Purgatory: Purification by Replaying Life’s Painful Moments?

A Dream on Replay

Last night, I had a dream where I was replaying the same scenario. It seemed to be set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, and there was a group of non-religious people in my life seeking to kill me and a friend from my parish. If I didn’t make the right set of choices in my escape plan, they would end us. Suddenly, the scenario would reset a la Edge of Tomorrow (the 2014 film starring Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise). So I had a chance to weave another path through the puzzle.

Akin to the film, successfully progressing in this chase was incredibly difficult. When we eventually got farther, we were able to get into my vehicle, lock the doors and narrowly escape the chaos, through unkempt, winding dirt roads rampant with downed branches and overgrowth.

The action eventually transitioned out. Whether we had successfully escaped or not, I cannot recall, but it seemed irrelevant at this point. Next, I remember lying belly-side down in darkness, which was directly in line with my actual physical state (lying in bed). I became more aware that I may actually be somewhat conscious at this point. I then saw what appeared to be the beginning of a face in the darkness. Whenever I have consciousness and see figures or become fearful, I call out to Christ and his angels to safeguard my imagination. The face seemed to be that of Christ, but I felt unworthy to gaze upon him, so I looked away. Partly, I was perhaps also fearful that it wasn’t him but rather the devil deceiving me. When I looked again, a different face appeared, a malformed one, which shook me awake.

Purgatory: Purification via Replays

Coming out of the dream, it made me think that perhaps Purgatory is a state in which the soul is constantly “dreaming,” not in the physiological sense of how our brains enter and exit a series of restorative phases during sleep, conjuring up odd mashups of our life experiences. Rather, I am thinking specifically of how we “replay” events of our past, including those right up until yesterday.

Our brains seem to try and resort and reorganize during sleep. So perhaps, in Purgatory, our soul revisits particular events of our earthly life… iterative visitations that slowly reveal to us our misunderstandings, misconceptions, and prejudices at that time. We may revisit moments when we caused pain or harbored bad thoughts, when the weeds of vice first took root in us. Left to grow, the choking weeds of evil slowly tangle up our thoughts and feelings, and leave us with a distorted perspective, which in turn predisposes us to buy into future lies, or to never bother digging for the truth in a dangerous “ignorance is bliss” mindset.

We must be purified to enter heaven. In the same way that a dream (typically) isn’t lucid, these replays wouldn’t be one of active decision-making or free will. I don’t mean we are “reliving” the moments, but just rewatching it repeatedly with a soul that is more and more conformed to Christ’s. We don’t have free will after after our earthly death.

So perhaps, we are hurled into these little episodes, equipped with our current understanding, but coming out of each replay we progress to a slightly deeper, more complete understanding about the truth, about God. This gradual purification seems the only possible way to take a willing but incompletely purified soul gently into the eternal glory of God without their will crashing in upon itself and fleeing due to any lingering confusion or misunderstanding.

If God is Infinitely Merciful, Purgatory Makes Sense

The knots of our soul need to be untied, slowly and carefully. If, upon my dying, I wildly misunderstood God, I would think the total revelation of his mercy and burning love for me would overwhelm me in shame. If we only had heaven or hell as options, my only retreat would be hell. From the God of infinite mercy, it seems perfectly fitting that there would exist Purgatory, a state in which I want to be with God but I’m not quite ready for him in all his awesome glory.

If, at the end of this earthly life, there still exists those dark, harrowing corners in my heart, stocked with earthly treasures, stashed-away swords sharpened for those who have wronged me, and my narcissistic trophies, then Purgatory would be necessary for God to surgically, lovingly, purge these final blemishes from my soul.

“My God, help me to fulfill the work, to break the last bonds, to complete that interior process that you alone have accomplished in me, in whom the mysterious working of your providence is always visible, for which I never cease blessing and loving you. I have a great task before me, and nothing to help me to fulfill it.”—Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur, Elisabeth Leseur: Selected Writings