This is in response to something I saw online quite some time ago, as influenced by the spiritual and mental counsel of the people around me right, but ultimately the impetus just came to me from the Muses of old.
It has been said that Purgatory is unjust. That no loving God would put souls through the suffering that souls in Purgatory go through: namely, something very similar in the type and degree suffered in Hell, according to the Doctors of the Church and mystical experiences of the Church’s trustworthy visionaries, except without the despair of Hell. Having been in places of despair for many years, this difference should not be minimized, as despair kills the soul more than pretty much anything else I have ever experienced.
I was never of this camp, but I still only accepted Purgatory as a necessary dogma. It held no emotional reaction for me. Until now. Let me explain the change I have come to.
I was neglected (more, really, I was isolated), sexually traumatized or abused (it depends on how you define your terms), treated as worth less than the literal trash my dwelling was filled with, gaslit about what I was experiencing, taught garbage ideas by family and the government schools (that is the government schools’ purpose since their philosophical founding among the proto-German Supremacists of the Prussians, the modelers of every national education system in the world), fed lies and poisons by the pharmacological industry, and just generally put through Hell on Earth. At times, there was not a single person in the world who loved me, even though there was one person at the time who said they did.
The question that arises in regard to Purgatory is not, however, Job’s “why me?”, but rather “why more?” The answer requires a couple of questions in response: what are our rewards/punishments in the afterlife, and where do they come from?
There is a single answer to the first: Love is both the punishment and the reward for the unjust and the just respectively. The difference is in how they are received. The damned, including the fallen angels we call “demons”, or “devils”, or the Bible often calls “unclean spirits” have spent their entire existences hardening their souls into little lumps of coal, so that when they are exposed to God’s un-veiled love, they burn and are consumed by the fire of His Love. Remember that the Holy Spirit (who simply IS God’s love, as shared between the Father and the Son, Personified) in the Acts of the Apostles comes down to the Apostles as tongues of fire. Souls in Hell, including the evil spirits, are being consumed by the same fire that turned the cowards and traitors who were His Apostles on Earth into the gateways of Heaven on Earth who could heal people who simply had their shadows pass over them. Who stood up to the worst tortures humans could devise with a smile and a prayer. Those damned are being made infinitely and endlessly smaller, even though they are immortal and can never stop existing.
By the same token, that fire lightens and energizes the Faithful, and in Heaven is their reward. Only they did not turn their souls into coal in this life. They made of themselves vessels, hearths, lamps, candles. They hold and magnify the flames of the Holy Spirit. That is precisely why Jesus called us “lights to the world” and told us not to “hide our lights under bushel baskets” (I paraphrase rather than quote. Forgive me.) Because we are supposed to work at being now what we will be forever after we die.
This pretty much answers the first question, but let me explain a little more about it. Protestants (in my experience both personally and online/in reading) often talk about “God’s mercy/love” and “God’s wrath” as being opposed. But this is simply not what God is like. God is simple, which you will have to forgive me for butchering the philosophical meaning of as I explain (I am only a “lover a wisdom”, not actually “wise”.) This means that His Justice and His Mercy are the same thing in Him, only considered from different angles by us because we are finite where He is infinitely infinite. His Wrath and His Love are the same. He is ‘angry’ because He Loves.
Now, all of this is true only in an analogical/poetic sense, simply because that is the only way we can understand anything about God that He has not told us about Himself (and even if He tells us, we understand so incompletely.) But it makes sense of how the very same “action” on God’s part is received by some as literally the worst thing ever, and by others as the greatest good any creature can receive. And those of us who have been traumatized in evil , unequally loving parent/child relationships have seen this firsthand, writ small. Our love doesn’t just “feel right”–our hearts really are trying to do the right thing, by loving our parents–but we are burned and consumed by it. This is not God’s judgment against us! God’s love is being warped against us by our traumatizers–it is another of the crimes they are committing against us in the moral law, and a very grave one precisely because it makes us feel that the God who only wants to love us is no different than the “love in name only” we receive(d) as children. We are like the souls in Hell, because of the abuse. The neglect. The lies. We experience God’s love and grace like the souls in Hell precisely because we were trained by our abusers to receive their abuse as if it were love. But even though we have pieces of our abusers’ training in our heads and hearts, we are not in Hell. God doesn’t want us to go to Hell. He wants to be with Him, receiving all of the love we should have gotten, and so much more than there are stars in the sky or grains of sand in the universe.
Which brings us back to our topic: Purgatory. If the souls in Hell are self-made of coal to burn and be consumed, and the souls in Heaven are lamps to hold and amplify the flames, what are the souls the Church says are suffering in Purgatory?
The souls in Purgatory are ore. They are being made into lamps to hold the flame, but there are impurities to be melted out first. These impurities are not just the sins we were really responsible for. A bit like an (adult) who tries drugs because he wants to live dangerously or feel good is culpable for his first fixes, but not for the 10,000th because by then he is almost completely incapable of freely choosing to do otherwise, trauma/abuse victims are not culpable for all of their actions after the trauma or abuse–and unlike the addict I describe above, they (we) did not choose the first hit of the drug. Among (but not only) the drugs we are addicted to are the lies and habits of self-hatred and self-abuse, which really are sins, that we believe and commit. Or even the real drugs we use to numb the pain. The deviant behaviors we live out, which really are bad, but we go along with because the lies we were told are now jammed into our identities. You think we have identity crises in the world today? Of course we do! Because we are surrounded by lies told by people we should be able to trust. Because we as a society have a degradation, and abuse, and trauma addiction because of those lies and because some people in our society like those lies.
But we are not just victims of circumstances. We really do sin, even above and beyond what the abuse would explain. We make mistakes. We aren’t perfect. The thing is? Both need to purified.
If the connection I am trying to point out isn’t obvious, let me reassure you–it never occurred to me until last night. Not in a really real sense. I had seeds of the idea, but it really came together just last night. Let me explain it: in Purgatory, God wants to burn away all of the lies (about yourself, about the people around you, about the real world, about Him and His love) your abuser(s) injected you with, poisoned you with. He doesn’t want your abuser’s lies inside of you–He just wants you. He doesn’t take away the strengths that you earned overcoming those obstacles, however incompletely–you earned them. They are parts of the the victory crown St. Paul talks about that you will wear as the sign of high honor in His court. But the disgust you feel for yourself? The despair you feel, because you are “too broken” to be loved? That was jammed into your soul like a sword, and the love of God in Purgatory is there to literally “purge” that from you. It will hurt! It will literally hurt like Hell, except, as I said before, for this: you will know that He is bringing you through that fire to bring you to Him. It is necessary for you. It is to give you back the honor and love and identity He wanted for you from the beginning, that was taken away from you at whatever age you were when the abuse started.
He can’t lie to you. He is not like the people who have lied to you with words or actions in your life. He. Can. Not. Lie. He cannot say “it never happened.” He cannot say “everything is okay”, because you and I both know that what happened can never be “okay”. If He were to bring you into Heaven without “purging” (really, the better word is “refining”, at least in the case of the lies and distortions in our souls I am talking about now, as opposed to sins that really were ours), He would be lying, and we would be back in the hellish unreality of lies and stuck in the torment of not being authentically ourselves. What was done to us can never be “okay” or “right” or whatever other lies we tell ourselves or the people around us as we go through the days of our lives, to make it seem bearable. To stop the questions. To keep people from reopening wounds. To just… get by. But God doesn’t want us to “get by.” In Heaven, we will be fully, authentically ourselves. Fully alive. But to get there requires something different than what we got.
Remember what God promises us in Revelations? Or what He promises throughout the Old Testament? Again, I will paraphrase rather than quote. “A new heaven and a new Earth.” “I will wipe away every tear, and there will be no more.” These aren’t the oblivion or self-less Nirvana of Eastern religions. He is promising you, specifically, and me, specifically, that we will be made like new. We will still have all of the strengths we gained here on this old Earth, but he is promising that, like a baby’s innocence or the sprouting of the seeds in Spring or the blossoming of the flowers, the pain will be made into something new. Only beauty and love will remain for us, and while we will never forget where we have come from (because God forgets nothing and “we will be in Him and He will be in us“), it will be even better than forgetting. Does the cherry tree forget the winter, when spring rolls around? No! It adds a new ring to its trunk, and out come the blossoms. Only for us, the blossoming will never end, and our joys and our peace will never end. Winter will never come again. We only have to make it through a season of autumn still here on Earth, and a winter of cleansing in Purgatory. And then–with the True Father, forever. In love.
[Nota bene: This is not a work of apologetics. I will not be defending the Scriptural or rational evidence for Purgatory here, or probably ever. There are others who do so much better than I ever could. Try Jimmy Akin and the folks at Catholic Answers–they aren’t perfect, but they are pretty darned good. Instead, think of this as gift of love to those who are like me in this suffering, because for I feel loved and I want to share it with others. Elements of it might not be strictly in line with Church teaching in every jot and tittle, but the bulk of it most definitely is, and most importantly–I am speaking of the spirit, that is in an analogical/poetic sense.]