It was my mother who first taught me something so profound that I could never forget it. She said even though I may make my Morning Offering alone by the side of my bed or in bed I was not alone. Nor would I be alone even if I became a hermit and lived in the middle of some distant desert or a prisoner locked up in solitary confinement. My prayer would always be made in with and through Jesus and so with all other living Christians wherever they were. She quoted the Our Father to press her point home. When we petition the Father we do not petition him for ourselves alone as the prayer makes abundantly clear – it is – ‘Give US this day our daily bread and forgive US our trespasses as WE forgive those who trespass against US and lead Us not into temptation, but deliver Us from evil Amen.’ She taught me further that praying to the Father in Jesus also means praying with all those who have died and who are now alive again in him. That means with Mary and Joseph, with St Peter and St Paul, St Dominic and St Francis, with St Catherine of Siena, St Teresa of Avila and St Thérèse of Lisieux, and all the other great saints and mystics too.
It also means both praying for, with, and to all my own relatives and friends both living and dead, who are alive again in him, and all who are dead, but not yet fully alive in Christ. She especially taught me to pray for what she called ‘the Holy Souls.’ In other word for those who have died, but who are not yet fully prepared to be united with the Risen One for the sins and the ‘fruits of their sins’ that keep them at bay until they are ‘spirited away’. Unlike things cannot be united, so we must be cleansed from all that prevents us from having full union with Jesus, and we must be cleansed either in this life or in the next before, what we desire more than anything else can take place. Although it is perhaps understandable that Protestants find the idea of purgatory difficult to come to terms with for historical reasons, a change began to take place during the First World War.
It was when, many hundreds of thousands were brought home in ‘body bags’, or were buried where they fell, that ordinary people of every Christian denomination flocked to church to pray for them to the dismay of the protestant clergy, who didn’t believe in purgatory. After all if they were dead they were either in heaven or in hell, so what was the point of praying for them. However one by one the Anglican Bishops in England, not only joined, but led them in prayer for their loved ones. All that is but the Bishop of Liverpool who held out at least until he lost two sons himself and then he changed his mind. The doctrine of purgatory might not have been added to the 39 articles of Anglican faith, but it was tacitly admitted as they gave way to the overwhelming feelings and needs of their faithful.
My mother not only taught me to pray for the ‘Holy Souls’ but to them too. In fact I always used to pray for them to wake me up, if I needed to get up early in the mornings, and they never let me down! Many years later when I was a student my parents came to visit me and I was proud to show them my extra-large bedroom and study. My mother was on her way out when she suddenly stopped and pointed to something on my bedside table. It was an alarm clock. “Whatever is that for?” she said. She didn’t wait for an answer, because she didn’t want to embarrass me, but I can still see the expression on her face, and I know what she was thinking!
My mother also told me that this was the perfect opportunity to pray for others too, especially those who have asked me to prayer for them. She said when you hear about people who are suffering all over the world on the Radio, the television or in the newspaper, you can reach out to then too through prayer because prayer is not limited by space and time as we are. One morning a lay brother, thinking that he was out, burst into the room of Padre Pio, who was lost in prayer. The saint dismissed his apologies with the words –
“I was only praying for a happy death for my Father.”
“But your Father died two years ago.” said the brother looking rather surprised.
Padre Pio looked at him in disbelief – “I know he did!”
Prayer is not limited by the laws of space and time, that’s why although St Thérèse’ of Lisieux never left her Carmelite monastery she was made patroness of the Missions. Some years ago I went to see an opera at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden by John Tavener called –‘Thérèse’’. Through sublime music and profound words the composer showed how on her death bed her prayer could reach forward to help soldiers, who were to suffer in the first world war and backwards to those who had suffered in the past, as well as to a condemned murderer in the present that he might repent before he was executed, and her prayer was answered!
The wonderful thing about praying for others at this time of the day is, my mother said, that they can be included in the prayer that is the rest of your day, as you try to offer up all you say and do for the honour and glory of God.