Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Yes, Virginia! There IS a Purgatory! Rejoice!

My dear Virginia,

[Not her real name…her real name is Bessie. But gee, others have started essays like this and I couldn't resist.]

First, know that God loves you very much. Second? So do I!

It has troubled me for the past few days that you questioned the existence of that mysterious place Catholics call "Purgatory." You yourself are a Catholic, and for this reason, and because I hold you so dearly, I feel called to assuage your doubts. Too, the holy souls in Purgatory are a priority of mine in my prayer intentions, and so I beg you to bear with me here.

I told you the other day about the passage in 2 Maccabees, Chapter 12, where Judas (not that one, a different one) found amulets—good luck charms, basically, and strictly forbidden then as now—and did what he could to make an "expiatory sacrifice." In other words, he prayed for them…even though they were dead.

"In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection in mind; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to  rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin."—2 Maccabees 12:43-46.

Okay, so let's presume with good ol' Martin Luther (who was wrong, but pray for his soul, anyway, okay?) that Maccabees isn't a book inspired by the Holy Spirit. (Even though it is.)

Let's cut to the chase: what does JESUS have to say?

Plenty. But first? Let's talk about Heaven and Hell…safe subjects, right?

If you're in Heaven, like Our Lady, and all the saints are, you don't need any purification. You're in solid.

If you're in Hell, yuck. You're screwed. Eternally. Nobody can help you. Nobody in Heaven wants to help you. (I keep saying "you" but don't take it personally…I could easily say "I.")

Anyway, the point is, Heaven and Hell are absolutes. There's no changing them. You (or I) can't, say, go on a vacation and, if we're in Heaven, slum it for awhile in Hell, or, if we're in Hell, go on a vacation to Heaven. Can't be done. Got that? Good.

"Come to terms with your opponent or you will be handed over to the judge and thrown into prison. You will not get out until you have paid the last penny." (Matthew 5:26, 18:34; Luke 12:58-59).

Get out? Get out of where? Can't be Hell. You can't get out of Hell…no "get outta Hell free card" here. Must be some other place.

"And anyone who says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but no one who speaks against the Holy Spirit will be forgiven either in this world or in  the next." Matthew 12:32

Huh? Wait, you mean some people will be forgiven in the next world? Where's that? Can't be Heaven…forgiveness isn't necessary. Can't be Hell…remember, we're screwed there. Ergo? Purgatory! (And we'll leave that "speaks [or sins] against the Holy Spirit" thing alone for now, okay? Good.*)

"That servant who knew his master's will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master's will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly." Luke 12:47-48.

Where? In Heaven? No beatings in Heaven! Hell? Nah…the Master (that would be Jesus) doesn't hang out there. Here we have a wonderful parable that explains, not just Purgatory in general, but the relatively severe purifications ("beatings," heavy, light) one will undergo.

Now you, my friend, brought up the parable of The Rich Man and That Guy Lazarus. Okay. So what mortal sin did Richie commit? Actually, none, in my view. I mean, he ignored the poor. We all do that. Yes, he feasted "sumptuously." A mortal sin? I sure hope not…not after the meal I had the other day! But he did ignore Lazarus. And that was a sin. So, when Richie died, he ended up…where? In the "bosom of Abraham?" Nope. In. Some. Other. Place. Our current translation calls it "the Netherworld" but is that Hell? I don't think so, and here's why.

Richie calls Abraham "Father Abraham." Abraham calls him "my son" (or "my child.") Clearly there's love going on here. Richie asks that Lazarus be sent to relieve him somewhat. Request denied, but note how lovingly it is denied? Then—gasp!—Richie asks that Lazarus be sent to his brothers, to warn them. Love? In Hell? No bleeping way! (And remember, Bessie, this is a parable…it didn't really happen but is a way Jesus uses to teach us stuff. I'm not saying Purgatory is a pleasant place—far from it! But I do say that there's hope for those who are there…Luke 16:19-31)

The Good Thief (Luke 23:39-43)

What??? Is this the ace in the hole against Purgatory? Give me a bleeping break!

To recap, one guy, crucified with Jesus, "reviled" Him saying: "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" The other one (not incidentally, now known as Saint Dismas by the Catholic Church) replied: "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." And then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He [Jesus] replied: "Amen I say to you today you will be with me in Paradise."

The easy, almost embarrassingly easy answer to this is to focus on the word "today." Did Jesus mean "today, this day, within this day, you'll be with me in Paradise" (and, Bessie? Paradise = Heaven.) Or did He say, "today I'm telling you, at some point you'll be with me in Paradise"? It all depends, stupidly yet incredibly enough, as to where you put the comma. This stupid thesis is all about a comma!

But forget all that…or at least, put it aside for a second.

Jesus, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, was, is, and always shall be, GOD! God INVENTED time! If God said Dismas would be with Him in Heaven—whether Dismas had to wait for purification or whether Dismas had a non-stop ticket—that was up to GOD to decide. Not a bunch of "theologians" trying their darndest to prove a point. Sheesh, I still can't believe this is the Big Deal Against Purgatory. Laughable. (Except it's not. Pray for those who promulgated this…idea.)

And to quote Rocket J. Squirrel: "And now here's something you'll really like!"

Bessie, C.S. Lewis, while here on earth (please pray for his soul) wrote terrific stuff. The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters…some favorites. But he also wrote (which was published posthumously in 1964) a book called Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer which is a series of letters to his make-believe friend, "Malcolm," about prayer as an intimate talk between us and God.

In one letter, he wrote: (and I thank my good friend Melanie Bettinelli for reminding me of this):

"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 with joy!'?

"Should we not reply, 

"`With submission, sir, and if there is not objection, I'd rather be cleaned first.'

"`It may hurt, you know.'

"`Even so, sir.'"

Sweet Bessie! Do you see now that Purgatory is a gift from our loving God? A chance to spiff up, to clean up, to rid ourselves of that awful smell even venial sin slathers on us…to enter, cleaner than a whistle, into the Heavenly Banquet that awaits us!

I don't want to feel the need to do my boot camp in Purgatory when I die, nor do I wish you to feel so.

But Bessie? I'm really grateful for the opportunity to do so if it is needed.

May God continue to bless you,


- - - -

See especially: The Catechism of the Catholic Church: Section Two, Article 12: "I believe in life everlasting." In brief: 1051–1058

*Okay, okay. "Anyone who deliberately refuses to accept His [God's] mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit…such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss." (John Paul II) In other words, don't despair, don't presume on God's mercy (actually this is relevant to this post!), don't attack the Truth, don't envy the spiritual good of another, to persist (be obstinate) in sin, and don't, for Heaven's sake, fail to be contrite!