Our very life is an interplay of “Yes" and “No". On the one hand there are people who have closed their hearts to truth, love and to neighbour. Their choices echo a resounding “No" to the loving invitation of God to his love by obedience. On the other hand are those who are perfectly united with God, they have been made pure, their choices resound with a loving “yes" to God in response to his continual call. These people have followed the words of Christ and have died to sins.
A simple glance at the face of the world today, the possibility of having either extremes is rare though not totally impossible. What is more obtainable is an interplay of the “yes" and “no"; a continual struggle to keep up the practise of virtue or vice. Even the man who rejects God from time to time accepts the opportunity to do good, albeit for a temporal view in mind, and those who struggle to live for God sometimes succumb to temptations either out of weakness or momentary coldness towards God. At death however, the dangling pendulum of yes and no stops at either an irrevocable “Yes" or “No"; from then on, one will no longer have the ability to open himself to conversion any more.
What happens to the man who dies with venial sins in his soul? What happens to the man who has not fully expiated his undue attachment to created goods? These souls, insofar as they have uttered a “Yes" by way of conversion before death, will suffer a moment and later be saved, whilst those who have denied God and have died in sin will be lost; their free choice to be “Left alone by God" will be respected by the Lord; they shall be eternally excluded from communion with God and the Saints.
The Catholic idea of purgatory (as distinct from what some protestants think we teach about purgatory) is not entirely consoling neither is it to be hoped and depended upon by a Christian. Purgatory springs form a mature understanding of sin and its seriousness, and of the mercy of God. The sinner who promises himself purgatory hereafter does not achieve salvation since this is overt presumption. We do not even say that those in purgatory are sinners, they are called “Holy souls" since communion with God and prior justification on earth is REQUIRED to be there. What we say is: These Souls are Holy, having been justified by God’s grace before death.
THE FIRES OF PURGATORY AS CHRIST HIMSELF
Some theologians identify the fires of purgatory as Christ himself. When a soul who has died in communion with Christ appears before his Judge, with stains of sin still left in his soul. He is exposed to the naked fire of God’s eye, where all Truth is laid bare and all lies melt away in this fiery gaze of love and mercy. “Fire" signifies the intensity of the transformational property of this encounter with Jesus. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is one of those who held that the Fires of purgatory is Christ himself. He illustrates this in his book “Eschatology" and later on in his Encyclical “Spe Salvi". The later is quoted below:
“The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire". But it 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. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love" Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, Paragraph 47.
This article is part of a work on purgatory by GabrielMary Ken Alimba
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Read about sin and God's mercy here