by Ken Rolheiser
Purgatory and the Good News of Jesus

Some will have difficulty with the very title of this column. Purgatory is an often misunderstood concept and can be troubling even to people of faith. Let me share some experiences, stories and truths that may help.

Saint Catherine of Genoa explains, "As for paradise, God has placed no doors there. Whoever wishes to enter, does so. An all-merciful God stands there with His arms open, waiting to receive us into His glory.”

Saint Catherine goes on to explain that the divine presence is so pure that any soul with still the least imperfection will seek purification before entering into God’s presence. 

Which brings me to one of my favourite illustrations of purgatory I used in an earlier article:
The story is told of a promiscuous young man, given to drugs and alcohol abuse, careless of personal hygiene and appearance. One day this youth sees a beautiful woman. His attraction to her is overwhelming, but he realizes he is totally unworthy of her. He decides then and there that he will change his life around. In anticipation of her love, he cleans up his appearance, goes on a rehabilitation program for his
chemical dependencies, gets a job and cleans up his life.

When we meet the Lord, the mere presence of the God’s Goodness will make us want to become perfect, to be worthy of that eternal union, that eternal love. We know some of the absolute principles involved in God’s love for us. And that brings me to another great explanation of what purgatory is like.

Professor Johannes Quasten, Roman Catholic theologian of the last century, shared this explanation. The ancient churches of the Middle East said that when someone dies and they are ushered into the presence of God they say, “Wait! I’m not ready for this. I have been selfish, greedy, mean…”

And the angel says, “That’s OK, You don’t have to go in until you’re ready. Go into that garden and rest awhile.” And Jesus walks into the garden and begins to teach them how to love. And when they are ready he takes them by the hand and they go into the loving embrace of the Father.” (The Prairie Messenger October 25, 2017)

The Catechism of Catholic Church defines purgatory as a "purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven," which is experienced by those "who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified" (CCC 1030).

St Augustine said that "temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment".

When we think about dying and judgement, are we afraid? In my front entrance I have a plaque that says Fürhte dich nicht, denn ich habe dich erlöst!  Which means: Fear not, I have redeemed you. (Isaiah 43:1)
Christ came to reveal the Father’s love for us. As we learn of this love, we are attracted to a lifestyle that is less indulgent and more disciplined, more giving. We want to become worthy of so great a love. Nothing unclean will be in the presence of God who is pure love.

Purgatory, the final purification, will not be a great surprise to us, especially if we have already begun the process on earth. I can picture the Father, waiting with his arms outstretched.

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