Hope, the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and St. Thomas More

The Holy Souls in Purgatory have been judged by God to be destined for happiness in Heaven. They are being prepared for Heaven by the help and the grace of the Holy Spirit, and we participate in their final preparations by our prayers and sacrifices.

The Holy Souls in Purgatory exemplify Hope, the theological virtue. During the month of November, as we the living pray for our beloved dead, we join in the fullness of that Hope.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Hope as “the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” (Paragraph 1817)

The Holy Souls in Purgatory, or sometimes called Poor Souls in Purgatory, are richer than we are in a way because have been judged by God to be destined for happiness in Heaven. While the Poor Souls undergo that purification, however, they can’t pray for themselves. So we the living hasten their purification, having Masses offered, giving alms, and making other prayers and sacrifices.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church also defines the condition of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, citing the near fulfillment of their Hope: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (Paragraph 1031)

The Souls in Purgatory accept that they should undergo this purification in accord with God’s mercy and justice, noting that neither they nor the living should presume on God’s mercy, but submit to His justice. While they suffer separation from God in Purgatory, the Poor Souls only fear is that they will be forgotten and no longer prayed for by the living, who have foolishly presumed that all the dead go immediately to Heaven.

Saint Thomas More was imprisoned in the Tower of London after refusing to swear a false oath to King Henry VIII. He spent the year preparing for death.  During that time he wrote: “To bewail my sins and, for the purging of them, patiently to suffer adversity.
Gladly to bear my purgatory here; to be joyful in tribulation; to walk the narrow way that leads to life; to have ever before my eyes my death that is ever at hand; to make death no stranger to me; to foresee and consider the everlasting fire of Hell; to pray for pardon before the judge comes. . . . To buy the time again that I have lost. . .”

So Saint Thomas practiced the virtue of Hope.  This virtue purified him, kept him from discouragement, and sustained him during times of abandonment; it opened up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude.  Strengthened by the virtue of Hope Saint Thomas was preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity. Thus he was able before his execution to express the hope that he and his family, his judges, his jailer, and even his king, would “meet joyfully in Heaven”, placing trust in God’s promises and relying on His grace and mercy in obtaining those promises.

By Stephanie Mann