Every year many families experience the pain of having an empty seat at the Christmas table because a loved one has passed away during the year. This year, my family will have this experience, My father died on November 14, three weeks after he contracted Covid. Despite this great pain, we need to reflect on how God the Father would like us to celebrate this Christmas.
I believe that the first attitude is to remember that God is a loving and provident Father who always wishes our good and our eternal happiness. He knows all things, and if He decided to call my father to eternity this year, it is because his mission was over, and now he will live in eternity, reaping the fruits of his life here with us.
As much as my mother, my sisters and I, and everyone who loves him thought he would live a few more years - after all he was "only" 74 years old and was well before he got sick - we need to trust that God knows much more than each one of us and that the most important thing is the salvation of his soul, which we trust certainly happened. Just before going to the ICU, he confessed (he told my sister that it was the best confession of his life), received the anointing of the sick and received Communion.
Despite not being physically present with us, this year we can give him the best gift of all: our prayers, sacrifices, Holy Mass, all to relieve his penalties from Purgatory, if he is still there. The Catholic Church teaches us that, after death, for those souls who have been saved and have not yet been freed from all penalties, from the consequences of their sins, there is Purgatory, where their purification takes place, in order to obtain the sanctity necessary for enter the joy of Heaven (Catechism of the Catholic Church §1030 and §1031).
Unfortunately, many people forget this reality and end up assuming that the deceased person is already in the glory of Heaven and fail to pray for that soul, which results in a much longer time in Purgatory. Whoever is in Purgatory can no longer do anything for himself and is totally dependent on the prayers and sacrifices of those who are still here on Earth, and on the help of those who are already in Heaven. Praying for the souls in Purgatory is a great act of charity, a work of mercy for our deceased brothers.
Even though we miss him immensely, I think we shouldn't be too sad. As a family, we will remember his life, the moments we spent together, his jokes, making his favorite foods, finally, thanking God for the man, husband, father, grandfather, friend he was. I also think that somehow, he will be there with us, interceding for each one of us, so that, one day, we can meet him in Heaven again.
This is one of the great beauties of the Catholic Church: the reality of the communion of saints.
Here in this earthly life, as the Church Militant, we intercede for one another and also for the souls of Purgatory, the Church Penitent, which cannot help itself but intercedes for us. And the Church Triumphant, all the holy souls who enjoy the joys of Heaven, intercede for us and for the souls of Purgatory, so that one day, we may all be together in the eternal joy of contemplating God face to face.
This year, this empty place at the Christmas table will remind us of the real meaning of the celebration of this very important date: a Savior was born for us, who came into the world as a helpless baby, suffered a lot and died on a cross, but then resurrected, He overcame death, so that one day, each of us can be resurrected with Him and live in a new Heaven and a new Earth.