If there was not Purgatory

By Brenda Hopf

November 15, 2019

My husband works in the engine-remanufacturing industry. He tells me one of the most important processes in rebuilding an engine is sending cast-iron blocks and heads through a baking oven to remove all the grease, oil and dirt. Cleaning continues as the blocks and heads are taken to a machine that completes the process by removing the “slag” that the oven cleaning leaves behind. Once the blocks and heads are cleaned, they are inspected for cracks. Small cracks can be repaired; but if the crack is too large, the part will be discarded. When the blocks and heads pass inspection, they move forward to be machined to make them like new. From there the engine is assembled according to the parts needed to make it run like the original.

This engine-rebuilding process reminds me of something I shy away from thinking about – the fact that when I leave my earthly life, no matter how well I think I may have lived my life, I am very likely going to need to have some “grease, oil, dirt and slag” removed before I am worthy to be in the presence of God. The Catholic Church teaches us that purgatory is the place for this purification process. Exactly what happens after death is somewhat of a mystery to us; but what we do know for sure it that our God is a God of mercy and love, and wants us to be with Him forever in the kingdom of heaven. God will do whatever He can to get us there, and that means enduring the purification process of purgatory.

While the thought of going through the process of being cleansed of the “grease, oil, dirt and slag” that remains after my death is not a most pleasant thought for me, I do acknowledge the necessity. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s thoughts express it well when he says, “I would go so far as to say that if there was not purgatory, then we would have to invent it, for who would dare say of himself that he was able to stand directly before God. And yet we don’t want to be, to use an image from scripture, ‘a pot that turned out wrong,’ that has to be thrown away; we want to be able to be put right. Purgatory basically means that God can put the pieces back together again. That He can cleanse us in such a way that we are able to be with Him and can stand there in the fullness of life. Purgatory strips off from one person what is unbearable and from another the inability to bear certain things so that in each of them a pure heart is revealed and we can see that we all belong together in one enormous symphony of being.”

I don’t want to be that “pot that turned out wrong,” that has to be thrown away, much like a block or head of an engine that has a crack that cannot be repaired. Praise be to God that if I at least make it to purgatory, He will “put the pieces back together again” so that I can, at last, be made perfect and be with God in all His glory in the kingdom of heaven.

During this month of November when we remember in a very special way all the faithful departed, especially those who may still be going through the purification process in purgatory, let us not only pray for them but also pray for ourselves. Pray that we will do all in our power to live a life of loving others as Jesus has taught us while acknowledging daily those times we fail to love as we should. Then, let us thank God, that should we live well enough to at least make it to purgatory, that He will strip us of our remaining impurities so that “a pure heart is revealed and we can see that we all belong together in one enormous symphony of being.”

Brenda Hopf is a member of Divine Mercy Parish in Dubois County and also contributes to the “Sharing the Load” column in The Message.