Since it’s one of the most common obstacles to people becoming Catholic, this week we asked our members and readers who are converts to Catholicism or on the journey to share some of the best ways they’ve heard Purgatory explained. We got quite a few creative and interesting responses! Here’s what some of you had to say:
“Someone once said to me that when you die you come face to face with Jesus. At that moment you see the intense love that He has for you. When you experience that intense love, you are overwhelmed by thinking about all the ways that you failed Him. You think about all of the times that you had failed to love, like He loved you. Thinking of these things causes you pain because of what you had done and had failed to do. All you want is to make things right. You keep going over these hurts until you finally are freed from them by accepting God’s mercy. That is purgatory.”
Deacon Marty, via the CHNetwork Blog
“A friend of mine explained it this way… The people in purgatory want to be there. It’s like if you imagine someone you really admire came to your front door early in the morning and you answered the door in your pajamas with your hair disheveled, not having brushed your teeth yet etc. You would ask the person to wait a minute while you got yourself cleaned up, then you would go to them when you were ready. Purgatory is where we will finish getting ourselves ready to meet Jesus if we don’t finish in this life.”
Jessa, via the CHNetwork Blog
“Since we fall short, I think of Purgatory as tailor-made to each individual, like people getting their G.E.D. if they never graduated… a character perfecting program, which may include instruction, some type of works, and tools I have no concept of as a human being. So, do I think it’s okay to be slack now and make it up later? No. Why would I want to waste one moment away from the company of the Lord and all the saints?”
Demathis, CHNetwork Community Forum
“Being in Purgatory is like being the crying toddler who knows he’s been naughty so he must be in trouble. He keeps looking down because he’s ashamed to look up. He’s afraid that his Father will be really mad and punish him as much as he deserves. But God is the loving Father standing by with his arms outstretched saying, “Look up, my son.” The Father is waiting to embrace him but the child remains suffering. The Father sees the suffering heart of his child and counts it as being sufficient punishment for whatever he has done. The child wants to look up, but can’t yet bring himself to do so. But the only way out of purgatory, is for the child to end his own suffering by fully accepting the love of his Father without holding any of his own love for anything else back (e.g. our idolatrous love of sin).”
Blind Didymus, CHNetwork Community Forums
“One of the clearest explanations for me went something like this: if I went to heaven right now, would I really have yet developed a proper “taste” for it? Or do I, even though saved, still carry some baggage, some attachment to sin, some self-centeredness that would dim the light of heaven, at least for me, if not for others? Maybe it’ll be gradual or maybe it’ll be instantaneous, but there must be some kind of process to purge all that junk away before I’d be fit to really appreciate the joy of heaven.”
Greg, via Facebook
“For me, the best thing I’ve ever heard is what Pope Benedict said in Spe Salvi 47. It’s not about time, because Purgatory is outside of the realm of creation, which means it’s outside of time – rather it’s about purification, like the purification bath that one needed in Judaism to be clean to approach the presence of God in the temple. This is what helped me get past the one thing that always hung me up about Purgatory as a Protestant – the idea of counting days and years. That always seemed kind of petty for God, and in fact I think the idea of counting days and years is based more on a medieval credit model than on Scripture or the Church fathers.”
Dr Jim Papandrea, author of “Handed Down: The Catholic Faith of the Early Christians”
As you can see, a stumbling block like the Church’s teaching on Purgatory becomes much more surmountable when it’s explained by someone who’s had to come to grips with it themselves, as so many of our members have.
Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about Purgatory:
“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” 1030-1031
Essentially, Purgatory is a hopeful place- all who are there are on the path to Heaven. As St Catherine of Siena ponders, “I do not think that apart from the felicity of Heaven, there can be a joy comparable to that experienced by the souls in Purgatory. An incessant communication from God renders their joy more vivid from day to day: and this communication becomes more and more intimate, to the extent that it consumes the obstacles still existing in the soul…”
Is there a way that you’ve heard Purgatory explained, either as a child growing up in the Catholic Church, or as an adult exploring the teachings of Catholicism, where you thought to yourself, “Aha! Now that makes sense…”? If so, please share in the comments below, and be sure to check out other great discussion items like this in our CHNetwork Community Forum.