The Religion classes I taught in Catholic schools included non-Catholic children who were uncomfortable over being in the minority. One such girl blurted out “I don’t believe there is any place called Purgatory.” I said, “I don’t either.”
The notion of place and time which mean so much to us on earth have no meaning in eternity. We do know, however, that Jesus said that those of us who do not make up for our faults while we are still “on the way” will be jailed until we have paid up. We can’t describe the manner or duration of that paying up, but it is real; and we can’t afford to let the check run up on how much we will need to pay for.
We do well to think both about the painful cleansing that awaits us, and about the painful cleansing our departed friends are going through now.
The second part of Dante’s Divine Comedy, the part he called the Purgatorio, is 4000 verses long. Dante knew his epic poem was a work of fiction. He didn’t try to deceive his listeners; but while most of us choose not to think about Purgatory, Dante did us a service in picturing it as clearly as the Scriptures allowed him to. I have gained enjoyment and spiritual benefits from reading it. This is how he described the arrival of the newly-dead who were shipped to the shore of Purgatory:
The crowd that he had left along the beach
Seemed not to know the place; they looked about
.Like those whose eyes try out things new to them.
Dante pictured Purgatory as a mountain with each higher level serving as the place where atonement was made for one after another of the Capitol Sins. (That is the origin of Thomas Merton’s “Seven Story Mountain.”)
On his climb up that mountain Dante visited with souls atoning for their dominant sins. A man named Guido dl Duca lamented over his envious inclinations.
My blood was so afire with envy that,
When I had seen a man become happy,
The lividness in me was plain to see.
On ever level of Purgatory Dante met with souls who were grateful for the prayers of us living that were speeding their way toward heaven.