Spe Salvi 48: Judgment and Hope, Final Thoughts

Let’s finish the topic of Judgement as a setting for learning and practicing hope. In this section, Pope Benedict XVI writes of praying for the dead. Do we have proof of the effectiveness of this practice? No more than most any other aspect that lies in the realm of faith. But people still engage the practice–they have for centuries. And it does impart hope.

48. A further point must be mentioned here, because it is important for the practice of Christian hope. Early Jewish thought includes the idea that one can help the deceased in their intermediate state through prayer (see for example 2 Maccabees 12:38-45; first century BC).

The notion of intercessory prayer is much older. The patriarch Abraham engaged in it for the righteous of Sodom in Genesis 18, trying to ensure that those with a hope of righteousness would be spared the general fate to be applied to the unjust.

Some differences between East and West:

The equivalent practice was readily adopted by Christians and is common to the Eastern and Western Church. The East does not recognize the purifying and expiatory suffering of souls in the afterlife, but it does acknowledge various levels of beatitude and of suffering in the intermediate state. The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer and almsgiving.

How strong is the virtue of love? The modern age devotes quite a bit of testimony to it through fiction, religion, and even in the news many people choose to consume.

The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Savior, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other?

Well, we acknowledge powerlessness over the matters of God. But it doesn’t mean that a believer doesn’t engage an audacious sense of questioning, petitioning, and even pestering God. Jesus admits it, and identifies it as a virtue. That no person is an equal of God isn’t debated. What is a reality is that any person can converse with God. On occasion, that exchange might not be as meek or deferential as some might propose.

The human community remains connected, even after life is ended:

When we ask such a question, we should recall that no (person) is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for (them)—can play a small part in (their) purification.

We are also abandoning the mortal universe’s experience of time. It’s not about a person who is dead now has been judged one way or the other. That’s not likely how it works.

And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God’s time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too [Cf.Catechism, 1032].

A final thought, to be concerned for the salvation of others.

As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.

In essence, this is part of the believer’s imitation of Christ. Jesus was intimately concerned for the sanctity of people as he conducted his earthly ministry. It seems to be no different today. The deeper our personal relationship with him, the more of his personal qualities and agenda become our own. He would not be satisfied with the salvation of one person–ourself, and for devoted believers, the same emphasis on all creation (Cf. Mark 16:15).

This document is Copyright © 2007 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the full document online here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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