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33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
When we die we are judged, heaven or hell await us. It is a time of crisis, both the Old Testament and the Words of Jesus make this clear. We must never forget though the mercy and compassion of God. And one of the things that highlights this is the Church's teaching about Purgatory. Purgatory is that place or state where after death those who have died in God's grace and friendship but are not perfect undergo purification so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter heaven.
Anyone who denies the Church's teaching about purgatory has failed to understand the wonder of God's love, the responsibility entailed by free-will and the true horror of sin.
Damage done by sin, need for purification
Imagine someone, say a young man, who by his free choices has become addicted to drugs or joined a criminal gang. He drifts away from his family, he does things that are wrong, more or less serious things, awful things are done to him, he sees terrible things, is forced to do terrible things and eventually chooses to do terrible things. Then he sincerely repents, he is forgiven, he re-joins his family and they wish only to pour out their love on their child. But patience is necessary, the damage, physical, psychological and spiritual, which this young man has suffered mean he cannot easily accept love, he cannot easily join the normal family life. He has repented, he is forgiven, love is poured out upon him, but the damage must be repaired if he is to be a full member of the family again.
The soul in purgatory (which means purification) is something like that. They are forgiven, they are redeemed by Christ and in that Redemption, in the divine love and in the forgiveness, nothing is lacking. The soul in purgatory is on its way to heaven. The problem is not Our Lord it is us. Such is the lingering damage of our sins that we cannot fully accept his love, we are not ready. We died in God's grace, our sins forgiven, but did we honestly live as well as was possible by God's grace?. Did we ever really, with God's help, try to deal with all of our failings or defects, to truly acknowledge the damage our sins caused, have we really done all we could to purify ourselves and put right the consequences of our sins? In short did we die Perfect? Purgatory doesn't forgive sin, our sins are already forgiven through Our Saviours sacrifice on the cross, purgatory removes the obstacles that sin has put up, and that remain to love. God's love.
Suffering in Purgatory
The scriptures and tradition speak of suffering in purgatory - don't be thinking of suffering in the sense of punishment but rather of purification. We have no direct revelation but learned saints have speculated that the suffering of purgatory could be two fold: first the clear realization of just how terrible the sins we committed were, how even the smallest was part of our Lord's suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross and second the suffering of a soul that longs for the vision of God.
Far worse than physical punishment this anguish of the soul that realises how much it has hurt its lover and how much it longs to be with its lover.
The Church has always taught that the souls in purgatory can be speeded on their way to purification by the prayers of the Church on earth. By us, especially by our prayers consciously joined to the prayers and offering of our Risen Saviour present at Holy Mass.
What joy there is for a Catholic praying for the dead, if only for the feeling that even on earth we can still do this great act of charity for those we love and who have died.