“Ask a Priest: Could a Dead Person Have 40 Days to Be Saved?”

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Q: My friend lost her father like two weeks ago. He was a bad father, drunk and abusive. I don’t know the whole story, but my friend didn’t love him very much. She is an atheist. She told me yesterday she had a dream of her father crying and begging her to pray for him, as there is only 40 days to have his soul saved. She told me she knows it sounds bad, but she believes it is not fair, that if he did stupid things all his life, why should she fight now for his soul? I tried to convince her to pray. Do you think it is really possible something like this? Can I pray for him myself? Do you think it will help? – C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: You can certainly pray for the man who died. It is always a great act of charity to pray for the dead.

As you mention, you don’t know the whole story. Perhaps the man had a lot of internal struggles and problems. God alone knows what he faced. And Our Lord would show as much mercy as he can to the deceased.

The details of your friend’s dream don’t sound right. Her father would have learned his fate at the moment of death. He would have known immediately if his soul was lost. There would be no 40-day window of opportunity, so to speak.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that the dad is in purgatory and that God allowed that dream, and that your friend might have misunderstood the bit about the 40 days. Perhaps that dream was an inspiration meant to prompt her toward an act of faith and compassion and prayer.

Perhaps you would want to intensify your prayers for your friend. Her abusive dad might be a reason for her atheism. She never experienced a loving dad, so it is hard for her to imagine God as a loving Father in heaven.

Your friend needs to somehow come to believe that she is a beloved daughter of God and that he only wants the best for her.

Perhaps your own charity and prayers will help to start bringing her in the right direction.

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