I’ve known since I was in first grade that my stay in purgatory will probably be quite long (and I believe my reservation at the Suffering Suites hotel is getting longer day by day, but never mind that for now). As I remember, the earliest series of serious and repeated offenses that sent me toward the temporal timeout corner was not doing my Monkey Business in first grade. Yes, you read that correctly, Monkey Business. You’d think that any first grader who successfully avoided monkey business would have a golden ticket to heaven, except that my first grade teacher Mrs. Gerwig cleverly used this deceptive term to mean classwork. And who has time for doing Monkey Business when one is already knee deep in…what is the term I am looking for…oh that’s it…monkey business.
But no matter how one dressed up doing school work (even hanging a vine across the chalkboard with monkey’s swinging from it holding worksheets) I never liked it, let alone did much of it in first grade. Instead I was constantly caught red bottomed, like a Rhesus monkey, chatting with the cute girl next to me or discussing playground plans with my buddy behind me. My behavior in class resulted in numerous parent-teacher conferences, to discuss my undone Monkey Business. Time after time my mother would come to the classroom after school and reinforce Mrs. Gerwig’s loving ultimatum: do my Monkey Business in class or I’d have to do it during recess or at home. They could talk to me until they were blue in the face like a baboon, but I never understood the message. Despite my best efforts to remain focused, I regularly ended up missing recess and taking my unfinished Monkey Business home to do in the solitary enclosure of my bedroom.
Having to do some unfinished Monkey Business is a lot like going to Purgatory. While the suffering in Purgatory is probably exponentially greater than missing recess (although missing foursquare to a first grader is pretty painful), the analogy works. Sinful actions require atonement. Metanoia, or a transformative change from a life of sin to a life of grace, is what our Lord both seeks and requires from us to attain the divine ecstasy and joy of heaven. But if you are anything like me, there is still some work to be done before your soul reaches a spiritual state fit to just stroll right in to heaven. In fact, at times I wonder if I’ll ever get there. So, as much as I’d like to avoid it, Purgatory gives me great comfort. Martin Jugie, author of Purgatory: And The Means To Avoid It puts it this way:
“No doubt we find here below in Holy Church all the means to prepare ourselves for immediate entry into the Vision of God. But that demands a white purity of life, much vigilance and a constant fidelity to Divine Grace: in a word – the fervent and heroic life. Alas! Heroes are rare: sinners and the imperfect are as the sands of the seashore. For the greater part of men, Purgatory is certainly a doctrine that drips with consolation.”
As the feast of All Souls day on November 2 approaches each year, I often find myself thanking our Lord for the gift of Purgatory as a place and state of the soul. I also can’t help but think about the pile of my own unfinished monkey business waiting for me on my desk in Purgatory; and that alone is motivation to pick up my #2 pencil and go to work praying for my deceased loved ones and stranded souls.
God the Father of Heaven, Have mercy on the Souls of the Faithful departed.