Sunday, August 09, 2009

A Perspective on Purgatory

I was pondering the other day. I do this from time to time.

I am always amazed at the number of practicing Christian who are on medication for disorders such as depression and anxiety. I say this completely without malice, as I have long been one of these people.

I suppose it could be said that mental/emotional/psychiatric issues aren't substantively different than any other health issue requiring medication. Some Christians will actually tell you that if you really believe in Christ's redemption for us, you will be healed. Catholicism does NOT hold to this. They certainly think that if it is God's will that you be healed, you can be healed of anything.

To me though, depression/anxiety is different. Christians have every reason to hope. We know that we are loved and that God has given us what we need to get to heaven. In the Catholic Church, I think we have it easiest of all. We can seek forgiveness in the sacrament of Confession and know that we have been forgiven, as Jesus speaks the words of absolution to us, through the priest. We have the Church Jesus founded, which has actively been observing and engaging humanity and maintaining the Body of Christ for over 2000 years. Why is it that so many of us fall under the impenetrable clouds of things like depression?

Of course for some, it is a chemical imbalance. To me this would be a bit like someone who has to take a thyroid supplement or insulin in order to make the body function as the body is supposed to function.

For those who do not have a chemical problem it's a bit different.

Our bodies, created before the Fall (that is, Adam and Eve disobeying God and being sent from perfect existence which was the Garden of Eden) were created perfect. When the Fall occurred, we became heir to the sin of Adam, and subject to death.

It came to me the other day that emotional illness, perhaps any illness, is part of the stain of sin.

We can know that we are redeemed. We can know that we are loved. If our 'receptors' for this knowledge are damaged due to sin, our own or someone's to which we have been subject, we can't feel the love and joy the way we were designed to feel it. So we suffer. This also seems to me similar to what happens in illnesses such as diabetes...the body's receptors are damaged, so as not to be properly affected by body chemicals, in this case insulin.

I wonder if this is one of the things with which Purgatory is supposed to affect.

Purgatory is the place for purification before the soul enters heaven. If a person dies in friendship with God, but still maintains some stain of sin, Purgatory is where this imperfection can be dealt with. Scripture tells us that nothing imperfect may enter heaven (Revelation 21:27).

Does everyone enter Purgatory? No. Those who die in a state of mortal sin will go to hell. Some rare souls may actually go directly to heaven because they have perfect contrition and have somehow managed to completely detach from the power of sin AND have had the residual stain of sin removed from their souls.

So what is this stain of sin? You can imagine someone deliberately throwing a rock through a window. Saying sorry is part of the aftermath, which also involves a trip to the confessional. But that does not repair the window, regardless of how truly sorry the rock-thrower may feel.

The needed repair is like the stain of sin. That is what Purgatory removes. We will be tested, as if by fire. Our impurities will be removed.

So, illness is definitely an imperfection. It isn't exactly like sin because it is not (at least not always) directly caused by sin. I don't think any sin of my own caused my arthritis, but it is something I am heir to because of Adam's sin. Will Purgatory remove my arthritis? Depression? I suspect it might.