Who likes the idea of being purged? Anyone wake up today hoping to find themselves wandering in a wilderness or desert, anxiously awaiting a chance to be pruned and refined in fire? One way or another, it is a necessary step along the path to holiness. You see, God doesn’t just desire our salvation, but he desires our sanctification as well.
Let me try to explain. So many Christians focus simply on salvation, whether or not they make it to Heaven. A popular presumption in Christianity is the notion of “once saved always saved.” At any given moment in time if you trust in Jesus and accept him as your personal Lord and Savior, you are therefore saved and are rewarded with eternal life. This belief and way of thinking stems from a theological premise that originated from Martin Luther. He believed and proclaimed that man is a “dung heap covered with snow.” Essentially, man is corrupted at his core (dung heap), but by the power of the Cross and the grace of God we are made beautiful (covered with snow). God the Father overlooks our depravity and sees the merits of his Son and presto, Heaven is ours. Those who follow this belief generally do not believe in purgatory, this state of deeper “cleansing” to purify us at our very core. This stems from a primary focus on the word ‘salvation’. Now don’t get me wrong, Catholics also believe in salvation but from a slightly different perspective. As we mentioned yesterday, the salvation won at the Cross saves us from eternal punishment (hell), but we still need to be cleansed to the core (all the dung must go away) to enter into Heaven.
Catholic theology takes salvation a step further and places a primary focus on the word sanctification as well. The power of the Cross has an even greater, more efficacious effect as the grace redeemed by Christ is not exhausted though merely a cosmetic covering alone. It doesn’t just take something intrinsically ugly and make it appear beautiful. It runs much deeper than that. The grace of the Cross is so powerful that it can touch the very depths of us to purify us. This reality is not a one-and-done decision but rather a process. In most cases, it takes an entire lifetime! Thanks be to God that his great love is such that he not only forgives us from our sins but also burns away all the consequences of sin. And by the extraordinary, superabundant, unfathomable and limitless mercy of God he grants some souls the opportunity to extend this process even beyond death. Purgatory is a great gift that is directly related to God’s mercy and it’s directly related to the reality that nothing unclean will enter into Heaven.
Ready for even more good news? During this journey together, we are going to spend forty days working to purify our lives. That’s much better than forty years with Moses in the wilderness, right? We have previously identified the three-headed monster represented in the flesh, the world and the devil. We examined our lives against the seven deadly sins, and even searched within ourselves to name our bondage to sin, our Pharaoh. The next step is to purge, detach and remove the root cause of our problems and replace them with the things of God.
Drawing from the Catechism now, “Self-mastery...is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. Man's dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end" (CCC 2339).
Notice the key choice of words used when the Catechism speaks of self-mastery: training in human freedom. That’s exactly what we are setting out to do! And although this book is only 40 days of training, “Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life. The effort required can be more intense in certain periods...” (CCC 2342).
Are you ready? Do you need a William Wallace rally cry once again? You have made it this far, so let us call upon the Lord for the courage and strength to press on in our quest for the prize.
Our spiritual practice for today is to begin the purification process by declaring war against the enemies of freedom and charge into battle.
OUR PATHWAY THROUGH THE WILDERNESS:DAY 14
• Declare war against the enemies that seek to enslave us: The Flesh, the World, the Devil.