[Note on the mural in the Angelicum chapel above: The Angelicum is Dominican. I note some Dominican nuns in purgatory, but the Fathers only appear in heaven!]
Surely I’ll get in trouble with saying that purgatory is a “place”, since there are those who won’t bother to see the scare-quotes (” “) hugging “place” right to death, even purgatory, to suffer for it’s misdeeds of pretending to be in the physical universe. Just to say, this “place” bit is just an understandably human way speaking, you know, to avoid long metaphysical discourses about “where” disembodied spirits are. It’s like saying, “What a beautiful sunrise!” without disagreeing with heliocentrism in our little solar system. It’s just a figure of speech! Both John Paul II and Saint Thomas Aquinas tackled this common way of speaking. So, O.K. Anyway…
In the scene above, in the oratory of the Angelicum University in Bella Roma, it appears that the fires of purgatory (“fires” being a rabbit hole) and the fires of hell are very similar. There is a sense of truth to that. I mean, we could add more fire in heaven, that fire of God’s charity, which warms up the refrigerium, the coolness of heaven.
You have to understand that God shares the fire of His love with all His creatures, good or bad. It depends on what they do and what they’ve done with their free will as to how they appreciate that love:
- For the saints in heaven, it’s the cause for rejoicing.
- For the holy souls in purgatory, it’s an inviting love of purgation, purifying…
- For the souls of the damned, it’s an incrimnation of their selfish egoism, and the cause of the most horrific self-inflicted suffering.
In all these cases, God is just being God, letting the fire of His firey love shine out on all. Now, the souls in purgatory are a special case. In the title of this post I called purgatory an awesome “place”. That needs some explanation.
You have to understand, first of all, that the holy souls are holy. They are filled with sanctifying grace, with the indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity. Secondly, they know for an absolute certainty that they are going to heaven when they are judged ready to say the most adequate thanksgiving that they can to our Heavenly Father, through, with and in Jesus, by the… wait for it… the firey love of the Holy Spirit. Thus, they are immensely thankful for having made it this far. They are thankful for the most tender solicitation by which our Heavenly Father has them purified. They know that it is for their own good and they desire this to proceed.
The purification, the purgation, cannot proceed except with our prayers, we who are in the Church Militant upon this earth. You see, it’s all about thanksgiving, and the reason why they are in purgatory is because they were not sufficiently thankful for the prayers of the entire mystical body of Christ while they were alive, which would have been witnessed had they prayed for the members of the Mystical Body of Christ in this Church Militant on earth and for those in purgatory, that is, in the Church Suffering. But they didn’t do that to any great degree. When we pray for them, they find out what it means to be thankful. But they also are reminded — horrifically — about just how unthankful they were while they had the chance to be upon this earth. This lack of generosity hits them hard. They look to the wounds of Christ. They know more acutely that they were responsible for those wounds. However, this is also an invitation for them to be thankful to our Lord, who has done so much for us. And they grow in thanksgiving. The more we pray, the more they learn about thanksgiving to the members of the Mystical Body of Christ and to Christ Jesus Himself.
Of course, there is no prayer that goes for their benefit without this already having been asked by our Blessed Mother, who interceeded for us under the cross that we might pray, that we might be thankful, that we might enjoy the firey love of the Holy Spirit beginning in this life, and then in heaven (hopefully skipping purgatory!).
The best way to avoid purgatory is to ask our Lord the grace to go through purgatory in this life. What we are asking, in that case, is to have the grace to pray for those in this Church Militant and for those in the Chuch suffering, those in purgatory. What we are asking is that we learn to offer our very lives, in all their sometimes glorious and sometimes totally horrific circumstances, always our very lives being offered as acts of intercession, in all thanksgiving, for all who need this storming of heaven, whether in this life or in purgatory.
As we learn to be drawn by our Lord to Himself in this way in this life, is this not awesome? Is this not cause for thanksgiving? Yes, purgatory, whether in this life or in the life to come, is totally awesome.
Of course, it’s a immeasurably better to go through purgatory in this life than in the next. In this life, such spiritual growth is meritorious, that is, we are drawn more deeply into the firey love of the Most Holy Trinity’s firey charity. Those in purgatory do not grow. They simply learn to be thankful. That is a joy in itself, and culminates in heaven, but it is much better to go through this learning process here, for here, in this Church Militant, we grow in sanctification, in grace, in the indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity. God has a “place” in our souls, that is, a place, truly a place here, where our souls are united with our bodies. As Saint Paul says, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, of the Holy Spirit’s firey love!