Purgatory isn’t always portrayed as a hopeful place. For many, purgatory is depicted as a place of purification, where we experience a great deal of suffering before entering the courts of Heaven.
This description can be misleading, as it can almost make it seem like a type of Hell.
Pope Benedict XVI reiterated that purgatory is meant to be a place of hope, mentioning it in his encyclical on hope, Spe salvi.
At the moment of judgment we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy … The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace … If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all … grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate.”
The existence of purgatory can give us hope during our life on earth, affirming to us that God is a just Judge, an “advocate,” rather than an arbitrary dictator. He wants to clothe us with his love, not only in this life, but also in the next. This love spurs us on, giving us hope that all the good we do is not in vain.
Furthermore, purgatory has another dimension that should give us hope. It is a place where we are still united to the Church on earth.
The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer and almsgiving. The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today.
Pope Benedict is referring to the ability to pray for the souls of the faithful departed, having a real impact on their experience of purgatory.
In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.
If we are in need of more hope in our lives, think about purgatory and the great gift Jesus has given us in that middle place.
St. John Henry Newman gives this comforting vision of purgatory