There 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:
“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.
5 Replies to “We Need Not Fear the Fire of Purgatory”
I like that Purgatory has been brought up. Thank you for writing about it. While there is nothing in this article with which I disagree per se, I think it bears mentioning that in a way we SHOULD fear purgatory, at least in that we are taught the fires of purgatory are the same as the fires of hell, only temporary; AND because we should have our sights set on heaven, and only see purgatory as a life vest, of sorts – there in case of emergency. Purgatory is going to hurt a lot more than anything we can imagine here on earth, but because it isn’t an eternal suffering it seems to have gotten a reputation for not being all that bad. I don’t remember where it is mentioned (early church fathers?) that the fires of purgatory are the same as the fires of hell – fires that burn the soul, though obviously in hell the burning is probably more keen and very permanent. But worse than that is the eternal separation from God. The Church teaches that this is the greatest suffering of those in hell. In purgatory the souls have the hope of seeing God at some point, though their temporary separation from God is almost certainly also their greatest suffering. So I guess the title of this post is what kind of makes me raise an eyebrow. I can’t really say it’s incorrect, but I don’t quite feel easy about putting it that way. But thank you, again, for bringing up this almost taboo topic. Seems like no one wants to talk about purgatory these days. Even among Catholics who still believe in it.
I’m glad you responded. There have been all sorts of writings over the years all over the place theologically that are just smart people’s ideas (like limbo) so I stick with the Catechism, which as I wrote, is quite spare in Her teachings about it.
Thanks for sharing this interesting article.
I liked reading about this, too. The promise of being where we belong, and trusting the process to get us there.
All of us have to face the fire of purification. It is one of the steps to Unity with God. We can do it here with the fire of the Holy Spirit by suffering with Jesus in our daily lives by offering our small pains and problems in love and patience. Or we can grip and gripe and act like brats and have a time out in the afterlife. Having a glimpse of God and being made to wait for the complete joy of the Godhead is enough to make us get our priorities straight! Then add the fiery torment of regret for all of our sins and the cleansing Presence of God and voila- you have the purification of Purgatory. How wonderful is the Mercy of God and How awesome is His Justice.
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