Throughout the Gospels, Our Lord continually promises us the great reward of joy and peace in Heaven for all those who follow him. All the pain and sorrow of our lives on Earth will be over. We also know that we have to undergo a period of cleansing before we can enter into that Heavenly reward, as Jesus also tells us that nothing unclean will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Before we can enter into Heaven, we have to die to our sins.
In our Gospel today, Jesus tells us that all who see Him and believe in Him will be raised on the last day. This raising is more than merely being resuscitated, as Lazarus was, but is a complete renewal and cleaning, being made ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. As the prophet Isaiah tells us, we will no longer need to worry about death, pain, or any other effect of sin. Instead, we will be so filled with joy that we will praise our God with great excitement and energy. The joy in Heaven will be so great that humanity has never experienced a joy like it on Earth.
Before we can enter into this Heavenly reward, we need to be cleansed from all attachment to sin. As part of our sinful nature, we not only suffer the effects of Original Sin, which we all have to deal with, but we have also developed attachments to various sins. We all have what I call our “favorite” sins; those sins which we commit over and over again. Every time we commit a sin, the sin binds us more tightly, making it easier for us to commit that sin again.
While on Earth, we can ease the effects of our sinful nature by frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but we must die to all attachment to sin before we can enter into Heaven. We have died to Original Sin and rose again through our baptism, but we still must physically die to escape the clutches of the sins we commit in our lives. It is only through this physical death can the snares of sin be broken.
After our death, our souls are still impure from the attachment to sin. It's much like spilling red wine on a white shirt. You might be able to clean up all the wine, but the stain remains behind. To remove the stain of sin from our souls, we must undertake a period of cleansing in Purgatory. We don't know exactly what form this cleansing will take, but we do know that those souls who enter into Purgatory will emerge at the end of their period of cleansing into Heaven purified and spotless. It's important to point out that only those souls who have died in a state of grace, that is in proper relationship with God, will enter into Purgatory and later Heaven. Those souls who refused to ask God's forgiveness for their Mortal Sins will not enter into Purgatory or Heaven.
When someone close to us dies, we might be quick to say something like, “They're in Heaven now,” or “they're in a better place.” The fact is we don't know for sure whether they're in Heaven or Purgatory, so we offer prayers on their behalf, especially the Mass. It's traditional to have a funeral Mass following a death, as it gives the family and the community the opportunity to gather in prayer for the loved one who has died, as well as offer the greatest prayer we have, the Sacrifice of the Mass, for the repose of their soul. Another popular tradition is to have Masses offered on behalf of someone who has died, especially on the anniversary of their death. Through both these practices, we ask God to give the graces from the Mass to benefit the soul of those we pray for. In fact, the intention for the Mass of All Souls is for all the faithful departed, that they may all receive the graces from this Mass.
While those who have died are separated from us by the veil of death, they are also separated from the effects of sin on their lives. May the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.