“It’s either now or purgatory, you decide when you want to deal with this.”
I know a spiritual director who sometimes presents this option to the people she directs. It’s a powerful challenge, recognizing three things at once: what God is trying to do with the person’s life, the person’s freedom to respond, and the inevitability of dealing with the issue sooner or later.
All week long our readings are drawn from the Book of Wisdom, and we’re given beautiful descriptions of how the wisdom of the Lord is poured into our hearts and moves within us. “In Wisdom is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique … clear, unstained … beneficent, kindly, firm, secure, tranquil” and so on. The description foreshadows how St. Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and so on.
This is one of those places where Scripture is teaching us about our own experience. Those moments when we’re moved to stillness, peace, joy, reconciliation and so on are times when the Lord’s Spirit is moving in us.
But if wisdom is constantly being poured into human hearts on God’s part, we still have the capacity to say yes or no on our part. The classic image is helpful: The water is being poured, but we have to turn our cup over to receive it. If we keep our cup turned upside down the water will simply spill off, and that’s not the water’s fault.
Psalm 119, which we read this week, gives us a helpful lesson in receiving the Spirit of the Lord. It uses a very deliberate structure, walking through the Hebrew alphabet one letter at a time. Every stanza begins with its proper letter, and every verse within that stanza begins with the same letter. In addition, every verse contains a Hebrew word for “instruction” (word, truth, ordinances, statutes, etc.).
The Psalmist is very deliberate, working God’s law into every nook and cranny of the Psalm. Are we as deliberate about letting God’s Spirit into every aspect of our lives?
But there’s a temptation as we try to do so: to treat God the way we treat our human guests, trying to tidy everything up before they arrive. With God, it needs to work the other way: We let God in, and let God do the cleaning up!
In order to do that, however, we have to let God into our lives while our lives are still messy. That can be hard!
But sooner or later we have to let God into the messy stuff, because very few of us will be perfect by the time we die. The Catechism tells us what happens then: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter into the joy of heaven.”
In other words, we have to let God in, sooner or later. Whether its big things first and small things later, or small things first to ramp up to the big things, nothing will be overlooked!
So, when do you want to start letting God into the messy stuff of your life? It’s either now or purgatory. And if you decide you don’t want to let Him into your messy stuff at all, just remember that it was your choice to be separated from Him.