Some days I feel more Catholic, other days, more Protestant. The fact is I’m stuck between the world of my upbringing and the religion of my wife who is a cradle Catholic. One bit of Catholic doctrine that’s never sat right with me is Purgatory. You won’t find Purgatory anywhere in the Bible. Us Sola Scriptura people were always taught that Jesus told the thief on the cross, “this day you will be with me in Paradise”… as in proceed straight to Go and collect $200 along the way. No purgatory necessary.
Purgatory is the Catholic back exit that avoids Hell. In theory, you get parked until God finds a way to make you pure enough to get you into Heaven, usually when someone says masses on your behalf. I suspect purgatory got invented by the Catholic Church because nobody likes to talk about Hell and punishment, so they placed their faith in the Church institution as a way to save us in case Jesus wasn’t willing.
Frankly, nobody talked about Hell more than Jesus. If you count there are 162 references to Hell in the New Testament, and 70 of those times are straight off Jesus’ lips. Think of the parable Jesus told of poor Lazarus, the one who sat and begged at the gate while his neighbour walked by, clothed and fed and in plenty. When the poor man dies, he is found is in the bosom of Abraham, a turn of phrase which I take means a GOOD place. The callous rich man on the other hand, has to watch from the other side of a great chasm, in a state of eternal torment. Jesus telling this story makes me wonder.
I’m at that weird stage of life where I am starting to know a lot of dead people. None of them were perfect. I worry about them and though it’s weird, I wonder if God is taking care of them. Some have died outside of faith. I pray for them anyway, hoping that God grades on the curve. I could use a bit of Purgatory here - you’d figure that once someone is dead, all the cards are called in. No more chances. But I hope anyway.
I was mashing potatoes today and was suddenly struck with the childhood memory of “licking the spoon”. It’s the kind of spoiling I associate with being the baby of the family for a short while. When my mother baked or cooked, I got to lick the spoon. It brings to life a recharged vision of my mom who is younger than I am now, showing that sweetness that little kids know about. When she made shortbread she would sing “Momma’s little baby loves shortening bread” while I sat in a chair and watched. I can recall tagging along at the grocery store when I was still too young for kindergarten, and if I begged enough she would get me the 5¢ box of Cracker Jack with the plastic prize at the bottom. I like those memories. They balance out the other times my mom was under a lot of pressure and perhaps not her better self. In the grab bag of possible things to remember, that’s the picture I’d like to keep.
It makes wonder if that’s also how God thinks. Does he judge from a picture of the times we were our better selves? We all have our good and bad days. We are up against life, and at some point there will be more of life than there is of you to come up against it. When all is said and done I’d sure like to think that how you’re remembered savours the good parts from that grab bag of moments.
What I’d really like, is a bit of selective memory on God’s part, like my image of licking the spoon while my mother hummed happily on the side. Keeping that picture alive would make up for some of those parts of the human journey that are not so fun. Is there a purgatory? I don’t know, but I’ve got to believe that God’s track record for goodness outweighs any justifications we make up on the side.