Doctrine Ink Slingers Misty Offering your suffering Prayer Purgatory Series You Did It To Me

You Did It to Me: Pray for the Living and the Dead

PrayforLivingandDeadWelcome to the series “YOU DID IT TO ME” where we will be discussing the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. This will be a twice a month series from March to September 2015. We hope you enjoy!

One of my favorite parts of being Catholic is that I have a spiritual relationship with all of God’s children. I love that no matter where believers in Christ may be–in heaven, finishing their perfection in purgatory, or still journey here on earth–we’re all connected to one another in spirit. It’s profoundly consoling to know that when I’m struggling in this broken world, I can look to my Christian siblings to pray for me , so that I’ll obtain extra graces that will help me persevere in faith.

But this kinship isn’t a one-way relationship; I’m called to pray for others, too. Praying for both the living and the dead is actually one of the lesser-known spiritual works of mercy.


In the past, our awareness of others’ troubles was limited to those in our immediate family or town. Now, social and mass media has made us aware of people around the world who could use extra grace. It can feel overwhelming to hear about so much suffering, so how can we meet our obligation to pray for others when we’re already stretched so thin? Here are a few ways:

Keep your word. When you see a prayer request online, only respond to the ones you can realistically follow through on; don’t just hit “Like” to make yourself look pious. I find it best to pray right then for the person, as I’m likely to forget if I put it off until later. The prayer can be a simple Hail Mary or Glory Be, or even just a “Lord, have mercy on him/her.” Jesus doesn’t need long, elaborate prayers to know what those souls most need. The important thing is to ask for His help in loving charity. 

Keep a list. Some situations merit ongoing prayers, like a person battling cancer or the fight to end abortion. In these cases, keep a small notebook next to the computer to jot down prayer needs, along with a few details to help you remember what to pray for. If you use a smartphone frequently, there are plenty of free prayer list apps that will help you keep a running list of people that need long-term prayer. I use the Mobile Kneel app, and go through my list at least once a week, removing people when I know their situation has improved. 

Call on our friends in high places. Don’t forget to call on the saints to pray for those of us still on the journey. As Catholics, we’re blessed with patron saints for just about every kind of cause or suffering. I could pray for my friend’s struggling marriage–or I can ask my good friend, St. Thomas More, to pray for that union. Why? Because St. Thomas More has two things I don’t: 1) Martyrdom for defending the sanctity of marriage (why he’s the patron of difficult marriages), and 2) Spiritual perfection. And since “The prayer of a righteous person has great power” (James 5:16), I know his prayers will be even more efficacious for my friend than mine will.

Leave the details up to God. Often, people ask us to pray for very specific things: their spouse to get the job he just interviewed for…her brother to heal quickly from surgery…their house loan to get approved. I’ve come to believe that the more specific our prayer requests, the more we’re likely to see God as a vending machine instead of a loving Father who can be trusted to do what’s best for us. 

More than anything else, we should want people to get to heaven. But maybe working for that employer would just reinforce her husband’s workaholism and hurt their family…maybe a lengthier recovery would humble her brother to seek the Lord…maybe God wants them in a different neighborhood so that different people can impact their lives. Jesus himself gave us the perfect model for how to pray when he said: “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” It’s okay to echo our friends’ requests in prayer, but we should always finish our prayers with the trust and humility that Jesus taught us: “Lord, please help Susan and her husband to sell their home soon. But not our will, but Yours be done.” 


Most people, including non-Catholic Christians, agree that we should pray for the living. But few Christians (including many Catholics) understand that we’re also called to pray for the dead. That’s because few Christians today understand the reality or necessity of purgatory. 

Just so we’re clear: Purgatory is NOT a second chance for unrepentant sinners…you can’t die in serious sin and get a “do-over” in purgatory. To get to purgatory in the first place, you have to die in friendship with God. Purgatory actually isn’t so much a place but a process–it’s the process of being purified of all the self-love and sinfulness that wasn’t burned out of us before we died. It’s simply how we finish the process of becoming perfect that we began here on earth. We need this purification because without being perfect ourselves, we aren’t fit to be in the presence of our all-holy God. For those who want to better understand the historical, logical, and even Scriptural roots of purgatory, I refer you to this page by Catholic Answers, as well as my article series titled Purgatory 101
Purgatory is real and so are the souls suffering there. Here are some of the ways God has given us to assist the dead so they might more quickly see Our Lord face to face:
Have a Mass offered for them. Don’t flatter the dead! Catholic families have always had Masses offered for the repose of their loved one’s souls, but this has fallen out of favor in the past 50 years. I know it’s popular to believe that every person who is even remotely associated with Christ, no matter how sinfully they lived (and perhaps died), will be transported immediately to heaven upon their last breath. But this is simply not true. We falsely flatter our departed loved ones–and play into our own laziness–if we neglect to have Masses offered for people who die.
Give alms in their honor. St. Thomas Aquinas says that almsgiving is even more efficacious in helping the holy souls in purgatory than prayer and fasting, because almsgiving possesses more completely the virtue of satisfaction. We sacrifice something and offer it as amends for the earthly effect of the sins they must still atone for in heaven. (We don’t offer satisfaction for the eternal effects of their sins; only Christ can do that. More on that here.) This is perhaps why so many great servants of God chose almsgiving as the principle means by which they assisted the dead.
Obtain an indulgence for them. Historical abuses have given indulgences a bad name, but indulgences do still exist as a treasury of graces through Holy Mother Church. Instead of obtaining an indulgence for yourself, obtain one for a holy soul in purgatory. If you’re going to confession and Mass anyway, why not get a soul out of purgatory in the process?
Offer sacrifices for them. Every work of charity may be offered to God for the dead to satisfy the atonement they owe for the temporal effects of their sins. As Jesus said, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” So whenever I’m in pain or called to do something distasteful or difficult, I offer it to God as suffrage for the holy souls. 
The next time you feel insignificant, remember: God has given you the power to open the gates of heaven for souls. This is a privilege God has given only to the living; the saints in heaven, while they can assist us with their prayers, can no longer make satisfaction for others. They can’t suffer, or offer Masses, or give alms on their behalf. Only we get to do this for our brothers and sisters in purgatory.
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Five Ways to Avoid Purgatory

In part one of this series on purgatory, we talked about what purgatory is and why it’s logical (and biblical) that we need to be purified after death and atone for the earthly effects of our sins. In part two, we learned about the experience of purgatory as revealed to the saints. Today’s final installment will give suggestions on how can avoid or at least diminish our need for purgatory.

purgatory_carracciPurgatory is a great gift from God…one final opportunity to be purified. The fact is, however, that it’s God’s wish that we never need it. After all, what loving Father would desire to be separated from his son or daughter even one extra moment than necessary? God gives us every opportunity we need in this life to be perfected, because he desires us to be fit upon death to be with him.

How can we best avoid purgatory? Here are five easy ways.

1. Get Holier through the Sacraments

The whole point of being Catholic is to become holier and thus, closer to God. And to become holy, you need grace. Go to confession often–weekly if possible. God to Mass as often as possible, too, so you’ll receive the grace from the Eucharist. Try to make morning Mass at least one extra weekday if you can. If you’re ill or having a medical procedure with serious risk, request the Anointing of the Sick from your priest. Do your best to receive sacramental graces as often as possible.

2. Suffer Gratefully

As described in part 1, one of the many purposes of suffering in this life is to atone for the temporary, earthly effects of our sins. So instead of kicking and screaming when life’s inevitable suffering and sacrifices come your way, embrace them and offer them to God to expiate your sins (or that of loved ones). Offer even small frustrations to God for atonement, like getting cut off in traffic or dealing with a grouchy toddler or ill. One easy way to do this is to make a Morning Offering. Then God can use everything that happens for your spiritual benefit.

3. Seek Indulgences

Especially efficacious, too, are indulgences through the Church. In essence, an indulgence is God saying, “I forgive your debts; you owe nothing to my justice.” It removes even the temporal punishment due to sin. To gain an indulgence, we must generally do four things: receive Confession, receive the Eucharist, offer prayers for the Pope, and perform a good act. And if we do these things without attachment to sin, then God forgives not only the guilt of our sin, but the debt we owe, too.  To learn about the Biblical and historical foundation for indulgences, visit Catholic Answers here

4. Get Close to Your Mother

The Virgin Mary is perhaps our most powerful intercessor when it comes to purgatory. As she told St. Bridget, “I am the Mother of all those who are in the place of expiation; my prayers mitigate the chastisements which are inflicted upon them for their faults.”

Mary’s intercession is illustrated beautifully in a vision given to Blessed Renier of Citeaux. This religious, who had a great devotion to Mary, was one day thinking about purgatory, and became fearful of facing Divine Justice. He was caught up in a vision, where he saw the Mother of God advocating for him with Jesus.

“My son, deal mercifully with him in Purgatory, because he humbly repents of his sin,” he heard the Virgin say to Jesus. To which Our Lord replied, “My Mother, I place his cause in your hands.” Renier understood with unutterable joy that his devotion to Our Lady had merited him an exemption from purgatory.

The Venerable Sister Paula of St. Teresa, a Dominican religious in Naples, also witnessed the Blessed Virgin’s especial love for souls devoted to her. One day Sister Paula was transported in spirit to purgatory, and was surprised to find it illuminated by a bright light. She’d had previous visions of purgatory and it had always been a dark and gloomy place. While wondering about the difference, she saw the Queen of Heaven surrounded by angels and giving orders to liberate those souls who had especially honored her during their lifetime.

According to many revelations, this happens every Saturday, and also on every Marian feast day. The Feast of the Assumption has been revealed to be the day Mary shows the greatest mercy, delighting to introduce a large number of souls into the glory of heaven on the anniversary of the day she herself first entered the full glory of God.

5. Ask the Angels for Help

Revelations from numerous saints have confirmed that our guardian angels’ devotion and service to us continues in purgatory. Blessed Emilia was a Dominican religious in Italy, and her convent had a rule never to drink between meals without the express permission of the Superior. Not that this permission was lightly given; Prioress Amelia advised her sisters to make the sacrifice cheerfully, in memory of the burning thirst our Savior had endured for us on the Cross. To encourage them, she suggested that they confide the water they would have drunk to their guardian angels, that their protector might preserve it to temper the heat of purgatory.

One day a sister named Cecilia was very thirsty and asked for water. When the Prioress did not give permission, but instead encouraged her daughter as mentioned before, the young nun went away grieved but she obeyed her superior.

A few weeks later Sister Cecilia died, and after three days she appeared to Mother Amelia, shining gloriously. “O Mother,” she said. “How grateful I am to you! I was condemned to a long purgatory for having had too great affection for my family, and behold, after two days, I saw my guardian angel enter my prison, holding in his hand the glass of water which you caused me to offer as a sacrifice to my Divine Spouse. He poured that water upon the flames which devoured me, they were extinguished immediately, and I am delivered. I take my flight to heaven, where my gratitude will never forget you.”

* * * *

So if you find yourself fearing purgatory, dear sisters, take heart: Even the smallest act of obedience, the smallest sacrifice or mortification, is precious in the eyes of Jesus.

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Purgatory 101: Part 2

purgatory2In part one of this series, we talked about what purgatory is and why it’s logical (and biblical) that we need to be purified after death and atone for the earthly effects of our sins. In this article, we’ll learn about the experience of purgatory, which has been revealed to a few saints throughout the centuries for our spiritual benefit.

Early in my research on purgatory, I thought I was in pretty good shape. I thought, “Well, I haven’t murdered anyone or robbed any banks, so bring on the atonement!” Then I read about the saints’ visions of purgatory. And quickly realized how ignorant I was of the true horror of sin.

Yes, purgatory is painful—excruciatingly painful, by the saints’ accounts. Because in purgatory, we’ll experience two kinds of suffering: the pain of loss and the pain of sense.

The pain of loss consists in being deprived for a time of God himself. Even now, being separated from our loved ones is painful; just ask anyone who has lost a spouse, child, or parent. If earthly separation is so painful, then, we can’t imagine the torment we’ll experience in purgatory when we become fully aware of how much we love God—and know that we’re still separated from him by our own imperfections and debts.

Sensory pain in purgatory, while not formally defined by our faith, is nonetheless affirmed by Church doctors to be of the most intense kind, often related to fire. Just as the impurities of metal are burned away to reveal the pure element, our imperfections also will be burned away and our sins be expiated until we are entirely pure of heart and capable of truly experiencing God in his unveiled holiness.

We see this concept described by St. Paul in Scripture:

Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3)

 Notice that St. Paul says that even souls whose “work” is weaker will still be saved, but he will be saved through “fire.” This is the fire of purgatory.

But what is purgatory really like? Saint Bede (d. 735) relates a story in his “Ecclesiastical History of the English People” about purgatory. He tells of a good Christian Englishman named Dritheim Cuningham, who died one night. The next morning, however, Cuningham sat up again and rather startled those gathered around his bed weeping. He quickly got up, went to church, and spent hours in prayer. He then divided all he owned into three parts, giving two thirds to his wife and children, and the rest to the poor as alms. He retired to a monastery and lived the rest of his (second) life as a penitent.

When asked to relate what he’d seen in death, Cuningham said an angel led him to a wide valley. The left side appeared full of flames, while the right was attacked by violent hail and snow. Both sides were full of souls who tossed themselves from one side to the other; when they could no longer endure the fire, they leaped into the cold, then back into the flames and so on.

Cuningham said he thought the place might be hell, but his guide explained that:

That vale you saw so dreadful for consuming flames and cutting cold, is the place in which the souls of those are tried and punished, who, delaying to confess and amend their crimes, at length have recourse to repentance at the point of death, and so depart this life; but nevertheless because they, even at their death, confessed and repented, they shall all be received into the kingdom of heaven at the day of judgment; but many are relieved before the day of judgment, by the prayers, alms, and fasting, of the living, and more especially by masses.

Cuningham spent the rest of his life exacting severe penances to expiate his sins and to offer as suffrage for the souls in purgatory. He would wade out into the river in winter and pray until his clothes were frozen. When someone asked how he could endure such cold, Brother Dritheim would only say, “I have seen greater cold.”

Another saint who returned from death was St. Christine the Admirable (d. 1224). During her funeral Mass, the nun astonished those in attendance by sitting up in her coffin, then flying up to the rafters of the church! A remarkable priest finished the Mass, then made her come down.

St. Christine reported that she had been to hell and then to purgatory, where she’d recognized many souls. She was then offered the choice of going to heaven or returning to earth to expiate sins on behalf of the souls in purgatory. She chose the unselfish course (of course).

After her return, St. Christine renounced all comforts of life. Not content with extreme poverty, she threw herself into burning furnaces but would emerge with no sign of harm. In winter, she plunged into the frozen river and remained there praying for weeks. Sometimes she was carried downstream to a mill, and would be beaten round its wheel without breaking her bones, as it did to everyone else. She ran into thickets with long, sharp thorns until she was covered with blood, but would emerge with no wounds. St. Christine suffered these penances for 42 years and the miracles associated with her converted countless sinners.

Finally, there’s the Venerable Stanislaus Chocosca of Poland. In 1598, while praying for the souls in purgatory, he saw a soul near him enveloped in flames. She asked him to help alleviate her suffering, at which point Stanislaus asked if the fire was more painful than that of earth. “Ah,” the suffering soul replied, “all the fires of earth compared to that of purgatory are like a refreshing breeze.”

Even more shocking is that souls have reported to saints that they experienced severe expiation even for venial sins, such as saying something unkind or ignoring an inspiration of grace. Often the sins were things most of us would rarely even recognize as sinful, such as being scrupulous or having too great an attachment to one’s family over God.

Hearing that even our slightest faults must be painfully expiated in purgatory may scare the hell out of you (ha!) and God certainly does wish such examples to incite a holy fear of sin in us. But we must temper our fear with the knowledge that though we may suffer terribly to purify our souls and atone for our sins, we will do so with complete peace, because in purgatory we are free of all attachment to sin. As such, our wills will be completely in accord with God’s will. We will actually desire the pains of purgatory, because our strongest desire will be to be perfect so we can be with God for eternity.

Not only will we suffer peacefully, but we will even do so with a deep joy. St. Catherine of Genoa (d. 1510) was a German mystic. In her Treatise on Purgatory, she says once a person dies, its sins are revealed to it only once. Then the soul never thinks of them again because she is consumed only with thoughts of God. During this momentary view of self, the soul perceives the consequences of her sin, or “malignant legacies,” as St. Catherine calls them. These imperfections are the chief impediment to being with God that must be burned away in purgatory.

According to St. Catherine, when God creates our souls, he makes us with a certain beatific instinct towards himself. Original and actual sin draw our souls away from God and the further we depart from the beatific vision, the more malignant our soul becomes. Conversely, as our soul is purified and approaches the perfect state in which we were created, the more we will be drawn to God and desires only to do his will.

St. Catherine said that we will desire God so strongly in purgatory that even if we could choose between going to heaven with minor perfections or suffering the most fearful pain in purgatory, we would always choose purgatory. We would rather plunge ourselves into a thousand hells than stand before Divine Majesty with even the slightest fault, she says.

This truth is beautifully illustrated in a revelation to St. Gertrude the Great (d. 1302).  The saint saw the spirit of a religious who had died in great holiness. The soul stood before Jesus, but she kept her eyes down as if ashamed, and showed by some gesture a desire to be away from Christ.

Gertrude was astonished and asked Jesus why he didn’t receive the soul with love. Our Lord then beckoned the soul, but she moved further away with profound humility. Amazed, Gertrude asked the religious why she avoided Jesus. The soul said she stayed away because she was not yet perfectly cleansed of the stains of her sins. “Even if He were to grant me in this state a free entrance into Heaven, I would not accept it; for all resplendent as I look to your eyes, I know that I am not yet a fit spouse for my Lord.”

Once in purgatory, we will see it for what it is: a final, merciful opportunity to become perfect so we can be in full union with our perfect God. And because we will truly desire God above all, we will be supremely grateful for our suffering and experience a profound joy even in the midst of our pain.

Next time: How we can avoid purgatory and help the suffering souls in purgatory, too.

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Purgatory 101: Part 1

This is the first in a three-part series on purgatory. This article discusses the purpose of purgatory and addresses some common objections to it. Next time, we’ll learn about the experience of purgatory through the visions of the saints. Our last article will include ways to help the suffering souls in purgatory, as well as how to minimize our own need for this after-death purification. 

purgatory_carracciWhenever I talk about purgatory around Catholics, I find people hold some very strange ideas about it. Most (erroneously) think it’s a second chance for hardened sinners. Others that it’s a sort of limbo, in which souls not “good enough” for heaven but not deserving of hell hang out until Christ gets around to figuring out what to do with them at the end of time. More than one person has told me it’s one of those “archaic” ideas the Church got rid of during Vatican II, along with veils and sexual ethics.

But the doctrine of purgatory, or the final purification, has been the faith of God’s people since before Christ. The Jews believed in purification after death long before Jesus, as evidenced by the Old Testament (2 Macc. 12:41-45) and other early Jewish works. The writings of Church fathers, as well as Scripture (1 Corinthians 3:11-15; Matthew 5:25-26, 12:31-32), also show that the earliest Christians believed in purgatory, too. And contrary to popular belief, the Church still teaches as true that we will be purified after death.

So we believe in it, but what exactly is purgatory? First, let’s confirm what it isn’t–purgatory is NOT a second chance for unrepentant sinners. It’s not really a place at all, but a process—the process by which we who die in friendship with God are purified of all our imperfections (CCC 1030-1031). It’s the process, too, by which we make amends for our sins, even our forgiven sins, that aren’t adequately expiated during our lifetime (CCC 1475).

That we need to be purified after death isn’t really so difficult to understand. Few people die completely and absolutely perfect when they leave this world. Most die still hanging onto prejudices, pride, and a regrettable amount of self love. God gives us many opportunities in this life to learn to love selflessly, to embrace humility over pride, to put the needs of others above our own as Christ always did, but we don’t always avail ourselves of those spiritual opportunities.

So we die, and we still are not perfect, and the fact is that until you are perfect, you are not capable of experiencing the full glory of our all-holy God. The overwhelming holiness of God is something I think escapes most modern-day believers, but it consumed the thoughts of ancient Jews, who believed God’s holiness was so overwhelming that no living (and thus, sinful) person could be exposed to it without dying. In Isaiah 6, the prophet is only able to stand before God after he is purified of his sin by an angel. “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord,” we’re told in Hebrews 12:14 and numerous other places in Scripture.

God desires to actually purify us of all sin, to make us perfectly loving people. That process of becoming purified, of becoming holier and thus, closer to God, is called sanctification in this life and it’s the whole point of being Catholic. So we die as God’s friend, yet we’re still not perfect. And in his mercy, God gives us one last opportunity to prepare ourselves for heaven. As C.S. Lewis, in his Letters to Malcolm, put it,

“Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy.’?

Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleansed first.’

‘It may hurt, you know’—

“Even so, sir.’”

Purgatory simply finishes the process of sanctification we begin here on earth. As another Catholic sista put it so beautifully in her own article on purgatory: “I would indeed be prideful to think I can just march into heaven immediately upon death and expect to be seated at the wedding feast of the Lamb without so much as washing my hands.”

But getting “cleaned up” spiritually isn’t the only thing purgatory accomplishes; we also expiate our sins. Expiation is just a fancy word that means we make amends for our offenses…we fulfill justice. Why is this necessary? As the Catechism explains, sin has a double effect. First, it offends God and interferes in our relationship with him. If the sin is serious enough, it completely severs our relationship with him and casts out divine life from our soul. That’s why we call such sins mortal sins, because they bring death to the soul.

But lesser sins, or venial sins, still offend God and harm our relationship with Him. Often, those sins also harm others, too, and even if God forgives us the guilt of our sin, there are still consequences not wiped away by absolution. And we must make amends for those consequences.

Most people (even Catholics) tend to balk at the idea that God requires us to atone even for forgiven sins. This undercuts Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross, some say. God is too merciful to require us to atone for sins after death, others say. But neither is true.

Certainly when it comes to the eternal effects of our sins, only Christ can make amends or reparation, as I explain in my article, Why the Cross. Only Jesus was able to make infinite amends for our sins that offend an infinite God. As Scott Hahn said, “Christ paid a debt he didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.”

But that Christ paid the eternal penalty for our sins doesn’t mean we can’t make amends or reparation for the temporal (read: temporary, earthly) effects of our sins. If you steal a car, you can return it. If you damage someone’s reputation, you can publicly correct the slander. You destroy property, you can repay the owner. In most cases, you can make at least partial amends (or “expiation”) for what you’ve done.

Even non-Catholic Christians realize that, while Jesus paid the price for our sins before God, he did not relieve our obligation to make amends. They acknowledge that if you steal a car, you have to give it back; repenting doesn’t mean you get to keep the car! Expiation despite forgiveness is why Jesus commended Zacchaeus for paying back the money he stole, though his theft was forgiven (Luke 19:1–10).

What of the accusation that expiation goes against God’s loving and merciful nature? I appeal to you parents for this one. Imagine that your son, after being told not to play baseball in the house, does so anyway and breaks a window. He comes to you contrite and seeks forgiveness. As his merciful and loving parent, you forgive him and your relationship is restored. But wouldn’t you also still require him to pay for the broken window? Maybe he’ll have to mow lawns for a few Saturdays or clean out the garage or sacrifice his allowance to repair the glass. If you want to change your child’s heart…to teach him obedience, respect for your authority, and the value of things, then the loving thing to do is to make him pay for the window.

God, who revealed himself to us as our Father, is the perfect parent and we are his imperfect children. If good earthly parents expect their kids to make amends for their mistakes—for the good of the child’s soul—why is it “unloving” and “unmerciful” of our heavenly Father to have that same expectation of us? Expiation of sin is, in fact, a natural and logical part of our loving relationship with God the Father.

Next time: What can we learn from the saints who have seen purgatory by a special vision of God? 

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We Need Not Fear the Fire of Purgatory

mudroom3There are multiple instances, images, and interpretations of fire in the Bible. In the Old Testament we read of judgment (Sodom, Genesis 19:24) to acceptance (Elijah’s sacrifice, I Kings 18:38) to instruction (Moses and the burning bush, Exodus 3:4) to encouragement (Jesus in the fiery furnace with the three Hebrews, Daniel 3:92). And in the New Testament we read of refinement (in suffering, I Peter 1:7) to consumption (our acceptable sacrifice, Hebrews 12:28-9) to empowerment (Pentecost, Acts 2:3-4) to eternal suffering (Hell, Mark 9:43).

The Catholic doctrine of purgatory, final purification of the elect, embodies all these fiery images (except Hell, from which we are saved, Halleluia!). While in the state of purgation,

Our works are judged by fire,
Our sacrifices are accepted by fire,
Our knowledge gains God’s instruction by fire, and
Jesus encourages us with His loving eyes that burn like fire.

There’s suffering involved as we look at Our Lord and are purified of final chaff (I Corinthians 3:11-15) but He wipes all tears from our eyes and brings us to the Father’s House. We need not fear the fire of purgatory, for it is a good thing “to die in God’s grace and friendship (CCC1030).”

When my husband and I were studying Catholicism and checked the catechism regarding purgatory, we were surprised to see just three paragraphs (1030-1032). It didn’t take us very long to look up the footnoted Scriptures and documents. There are excellent explanations of the Biblical proof for final purgation here and here. My husband recently illustrated it like this to our children:

mudroom1“It’s like an arctic entry where we shed our wet or muddy or snowy or poopy (We have a hobby farm) garments before entering Mom’s clean house (He’s really nice.). You’re supposed to be there; it’s your house and family; but nothing unclean shall enter therein (He often slips into KJV-talk.).”

So even if the fire hurts, we can be assured that it is for our good and for the good of all His holy Church. May we recognize God’s voice in the burning bush, His refining in our suffering fires, and His love in His flaming eyes. May we embrace the fire of the Holy Spirit and go forth in confidence, proclaiming the mighty things He has done and praying for those most in need of His mercy. May we someday fall down before His glowing throne to chant, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty; heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Hosanna in the highest!”

Saint Joseph, patron of a holy death, pray for us.
Mary, mother of our Lord, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.
Jesus, defeater of death and lover of souls, stay close to us like the Hebrews in the fiery furnace, and lead us Home.