Many times as a priest, I encounter people who are undergoing great suffering in their life. This suffering may be physical, mental or emotional pain, disunity and brokenness in their family, troubles at work or illness. In the midst of such sufferings, when answers are hard to come by, people at times say to me, "Well, Father, I guess I am just going through my purgatory here on Earth."
Let us first acknowledge the foundation in faith of this statement, as the believer tries to reconcile God's love with the circumstances of pain around them.
I often pray to God, but he never seems to answer my prayers. What am I doing wrong?
St. Augustine, in his writings on the Sermon on the Mount — one of the places in Scripture Jesus encourages us to ask, seek and knock for the Father's answer to our needs in prayer — comments on why God does not seem to answer our prayers. He lists four reasons.
One image of purgatory that was presented during my time in the seminary has stuck in my mind due to its vibrant, fearful image. In it, Mary is pictured with a scapular fishing souls out of purgatory, which is depicted as a sea of fire tormenting those occupying it. Needless to say, such an image wouldn't inspire anyone to want to go there.
While no one wants to go there, purgatory remains a truth that we can't escape. Popularly speaking, God is often viewed as too good to permit anyone to go to hell, let alone purgatory. This thought is only partially true, though.
Once we get past the basic logistics of praying the Rosary and learn the order of the mysteries, we might ask: "OK, so now I am doing this. What am I supposed to be getting out of it?" To help, there are many aids to help us to pray the Rosary.
The purpose of symbols is to move our minds to think about the reality being represented. For instance, the waters of baptism call to mind the washing away of sin that occurs in this sacrament. When we fail to understand the meaning of a symbol, it becomes a meaningless gesture. To question the meaning of a symbol, then, is a good thing. It helps us understand what it means and how it is to move our minds and hearts.