For twenty-four years I taught the grade school Religion classes at St. Paul’s; and every year some non-Catholic parents sent their kids to us because we were a private school. That sometimes made my Religion classes awkward for their kids.
One day a girl who resented having Catholic ideas forced on her, spoke up, saying, “I don’t believe there is any place called Purgatory.”
I said, “I don’t either.”
I told her that Jesus told a story about a man who was put in Jail until he paid his debts. And, I said, Christians have always thought Jesus was saying our sins are like debts for which we must make payment. Jesus said, “You will no be released until you have paid the last penny.”
Jesus didn’t say our souls are put in a place we call Purgatory. He knew the human weakness that can’t imagine anything, even a soul, without picturing it in a place.
The poet Dante knew that Purgatory isn’t a place as such, but he did know that we must be cleansed before we meet with God. He helped us be better people by pretending Purgatory to be a place.
I love the imaginary scene he created of a ferryman dropping souls off on Purgatory’s shore.
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’s guide, the poet Virgil, led him up the slope of Purgatory, where., the pair, among many others, came on a group of souls. This was a group who, since they had died while being engaged in violence, had had no moments for repentance. They all begged Dante to urge their families and friends to aid them by their prayers. One soul saved himself by crying “Mary” at his death.
One of our Faith’s most basic truths is belief in the “Communion of Saints.” By it we believe that our dear ones in heaven can help us out; and we believe we can help those who need to be cleansed before they can see God.