My response to restlessness is to fix things, or to do something that makes me feel like I’m fixing things. I remember being overwhelmed as the 23-year-old mother of a 6-week-old child and deciding that I HAD to rearrange the furniture in the living room at 3:00 in the morning. Dragging couches and chairs, and moving everything somewhere else gave me a satisfying sense of control in the whirlwind of motherhood that had taken over my life. It changed nothing, but it made me feel better.
This pattern has repeated itself over and over in almost every are of my life. Something is uncomfortable, so I ‘do something’ to fix it, or at least to feel like I’m in control. Resting in restlessness has never been an option I’ve embraced.
This morning, kneeling in the adoration chapel, I attempted to empty my mind and soul of the many cares that had already invaded the day. Jesus was there, in front of me, and I desired to sit at his feet in peace and rest in him. But my mind was stubbornly restless. Roaming interiorly, looking for my corner of rest, I found none. I longed to sit in Christ’s peace, to simply hold him in my heart and be held by him with no other care in the world. I couldn’t make this happen myself, and it was clear that there was no furniture, spiritual or material, that I could rearrange, so after a little while I accepted the possibility that God wanted something else for me today. My only proper response in that moment was to surrender my poverty to him. My restlessness continued, so I decided to accept it as the form of prayer God desired for me today.
And because it is All Souls Day, I prayed for the souls in Purgatory. Calling them to mind and offering them to Christ in my heart, I realized how painful their state of restlessness must be. Their consuming desire to rest in Christ’s arms cannot be alleviated by the silly distractions we have on earth. They can’t run from their overwhelming desire for Christ and their utter poverty of spirit. Christ knew this too, and what comfort it must be to them that he said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 5:3
The souls in purgatory have nothing but the promise of the passion and mercy of Christ, true and complete poverty. But with this poverty they have the promise, “theirs is the kingdom of God.” The poverty of the souls in purgatory in some ways echoes the poverty of Christ, who had “no place to lay [his] head.” They have nothing, and most distinctly, no place to rest their soul, except in the sure hope of Heaven which whispers under the scream of their restless longing for the face of Christ.
Pope Benedict XVI said ““I would go so far as to say that if there was no purgatory, then we would have to invent it, for who would dare say of himself that he was able to stand directly before God. And yet we don’t want to be, to use an image from Scripture, ‘a pot that turned out wrong,’ that has to be thrown away; we want to be able to be put right. Purgatory basically means that God can put the pieces back together again. That he can cleanse us in such a way that we are able to be with him and can stand there in the fullness of life. Purgatory strips off from one person what is unbearable and from another the inability to bear certain things, so that in each of them a pure heart is revealed, and we can see that we all belong together in one enormous symphony of being.”—Pope Benedict XVI
We have a taste of this poverty that cleanses us and creates a pure heart at many points in our lives, like the restlessness of being unable to shake inquietudes in the chapel, or the discomfort at having to live with seemingly pointless sorrows, unanswered questions and unclear paths in life. Our interior poverty and surrender also echo the poverty of Christ, if we can embrace them. In those moments, we must be like the holy souls in Purgatory, peaceful in spite of our inability to rest, with a holy indifference to the discomfort of longing, a hope that is not clouded by grasping at comfort and control.
As we pray for those who have entered Eternity before us, let’s also ask them to help us to live the holy poverty that allows Christ to change us, so that we can join them in the kingdom of Heaven.