“Anyone who is so ‘progressive’ as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him in your house or even great him…”2 John 5: 9-11.
I have heard many people (both inside and outside the Church) explain away different beliefs and dogmas of the Church. I recently wrote about “Cafeteria Catholics” and my frustration with them. I certainly get frustrated (maybe even a little sad) when non Catholics tell me why my beliefs are wrong or that we “don’t believe in that anymore”. I am even more frustrated when it comes from within the Church. Just like the typical Cafeteria Catholic, people will tell you that a certain belief has been changed. I guess Pope Benedict must have missed a few memos! We have a lot of “Popes” running around today, and these “Popes” don’t have a clue what they are talking about. It certainly may be a result of the “disease” of “political correctness” that causes these people to give in to certain modern and/or protestant beliefs. This article will briefly point out a huge target of unbelievers: Purgatory.
The simplest form of explaining purgatory starts from Revelations: “Nothing unclean shall enter heaven” Rev 21: 27. Most of us are not great saints. We live our lives in an attempt to be holy (some of us falling more short than others…myself included). When we die, we are not so EVIL as to be damned to Hell for eternity. We may also not be so PERFECT (as all are in Heaven) as to go to Heaven. Where do we go? Purgatory. We are “purified” in this place/state. All of our earthly temptations and urges are removed through this cleansing of the soul. Catechism 1030 states:
All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of the eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
While Purgatory has only 2 paragraphs out of nearly 3000 paragraphs of the Catechism, this says all I need. But it also refers to biblical references as well as early Church Fathers.
St Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians tells us, “ If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but as only through fire.” (1 Cor 3:14-15). St Paul tells us about the “purifying fire”. By fire, we often think of Hell, but he tells us that “person will be saved”. You’re not saved in Hell…so he must be referring to another place. That place is not Heaven, because he refers to suffering “loss”. No one suffers or looses in Heaven, it is Heaven after all. St Augustine in his classic City of God states that “temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then, but all of them before that last strictest judgment”(found on www.catholic.com) . In the Second Book of Maccabees, we read of how Judas Maccabees offered sacrifices and prayers for soldiers who had died wearing amulets, which were forbidden by the law; "Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out," (2 Mc 12:43) and "Thus, (Judas Maccabees) made atonement for the dead that they might be free from sin" (2 Mc 12:46). Mathew’s Gospel tells us that certain sins will not be forgiven “in this age or the age to come” (Mt 12: 32). This is suggesting a certain purging of the soul after death (the age to come). Furthermore, Luke talks about the final judgment wich deserves its own article. Briefly, Luke 12: 2- 5 talks about the revelation of all sins in the final judgment and ends the same chapter with “I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
With all this being stated, why do we as Catholics seem to be alone in our belief in purgatory. First, Martin Luther, in his “removal” of sacred texts ( 7 books of the old testament) removed some foundations of purgatory; primarily the account of Judas Maccabees in the book of Maccabees. Also, In the Book of Sirach, "Withhold not your kindness from the dead" (Sir 7:33), was interpreted as imploring God to cleanse the soul. Luther removed Sirach from his “bible” as well. Seemingly convenient to remove these books. Certainly, there is still enough biblical reference to support the existence of Purgatory without these, but Luther laid the foundation against the Church’s teaching on this. Calvin’s notion of predetermination basically states that we lost our freewill to choose God because of original sin, therefore, we are not capable of accepting him and earning heaven. God, therefore, predetermines some for heaven and some for hell. Those chosen for hell, cannot gain heaven, and those chosen for heaven, can only loose it. Calvin’s notion, therefore has no need for purgatory. Also, there seems to be a rebellion against “all things Catholic” in certain protestant circles.
Let us wrap up this article by enlightening the beauty of purgatory. God longs us to be with him in his “beatific vision”. John 3:16 states “for God loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.” He gave us free will to choose him (or not to choose him). We are given this immense responsibility in life to achieve great holiness. In our lives we strive to become a perfect reflection of God, but ALWAYS fail to achieve this fully. Through contrition, confession and absolution, and the much need graces from God, we are able to say “yes” to God and his infinite love and mercy. It is his mercy that gives us purgatory. It would be unmerciful to fill Heaven with imperfect souls…it would therefore not be Heaven. It would also be unmerciful to send us all to Hell because we are not perfect (since that would be impossible). Heaven would be very quiet. It is his mercy that allows us to be “cleansed” in purgatory. While a non-stop one way ticket to Heaven would be ideal, a stop-over in purgatory is something that most of us strive to attain. Achieving this stop-over means that we have made it. We know that with some work, we will achieve the ultimate goal of the “beatific vision” of Heaven.
God Love You.