8/25/2016 9:00:00 AM BISHOP'S COLUMN Purgatory: becoming who we are
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER
Want a little relief from the heat of summer? Listen to these soothing words of Jesus. Read them aloud, slowly: "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light" (Mt 11:28-30).
Among the most comforting passages in the New Testament, these words of Jesus pack a powerful punch. They are like...a purgatory!
I have always suspected that our purgatory at the end of our earthly lives may well be a realization that we were, in life, far worse off then we ever thought we were -- yet far more accepted and loved than we could ever have imagined. It will be a discovery of our true selves and the truth about our relationship with God. It will consist of whatever is necessary for us to stand before God, alone, without props or excuses, fears or distractions.
Let's face it: We all struggle with our own share of care, worry and anxiety. In our more reflective moments, we may have regrets about things that we have done or should have and did not.
We "get" that we are broken sinners in need of repentance and forgiveness; yet, for all our attempts at being honest with God, ourselves and one another, we probably have no idea how much of our lives we have wasted, abused or simply left undeveloped.
I know that, as I get older, these thoughts tend to multiply daily, as I think of all the things to which I need to tend. But, for all the tasks on my radar screen, how many more priorities may be in the minds of others -- or in God's vision -- that I do not even know or see?
True, we may never know in this life the good we do by simply fulfilling our day-to-day duties; but, neither do we realize the harm which we are capable of inflicting, even by the slightest slur of the tongue, moment of indiscretion or act of neglect. How many graces offered and refused!
Yet, we are loved and forgiven. For all our sins and failures, Jesus keeps coming to us.
He also asks us to come to Him. He does not force Himself upon us, but invites us to come close to Him -- like one with a parched throat is drawn to an oasis. Draw peace from Jesus!
The yoke that Jesus will place on us to replace the burden of all our sins and cares and anxieties is the one He has lightened by carrying Himself. All of the things that preoccupy us can so easily become the center of our lives because they take up most of our attention most of the time.
Jesus is saying, "Put me in their place!" When temptations come, of whatever nature, realize that they are a distraction ("from the world, the flesh or the devil") from real love and our true lover: Jesus.
The struggle we may feel in confronting or warding off toxic thoughts and actions is part of our burden, to be sure -- part of the "narrow door" we need to pass through, which we heard about in last Sunday's Gospel. We cannot take this baggage with us if we expect to enter the kingdom of heaven. Each of us has our own share of this baggage.
But, Jesus is saying to us, "Cast off that load and let me carry it." What a tremendous offer of unconditional love!
When, one day, we face Jesus as the judge of our entire life, we will see in His eyes the infinite mercy that we may never have realized was always there. Perhaps that will melt us with such a fire that we may experience its cleansing heat as extremely painful. Purgatory, after all, has been compared to hell -- in everything but hell's eternity. The pain of loss (feeling apart from God) and the pain of sense (like fire or something similar) are the necessary moments of truth that we will all have to face up to when we realize how wrong we have been about how broken we are, yet much we have been loved.
We will finally recognize that so many of our burdens were self-inflicted -- albeit by acquiescence or inadvertence -- and assumed out of fear or pride or ignorance of the one who always wanted us to be free of them, and at His own expense.
Jesus, after all, is the one who took the punishment we deserved so that we could have the reward He deserved. And it may just take a purgatory to remove the scales from our sin-blinded eyes so we can look upon that loving face without being completely burned away by the intensity of that love!
What is left of us after that encounter will be what we truly are in the eyes of God. Then, we will true be free to love for an eternity the only one who, from all eternity, has loved us.