far away and unknowable. They, indeed, remain near to us, but in a different state of being.

Many saints were given the gift to understand this — to see the departed souls as we, the living, clearly see one another.

The Founder of the Marian Fathers, St. Stanislaus Papczynski (1631-1701), had at least two intense experiences of Purgatory between 1673 and 1675. After one such experience, he told his confreres, "Pray, brethren, for the souls in Purgatory, for they suffer unbearably."

We are invited to a similar awareness — to understand that the dearly departed are not gone, but rather they're simply not visible in the same way as before. Those in Purgatory suffer continually with an intense burning of love and longing to be with God.

How many of them are there? Saint Maria Faustina (1905-1938), who had visions of Purgatory, described them as "a great crowd of suffering souls" (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 20).

The Church teaches that these souls cannot help themselves, that we must come to their aid.

Specifically, we the faithful can — and must — offer our sacrifices, prayers, Masses, corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and almsgiving for the release of the souls in Purgatory.

Like you and I do now, these souls once trod upon this land carrying with them the weight of the world.

They are calling to us.

— Felix Carroll