Purgatory—the idea of a passage from this life into eternal life—is an extraordinary gift of God, one that vividly demonstrates our heavenly Father’s extravagant love for us. It is indeed unfortunate that many Catholics today have very little understanding of the depth and astonishing beauty inherent in the doctrine of Purgatory, little comprehension of what it says of the relationship that God offers us. Often they seem to want to reject it, saying (as do most Protestants), that “since Christ’s death on the Cross has paid our dept to God for sin,” there is no need for any such doctrine as that of Purgatory. This is a sad misunderstanding and a great misreading of sacred Scripture. It is also an enormous underestimation of God’s love for us. Of course Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to save all humankind. How could it be otherwise? But in the doctrine of Purgatory we find revealed the God who not only loves us but respects His human creation, the God who yearns for us to work with Him for our salvation and that of all humankind. In Christ’s sacrifice we find perfect—unlimited—salvation offered to us at every instant of our lives, but it is never forced on us. God gives us the incomparable gift of free will and refuses to take it away from us even though this gift enables us to make the constant excursions into sinfulness that characterize every human life. Purgatory doesn’t deny that sinfulness; it does not cover it up. It heals it, cleansing the human soul, gently and lovingly making us into the beings God wants us to be.

In the doctrine of Purgatory we find a God who sees His human creation as perfectible, capable of maturity, who does not simply disregard our sins as an indulgent parent might disregard the misdoings of a small child, but allows us to work with Him to free ourselves of them, to transcend them. In bestowing freedom upon us, our heavenly Father has permitted us to sin and to sin greatly. But He has also permitted us to become spiritual adults, to become responsible for “what we have done and what we have failed to do.” In the doctrine of Purgatory we see an aspect of this spiritual adulthood; we see that our mature acts have consequences, that all our choices have meaning.

This excerpt comes from After This Life: What Catholics Believe About What Happens.