Why do we long for the whole? We never find it in this life, yet we don’t stop seeking it. We’ve never known a truth, never found a love, never acted, even once, in a way that couldn’t be bettered. Still, we struggle on. Why won’t the human heart simply accept the notion that there is no more truth to find, no more love to seek, no more complete way of being in the world? Why yearn for some whole we’ve never found?
The Greeks defined God by crossing out human limitations. We are bound by time; God is eternal. We suffer change; God is immutable. We live with weakness; God is omnipotent. We must die; God is immortal. Skeptics might suggest that this is no more than humanity’s longing for wholeness writ large.
Is that evolution’s cruelest accomplishment? Fashioning a creature that can’t stop longing for something beyond itself? Or is our desire for wholeness a great cipher to the mystery of God?
Perhaps a pattern has been impressed into our hearts. We desire more than we can ever attain, we long for some whole we cannot even envision, because we seek holiness. The English word “holy,” like the German word “heilig,” comes from an Indo-European root meaning “whole.”
Purgatory, and our prayers for the dead, can be explained by way of this simple truth. God is wholeness. Nothing of God is partial, incomplete, or passing. Those who would come to God must be made whole, complete, perpetual. If our life on earth fails to accomplish that single task, purgatory is the means whereby the Holy makes us whole.
Purgatory doesn’t belong to time or space. It redeems both. It is the resurrection working itself out in our flesh, our history. “For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly” (Rom 5: 6). Christ died to redeem us, but there can be no healing for the human heart save the wholeness of God.
There’s little to be achieved in trying to picture purgatory, the process of purgation. There is everything to be gained in praying for our dead. We ask that God’s grace finish its work in them, rewriting their stories into something single, something whole. “The souls of the just are in the hands of God”(Wis 3: 1), and God will fulfill their deepest longing. God will make them whole.
Wisdom 3: 1-9 Romans 5: 5-11 John 6: 37-40