Perfect Fire

j0438992Today is the Feast of All Souls, the time when we remember loved ones who are on their final journey toward God in the shadowlands of purgatory. It is the final purification, the “testing by fire” (1 Peter 1:6-7) that begins for most of us in this life, and must be completed before we are ready to see God. This work of perfection is sheer grace — but it also costs us something.

C.S. Lewis whispered of it in Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the
dragon scaling of Eustace
, and in The Great Divorce in the
killing of the red lizard.  In both cases, death was the gateway to true resurrection.

And so, today we remember the “little deaths” that are part-and-parcel of the Christian life. I don’t know about you, but I experience this most consistently in family life, while trying to guide my children as they seem hell-bend (pardon the expression) on doing just exactly what they please, thank you very much. And none too shy about telling us exactly what they think of our efforts to get them back on track.

Eternal rest grant to us, O Lord . . . Make your perpetual light shine upon us.

At this rate I don’t know if we’ll get them to walk at graduation . . . but I’m hoping that we will all grow in grace in the process.

The Adventures of Sister Scream

sister scream

“Sister Scream” made an appearance at Ave Maria Press today …. Well, she was there in spirit (Skype wasn’t working.) I had tried to find my “old hag” mask, and it must have been mis-sorted during the move (my “Fall” container had nothing but my wok and a fruit juicer). So . . . “skeletor” mask was all they had left at K-Mart, and I went with it.

Now, some might find this a bit tasteless: mixing the costume of a nun (my original costume is based on the Carmelite habit, because Teresa of Avila is one of my heroes) and a skeleton. And perhaps they would be right. And yet, I think you could also argue that it could be regarded as a kind of … “secular sacramental.” (The sacramental principle, the cornerstone of the Catholic life, is that God reaches out to us through the “stuff” of the physical world.) 

“Memento mori” (remember death) was one of the themes of the early Church. During those first four centuries, martyrdom was commonplace, and there were times when “Christian” was a truly dangerous association. And yet, the Church continued to grow because, in the words of 2nd century Tertullian, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

On All-Saints and All-Souls Day, we remember that life and death are inextricably entwined. For the Christian, to experience life to the full, is to die to self; to die is to experience life in its sweetest perfection. Not because life isn’t a beautiful gift — it is. But because it is a prelude to something infinitely better.

And so, I think Sister Scream … is a comic figure. She reminds me to live with heaven in view, but not to be afraid of death. It has no lasting power over us, for Christ has already conquered …

And that is something to scream about!


Prayer for Dear Departed Who Find Themselves . . . in Purgatory, After All

charlieLast week Michelle at Scribbit posted this extraordinary post about 10 truly unusual deaths in history.

Today we remember those we love, who have gone before us in death. Grandparents, and in some cases parents. Old friends. Even children — including those who never saw the light of day.

For the Christian, the pain of separation from our loved ones in death is very real . . . and yet, we also know it is only temporary. Confident in the love and mercy of God, we can entrust the souls of our loved ones into His almighty hands, knowing that he loves them even more perfectly than we can. And, if it please him, we will all be together one day again.

Today I offer this prayer for those who never expected to find themselves in purgatory . . . and whose loved ones do not believe in the necessity of a final purgation for those destined to see God face to face. I wrote this prayer shortly after the death of my dear friend, evangelical pastor Charlie Shedd, with whom I worked on several projects when I was an editor for Servant Publications. Oh, how I miss him!

God alone knows the mysteries of life and death; He alone holds these things in His hands. Still, He commands us to pray for one another – brother and sister branches in the one true Vine. Charlie, if you’re still on the way, this one’s for you . . . If not, please pray for me!

Heavenly Father,
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