Q. I read somewhere a theory that after death we live our lives over again to see the sins we committed, the people we hurt, and that impact on others. At my advanced age, I am constantly recalling various times in my life where I hurt others (in no criminal or unlawful way); some of the memories are too painful to recall (for example, my son’s suicide). Is it possible to experience our purgatory while still here on earth?
A. Please know that your son has always been in God’s loving hands. So are you. Joy is God’s natural gift; we could say that Satan, on the other hand, has the monopoly on discouragement, using it to maximum effect. Yes, it is possible to experience purgatory on earth, not necessarily eliminating “more” purgatory after death. As to the theory that you mentioned, we can only live once; that is what makes each day’s decisions so significant.
We can in later years, however, come to appreciate more fully the effect of our actions on other people and how their actions have influenced our lives—positively or negatively. Sometimes we can directly repair some of the damage we have done. Other times, we can allow that experience to make us more compassionate or generous people.
Beneath the Catholic Church’s teaching about purgatory is its conviction that not everyone who is going to heaven is necessarily ready to be with God. Without a further cleansing of some type, being in God’s presence continually could be more frustrating than consoling, because the person has not yet accepted God’s ways completely and how they impact our dealings with other people.