Year of Faith: All Souls and Purgatory

November is the month of Holy Souls and you can’t talk about the Holy Souls without talking about the purgation they are going through. So what about Purgatory?

St. Paul says those who still have attachment to sin shall be saved “as through fire.” (1 Cor 3:15). So having all the straw burned away will hurt.

God is a consuming fire, we are told, and only those who are pure can stand the heat. I love the way Dr. Scott Hahn describes it. God’s love is the consuming fire. It burns away our old sins so we are pure and can come before Him. The purer we are the most love -fire we can stand and the closer to God we can get.

In purgatory the fire of God’s love hurts because the souls still have som attachment to those old sins.

In hell the fire is much cooler but seems so much hotter because those who have chosen hell cannot abide love at all. They are consumed with hatred for God and for all life.

The history of Purgatory (from the Latin purgatorio, from which we get purge in English) goes back to the Old Testament.

The Jews had a couple of words to describe the afterlife. There was sheol, which in Greek is Hades, the place of the dead.

Then there was Gehenna, the place of fire, in Greek is the same word (gamma, two epsilons, two nu’s and alpha). That’s what we call Hell.

Then finally there was a place Jesus mentions called “The bosom of Abraham”. I think some scholars have considered this to be the “limbo of the fathers” a sort of paradise where the saints stayed until Holy Saturday. It is thought that maybe Enoch and Elijah are there awaiting their return to earth. They have never died as yet.

By the time Jesus came to preach salvation and the resurrection of the dead, the Jewish faith had taken a number of directions. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection any more.  God’s promise that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been rejected by them. They had a “once you’re dead, you’re dead,” take on things.

The Pharisees had a much better and fuller understanding of the Old Covenant. Jesus never told them what they believed was wrong, He disagreed with their behaviour.  They were do busy adding details they had lost real sight of what God was saying to them.

When the Church emerged, it was like a butterfly from the Jewish caterpillar. Not a new religion, but a fulfilled one. So many Jewish converts say they haven’t left behind their Jewishness, they have completed it.

So when Paul talks about a place where the saved can burn off the dross of this life, he isn’t making a new statement, but devloping an old one. Sheol is a place to get rid of anything that cannot be brought before God. It’s not a second chance. Every single person there is saved and loves God. It’s the antechamber of heaven.

But is it a place or a state of being?

I suppose the Catholic answer to that would be it’s both. We are given plenty of opportunities this side of death to take part in a bit of purgation. The Scriptures and the teaching of the Church and the fathers has always been very clear, nothing unclean can come before God.

In private revelation most, (if not all) those who have been offered a glimpse or a long observation of those in purgatory have noted that the holy souls didn’t want to come before God with their attachment to venial sin still there. They joyfully take up the pains to prepare like a bride to come before the groom.

Every bit of suffering we have in this life can be offered to Christ as St. Paul encourages us. Get some purgatory done now folks.

There are a number of Christians today who have blocked out those uncomfortable passages in Scripture that demand certain things of us. They say “nothing can separate them from the love of God..” and they forget about all the physical and emotional suffering Paul lists and instead insert the word “sin”. (cf Rom 8) But in his first letter to the Corinthians (who caused Paul a lot of heart ache) Paul makes it clear that sin will separate us from Christ (1 Cor 6) So we had better use every ounce of grace God gives us to avoid that.  St. Paul warns us not to receive God’s grace in vain (I think that was aimed at the troublesome Corinthians too)  St. John warns particularly against mortal sin, that sin that can kill the life of the soul. (1 John 5:16-17).

Jesus, and His Body the Church constantly calls her people to repentance. We are supposed to be sorry for the sins we commit. If we are and we want forgiveness, it is flowing from Christ from His once and for all Sacrifice.

But mortal sins kill the life of the soul and need much stronger repentance. It is possible in the immense mercy of God for a truly repentant person to be saved from mortal sin even without Confession. But normally a mortal sin should be confessed and no one who is not in a state of grace should receive the Eucharist. St. Paul warns that such people are eating and drinking their own condemnation.

The Church doesn’t tell us who is in purgatory, nor in hell. She tells us some of the names of those living in heaven. We are not supposed to go to Purgatory. We are supposed to repent, get sorted with God and go to heaven.


One response to “Year of Faith: All Souls and Purgatory

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