Purgatory, a Test

Not sure the title makes sense. I’m sending this short piece on purgatory as a test of my efforts to restore a mailing list among those of you who said you wanted to continue to receive my blog postings. (If you get this, but didn’t want to continue, please just let me know.)

And, of course, one way to understand purgatory is that it is a time of testing. Perhaps like a thesis defense, or like a final exam in a very challenging course. Saints get a free pass, but most of us need some final testing.

Belief in purgatory has been laughed off the stage of contemporary Christian consciousness for all sorts of reasons. That it’s medieval Catholic nonsense with no basis in scripture. That God’s grace or mercy saves everyone, no matter what their lives or final state when appearing at the pearly gates. You know, Peter as parking manager rather than passport examiner.

At any rate, I continue to think the idea of purgatory is a good one, even if a medieval invention. There are lots of good (and lots of bad) developments in Christian thought that have no basis in scripture. One is Luther’s sola scriptura, which remains a pretty bad, and at times a very dangerous, idea!

My dad (who by now is well out of purgatory) used to sit at his bedside every night praying the rosary for the “poor souls.” I’m sure he thought of and perhaps spoke to deceased members of his family and friends, perhaps even to enemies. I’m sure he thought he’d be joining them. I too believe that. I’m no saint. Lots of Catholic guilt, but much of it real. Time for a good cleansing after death before I get to the pearly gates. And to talk especially with enemies whom I expect to join there.

I don’t share Dante’s image of purgation by fire. When I try to imagine purgatory (which may not be a good idea), I imagine some process of sorrowful reflection and repentance for all the stupid and sinful stuff I’ve done – the vices and vanities, etc. And for reconciliation with enemies.

Of course, I know rationally that all this talk of afterlife “processes” is confused by our inability to understand what time might mean after we leave this time. But I’ll leave that as a teaser for the philosophically inclined.

For now that’s enough for my test.

10 thoughts on “Purgatory, a Test

  1. It should be capitalized ,Purgatory , because it’s a real place or state. It’s very hard to defend your claim that it’s a medieval invention, considering that it’s one of the Church’s dogmas, though the idea may have been developed more clearly during the Middle Ages.


  2. No scriptural basis, merely a medieval notion? But then, what might it mean when scripture says: “It is a holy and wholesome thing to pray for the dead.”


  3. It seemed like the idea of a place where we could be “purified” before seeing God face to face made some sense, especially when considering the numbers involved, and the variety of ages people die, and of course the centuries involved. Of course we would be in God’s time not ours. Acts of commission and omission would be in the hands of our Merciful Savior.


  4. It was instructive for me to read Benedict XVI’s view of purgatory in his encyclical, Spes Salvi. He makes clear that purgatory is our encounter with Christ after death. Building on I Corinthians 3, he argues that Christ Himself is the “fire” that purifies us and that “this is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of His love sears through us ‘like a flame’, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus, totally of God.” He concludes with—–

    It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ.”

    This and be healed by Him for us to truly enjoy Him.sense to me—-spiritually and psychologically. If, for us, “heaven is Christ”, then we must encounter Him where we are when we die

    It goes without saying that Benedict is hardly a “liberal” or “flamer” and that this view was expressed in an encyclical which means it has a “little extra clout.”

    Dick Sullivan


  5. Purgatory as a sort of holding cell doesn’t make much sense to me, nor does the thought of a testing ground before the “purley gates” I take the understanding from the Gospels that “the Kingdom of God has already arrived.” I believe the proving ground is here and now. Seems like the concept of purgatory as some place between death and heaven where we might further reflect on what all we have done wrong or failed to do stems from the guilt laid on us by Church authorities to make sure we approached death with fear and trembling. Better be careful; there’s an awful judgment waiting for all us sinful creatures.


  6. How about a “Purgatory” prior to death? It seems more fitting and relevant for us to honestly reflect on the Good, and the Bad of our lives–a practice few seem ready to take up.
    As a result the same patterns of thought and behavior persist and real growth is missed.

    Liked by 1 person

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