The other day I had an email exchange with a friend, at the beginning of which I jokingly suggested that I hoped Martin Luther was in Purgatory and not somewhere "warmer" - very warmer. My friend replied that she always wondered about God's grace and what effect that has on people such as, say, Charles Manson, when they come to the end of their earthly life.
I responded with some sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (my friend is also a Catholic):
[Y]our response struck a chord. And a good time for it to do so, since November 2nd is this Friday, All Soul's Day, when we formally stop to remember those who have gone on before.
Section 1033 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
"We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell.'"
But Section 1037 makes clear it is a voluntary act on the part of a person:
" God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want 'any to perish, but all to come to repentance.'"
But . . . how much of it is involuntary? And, of that, how much can be attributed to mental illness, or demonic oppression/possession, or both? Grace works for Charlie Manson - the question is he even of sound enough mind or in enough control of his faculties (do not discount the Devil having his way with a damaged mind) to recognize that Grace and voluntarily reject it, thus damning him to Hell? I think we must pray for him as well, that when his end comes, that clarity is given to him and he accepts God's love. Who knows what can happen? A secular Jewish woman once said to me, "No rational Jew could imagine Hitler to be in heaven!" I replied to her, "Perhaps not . . . but a religious Jew might."
November 2nd is the feast of All Souls Day in the calendar of the Catholic Church, coming right after All Saints Day on the 1st. In the past I have liked to say that it was a difference in whether the "s" in the word "saint" was capitalized - those canonized and feted on the 1st are the Saints, while those remembered on the 2nd are the saints.
It is easy to think of our grandparents, or our parents, or anyone whom we loved as a saint. Easy, because in our minds, we saw them already as such while they shared this earthly plain with us. I saw an article in the Orange County Register discussing the upcoming Noche de Altares this Saturday night, which is Santa Ana's celebration for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Alatrs are built for the dead, to honor them, to remember them. I was struck by the comment of one man:
"There's a belief that people die twice," Rudy Cordova said. "Once when you die, and once when you're forgotten – when people stop talking about you and they forget about you."
Day of the Dead provides an alternative.
"So you're giving an opportunity to prevent that," he said. "What better way to celebrate that person."
But what of those who were not saints? They were not men. In fact, some might call them monsters.
(Read more after the jump)
I know a story of such a person. This man committed a heinous crime, one that many would say cried for vengeance from God - pedophilia. And the victim was one of his own children; horribly, the likelihood exists that there might have been another child, if not more, who was victimized. But . . . no one said anything. I do not know why, whether the ignorance of what was happening was genuine or self-convinced. He was not brought to justice before a legal tribunal. So this man received justice at his own hands - eventually, he killed himself.
Now, this is where I wonder when God allows His grace to work. Who knows what went through this man's mind when he flung himself into eternity? In those final seconds, could he have asked for mercy? Because if he did, God would not deny him. The question is, should we?
I once attended a lecture by the fascinating and erudite psychiatrist, Aaron Kheriaty, of UCI Medical Center. He has worked extensively with patients with suicidal tendencies and the common factor he has seen in them is hopelessness. They have lost any hope of their condition, real or imagined, improving. The loss of hope is replaced by utter despair. Indeed, he spoke of meeting former inmates from the concentration camps of Nazi Germany who said that those who lost hope of survival and freedom were termed "the walking dead" and would, in fact, soon die thereafter.
But to accept that the man in my story had no chance of redemption in his final moments means that we have lost hope, hope in the saving power of God. And to NOT pray for the "monsters" on All Souls Day - all souls, it is called, not simply those we believe are saved - only demonstrates that loss of hope on our part. Regardless of a person's conduct, the ultimate judge of their soul is God. Refusing to admit them into the company of those celebrated and honored on All Souls Day denies them their value bestowed by God. We do not have to like them, we can condemn their conduct - but as we cannot say for certainty whether anyone is in Hell or not (yes, even perhaps your sweet old Auntie Lulu did not make it to the Pearly Gates), we must adhere to our faith that teaches us hope in God's mercy and call them "saint" - and pray that they are just that, as hard as that might be.
I asked a question today, "How do we pray for the souls in Hell?" The answer I received some might think is painfully blunt - we do not. They are damned for eternity and our prayers are meaningless. We may have pity for them, but the prayers are for naught. But since we do not know whether someone who has passed has been condemned or saved (with the exception of the canonized saints and martyrs, whom we accept as being in Paradise with God), we Catholics pray for their souls, hoping that their sins have brought them to Purgatory to be cleansed before they ultimately enter the Kingdom. Because once we decide a person such as the man above is beyond hope, so too are we open to such a state.
On All Souls Day, no one is expected to "honor" or "celebrate" those whose actions while alive were terrible. Build your ofrenda for those you loved. Recount the happy times you shared. Cry for your loss, even though it is only temporary. But pray that all souls will enter His Kingdom.
Don't lose hope.
In the past, I have hated this man for what he did to a friend of mine. I will no longer and have placed him among my specific intentions for All Souls Day.