Today as we pray for the souls in Purgatory we might wonder what goes on there. We know that coming from this loose living world of ours we need cleansing before we are ready to come before God, but what kind of cleansing goes on in Purgatory?
Dante devoted a third of his Divine Comedy to his imagining of what could go on in Purgatory. He pictured Purgatory as a circular path climbing around and a mountain, with each higher terrace, one after another, being given to purgation from pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth.
Cardinal Newman wrote about Christian death in a short book of verse he called, “The Dream of Gerontius.” His book has long choruses from the good and bad angels that Gerontius met on the way to Purgatory, but the book ends with Gerontius asking his Guardian Angel to commit him to Purgatory. “Take me away, that sooner I may rise, and go above, and see him in the truth of everlasting day.”
In our daily Masses the last two weeks we have had readings from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, and there was something there that might lead to an understanding of what happens in Purgatory. In Chapter One, verse ten, of the Letter to the Ephesians Paul said that God’s big plan for us creatures is “to some up all things in Christ.”
That verse sounds fine, but it bothered me. Many people have lived and died in Mongolia and the upper Amazon without ever having heard of Christ. How can we say that they are somehow sunned up in him?
It occurred to me that there is a way in which at the beginning of our lives we were part of Christ. Chapter One of John’s Gospel said that all things were created in and through the Word who became flesh on the person of Jesus Christ.
But how could the end of our lives be said to be summed up in Christ? Maybe at the beginning we were somehow created in his image, but then we have spread into so many different ages and countries that it doesn’t seem that all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put us all together again.
Then I thought of that mystical French Jesuit Teillhard de Chardin. I didn’t understand his writing, but I hear∂ he had the theory that evolution somehow reverses itself, with our complexity giving way to simplicity He liked quoting the Book of Revelation where Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” Father de Chardin had a name for the goal toward which he saw us move to converge, becoming more and more like Christ. He called it, “The Omega point.”
St. John, writing about emerging from Purgatory wrote, “We shall become like him, for we will see him as he is.”
And St. Paul in Second Corinthians describes the purgative process by which we are “being transformed into is image, going from glory unto glory.
What happens in Purgatory is that we shed all our cheapness so that gradually we are transformed from glory unto glory in his image.