Purgatory: The Forgotten Church, recently released on DVD (PurgatoryForgottenChurch.com), is the latest film written and directed by Franciscan Friar John Clote.
It follows in the steps of his other work, like the award-winning Ocean of Mercy and films about St. Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed John Paul II, Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos and Venerable Solanus Casey. The documentary is a production of Lightbridge, a ministry of the Conventual Franciscan Friars of St. Bonaventure Province in Chicago, to which Friar John, a seminarian, belongs.
Shortly after the documentary was released, Friar John spoke with the Register about the film and the topic of purgatory.
What led you to make this film?
I have done a lot of long-format films, in terms of documentaries and biographies, and I always kicked around the area of doing something on purgatory more out of curiosity. When I was older and became a friar, and my mom passed away — that was 2008; my dad died 20 years earlier — it just became more personal.
I had Gregorian Masses said for her, and I really started to think about all the people I know who had died.
I was in a small chapel in Arizona praying for my mom about three weeks after her death. She was a social worker in a hospital, and I knew a lot of people were praying for her. I was thinking of people I knew who had died but were not surrounded with that support system [of prayer].
I did research and found so many people, and even priests, who were ignorant and ill-informed, due to poor preaching and a poor understanding of what purgatory is. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. It’s a great expression of God’s mercy and very reasonable to most people when they have it explained to them in the way we hope we have done in the film.
Purgatory does not become this side chapel of hell, as many people think of it, but a wonderful expression of God’s mercy. That’s essentially why I decided to do the film.
How did you approach the idea of purgatory?
I wanted to do a comprehensive film on the topic. To do that, I needed a Churchman, Cardinal Francis George; a scientist; a systematic theologian; a rabbi; Father James Kubicki, a Jesuit; a purgatory expert and author, Susan Tassone; and Drew Mariani, for a pulse on the culture [since he is a radio host]. The difficult task was to make all those voices harmonize into what purgatory means and how we approach it.
You discuss the communion of saints quite clearly. Why did you want to stress this?
I wanted to stress relationships. Relationships do not simply vaporize [after death], but they continue. That’s why the Church asks us to pray for the deceased — because our prayers are very helpful in helping our deceased loved ones in this process of purification that we call purgatory.
During his pontificate, Blessed John Paul II was concerned that the faithful not forget about those continuing relationships: He wanted the solidarity with the holy souls to be invigorated.
The holy souls in purgatory are assured heaven. It’s just a matter of purification. They burn with the desire to be united with God.
St. Catherine of Genoa said there is no joy, save that in paradise, to be compared to the joy in purgatory. Why would Catherine of Genoa, called the "Apostle of Purgatory," say that? The reason is: We’re guaranteed salvation. The thing you suffer is that you’re not completely united with the object of your affection, which is God himself.
How do you summarize what the Church teaches?
There are only three things the Church teaches about purgatory. First, that, after death, purification exists. That’s a reality.
Second: There is suffering involved in that purification. They [Church teachings] don’t say that’s through physical fire. Purification itself is suffering.
Third: The prayers and sacrifices of the living can aid and help those souls who are in this process. That is why we pray for the souls in purgatory.
It’s about relationships and encouraging people to pray when they get a nudge to pray for someone, whether they know them or not.
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.