Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bypassing Purgatory? - Updated

This might be perceived as a controversial post because some of us have been taught, rather without footnotes to Catechisms or scripture, what purgatory is and why most all have to pass through it, whatever it is---a place, a state of being, before entering heaven.

When I think back on what I was taught or heard, what stood out clearest prior to my current understanding was a teaching of Bishop Sheen's that is used to explain indulgences.  He was saying that when we sin it is like hammering nails into a board and when we go to Confession, the absolution is like getting the nails pulled out, but then the holes are still there.  Punishment is still necessary.

Of course this flies in the face of what the Protestant would tell you that Jesus once and for all paid the price of sin and no other price needs to be paid.  That would take a post longer than any post ever written and there are books out there explaining the meaning of suffering, why suffering can be offered in reparation of sin, why some saints, particularly in the Latin rite, viewed suffering as means of resembling Christ.  This post isn't about trying to suffer our way into heaven.  We only get to heaven through belief and trust in our Savior, "washing our robes" in the Precious Blood of the Lamb of God (Revelation 7:14).

There is value in our suffering when united to the suffering of Christ and that is scriptural too (Colossians 1:24), and it has been enlighted by the teachings of Blessed Pope John Paul II in Salvifici Doloris.

We have the wisdom that was given by God to the saints, and preserved for us through their writings to help us, that the Protestants have unfortunately been deprived of.  I am speaking of the teachings of St. Catherine of Genoa, and St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, and St. Faustina.

My understanding is not incompatible with the teaching of Bishop Sheen, but more along the lines that the holes left over indicate a tendency toward sin due to our not resembling the heart of Our Savior, the most tender, most merciful, most forgiving, most loving, most sensitive heart.

My belief/understanding is to the extent our heart resembles Christ's merciful heart of forgiveness and love, and the more perfect our trust in Jesus's Divine Mercy the higher the probability that we will bypass purgatory. When I hear people I love say something is unforgivable or say something disparaging, unloving, judgmental about someone or some group of people, this is when I worry for their spending time in purgatory. It shows their heart has not been formed into the mold of Jesus.

OK, yes, I am still very much one of those!  I have hope though that I have found the way, of course his name is Jesus, but it isn't just his name, or who he is (our Savior), but also, what he taught or rather what he commanded us:

John 13:34: "I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other like I loved you."

1 John 4:16: And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

1 John 4:8: Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

What these verses say to me (and this is illuminated by the writings of St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Therese) is that to the extent we do not love we are not following Jesus's command to love like he has loved us.  We cannot love the way he loves us unless we know and rely on the love God has for us.  Obviously, God is the judge and Jesus the gate, but my strong sense is we cannot know God in heaven unless we love as he has loved us, which is a symptom of being docile to the Holy Spirit's work of sanctifying grace.  My belief is if we don't learn what seems to be a very obvious teaching of Jesus in the Gospels, and echoed in the First letter of John, further illuminated by the writings and example of Saints, but rather persist in non-forgiveness, acts of commission and omission that show lack of love and mercy, actual prejudice toward groups of people, etc. then we will not be able to go from death straight into heaven.  We will instead learn what should have been the obvious and demanding, commanding lesson of love in Purgatory, whether that be a state or a place.  Some mystics (personal revelations only, not teachings of the church, or scriptural) did write that there is a place and real suffering in purgatory.

We will need to have our heart fixed first through either a very soul-filled spiritual purgation as we realize the magnitude of Christ's love and sacrifice (will come rather quickly when we are face to face with our beautiful Savior without the veil of this life), or perhaps through experiencing some real suffering in a state or place of purgatory.  It seems to me that the purity of heart and primary willingness to love and console our Precious Lord are brought about by following Christ's command, thus, "Whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God in him."  Even if we have failings instead of the holes in the board remaining after the nails are removed, they are filled in by the perfect way of trust in God's love and the confidence that his love and mercy are greater than any failing we could commit.
In case it seems I have left the reservation on this one, I would implore you to take some time and ponder the teaching on purgatory from St. Therese.  This post by Patricia is concise, versus re-reading Story of A Soul (which I just did), and then reading multiple commentaries on it, and due to including a commentary, thoroughly explains this teaching, and is well worth the time to read it.

I love the empty hands teaching of St. Therese also contained in her Offering to Merciful Love. It is along the lines of Marian consecration . . . we give any merit for anything we do to her to use as she wills. The effect of this is empty hands and the trust that the Father will look at us through the precious face of his Son and that his precious blood alone will merit our entrance into heaven....why else would we be longing to be one of the white robbed masses in Revelation 7 that washed their robes in the blood of the lamb?

I do think the more suffering one has (sometimes it starts spiritually when we are humbled by the mercy and love God shows to us so directly) and the more one submits to the transforming love (is that not also part of the teaching from St. Therese's Offering to Merciful Love?) of the Holy Spirit, and the grace and mercy streaming from Jesus's Sacred Heart, the more compassionate and loving one will become. It isn't just the one that has been forgiven much that loves much, but also the one like our beloved St. Therese has the Holy Spirit granted insight that it is all-about being loved by God, and loving others that way we have been loved and making that the focus of our spiritual and active life pursuits (John 13:34).

Suddenly, as she was kneeling down at the confessional, "her heart was wounded by a dart of God's immense love, and she had a clear vision of her own wretchedness and faults and the most high goodness of God. She fell to the ground, all but swooning", and from her heart rose the unuttered cry, "No more of the world for me! No more sin!" The confessor was at this moment called away, and when he came back she could speak again, and asked and obtained his leave to postpone her confession.

Then she hurried home, to shut herself up in the most secluded room in the house, and for several days she stayed there absorbed by consciousness of her own wretchedness and of God's mercy in warning her. She had a vision of Our Lord, weighed down by His Cross and covered with blood, and she cried aloud, "O Lord, I will never sin again; if need be, I will make public confession of my sins." After a time, she was inspired with a desire for Holy Communion which she fulfilled on the feast of the Annunciation.

She now entered on a life of prayer and penance. She obtained from her husband a promise, which he kept, to live with her as a brother. She made strict rules for herself—to avert her eyes from sights of the world, to speak no useless words, to eat only what was necessary for life, to sleep as little as possible and on a bed in which she put briars and thistles, to wear a rough hair shirt. Every day she spent six hours in prayer. She rigorously mortified her affections and will.
The path of love bypassing purgatory does not help us to avoid taking up our cross and following Jesus (Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23) as you see by how St. Catherine chose to live after her experience, or if your read and understand the magnitude of the sufferings St. Therese endured without pain relief.  The other related insight from St. Therese, is that suffering for love of Jesus, knowing that the merits of her sacrifices did help further the Kingdom of God in other souls, became a great joy for her.  My own belief, perhaps subject of another post, is that there is heavenly reward correlated to the way we pick up our cross and follow Jesus (Revelation 22:12), that there is reward commensurate with our ability and willingness to do so with the pure intention of loving and consoling Jesus.  St. Therese and St. Faustina wrote on this, but again, too much for one post!

As far as St. Catherine's living like sibling with her husband, I wouldn't say that is the way for everyone that is married being transformed by the love of God either; it was her way, and there are other holy people who chose to live this way, in keeping with what St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2.

And as for the bed of briars and thistles and the hair shirt, I still love Father Corapi's comment, "You are sitting next to your hair shirt," during one of his talks.  Further, an eastern father, Abba Pimen, said that we lay down our lives for our friends when we leave our self-absorption, pride, and self-indulgence aside, and essentially love each other and forgive each other, and do not judge each other.  Doesn't that sound very much like St. Therese's Little Way of Love?

John 15:13:  "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Please share your thoughts.  I don't mean this as a controversy because that isn't the mission of this blog, but if this really is the core teaching of Christ that we should be striving to understand and live, relying on God's love, it is important to discuss and help each other, and all those in contact with us learn it too, so as to spare them learning the lesson on the other side, when the suffering, as St. John of the Cross (mentioned in Patricia's post) indicated, will be far greater than that which can be experienced in this life.
After dying, wouldn't you want to pass straight into the arms of your loving Savior and into the incomprehensible love of the Father if possible?

Wouldn't you want your loved ones especially, and if we really get the lesson, all souls that we could persuade to this necessity, to do the same?


  1. Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter.

    Purgatory is never mentioned in the Bible. Christ talks about Heaven and hell but not Purgatory.

    The Catholic Church bases its teaching from Scripture. In Revelation Chapter 21 Verse 27 it says ‘Nothing unclean shall enter Heaven.’

    So, it follows that since we all die with at least a few venial sins on our conscience, then we must undergo some kind of cleansing process before we are welcomed into Heaven.

    Whether Purgatory is a place, or a state of being, can be argued ad-infinitum with no conclusion since no one has been there and returned to tell us about it.

    How long we stay in this "cleansing process" is also a matter of guess-work. One minute for each sin, one day, one week or longer?

    How much time off do we get if we pray indulgences? Or if someone else prays for us when we're dead? Or offers Mass for us?

    There is no written down rules about this and suffice it to say that our prayers for the souls of those departed are welcome by God as they show a generosity of spirit and our love for our fellow man. Just as He commanded.

    I doubt very much that God will be influenced by our prayers in as much as He would say "Aha ... this person has said a prayer for John so I'll deduct a month off his stay in Purgatory".

    How long we stay in Purgatory is a matter for God alone; as is His decision as to whether we go to Heaven or hell.

    God does not need anything from us ... lit candles, flowers, multiple prayers and so on. In the sense that He is not in any way lacking if we do not give Him these things.

    All He asks is that we love Him and love one another.

    Un-believers in Purgatory have said that it is a Catholic invention … a way of raising money for the Church by encouraging the faithful to pay for prayers and Masses for the souls of loved ones who are in Purgatory.

    This is somewhat harsh and an unkind view of the Catholic Church. But it must be said that the early Catholic Church has left itself open to criticism quite often.

    The fact remains, whether Purgatory exists or not, and how long we stay there, is a matter for God alone to decide.

    Our role in this is to trust Him that He knows what He is doing.

    What we need to avoid at all costs is hell.

    No one goes to hell by accident. By some glitch or mistake on God's computer database.

    We choose to go to hell by the way we live.

    God bless.

  2. Some excellent points, Victor. Certainly trust is key and that was a main point in St. Therese's words to the novices. There is scriptural basis for praying for the dead without mention as you said of "purgatory" in 2 Maccabees (Protestants exclude as part of the Apocyrpha) but also in the writings of Paul and Peter. There are mystics who write of having been there, though, although that is all "personal revelation" that is not official church teaching. The book WAY OF DIVINE love, Sr. Josefa Menendez's experiences, has a notable passage in the end on purgatory. My love of St. Therese's guidance to the other nuns is to do with her "elevator" image, that Jesus can lift us up to him, through our child like trust, accompanied by the Holy Spirit given wisdom (He will teach you all things) that this is the quickest depend completely/i.e. TRUST in his love rather than to miss this, and focus on debits and credits....perhaps praying "indulgenced" prayers by habit, rather than from the heart. Perhaps these are honored, but it is a slower path.

    Then to me there is the Parable of the Steward who learns the hard way that if we do not forgive as we have been forgiven, and taught even in the Lord's Prayer "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors", then we will receive the punishment until every debt to God is paid. Matthew 18:22-35 seems clearly to me to indicate if we show mercy in the small things than we can enjoy total forgiveness of the massive debt we could not pay. But if we do not love, forgive, show mercy as Christ wants to show us mercy, then we might hear our divine judge say the following, and be very much be in need of lots of prayers: "'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt, because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?’ His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors, until he should pay all that was due to him. So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds."

  3. Colleen, I truly think that we can never hope for too much from God, Who, as Therese says, "must turn His eyes away when we suffer." He does all that He can to bring us to Him immediately after death. He longs for union with us.

    I don't think Purgatory is a punishment, but rather a purification. But as Therese said as well, "Your Love can purify me in a moment..."

    Her genius was to know His Heart, and to throw herself completely into Its Flames, with absolute trust. Most of us hold back...(He can't be that good..that forgiving..etc.)

    Recall the woman who entered Simon's house and washed the feet of Jesus with her tears. In our Savior's Words, "She loved much." If we could be like her, I doubt we would need anything more purifying than the Merciful Gaze of our Savior.

    But then, what do I know? :) At any rate, I think it's best to leave Purgatory to the Mercy of God, and we can always be sure that if we do go there, it is for far less time/intensity than we truly deserved!

  4. Patricia,
    Beautiful thoughts Patricia, and I agree with you too. While I agree I can't say I know it to be true, I truly think Therese's insights on this as reflected in her own autobiography and letters is in alignment with Jesus's teaching of his mercy and forgiveness, and also akin to the words of Jesus to St. Faustina in her Diary.