Let's Iron Some Things Out
By Fr. Andy Davy, MIC (Nov 4, 2014)
The writer Mark Hart once wrote, "Have you ever tried to put a wrinkled dollar bill into a soda machine? You try your best to straighten it out but the machine simply can't receive it in its wrinkled, tattered state. But if you put in a crisp, new bill, the machine takes it no problem. The wrinkled dollar is not worth less than the new one, it just needs some help."
Do you have a wrinkled soul? Is it not as crisp and clean as it should be? Can you say in all truth that, right now, you are following the greatest commandment, which says: "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself"? (see Mt 22:34-40). Notice that it says all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. Notice that it also says to love your neighbor as yourself, not "only as I want to love that person."
So, are you following this commandment perfectly?
Yeah? ... Mostly? ... Kind of? ...
But just as that soda machine can't receive a wrinkled dollar no matter how hard you try, heaven cannot receive a wrinkled soul no matter how hard the soul tries. This is not unfair; it is biblical. The Scriptures throughout proclaim that:
1) God is perfect holiness (Is 6:3);
2) we are called to be perfectly holy (Mt 5:48 and 1 Pet 1:15-16); and
3) without this perfect holiness we can't see God in heaven (Heb 12:14).
In fact, Revelation 21:27 goes so far as to say that "nothing unclean shall enter heaven." In other words, that wrinkled dollar is not getting into the soda machine.
So then, if most of us here still are not perfectly living the greatest commandment, if most of us still have wrinkled, imperfect souls, are we then are all doomed?
No — thanks to the gift of Purgatory.
"Purgatory," writes Mark Hart, is "Heaven's waiting room." He explains that Purgatory "is the temporary state of purification, where imperfect saints have the effects of their sins purged. Simply put, Purgatory means that, if you are there, you'll get to heaven some day, but that you have a few things God has to 'iron out' first."
Though Jesus never uses the word "Purgatory" (He also doesn't use the word "Trinity" either), in Matthew 12:32, Jesus Himself speaks of some sins that can be forgiven even after death. Paul himself prays for the dead (see 2 Tim 1:16-18), and in 1 Corinthians 3:15 he even speaks about a purifying fire that will purify those being saved. Even in the Old Testament, the Jews understood the importance of praying for the dead, that they might be freed from their sins, as it says in 2 Maccabees 12:44-46. The Church has never stopped teaching that, while Heaven is for real and hell is for real, so also Purgatory is biblical and is for real!
And thank God Purgatory is for real! Because it is yet another way that God tells us that He loves us. By heaven being real, God says, "I love you so much that I have given you an invitation that you would be crazy to refuse, to be with Me in such a way that every true desire you have will be satisfied."
By hell being real, God says, "I love you so much, that I will not force you to be with Me in heaven, if you really don't want that." Remember that hell is not about a mean God who throws us down there. It is rather about us kicking a loving God out of our lives for all time. C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The doors of hell are forever locked from the inside."
With the existence of Purgatory, God says, "I desperately want you to be with Me in heaven, and though I love you too much to force you to accept My invitation of heaven, if you give Me even the slightest opening into your heart, I can work with that. I can still provide a way even after death to get you to heaven. That's how much I love you!"
Purgatory is all about God's love. Even the painful purification found in Purgatory is all about God freeing us to love the way we were made to love. Think about it this way: When we get on that treadmill for the first time, when we start to substitute an apple instead of our nightly bowl of ice cream, it really hurts! So, is that pain bad? Should we stop, just because it hurts? By no means! We choose this way that involves physical pain because it will lead us to a healthier life, a life of more freedom and joy.
It is the same with the fires of Purgatory. God does not force us into Purgatory. We choose it because we want to truly love the way we were made. This fire of God's love realigns the wheels of our ability to love, away from being selfish to truly being selfless. And that realignment hurts! Ask any married couple, any sibling, anyone living with other people. It is easy to be selfless, when no one is around, but once you start putting other people into the equation, it starts to get a lot harder! But when we are freed from our own selfishness and act more generously towards others, don't we experience a deeper joy, a deeper energy, a deeper meaning in our life?
Just like we shouldn't wait until we are 80 to start exercising and eating right in order to enjoy a healthy lifestyle, God does not want us to wait until we are dead to become saints. He wants us to become saints in this life. He wants to use the various means the Church gives us to make us holy. He wants us to go to Confession now, to pray now, to offer sacrifices that free us from our selfishness now so that we go to heaven direct, and not experience Purgatory at all.
Sometimes we joke about "just shooting for Purgatory." Read some of the accounts of the saints who have had experiences of Purgatory — such as St. Faustina — and you might feel more inclined to become a saint in this life than in the life to come. Purgatory is no picnic. It is less painful to become a saint in this life, than in the life to come. But God's mercy is so great that He provides us this way of "de-wrinkling" our souls even beyond the grave, so that that dollar bill can get into the soda machine.
Father Andy Davy, MIC, is pastor of St. Mary Church in Plano, Illinois.