From the Editor’s Desk (Thursday, 05-07-2015, Gaudium Press) A state of purification, which the Church has called “Purgatory”, has always been a matter of interest for those who consider eternal life and very much related to the four last things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. But what is Purgatory? a place of purification for those who die in friendship with God but who are still not ready to go to Heaven. They are in need of a final purification. Jimmy Akin has gathered seven quotes of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that we offer to our readers.
1 Jewish Roots
“This early Jewish idea of an intermediate state [between our death and resurrection] includes the view that these souls are not simply in a sort of temporary custody but, as the parable of the rich man illustrates, are already being punished or are experiencing a provisional form of bliss. There is also the idea that this state can involve purification and healing which mature the soul for communion with God. The early Church took up these concepts, and in the western church they gradually developed into the doctrine of purgatory.”
2 Who Needs Purifying
“With death, our life-choice becomes definitive–our life stands before the Judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms.” While some may be totally closed in on themselves in selfishness and evil and while others may be totally open to God, “for the great majority of people–we may suppose– there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil–much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains, and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul.”
3 Scriptural Basis
St. Paul “begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death. “Then Paul continues: ‘Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw–each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire’ (1 Cor. 3:12-15).
“In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through ‘fire’ so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast.”
4 What Purgatory’s Fire Might be
St. Paul uses “images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images–simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it.”
“Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation.”
5 Will it Hurt?
“His gaze, the touch of his heart, heals us through an undeniably painful transformation ‘as through fire.’ But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the interrelation between justice and grace also becomes clear: The way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us forever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth, and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgment we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy.”
6 Helping Those Being Purified
“Early Jewish thought includes the idea that one can help the deceased in their intermediate state through prayer (see, for example, 2 Macc. 12:38-45; first century B.C.). The equivalent practice was readily adopted by Christians and is common to the Eastern and Western Church.”
“The souls of the departed can, however, receive ‘solace and refreshment’ through the Eucharist, prayer, and almsgiving. The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death–this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude, or even a request for pardon?”
“In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other–my prayer for him–can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God’s time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain.”
7 Learning More
The above quotations are taken from Pope Benedict’s encyclical on Christian hope, Spe Salvi. There are more things he would like you to know about purgatory, though, so be sure to check out sections 45-48 of the document.
Also, if I may make my own small contribution to the discussion, I’ve written a book that deals with the subject of salvation more broadly and which goes into greater detail on the scriptural underpinnings of the Church’s teaching on purgatory, indulgences, etc. The book is called The Salvation Controversy, and I hope you’ll get a copy.