To achieve Heaven means not just avoiding obvious sin but also ridding the spirit of imperfection.
If we can't control our eating, if we are addicted to anything, if we are obsessed with anything or anyone -- if we still lust, if we have issues with temper and anger, have pride, haven't learned discipline -- if we still struggle with jealousy and envy -- if we are attached to money; if all or any of these things remain an attachment and, worse, an obsession, we may not get directly into Heaven until they are purged: washed out in that "great laundromat in the sky."
We purge in purgatory.
Is it not better to do that while we're on earth -- to at least strive to rid ourselves of lingering bad habits that might hold us back? Can you imagine someone in Heaven still yearning for a cigarette?
The Lord is not a lawyer or accountant, whereby He has a check list; He looks at the entirety of our cleanliness (in a way we can't fathom). Imperfections are blotches on a robe that must be pure crystal-white for entry into Heaven. We all have things to expel.
This is not to say that classic sins don't count: to the contrary. Lists can be useful to us humans. [For an examination of conscience, see the link at end of this commentary]. We do not leave purgatory until we have full control of our thoughts, emotions, and inclinations. Particularly important to purge, especially in this era of ours: the spirit of lust. Also: anger.
The more we lust, the less room there is in our hearts for love, and it's love and purity that get us into Heaven.
(Meditate in prayer on what forms lust takes and where it is found and what it has caused in your life history.)
Lust is not just sexual: There's lust for money, prestige, revenge. But wrong sexual feelings are a big deal when it comes to purification, and it's hard not to get dirty slogging through the muck of life.
But stay clean we must.
Recently there was the account, in the Christian Post, of a computer scientist-engineer, Randall Rathbun, who was working on the F-22 stealth fighter project in 2002 in Texas when he had a massive automobile crash in which he nearly died.
As his car flew through the air he lost consciousness, and God gave him a frightening vision of hell. He was not prepared for what happened next. "An extremely loud scream burst right beside my head." The scream was so loud, it almost deafened him. "It was a voice that was screaming like a jet engine... an angry defiant voice... And I recognized what it now was saying..."
"He's mine, he's mine," the voice intoned -- screamed. "His name is liar, liar, liar, and I am taking him to the Lake of Fire."
You see, Rathnun attended church regularly and was part of a worship team, notes the Post, but something was amiss. "I wish I could say I lived a pure, pristine life, but I wasn't and that's what got me in trouble," he recounted. "On Saturday evenings I was living a double life. I was going down to San Diego, visiting prostitutes, not realizing I was setting myself up for a very serious encounter with reality." He says his wayward sexual activity began on the Internet. "The Internet is just awash with it," Rathbun notes. "Proverbs says to watch your eyes. I wasn't watching my eyes; I was allowing them to wander. Plus I was a computer scientist and knew how to access more than most people."
"In his vision," said the news site, "his chained body hurtled downward toward the Lake of Fire and he heard awful screams and felt choking smoke and heat. He also saw three Scriptures that convicted him about his double life. As the roar of hell's fiery flames rose to meet him, suddenly everything went dark for a second and he found himself 3,000 miles above the earth."
Suddenly he saw three scriptural quotes in a vision:
"The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23)
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever commits sin is the servant of sin." (John 8:34)
"Be not deceived, God is not mocked, whatsoever a man sows, that shall he reap" (Galatians 6:7)
Fortunately for Rathbun, it was not his time. God has mercy. The fellow was drawn up -- literally -- from the pit. The Lord spoke to Him in a Voice august and authoritative yet loving and gentle.
No doubt he is now not only avoiding prostitutes but working toward a purge of other imperfections.
If we ask, the Holy Spirit awakens us to deep, hidden impurities -- matters in our souls of which we are not even aware; impurities only He sees. It doesn't have to be the extreme of visiting prostitutes. It can be many other impurities. In our time, pornography is frighteningly rampant.
This must be purged. So must any wrong inclination.
Are you sure you're purged? We delve into this at retreats.
There is Confession, but also expiation. Imperfections? Ego? Imbalances? Lack of forgiveness? Selfishness?
Why settle -- destine oneself -- for purgatory?
It is a great time, Lent, to work at purification here on earth, praying every morning for direct entry at the end of life -- direct entry -- into Heaven.