By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published October 30, 2008
A thick fog has settled on this stretch of the shore. The sun is trying to rise, but the dense fingers of fog are covering it, so 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, and I am obediently following. Strangely, the beach is filled with other people, walking slowly and huddled together against the chill.
What are we all doing here? I wonder.
This question weighs heavy, and the usual exuberance I feel at the beach is dulled by an odd apprehension. Then I realize someone is walking with me, a young man with very long 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, but every so often, we make an exception. You know ‘angel’ means messenger, right?”
“Yes, angels are sent by God to tell people something,” I reply, “like an angel told Mary about conceiving the Christ Child, and later, an angel warned Joseph to keep the baby and Mary out of danger.”
“You know your Bible well.” He smiled approvingly.
The fog was growing thicker, and the people walking along the shore looked cold and somewhat forlorn. As if reading my thoughts, the angel drew a bit closer to me, and I felt warmth radiating from him.
“Most people don’t realize how cozy feathers are,” he said with a chuckle.
Now I knew something was wrong because here I was on the beach in November with a group of strangers, and I was talking to an angel.
“Who are all these people?” I just had to know, even if the answer might be scary.
“They are the souls in purgatory,” he replied. “The ones we call the faithful departed.”
I noticed that many people were dressed in the fashions of centuries ago. They had clearly been walking the beach a long time.
The angel again seemed to read my mind. “You see, some poor souls don’t have people on Earth to pray for them,” he said. “Perhaps their relatives abandoned the church, and unfortunately don’t believe in purgatory, or maybe these souls have no living family members left on Earth.”
Just then, I noticed a few people wading into the ocean. I saw them swimming, quite easily, toward an island that I hadn’t noticed before, which looked sun-streaked and dense with trees.
Even though it was far away, I could see everything distinctly: I saw people climbing out onto the sloping shore and being met by angels, who were wrapping them in big fluffy towels and giving them steaming cups of tea.
My companion sensed my curiosity. “That’s heaven, of course, and it’s just a short swim away. The faithful departed who are swimming there have families on Earth praying for them, having Masses celebrated in their memory and offering up suffering for them.”
I felt an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have no children, and most of my relatives are not Catholic, so I had to ask: “Does this mean that only souls who have people praying for them can get to heaven?”
The angel smiled 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 heard an owl hooting quite insistently, and in that instant, the angel started dissolving.
“No, don’t leave me!” I cried out, but he was gone.
I awoke to realize that the owl was hooting in a tree outside my window. I checked the clock on the bedside table. Three a.m. on November 2, All Souls Day.
It was just a dream, I assured myself, but as I scrunched the pillow to make it more comfortable, a feather drifted out of the case and tickled me on the nose.
The next morning, I went to Mass and offered 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 didn’t stop there.
I also remembered the poor souls in purgatory who have no one to pray for them. And as I offered my prayers for those forgotten ones, I imagined them leaving the foggy, cold shore and swimming to that distant golden island.
This is the least I can do for them. And I pray that should I ever find myself on that foggy shore, others will, in turn, offer their prayers for me.
Artwork, “Shore Angel,” is by Jef Murray (www.jefmurray.com). Lorraine and Jef are parishioners at St. Thomas More Parish in Decatur. Her latest book is “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist,” a spiritual autobiography. Readers may e-mail the Murrays at firstname.lastname@example.org.