Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
November 2, 2014
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
The Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day)
“Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.” Wisdom 3:5
Nothing is wasted, not even our sufferings. This is the lesson of life, and it is the lesson that Purgatory teaches us as well because eternal life comes to those who are prepared for it.
I think of the lessons that life teaches us. Think of the satisfaction one receives from having accomplished a task after many years of effort. When we graduate from school, that diploma and the rights and privileges that come with it are a result of many years of hard work, study, and application. When a couple celebrates fifty years of marriage surrounded by family and friends, they reach this moment of joy and satisfaction because they persevered, made great sacrifices, and suffered through deprivations that they would have just as soon avoided. In both examples, the people involved had to leave something of themselves behind, but only in this way did they grow. Only in this way did they accomplish something.
Jesus warned us in the Gospel that the journey to eternal life would not be easy. When asked whether only a few would be saved, He answered, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Luke 13:24). In another similar passage, Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus is speaking not of everyday journeys but He is speaking of eternal life.
St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians has an interesting passage in which he compares our lives to constructing a building. In short we must all strive to build our houses on the foundation of Christ. But because we are all different, each of us will use different building materials. St. Paul says we may choose to build “… with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw” (I Corinthians 3:12). The day will come, however, when all this work of ours will be tested. St. Paul continues, “It will be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire” (I Corinthians 3:13-15). In other words, there is hope. As long as one has built on Christ, the buildings may vary in quality, but the work of fire will purify them. The important thing is to build on Christ.
The purification of suffering is necessary. We cannot avoid it, and it is through this redemptive suffering that we are made even more pleasing to God. The Book of Wisdom speaks of this necessary redemptive suffering for the just in these terms: “Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed because God tried them and found them worthy of himself” (Wisdom 3:5).
Purgatory is a doctrine of hope. There even suffering has meaning because it has an end that is nothing less than union with God and His love. God must purify us as much as possible to be in His presence for all eternity. Purgatory is a doctrine of love, because God reminds us of the refining fire of His patient love.
Bishop Glen John Provost