The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day) — November 2, 2014
In a brief series of Wednesday Audience talks during the summer of 1999, Pope St. John Paul II sketched out an unusually modern picture of life after death. Heaven and hell exist, he said, but not as places of celestial merriment or eternal fire. They are states of being and not physical locations, he said, and the best way to imagine them is to reflect on significant spiritual moments in this life – the pain brought by sin, and the happiness experienced when doing good.
The saintly Pope said that physical descriptions of heaven, hell and purgatory always fall short. It’s better to probe the nature of communion with God than to conjecture a material scenario for paradise.
The following is the explanation that St. John Paul II provided concerning Purgatory:
Following our catechesis on the reality of heaven and hell, today we consider purgatory, the process of purification for those who die in the love of God but who are not completely imbued with that love.
Sacred Scriptures teaches us that we must be purified if we are to enter into perfect and complete union with God. Jesus Christ, who became the perfect expiation for our sins and took upon Himself the punishment that was our due, brings us God’s mercy and love. But before we enter into God’s kingdom, every trace of sin within us must be corrected. This is exactly what takes places in purgatory.
Those who live in this state or purification after death are not separated from God but are immersed in the love of Christ. Neither are they separated from the saints in heaven – who already enjoy the fullness of eternal life – nor from us on earth – who continue our pilgrim journey to the Father’s house. We all remain united in the mystical body of Christ, and we can therefore offer up prayers and good works on behalf of our brothers and sisters in purgatory.
The Christian life can be considered as a great pilgrimage to the house of the Father, “whose unconditional love for every human creature . . . we discover anew each day” (Tertio Millennio Adviente, 49). Our present life is already marked by the salvation which Christ has won for us through His death and resurrection. We are journeying toward the full actualization of this salvation, which will take place at the final coming of the Lord.
As we make this journey, we are called to share in the paschal mystery of the Lord and to live up to the demands of Christ’s offer of redemption. An important part of this is our continual purification and struggle against sin, in the knowledge that in rising from the dead, Christ has already overcome the power of sin and death. In involving ourselves in the realities of this passing world, we must fix our gaze on our final goal, bringing the light of God to bear on all that we do.