You can deepen your life of prayer by practicing meditation. St. Francis de Sales taught that this was simply bringing thoughts and images into your mind so as to move the heart and will toward God. Scripture, songs, nature, the writings of the saints: They are all fodder for meditation.
You cannot count how many people you have met in life, but you can trace the transformation that certain people have brought into your life. They could and did change who you are as a person because our human nature is pliable, subject to growth.
Here is a meditation. Think of the men and women who made you the person you are. Then let your heart give way to gratitude:
- Your mom, teaching you to bake.
- The coach, who taught you to love the sport and to excel at it.
- The teacher, who introduced you to the love of reading.
- The older sibling, who modeled how to deal with challenges.
- The aunt, who listened to you and made you an empathetic person.
- The kid, two years ahead of you in high school, who did not belittle you, who made you believe the coming adult world would not be so bad.
Ponder these people and try to imagine how different your life would be if you had never encountered them. How can you not be moved to gratitude for who they are and what they have brought into your life?
You cannot count how many people you have met in life, but you can trace the transformation that certain people have brought into your life.
Then, consider what comes after this life. Here, all ebbs and flows. We gain, and we suffer loss. In contrast, heaven can be defined as our joyful fruition. Nothing can be lost, nothing drops from the hand of God. There is no weakening or wilting.
The lives of the saints involve a satiety, a true and lasting satisfaction, but heaven is not stasis, not an eternal stillness. Why not? Because God is the source of all creativity! So heaven cannot be a lovely mausoleum. It must be a mill of blessing and life.
Indeed, if, while we were enemies,
we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son,
how much more, once reconciled,
will we be saved by his life (Rom 5:10)
There is much about purgation after death that is difficult to understand, though it is clearly attested to in Scripture and in the earliest history of the church. Here is the essential: Encountering God changes everything! What we call the beatific vision is transformational. Purgatory is not a place or a time, but you can think of it as heaven’s porch, the antechamber where God embraces us in renewing love and mercy.
Most of us leave this earth still malleable. Unlike the damned, we have lived in a way that keeps us alive and growing. Yet unlike the great saints, we are not entirely ready for the cataract of life and love that is God. The doctrine of purgation after death insists that meeting God will transform us, finish what is incomplete, purify what poisoned us, gather up those parts of us still scattered.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble (Wis 3:7).
Those who struggle with the notion of purgation after death make two misjudgments: They esteem themselves too highly and they insufficiently imagine the glory of God. Remember that you once thought your life was good enough, until you fell in love, until your child was born, until the right person came along. Then everything that went before seemed so very impoverished. That is what happens when we encounter true love.
There are people on this earth, whom you were destined to meet, who changed everything about you. God created these men and women. Why wouldn’t you think that meeting their creator—and your own—will be the most radical transformation that you can experience? That is what happens when we encounter true love.
Readings: Wisdom 3:1-9 Romans 5:5-11 John 6:37-40