by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.
This is a question often asked with good reason: Catholics seldom hear
purgatory mentioned in homilies. But, yes, we still have this teaching as part of our faith–one,
by the way, which is terribly misunderstood by our Protestant friendsand even some Catholics.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has just three, but very
important, paragraphs on purgatory. The first paragraph reads, “All who die in God’s
grace and friendship, but are still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal
salvation; but after death they undergo purification so as to achieve the holiness necessary
to enter the joy of heaven” (#1030).
The concept of purgatory is one that most of our Protestant sisters and
brothers find almost repulsive and without proof. “Find it in the Bible,” we
are challenged and, of course, the word purgatory is not found in the Bible. But
then again, neither are the words Trinity or Incarnation. Nevertheless, there
is a scriptural basis for purgatory. The tradition of prayer for the deceased (thus
indicating that they are not yet in total union with God in heaven) goes back to the Old
Testament in the Book of Maccabees: “[Judas Maccabeus] took up a collection among
which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for expiatory sacrifice. In doing
this, he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of
the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have
been useless to pray for them in death” (2 Mac 12:43ff, italics added).
Purgatory is an extremely important teaching because it helps us understand,
as clearly as humanly possible, what it means to have a relationship with God and how the
consequences of our sins detract from the perfect relationship with Godheaven.
You will find that other Christian denominations struggle with this doctrine
of “purification.” They believe that Jesus died for all sin, but they tend to view human nature a bit more negatively than do Roman Catholics.
say that if you accept Jesus’ saving death, then all your sins are covered over like
white snow covers up garbage. (This was Martin Luther’s image.) With this, you simply go directly to heaven. And for some Christians,
the belief is that once you are saved, you can’t lose salvationno matter what
you do. According to these beliefs, there is no middle ground and no reason for purgatory.
However, our Catholic faith insists that middle ground (purgatory) is essential, because
as free human beings (wounded as we are) we are still responsible for our sins and, with Gods help, can do something.
God treats us like adults and we must own our sins and face them as offenses
against God’s goodness. We must understand what sin really means, and this can be
accomplished only after death. It is not that Jesus’ death is not sufficient. It
is; he did it for us. However, we are partners with Jesus in allowing that ultimate
perfect union with God to take place.
What prevents that perfect union? It is sin on our part that prevents
perfect union and that is what purgatory is about: healing the unforgiven sin in our souls
and the unrepaired aspects of our personal sins that have already forgiven. Sin that is
not mortal impedesnot the union we have with God because of sanctifying grace, but rather
our perfect union with God, which is what heaven is: “So be perfect, just as
your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
An important final note is to realize that those who die without mortal
sin are truly saved. They know it. They are ecstatic about that knowledge, and it can
never be taken away from them. They are saved and already are in union with God by sanctifying
grace, though it is not yet perfect or complete.
respond to Friar Jacks musings on St.
Francis, St. Anthony and the Smallness of God.
Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for your inspirational e-mail letters.
Please pray for me when you go on your trip to Lisbon and Lourdes. I wish I could go on
your journey. Im homebound due to a stroke. Thanks to the kindness of my brother,
Im able to get to church on Sundays and holidays. Your e-mails bring great comfort.
Thanks again, Ann
Dear Ann: We will be happy to pray for you—and others like
you—when we take our pilgrimage to Lisbon, Fatima, Lourdes and other places this
coming May (See pilgrimage information below). I’m sure that other
readers of this column will pray for you as well. May you experience Jesus’ healing
touch and the love of Mary, his mother! May you also find comfort and peace in Jesus’ name!
We will carry this prayer with us to Lourdes and the other shrines and lift up our prayers
for your healing—and for all who suffer.
My thanks also to others who have taken the time to write! Although I
cannot answer all letters sent to me, I want to remind you that I personally read each
of them and keep your petitions and requests in my prayers. May God give you peace! Friar
Friar Jack is leading an 11-day pilgrimage to Lisbon, Fatima,
Spain and Lourdes (France) May 15-25, 2006. In Lisbon, you visit the birthplace of
St. Anthony of Padua and related sites nearby. Other pilgrimage highlights in Portugal
include Our Lady’s Shrine at Fatima. In Spain, you visit the birthplaces and
shrines of four famous Spanish saints: Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius
of Loyola and Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary. Your pilgrimage ends with
a three-day visit to Lourdes, France. Cost (from Cincinnati): $2,199.
For more information, call Pentecost Tours at 1-800-713-9800 or
e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org (address:
P.O. Box 280, Batesville, IN 47006-0280). Request a free brochure with full itinerary
and details from Pentecost Tours or from Friar
Send your feedback to email@example.com.