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04 The Process of Purification - Fr Anthony Charanghat

posted Oct 25, 2018, 6:49 PM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated ]
As the end of the liturgical year approaches, the Church draws our attention to a reflection on the realities of the Eschaton (end times) such as death, judgment, hell and heaven. The topic of Purgatory that is linked to this issue on All Souls Day gives purpose, meaning and direction to our lives which are surrounded by misunderstandings today. Current trends in theology and scriptural exegesis on this topic term it as a process of purification which involves pain and suffering at the moment of death, to wrench us away from our attachment to sin, and makes a definitive option for a lasting relationship with God.

We wish to humbly share our reflections on inspirational insights received while convalescing from a critical bypass open heart surgery which we believe will deepen our theological and spiritual understanding of this significant concept on All Souls Day. The word 'Purgatory' was made popular by the great poet Dante, and also by Virgil, the Latin scholar and poet, who called it a process of cleansing - purgatoriam.

Those in Purgatory, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), are people at the hour of death who experience estrangement from God, and not wholly dedicated to God when they die, and hence deprived of happiness which they are destined for by God Himself.

To begin with, Thomas Aquinas and many contemporary theologians, based on the Catholic teaching of Purgatory, reinforce the concept of Purgatory as a purification process which reaches a cumulative high point at the end of our lives. This condition arises because of sin, which is the ability to freely say 'yes' or 'no' to God's divine will as revealed to us in faith. This is possible because of the supreme gift of freedom, which gives dignity to both spiritual and human creation. Even the angels, led by Lucifer, who revolted against God were estranged in relationship with God, because they freely said 'no' to God. It was this leader of the angels who revolted totally against God and distanced himself fully to the extreme, severing all relationship with God (Hell).

Satan, the prince of Beelzebub, had vowed to destroy the kingdom of God, and therefore tempted Eve to eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree, which he claimed had the knowledge and wisdom of God; this was only half the truth, and a deceit which only takes you away from God completely. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, symbolise humanity's first original sin which became the mark of the fall from the grace of God and union with Him; this is what is called "original sin" (the sin of the world) that not only affects the individual, but the whole race of humanity as a corporate body, which has been the universal condition of humankind from then on.

Death hence means the final separation of the soul (spirit) and body. It is, in fact, a liberation of the spirit from the body which becomes a hindrance to persevere in our relationship with God. Judgment is yet another eschatological reality which does not mean God's condemnation or punishment which is pronounced or inflicted on us. It is we who distance ourselves in our relationship with God, who is the source of our eternal happiness and meaning and purpose in life. Heaven, therefore, means total communion with God, and hell is our definitive option of saying 'no' to God.

St Thomas Aquinas had a theory that at the moment of Death, we have special illumination from God that makes our spirit feel reality as it truly is. God is the Alpha and the Omega, and the centre of the whole world. Sin is to affirm ourselves as the centre of the world; it is the egoism and attachment to temptation to say 'no' to God, which makes us feel eternal pain and suffering, because it is not a definitive fundamental option that we have made at the hour of death.

It is also believed that we can help our near and departed ones to break away from this eternal damning revolt from God (Hell), by the prayers that we offer as the mystical body of Christ, that is the Church triumphant, the Church militant, we who are struggling on Earth, and the Church suffering at the hour of Death. The components of the united effort of the Church on this day is to repentance by confessing our sins and naming our shame, both in the sacrament of Reconciliation and subjecting ourselves to the civil authorities to make retribution for our offences and guilt. It also includes offering Masses for the dead, as it empowers them to die to self and to rise in Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice of our Lord.

This is an eye-opener to the whole Church that the scandals and sins of the Church can be resolved by a united effort of speaking the truth that hurts, in a spirit of love, and not in a spirit of dissension and destruction of unity. Mary our mother is a perfect example of the one who intercedes for us with Her Son, and collaborates by her own suffering united with Christ for the salvation of the world. That is why we pray 'Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.'