Two days before my father passed away, the doctors gave him strong pain medication after one of the procedures to drain his lungs of fluids due to his congestive heart failure. Due to the medication, he mostly slept and hardly acknowledged me. Except for the one time he did… He opened his eyes, and in a moment of uncommon seriousness, looked me in the eyes and said, “I think it’s time to say goodbye.” He then closed his eyes and went back to sleep. Two days later, we said our final goodbyes.
I often think of this moment and the other moments surrounding my father’s death. With All Souls’ Day approaching, my thoughts drift more and more towards his passing and others who’ve passed. It also makes me think of the grace our family experienced during the final moments of my father’s life, moments I wonder if I will get to experience with my family. No one makes it out of life alive. We all meet death, in the end. We cannot control how and when we “shuffle off this mortal coil.” However, we can control our disposition towards death, and in turn, suffering.
Suffering, while never an easy topic to write about or discuss, is encountered at different times and in different degrees in our lives. We who live in the West escape some of the most extreme forms of suffering experienced by those in other countries steeped in corruption and political disorder. Personally, much of my early life was marked by suffering. I suffered both abuse and neglect. I could, as some atheists and agnostics have done, blame God or use my experiences to “prove” God does not exist. Some also could look at my father’s final weeks and see unnecessary suffering and another “proof” of an absent or nonexistent God. Suffering can also lead to redemption and personal growth, for when viewed properly, suffering helps us grow in empathy and compassion.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. [2 Corinthians 1:3-7] [emphasis added]
Unlike other religions, Christianity’s God enters human history, lives, suffers, and dies. The Incarnate God in Christ meets us in our suffering and transforms our suffering into something meaningful. Christ does not “seem” to suffer; He suffered in the most horrendous ways humanly possible. Furthermore, His sufferings were not “punishments” from God the Father, nor a mere human sacrifice to assuage an “angry God.” No.
Suffering and Atonement
In Catholic theology, the atonement is a free offering of both God the Father, in handing His Son over to sinners, and the Son of God incarnate, offering His life to His Father “through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience.” This act of offering was done out of an outpouring of utmost love. The Catechism states in paragraph 616:
It is love “to the end” that confers on Christ’s sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life. Now “the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.” No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons, and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all.
Oh, the magnificent love of God in Christ, freely given and offered for the sake of mankind.
Offering Up Our Suffering for Others
Moreover, just as Christ freely offered Himself for us and our salvation, we too offer ourselves, our suffering and pain, for those currently in Purgatory. As St. Paul states in 2 Corinthians 1:6-7, our affliction applies to others’ comfort and salvation. And, since all Christians exist within the mystical body of Christ, the dead who await entrance into heaven in Purgatory also receive comfort and salvation through our suffering.
If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
Therefore, since we seek the comfort of salvation of our departed brothers and sisters, we unify ourselves to them in our sacrifices, prayers, almsgiving, indulgences, and penance. We see this reflected in the Sacred Scriptures of 2 Maccabees 12:46, where we read:
It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.
As We Approach All Souls’ Day on November 2nd
Finally, let us not forget those in Purgatory awaiting heaven. They too, including our loved ones, need our prayers and for us to comfort them with our suffering. I, for one, will pray for my father’s soul on All Souls’ Day. Surely, the moment of clarity among the pain and suffering during his last days will also enter my mind. “I think it’s time to say goodbye…”
For now, dad. I pray for your soul and hope that we meet again on the other side where we no longer say “goodbye.”
O Divine Heart of Jesus, I ask You to grant eternal rest to the souls in Purgatory, the final grace of salvation to those who shall die today, true repentance to sinners, the light of faith to unbelievers, and Your goodness, blessings, and favors to me and to all my loved ones.
To You, O most compassionate Heart of Jesus, I commend these souls.
(Here state the names of your departed loved ones)
I offer You, on their behalf, all the graces granted for deeds of holiness, love and sacrifice, together with the spiritual merits of Your most Holy Mother Mary, and of all the saints and angels, and all the sacrifices of the Holy Mass, Communions, prayers and good works, which shall be accomplished today throughout the world. Amen.
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