There is a saying in my language (Igbo) that says everywhere a turtle goes it always carries its shell with it. No turtle, no shell, for the shell is part and parcel of what a turtle is. This saying is meant to remind us of how closely death and life are tied together. Every life carries with it the shadow of death just as every death carries the blossoming flower of life. Once a child is conceived in the womb, she faces death; for the two are inseparable, one from the other. And once death arrives, the door opens for the new life with God. Here lies the deep and profound meaning of the entire mission of Jesus Christ: to crush death forever and free us from the fear (sting) of death (II Cor. 15:55), and in so doing open the door of eternal life.
Jesus Christ conquered death through enduring love onto death on the Cross. Love brings each of us into this world, and only love takes us back into eternal life with God. It is enduring love that divests death of its fear, for enduring love surrenders everything including this earthly life into the hands of the Father. Through the crosses, pains and sufferings we encounter in this life, we are challenged to die every moment to our selfish attachments and surrender all to God just as Our Lord did (Phil. 2: 4-11). The saints are those who faithfully lived the life of enduring love, and so completely surrendered their life to God. Just think of martyrs who did not think of saving their lives, but chose to die for love. They gave ALL back to God as Jesus did: “They conquered him (Satan and his threat of death) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death” (Rev. 12:11). Our brothers and sisters in purgatory are then those who are yet to be perfected by enduring love that conquers death. In a sense, purgatory reminds us of our resistance to surrender all we are and have into the hands of God. Our refusal to surrender to God in and through love indicates indirectly, a fear of death, for that is why we cling tenaciously to this world that is passing. Purgatory then is that state where God purifies our dead brothers and sisters from those vestiges of resistance to a love that totally gives all without reservation.
Our destiny is therefore, life eternal with God our Father. But we tend to lose our bearing and direction in the world. Somehow, we invest so much in securing life here on earth that we forget death follows us everywhere like a shadow we cannot shake off. Then, when it strikes us close to home, it shocks our senses, and for a while we become sensibly sober. Soon afterwards, though, we forget, for death is fearful. It is a trick of our memory so that we do not become paralyzed. But when we trust in God’s unconditional love for us, when we trust in the promises of God and in what God has done in raising Jesus Christ from the dead, then, we begin to love God without fear. In this sense, our unwavering love of God based on the experience of His undying love for us, frees us from all fear (I Jn. 4:18). How does love do that? When we truly love we surrender ourselves completely into the hands of our beloved, assured of our safety. How much more God, our Heavenly Father!
As we celebrate the victory of love and God’s grace in the Saints in heaven, we also pray for our brothers and sisters in Purgatory who are undergoing the training in love. But it is those of us still in this world that will assist them, through our unceasing prayerful intercession especially through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. May God’s love win in your life every moment by the grace of God. Amen