Human Formation in Purgatory? Yes, Indeed.

Nov 29, 2023

Dear Souls and Hearts Members,

As we enter the final days of our liturgical year, the final days of November when autumn gives way to winter (at least for the 90% of us in the northern hemisphere – YMMV, Argentinians, South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders) we consider the eschatological themes, the four final things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. The readings for the daily Masses are focused on the ends of eras, the ends of kingdoms, the end of the world, and the second coming of our Lord. It is a time for us to pray for the dead, and to prepare ourselves for our own particular judgment at the end of our Earthly pilgrimage.

Our need for purification

Nothing unclean shall enter Heaven, St. John tells is in Revelation 21:27.  Before we enter heaven and into beatific vision, seeing God face-to-face in the most intimate personal union, no longer in sin, or with any desire to sin, we must be cleansed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states in paragraph 1030:  All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

Catholic Philosopher Peter Kreeft in his book Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains further:

The existence of purgatory logically follows from two facts: our imperfection on earth and our perfection in heaven:

  1. At the moment of death, most of us are not completely sanctified (purified, made holy), even though we are justified, or saved by having been baptized into Christ’s Body and having thereby received God’s supernatural life into our souls, having accepted him by faith and not having rejected him by unrepented mortal sin.
  2. But in heaven, we will be perfectly sanctified, with no lingering bad habits or imperfections in our souls.
  3. Therefore, for most of us, there must be some additional change, some purification, between death and heaven. This is purgatory. [p. 149].

Trevor Jin, content creator for FOCUS provides a succinct description of purgatory here; Fr. John Hardon definition of Purgatory is here; and the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Purgatory is here, for those seeking further information.

Purgatory in demand

And Purgatory is not just on the minds of faithful Catholics; Church of England member C.S. Lewis aptly and colorfully describes the need for Purgatory in his Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, published posthumously, where he writes

“Our souls demand purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells, and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you for these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy.’ Should we not reply, ‘With submission, Sir, and if there’s no objection, I’d rather be clean first. It may hurt, you know, even so, Sir.’”

Our Catholic understanding that Purgatory exists in God’s mercy and justice to allow us to atone for our sins by accepting suffering offers a solid theological foundation.

But what has not been well-fleshed out is what happens with the effects of sin – and what happens with our disorder in the natural realm that is not in itself sinful?  For even after the forgiveness of our sins, many times disordered attachments or deeply engrained habits remain.

What if a person dies in a state of grace, with the odor of sanctity, yet has some bad habit or venial sin of omission that remains ingrained?

A deep cleanse

Here is an alert for a little speculative eschatology from Dr. Peter, and this is my opinion – take it for what it is worth. Purgatory cleanses us of anything that is imperfect and disordered – including the following:

  • Spontaneous impulses
  • Desires
  • Attractions
  • Unconscious motivations
  • Unconscious assumptions and unarticulated beliefs
  • Incorrect intuitions
  • Disordered emotions or passions

My speculative eschatology is in accord with Lewis F. Ladaria’s chapter titled I Believe in Life Everlasting, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church with Theological Commentary edited by Catholic theologian Rino Fisichella which states that “… definitive salvation must include our full transformation, total purification, and the full orientation of our entire being toward God.” [p. 861].

Our “full transformation” includes every aspect of our being – all our internal psychological experiences and all of our parts.

Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft writes in his book Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Heaven … but Never Dreamed of Asking, that:

The reason we need Heaven in the first place is to complete ourselves and the task we began on earth. No one dies finished. There is never enough time to do and to be all that we can, even all that we should. Our lives are incomplete in all three of their essential relationships: (1) to ourselves, (2) to others, and (3) to God.

It seems necessary to take them in this order. For we must first know ourselves before we can even know who it is that knows others; and only after purgatorial purification of our attitudes are we mature enough to understand others adequately. And we must learn to love the human images in ourselves and others before we can love their divine Model: “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” [pp. 53-54].

Put another way, Dr. Kreeft argues that purgatory allows us the space to fully come to know ourselves and to finish our trajectory of maturation not only in the spiritual realm, but also in the natural realm.  We need not only to complete and perfect our spiritual formation, but also our human formation so that we can understand ourselves and our neighbor, so that we can fully enter not only into personal intimacy with all three Persons of the Trinity, but also into loving union with all our brothers and sisters in the Communion of Saints.

Creative application

Let’s take a look at some modern-day examples of how necessary and beneficial purgatory can be:

  • Enrique had an unwanted sexual attraction to his sister-in-law that stretched back decades. But through grace, diligence, and prudence, he never sinned by acting out that attraction. The attraction lasted until he took his last breath in a state of grace. Enrique’s sexual attraction to his sister-in-law, with its roots in unmet attachment or integrity needs, is resolved in Purgatory (along with those unmet needs), even though his unwanted attraction was not sinful in itself, as it was not sanctioned by his will.
  • As a very young girl, Mimi experienced significant neglect by her caregivers. In consequence, parts of her generated impulses in her to rebel against all authority figures in her life.  After Mimi’s conversion and through the last years of her life, she brought her rebellious acts against her supervisors and against civil authority to confession, received absolution, and did penance, and even atoned for them before dying in a state of grace.  Nevertheless, in her human formation, Mimi never went to the root of her rebellion; certain attachment needs were never met and her wounds around authority were never healed in her earthly life.  That work remains to be done in Mimi in the passive purifications in Purgatory before she can enter heaven.
  • As a young boy, Pierre was rejected by his narcissistic father who was disappointed in him and embarrassed by him because of his physical disabilities and limitations, and thus avoided him emotionally, focusing instead on his younger, more athletic brother. Pierre’s protector parts defended him against the vulnerability it would take to connect with other men who would have shown him fatherly love – he rejected those opportunities. In his Faith life, he developed a deep relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was also able to relate personally with Jesus, but harbored a deep distrust and suspicion, along with an intense anger transference toward God the Father until he died in a state of grace at age 17 from his spina bifida with hydrocephalus.  Pierre’s distrust and anger at God the Father, even though not actively willed by Pierre, must be resolved in Purgatory before he can enter heaven.  (Anger at God, often unacknowledged, was the main theme of Interior Integration for Catholics episode 105 titled How You Hide from your Anger at God.)

Remedies for our human formation deficits

Spiritual problems are often not primarily spiritual; rather, they are spiritual consequences and symptoms of human formation deficits.  And so often, devout Catholic seek spiritual remedies for these human formation deficits, engaging in spiritualizing and spiritual bypassing – and finding out that those approaches to solving human formation problems just don’t work.  Why? Because we need natural remedies for disorders in the natural realm and spiritual remedies for disorders in the spiritual realm.

In 1992, St. John Paul II stated in Pastores Dabo Vobis, human formation is the “necessary foundation” for all priestly formation (paragraph 43).  That is a powerful and critically important statement — human formation is the necessary foundation for spiritual formation, intellectual formation, and pastoral formation, not just for priests, but for all of us.  We have to address not only spiritual disorder but all disorder, including human formation deficits, before we can meet God face to face.

And from everything I’ve read, it’s better to do that human formation work now rather than later.

But this concept of human formation has only been in the lexicon of the Catholic Church for the last three decades, as Pastores Dabo Vobis introduced it.  Consequently, we are pioneers in this developing field.

How do we work on our human formation, and help our kids and their kids, to do all that we possibly can in this life rather than delaying it, and leaving it for Purgatory?

Check out so many more reasons to work on your human formation in my weekly reflection from April 19, 2023, titled The “Whys” of Human Formation.

I discuss various ways you can work on your human formation at length in the IIC podcast episode 63, titled Human Formation: The Critical Missing Element.  Among those possibilities is the Resilient Catholics Community, our year-long structured, step-by-step human formation program, informed by parts and systems thinking and the best of secular approaches, while at the same time firmly grounded in a Catholic understanding of the human person.

A path for authentic human formation

One of the most interesting, recurring observation(s) from members of our Resilient Catholics Community sounds like this: After years of working with my (therapist, spiritual director, coach) I have found that this human formation work in the RCC program uncovered, restored, and brought authentic healing to areas that had previously remained hidden and forgotten.

Many of our RCC members have experienced greater freedom from life-long crippling habits and better clarity about what internally drives certain disordered patterns of thinking and behaving through the systematic, guided approach we offer for human formation.

Although we don’t have quantitative proof that RCC membership has reduced purgation time, we do have inspiring testimonies from our members that make a strong case for this pioneering method of gaining greater purification while on Earth.

We have also begun the process of conducting formal, scientific research, with outcome-based studies for the RCC – to determine much more clearly how and why it works and with this clarity to fine tune our offerings and deepen our impact.

The core of the RCC

Adam and Michelle Gardiner are a married couple, both members of the RCC who have been inspired to start the Master’s program in counseling at Divine Mercy University.  For one of their graduate courses, they had to interview a Catholic “influencer” about how a Catholic understanding of the human person (a.k.a, a Catholic anthropology) drives their work.  We recorded the interview so they would not have to take so many notes so fast.  But their questions drew out in such a clear way the essence of the RCC from an anthropological perspective, and Adam and Michelle were so gracious to allow me to share this 23-minute video with you. The audio only is here.

RCC Testimonials

“Slowly, slowly, it is coming together. There have been many weeks of doubt and wonder if this commitment would show value; if I’m supposed to be doing this and pondering the question of what am I expecting to find.

Yet this week I found answers that led me to look at myself differently than before I began RCC parts work. I became aware I have value as a whole person; that my weaknesses or hurt and abandoned parts do not define me.

Judging and critical thinking is but a wall around these painful and unhealed wounds; acknowledging real fear and concerns turned to listening and became a door that opened to peace within.

I am recognizing how blending, concerned and quiet parts affected and still influence my thoughts regarding my past, present and future. They have much to tell me. They walked where I forgot or chose to deny. I realize they are here because they love me and I’m excited to know them and open up more conversation with them.

It’s like taking baby steps; it is difficult yet rewarding. It is worth the walk.” ~ Cathy Trowbridge

“I joined the RCC in March 2022… I slowly binged my way through all the past ‘office hours’ recordings. It’s all so rich, I feel like I’m marinating in the RCC spirit… I just got a new sense of how incredibly special the community is. I felt that somehow, although a lot is digital, that God somehow enlivens the connections through grace.” ~ Caroline Bishop

And from a member of the RCC in her second year of human formation within our Formation Fellowship program: “I’m very appreciative of the content for our weekly company meeting last week. I’ve listened to the inner connections talk at least three times. Each time I hear something that I hadn’t heard before, some idea/concept that I hear for the first time. Your presentation of the material seems very clear to my parts. My parts like the experiential exercise; they feel safe doing it, perhaps because of your tone of voice or the clarity of the concept. So it’s one I’ll be able to do again & again. Thanks!” ~ Madeleine F.

We have received so many thank-you’s, so much heartfelt appreciation for how the RCC has changed lives, and so many testimonials.  Check out more testimonials on our RCC landing page.

Grow with us

A new season for your human formation draws is here.  For very intentional reasons, access to our community is only available to new members twice per year, and the window of opportunity opens just as Advent begins this December.  Join the RCC by going to our RCC landing page and filling out the form.

I deeply believe that our human formation work needs to be done either here on Earth or in Purgatory. And that it’s a lot better to do the work and pay a little now that pay a higher price with suffering in Purgatory. Which reminds me of the 1990 Fram Oil Filter commercial, which concludes with “You could pay a little now, or a lot later.”

Call Dr. Peter (Really — Call me!)

Also, please know that you are welcome to call me on my cell – 317.567.9594 – with any questions you may have about joining the RCC. I wouldn’t be putting my phone number out there if I wasn’t willing and able to take the time to answer and respond to your calls.  So take a minute and give me a call, let’s talk about the RCC and you.

Let’s help the Holy Souls and rely on their intercession

Every ending marks a new beginning.

Maybe the ending of this weekly email marks the beginning of your new commitment to ongoing human formation with the RCC and a deeper devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory?

Let’s ask the Holy Souls to intercede for all those who are interested in the RCC, to pray that the human formation will be a form of purgation speeding their path to the ultimate eternal destination: Heaven!

And pray for us…

And please keep all of us at Souls and Hearts in your prayers.  That is so critical.  Put us on your list of regular prayer intentions.  I am praying for you.

Warm regards in Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

P.S.  Here’s the link to join the December RCC St. Francis Xavier cohort again.

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