Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Purgatory: A beautiful gift
As the month of November begins we have celebrated the fulfillment of God’s promise in the glory of the Saints in heaven. Having celebrated those of our elder brothers and sisters who have had God’s promise fulfilled in them we turn our attention to those have fallen just short and so require the assistance of our prayers as they seek to be rid of those last vestiges of sin keeping them from knowing the fullness of joy.
Some Catholics object to the idea of purgatory. There are many reasons for this and we could fill an entire book examining the issues that will tend to be issues (when we really dig) with the fallen condition of the human person. Let me instead talk to you a little bit about why I find this revealed dogma of the catholic and orthodox faith to be such a comfort and a joy.
I have known several people who have died and yet they were not quite ready to pass-over. I’m not judging their hearts (remember: judge not lest ye be judged!), I am aware, however, of the state in which they themselves felt they were in. I can, as you can too, observe that by their actions they aren’t quite getting it. I can also observe when a dying person is not going easily. These are all things which can cause not a little consternation amongst the family and friends of the one who has passed.
We also know, through the scriptures, that one who is not pure (that is, completely cleansed of sin) cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. We know too, through the clues left in scripture, that there is the possibility of being cleansed of sin even after the death of the body. So, why purgatory? Well, remember that purgatory is merely the subject form of the verb: to purge. Purgatory is merely the opportunity to be purged, that is – cleansed – of our sins.
Why is this so important? Martin Luther makes the point that we cannot be made right. We are too radically damaged by sin. Thus, Christ covers us over like the snow and so when we enter heaven God doesn’t see us and our sinfulness, He sees only Christ. Classical Catholic teaching would turn that inside out. The light of Christ does burn within us. Sadly, the stain of our repeated sin keeps the light of Christ from shining forth for the Father and everyone else to see. Our Catholic faith teaches us that we need to clean away (purge) that sin so that the light of Christ which is in each one of the baptized can shine forth. Thus, as we enter heaven, the Father sees not Christ covering us over (so that we almost sneak in under the cover so to speak), rather He sees us entering heaven – fully conformed to Christ, that is, the image and likeness of God that was given us shines forth perfectly.
Why is all this perfection such a big deal? It is important because without perfect charity, that is – love, heaven would not be heaven. Can you imagine being in heaven and still being ticked off at the habits of this person or that? Can you imagine this person or that still clinging to the habits that drive you (and probably others) crazy? It wouldn’t really be heaven then, would it? So you see, it is important that when we enter heaven, we enter it leaving behind all of the pettiness and sin that we too often excuse and live with in this world.
I know that a brief discussion like this isn’t going to convince everyone or even answer all of the questions that remain. You can read more about it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 1030-1032). In the meantime, let us remember to pray for the souls in purgatory. Remember, once they get to heaven they can pray for you!
Pray Well!Fr. Klos