Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What is purgatory?

There won't be any posts on Thanksgiving or this Firday so today I'll give you a nice, long one!

Purgatory is a place where souls go to be purged of the temporal stain of their sins and for unforgiven venial sins. When a person sins, there are two consequences; eternal and temporal. Eternal consequences determine if a soul goes to heaven or hell (the only eternal destinations). Temporal consequences can be atoned for even after death via purgatory.

Let’s pretend I stole something from you and I am pardoned by the state. Don’t I still have to repay what I have stolen? Of course I do! Every sin has an effect on us and the world around us. Temporal punishment is designed to undo, correct, or vindicate that effect. Sure, the eternal consequence of my sin is forgiven (pardoned) but the effect of my sin still happened and justice demands that the effect be vindicated.

This temporal punishment is a grace (CCC 1473) and is a great gift to us! Though not fun by any means, it is through this punishment that we become perfect as Christ is perfect so we may enter heaven, where nothing unclean shall enter (Rev 21:27). Remember that God disciplines the children that He loves (Heb 12:5-6). Temporal punishment may occur in this life or after our deaths (in purgatory).

Parental punishment is just
Some people balk at the idea of temporal punishment because they feel they shouldn’t have to pay for their sins. They feel that Jesus’ sacrifice was enough, they are now forgiven, and they can forget what they’ve done. This is, frankly, childish.

If you have a child who does something wrong, as a parent you are called to forgive them and remember it no more as God promises to do with our sins. You are also called to discipline them so they don’t make the same mistake again. God is our father and it is His right and duty to discipline us for our sins so we learn not to do them again. What good is being forgiven if we never grow? What good is being forgiven if we persist in being sinful and refuse to change? It is dangerous to assume that because a sin is forgiven that we should not do penance and make reparations to atone for that sin.

Purgatory is temporal, not eternal
Temporal simply means “in time” while eternal is “outside time”. Everything that is temporal starts and ends while eternal things neither start nor end. Because purgatory is temporal, we know that our time there is finite. All souls that enter purgatory will eventually leave purgatory and enter heaven.

This is important to note because the Bible is clear that there are only two eternal destinations (heaven and hell) and purgatory is not in contradiction with this teaching.

Purgatory does not add to the work of Jesus
Some people have the impression that purgatory adds something to Jesus’ sacrifice for us or that we need Jesus AND something else to be saved. That’s simply not true.

Purgatory is an application of the saving work of Christ. Without Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection then purgatory wouldn’t exist. We aren’t cleansed from our venial sins and temporal punishment “in addition to” Jesus’ sacrifice but “because of” it.

The theory that Jesus somehow “covers” our sins completely misses the point of His salvation message. The Bible clearly calls us to be holy and to live our lives in a way pleasing to God. True repentance requires that we bear good fruit, not pay lip service (Mt 3:8) and only those who are holy will see God (Heb 12:14). Jesus didn’t die for us so we can be forgiven yet unchanged. He died for us so we can be forgiven and become perfect as He is perfect not so we can hoodwink God into thinking we are perfect.

Our purification in this life and in purgatory is all part of the saving work of Christ.

Purgatory is merciful and just
So many people read about purgatory and say it is “depressing” or “unloving”. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! Purgatory is a beautiful doctrine that shows what w loving and good God we serve.

The Bible tells us that nothing unclean will enter heaven (Rev 21:27). Let’s say a person commits some sin and then dies without repenting. That person is not “clean” because they have unforgiving sin and temporal punishment for that sin. They cannot enter heaven in that state.

Our understanding of God’s justice says this person should go to hell. Our understanding of God’s mercy says this person should go to heaven. Purgatory is what God has revealed to us is His instrument of satisfying both His perfect justice and mercy. Without purgatory you make God either a tyrant or a pushover yet He is neither.

Is God vindictive?
All this talk about punishment and such makes some people think that Catholics believe in a “vindictive” God as opposed to a God of mercy and love. The problem here is that we see vindictiveness as a bad thing because our experience is that being vindictive is the same as being angry or vengeful. We overlook that God is not human and doesn’t suffer from human emotions that stem from sin.

God is certainly vindictive, but not in the sense most of us mean it. He is not angry, vengeful, or domineering. He is, however, insistent on justice. This should be obvious from the beatitudes (the hungry will be fed, etc) and Jesus many parables (first shall be last, etc). God is very interested in everything being just. In this sense, He is perfectly vindictive, when we remember that “vindictive” means to vindicate, to justify, to correct, or to set right.

So when we sin, the punishment we receive isn’t like a ruler on the knuckles, it’s a setting right what was set wrong. It’s the meting out of justice; and who can deny God that right? Who can say “God, you have forgiven me, now let the effect of my sin go uncorrected”? How could a God of perfect justice be denied the right to vindicate our wrongs?

Remember that God is not a human and is not subject to human emotions or sin. When He vindicates, He does so perfectly and for the right reasons.

2 comments:

dave ruiz said...

Purgatory is for those who want to give their spiritual purse strings to a church , instead of total reliance on the work of the Blessed Lamb on Calvary. It has also increased that church's literal purse strings.

Dan & Tara Brooke said...

Can you please explain how Purgatory has made the Church money since 1550?