WHAT HAPPENED AT NANNY'S FUNERAL,
IF THERE'S A PURGATORY, SOMEONE FORGOT TO TELL GOD!
May 7, 2015
On October 9, 1970, my grandmother, Ella Mae Bobe Smith, passed away at Sacred Heart Hospital, Pensacola, Florida. She was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery on October 12th, her birthday. Two weeks prior to "Nanny's" death, I was able to be at the hospital quite a bit, helping to take care of her in her final days. It was pretty overwhelming for me. I was very close to Nanny. I remember one day, after she had had a stroke, she began motioning to me to do something for her. I was praying and doing everything I could to understand what she was wanting, when it dawned on me that she was asking me to put her glasses on her so she could see us better. I cannot describe the joy I felt inside just to be able to help her.
I had never witnessed anyone dying, and it was painful to think that the first person I was ever going to witness dying was someone with whom I had such a close bond. I did my best to hold myself together, especially since I was and still am one of the older grandchildren. I don't think there was anyone who had a bad thing to say about Nanny. We all loved her. In fact, the funeral director said he had never seen as large a funeral procession in Pensacola as he saw that day for Nanny.
The funeral was held at St. Stephen's Catholic Church on Garden Street. This was Nanny and Papa's parish church and had been for years. The children's choir in which some of my cousins were members sang at the funeral. I remember as Nanny's casket was wheeled down the aisle, the children sang these words from Psalm 121, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth." I had held myself together for as long as I could, when all the pent up emotions poured out of me as I ran out of the church sobbing.
I had been questioning over and over - without ever telling anyone - asking God just where Nanny was. Was she in Heaven? Was she in Purgatory? I just couldn't bring myself to believe that she was in Hell! If you are not a Catholic, you might not understand what I am talking about. You see, I was taught as a Catholic that unless you were some kind of super-saint, canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, most likely you were going to have to spend some time in Purgatory and not go straight to Heaven. And, of course, the only way out of Purgatory for you was the hope that enough Masses were said, rosaries prayed, and novenas attended by your surviving
relatives and friends. (I had never really given it any thought as to when enough was enough - enough Masses, enough rosaries, and enough novenas). And, of course, I had never read the Bible to find out what God had to say about my worries.
But, you know, God has a way of meeting us just where we are. Like I said, as the children's choir started singing, I just lost it. Sobbing, I ran out the side door of the church and down the sidewalk, in between the rectory and the church. As I was sobbing, this voice spoke to me within and said, "Do not fear, she is with me." I cannot describe what happened next or how fast it happened. All worry, all fear simply vanished. I walked back into St. Stephen's Catholic Church a changed man.
I knew that although Nanny's physical body was in the casket and would soon be in the ground at Holy Cross Cemetery, Nanny was with the Lord. There was no priest, no bishop, no cardinal, and definitely no pope who could convince me otherwise. It was settled. In fact, it was so settled that I never mourned another minute for Nanny. I knew where she was, and it wasn't in Purgatory or Hell. She was with God in Heaven.
It was not until years later that I discovered some interesting details of an event that happened to my grandparents in the early years of their marriage. Part of Nanny's family was Baptist, and so both my grandparrents were around the Gospel message throughout their lives. When my grandparents were living in Meridian, Mississippi, where my mother was born, there was no Catholic Church for them to attend. And, because it was a command of the Roman Catholic Church to go to church on Sunday, they did a real no-no. They went to the local Baptist church. It was there that they heard the Gospel. I am sure that it was not the last time they heard the message. There were still plenty of Baptist relatives back in Pensacola who probably shared the Gospel over the years.
Anyway, whatever happened and whenever it happened, I knew that Nanny and Papa had both accepted the Lord as their Savior and found that the only satisfaction for their sins was the blood of Jesus Christ shed for them. While they were without strength, sinners, ungodly, and enemies, Jesus Christ died for them and, that having believed on Him, they received eternal life, never to be separated from Him in death. Later when I became a Christian, I read the words by apostle Paul, "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." I knew on the day of Nanny's funeral, she was with the Lord. Apparently, someone had forgotten to tell God about Purgatory.
If you're a Catholic reading this, I hope that you really begin thinking about what you have been taught and about what you have believed. Recently, a man who was a Catholic in our area passed away. He was so tormented about going to Purgatory that he even asked a Baptist ladies' prayer group to pray for him to the Lord so he wouldn't have to be in Purgatory a long time. In fact, he begged them to not forget him. You may have to pay a stipend to have a Mass said for your dearly departed Catholic relative or friend, but I am going to give you some free information. Read your Bible, the very Word of God, and see what He has to say about Heaven and how to get there. Unless Paul the apostle - the one taught by the Lord Himself - was lying, the Word of God still stands, if you know the Lord: "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." Pax vobiscum! Amen!