Purgatory, Unresolved Grief & Freedom in Christ

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Unresolved Grief

Unresolved grief is a relatively new concept in mental health circles. Secular doctors are beginning to realize it is the root cause of many emotional problems.  In Catholic terminology, unresolved grief occurs when we cling to those who have died, refusing to surrender their souls to God or embrace our new relationship to them in the Mystical Body of Christ.

A Catholic psychiatrist facilitates a group of faith-filled men and women who are learning how to grieve and release their forgotten ancestors to God, as well as miscarried and aborted souls in their family background. The change in these people, some who have been in therapy for decades, is miraculous.

 Even ‘Normal’ Catholics Need therapy

It took years before I understood the spiritual and emotional weight I carried was blocking me from receiving God’s love. Yet, this spiritual block was not the result of my own sin or failings. What I felt was my deceased grandmother’s guilt, shame and sense of unforgiven sin in my own emotions. It sounds bizarre but, unfortunately, my experience is common. Tragically, few Catholics discover the root of their spiritual malaise because often it means seeking psychological help. As one Carmelite therapist once commented on my of my articles,

So what holds so many souls back from making quick and steady progress in the spiritual life? There are the usual suspects: psychological impairments, generational cycles, strong habitual movements toward all things “self”, pride, controlling and other errant behaviors, bad or insufficient direction, etc., but the greatest threat to growth is the consequence of a soul’s own free choice. The Lord can and does provide the means, but He cannot force our cooperation.

God offers His children the means to become free in Him through the Church, prayer, confession but also through therapy.

Purgatory and Unresolved Grief

My paternal, grandmother died accidentally under extreme duress as a young mother while still in her twenties. The incident occurred in the 1940’s;  she was denied a Christian burial in the Catholic Church. The young family left the Catholic Church when my grandfather remarried a Protestant Presbyterian. Of course, I was raised in the Presbyterian Church with no knowledge of my Catholic roots or of my grandmother’s story until I converted at nineteen. My father pleaded with me to reconsider my conversion; his childhood memories of how the Church handled his mother’s death had shattered him.

Decades later, I discover my grandmother was pressing in on me for prayer my entire life. We are all part of the Communion of Saints, part of the Mystical Body of Christ, but I was sensitive to my grandmother’s pleading. To try to get my attention and convince me to intercede, she pressured me spiritually, emotional and even physically.

 Set Free

After two years of interceding for my grandmother’s soul,  I unknowingly still grieved for her death. Then a priest, the official exorcist of my diocese was led by God to give my grandmother absolution in the name of the Church because he sensed God telling him my grandmother’s soul was present in the room with us.  After my grandmother and I both received absolution, I was finally able to let her go.  I knew that her soul flew joyfully into the arms of Christ and so I was free.

The Communion of Saints

The truth is we are all connected in the Body of Christ, both the living and the dead. The communion of saints, of all souls, is real and relevant. I am still connected to my grandmother but now it is a joyful connection, just as St. Paul tells us in his letters. Praying for the dead, especially for those we have known, is not simply a requirement of Christian charity, but essential to our own spiritual health and well-being.

Purgatory is part of Catholic doctrine today, as it has always been from the earliest days of the Church. To use a modern phrase, the bottom line is  the Holy Souls in Purgatory are not able to pray for themselves or do anything at all to relieve their suffering. Period. This fact alone is enough to call us to pray because they rely on our prayers and efforts to help them. I know this dogma is true from personal experience.

The Old Testament clearly states:

“It is a holy and wholesome thing to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.” (II Macab. XII., 46).

In the modern world, when many have come to doubt the Church’s teaching on Purgatory, the need for such prayers has only increased. Although they cannot pray for themselves, souls in purgatory pray for us, especially for those who pray for them. St. John Vianney said:

“If one knew what we may obtain from God by the intercession of the Poor Souls, they would not be so much abandoned. Let us pray a great deal for them, they will pray for us.”

The Catholic Church: How to be Free in Christ

Prayer for the dead is one of the greatest acts of charity we can perform. Our prayers help them during their time in Purgatory so they can enter more quickly into the fullness of heaven. If we ignore their demands on us, we suffer and struggle, blind to the key to both their freedom and ours. Secular psychiatrists have just recently discovered unresolved grief but the Catholic Church has always taught people how to be free in Christ.

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13 thoughts on “Purgatory, Unresolved Grief & Freedom in Christ”

  1. James — I suggest you read some of the books on the market today on people who have had near death experiences, many of them not Catholic. Everything these people witnessed just verifies the existence of an after life and a loving God who wants all HIs children to get home.

  2. Melanie,
    Going forward I would urge you to get a plenary indulgence once every six months for yourself and get others for the deceased of your family….one per day only. I recently got seven for deceased of my family. It ends all punishment due in Purgatory for you with certitude. It ends the same total punishment for your relatives but “hopefully” not with certitude. The difference is that the Church can loose your punishment on earth with certitude but She hopes God will apply plenaries to those not on earth….your deceased. She applies the superabundant merits of the saints and Christ to do this. A simple home plenary follows ( home as to the main work).

    One half hour of devout reading of scripture.
    WITH: Usual requirements: Confession, Communion, detachment from all sin including venial, prayers for the Popes intentions ( can be satisfied by one Our Father and one Hail Mary for his intentions). Twenty days now allowed for the whole process. “Several” can be gotten based on the one Confession but all other usual requirements must be repeated.

    “Manual of Indulgences” by the USCCB dated 1999. Section 1 pg. 100 reads:

    A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who read the Sacred Scriptures as spiritual reading, from a text approved by competent authority and with the reverence due to the divine word, for at least a half an hour; if the time is less, the indulgence will be partial.

  3. A good quid pro quo for II Mach 12;46 is Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 “For the living know that they are to die but
    the dead no longer know anything. there is no further recompense for them, because all memory of them is lost. For them love and hatred and rivalry have long since perished. they will never again have part in anything that is done under the sun.” Jesus summed it up as ‘ Let the dead bury the dead.” Of course, what God allows our minds to perceive and act upon is a blessing or curse as well.

    1. Question:
      Are you aware that your Ecclesiastes passage is about the deceased in terms of not the afterlife at all but in terms of earthly life? I’m guessing you are reading it as a contadictory passage to II Mach.12:46.
      It, your passage, is about the dead as they relate to earthly life…no further recompense from earthly life anymore like a great meal or riches. Read it very slowly. It’s saying zilch about the afterlife. It’s saying the deceased know nothing of what is going on on earth….then…in pre Christ times. People in Heaven now are in a reality different from the pre Christ deceased and pray for loved ones whose lives they probably watch.
      St. Jerome noted that if you interpret two Bible passages to contradict each other….the problem is in you not in the Bible excepting scribal errors and chronology errors etc.

    2. With all due respect for your love of all things OT I do have a problem with pre Christ deceased and in pre Christ times. The once sale of Indulgences are what started the Reformation and it is odd that a church that focuses on prayers for the dead exists with so many problems these last 500 years. The gospels I believe never touched upon this idea of purgatory except in Matt 10:39 and 16:28, Mk: 8:39, 9:45 and 13:30,
      Lk 9:27, 12:59, 17:33 and 20:36, Jn 8:23-24, 8:51, and the all important 9:1-5 and
      21:21. in which a clear, very possible indication
      of reincarnation is at work. The recent popes who have reached out in respect to the clergy of eastern deism is a prime example of the Holy Spirit at work – or, if you take the conservatives point of view, a scandal that they did at all.

    3. James…reincarnation…really…I think Catholic Stand is trying to help you by letting you post here. I think they are wrong… but it’s their responsibility.

    4. Predictability is boring and your attempts to startle believers in a darkening way is precisely predictable. You’re not at a reincarnation site because you’d have no startle potential there. You’re here to startle. That’s boring.

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