Too mysterious, it seems, for some, sadly including some of our separated brethren, who ought to know better. I suspect that, were we to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation more fully and with greater imagination, such mysteries would come to seem, if not less mysterious at least less foreign. The Christian religion is a religion of tangents: if we understand a tangent as a point at which a straight line intersects a circle, then the Christian religion is a religion that holds that the atemporal meets the temporal at a point, the God-Man Jesus of Nazareth, in Whom God himself became Man and thereby made Mankind like God. Just as God dwelt among us and knew temporality, so, we believe, the Christian faithful will find themselves before God one day and know the atemporality of eternal life in him. Does this mean that we will cease to be temporal creatures? Who knows, but we will cease to be one thing that we are now: liable to sin. We believe that those who are chosen will sin no more with the necessity of atemporal eternality, while retaining their imperfect, human free will. Another mystery.
In his meditations on the doctrine of Purgatory Fr. Kimel discuses at some length the work of Jerry Walls, whose book, Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy, explores some of the Protestant objections to Purgatory. Fr. Kimel notes:
Walls finds unconvincing the Protestant claim that death itself effects an immediate movement into immaculate sanctity. Such a radical conversion would seem to violate our nature as temporal beings. Would we even recognize ourselves after such a dramatic change? If I were to wake up tomorrow perfectly and completely holy, would I in fact be the same person? No doubt friends and family would welcome the change, but might I not experience myself as a stranger, given the absence of historical and personal continuity? This does not mean that time after death must work in the same way as time in our world; yet it does seem appropriate that God would provide a way, transcending our present understanding, for the process of sanctification to continue in an intermediate state. Walls is particularly critical of the quasi-gnostic assertion that we are liberated from sin merely by being delivered from our present bodies and given new bodies. The most deadly sins are spiritual, and they are not cured by resurrection alone. Sanctification is never a purely passive affair. There are no short-cuts to holiness.These are some pressing issues now that Lent is under way. If one thinks of Lent, as I do, as a time of renewed kenosis, there will be two aspects to it. On the one hand, there is all the usual self-denial and renewed application to spiritual exercises--the giving up of various treats, the extended time spent in prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, the sense of wonder and expectation--but on the other hand there is, or at least there ought to be, the trusting belief that God is on his way, not only at Easter but throughout Lent: he is coming to us, and we are not only making ourselves ready for him by our practices but we await what he is bringing us, whatever it is. We open our hearts to him at least in part so that we may receive his gifts, though we have no idea exactly what form they will take. That is part of what kenosis entails, after all, the petition "Thy will be done, whether it be the same as mine or not."
Purgatory is often discussed in ecumenical settings with a kind of sheepish grin: "Oh, that. Yeah, I suppose we believe in it, we just don't talk about it much." And yet it is supposed to be a comfort to us. I think that Fr. Kimel has prinpointed almost exactly why it is a comfort, and it is too bad that more folks--even alleged Catholics--don't seem to get it.