I went to Mass this morning, as I'm trying to do every day during Lent. The priest gave a rather lengthy homily on today's Gospel, which can be frustrating when you have to get to work. Fortunately, it was a very good homily. Today's reading was the story of the wicked servant who after being forgiven a large debt refuses to the same for another servant who owed him a much smaller amount. (Mt 18:21-35
)The priest tied in Confession, the need to forgive others and Purgatory.
Confession gives us a chance to pay back our debts to God before we die. (In this context, our debts are our sins, which we "owe" penance to God over.) The master in the parable stands in for God who is ready to forgive each of us our debts if we are truly repentant. However, upon hearing how the servant treated the other servant who owed him the money, Christ tells us
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
Christ is teling us it's not enough for us to ask forgiveness of God; we must also show the same forgiveness to others that we seek from God. (This was such an important message, He put it in the Our Father: "Forgive us our trespases, as we forgive those who trespass against us.") If we want mercy from God, we must show mercy ourselves.
It's often claimed that the word Purgatory never appears in the Bible, so the doctrine cannot be held by Christians. There are many doctrines Christians believe that aren't explicitly mentioned in the Bible, but are true nonetheless. (The Trinity, the Incarnation, etc.) Here is one instance where Christ obliquely mentions Purgatory. The wicked servant is handed over to torturers until the debt is paid. This can't be describing Heaven; there's no torture in Heaven. This can't be describing Hell; there's no escape from Hell. This is referring to Purgatory: where we suffer until we are purified enough to go to Heaven. (A book I was reading a summary of says Purgatory is just like Hell in the suffering we'll undergo, but there's also joy because we'll know Heaven is near.) C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce
described Purgatory as a place where we are given the choice to leave behind our earthly attachments in order to get into Heaven, but many fail to do so, so attached are they.
Howver, saints who have been allowed to visit Purgatory describe it as a place of great suffering and fire. (Faustina Kowalska is one of these in Divine Mercy in My Soul
.)An analogy that's always worked for me (and to the best of my knowledge I made up, but I could ahve read it somewhere and forgotten) is: Purgatory is like a sandy beach covered with broken glass that we must walk across in order to reach Heaven; we can see it and can do it if we want to, but we have to really want it.
You see, God never forces us to do anything, even after death. We can reject Him all we want on earth and He'll let us; but the complete rejection of him leads to Hell after our death. Upon our death, if we aren't deserving of Hell, but aren't pure enough for the perfection of Heaven and the unity of God we'll achieve there, we just be purified in some way. But God doesn't want, even after our death, to impose His Will on us; we still avhe to freely choose Him. So Purgatory is our final opportunity to remove our Earthly ties and learn to live solely for Him.
Purgatory is not additional punishment; it's our safety valve. Few (if any) among us truly deserve Heaven immediately upon our death. So, God gives us the opportunity to work to get to a state where we do. It's still our choice, we can get there as quickly or as slowly as want. (Why I like the glassy beach analogy.) It's our chance to tuly deserve Heaven; without it few, if any, of us would make it. It's just another sign of how much God loves us and wants us to spend eternity with him.