In today’s first reading, Romans 8: 31-39, St. Paul raises several questions: “If God is for us, who can be against us? Since he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for the sake of all of us, then can we not expect that with him he will freely give us all his gifts? Who,” Paul asks, “can bring any accusation against those that God has chosen? When God grants saving justice who can condemn? Are we not sure that it is Christ Jesus, who died—yes, and more, who was raised from the dead and is at God’s right hand—and who is adding his plea for us. Can anything cut us off from the love of Christ—can hardship, distress, or persecution or lack of food or clothing, or threats or violence….No; we come through all these things triumphantly victorious, by the power of him who loved us.”
Those words are deeply consoling for me following a recent conversation about the afterlife and the belief of many that we will be separated from God for awhile because of the punishment due our sinfulness and our need for purification following death. I have a difficult time perceiving God as a judge preparing meticulously to hold our sin against us, just waiting for us to enter eternal life so he can punish us as we deserve. This is not my God. And furthermore, I believe that I will come through this life “triumphantly victorious, by the power of him who [loves me]!”
What if, however, I do Ieave this life unprepared to enter into God’s presence? How will I become purified, since, after I die,I am no longer able to prepare myself. That is part of my mission here on earth. Once I die, I am then totally dependent on the prayers that are said for me by the church militant, those still on this earth on their way to heaven. I do believe I shall be purified—however long that purification period is after I die. It is not God punishing me, however; it is the choice I will have made if I leave earth unreconciled, unrepentant of my sins and not trusting in God’s infinite mercy and unconditional love.