A thick fog has settled on the shore. The sun looks bleached and bone-white, almost like the moon.
Usually I head to the beach in the warmer months, but some impulse has called me here on this crisp November morning. Strangely, the beach is filled with other people, walking slowly and huddled together against the chill.
Suddenly I realize someone is walking with me, a young man with luminous blonde hair and – oh, no, am I losing my mind? I swear he has wings!
He sees my perplexed expression and nods in a friendly way.
“Yes, an angel, you’re correct.” He falls into step with me.
“But I thought angels couldn’t be seen.” I’m growing more nervous by the second.
“Oh, usually that’s the case,” he says, “but every so often, we make an exception.”
The fog is growing thicker, and the people on the shore look cold and somewhat forlorn. As if reading my thoughts, the angel draws closer to me, and I feel warmth radiating from him.
“Most people don’t realize how cozy feathers are,” he chuckles.
Now I know something is wrong, because here I am on the beach in November and I’m talking to an angel.
“Who are all these people?” I just have to know, even if the answer might be scary.
“They are the souls in Purgatory,” he replies. “The ones we call the faithful departed.”
I notice many people are dressed in the fashions of centuries ago, so they have clearly been walking the beach a long time.
The angel seems to read my mind. “You see, some poor souls don’t have people on Earth to pray for them,” he explains. “Perhaps their relatives abandoned the Church, and no longer believe in Purgatory –or maybe these souls have no living family members left on Earth.”
Just then, I notice a few people wading into the ocean and then swimming toward an island, which looks sun-streaked and dense with trees.
Even though it’s far away, I can see everything distinctly: people climbing out onto the sloping shore and being met by angels, who wrap them in blankets and hand them steaming cups of tea.
“That’s heaven, of course, and it’s just a short swim away,” the angel says. “The faithful departed who are swimming there have families on Earth having Masses celebrated in their memory and praying for them.”
I feel an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have no children, and most of my relatives are not Catholic, so I have to ask: “Do only souls who have people praying for them get to heaven?”
The angel smiles in the kindest way. “Even if no one prays for you, heaven awaits all who die in a state of grace. It just takes longer to get there.”
Suddenly I hear an owl hooting quite insistently, and in that instant, the angel starts dissolving.
“No, don’t leave me!” I cry out, but he’s gone.
I wake up and realize the owl is hooting in a tree outside my window.
I glance at the clock: It is 3 a.m. on November 2, All Souls’ Day.
It was just a dream, I assure myself, but as I scrunch the pillow to make it more comfortable, a feather drifts out of the case and flutters to the floor.
A few hours later, I go Mass and offer up my Holy Communion for the souls of the faithful departed on my list: my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends.
But the angel’s message struck deep, so I don’t stop there. I also remember the poor souls who have no one to pray for them.
And as I offer my prayers for these forgotten ones, I imagine them one day leaving the foggy shore and swimming to that distant golden island.
Lorraine’s latest mystery is “Death of a Liturgist,” about a layman who wreaks havoc on a traditional parish. She also has written a biography of Flannery O’Connor, “The Abbess of Andalusia,” plus five other books. Her website is www.lorrainevmurray.com
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