I've always been amazed to think that people would give up their lives for the faith. Why would anyone risk death for righteousness' sake if one already knew their salvation was secure? Is it about honour? Allegiance to the greater good? Could it be a sense of personal pride in that we've accomplished something for Christ, that we've successfully denied ourselves in one way or another or that we'll be richly rewarded in the end? Why would anyone want to press forward to win the race of this earthly life? What are we competing for & who are we competing against? Are we motivated only by the hope that we can somehow "out do" our brothers & sisters in the faith? Is it that the more we do, the more souls we save, the bigger our mansion & status in heaven will be? Isn't that a secular mindset opposed to the very humility God calls us to? "Well done, good & faithful servant" is what everyone wants to hear. But if our salvation is really so secure & there's no such thing as purgatory, what drives any of us forward, even unto death if need be?
As I continue to learn about Purgatory, the Gospel begins to come to light like I've never seen it before. And what is this Gospel, this good news? Is it that Jesus died for our sins so we don't have to? Well, how could the disciples & Jesus Himself be proclaiming such a thing if He was still alive? In fact, it appears from the Gospel accounts, Jesus didn't even mention His impending death to His own disciples till just before their final Passover together! Yet this is what I hear Christians saying- Jesus died for you, He took the punishment for you, repent in your heart & confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord & you'll be saved, no holds barred, no questions asked! But I'm under the new found impression that there's something... important missing. What exactly was the good news Jesus & His disciples were proclaiming? What compelled people to leave everything & follow? Was it His looks? Was it the miracles He did? Was it His knack for story telling or His witty opposition to the religious leaders? His Gospel was "Repent & be saved". But I think the "being saved" was meant to be an active, present tense, not past tense.
Jesus came to proclaim the promise of a kingdom- God's kingdom- to a people besieged. In order to become a citizen of God's kingdom, one had to repent & "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul & strength & love your neighbor as yourself". These were (& still are) the two greatest commandments Jesus taught His followers. And they're probably also the most difficult to follow.
So is it love that motivated people to follow? For some, it was the hope of overthrowing the current political environment. They saw Jesus as the One who would establish a new way of doing things... Imagine their disappointment when they passed Him gasping & bleeding on a cross.
Some, like many in our day, probably followed because it was "cool". He turned water into wine, always had something interesting to say, did a bunch of miracles, kissed babies & blessed children, helped the poor, stood up to the powers that be... To these people, He was a celebrity. To His family & those from His hometown in Nazareth, He may have well been the local freak. "Whats He doing now? Isn't that the carpenter's son? Who does He think He is?" One scripture even says they thought He'd gone mad.
But what motivated His disciples to follow? I think they knew something we don't. Jesus spent 3 years with them & yet we only have a few pages of text to show for it. What did He tell them while they sailed the Sea of Galilee? What did He whisper in the lonely places when they actually got away from the crowds? Surely He had more to say than what's recorded in the New Testament. And that's where tradition comes in. Purgatory is part of that tradition passed down to us...
Why is the concept of purgatory so offensive? Because
it implies that we must still suffer the punishment for sins? Or is it
the idea that by prayer & good works here on earth, we can
effect how long we or others languish in the in-between? Are we not
already washed in the Blood of Christ? Are we not already clean
& able to enter Heaven unhindered because of His sacrifice?
Isn't that the good news? I don't think so. Again, would this have made
sense when Jesus was alive?
The good news He preached is that we can
truly be reconciled to God... by repentance & belief, yes. But I
think the good news is still more than that- and its not that we don't
have to suffer punishment. I think the good news is that the punishment
doesn't have to be eternal... that there truly is no condemnation- for
those in Christ Jesus. Because of His sacrifice, if we find ourselves in
purgatory, we won't be condemned to the ultimate, eternal suffering of
separation from God. When we die, we'll still have to face judgement,
corresponding discipline & ultimately, purification before we're
able to enter heaven, but the point is, we are irrevocably SAVED.