Monday, November 8, 2010

A Reader Asks About Purgatory

A reader recently wrote me:
I was having breakfast with a good friend of mine which I have not seen for quite sometime.  She is a Christian.  So am I but, I'm a Catholic Christian.  Anyway, can you explain why we Catholic Christians believe in purgatory.  She was emphatic on the fact that Christ died for our sins and that if we believe that He is the Risen Lord, then our sins are already forgiven us.  I did not or could not defend my belief but I know there is a good explanation as to why we believe in purgatory.
 Any my hastily-worded response:
Purgatory is definitely one of those things we Catholics believe that is downright confusing to most non-Catholic Christians.  First, the following links contain stuff I've already written about Purgatory.  If you want a decent intro to it; start there.  At the very least, read the first one.  The second link below gives good biblical resources for purgatory.  The third one is good to put purgatory into perspective related to heaven and hell.

Here are the highlights of Catholic belief in purgatory:

-In no way does purgatory "add to" or "lessen" Jesus' sacrifice for our sins.  Jesus' sacrifice made purgatory possible and is part of the process (for some people) of becoming perfect as Christ is perfect.

-Catholics believe we are all called to be holy and nothing unholy can be in heaven.  "Holy" means "completely set apart for God" or "in no way under the influence of sin".  This goes way beyond what most people mean by "forgiven".  If God forgives my sins but I still desire to sin then am I perfectly holy?  Of course not.  The process of becoming holy (sanctification) is life-long and, thanks to purgatory, may extend beyond physical death.  Thank God!

-If your friend says being forgiven means we are perfectly holy then point out that even after accepting Christ as our savior we still tend to sin.  How can we say we are perfectly holy if we still sin?  That's a false position.

-If your friend says we need not be perfectly holy but only forgiven of our sins then have her explain Rev. 21:27 which says nothing unclean will enter the New Jerusalem (heaven) or Hebrews 12:22-23 which talks about "just" men being made "perfect"?  Or simply ask how imperfection can be in the presence of a perfect God?

I hope that's a good start.  Feel free to email me if you want specific items more fleshed-out or if you have more questions.

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