Purgatory defined

At the behest of a reader I consider this timely topic and offer my views. If you want fully authenticated, rubber-stamped apologetics, visit here. I am open to correction*

Purgatory is less a 'place' like Heaven and Hell and more a process by which the soul is rendered pure enough to meet the Unadulterated Purity of God Most High face to face. It's a cleansing through 'fire' as described in Scripture. One of my favorite allegorical images is that of God the Goldsmith, who exposes molten or to the most extreme temperatures until He can see His reflection flawlessly in the liquid surface of the precious metal. Just as the Goldsmith burns away impurities in the gold before fashioning it, so Christ cleanses our souls one final time to present each of us
as a worthy offering to the Father. (See Zechariah 13:9)

So there are those Christ welcomes to the Eternal Banquet and those who have withheld themselves from Love, Peace, and Joy to their own everlasting damnation. Among those called to the Marriage Feast are many who have not refused the invitation, yet are not properly disposed to meet Royalty. They will be made to see their failings, which will indeed be a painful process. You led a good and decent life, but you didn't really give it your all. I'm not talking about the lukewarm and indifferent; they will suffer the cold, sharp pain of exile. I'm talking about mediocre faithful. In other words, most of us.

Those declared Saints and Blessed are those we recognize as having already attained sanctity in this life, as evidenced not only by their heroic virtue in this world, but also their miraculous intercessions after departing from this life. They never leave the Communion of the Faithful, they merely participate more fully than ever possible before in the saving work of Christ. Most of us will not attain this kind of saintly virtue; but most of us (hopefully) will die trying. God loves those who try; and whether we purge (divest?) ourselves of Sin in this world or the next, we must suffer that ultimate cleansing at some point before God can receive us in His totally oh-so-pure-it-hurts kind of purity of a white-hot flame. Otherwise it would be like-- well, watch what happens when gold is refined: little bits shrivel up and slough off until finally the heat can shimmer across the surface and nothing happens but the perfect reflection of the goldsmith in the surface.

And when I speak of Sin that still remains, I mean the kind that kept us from the Garden in the first place, the sin we have simply because we're a fallen creature. Christ accomplished it through His Blood, but we still have to be washed in the Blood of the Lamb to stand before the throne of the One who is Worthy. And we do that through our lifetime here in this place of exile. We are all called to join Christ on the way to
Calvary. We are all called to run the race, as St. Paul so memorably phrases it. We should all be constantly and vigilantly mindful of our thoughts, our words, our choices, our deeds, our bearing, our whole selves and dispositions. Failure is not only inevitable, it's provided for in the mercy of God. Hence, penance. But that's a topic for another day. If you are not suffering, then you aren't genuinely engaged in the life of Christ, who only ever assured repeatedly that His disciples would suffer.

Some people suffer infirmities, some have mental illness, some have rare diseases, some struggle with same sex attraction, some suffer alone, some have deformities, some suffer abuse, some hate themselves or others, some contend with the Devil, some lose everything like Job, some are persecuted, some are dying. Have you identified your Cross yet? And if so, have you embraced your Cross as Christ instructed?

Sometimes we suffer on behalf of another: mothers have all manner of pains bearing and delivering children, some labor for justice, some tend the sick, some work long hours so their children don't know hunger, some pray on their knees.

Alright-- so we suffer in this life. It's a requisite activity in order to grow closer and closer and closer to God. What we do with suffering, interiorly, will determine if we have been truly heroic or simply mediocre. And so some die ready to kiss the face of Abba and others will endure excruciating pain as they approach the Radiant Throne. We'd all prefer the former, but most of us, if we're honest, know what's coming. Either we've been striving to resemble God so that His reflection is in us or we've had our hearts bound up in earthly considerations. And maybe this has made us desire closeness with God, but resent the conditions of servitude. Don't worry, our knees will bend. We may even curl up into the fetal position (have you ever passed a kidney stone? Imagine that multiplied). But the Justice of God will be satisfied not because He is cruel, but because we are unfaithful, we don't live up to the promises of Baptism.

So suffering is not so debilitating in this life if we know Christ. We can enjoy the gifts God gives knowing that he provides all that we need; if we suffer, then we can rest assured it's necessary. Maybe not for our individual specific sins, which most of us tally inaccurately, but for the sins of humankind. It's not like it's distributed equally. Some will be asked to suffer more. But all of us can take it upon ourselves to join in the suffering of others. All of us can contribute-- and this is the spiritual economy.

Souls in Purgatory, souls undergoing this cleansing by fire, need our prayer. To pray for the souls of those who have died is a practice that comes to us from the Jews. Fr. Saunders puts it well: As
Vatican II stated, the Church has consistently believed in a purification of the soul after death. This belief is rooted in the Old Testament. In the Second Book of Maccabees, we read of how Judas Maccabees offered sacrifices and prayers for soldiers who had died wearing amulets, which were forbidden by the Law; Scripture reads, "Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be blotted out" (12:43), and "Thus, [Judas Maccabees] made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from the sin" (12:46). This passage gives evidence of the Jewish practice of offering prayers and sacrifices to cleanse the soul of the departed. Rabbinic interpretation of Scripture also attests to the belief. So there you have it: Scriptural basis for Purgatory.

oh!...not so much...not if you happen to be missing certain parts of the Bible because one Martin Luther needed to remove the parts he didn't like because they might contradict his deepest Protestations. He also excised the part about "...and works..." in order to justify Justification sola fide. Yeah...kinda makes it hard to dialogue about Purgatory when your audience didn't come to class prepared with all the readings ahead of time.

So- until I find a detour...let's just leave it at the cleansing fire image. God's Love is a consuming fire {Hebrews 12:29} that desires our entirety and will cast away anything that obfuscates. Hell is for those who didn’t try to Love. Purgatory is for those who didn’t try hard enough. And Heaven is for ardent Lovers.

* correction in the form of comments below

No comments:

Blog Archive