Its nice to think of having a full, happy life here in the natural sense, without much suffering, and to avoid purgatory completely just by being ordinary Catholics saying our prayers and earning indulgences. I've always thought that way more or less, truth be told. Deep down I still do. I'm still choosing the easier road to heaven hoping indulgences will make up the difference.
But from what Ive been reading about purgatory, if we really understood the hard data about the place, we would gladly suffer terrible crosses here. And apply our indulgences to the Poor Souls themselves out of charity because to be holy--ironically therefore to avoid purgatory--we should want to first relieve the suffering of others before ourselves.
If you want to avoid purgatory by gaining indulgences youd probably need a plenary indulgence right before a holy death considering even the best of us commit venial sins every day. But we have to be detached from venial sin to gain the full indulgence. Even if that does not have to be an extraordinary, mystical kind of detachment, it seems to me to be assured you will have it before you die, its important to already have that as a habit. And to have it as a habit, not to mention to have a basic "holy and happy death," it is very important to live a penitential life beyond that of being an ordinary, devout Catholic.
Consider St. Padre Pio, our own contemporary saint and mystic. From the different Lives of the Saints I've read over the years, arguably he is one of the most holy saints who suffered the most. The full stigmata, chronic GI pain/vomitting/migraines all his life, persecutions from religious superiors and members of the hierarchy, nightly attacks of body and mind by demons, crippling diffuse arthritis later in life, etc, etc. None of which he sought out, but simply accepted because he had no other choice. Yet he waited until just the last moments before his death for his final confession! He must have known he had at least one venial sin to confess that could merit him some serious purgatory time. He could read souls after all--why not his own?
Maybe Im taking this too seriously?? But if you study purgatory--shouldn't we all spend some time studying it ?--it is to a certain degree frightening...but ultimately consoling. You realize that as strange as it may sound to earthly ears, all the countless revelations of the Saints about how long and terrible purgatory is for most who are saved, are really a gift from Gods mercy. He has revealed them to Catholics--or rather to Catholics today fortunate enough to have stumbled across these private revelations--to actually help us suffer LESS. And to help many of us practicing Catholics avoid damnation from just one mortal sin, who are just lax enough to think "I'll be fine if at least I make it to purgatory."
In the most raw pragmatic sense of a believing Catholic human being who naturally wants less pain as long as they exist, it only makes sense to seek out more suffering and penance on this side of the grave.
I hope I'm not sounding or being scrupulous. But its never resonated with me as much as it is right now deep down that this life IS essentially purgatory and that it is wiser to be more penitential now. Not that most of us should be Religious or practice severe penances all day long. But that we should embrace this life for what it really is--a kind of purgatory.
Thoughts? Objections? Counter-points?