Although a most difficult theological topic to cover in short time, it can be simplified.
Luke’s Gospel writes of a time when Jesus cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit, this analogy was not lost on his disciples, although they spoke of the leaders of Jerusalem and sinners, the Lord permitted a vinedresser to ask for a final postponement, a simple man prepared to do his upmost by digging and manuring, to elicit fruit from a very public recalcitrant tree in Jerusalem. Jesus permitted it, but only after the political, social and theological implications where explicitly understood. Jesus then began to teach the twelve on Love, Judgement and the nature of God’s Condemnation on humanity. All which would only make sense after remembrance of Good Friday & Easter Sunday.
As Hans Urs von Balthasar has commented on this most difficult theological topic: “love is quite definitely present, but in the face of men’s trepidity and lack of love and their habit of accusing others of sin and excusing themselves, it has to assume the features of a ruthless and resolute power.
I am not saying that God’s love is inwardly limited. The Father’s Love, Mercy and Justice are intertwined. All these qualities interpenetrate.
However, it is true, that after a certain point has been reached God’s love must use severe measures in order to achieve its goals. The judgment that all sinners must undergo and from which they will not emerge without being purified, after a shorter or longer time, this judgement must be unyielding. It must be completely irrevocable, precisely because what is at stake is access to ultimate pardon. Yes, there is a ruthlessness on the part of divine love.
We ought to be aware that instead of being in the form of a warning in the dimension of time, divine love and its ruthlessness can begin to take measures on the threshold of eternity. Purgatory is nothing other than a dimension of judgement; it is the undergoing of judgement, in which we are measured against an unyielding norm and conformed to it. For that is our destination. So the fire of divine love must burn everything in us that does not correspond to it. And, depending on how we have lived here on earth, this can be more or less painful; indeed in may involve appalling pain.
What are we do make of such individuals?
They will have to learn the ABC’s of real love. Up to now all they knew was the ABC’s of egoism. What can divine mercy do with such a person? The sinner needs a kind of brainwashing to make him/her grasp the ideas that lie behind God’s love. I must allow myself to accept this truth. The truth of sin: that’s your contribution. Conversion is always a painful and lonely process. No one can do it for me, and I must learn to love the things I previously disliked and renounce the very things I previously held dear.
We can apply this to our own country.
You hear them say it. Just like the Israelites in the desert. We have a good life, our land is full of gold that people send here for safekeeping, and we look after it for them and for ourselves. But it is doubtful whether this gold is the manure of which the Gospel speaks, helping us to bear fruit. The same could be said of all the prosperity that has formed our life style and has become the almost unconscious goal of our work and efforts.
For the present we are still free; we have what, for the modern world is unheard of freedom, and we must use it responsibly for ourselves and for others. But among us there are those and their numbers are increasing, who lust for the flesh pots of Egypt, of the slave house, and who would dearly like to wallow along with the multitude. They are not prepared to learn any lesson from those trees in Europe that have already been felled and have lost their freedom to bear fruit. They are no longer parasites on the soil: they themselves are being bled dry. For the system that bleeds them dry, the system of the Egyptian slave drives, no longer holds any attraction or fascination. The pear rots from within; you can only see it when you cut them open. Who can do anything to stop the rot among the intelligentsia of our country? Once it has spread far enough, it will hardly be worth saving.
But we have no intention of being fatalists. We must affirm that the personal attitude, personal conversion, can be the decisive factor in everything.
“Let it alone, sir, this year. . . if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, then for God’s name and for his greater glory, so that he can make room for other and better things, YOU CAN CUT IT DOWN.”
‘Love Provides A Last Chance’ by Hans Urs von Balthasar Vatican Radio Address