You periodically ask for stories about encounters with the mystical. Mine are few and far between but over 59 years of life they have added up. With the month dedicated to the Holy Souls almost upon us, I thought I’d relate an experience of Purgatory from the spring of 1991.
Over 12 years of Catholic education, in my mind, Purgatory was a fiery place, much like Hell, except it was temporary where Hell is permanent. It was a place of just punishment. During the Gulf War, I was stationed at Fort Campbell, KY, and teaching RCIA at the Post Chapel. Young and unsophisticated, I told the RCIA participants that I planned to have a great time in this life even if it meant spending 1,000 years in Purgatory. It was a joke but a very bad and potentially dangerous one.
Several weeks later, while sleeping, I found myself before the Throne of God. Though I could not see Him, it was very real and seemed much more than a dream. It was an utterly helpless feeling. I perceived the words, “You know where you belong.” Expecting to spend 1,000 years in Purgatory, I looked downward. To my surprise, Purgatory was not a fiery furnace but a dark gray-colored mass. It was more a foggy than smoky mist. I could not penetrate it with any sense. What I perceived was a serious state of deprivation, mostly in the form of profound loneliness where I would have no contact with anyone else.
For the first time in my life, I knew I could not help myself spiritually but was entirely dependent on others to be released before the 1,000 years had passed. Feeling deep disappointment for my past life, but trusting in God and prepared to plunge myself into the gray, I asked, “Is there any other way?” Immediately, I awoke looking straight ahead. In some ways, I’ve never felt more alive and grateful than in that moment, and I have never again joked about Purgatory.
While Purgatory may differ for each soul, from this experience, it appears to be an opportunity to learn to love God above all things. There is nothing there to distract us. Once we right the ship and place God at the forefront of our existence, loving Him without regard to anyone or anything else, only then are we ready for Heaven. Out of His great goodness, that is also when God will give us all the rest besides (family, friends, perfect happiness).