On the Necessity of Purgatory

On the Necessity of Purgatory
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Editor’s note: Today we welcome Catholic Skywalker to the New Evangelizers blogging team!

There are many, some of them Catholic, who think that Purgatory is an invention of the Church. They believe it is a theological theory that had its time but has gone the way of Limbo. And for others, the doctrine is known, but disliked. Why doesn’t God just take us into heaven?  Why make us suffer?

Those are good questions. A lot of ink has been spilled over the biblical foundation of 2 Macabees, so I shall not tread such heavily cultivated fields. Instead I want to focus on the logical necessity of Purgatory.

Let us imagine that we die and enter Heaven. There we will be with our Lord, the angels, and all other humans who make it.

Now, will anyone be mean to you in Heaven? I doubt you’ve even considered that question, because who in their right mind would think that they’d have to worry about bullies in paradise? Of course no one will be mean to you in Heaven, because if they did it would cease to be Heaven. It would no longer be the perfect enjoyment of peace and happiness.

Will anyone steal from you in Heaven (assuming that you have anything to steal)?  No, because then it would cease to be Heaven.

Will anyone treat you like only an sex object (assuming the Ressurection)?  No, because then it would cease to be Heaven.

Things like hate, greed, and lust cannot enter Heaven or it could not be Heaven.

But if I have hate, greed, lust, etc in me, then what in the world makes me think that I can enter Heaven?  If I have these imperfections on my soul, then that stained soul cannot pass through the Pearly Gates.

So what is to be done? Only perfected saints qualify to go on to Eternal Rest. I assume–and I know this a big assumption, but one in which I am fairly confident–that very few of us die in a perfect state of grace.

Does this mean that if I’m not a Mother Teresa or a Fulton Sheen that I will go straight to hell when I die?  Yes.

Or rather, the answer is yes IF there is not a third option: Purgatory. The name of this place comes from the root word “purgation” which means “cleansing.”

Many of us try so hard to live in virtue and belief. But our human frailty causes us to stumble and fall short, scuffing up the purity of our souls.

God, in His mercy, understands our brokenness. We must strive for perfection, but God knows when we put our hearts in the right place. So in these cases, even if we mar the beauty of the soul He gave us, we can be cleansed by Him.

I use this analogy with my high school theology classes.

I choose a girl and ask her to imagine that [insert whatever teeny-bopper heartthrob is currently popular] is taking her to prom. But just before he arrives she gets violent diarrhea all over herself. She ruins her dress, her shoes, her mascara runs down her face as she cries and screams histerically, and then the dream guy walks into her house.

Usually at this point the, girl sitting in class is mortified, but I continue.

I tell her that the hunk sees her and says, “Hey, I don’t care about any of that. You are still beautiful to me.”

At this point, the girls in the class all go, “Awww…”

But then I tell her that this dreamboat says, “Now come on, let’s hop in the limo right now together.”

I ask the girl if she gets in with him.

“NO!” she says, mortified.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because I want to get cleaned up first,” she replies.

“But he loves you just the way you are.  He doesn’t care about you staining the leather seats and smelling like port-o-potty at a Phish concert,” I respond.

“But I do!  I can’t be in front of him like this!”

And so it is with Purgatory. 

Sin is the stinky diarrhea of the soul that we need to wash off ourselves before entering into the presence of one who loves us more than anything: God. How horrified we would be to stand before God, covered in our hate, greed, and lust as He shines His purest light on us.

C.S. Lewis was not a Catholic, but he believed in Purgatory.  He said that even if we had the option of going straight to Paradise after death, most of us would voluntarily be cleansed in purging fires before we present out souls to God’s presence.

One way or another we must cleanse our soul in the Refiner’s fire. We are called to do that here on Earth. But our merciful Lord gave us one last way station to salvation: Purgatory.

Copyright © 2012, W.L. Grayson

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W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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