Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Last weekend I had the immense joy of being able to go to Ohio to see my girlfriend for a few days. For the ride there and back and I took a bunch of Catholic CDs - Scott Hahn, Christopher West, John Martignoni, and one I was unfamiliar with about the Pope and the Papacy. I was really excited about the Pope and Papacy one and so I saved it for the ride home. Much to my dismay, not only was it NOT a Catholic CD, it was very much an ANTI-Catholic CD. I don't know who the speaker was but he began the CD by blasting the "heretical" Catholic Church for everything she does wrong - and I might add that everything he said was unfounded, uneducated, and almost laughable. Among other things, he was railing against the Church's invention of Purgatory.
The speaker believed that purgatory is the only thing that makes Catholicism work because without it "it's a hard sell." The fact that, as far as our faith goes, Catholics are never assured of their salvation was too much for him and he believes that only the idea that we might not go straight to hell keeps people from leaving the Church. For beginners, the idea of "maybe not going to hell right away" isn't what keeps me in the Church. I'm Catholic because of the chance that I might go to Heaven! That is enough for me.
Outside of scriptural references to a post-death / pre-Heaven state, Purgatory just makes sense. First off, if we assume we our saved, or are assured that we are saved once and for all, why should we continue to be good people, let alone good Christians? In what world would it make sense that we could go on sinning without fear of punishment because we "knew" we were saved? In all of history there was only one person who was assured his salvation - the good thief. Did Jesus not say him: "Amen, I say to you, this day you shall be with me in Paradise." But just as we are not assured of salvation, neither are we "assured" of damnation. If Hitler, in his final moments, had truly repented of his sins and asked forgiveness, would God not have been overjoyed at the return of the prodigal son? Yet I believe Hitler would have not been ready for eternal joy in Heaven.
And so we get to Purgatory.
Purgatory is where we are purified and perfected. If we believe our God is a just God, does this not seem fitting? I see Purgatory as an extension of His Divine Mercy and Justice. No one but God can know the state of someone's soul and so who are we to judge others based on their actions or what we think we know of them. GOD IS MERCIFUL! I remember always thinking that those who committed suicide went to hell, and maybe that is the case, but only God knows what went through their minds at the last second. Only God knows their struggles and miseries and do you not think that He would take that into account?
As for Catholicism being a "hard sell" without Purgatory, well, to be honest, it's a hard sell with it! Our faith is not easy and no one ever said it would or should be. Catholicism is not for the faint of heart - it requires self-sacrifice, suffering, humility, and service to others. It is a difficult, life-long quest for holiness and perfection in and through Jesus Christ. If this quest is not finished on earth then it will be finished in Purgatory. And if we persist, what is our reward? To behold the very face of God and to be counted among his saints in Heaven!