The other day I attended a talk on purgatory as part of a series on Catholic apologetics. The speaker related an anecdote about a near-death experience to illustrate her belief that the concept of purgatory is about the direct experience of God’s love-filled judgement – an incredibly difficult and painful experience, but one that should be welcomed. I’m usually quite sceptical about this sort of anecdote, but I found her understanding of it, and the sense of divine love that she conveyed, very moving.
On a slightly different note, I am slowly working through Landmarks – An Ignatian Journey by Margaret Silf, a book I picked up a while ago, and yesterday read a chapter giving two remarkable images of the human condition. She describes first a canal boat held in a lock, waiting for the water level to allow it to proceed, rather a scary image of being enclosed – with no knowledge of the outcome. For her, this image suggests passivity and acceptance of God’s will – the boat (or its crew) only needs to keep steady and wait for release into the waters beyond the lock gates.
Her second image is more striking and I am still trying to think it through. She lived in West Berlin before and after the Wall came down, and describes the sense of liberation as places that had been inaccessible, no more than names on a map, were transformed into reality. The accessible world became so much larger, throwing into relief the previously beleaguered, hemmed-in condition of the city – which had prided iself on its freedom in comparison with the east of the city and the surrounding countryside. A striking image, all the more so because the story is usually told in terms of the liberation of the east – for her it is as much a liberation for those in the west, who would usually be regarded as already ‘free’.