If we must speak of a fire in Purgatory, the Bible itself suggests that it is God himself who is the fire—”a consuming fire”, Isaiah tell us. After death we see clearly what we have made of our lives; the pettiness and selfishness of many of our ways stand clearly revealed; at the same time the goodness of God—a goodness utterly transcending all human goodness—is equally revealed in all its splendour.
Our human experience may suggest to us how painful such a meeting can be. Here is an illustration which may help. Suppose I have a friend, a great friend, who I know loves me deeply and is loyal to me through thick and thin. Then one day I fail my friend in a very selfish and treacherous act. I know my friend is aware of the depth of my treachery, and now I shrink from having to face my friend. Why ? Precisely because my friend is such a good person and loves me so deeply. If my friend were shallow, it would be easier, much easier to face. Neither is it , that my friend won’t forgive me; but the forgiveness -when it comes – will come out of a burning love that I will shrink from facing like a fire. When forgiveness comes from the heart of God, who is infinite love, how great then the fire, how painful the reconciliation.
The doctrine of the Communion of Saints tells us that those who now endure this searing encounter with God can be helped by our prayers. When I pray for my dead friend, my prayer and my love become their prayer and their love and they can somehow stand in the shade of the piety of another that becomes mysteriously their own. What a comfort this is—to know that the love with which we supported each other in life now reaches across the boundary of death to ease this searing encounter with the relentless burning love of God. It must be one of the most beautiful aspects of our Christian faith.
In the bottom of an old pond lived some grubs who could not understand why none of their group ever came back after crawling up the stem of the lilies to the top of the water. They promised each other that the next one who was called to make the upward climb would return and tell what is above the water line and what happens to him. Soon one of them felt an urgent impulse to seek the surface; he rested himself on top of a lily pad, and went through a glorious transformation which made him into a dragonfly with beautiful wings.
In vain he tried to keep his promise. Flying back and forth over the pond, he peered down at his friends below. Then he realised that, even if they could see him, they would not recognise such a radiant creature as one of their number.
The fact that we cannot see our friends or communicate with them after the transformation we call death, is no proof that they cease to exist!