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Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Glimpse of Purgatory


The Catholic Church teaches (in part) about Purgatory this way:
The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned . . . . The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:  . . . before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. (Paragraph 1031)

To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. . . . (Paragraph 1472)
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To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood (Revelation 1:5)

I think I know what purgatory is. I caught a glimpse of it one morning in October 2011 when I attended a men's meeting at my parish. More than two years later it remains fresh in my memory.

I didn’t think too long about that morning’s topic of abortion. Why should I? Although I’d driven my girlfriend to an abortion clinic some 45 years earlier, I confessed and repented of that sin decades ago. And I believed Scripture’s promise that He had wiped my sin spotless in Christ’s precious blood.
So I walked into the meeting only mildly curious about the video and the discussion that would follow.

But ten minutes into the program I received a gut-wrenching epiphany. For the first time in more than four decades my eyes opened to the depth of my abortion sin, an immeasurable depth I’d never known existed. White-hot shame seared into my bowels. Waves of unrelenting guilt swept over me like a tsunami, sucking away my breath, only to return churning ravaged memories through my mind.

I could not watch the video any longer. I grabbed my coat and stumbled from the room into the cold October morning. It was all I could do to get into my car before irrepressible sobs convulsed through my body.
“What are you doing to me!” I screamed at heaven, horrified, confused, angry. “Why did you show that to me! Oh, God! What have I done! What have I done!”

“I don’t . . . I don’t deserve even to live!”
I could not comprehend why God, who buried my crime in the sea of Christ’s blood four decades earlier, why He brought me to my knees like this. Why slash open my soul? Why lay me in the ashes of my past?

It was not until hours later, after processing what God had done to me, I caught a glimpse of understanding. 
My abortion is only one of countless sins I’ve committed in my life, sins I’ve confessed, sins that have been forgiven, sins that have been immersed in the blood of Christ. The young women I turned into whores. The fledgling faith in Christ of others that I’d shattered. The families I destroyed as I seduced wives into adultery. The litany of my wickedness and the destruction I left in my wake seem to me, even now, near endless.

Yes, I remain confident of God’s forgiveness for each one of those terrible acts; But my experience that October morning taught me – and reminds me even to this day – I have not fully comprehended the depth and breadth of all those sins. Further, I know I can never fully comprehend them unless God reveals them to me.

And He will reveal them to me.
Purgatory, I believe, will be that revelation. Perhaps it will unfold something like this:

I am dead. My guardian angel ushers me to my Father’s presence. I see Him seated on His throne. Jesus is beside Him. And like the difference between absolute darkness and blinding light, I am suddenly self-aware, more self-aware than I could ever have been in life.
My Father reaches from His throne and lifts me to His chest. He lays His chin on my head. He wraps His arms around me. I snuggle down into His warmth. I feel Him breathe. I hear His heart beat. And then, one by one, He shows me the fullest measure of each of my sins.

Each of my sins.
He reveals to me their hideousness. The death each wrought. The sadness each gave birth to. The relentless ripples of despair each caused in so many lives.

So many lives. 
They are all there before me. One after the other. An endless lament. And as I watch each scene play out before my eyes, that same sword of shame sears again into my gut. Excruciating, unrelenting guilt swells over me like a tsunami. I convulse with unremitting horror at what I’ve done.

If my purgation in heaven is anything like what happened to me after watching the abortion video, the only reason my spirit will survive is because I will be snuggled in my Father’s lap. His arms will enfold me. His warmth will comfort me. His breath will soothe me. His heart, beating with the gentlest of rhythms, will calm me. With His hand He will wipe every tear from my eyes, “and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain . . .” (Revelation 21:4).
Such will be the only reason I will survive my purgatory.

6 comments:

Colleen said...

The wonderful thing about purgatory is knowing we will survive and go to Heaven. And yes, I believe He will hold us and love us and wipe away every tear.
A powerful article. Thank you.

Richard Maffeo said...

And I thank you for taking the time to read what I wrote. Isn't it great how we can encourage one another? Happy New Year.

Joann / lioness said...

God's gift to you is great and merciful. Imagine appearing before God with your pride full blown and an arrogant spirit which denies sin or the Almighty as the only source of Life.

Your words are hard to read because Sin is so insidious, and we, like Adam and Eve, try to hide it and avoid His gaze, which though merciful, is like fire.

Richard Maffeo said...

Joann, the picture you paint in your first paragraph is frightful, indeed. I shudder just thinking about what that would be like.

I also like your other statement about His gaze. It reminds me of a text in Jeremiah 23:29.

Thanks for the comments.

Constance said...

I was thinking about the shame of standing before Our Lord while being shown my whole life the other day. Your words are powerful and bring peace at the same time. It has given me a lot to ponder. Thank you!

Richard Maffeo said...

Constance, you are welcome. I am glad some of my experiences can help others grow in their relationship with Jesus.