If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I Think I know What Purgatory is Like

I published this in early 2013. It is worth repeating:

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 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. Nearly three 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 wailed at heaven, horrified, confused, angry. “Why did you show that to me! Oh, God! What have I done! What have I done!” Suicide actually flashed through my mind. “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.


Anonymous said...

Your sins were forgotten(Isaiah 43:25)

Your sins were paid for. (Hebrews 9:26)

You were healed (Isaiah 53:5)

God could not have convicted you that day because there is nothing to convict. Because it didn't happen. Because it was Finished on the Cross. To say otherwise blasphemes Jesus's sacrifice.

The image of god showing one of his children their confessed and repented sins solely to cause them pain isn't biblical in any sense of the word.

Not everything that happens in a church is from God.

Rich Maffeo said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for your kind comments. I believe you made them to help me.

If you are familiar with my writings via my several blogs and my three books, you know my understanding of sin, salvation, and forgiveness are firmly rooted in Scripture. Indeed, I reference Scripture without hesitation in everything I write or teach.

I also reference Church teaching in much of my writing because, I believe, Church teaching is not only rooted in Scripture, but the authority to interpret Scripture was given to the Church by Jesus in Matthew 16, and then confirmed in other places in the NT.

I did not say in my essay that God had not forgiven my sin of abortion. I made a point to make that clear. What I did say was the Holy Spirit showed me the DEPTH of that sin. He unveiled for me the darkness of that sin which I had, to that point, never understood even to the periphery.

I am curious why you say "The image of god showing one of his children their confessed and repented sins solely to cause them pain isn't biblical in any sense of the word."

I am unfamiliar with any Scriptural support for that idea. One could consider Isaiah's falling on his face (chapter 6) when he saw the Holy God. "I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips . . . for my eyes have seen the Lord". Or of Peter saying to Jesus,"Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." Or of St. Paul's comment in 1 Corinthians 4:

But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God."

There are several other texts i could cite in support of my idea that God WILL bring to light our sins, even those covered by the blood.

But clearly (to men, anyway) Even the great men of Scripture recognized they did not understand the depths of their own sins, and that God would one day at the Great Judgment, bring all things to light.

Forgiven? Of course. But when we actually come face to face with the evil of our sins, how can we help but shudder?

He who is forgiven much,loves much. He who is forgiven little, loves little. (Luke 7:47)

Again, I thank you for your concern, but please be assured, I know whom I have believed, and I know He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until that Day.


Rich Maffeo said...

Ooops. Typo: But clearly to 'men" should have been, But clearly to me . . .

Anonymous said...

The scriptures you referenced in your response simply show men recognizing that they are inherently sinful. I don't see gruesome detailed playbacks or accusations. And they certainly don't show God replaying forgiven sins. Even your own quote disagrees with you: "..and then each man's praise will come from God"

To re-iterate: It is impossible to believe that god both simultaneously forgets sin and remembers it. This concept you put forth - that our sins are forgiven, yet still held against us - is completely contrary to scripture.

God will say "Well done, good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your lord." That holy scripture is in direct contrast to a child shuddering and crying under a replay of accusations.

I will pray that you one day will be able accept the peace that surpasses all understanding a peace that was already purchased by our lord.

Rich Maffeo said...

Once again, thank you for your concern. And once again, I did not say in my essay God was holding my sin against me. I am really not sure how you could read that into my essay. I simply did not say that, nor do I believe it.

But I do thank you for your prayers. I always appreciate the prayers of others.


Patricia said...

Richard, this post is amazing and obviously written from the very depths of your soul. Thank you.

How could we comprehend how much we cost Jesus, if we never understood the impact of our sins...their effect on the lives of others, etc?

How much greater will we realize the extent of God's Mercy when at last we "see" and truly understand?

I love this post. May I link to it from my blog?

Thank you for giving me much to ponder in prayer. Blessings always

Rich Maffeo said...

Thank you, Patricia. You may certainly link this to your own blog.

What surprised me about some comments I received both here and via my email was both the misunderstanding of what my essay is all about, and also the seemingly cavalier attitude of some who are content to simply say, "I am forgiven" (which is of course true in Christ.

As you correctly observed, how can we better understand His atonement if we do not better understand our sins?