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If there is a Purgatory…

June 20, 2012

If there is a purgatory (and yes, I believe there is, sort of), I admit I have no actual knowledge of what it “looks” like. But, in the course of my intellectual wanderings based on some recent experiences, I offer the following thoughts on purgatory.  They are, of course, worth about as much as the paper they’re not printed on.  

Where is purgatory?  What is it like?  Is it somewhere you go?  Is it the cream filling between heaven and hell in the eternal oreo?

Protestants mostly reject idea of purgatory because the bible is rather quiet on the issue (it makes a small cameo in one of those books that isn’t Bible-y enough for Protestant bible translations).  The Catechism of the Catholic church spares us the details of the mechanics of purgatory, saying only, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC, 1030).

Some have described purgatory as a refining fire in which our sins are painfully purged from our souls, but I like to think of it as something far less sadistic sounding.

What if purgatory is nowhere?  What if it’s not a place spent for a specific time?  What if purgatory is awareness?

Awareness of what?  That we are eternal.  That we were created for more.  And that we’ve fallen short.

Put another way… what if it’s only in death that we know what it means to truly live?

Now, I know that, by virtue of our faith, we accept the tenets I’ve just listed above..  We accept these truths intellectually but our concupiscent hearts keep us from embracing them in fullness.  Worse than that, the disordered desires of our flesh lead us to defy these realities time and time again.  It takes profound discipline and, dare I say, saintliness to actually reflect these truths with our lives and our actions.  It takes nothing short of a tremendous assent of heart, mind and body (dying to self) to put our actions into line with these truths.

Even the apostle Paul, “chief among sinners” (his description, not mine), who understood these realities in the most profound and God-inspired way, wrestled with putting those truths into action.  He lamented, “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).

So, what if…in the moment we slip from life, into death, into eternal life the reality that:

1) we are eternal beings;

2) we were created for a much closer relationship with God;  and

3) we have fallen woefully short,

come crashing down on us like a ton of bricks…and it breaks our hearts?  What if we catch the first glimpse of Christ’s love in its full grandeur, of his brokenness for us, and our souls cry out, lamenting what we are and, more so, what we’ve failed to be?

In the bible, whenever someone interacted with an eternal being, it seems like their humanity became more clear than any other moment in their lives.

“When Zechariah saw [the angel], he was startled and gripped with fear” (Luke 1:12).

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, The Lord appeared to him…Abram fell down on his face” (Genesis 17:1-3).

Isaiah, upon seeing the Seraphim, cried out, “”Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5).

What follows this awareness?  The love of Christ overcomes our shame.  Like scared children realizing the triumph of a parent’s, we peek through our fingers to see the arms of God open and calling us to the life we were meant for all along.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Greg Madere permalink
    July 10, 2012 12:16 pm

    Various apparitions have also attested to the nature of Purgatory. It was revealed that one of the children from Fatima (name escapes me at the moment) who was thought to be quite holy would be “in Purgatory until the end of time”. Of course, time is only relative to our finite existence, so who knows how long that is when compared against eternity?
    It has been revealed that their are two simultaneous states of existence in Purgatory – great suffering at being still separated from God, and great joy, knowing that you have “passed judgement” so to speak, and are assured of being in Heaven once your time in Purgatory is completed.
    Food for thought…. 🙂

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