The Mystery of Purgatory

by Fr. Stephen Torraco, Regina Coeli Academy

The Italian writer, Lalla Romano, when he turned 80 two years ago, was asked about his eternal destiny. He responded in a spirited way: "Even though I deserve hell, I doubt that will happen. And Dante invented Purgatory. So the only thing left for me is Paradise!" But there is also more to human life on this side of the grave than we can actually see, and again, more than the foolish are able to ponder. The trials, tribulations, and sufferings in this life, the Book of Wisdom points out, are a matter of God trying the souls of the just and finding them worthy of himself.

Those who trust God in this life understand these truths. Those who trust God understand that death is from the evil one, while life is from God, and that life ultimately outshines death. The foolish do not understand this, and they do not care. Thus, on the face of it, it seems quite clear: there are the souls of the just and the souls of the foolish. But we have to be concerned about what Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke: "So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say 'We are useless servants. We have done no more than our duty.'"(Luke 17:10). What the Book of Wisdom calls the souls of the just, Jesus calls "useless servants."

We have to come to terms with the fact that it is possible for a just man to die without having attained the level of spiritual maturity which is necessary to live in immediate communion with God. In other words, we need to recognize the human tendency toward mediocrity. Wouldn't it be nice if human freedom were capable of good and evil only in the highest degree, without reserve, without resistance? But that is not the case.

The mediocre person gives himself to God but reserves a certain part of his life for himself. He does not see all the consequences of a change in his life. He does not direct his whole will to respond to the call of God's grace, still giving in, in part, to evil tendencies. This is a decision for God, but with a request that God not take him seriously. It is a choice for Light, but with a lingering and morbid fascination for darkness.

These are the situations we understand because we experience them every day. Our faith calls these small acts of cowardice venial sins. They lack the fullness of charity. We give something, but keep something back. We mount the cross, but only with one hand and one foot. What can be done, Lord, with people like this? With useless servants like this? Are there many, perhaps all of us?

Dear Lord, help us to be utterly grateful for your unfathomable mystery of Purgatory, for the merciful delay of suffering by which you make up for our faults and complete the work that we do not finish in our earthly lives.


Electronic text (c) Copyright EWTN 1997. All rights reserved.


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