During the month of November, a special time of year in the Liturgical Calendar dedicated to the Poor Souls in Purgatory, we are given an opportunity to purge our own lives just as the souls in Purgatory are stripping away any remnants of sin to one day attain heaven and see the face of God. The trend of simplifying and purging one’s household has taken the world by storm in an attempt to remove unnecessary items and prevent waste by giving to others. This same method can be transferred to the spiritual life as we enter the month of the Saints and the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
There are many commonalities between the Saints and the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for one day they will all be joined together in heaven. Don’t we all desire this same goal? Many of us use the springtime to we “clean” our homes, but why not begin the “cleansing” of our souls during the month of November in preparation for Advent and the beginning of the Church’s Liturgical Year?
Begin with a Plan
Not one saint walked alongside our Lord without a plan. Each one learned, through meditation, contemplation, spiritual reading, and much suffering, the necessity to adjust their plan to be in union with God Will, but there was always a plan. The plan shouldn’t be complicated – it should begin simple, yet effective. Begin by focusing on small areas of your life that can be improved, such as morning prayers, the daily rosary, frequent confessions, and small sacrifices throughout the day. Begin small, it is less likely that we will become frustrated. The small achievements, through the graces of God, will push each one of us along to higher goals all for the glory of God.
St. Ignatius of Loyola noticed a need for a structured plan that would assist souls in becoming closer to God. One of the quickest ways to love another person is by connecting with their personal lives, and St. Ignatius used this knowledge to write his Spiritual Exercises in which he used moments in Christ’s life to bring souls closer to God through the method of contemplation.
“The man who sets about making others better is wasting his time, unless he begins with himself.” ~ St. Ignatius of Loyola
Take Out the Old and Ring in the New
Teresa of Avila, who at one-time preferred reading romance novels to praying, learned that it was necessary to remove the distractions in order to focus on prayer. Now, we have to remember that St. Teresa was a Carmelite nun and the Rule of her Order is much different than the lives of mothers, but we can imitate a part of her example – her desire to cleanse the excess. In the book about her life, St. Teresa wrote that she felt sorrow as she enjoyed the pleasures of this world – this overwhelming sense of ungratefulness gave her the desire to focus more deeply on her spiritual life. I’m not saying that we should cleanse ourselves of our hobbies and everything that brings us joy, because we all need time for recreation, and many of these beautiful things were created by God for our pleasure, but we have to find a balance. We need to create a plan that ultimately puts God first and our desire for pleasure second.
“May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.” ~ St. Teresa of Avila
The Saints Didn’t Travel Alone
God did not create souls to travel this world alone. We were all created with a need for socializing and human interaction – we learn from each other. This desire shouldn’t only be confined to parties and secular activities, but also to our spiritual life. The saints did not walk alone, many of them had close friends who were also traveling along that same path, just think of the apostles. We are all in need of reminders and if we can find a friend, or many friends, who keep us on the right path then we are truly blessed by God. Our friends are an example of our interior disposition, for either our companions lift us up or bring us down. We can find examples among many saints who were “spiritual friends”. A beautiful witness of this can be seen between St. Jane Frances de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales who was her spiritual advisor and is more widely known for writing Introduction to the Devout Life. These two souls discussed matters of the faith and ultimately founded a unique religious order of cloistered nuns that allowed women who had been turned away from the religious life due to age, disabilities, or health. These two souls were incredibly influential in this world, for the glory of God, while walking along the path towards heaven.
“If we patiently accept through love all that God allows to happen, then we will begin to taste even here on earth something of the delights the saints experience in heaven. But for this we must serve God willingly and lovingly, seeking to obey the Divine Will rather than to follow our own inclinations and desires. For the perfection of love demands that we desire for ourselves only whatever God wills. Let us implore the good God unceasingly to grant us this grace!” ~ St. Jane Frances de Chantal
Not one of us will have exactly the same path towards eternal happiness, but we all have the means and tools to attain this reward through the graces of God. As we walk each day through the month of November, let’s work little by little to de-clutter our souls for the love of God. And through these sacrifices, let’s offer them up for the poor souls in purgatory who also suffer a purification before reaching heaven. There is much solace in knowing that when these souls attain heave, they will be praying for us in return! If we work tirelessly in this life to cleanse our bodies and souls, then one day we will reach heaven where we may glorify God with all the saints. Won’t it be truly amazing to one day enter heaven and meet all the souls who were once in purgatory, but received our prayers and offerings of penance?
Copyright 2017 Danielle Heckenkamp