I know a senior citizen whose health is in rapid decline. This once vibrant man now struggles just to shuffle across the room with a walker. When he finally gets to a chair and sits down, he looks at me, shakes his head bitterly, and says, “Whatever you do, Bill, don’t get old.”
Usually I nod in agreement, but while doing that I think to myself: Don’t get old? The only way to avoid getting old is to drop dead before it happens. Not really a great option.
For senior citizens, by far the greatest frustration is the disintegration of their physical abilities. And for middle-aged Baby Boomers like me, our greatest fear is becoming feeble and being unable to take care of ourselves anymore.
However, if you look at this situation from a different point of view, there could be a silver lining. God can take a bad situation and bring something good out of it. Don’t forget: “All things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). Old age just might be an opportunity to avoid, or at least greatly reduce, our time in Purgatory.
Now, don’t roll your eyes. Let me explain.
What is Purgatory anyway? It is, most of all, the mercy of God at work, since it’s an opportunity to be cleansed of our ingrained bad habits and bad attitudes. After all, Scripture clearly says that nothing impure can ever enter into the presence of God in Heaven, and if you’re anything like me, despite having faith in God, some impure thoughts, words, and deeds occur once in a while. (I am, of course, using the definition of the phrase “once in a while” that means: practically every moment of every day.)
Being purged of these bad attitudes and sinful habits surely will be a painful process, but it ultimately will allow us to embrace the joys of Heaven for all eternity without a trace of selfishness.
What is the worst sin of all? What is the worst sinful attitude, the one that is so prevalent nowadays in modern America? It is the sin of pride. In his classic book, “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis calls pride the “complete anti-God state of mind.” Lewis explains that pride is not concerned with having something, but with having MORE than the next person. People are not proud of being good looking or talented; rather, they are proud of being better looking or more talented than others. Pride is all about comparing ourselves to other people, and being smugly delighted that we are better than they are.
Far too many folks these days, especially we Baby Boomers, are consumed with pride. Besides our talents and our money and our cars, we also are proud of our independence and self-sufficiency. I suspect the greatest pains of Purgatory will be the scrubbing of this self-centered attitude from our souls.
So if pride is the worst sin, what is the greatest virtue? It is the opposite of pride: humility. Humble people do not compare themselves to others. In fact, they rarely think about themselves at all. Humble people instead are more focused on God and being grateful for all His blessings.
I don’t know about you, but I can think of no greater opportunity to stop comparing ourselves to others in smug pridefulness than the time when we become physically unable to take care of ourselves anymore. Our independence and our self-sufficiency will be gone, and we can either become angry and resentful about it, or we can throw ourselves on the mercy of God, embrace the daily humiliations of old age, and learn how to be humble. And who knows, if we can purge the sin of pride during those final years of our lives, maybe we won’t need to endure that painful procedure in Purgatory.