|This article is written like a personal reflection or essay and may require cleanup. Please help improve it by rewriting it in an encyclopedic style. (January 2009)|
The Great Conversation is a reference to what many Catholic apologists believe happens in purgatory. In effect, people in purgatory are to naturally converse with each other in an effort to determine where they are and how they got there. Think of a big social gathering in which every participant has, almost invariably, the exact same questions on his or her mind.
According to common Catholic teachings, purgatory is the process of purification in which the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for Heaven. One common metaphor describes it as a place where the souls of all Christians go directly after death, and where each remains until he or she is prepared to enter heaven. In this context, "The Great Conversation" is a phenomenon that will naturally occur in purgatory as a result of the deeply social aspects attributed to all of humankind: the people in purgatory will talk to each other.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that heaven knows only two languages: silence and music. Therefore, people ought to get all of their talking done in purgatory, especially if, as Lewis asserts, traditional conversation does not exist among the inhabitants of heaven.
In a 1982 Christian novel entitled Between Heaven and Hell, author Peter Kreeft sheds some light on the notion of "The Great Conversation" by fostering a dialog in purgatory between three historical figures, namely that of John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley. All three men had died on November 22, 1963, and it is this fact alone which gave Kreeft the inspiration to write his novel.
Purgatory as a Holding Tank
It has been said that certain human actions will either increase or decrease the soul's time spent in purgatory. On the one hand, good acts like helping an old lady cross the street or painting a stool for your handicapped uncle are quite small in the grand scheme of things, but they do help with respect to reducing the length of time required for the purification that every person's soul must undergo after death. On the other hand, bad acts like punching your brother in the face or clogging your neighbor's toilet without telling him may in fact prolong the process of purification in purgatory. Needless to say, very bad acts like murder and rape, if unrepented, obviously lead a person's soul to be eternally damned with no option for purgatorial purification. However random these acts may seem on the surface, "The Great Conversation" is the manner in which one should be able to reflect upon the nature of his actions while he was alive. "The Great Conversation" therefore presents itself as a wonderful opportunity to consult the collective advice of others when personally deciphering the quality of human morality on earth. And thus, it becomes necessary to emphasize the importance of prayer for all those who have departed, especially since they are engaging in "The Great Conversation" while undergoing their final purification.