The Merry Catholic
Recently I was with some Catholic friends and we began to talk about Purgatory. Well, yes, I suppose that is rather odd. Apparently that day we were bored with the usual discussion topics of politics and sports and the weather. So we talked about Purgatory.
After a while, the only thing on which we could agree is the fact none of us were quite sure exactly what the church teaches about Purgatory.
Some of us thought the church had never offered an official position on the subject and the notion simply sprung up from medieval folk legends. Others thought the church used to teach the doctrine of Purgatory, but now in our sophisticated modern world the church has dropped the idea. And still others thought it might be possible the church still teaches that Purgatory is real. However, because none of us could recall ever hearing a homily on the topic, we agreed that if the church does believe in Purgatory, it’s doing a terrific job keeping it a secret.
I volunteered to do some research and report back to the group the next time we met. I learned a lot of very surprising things; for example, if something is on the Internet, it must be true. Oh wait, I’m sorry. What I learned is the exact opposite: if it’s on the Internet, you’d better take it with a grain of salt and a pound of skepticism.
Ultimately, I did my research using two trustworthy sources: the Catechism of the Catholic Church and YouTube videos of Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
It turns out the Catholic Church does indeed still teach the doctrine of Purgatory. The Catechism says, “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God” (CCC 1030).
People will point out that the word Purgatory is not in the Bible, so that means it must be a man-made doctrine and not something revealed by God. But wait a minute. There are a lot of words that describe core Christian doctrines that are not found in the Bible, words such as Easter, Trinity and potluck supper. Or Bingo. Even the word Bible is not in the Bible.
Although the word Purgatory is not there, the concept can be clearly deduced from the pages of Scripture. The Bible clearly states in the book of Revelation, “Nothing impure will ever enter [Heaven]” (Revelation 21:27). And the letter to the Hebrews says, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
I can only speak for myself, but if I drop dead right now, well, first, that will be really awkward when my wife finds me slumped over my computer. But second, and more important, despite the fact that I trust in the Lord, I still have plenty of spiritual baggage. I love God, but I’m also a sinner with plenty of ingrained bad habits and selfish attitudes. I would be embarrassed to enter into the heavenly banquet without first having those negative character traits purified out of me.
So the doctrine of Purgatory is perfectly logical. It’s how we get, shall we say, cleaned up for the big party.
I also learned the church is silent about the exact nature of Purgatory, whether it’s a specific place or some spiritual state our souls are in. The idea of fire also may be symbolic for God’s all-consuming, purifying love.
So the bottom line is this: We Catholics should be thankful Purgatory exists. It shows how much God loves us. And the next time I get together with my friends, we’re going to talk about something a little less confusing, such as Limbo.
Bill Dunn is a freelance writer who resides in Torrington. His most recent book is titled The Gospel According to Morty. He can be contacted via his blog at MerryCatholic.blogspot.com.