Purgatory is not one of the Four Last Things but as it is a sort of antechamber to heaven I thought it deserved a mention. It is a state of suffering where, as St Paul describes it, the straw of life gets burned away leaving only the gold, bright and shiny that can enter heaven. It is through God’s Mercy that such a thing can happen and is a direct result of His saving act on the Cross and the Resurrection. I know that many protestant Christian’s don’t accept the existence of this purging before heaven but all the ones that phone Catholic Answers with their questions or statements on it, end up saying something along the same lines as Catholic teaching on the matter, so I suspect there’s at least a vague acknowledgement that as nothing unclean can live with God, that there’s a process of cleaning to ensure that.
Quite a few Biblical scholars (Hahn for one) see purgatory as linked with the old Jewish place of the dead Sheol. The Church inherited a lot of Jewish teaching, obviously as the Jesus didn’t come to change the Law but to fulfil it. Praying for the dead is age old therefore.
It is also argued that hell is part of God’s mercy. He never forces His love on anyone, but the fact is His love is a burning fire and as He is omnipresent it just is there. People in Hell are as far away from God as they can get. Some argue that true mercy in the case of those who hate God so much would be annihilation. It’s a tricky theological argument that has books written on it. The short version is God’s nature is to life and existence so annihilation goes against His nature. I’m not sure of all the arguments on this matter, but it is something interesting.
One area of this theology that interests me is the view that all three states; hell, purgatory and heaven are present here on earth and that you really can and do take it with you. It’s something you make for others too. Obviously as Christians we are called to make a bit of heaven on earth and accept the offer of it from God, but Free Will also allows us to make other people’s lives purgatory and hell, not just by what we do, but far more often (I think) by what we don’t do. (Take a look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan for example).
Purgatory, as a state of suffering- the last bit of cross carrying- is surely something we go through here on earth. No suffering need be without merit and use. We can offer our suffering with the Cross of Christ as St Paul teaches. All the suffering we are allowed to go through is for something. It isn’t meaningless. How we handle our suffering is important. While it is true that we are called to assist those who suffer and should never just walk on by or say something platitudinous while doing nothing; neither should the person who suffers inflict that on other people.
It is too easy, when struggling with horrible things to give out rather than offer it up. After all as the song says, “Everybody gotta suffer.”
For those of us going through it now we need to remember that this too will pass and we are already called to take one day at a time. We must resist the temptation to take it out on those around us. We mustn’t try and stop others having what they need because of what we want just because we are struggling at the moment.
I actually think that those who try to pull others down with them are creating a small circle of hell around themselves. Something terrible they will take with them. While suffering can be a beautiful opportunity to atone and offer, it can be a time of temptation to make others suffer too. We really mustn’t go there. Suffering in no way exempts us from trying to follow Christ. “Take up your cross and follow Me,” He said. Not ‘take up your cross and bash other people with it.’ We must look past our own pain to other people’s needs and still do what we can for them, no matter how hard, how exhausting that is.
I think I’ll post some more Fr Stan on this subject. He is clearer than I am-perhaps because he hasn’t filled himself with drugs!