When I graduated from the eight grade, our teacher- who was a nun- told our class that the girls would probably go to heaven. The boys would probably not go to hell, but probably would go to purgatory until the end of time. Probably? Her remarks were probably not the nicest thing to say, but were definitely the most honest, especially as we had spent the last eight years learning the Catholic religion.
After all, we had learned our identity. In that, we learned that we were Catholics and not Protestant Christians. Our brothers and sisters in the Protestant Church held to a dualism of Heaven and Hell. The way to go to Heaven was to accept Christ as a personal Savior. That’s beautiful, but that is not who we were. We were Catholics, and one characteristic that defines us is that we hold to Heaven, Hell- and Purgatory! Of course in my “day” we also held to a belief in Limbo. These days, that belief is no longer stressed. But Purgatory as a belief is just as strong now as it was when I was a child. Again it, among other things, defines me as a Roman Catholic.
But along with such an identity, such a belief allows me the privilege of a realistic appraisal of what it means to grow spiritually. Heaven, Hell and Purgatory are reflections of my spiritual growth. Yes, God saves me; it is by His Grace that I live and it is by His Mercy that I can move deeper into His Life. But how well do I cooperate with His Grace? Am I really that perfect in Love to just go straight to Heaven? No. People like St. Theresa of the Child Jesus go straight to Heaven. And do you know what she said one time? She said that if the Lord sent her to Purgatory, she would rejoice in doing His Will and go there, just as she was thrilled doing Hid Will here on earth. And living on earth for her involved much suffering, right up to the moment of her death. And she did suffer, too! There was no ego to talk about in her life! It was a life of humility, characterized by her as “littleness.”
What this looks like for us is that if I die and actually DO earn a judgement of going to Purgatory until the end of time, I ought to thank God profusely for the right to go there. I know that God is not done with me yet! He allows me to suffer as part of my purification, and right here and now I need to accept God’s Will for me, seeing God as working in all aspects of my life. If I can accept His Will in my life in the here and now, then it makes perfect sense that I would accept His Will even in the next life. After all, I have always been open to His Will. And if I do and say “praise God,” if I learn that I will go to Purgatory and continue to do His Will in such a purification, than guess what? Such perfect surrender would more than likely grace me to go straight to Heaven, just like St. Theresa of the Child Jesus.
But if I earn, as an example only, a week in Purgatory, and I rebel against that and assert my own will, reflected in such words as -”do you know who I am? The big house I owned- the position I had- the money I kept in the bank?”- then I would more than likely find myself in Purgatory until the end of time. Such ego assertion on my part would only mean that I had a lot of purification yet to do.
Yet, here too is an example of His Mercy! He loves me enough to purify me. Now that’s love! He does not want to lose me! God’s Grace is always there for mew. This is true. But even with such truth, I am indeed called to cooperate with His Grace. Let Him purify me according to His Will here and now. To learn to surrender to His Will and to cooperate with it may very well be, too, what it means to be Catholic. Everything God sends to me is meant for my growth. It is meant to help me. So, my friends, try to see God in your entire life. And thank Him for His help. In fact, never stop thanking Him. Recognize all of this as love and learn from it and keep growing.
Peace, Fr. Walt