November 18, 2011

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Purgatory on Earth: Making sense out of suffering

Shirley Vogler MeisterDuring my formative years, I was always asking parents and teachers to explain things that I didn’t understand. I also learned more when eavesdropping on what grown-ups were discussing.

A term that I heard from our Catholic relatives and friends was “purgatory on Earth.”

It was always used in conjunction with trials, tribulations and hardships. Soon enough, I learned about life on my own and now understand much better the term “purgatory on Earth.”

Newspapers and TV reports bring suffering to us constantly. Pain and suffering in other areas of the world often get more coverage from the media than the suffering in our own country.

We need to know more about pain and sorrow in our own environments. That way others who are able can minister to those who are lonely or ill within our neighborhoods and parishes.

By the same token, neighbors or church members must ignore their pride and let others know that help is needed.

As I age, I am finding myself suffering, too. One day, I suddenly realized that I myself am the elder who is experiencing “purgatory on Earth” because of painful spinal compressions that began affecting me in June.

However, I am not bedridden and function fairly well in most areas of my life. Some “Faithful Lines” readers already know that I inherited the spinal problem that my mother had suffered from for years. Despite all the advice and precautions that I followed, those recommendations failed to stop the progression of osteoporosis.

One day, while cleaning a drawer, I found a pamphlet, “Making Sense Out of Suffering,” by Franciscan Father Jack Wintz.

A label on the back of the pamphlet told me that we got it at St. Vincent Heart Center in Indianapolis when my husband was hospitalized there as a patient years ago. I read the pamphlet twice and immediately knew that this was the positive solution to my long-term and hazy concept of “purgatory on Earth.” It clarified for me what I’ve pondered for so many years.

The seven short topics in the pamphlet are “Working your way through,” “Beware of ambush theology,” “Recognize that we live in an imperfect world,” “See God’s will as desiring our healing,” “Don’t blame God for our choices,” “Believe that good can come from suffering” and “Take heart.” There are also sources for additional help.

On the cover of CareNotes is this short statement for those who find the pamphlets: “Take one—and take heart; give one—and give hope.”

I checked to make sure that they are still available from One Caring Place, Abbey Press, St. Meinrad, IN 47577. Readers can order a variety of CareNotes pamphlets online at or by calling 800-325-2511.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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