For the past month as we near the end of the Liturgical year we have been focusing primarily on the end times, the four last things. Namely. death, judgment, heaven and hell. Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. Jesus Christ is the King. Our readings today show that we have a merciful King, a King who suffered and died for us, a King who has called us into His eternal kingdom of love. Yet, we all know that we are not worthy to share eternal life with the all good, all merciful King. Each one of us knows our own personal sins, our own failings, our omissions. And we also know that heaven is only for those who are holy and pure.
What does it take to enter heaven?
In the Book of Revelation the Bible tells us that nothing impure can enter heaven. To live with God in paradise we must be cleansed not only of our sins but also of all temporal punishment due to sin. Our soul must be spotless when we die. Our soul must be free from all sin, all attachment to sin and all temporal punishment due to sin - otherwise we cannot enter heaven. Temporal punishment is due even after the sin itself has been forgiven by God. This is clearly the teaching of Sacred Scripture. Because of man's sin God brought man out of his first disobedience, forgave him his sin but condemned him from now on "to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow" (Wisdom 10:2).
Temporal punishment or cleansing occurs either in this life or in the next or it may be a combination of both. In just one example of temporal punishment in the bible, and there are many, God forgave Moses and Aaron their sin but because of their disbelief they were kept out of the promised land (Numbers 20:12) and died without entering it. There was a punishment or cleansing meted out to them even though their sin had been forgiven. This is what the church calls temporal punishment and Moses and Aaron underwent it in this life. In fact, the whole penitential system of the church testifies and reminds the faithful that God does not always remit the whole punishment due to sin along with the guilt.
God forgives our sin but there is always some repair to be made for the damage caused by our sin. This is why our sufferings in this life can have a redemptive quality to them. We offer up our sufferings in reparation for our sins. That is why when we confess our sins the priest will assign a penance to help repair the damage done by our sin.
Let me use another example which clearly shows that the damage caused by sin must always be repaired - even after the sin has been forgiven. If you were to come to my house and pick up a stone and throw it through my picture window and break it. I would be a little upset. But then if you felt remorse and came to me asking me to forgive you I most probably would forgive you. However my window is still broken. You are the one who broke it. You were sorry for breaking it and you asked me to forgive you, which I did.
Now, forgiveness might take away the sin of you breaking my window but my window is still broken. It needs to be repaired. Now who do you think should repair the damage done by your act?
Who is going to repair the damage done?
Of course, it should be you. That's only fair and just. Another example of this temporal punishment or repair for the sin committed is also in the bible and there are many others. In 2nd Samuel the bible tells us about King David and his sin and the consequence of his sin even after it was forgiven. David first commits adultery with the wife of Uriah the Hittite and then David has Uriah murdered in battle when David discovered that Uriah's wife was pregnant with David's child. The Lord sent the prophet Nathan to David. Nathan confronted David and told him all that he had done wrong. Then in remorse David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die. The Lord was not being vindictive but rather being just. The Lord forgave the sin of David but repairing the damage caused by David's sin cost the life of the child. The temporal punishment due to David's sin was the life of his precious child. Let me use another example.
Imagine a beautiful piece of wood. A perfect piece of shiny Mahogany. That perfect piece of mahogany represents your soul. Not a mark on it. However when we sin it's like taking a hammer and a nail and driving the nail into the beautiful wood. The nail represents the sin. However, when we repent of our sin and are forgiven, the nail is removed from the beautiful wood. But what remains? An ugly nail hole. We have to do something to repair that nail hole in order to restore the wood to its original beauty.
It's the same with our souls. When we sin it's like driving a nail into that beautiful piece of wood. When we are forgiven it's like removing the nail from that wood. Now we need to do something to repair the nail hole. The temporal punishment (the nail hole) remains. As i said that is why the priest assigns us a penance after we have confessed our sins. That is to help us repair the damage caused by our sin and that is clearly biblical teaching. We need to repair that nail hole. God's justice demands that we do something to repair the damage caused by our sin.
Are all sins the same? No, they are not. The bible differentiates between serious and minor sins. Otherwise all sin, no matter how serious, would send us all to hell. The bible tells us in 1 John chapter 5 that there is some sin that is deadly. Deadly sin that if unrepented, would condemn us to hell. We call this deadly sin Mortal Sin. Mortal sin separates us completely from God and if we were to die unrepentant it would mean that we are choosing Hell for all eternity. However, as the bible says, there is also sin that is not deadly. Sins that are not deadly we call venial sins. Venial sins are not deadly since they do not separate us from God completely.
For example, if I was to steal a small apple from a large orchard and then died with that sin on my soul do you think I deserve the same punishment for all eternity in the fires of hell along with the murderer and the adulterer? No, of course not.
However if I was to die with that venial sin on my soul then I could not go immediately to heaven. Why? Again, the bible in the book of Revelation chapter 21 verse 27 tells us that nothing impure can enter heaven. Since I have died with a sin on my soul that has not separated me completely from God I won't go to hell because my sin is not serious enough but then again I cannot enter heaven either because I am still impure. And even if the sin were forgiven, there is still the temporal punishment due to that sin. I still have that nail hole to patch up.
The bible gives us the answer. And that answer has been the teaching of the church from the very beginning. The answer is what the church calls purgatory. The Bible clearly teaches that there is a place which the Church calls Purgatory. Purgatory is where those who are not ready to enter paradise, because of sin or reparation for sin, go in order to be purified before entering into heaven. Purgatory is a place of God's mercy. All the souls who are in purgatory will one day enter into paradise. If it wasn't for purgatory then all sin, mortal or venial would place me in a position where I could not ever enter heaven. Even with my sins forgiven, there is still the temporal punishment due to my sin. If there was no such thing as temporal punishment then David's child didn't have to die, and Moses and Aaron should have been allowed into the Promised Land. After all, God is not a vindictive God, punishing people even though He has forgiven them.
No, God forgave David but in His divine justice David had to make reparation for the damage his sin did. He had to repair the window he broke. And so when I die if I have venial sins on my soul or if there is still attachments to sin then there has to be some way for me to be purified so that I may eventually enter heaven. God in His great mercy has provided such a way. There are many, many examples in the bible where the process of purification called purgatory is described. For example, in Matt. 5:26,18:34; Luke 12:58-59 – Jesus teaches us, “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.” The word “opponent” (antidiko) is a reference to the devil who is an accuser against man and God is the judge. It means that if we have not adequately dealt with Satan and sin in this life, we will be held in a temporary state called a prison, and we won’t get out until we have satisfied our entire debt to God.
This “prison” is what the church calls purgatory where we will not get out until the last penny is paid. In the book of Baruch 3:4 - Baruch asks the Lord to hear the prayers of the dead of Israel. Prayers for the dead are unnecessary for those who are in heaven and certainly unnecessary for those who are in hell, they can no longer be helped. These dead can only be in the place called purgatory, where our prayers can and do help them.
And again in Matt. 12:32 – Jesus says, “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.” Jesus thus clearly says that there is a cleansing after death. Forgiveness is not necessary for those in heaven, and there is no forgiveness for those in hell. Jesus is telling us that there is another state after death, and the Church for 2,000 years has called this state - purgatory. And there are many, many other examples.
Once a soul is in purgatory it cannot be lost. However, once a soul is in purgatory they greatly need the prayers and sacrifices of those who still live in the Church on earth in order to help them be purified, help them to patch the nail holes and fix the windows and thereby speed their way into heaven. This is one of the many blessings of our Catholic faith. The communion of the saints within the three dimensions of the Church, that is, the church on earth (the church militant), the church in heaven (the church triumphant) and the church in purgatory (the church suffering) is very important for helping souls get to heaven. Unfortunately, when someone dies, many people do not pray for that soul because they have already automatically canonized them.
We often say that so and so is safe in the arms of Jesus. That may be true but it also may be true that so and so is suffering in purgatory and is being purified for entry into heaven. (if time, tell about friend, purgatory and protestant funeral - celebration of the life of so and so - no prayers for the repose of the soul). So it is a big mistake for us not to pray for the dearly departed.
If you die and go to purgatory you will suffer through the purgation of your sins, the cleansing of your soul for a much longer time if you do not have the prayers and sacrifices of the people in the Church on earth. If the person is in Hell of course the prayers cannot help him but those same prayers may help others in purgatory. That is why the church always prays for the souls in purgatory and the greatest prayer of all is of course the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Catholics should offer Masses, their prayers and their sufferings for the repose of the souls of the faithful departed.
Now some who do not understand this teaching have objected and have said that the word purgatory is not in the bible therefore how can the church say there is such a place? Yes it is true that the word purgatory itself is not in the bible but there certainly is biblical teaching that there is a place where after death we are cleansed and make reparation for sin. The fact that the word Purgatory is not there is no reason not to accept and believe the Dogma of Purgatory.
Because this process of purification which the church calls purgatory is most certainly described in the bible many, many times. What about the Trinity? Do you believe in the Trinity? We have to remember that the word Trinity is also not in the bible but Christians have never had any problem in believing the teaching about the Trinity because the teaching about the Trinity clearly is taught in the bible. The same thing applies to purgatory. It is clearly taught in the bible. In fact there is more said about the teaching of purgatory then there is about the trinity.
Our great and merciful King has thought of everything and has graciously provided us with the means to purge ourselves of all that keeps us from His Kingdom of Heaven. So my dear friends let us not forget to pray and to offer up our sufferings not only in reparation for our sins but also for those of all the faithful departed. And let us ask others to remember to please remember to pray for us once our time comes to leave this world.
God Bless you,
Deacon Bernie Ouellette