Five years ago, while meditating before the Blessed Sacrament, filmmaker John Clote was praying for his recently deceased mother and thinking of others who had passed on when he felt an urge to pray for an acquaintance named Michael George who had died suddenly some 15 years earlier.
“I said to him, ‘Michael, if you need someone to be your friend, to pray for you, I’ll be happy to do that,’” he told the Denver Catholic Register by phone from Chicago.
“It was an offhand prayer,” he recalled about that noontime adoration visit.
Its result, however, was startling.
“I went back to my office … flipped open my computer to check email, and at the top email the subject line said, ‘Michael George would like to know if you would be his friend.’
“I got the message,” he asserted, explaining that the email that conveyed it was an invitation from a yearbook company.
The experience impelled him to make a film about purgatory.
Now a Conventual Franciscan friar who plans to be ordained to the priesthood in two years, the veteran filmmaker’s DVD, “Purgatory: The Forgotten Church” was released in August.
The 85-minute film by Lightbridge film productions, a ministry of the Conventual Franciscans of St. Bonaventure Province in Chicago, is a polished, comprehensive look at a frequently misunderstood topic. It features interviews with Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, author and holy souls advocate Susan Tassone, near-death experience expert Jeffrey Long, a Jesuit theologian, a rabbi and others.
“The film is for as wide an audience as possible,” Friar Clote said. “I wanted to do it not just for the person who has faith … but to reach out to people who may be questioning whether there’s anything after this life.”
Informative and compelling, “Purgatory: The Forgotten Church” starts by exploring near-death experiences, using them as a springboard to Catholic teaching.
“The magisterium only teaches three things about purgatory,” Friar Clote explained. “That after-death purification takes place and it’s real; that the purification involves suffering; and that the souls of those in purgatory can be aided greatly by the prayers and sacrifices of the living.”
The souls in purgatory are “holy,” Cardinal George says in the film, because they can no longer sin. They are “poor,” he adds, because while they can pray for others, they can no longer pray for themselves so are dependent on the prayers of others.
The primary message of the film is divine mercy, Friar Clote said.
“Because purgatory is outside of space and time, we can pray for people who died 500 years ago or 100 years ago. … God can apply a prayer you say today for your great-great-great grandmother or grandfather and could have already applied it to their merit because he knew you were going to pray for them,” Friar Clote said. “That’s why it’s an expression of divine mercy.”
The communion of saints
The souls in purgatory have an uncanny ability to connect with those they know are praying for them in ways that those individuals find meaningful, the friar said.
“I’ve seen that repeated over and over again. Susan Tassone writes a lot of those stories in her books,” he said, adding that Tassone’s book “Praying with the Saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory,” was a key resource for the film.
Many examples are in the DVD, which aims to reinvigorate the solidarity Catholic faithful have with deceased loved ones and remind them of their vital role in the communion of saints as the “Church militant” to pray for the “Church suffering” (the souls in purgatory) in union with the “Church triumphant” (the saints).
“It’s really to get people to pray,” Friar Clote said, adding that he hopes the film, which can be ordered online (cost $19.95, add $5 for shipping and handling; www.purgatoryforgottenchurch.com), will be used for youth and adult religious education as part of the new evangelization.
A new vocation
Friar Clote’s previous work includes the award-winning “Ocean of Mercy,” on St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Maximilian Kolbe and Blessed John Paul II.
A successful media executive, six years ago he entered the Conventual Franciscans to answer a call to priesthood he’d originally heard in his 20s but had put on the back burner as he focused on a career in broadcast journalism. However, he quickly grew fatigued by the sameness of the stories and the coarse environment.
“A lot of (journalism) doesn’t elevate our soul,” the 47-year-old writer/director said. “I saw our newsroom passing over great stories … because they had a faith element.”
Not only is his latest DVD inspiring—you can view a trailer online—but the website through which it’s ordered also offers the opportunity to enter names of the deceased to be remembered at a Mass by the Conventual Franciscans at no cost.
“If people feel a nudge to pray for a loved one or even someone they don’t know,” Friar Clote said, “they should be encouraged to do that in trust and faith.”
For a list of books on purgatory by Susan Tassone, visit www.susantassone.com.