Spe Salvi 46: Between Virtue and Evil, Compromise

46. Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life.

Remember, we are talking about folks out-and-out condemned to hell or ushered into santo subito status. Pope Benedict XVI offers a hopeful vibe:

For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul.

This is likely very true for most believers. Compromise is in play in ordinary life, and sometimes virtue is bent in order to lower a branch for a seemingly good fruit. Perhaps there is a wide range of bending amongst Christians. It seems likely that we compromise much more that we would have originally thought wise or even possible. How does that affect our eternity?

What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur? Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God’s judgement according to each person’s particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death. Then Paul continues: “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each (person’s) work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any (person) has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any (person’s) work is burned up, (they) will suffer loss, though (They themselves) will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast.

And this purification with its image of fire: this is how the purgation of purgatory is described. Will it burn? Will it be painful? How much will we resist some sort of movement away from our compromises, and how much will that make things more difficult?

This document is Copyright © 2007 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the full document online here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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