January 22, 2016 // Uncategorized
The death crawl and purgatory?
By Dave McClow
Since November is the month of purgatory, I want to write about purgatory here in an unusual way, as a model for men — physical and spiritual fathers. You might be familiar with the movie “Facing the Giants,” where a “losing coach with an underdog football team faces their giants of fear and failure on and off the field to surprising results” (IMBD.com). The film’s pivotal moment is the “death crawl.” Brock, the team’s captain, cynical about winning, is challenged to give more than he has been giving. Coach Taylor has him carry another player on his back, “crawling” on his hands and feet — not his knees — blindfolded. Coach is on his hands and knees, in Brock’s face, screaming encouragements to do better: “Don’t tell me you can’t be giving me more than what I have been seeing!” “Give me all you got!” “Don’t quit! Don’t quit! Don’t quit!” “I know it hurts — don’t quit on me!” “It’s all heart from here!” Brock exceeds his own expectations by 80 yards! Coach saw Brock’s potential and loved him enough to challenge him to be his best self.
In my mind this illustrates purgatory: God knows our potential and loves us enough to challenge us to become our best self, a.k.a. holy. If after death we have some remaining effects of sin that have not yet been purged through our earthly suffering, in purgatory we will be purged of the rest, because nothing unclean enters heaven (Rev. 21:27). In purgatory God’s total and complete love for us will be present — love beyond our wildest imagination — a full-on, no-holds-barred love that will completely challenge us — no fig leaves, no hiding in the bushes (or in electronics) — a purifying love that will allow us an even greater experience of His love in heaven!
Back on earth we are loved by God: He totally gives Himself to us in Jesus; He makes us His beloved sons (Mk 1:11); we are “chosen“ (Jn. 15:16), “a gift” (Jn. 17:24, NAB), forgiven, delighted in and given everything God has (Lk. 15:11-35). We need to experience this kind of love, then we also need challenge. And God does not disappoint — He challenges us tremendously — He calls us to pick up our cross daily (Mt 16:24), to die to sin (Rom. 6:8), and to lay down our lives for our brides — the Church or physical brides (Jn. 15:13; Eph 5:25-28). We are to forgive as we have been forgiven, love our enemies (ouch!), make disciples of all nations and love the least among us. These challenges are impossible without His love animating us.
Love and challenge are at the heart of spiritual and physical fatherhood and relationships, too. If one is emphasized over the other, distortions arise, not only in families, but in our Church and society. In my counseling practice I constantly deal with people who have not experienced love that enables them to love as they should. They’ve grown up in homes where they were never good enough and feel they don’t deserve love. They received challenge, but little love.
Consider Holocaust rescuers — some of the greatest unsung heroes of the last century, people like Oscar Schindler and those who helped Anne Frank’s family. In 1992, the Oliners researched the factors that produced such heroes. They found it was not religion, economic status, etc., but how the rescuers were fathered that made the difference. Their fathers were respectful and sensitive to them. They used reason and teaching as discipline, rarely resorting to corporal punishment.
Our Catholic catechesis after Vatican II has been seen as mostly “balloons and banners.” It has lacked challenge, and we have lost two generations in part because of it: only 26 percent of Catholics attend Mass weekly. Our culture tends to focus on love, especially in schools where some stress self-esteem and rewards for all. They accept the students where they are without challenging them to greater heights. Love without challenge breeds passivity, and challenge without love breeds emptiness and brutality. Neither are Catholic; neither help us to flourish as God intended.
Spiritual and physical fathers must drink deeply of God’s love, then love with their head, heart and hands, and then challenge their children to love others. Cardinal Ratzinger, a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI, says, “This fatherhood is a love that avoids two traps: the total subjugation of the child to the father’s own priorities and goals, on the one hand, and the unquestioning acceptance of the child as he is, under the pretext that this is the expression of freedom, on the other.” (“The God of Jesus Christ”)
Being loved then challenged is imprinted on our being and is seen in the death crawl, purgatory and Holocaust rescuers. It is how men operate. It is why I named the column “The Ultimate Challenge!” and why I will close with a challenge: experience God’s unbelievable love; live a heroic life of spiritual fatherhood and love your spiritual children until it hurts, and then challenge them to love others. Build the civilization of love.
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