In Part 1 of this two part series entitled Linking Confession and Purgatory, I explained the nature of the soul, one’s will, and how Confession impacts the will, stopping short of discussing Purgatory. Now, let me tie this discussion back in to Purgatory, as the title promises will happen.
As explained in Part 1, when we walk out of the confessional, our sinful will walks out with us despite the forgiven state of our actions. And when it is we die, our will, the parts conformed to God’s will along with the parts perhaps not conformed with God’s will, remains intact with our immortal soul. In other words, just as it happens that our forgiven and grace filled soul, walks out of the confessional complete with our still sinfully inclined free will, it similarly happens that upon exit from this Earth, our soul, hopefully still forgiven, grace filled and thus Heaven bound, exits this Earth with us complete with our own will, free as ever, which is usually still sinfully inclined in some areas.
Catholics and Protestants alike agree on the teaching that no sin can enter Heaven. Where we disagree is how that is made possible. I recently heard a Protestant pastor explain that when we die, we are immediately thrust into Heaven and are rendered by God incapable of ever sinning again. Catholic teaching disagrees with this explanation because it would mean God violates our free will. Since the source of our sinful actions resides in the sinfully inclined parts of our free will, an attribute of our soul, and since the life of our immortal soul is seamless despite the state and dwelling of our mortal bodies, a forced inability to sin cannot be of God, given His promise and gift of our free will.
Why does it matter if our will is not completely conformed to God’s will when we enter Heaven? Because, the angels. The angels were created in a state of perfect Grace, residing happily in Heaven with God in perfect harmony, created also with free will. Then it came that one third of the angels, lead by the Angel of Light, Lucifer, revolted against God and were cast out of Heaven, into Hell. Thus, we learn that free wills not perfectly conformed to God’s Will might eventually revolt against God. When God created us lower beings, humans, He gave us a generous span of time to conform our will to His own, such that when it is we are finally admitted to Heaven, it is because we have freely, perfectly freely agreed to reside there, according to His Will, His Rule, and we in our freedom we will never, ever, choose to leave as Lucifer and the fallen angels chose.
The Church teaches that there are a blessed few souls who do experience the joy of transitioning straight from Earth to Heaven without delay. Martyrs enjoy this privilege, as well as those rare persons who dedicated their Earthly lives in remarkable totality to a life of selfless obedience to God and thus who, with and by God’s Grace in their souls, died without any part of their own will out of line with God’s will. The rest of us sinners, however, will be happy for the existence of Purgatory. In God’s ever infinite mercy, upon our death if we have died in a state of His Grace, yet with parts of our will still out of line with God’s, He gives us extra time to straighten, or purge out, those sinfully inclined parts. Purgatory.
Why is it described as fiery, even hellish? Well, think about it. Why don’t you just stop sinning today? Why don’t you just choose to conform every part of your will to God’s will right in this moment, without failing? The answer, as it turns out, is because it is too hard, too painful. Why are you spending that last bit of energy you have at night relaxing in your comfortable home instead of out serving the poor with the scraps of your time and money? Because, honestly, it requires more suffering on your behalf. Why is it you are forgoing discipline and enjoying dessert tonight instead of stopping short of fullness, even risking hunger pains? Because, honestly, you would experience suffering if you didn’t indulge. Why is it really that you will not speak out against the murder of abortion? Because, honestly, you would suffer condemnation from others. In the areas we aren’t willing to suffer on Earth, we choose our will over God’s. So it is in Purgatory where we are left to suffer what it is to let go of our own will and choose God’s.
Also, this is why time in Purgatory is undetermined. Some souls may only need a short stint in Purgatory to conform to God’s will. Others may bloody well need decades of suffering to finally conform. That, I expect, will be my own soul. Pray for me, friends, when I am gone. And pray for all of your loved ones in Purgatory, especially those whose family and friends follow a faith tradition that teaches Purgatory isn’t real, those poor souls have almost no one praying for them!
And so it is. Why do we need Purgatory? It is for the same reason we need Confession. Frequent Confession. Our wills are forever free and contained in our immortal souls. May God bless our free will. Literally.
St. Gregory of Nyssa, A.D. 382, Sermon on the Dead
If a man distinguishes in himself what is peculiarly human from what is irrational, and if he be on the watch for a life of greater urbanity for himself, in this present life he will purify himself of any evil contracted, and overcome the irrational by reason. If he has inclined to the irrational pressure of the passions … he may afterward, in a very different manner, be very much interested in what is better, when after his departure out of the body, he gains knowledge of the difference between virtue and vice and finds that he is not able to partake of divinity until he has been purged of the filthy contagion in his soul be the purifying fire.