The paired feasts of All Saints and All Souls begin the month of November during which the Church encourages us to meditate on the fact that here on earth we have no abiding city. Which is a posh way of saying that our life here on earth is rather like a railway waiting room: sufficient, I suppose, for a while, but growing increasingly uncomfortable as the time goes on, what with old age, arthritis &c. This is for the very good reason that a waiting room is for waitng in, not for living in. And if we set about making ourselves too much at home here (to stretch the analogy stll further), we might well fnd that when the train comes, we will be so hampered by the baggage we have accumulated that we end up missing the train.
The point I want to make is that this world is not our home, and it is a good idea to keep our bags packed and not make ourselves too comfortable. We keep before our minds the fact that we are only here in order to catch the train—if we get the train, we have achieved the point of being here. If not, then not.
Saints and Holy Souls are there to remind us of those who have gone before us. Saints represent those who have already reached the fnal destnation, of whom we may have known many who have never been formally canonized, and Holy Souls represent those who are firmly on the train, assured of their arrival, but have not yet got there, having too much of the waitng-room still around them.
Now clearly Purgatory is, somewhat like the train, only an analogy. There is no ‘place’ as such, but it is what we call a ‘state’. What we mean is that we retain all our individuality and personality after death, and that individuality and personality carries an awful lot of baggage, as every one of us knows. There must be few who die as saints; our excess weight is going to have to be exercised off (changing analogy again) before we can be reckoned as saints. Which is why I find the analogy of a gym quite useful: going to a gym is a good and fruitul exercise which we can entirely see the point of since it makes us better and happier, even if people say ‘no pain, no gain’. I think Purgatory must be like that: Newman wrote of the purifcaton of Purgatory as a pain that the Holy Souls ‘joy to undergo’. And if we are prepared to undergo the unpleasantness of Ryanair to get to our holiday destnation, we might possibly begin to see something of the point of Purgatory.
Fr. Sean Finnegan