What happens when you die?
A lot of hopeful people assume that you go straight to Heaven. Hell is a fantasy to scare people into being good, and that God would never send anyone to Hell (This is true, God would never send anyone to Hell. But people send themselves to Hell by the choices they’ve made in life that have as their consequence the ultimate rejection of God.)
But since not everyone goes to Hell, do the rest go straight to Heaven? What about people who by the choices they’ve made are destined for Heaven, but have not fully repented for the sins they committed before converting? What about people who make “deathbed conversions”, is it fair that they enter into Heaven with sins not fully remitted through Earthly penance? What about us alcoholics and addicts who think that “Well, I did my Step 4* and Step 5**, that’s enough.” Since according to Ephesians 5:5: “Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God,” (Via USCCB.) what about those who just fall short of perfection? Who dies perfect? We all die with stains on our soul and junk in our trunk. One small impurity and we’re banned from Heaven?
Well, there is hope for those of us that are not perfect. That hope is “Purgatory”
(Via New Advent.)
Purgatory is that place where we go where we are finally and completely purged of any attachment to selfish and sinful inclinations. I strongly recommend that you read that linked article from New Advent, it explains a lot and includes Scriptural passages supporting the idea, along with excellent human reasons for Purgatory’s existence, even if there was no Scriptural basis.
I envision Purgatory to be a place and a process. As a place, perhaps some domain outside of Heaven (“Heaven’s foyer”) in which we see the glory of God and the beauty of Heaven, but our sinful attachment to ourselves and to Earthly pleasure prevents us from entering. The pain we feel at this separation is our “purgation”. It is the process by which we are cleansed of all impurities so that we can finally enter into our true home.
This cleansing is a suffering, and if we accept and not reject the Earthly suffering that we experience, we can begin our purgatory now.
* and ** : Steps 4 and 5 for the unknowing are those of the 12 Steps of recovery programs in which the recovering addict does a “fearless and searching moral inventory” of their lives and then afterwards “admits to God, to ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”Know someone, perhaps yourself, who might like Catholic devotionals for alcoholics? Please take a look at my books! (Thank you!!)"The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics"