PURGATORY AND PERFECTION

When I was in law school, the professors would often make available copies of former exams they had given so that students could know the type of questions to expect. One of the professors Saul Levmore, said that he was also providing what he considered to be an A+ answer to the questions. At that point, one student asked whether he could also make available what he considered to be a B answer. Professor Levmore responded in a disappointed voice, “You mean for students who are not so ambitious?” His point was that all students should strive for the heights of academic excellence, nothing less. Only with such effort will they reach their full potential. Of course, in academics, as in other fields such as sports, art, music, and the like, there are only so many who can reach the very heights. And teachers and coaches can only provide so much help to a particular student.

But such is not the case with God and His ambition for us. All of us are called to the very heights of friendship with God through Jesus Christ and His Church. And God is willing to do what it takes to give each person an A+ soul, or even better, to the point where His Son died on Calvary for this goal. We may be satisfied with a middling level of heroic joy, glory and friendship with God, but our calling is higher. The saints are not merely figures whom we admire; they are examples of the sort of people who we can be.

This confidence that God will, if we cooperate, make of us great and glorious sons and daughters of heaven is at the core of the Church’s teachings regarding Purgatory. If a person dies in friendship with God, but still not at the level he can obtain, the time for achieving perfection continues onward. God could, if He wanted, simply make each of us perfect without any further effort or sacrifice of ours. But that would be too cheap and easy, like a teacher giving full credit for imperfect work. Instead, if needed, God has the soul struggle to undergo this purification and improvement after death. And, as we can help each other become better on this earth, so we can help souls in Purgatory advance toward glory by our prayers, sacrifices, and good works. Next week’s article will discuss a complementary teaching, how the saints in heaven assist us on earth.