Matt C. Abbott
November 10, 2016
Purgatory, Mary, and Fatima
By Matt C. Abbott

Below are excerpts from Communion of Saints: The Unity of Divine Love in the Mystical Body of Christ, by Stephen Walford. Those interested in learning about certain important aspects of Catholic theology from an orthodox and in-depth perspective may want to add this book, released in 2016, to their reading lists. Thanks to Mr. Walford for allowing me to publish these excerpts in my column. Click here to order a copy of the book, whose proceeds will go to Aid to the Church in Need.



Purgatory

In this opening chapter, it is essential that we place Purgatory within its rightful place as a dogma of the faith, far away from new age type superstitions at one end of the spectrum, or the outright rejection of it from the other. There is no doubt that the modernist agenda that has crippled the Church in recent decades has also left an open wound in the supernatural sense of the faithful. Simply put, Purgatory has been somewhat relegated to the pews of devout souls who have remained focused through thick and thin on the reality of the Church beyond the grave. Homilies are rarely given that teach on the subject, or prayers encouraged for the dead; and for many Catholics, November is the only time when there is any real reflection on the last things. This intolerable situation has arisen even though popes have continued to teach on the subject regularly throughout the past century.

As a consequence of this, the entire doctrine of the communion of saints has become fragmented; funerals have become at times quasi canonizations, with the deceased presumed to be resting in the wonder of the beatific vision rather than undergoing any kind of purification. Of course, the Liturgy of the Church does not see it that way, but the perception is that a sprinkling of protestant belief in immediate access to the Kingdom has crept in, which probably stems from the reluctance of priests to preach on purgatory, and also due to the nature of eulogies and secular songs within the funerals themselves. In this way, a sort of "feel good factor" comes into play, which perhaps is designed to take away some of the terrible sorrow felt by the relatives, but in reality at the expense of the far greater truth that the deceased is very much alive, and quite possibly in need of their invaluable help now more than ever to reach the eternal joys awaiting them.

In order to fully understand the necessity of Purgatory, we need to reflect upon the perfect justice of God and its implications for humanity. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk. 16: 19-31) exemplifies this truth perfectly: Lazarus is comforted in the Bosom of Abraham after a life of poverty and suffering, while the rich man reaps the rewards of his opulence and selfishness in the fires of hell. The order of justice demands that choices taken in this life will have eternal consequences; God who is its ultimate arbiter will not sanction an alternate court of double standards.

In fact the entire span of salvation history speaks of this; Adam and Eve's fall demanded justice from God, and thus they were expelled from the Garden of Eden; their sin so great that only the Sacrifice of God himself could make the necessary atonement needed. Moving to the other end of the spectrum, and we see the scene of the Last Judgment, where final sentence will be pronounced by the supreme Judge. Therefore, we can see that all our actions have a positive or negative effect, and they are constantly under the scrutiny of the just Judge, Christ himself. As we have already stated, mortal sin, the "sin that kills" (1 Jn. 5: 16) leads to damnation if left unrepented; but what about the thousands of venial sins that wound the soul but don't ultimately destroy it?

The crux of the matter concerns several issues: the state of the soul at the moment of judgment; the trail of devastation it possibly left behind on earth as a consequence of evil actions, and the administration of justice on the part of God. The reality for most people, even "good" Catholics benefiting from the sacraments, is that at life's end, a certain amount of filth will have left their eschatological wedding garment soiled; and nobody would want to enter the banquet dressed like that.

The Book of Revelation tells us in no uncertain terms: "Nothing that is unclean, no source of corruption or deceit can ever hope to find its way in" (Rev. 21: 27)....



Blessed Virgin Mary

One of the most compelling cases for venerating the saints is the inspiration they can give for our own spiritual development. We can see from their lives how the Lord traced a path that led them to abandon their own will in order to embrace wholeheartedly the divine will; and seeing the beautiful fruits of that conformity and communion with God can help us to navigate our own journey towards ultimate union with the Eternal Father. If there is one figure of supreme holiness who testifies to this communion between God and humanity in its most perfect form, it is Mary: Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit. In this chapter, we will contemplate why Mary is the apex of communion; why she is the Queen of the sanctorum communio and the perfect image of the eschatological Church in its transfigured state.

The mystery of Mary, sublime and unparalleled among the mysteries of creation is one that has enchanted the Church ever since its birth. Why? Because in Mary's own life is reflected the entire journey of the Church from beginning to end and thus the Church recognizes its own passage to full communion with God through this exalted Woman....

If the Immaculate Conception of Mary was the foundational grace upon which her extraordinary communion with the Lord was built, then the Annunciation and Incarnation were the sealing of it. At the point of giving her assent to the Father's Will, the Word became Jesus; the God who saves, and heaven descended into the one place on earth which resembled it. This pivotal divine action brought about a bond of love in which both the Mother and Son reciprocated essential gifts necessary for the completion of their redemptive work.

For Mary, it was the active giving of her human nature; and for Jesus the active giving of divine grace. As a consequence, this mutual giving enabled the hypostatic union of two natures (divine and human) in the person of Jesus Christ to become a reality, while his mother was now nothing less than Theotokos; the Mother of God. For Mary, communion was pure contemplation of the Divine Word silently imparting love, peace and wisdom deep within her soul; nine months of rapturous joy as the Heart of Jesus began to beat in unison with her own. The intensity of love Mary must have experienced during this period of waiting surely left her soul already at the gates of heaven as it were; and yet, she had to be in communion not only with the love of her Son, but also his sufferings. In this way, Mary became the resplendent image of Jesus in joy and sorrow; molded and prepared for the salvific communion for which she had been chosen.

The entire span of the Blessed Virgin's earthly life can be summed up as a total immersion in the life of God. Her Seven Sorrows reveal a union of suffering with Jesus that corresponds to the nature of her mission (God's will being that Mary always remain within the enclosure of the Son, and thus experience the full weight of sin). But the one factor above all others that ensured Mary could accept the bitter chalice was her capacity to love. It meant she never recoiled at the thought of pain and grief, instead offering everything to the Father with the same generous spirit as her Son. This is the fundamental truth about Mary's relationship with the Most Holy Trinity; that her love is their love. She brings to perfection the words of St. John: "That our life in the world should be like his, means that his love has had its way with us to the full" (1 Jn. 4: 17).

If we reflect on the moment when Jesus departed home to begin his public ministry, we can to some extent imagine the pain that flooded Mary's soul; the gut wrenching truth that she could no longer offer him maternal protection and an atmosphere of love, joy and peace. Mary had to "release" her Son from the warmth of her loving embrace and allow the divine plan to unfold in the manner God had decreed. But her communion with the Lord transcended this temporal separation because over and above the physical reality was the spiritual union, woven together by the Holy Spirit in a way not dissimilar to that of the Father and Son.

Love ruled Mary's heart in such a way that exclusion from communion with God was all but impossible; her Immaculate Heart acted like a magnet for the Holy Spirit and thus every action, every prayer was inspired by his blazing love. Mary was the blank canvas on which the Holy Spirit created his greatest masterpiece; blank because she held nothing back from what was her own (love and free will), and with that freedom to work, the Lord of life was able to conform this marvel of creation to the divine image.



Fatima

A final word needs to be said about a famous phrase from Our Lady of Fatima: "In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph." This has often been cited as evidence for a temporal era of peace. But is that really the case? In his interview book Light of the World, Pope Benedict XVI was questioned by journalist Peter Seewald about the meaning of this phrase. He asked if the Mother of God could appear in a manner that would be tantamount to a triumph? Pope Benedict's response was most enlightening. To begin with, he corrects the idea by affirming that the triumph is the same event as the establishment of the Kingdom at the end of the world. Praying for the triumph he said: "is equivalent in meaning to our praying for the coming of God's Kingdom." He then goes further and completely eschews the idea that a temporal and glorious era is what is about to arrive: "This statement [his prayer at Fatima imploring the coming of the triumph] was not intended – I may be too rationalistic for that – to express any expectation on my part that there is going to be a huge turnaround and that history will suddenly take a different course." This explanation of the triumph concurs will similar statements made by Pope Pius XII, and St. John Paul II.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.


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