The Catholic church is keen on prayer. This statement belongs in the same league as The sun is hot, or Boys like toys, for sheer transparency. Prayer, in Catholic terms, is not a matter of mere desire, but a form to be allowed into one’s life. It may feel great, it may feel like nothing more than duty. It is all – as the saying goes – good.
A recent indicator of the Catholic priority of prayer is in the life of Blessed Mother Teresa (I think I have that right, her having achieved Blessedness). Her biography revealed decades of doubt following several conversations she had, through prayer, with...well, with our Lord and Savior, who assigned her her calling, as he has been known to do. I believe she felt rather intense disappointment that these conversations ceased. Understandable. But let it be known that she followed her calling, and she continued to pray, which Catholics take to be a marvelous indication of her faith and strength and all-around loveliness, and I could not agree more.
I mention this (I am leading to something) in light of the Month of November, which we dedicate to the dead, to the souls in purgatory, among others, to all saints and, as I think is proper, to all sinners, the dead and not-yet dead (shades of Monty Python here...). This focus follows that of October, where we think a good deal about the Blessed Virgin, our mother, Mary.
For the record, not that one keeps track of these things, I pray quite often on a daily basis, the morning and evening divine office, the rosary, the chaplet of divine mercy (call it three days a week or so on the avg.), and every now and then a novena (I have an amazing book of novenas if you want)– or just recently a dedication of 1000 prayers for the souls in purgatory (especially those who are most forsaken). This in payment for a promise to do so if Obama were to win re-election. If that seems facetious, note that I carried out the same promise when God helped me with patron saints. That was when St. Petronius paid a visit. I wrote it up here.
Other practices. Stations about once a month. Confession every two weeks or so. A lector at Mass. On the pastoral council. You get the idea. Man it’s fun.
Anyway. So I am up to 300 of the prayers for the souls in purgatory. It’s a simple prayer. I do an Our Father, a Hail Mary, ten of these [Dear Father (or God in heaven, etc), have mercy on the souls in Purgatory, especially those who are most forsaken. Amen], then a Glory be. Repeat 5 times for fifty and end with a Hail Mary and an Our Father. I do these on the bus (uh, silently) coming in to work and going home.
So yesterday I was feeling disinclined to do these prayers or even the rosary which I do probably like 29 days out of 30. For whatever reason, but I thought, maybe Mary would just like a prayer of thanks. Maybe I don’t need to ask her for anything or say the same old thing, so I just briefly praised her for being such a great friend and model and mother and everything. It felt good to stop the train so to speak and just say thanks. I mean for Pete’s sake the woman works non-stop.
That was in the early evening. Later that night I closed my eyes, and like the last dream written out here (the Revelations style one) I saw a scene. I am sure you have the experience of seeing images, as if patterned against your inner eyelids when you close your eyes. They are usually just patterns, for me, anyway. But this is what I saw.
I saw shapes take form. The shapes took form as women’s heads and torsos, wearing large, extravagant hats, some of them. Hats such as women wore in the fin-de-siècle period. The perspective was as if seeing someone about 15, 20 feet away. There was no color, more of a sepia tone inclining toward black. Not cloudy, but dark.
The scene then expanded (I was quite awake, I assure you) until I saw a large crowd, very dense. Light was apparent only obliquely, from one or two openings, like open doors or portals, I would say. From what I could tell there were men and women. They all were dressed in clothing I judged to range from the mid-to-late 1800’s until the 1930’s. That was my impression. They were very densely crowded, milling about. Like people at a train station where there is a delay. All standing, moving about slowly.
In amongst the people were vague, somewhat elongated orbs of light, or mist, lighted. Faintly, and shifting. Of different shapes. I perceived a green color in one or two. I sensed that this was a vision of purgatory. I said the above prayer and one of the mist/light orbs puffed out and disappeared. I said another and the same thing happened. Another one or two disappeared as I was looking but without my having prayed. I was still awake. I said maybe one or two more of the prayers. Same effect.
I then (and this is harder to recount. I was still wake as I recall opening my eyes and looking about, though staying very still) saw a series of openings, principally rectangular or door like. I think I was concentrating on the light sources. Yes I am sure of it now. But there was really only a kind of magnification of the light sources. I remember one opening (door or portal) leaning at an angle. I tried hard to perceive detail. I saw no other details or figures, etc. There, the vision ended.
I got out of bed and went about my business getting ready to go to sleep, talking with family. The usual thing.
Well. You know I no longer bother with caveats for this sort of thing. So I should say this: for a Catholic, the power or effect of prayer is in the nature of fact. It is, principally, a force or effect (by virtue of the Grace of God) as great as any other force you might consider. It does not surprise or shock me to see such a scene, such that accords perfectly with my understanding of my belief, my faith, and therefore with the world. In this case, purgatory, and the causative effect of praying for the release of the souls there, their release to paradise, to heaven. I say it makes sense, and I mean to say it cannot make other than sense.
I cannot know but I expect that this vision was a gift of God through the intercession of Mary. I have always been rather keen on prayers for the souls of purgatory, it’s true. But, as amazing as any of this might seem, it is simply perfectly in accord with Grace. I praise God in the morning, at night, and whenever I have the sense to do so. That he would grant me this vision has very little to do with anything pertaining to me, except to say, thanks be to God. I praise you and your generosity to me. really, I don’t know why you bother. I am a terrible sinner, a reclamation project in the first degree (or second I suppose).
How does one reward kindness but with thanks. Pure and simple.
A couple more items.
I am no prophet. Not one of the visions or scenes I have seen, whether asleep or awake, are anything but confirmation of well-held principles. I have nothing to add. I have no news. I am not directed or “spoken” too. If anything, as the previous dream I wrote about indicates, it certainly does not fall to me to see God. It falls to him, to his rather over-the-top mercy and generosity (if I may be so bold) to opt to assign or present – or withhold - this or that idea or vision to this or that person. I mean to say, from whom else would such things occur?
One more thing, and this I say for the elucidation of anyone who thinks that such events or visions are only experienced by one or another category of the “faithful.” Well, I am faithful inasmuch as I believe with all my heart and soul, true. As to the facts of how I comport myself on the temporal political moralities of this life and time, brothers and sisters, do note. I voted yet again in 2012 for Barack Obama; I support choice and life; I have no clue why one should object to contraceptives; I am adamantly in favor of gay marriage; I feel as restored serving breakfast amongst a squad of protestants as almost anything else I do (short of Communion, of course). My wife is a burgeoning Quaker, or Friend; my son is a wonderful young man. I tell him what I know, from time to time, and make no demands. Period.
What else. I drink more than I probably should, on occasion. I’ve been known to say the word “Fuck.” I smoke the occasional cigarette. I like the band AC/DC.