Matt C. Abbott
Below is an interview with Catholic author Susan Tassone, who discusses her newly-published first book for children on purgatory, New Friends Now and Forever: A Story about the Holy Souls. Click here to order a copy from SpiritDaily.com.
Why did you write this book on purgatory for children?
ST: I wanted to write a book on purgatory for children for several years. We have nine books published on purgatory. We have a great movie, Purgatory: The Forgotten Church, and have a purgatory novel, Tortured Soul, by Theresa Linden. Yet there is no book on purgatory for children, whom we need to reach. We’ve accomplished that with New Friends Now and Forever, which has been granted an Imprimatur.
Written specifically for children ages 6 through 10, parents, grandparents, classrooms, homeschoolers, parishes and catechists, New Friends Now and Forever is unique because it replaces fear with God’s merciful love. We need to bring the Church’s teaching about the holy souls to children in a faithful, creative, inspiring way that emphasizes God’s love for us. This book takes the fear out of Purgatory and replaces it with God’s love.
Isn’t purgatory a scary concept for children?
ST: Yes, and for adults too! One of the objectives of New Friends Now and Forever was to develop an understanding of why the holy souls suffer and how we can develop a close friendship with them. The book is warm, with a gentle tone suited for children. We introduce the holy souls in a welcoming way through friendship with the elderly couple at the parish. Purgatory is described in ways that puts a smile on children’s faces (parents, too) rather than frighten them.
Children love chivalry and heroes. We are the Church Militant; we show children how they can play a role in rescuing the holy souls from purgatory by becoming “prayer pals.” Their prayers are powerful and can help the holy souls reach heaven. With the Church’s teaching on purgatory, children discover that they are part something much bigger than they ever imagined.
How do you teach a difficult doctrine like purgatory to children?
ST: How did Jesus teach the people? He spoke in parables; he told stories. New Friends Now and Forever talks with, rather than at, children. It’s a delightful story of twins, Hope and Ben, who become “prayer pals” with Mr. Ray, an elderly friend from their parish. They agree to pray for each other and to help him pray for his departed wife. Along the way, Hope and Ben learn that purgatory is real; and that it’s nothing to fear because it’s a special way God shows His love for us.
Why is this book relevant to children today and to Catholic education?
ST: A survey of Our Sunday Visitor readers found that purgatory was one of the most asked-about topics. In the immediate decades after the Second Vatican Council, it was less frequently taught about in religion classes and even in some seminaries. As a result, teachers and parents lacked understanding and knowledge to talk about purgatory, heaven, hell and grace. In recent years, however, the tide has turned, and people have begun to discover that purgatory is one of God’s greatest gifts. This book fills that gap and solves this problem.
What are the benefits of praying for the holy souls in purgatory?
ST: It’s impossible to describe their unbounded gratitude. They pray for you with fervor so great, so intense, so constant that God refuses them nothing. By their intercessory prayers, they shield their friends from dangers, and protect them from the evils that threaten them. They become your second guardian angel. They will lessen our purgatory. They will never cease these prayers until they are safely home in heaven. You will be their “forever friends.” And the more you pray for them, the more powerful their intercession is for you. (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 958)
In your book, one of the central characters, an elderly man from the parish, dies. How does your book help children understand and deal with death, sad feelings, and grief?
ST: It is important to shape your message to the level of understanding of the child. If they are younger, it is best to say that the person died. They loved you very much and felt terrible in leaving you. You can pray for them and that way ask Jesus to comfort them and you. It’s sad to lose someone you love. But people feel many things when someone dies. Ask the child what they feel. Ask them to imagine that person is here. What would they like to say?
No matter what the child says, do not correct what they feel but acknowledge the pain. Give the child things they can do to help the deceased and themselves. Light candles, prayers that they can say or drawings they can make and share this book with them. These practices are included in the story. In fact, the Eternal Rest prayer, the Church’s official prayer for the dead, is woven throughout the book. By the end of the story they will know this special prayer by heart.
Is there anything else you want to say about this book?
ST: We need to form merciful hearts in our children to plant the seed for prayer in their young hearts and to teach them to reverence the deceased and in due time they will come to your aid at the hour of your death. New Friends Now and Forever is unique because there is no other book ever done on purgatory for children; it’s the first of its kind. It takes the fear out of purgatory and replaces it with God’s merciful love.
Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit loved this work so much that he ordered 6000 copies to be sent to Detroit’s Catholic elementary schools, parishes, cemeteries and curia. I invite all dioceses to join him and spread anew this consoling doctrine: the good news and hope of purgatory! A new generation of young Catholics hunger to be catechized in this critical devotion.© Matt C. Abbott
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