Homily on the readings for Oct. 22, Friday of the XXIX week in OT, year II
“Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.” “Settle the matter on the way; otherwise … the constable [will] throw you into prison. I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” Both our psalm and our Gospel reading today are among the biblical texts frequently referred to in explaining the doctrine of Purgatory.
They, along with other passages of the Old and New Testaments, show that our souls and hearts need to be pure and clean for us to enter into God’s presence in heaven. Sin and selfishness metaphorically stain us and corrupt us from within, and exclude us from God’s presence. Through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we are forgiven and are granted access to heaven – but our hearts and our desires still need to be cleansed through repentance and acts of love. We need to “settle the matter on the way”, and be purified in this life. if we don’t, after judgment we will be purified in a sort of “prison”, or as St Paul describes it in the first letter to the Corinthians, by fire, before we can enter heaven. This purification is what we call Purgatory.
So, Purgatory is just like an antechamber to heaven, a process of purification for those who are already saved, that makes them worthy to “ascend the mountain of the Lord” and “stand in His holy place”. It is not a third destination totally distinct from heaven and hell, as some people mistakenly assume – especially some Protestants who, consequently, reject the doctrine of Purgatory (although others reject it for different reasons).
The first reading reminds us of our unity in Christ as one Body and one Spirit, which results from our baptism into the one true Faith. This unity is spiritual, not visible, and extends to what is called the “Church Militant” (those of us still fighting sin on earth), the “Church Triumphant” (the saints in heaven), and the Church Suffering (the souls in Purgatory). From even before Christ, it was understood that our love for and unity with those who are in Purgatory should move us to pray for them and offer our daily difficulties and sufferings for them, to partake in some way in their purification and hasten them to heaven.
So today, let us remember the souls in Purgatory and offer a prayer for them. Let us also accept the frustrations, aches and pains, and other difficulties we face, as a part of our own purification from selfishness and sensuality, to settle accounts on the way before we die. For we, members of the Church Militant and Church Suffering, “are the people who long to see [God’s] face.”