Whether you believe in Purgatory or not doesn’t matter to the reader of the Divine Comedy. The point of Purgatory in the Divine Comedy is the reality of God’s love, the ascent, restoration, grace, and the way of suffering, which leads to redemption.
Dante just journeyed from hell, the land of hopelessness to Purgatory, the ascent toward God. It is an ascent toward hope, an ascent of healing. The crooked soul made straight. Purgatory is the infirmary for the one who repents, for the one who was a slave to sin, to distorted desires and fears.
Do we begin our way of repentance in the embrace of Pride? Or in humility?
Pride admits nothing. It will not admit the truth about ourselves. That we are sinners. That something is wrong. That something bent within us needs to be straightened. Does not admit that we need forgiveness or that others should be forgiven.
Humility admits these things. Admits that a hurting, wounded, broken soul needs help and cannot go on, cannot be stuck in the dark wood.
At the end of the first Canto of Purgatory, Virgil wipes the grime and tears off of Dante’s face and girds him with a reed from the shore of the mountain of Purgatory. The reed represents humility. Scripture says, “a bruised reed he shall not harm.” We are all weak. But when willing to ascend with Christ, we move toward healing and wholeness.
The ascent with Christ pains us, but it is necessary. We cannot remain the same to be made whole, made as we truly are meant to be. Free. Our freedom of will causes us much suffering and pain. We love the wrong things too much or the right things in a distorted way. Yet, there is hope for the weak soul. Admitting who we are–broken and weak, but doing something about it. Asking for grace and humility to move ahead again and not be stuck. To walk with Christ though it will be painful, yet glorious. Our desires are not bad things, only distorted. When our will conforms with God’s will, there is our freedom.
It takes great humility to admit something is wrong and to ask for the grace to press on and be transformed. We are all in the infirmary when we are seeking God’s will, whether fervently or occasionally. We press on with vigor sometimes and other times not at all. God give us the strength to ascend the holy hill with you and be refined and restored again.
(Several insights gleaned from conversations with Dr. Matt Moser, notes from Tony Esolen and Rod Dreher. And from Jon Foreman music.)