Friday, September 14, 2007

What is Purgatory?

Purgatory is a place of cleansing. I’ve even heard it described as a process more then an actual physical place. It says in Rev 21:27 that nothing unclean shall enter heaven. None of us can claim to be without sin. (All have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23) Even as Christians we fall sadly short of God’s mark for us. We all have told little fibs, felt envy at a friend’s success, listened to gossip or done any number of things that are displeasing to God. Yes, our transgressions are forgiven but we still need to rid ourselves of the residue that our past acts implants on our souls.

I like analogies so stick with me. Imagine that a poor man is suddenly invited to dine with the king. Excited he leaves home but can not afford any better means of traveling then walking. As he approaches the palace, the poor man is terrified that he will be turned back. Yet the steward assures him that the king is anxious to meet him, but first the traveler must wash and clothe himself in garments that the King (Jesus) has chosen. Should the poor man get angry that the King won’t see him just as he is? Of course not. Does it make the invitation (salvation) any less valid that he is asked to undergo a cleansing (Purgatory) before he enters the banquet hall (Heaven)? I don’t think so and to be honest I don’t want to meet my King without being as spiritually clean as I can be.

Purgatory is not a second chance for Catholics to work their way into heaven-as a Protestant informed me. Those who are in Purgatory are already guaranteed heaven. They are just riding themselves of all the emotional baggage that would prevent them from enjoying the bliss of paradise.

It might come as some surprise to my non-Catholic friends but they too believe in Purgatory, even though they don’t use the term. When I was Baptist, I used to attend regular Adult Sunday School Class. One day, the teacher spoke about different rewards in heaven. A student asked how it was possible that we humans not feel envy that others might be given a higher place. The teacher promised that, upon our death, our souls would be transformed and we would no longer be able to feel envy for one another or even sadness for our loved ones who remained on earth. Now that I am Catholic I realize that he had just, unknowingly, explained purgatory!

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