Ah well. I apologize. Hope I didn't leave you too uncomfortably on the edge of your seats!
I've already gotten a couple e-mails asking me about this. One, in particular, was slightly angry, accusing me of not understanding Catholic teaching because there is no such thing as "Purgatory on Earth."
Well, of COURSE you're not going to find that in the catechism. I sorta-kinda-most-probably made that up. However, the theology is all there in black and white. This structured mercy is all explained through the Catholic understanding of Divine Providence (which I break down into cookie form here).
So just to quickly recap, Divine Providence is God's way of providing us with all the tools, equipment and practice necessary to make it through the jungle of life and into Heaven. Humanity is able to dole out these gifts from God through the Golden Rule (loving others as Christ loves, thus always being willing to share everything with others). However, since humanity is unable/unwilling to properly follow the Golden Rule at all times, we fall off the path towards Heaven and Purgatory is God's last-ditch effort to toss a life-line our way and pull us back on track.
Purgatory on earth is a gentle precursor to Purgatory of the Holy Souls. An analogy is in order here...
One of my employees borrows $100 from me. When it comes time to pay up, he's unable to pay save for a little at a time. I accept his apology and promise to pay me back.
After a couple weeks of paying $10 at a time for odd jobs he'd been working, he gets thrown into jail for stealing. He still owes me about $80, but now that he's in jail, he's got no way of paying me that $80 back. He must rely on family and friends for the remaining $80.
That's kinda the difference between Purgatory on Earth and Purgatory in, well, Purgatory.
While on earth, we're given the opportunity to pay back or "atone" for our misdeeds a little at a time through sacrifice, prayer and charitable acts of mercy. Once we die (still having debts to pay) we go to Purgatory where we must rely on those we've left behind to fulfill our obligations to Divine Justice.
This again highlights why human euthanasia is a no-no. Euthanasia cuts short our ablity to atone for our transgressions. It also has the ability to cut short the blessings that suffering can, in fact, bestow upon those around us.
For example (true story alert), there was a wonderful woman who lived into her late 80s. She suffered for three years with a terribly debilitating disease. Her three sons, Ron, Eric and Joe, weren't really sure how to handle the prognosis... or how to handle each other. The boys had been somewhat distant, content to live their own lives separate from one another save for the ocassional holiday dinner. In fact, they didn't even like each other very much. Their mother's illness, though, effected them all in a very profound way.
While their mother was quite possibly suffering physically to atone for past transgressions, her condition was not given solely for her benefit. Through her suffering, her sons came together and got to know one another again. They were forced to communicate regulalry, to console one another, to provide food, housing, even transportation for one another as they rotated shifts. Ron and Eric, (and Joe and Eric) eventually reconciled their differences and became friends - true brothers. I wish I could say the same for Ron and Joe, but not everyone takes advantage of the blessings granted through Divine Providence.
In other words, even suffering is a blessing. Even suffering is an opportunity to take part in the grace of love and reconciliation.
I, myself, have been trying to practice this mindset more often... especially in traffic. I'm a horrible road-rager. I cannot stand when someone is driving 10 miles below the speed limit, yet instead of cutting them off and angrily waving some not-nice-things their way, I now chalk it up to Divine Providence. I simply wonder why God chose to put that little inconvenience before me. Was He forcing me to be three seconds too late to the scene of a horrific accident that I would have been a part of otherwise? Was He giving me an opportunity to practice my least-utilized (almost non-existent) virtue, Patience? Maybe He just wanted to back up traffic juuuuust enough so that an old lady way up the road could make it safely across the street. Who knows?
My point is - GOD knows. Catholics trust in Divine Providence as the driving force in every single thing that comes up throughout our lives. We believe that God is not only interested, but active in our lives - fully vested in the creation He saw fit to bless into being.
Suffering, too, is part of that Divine Providence. As a result, any attempt at shortening the timeframe God, Himself, has acknowledged as necessary for salvation translates to a sure ticket to Purgatory (at the very least... I shudder to think of what the alternative is!).