Why do Catholics…Part 10 – Believe in Purgatory?

 Purgatory – This topic can make even the most devout Catholics squirm a bit.  Perhaps, this discomfort stems from the misunderstanding of it.  Perhaps a little clarity will allow us to see the beauty of purgatory.

Allow me to explain how I see it.  When I think about all of the pain and suffering our Lord Jesus went through to free us from sin and death, I feel so unworthy of the eternal salvation he has won for us.  And I know that I can never be truly be worthy of this incredible privilege of eternity in Heaven with our Lord.  In fact, if I were to die at this very moment and came before God and He presented me with the option to go to Heaven right then or to be purified for a while purgatory1before I came before God in all of His glory.  I would definitely choose purgatory.  In my unworthiness, I would choose to be separated from him for a time that I may be made white and pure for Him.

I remember a song that reflects how I would choose if God gave me the choice.  The lyrics were that “I want nothing more than to sit outside Heaven’s door and listen to you breathing.”  For me, it would be a tremendous comfort to be so close to God, anticipating the moment when he would call my name and hold out his hand to me, feeling his great love!

The Church teaches that purgatory is a temporary time of purification to achieve holiness before we enter into Heaven.  It even has a Biblical basis as praying for the dead is mentioned in several places in the Bible.  In second Maccabees (12:46), the oldest brother talks of praying for the souls of the Jewish soldiers who have died.  In Timothy 1:18, he spoke of praying for a friend who had died.  If those who had died were already in Heaven or Hell, there would be no need to pray for the dead.  For me, praying for the dead gives me great comfort, feeling more of a connection with those I love who have passed from this life.

Even Jesus mentioned something about purgatory in Matthew (12:32) when he said that some sins – speaking against the Holy Spirit – would not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. purgatory2

For those who have suffered greatly here on earth, I believe that they have had some of that purification on earth.  My dear aunt suffered nearly all of her adult life with a confusing and somewhat mysterious respiratory disease.  Her disease progressed from not being able to catch her breath to difficulty anywhere without panting and gasping for breath, until finally she was confined to a wheelchair constantly on oxygen, waiting for a lung transplant.  But in her pain and suffering, she developed great grace as she passed away at a young age.  I imagine that her suffering here on earth allowed her a shortened time purgatory because of her earthly purification.

So this topic may be difficult to explain to your children but my own kids taught me something about purgatory and my original discomfort with it when they asked me a question.  My oldest daughter asked me what would happen to a bad guy they had seen in a movie.  “He wasn’t really a bad person, but he made bad choices.  Will he still go to Heaven?”  As I faltered, evaluating the possible explanations, my son chirped up, “He’ll go to Learning Heaven!” “What’s that?” she asked back.  “It’s where he will go to learn to be good and figure out how much God loves him.”  Perfect explanation of purgatory from a sweet child!

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