At 7pm Milan time today (Easter Sunday), he stood immediately above the tomb of St. Charles Borromeo, next to the Blessed Sacrament, ten yards from the statue of St. Bartholomew (appears briefly in the video).
He sang Panis Angelicus, two Hail Mary’s (we’ll forgive him for singing Ave Maria instead of Regina Caeli today), and part of the Gloria. Then he walked out the front door to the piazza and sang Amazing Grace.
If you weren’t one of the nearly 3 million people who watched it live on-line, watch it now. (You can skip ahead to 3:45 if you want to, but I liked the quiet-Milan-cityscape countdown.)
You step into a giant forest of marble, when you enter the cathedral of Milan.
Then I found myself next to the famous statue of St. Bartholomew, flayed alive for the faith.
St. Charles Borromeo lies in the crypt, under the high altar.
They don’t make it easy to pray in the Duomo Milano. Large parts of the church lie behind impenetrable barricades. Couldn’t even find the Blessed Sacrament.
But across town, the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio has the great Father of the Church, entombed with two martyrs to whom he was devoted, Sts. Gervase and Protase.
Ambrose made them the patrons of Milan, as narrated in St. Augustine’s Confessions. (St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine.) After Ambrose died, they re-interred the martyrs with him, since he had become the city’s perennial patron.
The martyrs are vested as St. Ambrose’s deacons. They lie beneath this mosaic:
“This is the will of my father, that everyone who sees the Son of Man and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)
In the month of November, nature’s life cycle comes to an end. The leaves wither and fall from the trees, and birds fly south for the winter. The night grows longer and longer. The time has come for us to meditate on the Last Things.
There are four Last Things, plus one very important next-to-last thing, namely Purgatory.
The first of the four Last Things is death. Sooner or later, death comes for everyone. Only a fool would refuse to prepare himself for it.
We can thank the good Lord that he has given us our Catholic faith to help us face death with courage and a calm mind. Others are not so fortunate. The inevitability of death hangs over unbelievers like a dark cloud.
We can penetrate the cloud, because the Lord Jesus has taught us what lies beyond death. After death comes the second of the Last Things: Judgment. Jesus Christ, the all-knowing, all-seeing God will judge every human being. He will take everything into account. His judgment will be perfectly just.
When we are judged by Christ at the most supreme of all courts, there are only two possible sentences. The two sentences are the third and fourth Last Things.
If my sins are counted against me and are not remitted by the Precious Blood shed for us on the Cross, then I will be condemned to hell. I will suffer for all eternity. My conscience will accuse me forever, and I will endure the permanent agony of being separated from the only true happiness. At the end of time, my body will rise again from the grave with all the other bodies, and then my torments will only increase.
May it please the Lord, our Lady, the angels and the saints to deliver us all from this!
On the other hand, if we meet death shining with the brightness of Christ, clothed with the grace of His sacraments, outfitted with the virtues that He has lived in us, and provided-for by the merits of His saints, then we will not be condemned for our sins. Our sins will be pardoned.
This means that the sweetest sound we can hear in this life are the words by which our souls are washed clean after a good Confession: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” May we all go to God in a state of grace.
If we do go to Him in grace, then everlasting happiness awaits us. We will rest in the infinite truth of God forever, contemplating His beauty with bottomless awe, united with all the saints. Heaven is the fourth Last Thing.
Obviously, heaven is the place of perfect justice, purity, and goodness. Most of us, then, will have to be purified in order to enter heaven.
We do not know the details about the purification of purgatory. We do not know how long it takes or exactly how it happens. What we do know is that 1) it is necessary, and 2) we can help each other get through it.
This is why the month for meditating on the Last Things is also the month for praying for our dead. The least we can do is to try to help those who have gone before us to get to heaven as soon as possible. When we die, and—please God—begin our purification, we will want others to help us get through it.
What can we do to help the souls in Purgatory? Here are four ways to shorten Purgatory for our beloved dead:
1) Have Masses said for them. Every Mass can be offered for a particular intention, including the repose of a particular soul.
2) We shorten purgatory for people by obtaining indulgences. The Church, being a very solid spiritual institution, possesses an enormous spiritual bank account. It is the treasury of the merits of Christ and His saints. This bank has the most precious deposits in the universe, and they are also the most secure.
An indulgence is a withdrawal from this bank, which we can make on behalf of a deceased loved one. It is like a bailout for the afterlife. All we need to do is to renounce all sin and then do one of the pious acts which the Church recommends. One of those acts is to come to church on All Souls Day to pray for the dead.
The third thing we can do to help the souls in Purgatory is to pray for them at any time in any place. Every prayer helps.
Lastly, we can help the poor souls in Purgatory by making sacrifices for them, offering something up for them.
May it please God that we will all be together in heaven someday, with all the people we love!