Like many I grew up learning about Purgatory as being a place where I would go after I had died to atone for my very many sins. Heaven it seemed, would be a long long way into the future for me. I hated the idea of purgatory – endless suffering to atone for original sin, which translated to me as meaning suffering to atone for being born. I know, it makes no sense but that was what I thought.
And so when I left the Church and Vatican II happened with new ways of thinking and teaching I missed them. Coming back into the Church many years later I was too embarrassed to broach the subject but but oh man – it secretly scared me. Even as recent as three years ago when speaking to a professor at a local Catholic University I left feeling upset and a little fearful because I did not understand it.
Ron Rolheiser, OMI wrote an article titled “Purgatory Revisited” in 2001 but I had the joy of reading it only recently. (http://ronrolheiser.com/purgatory-revisited-2/#.VMwCvZ3F-So) “Purgatory is not a physical location, but a stage of loving. It’s the initial pain of entering into community in a pure and selfless way. Mystics have classically defined it as the pain of letting go of a lesser love and life in order to accept a deeper love and life.”
Yes – bring it on. Letting go – albeit the last and most important letting go, but in truth haven’t we all started – in millions of little ways, in the tiny deaths of the ordinary of life? Not a physical place, not a matter of having to ‘do’, but a letting go of all. I think of St. Eugene and ‘his all for God’ – this then would be the ultimate completion of that process. I think of Peter’s answer to Jesus about ‘washing all of me’. The joy and fire of the Cross.