If there is a topic that is misunderstood by both Protestants and Catholics it is Purgatory. What is Purgatory, and how can we better explain it to people?
In kind of crude terminology, Purgatory is the doormat to the gates of Heaven. It is where you go if your soul needs wiping off on your way to heaven.
In brief here is how I explain it to people:
I ask – are you perfect?
They say – no.
I say – will you be perfect in Heaven.
They say – yes.
I say – So in between here and heaven you are made perfect.
They say – yes.
I say – that is what we call purgatory. That place before you get to heaven that you were made perfect.
Now that we have a simple explanations of it, what are some common misconceptions about purgatory.
Some people say that it is a place where you get a second chance. Others say that Purgatory undermines Christ work on the cross, like Christ couldn’t save us but purgatory can.
How are both of those things untrue?
Scripture and tradition are clear that once you are dead, you are going to really either heaven or hell. Purgatory is preparation for Heaven.
Hebrews 9:27 And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment,
So that should clear up the misconception that we get a second chance.
Does purgatory undermine Christ’s work on the cross? No. In fact it is a continuation of the work of the cross on our soul after we have died.
What did Jesus do for us on the cross? He reconciled us to God that we might be God’s Children once more. 1 John 3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
We who have come to believe in Jesus are children of God. But Jesus didn’t carry his cross so that we wouldn’t have to carry our cross. Jesus carried and died on his cross so that we would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the same.
Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting that God, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.
What was that? Jesus was made perfect through suffering? Wait I thought he already was perfect. He was already perfect, but when the time came for Jesus to suffer through the passion for the salvation of the world. He obeyed his Heavenly Father and thus in his continual obedience was perfected. It is this perfect obedience that we are called to imitate here on earth.
Listen to St. Paul
1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
So we are to imitate St. Paul as he imitates Christ. How are we to do that – listen to Jesus.
Luke 9:23-24 And he said to all, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.
What will carrying my cross daily do? It will do for me as it did for Christ – made him perfect.
Matthew 5:48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
So this whole Christian life is about carrying our cross, dying to self, conforming our lives to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Amen. But we don’t like to do that. We rebel against carrying our cross and being obedient to the Father. Now we can outright rebel and remain like that until hell. Or I think for some of us, we carry the cross for a while, complain for a while, come back pick it up again, put it down. Now this is better than outright rebellion, but we are called to perfection.
St. John says in
Revelation 21:27 But nothing unclean shall enter it the heavenly Jerusalem.
Our Heavenly Father loves us and wants to help us. St. Paul says in
Hebrews 12:4-6 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? -- "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives."
God chastises us because he loves us. And this love continues after death if we have not been perfected.
St. Paul says that we are responsible how we build on our soul. That ever work will be tested with fire. What stands the test will be rewarded, what doesn’t stand the test will be burned up, and the person will suffer. He then warns that if we destroy our soul, God will destroy us.
1 Corinthians 3:10-17 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw -- each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are.
But that fire he speaks of is a purifying fire. It is a fire where the soul is saved, but suffers.
It is this fire we call purgatory.