The other night I was watching Women of Grace on the EWTN network, hosted by Johnnette Benkovic. Her two guests, Father Michael Gaitley and Susan Tassone, were speaking about Purgatory and something I’d never heard of, which Saint Thomas Aquinas calls accidental glory. Here is a passage directly from Ms. Tassone’s website:
If the deceased have no further need for purification, they may be drawn more deeply into the intimacy of God’s love by means of these prayers (St. Thomas Aquinas calls this “accidental glory.”) They themselves may increase in their own intercessory power as they “watch over us, the living” (Hebrews 12:1). Remember the holy souls of friends, benefactors, enemies, priests, as well as for those who have a right to our grateful remembrance.
All Souls Day is November 2nd, and I thought that it might be fitting to post something I wrote a year ago this month titled Souls in Purgatory. Please remember to pray for the souls of your loved ones, as well as the souls in general. Your prayers are never wasted.
Souls in Purgatory
Originally posted on October 17, 2010
This morning I woke up with my head, back and neck aching and my first thought was of all the souls in Purgatory who have no one to pray for them. It occurred to me before I was even fully awake that it is our obligation, not option to pray for those souls. I was raised to believe, understand and act upon this Catholic concept, but the idea hadn’t really materialized in my brain until this morning; it was as if a light bulb had suddenly turned on in my head. I always knew about praying for the souls in Purgatory but I guess I really never gave it serious, heartfelt attention until today.
Yesterday I was driving around running errands, with my destination being my parents’ house to have dinner with my family. I had my Sirius Satellite Radio on and was listening to a station that plays a lot of songs from the 70s and 80s. Before the DJ, Nina Blackwood, announced the next song, she first wanted to share with her audience something that always makes her sad. She said that whenever she’s driving along Route 128 in New England (I think she said passing through from New Hampshire to Boston or the other way around, but that part didn’t really register with me) she always drives by this famous wall of graffiti. On that wall is the mention of a man, Brad Delp, who was the lead vocalist of the American rock band, Boston. He committed suicide on March 9, 2007. The suicide note that he left behind read: “Mr. Brad Delp. J’ai une ame solitaire. I am a lonely soul.” Nina Blackwood commented that it was so unfortunate that this man, when alive, hadn’t realized how many people really loved him.
When I got to my parents’ house I borrowed my mother’s computer, Googled the words “boston singer dies” and figured I’d find something out about Brad Delp’s suicide. Even though it happened way back in 2007, it struck me as a surprise because I had heard nothing about it over the last three years. It was so shocking to me that it was as if it had just happened yesterday. Throughout my teens, 20s and beyond, Boston has been one of those favorite things that you never talk about but you take for granted that it will always be there; like an old familiar friend. I used to listen to the song “More Than a Feeling” way back in high school when this boy named Evan was breaking my heart. It was as if I had a companion to cry with as I heard Brad sing about his “Marianne walking away.” And “Peace of Mind” was the song that kept me sane when I was in my 20s and running around New York trying to prove something to myself and the world. For me, Boston was like a safe harbor where I could bury my feelings and emotions, knowing that they’d always be there when I was ready to face them again. This poor man died of carbon monoxide poisoning. He said that he’d lost his desire to live. He was 55.
The Lonely Souls in Purgatory
When the words “boston singer dies” displayed my search results, not only did I find the articles about Brad Delp’s suicide, but also something else that shocked me, leaving me motionless in my chair. In fact, before the Brad Delp articles was a newer article on the first search result that linked to the death of a Massachusetts-born singer named Rich Cronin of the band LFO. This band had a hit song called “Summer Girls” back in 1999 and it was my favorite song that summer. When I read the articles that talked about Rich Cronin’s death from leukemia, again, it came as a complete shock to me. Though I knew little about the band, I remember their hit song bringing a smile to my face whenever I heard it on the radio. It was cool and catchy and full of the freshness of youth and charm. Rich Cronin died on September 8th, 2010. He was 36.
As I sat at my mother’s computer, I just stared at the screen, feeling as if I’d had the wind knocked out of me. I realized that chunks of my life were being chipped away at by the mere knowledge that certain people who had once brought me joy, were now gone. And then I remembered Casey Johnson who died back on January 4th, 2010 of diabetic ketoacidosis. She was defined as an “American heiress, socialite and celebutante, as well as an occasional actress, model and author.” Sources say that Casey was a lost, lonely girl who had so much, that she had nothing.
It’s so easy to believe that when a celebrity passes away they somehow have some sort of automatic clearance into a better life after this one. They are so easy to forget about once they’re gone. I don’t mean easy to forget about in terms of the the mark they left on the world and the culture in which they played such a significant role. What I mean is that it’s difficult for us to think of them as souls in Purgatory who desperately need our prayers, just like all the souls in Purgatory do.
Pray for the Lonely Souls in Purgatory
It would be wonderful to know that these people who have passed on are in Heaven. However, we don’t know that and we shouldn’t assume it. I once heard a priest talk about how it’s always a shame when a well-liked person dies and is called “a saint” by the people who knew and loved him or her. The priest explained that it’s a tragic mistake if the people who were left behind go on with their lives just assuming that this person who passed on is in Heaven and therefore, fail to pray for that person’s soul. The souls in Purgatory need our prayers; they can pray for us, but they cannot pray for themselves!
It’s so easy to push aside the unpleasant thoughts of death and Purgatory; it’s preferable just to go on with day to day living and ignore the heavy stuff. But as Catholics we have an obligation to pray, not only for our loved ones and the sinners on earth, but also for the souls who have passed away. There is a reason God has created us to be social creatures by nature, and that reason extends to our duty as His children to look out for one another; the living and the dead.
The worse thing we can do is to neglect to pray for someone who wronged us or created some sort of adverse reaction in us when they were alive. Casey Johnson was viewed as a tabloid type of rich girl who partied too much and blew through life as if she hadn’t a care in the world. But under the surface she was a scared little girl who never found herself and ended up losing her life at age 30. Rich Cronin was said to have been “a bright light, a wonderful man and a friend to many.” He made girls laugh and smile with his fun, carefree lyrics about liking “girls that wear Abercrombie & Fitch.” And Brad Delp admittedly revealed that he was “a lonely soul.” But the day he died the official website for the band was taken down and replaced with this statement: “We’ve just lost the nicest guy in rock and roll.” And there are countless other souls, some we know and most we don’t, that are waiting for our prayers so that they can enter into Heaven.
I was driving home this evening and a Boston song came on the radio. I knew I was going to be writing this post tonight and I listened to the haunting words of Brad Delp singing: “Well I’m takin’ my time, I’m just movin’ along. You’ll forget about me after I’ve been gone.” I smiled and cried at the same time, feeling like I missed a man I never knew.
Photo by: Nicholas Ortloff Photography