Purgatory: Holy Fire
Scott Hahn discusses the Catholic doctrine of purgatory and how it is necessary in understanding the application of Christ’s redemptive work in salvation. Using Scripture, Scott explains the Hebrew concept of sheol or the netherworld. He also cites passages such as Sirach 7:33, “Withhold not your kindness, O Lord, from the dead,” to show how the ancient Hebrew had an intimation that the mercy of God extended even to the dead.
This, our second installment in the series of Answering Common Objections, is going to focus upon the doctrine of purgatory. We’re going to try to understand purgatory as Holy Fire, just like we tried to understand the Pope in terms of him being our Holy Father, the father figure who symbolizes the unity of the family of God here on earth under the ultimate fatherhood of Almighty God.
Before I begin with the technical definitions and then the Biblical-historical defense and evidences and so on, I would like to just briefly just share my own personal experience. The Pope was a doctrine that was very difficult for me and so was Mary. Both of those were dealt with in terms of historical evidence and Biblical evidence and basically, I was done. Purgatory was different. I came to a conclusion that sufficient evidence exists for an intermediate state between heaven and hell on the basis of the Bible and ancient Jewish practices of praying for the dead and evidences in the early Christian Church that I will review this morning. But there was still a very big emotional block. Very big. It’s hard to describe. I’ve tried and I’ve really failed every time to put it into words because — well, for two reasons.
On the one hand, as an Evangelical Protestant, I had firm convictions about the finished work of Jesus Christ; that He accomplished our redemption on the cross. Those convictions I still hold fast to. Every Christian, every Catholic must. The work of our redemption is accomplished. It is finished. But the application of that redemptive work of Christ by the Holy Spirit is another matter, one that I did not really come to grips with because it involves suffering which nobody wants to come to grips with — either suffering in this life or suffering afterwards to expiate or to repay or to provide restitution for the effects of sin.
But that distinction is going to be crucial from the beginning of our time today until the end — that Christ has accomplished our redemption. It’s over and done with. He has finished it. But then He sends the Holy Spirit to apply it, and the application of redemption is just as essential. We don’t have a binary deity, the Father and the Son We have a trinitery deity, a family — a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I come to baptize with fire and spirit.” And so, when the Spirit comes at Pentecost, tongues of fire appear, and whenever the Holy Spirit appears, there is Holy Fire. When we are taken up into the Spirit, there we are consumed with a passionate, burning love, the furnace of Christ’s heart, the reality of the Holy Spirit, the fiery love of God.
That is not because Christ’s work is not enough. It’s rather the application of the work of Jesus Christ. Now that block, that obstacle was one of the biggest. It was the biggest for me as far as the doctrine of purgatory was concerned, and I would suggest that for many non-Protestants, for many Catholics, it’s an obstacle, too, because I find in discussions that many Catholics as well as Protestants share this misunderstanding.
So, I would say, the second problem that I had to deal with, and we are also going to deal with today, is misconceptions of purgatory. I’ve come across people in the Church who are firmly convinced that purgatory gives people a second chance. It doesn’t! Now, you may think, that’s just a non-Catholic misconception, but no, it’s a common Catholic misconception — that if you died and you were alienated from God, purgatory is your second chance. That’s not the case. That totally distorts the Church’s teaching.
Those people who in God’s grace and mercy are allowed to enter into purgatory die in a state of grace, not just with supernatural faith and hope but with supernatural charity that was alive in their hearts and lives. That is the prerequisite for entering purgatory. You cannot die in the state of mortal sin; you cannot die estranged from God, in a way hostile to God, having committed yourself to valuing things of the world more than the creator of the world. You cannot do those things and enter purgatory, much less heaven. Purgatory is not a second chance. It’s only for those whom God has from all eternity destined for heaven, and it’s only for those who die in a state of grace.
Furthermore, we’ve got to clarify the fact that it is not to make up for Christ’s unfinished work. I’ve already said that, but that, too, is a common misconception that continually needs clarification. There’s nothing inadequate about the work of Christ. It’s finished, but it needs to be applied.
Likewise, some historians suggest that purgatory is a Medieval invention, because the word purgatorio is not common. It’s not frequently found in the early Church’s writings. In fact, it’s very infrequent and rare. Now, you’ll see that the word is rare, but the teaching is not just common, but practically everywhere, going back to the earliest times.
Then, finally, some real cynics and some real anti-Catholics would suggest that purgatory is just simply and essentially a money-making scheme to sell indulgences and to make money for the stipends that the priest receives at Mass. Now, seeing that the stipends vary, but they’re around five dollars per Mass, no one is going to be getting rich saying Mass. And as far as indulgences are concerned, we’re going to have to deal with that at a later time, but that just reflects a total misunderstanding of what the Church, in fact, teaches about indulgences.
These are common misconceptions that we want to put aside. We want to understand what the Church teaches. We want to understand why the Church teaches it, and we want to go into the Bible and into Church history to confirm the teaching. But first of all, a definition. I take this now from the New Catholic Encyclopedia: “Purgatory is the state, place or condition in the next world which will continue until the Last Judgment, where the souls of those who die in a state of grace, but not yet free from all imperfection, make expiation, that is, restitution for unforgiven venial sins and mortal sins that have already been forgiven, and by doing so, are purified before they enter heaven.”
Now, before I proceed, I’m going to have to deal with an elementary objection that’s going to come up over and over again, and that is, what is this idea of mortal versus venial sin? I mean what kind of cost accounting is this? Now, not just anti-Catholics but non- Catholics have a question about this, and I’m going to make that distinction clear right now. There are millions of non-Catholics with whom we share many things in common, but there is something else out there and that is the anti-Catholic. The anti-Catholic might be Protestant, might be Orthodox, might be atheist, might be agnostic, might be just nothing. But they are people with a passionate desire to “do-in” the Catholic Church and the faith of Catholics. That is something altogether distinct from just being non-Catholic. We should hold hatred for neither. We should love them both, but we should keep clearly in mind that when you meet a non-Catholic, chances are, they love the Lord and they try to follow the Bible the best they can.
We need to give them the benefit of the doubt. We need to extend charity to them and, even if you discover that they have got a deep anti-Catholic streak that’s almost venomous, we continue to do the same thing. But keep clear in your mind that there are non-Catholics, and then there are anti-Catholics. Both groups have questions about this distinction. I did, too. Then, all of a sudden, I came across, read and then pondered a passage in 1st John, chapter 5. It says this, “If anyone sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal. I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.”
Now, John is talking about two kinds of sin. One is mortal, that is deadly. You cannot pray for somebody in mortal sin and sacrifice and have that prayer, intrinsically, be effective; whereas if somebody is in venial sin, you can actually, because you share a spiritual solidarity, you can actually sacrifice and pray on behalf of that person and in a sense restore them and strengthen them. Some sin kills. Other sin merely wounds. All sin is despicable. You might say, “Well, if it’s only venial, why not?” That’s not what the Church teaches or allows or implies. Somebody could say, “Well, look, if what I do doesn’t kill me, then, why don’t I go ahead and do it?”
You wouldn’t do that in natural life with your physical body. You wouldn’t say, “Well, I’m only going to be scarred for life. I’m only going to be maimed. I’m only going to be paralyzed; therefore, I can just go ahead and do these things. You know, third degree burns, but I can still breathe and metabolize.” No, we treat our bodies with respect. We’ve got to learn to treat our souls the same way. Just because a venal sin does not kill, it still scars and wounds and weakens and inclines us to mortal sin. All sin is despicable to God and to those who are His children.
But there is a distinction which John assumes. He doesn’t feel any need to argue it, but he takes it for granted. And I’ve got to tell you, when I first pondered this passage, it startled me because the conclusions are striking. Let’s keep that in mind because the definition assumes that prior understanding of the distinction between mortal and venial sins.
Now, let’s ask ourselves, “What is the evidence for this?” I want to share with you my own intellectual, spiritual pilgrimage on this particular point because, as I said, I didn’t just have intellectual problems, I had emotional problems, psychological difficulties with this teaching. One thing I did, though, was to ask the Lord to open my mind. And I continued to pray that as I went through the evidence for and against this idea of purgatory.
Conclusions of Old Testament Non-Catholic Scholars and Hahn About Belief in sheol
I have here a note card that goes back several years, long before I became a Catholic. I went through much of scripture, as much of it as possible pertaining to the subject, and then I poured through the writings of Protestants and Catholics to see what they could do to shed light on scripture. I have several articles summarized on this little note card. I can barely read it and I’m just four inches away from it, but I want to share with you some of the conclusions of these scholars who are not Catholic but open-minded scholars who are studying the Word came to in the Old Testament.
This focuses upon the belief in sheol. I’m going to suggest that what the Latin word, “purgatorio” signifies, that is the place where we are purged of disordered self-love, the Hebrew word, “sheol” can also signify or denote. Just like the Greek word “hades” can denote it. Three words, perhaps with the same reality, with proper distinctions made, if we had the time and the energy and the know-how and so on. But I would suggest that “hades,” the Greek word, is not normally associated with just simply “hell fire.” “Gehenna” is the word that Jesus uses for hell fire, “where the worm dieth not” and there’s this unquenchable fire. That’s actually borrowed from the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem, “ge-hin-nom,” the valley of hin-nom, which was where King Manasus sacrificed thousands of Israelite children to Molek, a demon god. After that nobody wanted to live in such defiled land, so it became the garbage dump, with fires continually burning. Nobody wanted to get near it because of defilement. It was a haunt of demons.
That was the image that Christ used for hell, as we normally associate it, but hades is a term that admits to a kind of double usage as we will see and as scholars have seen. For instance, Ellard Bailey in a book, “Death in the Literature of the Old Testament” speaks about how throughout the Old Testament, the belief is found that the good and the evil go down to sheol, it’s the place where the righteous and the unrighteous go. In Brown, Driver and Briggs, one of the most authoritative reference works for understanding Hebrew words, you can look up sheol, and there you find that sheol is divided into two sections, one for the evil and one for the good.
You can actually find in the apocryphal work of 1st Enoch that it is divided up further into four sections: the evil section into two sections, those who are evil and those who are really evil; and also two sections for the good as well. R. L. Harris in another study speaks of sheol as the grave. He has been heavily criticized by scholars across the board for trying to reduce the word sheol down to being merely the grave. He especially ignored a major work in German that I came across by Afmar Kiel.
Now I know you’re not just going to rush out to a seminary book store and purchase all of these works and read them by tomorrow morning, but you can get the tape or you can take notes on this and perhaps get some of these sources later on. Another scholar by the name of Hiedel spoke of sheol as existing in the Old Testament for the righteous. He also did a word study of the underworld, the nether world and saw it associated with the evil.
One of the key studies I came across, however, is by a man named Alexander, an Evangelical Protestant with decidedly non-Catholic leanings entitled, “The Old Testament View of Life After Death in Familias” in 1986, I believe. He rejects a lot of views that would basically make an Old Testament look like primitive garbage. He shows that sheol throughout the Old Testament represented the abode of the dead, the underworld for both the wicked and the righteous. For the wicked it was dark and silent and terrifying and a kind of imminent or ultimate preparation for final punishment. But for the good, there was hope, not pleasure, not comfort necessarily, but hope, great hope.
Now, working through these scholars and their studies of the Old Testament doctrine of sheol, I’d also done my own study. I came to the conclusion that they were right, that the Old Testament has a firm teaching that you could find in many different strata or levels of Old Testament tradition and there you find this belief that the soul goes on living somehow in a shadowy world where the righteous and the unrighteous have a share, although it’s distinct; and it is not a pleasant place. It is not a pleasant place at all.
Biblical Evidence for Belief in sheol/Purgatory
Now, let’s just take a look at a few passages to see this. We can see for instance in 2nd Samuel 22. If you have a Bible, turn with me to the book of 2nd Samuel. In chapter 22, verse 6, we have an important passage. This, in effect, is a psalm of praise written by David talking about how he has been delivered. He describes his earthly suffering in cataclysmic and apocalyptic imagery to show how his earthly deliverances by God are signifying the ultimate deliverance that he will undergo at the grave. He says in verse 5, “For the ways of death encompassed me, the torrents of perdition assailed me, the cords of sheol entangled me, the snares of death confronted me, and in my distress I called upon the Lord. To my God I called….” And it goes on describing how in verse 20, for instance, “He brought me forth into a broad place.” It implies that sheol is a place of entanglement and perdition or at least, I should say, it’s a place where those who die go down.
We see the same teaching in Psalm 18, verse 5, which is practically the same psalm as we read in 2nd Samuel 22, so we can skip over.
Let’s take a look at Psalm 86, verse 13. We can only be selective because the limits of time but, rest assured, there are literally dozens and dozens of places where the term sheol is used. In my version, I’m using the Revised Standard Version, the term is simply left untranslated, because it’s very difficult to translate the Hebrew sheol into any English word that we usually use. So, anyway, Psalm 86, verse 13. In Psalm 86, verse 13, we see, “Great is thy steadfast love toward me. Thou hast delivered my soul from the depths of sheol. Thou hast delivered my soul from the depths of sheol.” Other passages you could look at include Psalm 116, verse 3. You can actually see the New Testament citing this passage in reference to Christ in Acts chapter 2:27-31.
You could almost summarize this perspective as you look at the Book of Sirach, chapter 7, verse 33, where we hear, “Withhold not your kindness, O Lord from the dead.” So there’s a continued perspective throughout Old Testament times that God’s kindness extends down to the realm of the dead, the abode of the dead and that there is a distinction made between the righteous and the unrighteous as they await Messiah’s coming.
Now, of course, you’ve been awaiting for the most important passage of all in the Old Testament, at least the Catholic Old Testament, 2nd Maccabees.
Let’s turn now to 2nd Maccabees, chapter 12 and look together at verses 39 through 45. This is the locus classicus. This is the place you always turn as a Catholic to show this belief. But I might suggest that you don’t have to be a Catholic to find great insight in this passage. There’s no question in the minds of non-Catholic scholars that the seven books in the Old Testament that the Catholics include but the Protestants exclude were quoted and cited or alluded to by New Testament writers. I have several non-Catholic scholars who vigorously assert and affirm that.
So, even if the Jews did not include this in their official collection or their official canon in Jesus’ day, and that’s a point to be disputed, but even if they didn’t have 2nd Maccabees in their official Bible — for instance, the Palestinian Jews may well not have, although the Diaspora Jews seem to have included it. Whether or not, it doesn’t matter. The point is 2nd Maccabees was not rejected for teaching some outlandish novelty, some weird innovation. Rather prayers by the Jews in Temple and Synagogue on behalf of the dead are traceable back to the earliest times. We can’t find the origin of it because, as far back as we go, it’s a prevalent custom that is unquestioned.
So, in 2nd Maccabees we are going to see something that is startling not from what it argues, but for what it assumes. Verse 39, “On the following day, since the task had now become urgent, Judas and his men went to gather up the bodies of the slain and bury them with their kinsmen in their ancestral tombs. But under the tunic of each of the dead, they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia which the law forbids the Jews to wear.” It’s forbidden but it would be something we would probably label venial sin. It’s bad, don’t get me wrong, it’s not something to be lightly brushed aside or anything. “So it was clear to all that this was why these men had been slain. They all, therefore, praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas warned the soldiers to keep themselves free from sin for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all the soldiers amounting to 2000 silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem, to the Temple, to provide for expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view. For if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death.”
This belief in the resurrection is found in Job and Daniel and elsewhere. “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.” It’s a holy, it’s a wholesome thought to pray for the dead. “Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.” Now, simple logic tells us that there is a third realm. If they’re in hell, no expiatory sacrifice will help. If they’re in heaven, no expiatory sacrifice is needed. They must be some place else.
Now, what do you mean “some place else?” You’re just fabricating that for the convenience of defending the doctrine. Not so. As we unpack the doctrinal teachings and the evidence from scripture, we can see this idea clearly stated, even in the New Testament. Turn with me now to 1st Peter, chapter 3, beginning in verse 17. In 1st Peter, chapter 3, verse 17, we read, “For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong. For Christ also died for sins once for all. The righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God. Being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit in which He went and preached to the spirits in prison.”
What’s he talking about? Well, almost all commentators see this as in continuity with the Hebrew idea of sheol. “But made alive in the spirit in which He went and preached to the spirits in prison who formerly did not obey when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark in which only a few, that is, eight persons were saved through water.” Now, somebody could say, “Well, these people are only being preached to, to secure their damnation and finalize it.” Well that’s certainly a gratuitous reading that’s not suggested in the text. What is suggested in the text from the previous verse, is we’re talking about Christ the righteous dying for the unrighteous that He might bring us to God.
So he goes on to talk about the unrighteous who are in prison, but who are in prison for unrighteousness that we might not consider mortal. It’s unrighteousness, but it is not the kind of sin that is full-fledged and completely rationally chosen in rebellion, full scale rebellion against God. This is something perhaps quite different. At any rate, we have something that is neither hell nor heaven which Christ entered and then exited and, as the early Church firmly believed throughout the Church, Christ descended into hades. That’s the term, we translate it hell, but we sometimes mislead people — He descended into hades and then He ascended into heaven leading captivity captive, as Ephesians 4 says.
In other words leading those who had been captive in prison for ages, the righteous of the Old Testament, in a train of glory up to heaven. There’s an apocryphal work that some tried to slip into the New Testament. It didn’t really get far but it’s called the Gospel of Nicodemus in which this teaching is just so obviously assumed, it reflects a common understanding of the early Church, even if it is not in a book that we would want to include in scripture.
So here we see in 1st Peter, chapter 3, clear teaching for this intermediate state, but even more, an intermediate place. Now, somebody could say, “Where else do you go?” Let’s take a look at the Book of Revelation, chapter 20, verses 4-6 and 11 and following. In Revelation 20, John has a vision. In verse 4 it says, “Then I saw heavenly thrones and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. Also, I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus.” Probably a reference to the prophets like John the Baptist who had been literally beheaded for his marturia, his testimony. The word is mar-tu-ria, where we get the word martyrs. “…testimony to Jesus and for the word of God and it would not worship the beast or its image and had not received its mark on the forehead with their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years in heaven on these thrones.” We’ll return to this by the way when we look into the evidence from the New Testament for the cult of the saints, why we believe that some saints are actively interceding on our behalf with heavenly authority.
We go on, verse 5, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.” They were dead but they weren’t in heaven. They didn’t come to life. “This is the first resurrection,” that is, those who die and immediately go to heaven and sit on thrones because they were martyrs. That’s the first resurrection, those who have been martyred. “Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection. Over such, the second death has no power for they shall be priests of God, and they shall reign with him a thousand years.”
St. Maxmillian Kolbe’s feast day is this day. He is one of those heavenly priests interceding for us because he was martyred on behalf of Christ’s people in the war. It goes on now. We can take a look at verse 11, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it. From his presence earth and sky fled away and no place was found for them and I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne and the books were opened. And another book was opened which was the book of life and the dead were judged by what was written in the books by what they had done and the sea gave up the dead in it. Death and hades gave up the dead in them and all were judged by what they had done. Then death and hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death and if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Two classes of righteous, those who are martyred, they just went straight to heaven and sat on thrones and reigned with Christ. But there’s a second group, isn’t there? Those that did not participate in the first resurrection of the righteous martyrs, but they did have their names written in the book of life; so when the white throne, the great white throne of judgment occurs, they are delivered from hades. They participate in what you could call the second resurrection, not the second death and afterwards death and hades are swallowed up in the lake of fire, and then you’ve got pure hell and pure heaven and no more intermediate place or state at the end of time.
Now you might say, “Well, John is not arguing these things. He’s not demonstrating the existence of this third place.” That’s right. I acknowledge that point, but he is assuming it. What’s so remarkable is that he doesn’t feel any need to argue it. He seems to think this can be assumed. They are not so righteous as to lay down their lives. They didn’t embrace the cross so fully that they died as martyrs and persevered through all the pain and suffering.
Let’s go back one second. I just remembered something. Let’s go back to 1st Peter 3 and read on something more. In 1st Peter as he goes on talking about all of this, just a couple of verses down we come to Peter 4:1. There we read this, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” God has called many of you to suffer in this town and in this life and it’s hard. I can’t even describe it. I’ll bet you it’s probably worse than I can imagine in some cases here. Why would He do it if He loves us and wants to bless us? In spite of that love? No, precisely because of that love. He loves us too much, He loves us just the way we are but He loves us far too much to let us stay that way. And how do you squeeze sin out of a sinner? — by giving him faith and hope and charity and suffering. That endurance brings hope and that hope does not disappoint us as Romans 4 says. It brings ultimately the finest fruit of charity which alone abides forever, in 1st Corinthians 13 we read about that.
It goes on, 1st Peter 4, verse 8, “Above all hold unfailing your love for one another since love covers a multitude of sins.” In other words, it’s not just Christ suffering. It’s not just Christ’s love that covers our sins. We are so truly united to Christ, His life is so truly filling us up that when we suffer, we cease from sin. It isn’t just Christ suffering. It’s Christ suffering lived out in us and through us for our sake and for those around us, but then as charity flowers and becomes complete and perfect in us, love covers a multitude of sins. Why? Because Christ’s love wasn’t enough, He didn’t suffer long enough? No, because His suffering and His redemption having been finished and accomplished by the Holy Spirit, the third forgotten Person of the Trinity, applied in us who are mystical members of His mystical body.
The essence of Christianity is Christ reproducing His life, His suffering, His death and then His resurrection in glory in us. That is the essence of Christianity. Christ is our substitute for Adam who did us in, but He is not a substitute in the sense that He was righteous so that we could be unrighteous. He suffered so that we don’t have to suffer. He took our stripes so that we only have healing and good times and easy street from here on. Sure, God does heal us sometimes, on earth, in time. But don’t ever, ever swallow the line that you’re not healed because you don’t have faith and you’re in a really bad state because you’re still suffering from this disease or this illness and so on. Don’t fall for that because sometimes God doesn’t heal somebody on earth in time because He’s got a much greater healing in mind. He’s not satisfied with just giving us back a few more years of earthly life. Sometimes He loves us so much that He wants to give us the greatest gift of all and that is eternal glory and a resurrection body, which is the final and complete and ultimate healing that we really should be craving and praying for.
Verse 12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you.” Notice what kind of ordeal? Fiery! “The Holy Spirit led the people of Israel through the wilderness as a pillar of fire by night and smoke by day.” Into what — good times, comfort, ease and pleasure? No. Forty years of wandering in the wilderness sure ain’t fun and all life is an exile, wilderness of spirit, the New Testament teaches us. We are pilgrims. We’re in exodus. We’re leaving this world, the Egypt of the New Testament. We’re going to heaven, the Promised Land, but in the meantime, we’re wandering. Led by the Holy Spirit, a pillar of fire. So He calls us to go through deserts. He calls us to encounter all kinds of trials. Why? Because He didn’t want us to have too much fun? No. Because He doesn’t want us to just settle down and pig out on earthly goods.
Earthly goods are good, but they are only hors d’oeuvres. They are only meant to whet our appetite for the heavenly banquet. If we pig out on the hors d’oeuvres, what’s going to happen? We’re going to lose any desire for heaven and the banquet of the lamb. So the Holy Spirit in love sends fire and ordeals which come upon us to prove us. To prove you as though something strange will happen to you, but rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings “…that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.”
I might say this strongly. The Catholic view of suffering is one of the most beautiful truths that the Church teaches, but perhaps one of the most weird and incomprehensible ideas to non-Catholics. It took me years to understand it and it probably will take me decades to try to emulate and live it out. It’s incredible, but I’m going to tell you, our world is in need of it! This health and wealth gospel that says, “You name it, you claim it, you can get wealthy and you’re healed,” is bogus. Preach that to the Ethiopians, “Come on, kids, you don’t have to starve. Have enough faith.” That’s perverse! We are called to share in Christ’s suffering so that we could share in His glory. Some of us take short cuts, don’t we? But God will not abandon us because He loves us immature children too much, just the way we are, but too much to let us stay that way.
He brings one fiery ordeal after another. If you are suffering a great deal. If you are going through a kind of purgatory on earth, you rejoice. Those who are fat and lazy and have it easy, they should beware. As Mother Teresa continues to say, “These are God’s tender caresses, this suffering.” The more suffering that you endure in faith and hope and charity, the more God’s love is being revealed to you. No wonder the gospel will never sell in the world. There is no way to teach this so that Madison Avenue PR men and women can just go out and make this popular without perverting it and watering it down.
This is why purgatory is so hard for us to understand. We don’t want to carry the cross. We want to make an optional clause in our contract with Christ. “If you want to be my disciple, you’ve got to carry the cross. You’ve got to die to self.”
Let’s turn to Romans 8 and see this doctrine taught further. Romans 8 is one of my favorite all-time passages and has been for years and years as a Protestant as well as a Catholic, but I must say I’ve slightly adjusted my understanding in the last few years. I always thought that Romans 8, which many considered to be — I mean Romans is in a sense the central gem in a cluster of Pauline precious stones. Romans 8 is the central facet that glistens and gleams. It’s beautiful. It’s a promise that we will persevere through the Holy Spirit.
Up until now the Holy Spirit has only been mentioned once in the first seven chapters of Romans, and in chapter 8 it’s mentioned 18 times to give us assurance that God’s Spirit, Christ’s Spirit is at work in us. Why? Well, we’re told, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” verse 1, “for the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law weakened by the flesh could not do. Sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,” get this, ” in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.”
Non-Catholics frequently fall in the trap of saying, Christ obeyed, so we don’t need to. Paul said Christ obeyed to enable us to do what previously was humanly impossible. Finally now, heart obedient to a motive of faith, hope and love is made possible by Christ’s obedience, not made unnecessary. It’s made acceptable in Christ and it’s made delightful to the Father because it’s presented in union with Christ. He goes on, “who walked not according to the flesh but according to the spirit.” Well what does that mean? It goes on to say, verse 9, “But you are not in the flesh, you are in the spirit if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Well how do you know whether or not the spirit of God dwells in you? Verse 10, “But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through the Spirit which dwells in you.”
Okay, “if” — how can we know that this is true and real for us? He says in 12, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh,” but look at this, “we are debtors,” we still have a debt to pay; not because Christ hasn’t paid it but because Christ has paid it once and for all and through the Holy Spirit in His mystical body, He applies that. “We are debtors not to the flesh, who live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die. But if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body” — if by the spirit, not by your own flesh, not by your own power. Human nature is weak and incapable of doing anything ultimately pleasing to God. We cannot earn the state of grace by our own works. It’s got to be through the power of the Holy Spirit in union with Christ. “But, if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body,” — if you mortify it, is another translation? — “you will live.”
That’s what penance is all about. We must do penance, John the Baptist said. We must do penance, Jesus Christ said. We must do penance, St. Paul and St. Peter and on and on and on; they all say it. It is not just an attitude or an emotion. It’s not just a decision or an experience. It’s not just a choice at a stadium where we go for what the choir sings. We’ve got to mortify our bodies. We’ve got to do penance every day. Well I’m preaching to myself, too, this morning. I don’t know what you’re hearing, but I know what I’m hearing. Oh I tell you, for all who are led, for all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. “For you do not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship.”
Then he goes on talking about something that is very important to what we are saying. “When we cry Abba, Father, it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ.” We will be fellow heirs of Christ. Oh, I’d just love it if Paul would stop right there, right there! Put a period and start a new chapter. He doesn’t. “Fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” All of a sudden, chills are going up and down my spine. Oh, oh, wait a second, God. I like it up until that point. “I will hold fast the courage, but suffering separates me from Christ.” Paul goes on to argue in the rest of Romans 8, No, no, no!. Suffering is not what separates you from Christ, suffering is what unites you ever more closely with the spirit of Christ.”
It’s the refusal to suffer that separates you from Christ. I used to use this passage to say, “Nothing can ever separate you from Christ in the sense that no matter what you do, once you’re saved, always saved. You know, you’ve got it made in the shade. Not saved once saved always, that Christ decreed you to be saved always unto eternity. But that’s God’s business. For us, as Paul says in Philippians, we’ve got to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, with the assurance that God’s grace is sufficient, but with the knowledge that we’ve got to cooperate morning, noon and night. So he goes on and he says, “provided we suffer.”
Now instantly Paul recognizes the objection we all have, b-b-b-b- ut the suffering! I don’t like to suffer. Well, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not even worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Oh then it’s a little cost benefit and analysis. It’s a little cost, and this is what we’ll gain. If anybody is getting gypped, it’s God. “For the creation awaits with eager longing for the revelation of the sons of God.
For the creation itself was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but of the will, by the will of him who subjected him in hope.” It goes on talking about how we groan inwardly, but not we ourselves have to know how the spirit groans inwardly in us.
Verse 26, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought.” Ain’t that the truth! We don’t know how to pray as we ought. We need to pray. We can theologize. We can teach and we can listen to tapes and read books all that we want, but if we don’t pray, we won’t be able to suffer in the spirit. We won’t be able to do anything profitable for heaven. We’ve got to pray. That’s got to be the beginning and end of it all. “The spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” He goes on and what does he say in this whole chapter? He’s not saying once saved, always saved, which means in the spirit you’ve got it made in the shade. He is saying, “Once saved, you’ve got to suffer with Christ in order to enter into His glory.” And if you think suffer and suffrage from Christ, you’ve got it backwards.
He goes on to say, “nothing will ever separate us from the love of Christ.” You see that? “Nothing will ever separate us from the love of Christ.” It says this in verse 35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, persecution or famine, nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written for thy sake, oh God, we are being killed all the day long, we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” Did you get that? Jesus ain’t the only lamb of God. Now this might seem like kind of baa to our ears — I shouldn’t be so sheepish about my puns, but anyway, Jesus is not the only lamb of God. We are so like him, we are made like him, that we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
“Now in all these things, we are more than conquerors for him who loved us.” The idea that it’s suffering that sanctifies us. Paul does not say, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall adultery, shall murder, shall theft? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors?” No, he doesn’t say “affluence, leisure, luxury, filthy riches, sumptuous gluttony, all those things are just fine. They’re not fine, but God will see us through all those evil sins.” No, he didn’t say it. He’s talking about the fact that all kinds of suffering, none of them shall ever separate us from the love of Christ. The assumption is, we’ve got to suffer to be glorified. Because the essence of Christianity is Christ reproducing His life and His suffering, His death and His resurrection and His glory in us.
That’s what it means to be united in him. That’s what the whole significance of our baptism is. Paul says in Romans 6 that because we have been baptized, we have died to sin. When James and John brought their mother to kind of lobby for the right and the left seats in glory, he said, “Are you willing to be baptized with the baptism with which I have to be baptized?” So what did He associate baptism with? An ordeal of suffering. Christ said, “I come to baptize with fire.” I’ve got to tell you, a lot of people are making salvation out to be heavenly welfare. No wonder it sells. I could fill a church in a matter of months, it I was preaching nothing but welfare from heaven for nothing we do. We don’t have to suffer. We don’t have to work. We don’t have to obey. We should, but we don’t have to. That’s wrong, but it will sell in this century and in every age.
That’s why purgatory is so incomprehensible. That’s why it seems so wrong, because it feels so right to have a kind of welfare scheme. No. God is not some politician buying votes by promising all kinds of little goodies. I mean not that welfare is not essential in our society. Let’s assume that it is needed. But ultimately God does not want to make us completely dependent in a sense of being helpless. God wants to father sons and daughters who will grow up and mature and be strong in faith, hope and charity, filled with wisdom, filled with spiritual strength to love others and to sacrifice themselves for others. This is all of what purgatory implies.
Let’s take a look at perhaps another very crucial passage in this regard. First Corinthians, chapter 3. I must admit that theologically and psychologically 1st Corinthians 3 basically sealed it up. It was all sewn up for me when I worked through this, praying, studying, pondering. I think it’s strong and clear. In 1st Corinthians 3, he’s talking about how we are in Christ. We’re temples with Christ. We’re His body and yet we are also temples as well. We are God’s field, His building, and in verse 9, the kind of building we are. There’s a temple and he goes on to describe how we have got to be careful then. If we are all God’s temples, temples of the Holy Spirit, we better be very circumspect and prudent about the way we build.
“According to the grace of God given me,” verse 10, “like a skilled master builder, I laid a foundation and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it.” The foundation work is Christ. Make no mistake about that. Our works are not our foundation unless our house is going to crumble. Then we and our works are not the foundation, but Christ is the foundation. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone 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 which sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.” In addition to salvation, he will receive a reward: thrones, crowns, whatever you want to say.
“If any man’s work is burned up,” the wood, the hay and the straw, “if any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss.” Notice that wood is not as flammable as hay is consumed. So there are degrees of good works, gold and silver and so on, and degrees of venial sins. Jesus even talked about somebody would receive fewer stripes than another person. He talks about how, I think in Matthew 5, you won’t get out until you pay the last farthing or the last penny. So it depends on what we have done, what we will do because we have got to be purified in the Holy Spirit of God, which is fiery love. We have got to take up our cross. We are saved by Christ who is our foundation, but we have to build and what we build has to undergo the fiery judgment on the day.
Now the day might refer to the day of judgment, but from earliest times people have seen that Paul is also teaching that the day of judgment is anticipated actually and really and provisionally when each person dies. That’s when Jesus comes for us. We speak of the “coming of the Lord.” Well, a kind of secondary coming is when He comes for us, and the day of judgment is when we die and appear before him in that sense. “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss,” or change the emphasis. “…he will suffer, loss.” Though he himself will be saved, he will have suffering to undergo but only as through fire. But you might say, “Well, it’s only wood and stubble that’s going to be burned up. It’s not him. He is the temple. It isn’t just these externals to him. His soul is the temple of the Holy Spirit. His soul is made of parts for the foundation is Christ, but there is some gold, perhaps some silver, but also some wood and stock in His soul. His soul is built up like a temple with all kinds of combustible elements. He will suffer loss. Though he himself will be saved but only as through fire.”
Well, my first comeback was, “Well, yeah, but that’s an instantaneous process.” Then I’d argue with myself. Okay, but what is an instant? Is it a millisecond? Is it a microsecond? Is it a second, two seconds, three seconds? I mean, let’s face it. We’re finite creatures. It might be a moment, but what happens when you undergo a moment of incredible pain versus, say, ten minutes of incredible pleasure? Do the ten minutes go by like a second? Yeah. And does that second go by like ten minutes? At least. We’re finite creatures going through time. We don’t do things outside of time. We are purified in time.
Now maybe for you it will be a second. But unless I really clean up my act more, it’s going to be more than a second, I suspect, for me. I believe that God’s grace is going to work through me and do all kinds of things. So, God forbid, we should never assume that we have to go through purgatory. He gives us the grace of vision, not only to avoid purgatory but to cooperate with that grace and to live a Christ- like life so we don’t have to settle for purgatory and I, with God’s grace, won’t. But the fact is those who will go through this fiery ordeal will suffer in fire the spirit of judgment.
Malachi, chapter 3, verse 3 speaks about the day being like a refiner’s fire which purifies the sons of Levi. The priests of God have got to go through this fiery process of purification.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” It’s that same Spirit that dwells in us and will purify and judge us and finally purge us of all of this disordered self-love and sin. And we could call it purge-a-tory, if it’s going to be less misleading because that’s all that’s happening. We are being purged. Christ’s work is not being supplemented. Christ’s work is being manifested and applied. The fiery, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit does not undermine the finished work of Christ, it expresses it. It manifests it and it brings it to pass.
Nobody is going to say, “Christ has died on the cross; therefore, we don’t need faith.” Of course we need faith. Well, if we need faith, is it because Christ’s work isn’t finished? After all, He says, “It is finished.” Why do we need faith? We’re all saved. Nobody says that. Even non-Catholics say, “We have to have at least faith.” Well, if we have to have anything besides the cross of Christ, if we have to have personal faith, and that doesn’t undermine the work of Christ, then we have to ask, why? Well, it’s because the Holy Spirit gives us faith and then hope and then charity and the capacity to sacrifice and suffer. And how crucial it is that we willingly cooperate with that grace.
“The day of judgment is coming, to burn like a furnace,” Malachi 4, verse 1. chapter 3, verse 2, “the refiners for silver and gold.” Hebrews 12, verse 29, tells us that our God is a consuming fire. That’s the kind of love He has. It just burns out of control. Our God is madly in love with us. He’s madly in love with us. It’s sheer madness for the God who owes us nothing, to whom we owe everything but to whom we gave practically nothing. He turns around and gives us everything including himself by becoming one of us and allowing us to kill him. He’s madly in love with us, and that mad love is burning out of control and filling this vast universe. It’s just that our physical eyes can’t see it, but they will some day and our souls will undergo it. And those who have refined their love through self-sacrifice and mortification and penance and charity through the spirit of the foundation which is Christ, but those who have done so are going to enter into that fiery love of God and say, “Oooh, it feels so good! I’m home.” And other people are going to look back where they have compromised and taken short cuts; they’ve done a lot of great things in love and faith and hope. They’ve even suffered some, but they have taken a lot of short cuts, They are going to enter that fire and say, “Ooh, ooh…,” and purgatory is for them.
Now the saints in heaven would freeze in purgatory, and hell fire for the saints in heaven would be like ice, dry ice. Our God is a consuming fire. The periphery of the universe is hell fire. That isn’t the hottest. The hottest is what you find when you get closest to God. Out of the nine choirs of angels, the highest are the Seraphim. In Hebrew it means the burning ones. They glow bright because they are consumed with this passionate, fiery love that God has for all eternity for us as His children.
We can’t even imagine what it’s like, but we have been granted the fiery Holy Spirit of love to enable us to do what would otherwise be humanly impossible in this life, to purge ourselves. That is why Paul says in Colossians 1:24 something that used to baffle me, Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” Masochist? No. In a sense, he is the opportunist. He is the one who sees the ultimate rewards. “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body that is the Church.”
Now does he mean that Christ died a little too quickly? He needed a few more hours? No. It means that Christ’s suffering and death must be reproduced and filled up in the Church and if some are slacking off, that means others must become more like victim-souls, willing to bear a greater burden, willing to shoulder with love, as Galatians 5 speaks about the love, “Love bears one another’s burdens.” We do that just as 1st John 5 speaks about how we can pray for others and get them back on track after their venial sins have been committed. So likewise we can suffer on behalf of others. That’s what fathers and mothers do all the time. And God calls us to do that in the supernatural family, as well, on behalf of our brothers and sisters and our spiritual children, as well. That’s what Paul takes for granted when he makes such an outlandish statement. Outlandish only for those who do not recognize the essential need for suffering.
There are some other passages that I should call your attention to because they are classical proof texts. Let’s turn to the gospel of Matthew. I’ve mentioned this already in passing. Let’s turn to Matthew 5:26. There Jesus says, “Make friends quickly with your accuser,” in verse 25, “while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hands you over to the judge and the judge to the guard and you be put in prison. Truly I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” What is the presumption? Once you pay the last penny, you are going to get out. Where are you going to go then? To hell? No. You paid the last penny. You’re going to enter into the blessing at that point but only after you’ve paid the fine.
Now what does this mean, that Christ has not paid for our sin? Of course not. It doesn’t mean that. Christ has paid once and for all for our sin. His death is the ultimate satisfaction and price for our redemption, but His life and His death must be lived out in us. That’s why we need to pick up our cross, and we need to imitate Christ. Did you catch that? We don’t suffer because Christ’s sufferings weren’t enough. We suffer because Christ’s life must be reproduced in us. It is finished. It is accomplished, but now it must be applied. The work of the third person of the Holy Spirit is New Testament history, is personal history.
Understand that this is restitution. This is not in a sense forgiveness. Only forgiven souls enter purgatory. This is restitution. It reminds me of a Peanuts comic strip. One time Linus was packing a snowball while Lucy was walking by, getting ready to pound her and all of a sudden she turns around and she says, “If you hit me with that snowball, so help me, you’ll be sorry.” She walks on. Sure enough, boom, smack in the back of her head. She comes back with both fists raised, ready to pound him into mincemeat and he says, “You are so right. I am so sorry.” Now wait a second. I think it was William James or some Harvard philosopher who said, “I would sin like David, if only I could repent like David.” Well you can’t gauge your repentance in advance. That actually adds malice to whatever evil you do.
The fact is, if we are truly sorry, we will see the need and the propriety for restitution. Not just monetary, physical restitution for broken windows, but psychical, spiritual restitution for broken souls.
The people we’ve hurt, the people we’ve refused to bless, the people we’ve refused to give ourselves to and to give Christ to, the incredible opportunities that we’ve missed because we were lazy and slothful, proud and arrogant. Those memories will burn more than any physical fire when our souls encounter the fiery love of Christ in the Holy Spirit. All those missed opportunities we willfully refused. It’s one thing to miss opportunities for imperfections and faults, another thing to sin deliberately by not giving ourselves. It might not be mortal sin, but we are not only wounding ourselves, but we are wounding the souls who depend upon us.
Now are we paying for our sins? No, they are paid for. And the only way we can make restitution is because the life of Christ through the Holy Spirit has been poured out in us so that through our sufferings Christ’s glory can be reproduced in us. But there’s no short cut. Hebrews says that Christ, though a Son, learned obedience through suffering. Why did He suffer? That His human nature could learn obedience and impart that human nature to us through the flesh and blood in the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ. When we receive that human nature of the eternal Son of God and historical Son of Man, we are enabled to learn obedience through suffering. There’s no other way to learn obedience.
If you suffer in the flesh, you have ceased from sin. If you don’t suffer in the flesh, Hebrew 12 makes it perfectly clear, that, you are an illegitimate child. Only God’s children does He inflict suffering on. He says the illegitimate children, He lets them go and have an easy time. We are disciplined because we are loved and if it hurts, if it burns, it’s because that’s because that’s the way God’s love is. It gives of itself. God’s whole essence is self-donation and He calls us to be imitators of God, Paul says. We imitate God when we become self- donators, self-givers and you can’t do that as finite creatures without self-sacrifice, and you can’t sacrifice self without pain. You can’t love without sacrifice.
We learn obedience through what we suffer, and if we suffer in the flesh we have ceased from sin. If we take short cuts, God in His mercy will give us summer school to make up for that one class we might have skipped or that one course we might have flunked. We’ll move on to the next grade for sure, but we need a little bit of remedial education. Our opportunity to merit is only on earth because here we can choose to suffer. In purgatory we only accept it. There’s no merit. Glory, sure, but no additional merit. In this earth the Church Militant acquires merits, not merits in addition to Christ, but Christ’s merit bestowed in filling us up, bestowed upon us. When God crowns our works, He is only crowning His own achievements. When He rewards our works, He is only crowning His own work in us through the Holy Spirit, the life of Christ being lived out in us.
Take a look at Matthew 12, verse 32 talks about the unforgivable sin that moves on in verse 32, “Whoever says a word against the son of man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this age or in the age to come.” Now, for that statement to be meaningful, we won’t get into what blaspheming the Holy Spirit means. We can perhaps raise that in the question/answer period, but one thing is clear: this is a sin which cannot be forgiven either in this age or in the age to come. “But the assumption behind the statement is that there are other sins which can be forgiven in this age and, look, or in the age to come.
What are we talking about? Well, some people might say, in the Messianic age, after Christ goes up to heaven. That’s plausible, but from earliest times all the interpreters saw this also applying to the intermediate state, for those who die in a state of grace because there we encounter God in Revelation 1:14, “His eyes were like blazing fire.” Revelation 21:27, “Nothing profane shall enter heaven. There Christ sits on a throne of fire,” we’re told and Daniel 7 and also Revelation. There we will also sit but only after we have been purged of all this disordered self-love and sin. “The Lord is coming with fire,” Isaiah, 66, verse 15, “and His rebuke is with flames of fire.” “Fire comes forth from the presence of the Lord” in Leviticus all the way until the end of the New Testament. “The Lord is a consuming fire. We are baptized with the Holy Spirit in fire,” Matthew 3:11.
Over and over again we see these passages. I want to give you a quotation. Actually just a few to close this up because I have a few that really helped me out. One of the greatest scholars of the last 100 years was a man by the name of R.H. Charles. He wrote a humungus work entitled A Critical History of the Doctrine of the Future Life in Israel in Judaism and in Christianity. He comments upon the verse I just read in Matthew 12:32. He says, “Now such a statement would not only be meaningless, but also misleading in the highest degree if in the next life forgiveness were a thing impossible. Likewise the saying in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:26, which we read just a minute ago, “Thou shalt then by no means come out until thou hast paid the last farthing” admits of a like interpretation.
It may not be amiss likewise to find signs of this moral amelioration in the rich man in Hades who appeals to Abraham on behalf of his five brothers still on earth, in Luke 16. Remember the story of Lazarus and the rich man? The rich man is in fire, but he calls out, “Father Abraham,” and Abraham responds, “My son, or my child.” Well all that man had done was to feast sumptuously. He didn’t go around beating Lazarus and other poor people. He just ate sumptuously. He neglected the poor. Not a mortal sin in and of itself, to be sure. And he says, “Father Abraham, just let Lazarus know. Have mercy on me.” He didn’t say, “This is unfair. I shouldn’t be in hell.” He says, “Have mercy on me. Just get Lazarus to dip his little finger tip in water and put it on the tip of my tongue. I don’t deserve it, but it’s mercy.”
Is that a soul in hell filled with the hatred of God? St. Teresa says, “There is no love in hell.” And yet, this man pleads, not on his own behalf, but he says, “Please send Lazarus back to my five brothers so that they will believe in time.” Abraham says, “Even if a man came back from the dead, it wouldn’t be enough. They’ve got Moses, the law and the prophets. That’s enough.” But ironically, who did Jesus raise from the dead? A man named Lazarus. And was it enough for the Jews to believe in Jesus then? No. They not only wanted to kill Jesus, they even sought to kill Lazarus because so many people were still believing in Jesus because of him.
But look at Luke 16 and realize that this man is there for neglecting the poor. He is in fire, recognizing Abraham as his father. Abraham recognizing him as my child. This man pleading for mercy in the form of a drop of water and then pleading on behalf of his brothers who were still on earth. Do souls intercede with God for mercy? Hardly. And yet look at what the story assumes. Look at what Jesus doesn’t even feel it necessary to argue.
We have a rather skewed and emaciated Christianity in 20th Century America and throughout the West. No wonder we don’t have many martyrs. The faith that we have is so truncated and so lifeless in some ways; it isn’t worth dying for. Not until we realize how gloriously man-like Christ’s call to His disciples is. We’ve got to grow up, not to be babies, but sons and daughters, men and women of God filled with the life of Christ, filled to overflowing.
I have quotations here from Protestant professors affirming this. I have quotations from Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, sections 50 and 51 reaffirming the doctrine of purgatory. Some Catholics believe you don’t have to accept it any more. The head of Campus Ministry at the place I used to teach used to tell people, even in a newspaper interview, that she didn’t believe in purgatory any more and Catholics don’t. Bunk! Vatican II teaches it and appeals to previous Councils that ratified and defined it. That’s to misread the Second Vatican Council. Then to clarify it in 1979, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in document letters on Certain Questions Concerning Eschatology says, “The Church excludes every way of thinking or speaking that would render meaningless or unintelligible her prayers, her funeral rites and the religious acts offered for the dead.”
This is an integral and vital part of our Catholic faith. We’ve got to believe it. We’ve got to live it, and we’ve got to share it.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we pray: Father in heaven, we need your help. We need your grace. We need a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Fill us Lord with this fiery love, so that we might sacrifice in ways that we have not, that we might imitate Christ with greater risk and abandon than ever before. Lord, these are awesome things that we ask for, far greater and more ambitious than we are capable on our own. Have mercy on us, here and now, on the Church Militant as we march out with our marching orders. Help us to fight the good fight. Help us to rejoice in the fiery ordeals that you send, knowing that these are the ways that you tailor us and streamline us. Oh God, you have made this world into a saint- making machine. The only tragedy, dear Lord, is for us not to have been made a saint. The world thinks that saints and martyrs are weird, but we know they are the ones who are most fully human. Humanize us with the flesh and the blood of the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of our risen Savior. Lord, help us to accept our time in this world so that we, too, might be made into saints, that we might accept a share in suffering, a share in Christ’s suffering that you call us to accept and to do so with joy and thanksgiving. Help us, dear Lord, and hear us as we pray. Our Father, who art in heaven etc.
Scott Hahn “Purgatory: Holy Fire.” from Answering Common Objections St. Joseph Communications.
Reprinted with permission of Scott Hahn.
Scott Hahn is Professor of Theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he has taught since 1990, and is the founder and director of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He is the author of many books, including Lord Have Mercy, Letter and Spirit, Understanding the Scriptures, Swear to God, Scripture Matters, Understanding Our Father, First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity, Hail Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God, The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture, Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism, and co-editor of Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God. Dr. Hahn has also written numerous articles in lay and academic publications.Scott Hahn received his Bachelor of Arts degree with a triple-major in Theology, Philosophy and Economics from Grove City College, Pennsylvania, in 1979, his Masters of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1982, and his Ph.D. in Biblical Theology from Marquette University in 1995. Scott has ten years of youth and pastoral ministry experience in Protestant congregations (in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Kansas and Virginia) and is a former Professor of Theology at Chesapeake Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1982 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia. He entered the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, 1986.
Copyright © 2001 Scott Hahn