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When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings

May 31, 2011

Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk:

One of the doctrines of the Catholic faith I have always struggled with is that of purgatory. I’m not going to attempt to explain purgatory here, for I would surely make hash of it. (Perhaps Martha of Ireland can help us with this teaching someday.) But I did read an explanation of it recently that helped me understand how purgatory can fit into the life of a follower of Jesus. Father Thomas Green in his classic work When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginningswrites about it thusly:

I had always been puzzled by the doctrine of purgatory, particularly by all the talk about fire and smoke and pain. It seemed like a peculiarly vengeful way for an all-good God to act…But when I began to realize that purgatory is not vengeance but purification and transformation, the whole doctrine seemed not only acceptable but necessary. Sooner or later we have to be made divine if we are going to love as we are loved, if not in this life, then certainly after death. Since most people choose to avoid the call to purifying transformation during this life, it seemed only logical that this call would have to be faced later, since not sooner. The only alternative would be to remain untransformed forever, and that is hell.

For much of the 38 years I have been a Christian I didn’t want to be transformed, at least not the way God wants to change me. I wanted to be in charge of my life, be a good person, be a good Christian. Transformation God’s way is a lot more painful than sin management done on my terms. Just when I think I have graduated from Humility 101, the Lord shines his light on new areas of pride in my life and says I need to repeat the course again. And again. And …

I have always heard fellow believers say, “I want to learn my lesson this time so I don’t have to go through this same trial again.” Well, perhaps I am a slow learner. I keep going through the same tests and trials over and over and over again. Or perhaps it’s that the Lord never intends for us to move on, but keep going around the same mountain again and again. Who am I, an ugly lump of clay, to argue with the Master Potter? If he thinks it necessary to spin me on his wheel through eternity, that is his choice. He is the artist who will craft me as he desires. If I submit myself to his transformation now, perhaps that means less time being purified before the wedding of the Lamb.

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