What the Hell is Purgatory?
A mixed-media guide to the afterlife
“None of us are perfect but all of us are on a journey toward God” is one of the ways we use to explain what the name Busted Halo® means. Given our name it is no surprise that people often ask us:
“Since I’m not perfect, how can I get into heaven?”
Heaven is defined by the Catholic Church as “a perfect life with the Holy Trinity” and “ultimate end and fulfillment of our deepest human longings.”
But most of us feel we fall short of deserving to be in full union with God. While all of us sin, though, most of us don’t sin in such a grave way that we cut ourselves off completely from God. And even if we do commit grave sins, many of us seek reconciliation with God throughout our lives.
So, if heaven is this state of perfection… and one dies while being far from perfect… how can one enter heaven? The answer, Father James Martin, SJ, tells us, is purgatory. So just what the hell is purgatory? >>
Before the second Vatican Council, limbo was a “theological hypothesis,” believed to be an eternal state of natural happiness reserved for unbaptized infants and young children who died before reaching the age of seven, which was considered to be “age of reason.” Pope Benedict XVI highlighted what the latest version of the Catechism states, which says:
1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.
Hell is the ultimate absence of God. In this state of being, we can never unite with our God and have rejected God through our own free choice in an ultimate way, by choosing gravely sinful matters over God without any repentance. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines hell as follows:
1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.
To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
So if there is a purgatory? What does that mean for us? Fr James Martin tells us more. >>
Catechism on Purgatory:
1030 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.
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. 606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire. 607
The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults also states:
It is impossible for us to imagine what purgatory is. Traditionally, it has been described as a purifying fire…the image serves to recall that perfect love is achieved by a gradual and a painful spiritual detachment from selfishness and self-centeredness. (USCCA, pg 54)
So, we all realize we are not perfect and thus do not automatically merit heaven without making some type of amends for our own imperfect nature. We also trust that because of our belief and faith in God, we are not so evil as to merit eternal separation from God (hell) either.
So let us pray that those who enter into this great mysterious afterlife may be able to get past all of the things that have kept them separated from God, and that they will one day soon share in the joy of God’s heavenly kingdom.