My first panic attack spasmed when I was in jail. Nine months pregnant with my first baby. The fwoosh of an airtight sliding electronic door, the automatic click of the lock and a cramped baby kicking on my ribcage brought on unexpected claustrophobia. Sweat prickled out of every pore of my skin, shallow breaths came in nanosecond intervals, and with all bodily functions going haywire, my confused brain thought I was an inmate. The urge to plow my fist through the walls like a Power Puff girl, and scream “Get me out of here or I’ll go into labor!” almost sabotaged my respectable attorney doppelgänger, but thankfully, another fwoosh indicated an opened door and a guard stood outside waiting to escort me to my client. It was by God’s grace and a Hail Mary that I didn’t give the correctional facility surveillance cameras a good entry for America’s funniest videos that day.
As a cradle Catholic, ‘the souls in purgatory’ was just a perfunctory line that my mother uttered every night we said prayers. But as I began reading books explaining purgatory, one day it clicked: it’s just like jail where God’s justice is satisfied and God’s mercy is manifest at the same time.
Catechism teaches us that: purgatory is a place where those who have died (members of the Church triumphant) expatiate their sins and undergo purification to achieve holiness necessary to join the perfect inhabitants of heaven (members of the Church triumphant). We, who are earning our salvation on earth, (the Church militant) are inexplicably tied to this Communion of saints.
Mystics like St. Pio, St. Gemma and St. Faustina, encountered souls from purgatory asking for prayers and sacrifice, (particularly the Mass) so that they could be released from purgatory. This demonstrates to us that our good acts and prayers are deposited to the Church’s treasury so that the whole of mankind, can be set free of sin and attain communion with our Perfect Father in heaven. For the souls in purgatory, the Church militant “offerings” are sort of like a “Get out of Jail Free” card, at someone else’s very generous expense.
It isn’t hard to guess which grateful newly released saint of the Church triumphant will be interceding fervently on the generous donor’s behalf. The new saint thus petitions the Heavenly Father, applying the merits he earned during his life for the benefit of the donor, who struggles with her salvation and sanctification. This communion of saints is a loving system of cooperation between God’s creatures that results in a win-win situation for all. Only a Wise Creator and Father could come up with a brilliant scheme.
Not too long after I grasped this mind-blowing mystery, my children and I began saying St. Gertude the Great’s prayer where Jesus promised to release 1,000 souls in purgatory, whenever we drove by a cemetery. This prompted my daughter to ask me in the midst of all the grey tombstones, crosses and silk flowers, “Oh. Is that purgatory, mom?”
By the time I felt labor pains with my third baby and I was tempted to get an epidural, my husband/doula wisely gave me this advice: “It’s up to you honey, but if you offered up your labor pains you could clear out a huge chunk of purgatory tonight.”