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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Questions & Answers About Purgatory, Heaven & Hell

Does the Bible say anything about purgatory?

The word as such is not mentioned; however, it does say that we should pray for the dead: “Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Maccabees 12:45). Obviously the souls in heaven do not require our prayers for atonement and the dead in hell are beyond redemption. It must mean the dead in a purgative condition.

What is purgatory?

It is a state where certain souls go to suffer for a while, having died with unremitted venial sins or with temporal punishment for sin yet to be expiated. When they have satisfied divine justice, they will be delivered into heaven.

Is this something the early Christians believed?

Uniform prayers for the dead were promulgated by counciliar decree in 253 AD. Later councils of the Church in 579 AD, in 827 AD, and at Trent, urged people to pray for the dead. This is ample evidence that the first Christians believed in a state of atonement after this life.

But do not some question the authenticity of 2 Maccabees?

Protestant reformers removed it about five hundred years ago. However, the Catholic Church from the earliest days had approved it as canonical and authentic.

But its author apologizes for its errors?

Yes, but he meant errors in style, not in doctrine.

Are there any other proofs for purgatory?

We read in the book of Revelation: “But nothing unclean shall enter it [heaven], nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27). If nothing defiled can enter heaven, then it would seem that the millions upon millions who die in their venial sins are eternally lost. That is, they are lost unless there is a purgatory to offer final and complete spiritual healing. It is also written that God will render to each of us according to his works and that an accounting will be required for every idle word spoken. Many die with small faults in word and action; certainly a good God will not damn them eternally for minor transgressions. Purgatory is the place of atonement for little imperfections.

But, in light of Ephesians 1:7, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us,” purgatory would not seem necessary. Why would Catholics claim otherwise?

Such an interpretation against purgatory would eliminate the necessity for hell, too. Christ cleanses us from sin, as long as we use the means he has prescribed. If we neglect them, we will incur suffering because God rewards and punishes each of us according to our works.

The Bible asserts “in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie” (Ecclesiastes 11:3); thus, there is no other condition than that in heaven and hell, right?

Wrong, this would reduce to insignificance the justice of God. The text can only be used within this context in reference to our final orientation, toward heaven or hell. Every soul is destined for heaven, IF we accept and make sufficient use of the grace God gives us (see 2 Peter 3:9; Wisdom 11:27; Ezekiel 31:11; 1 Timothy 2:4).

But does not the Bible say that some people are predestined for heaven?

Certainly we all hope to be numbered among the elect. Some, like the apostles, martyrs, and other saints reveal such predestination by lives of extraordinary faith and loving witness to the Gospel. St. Augustine would talk about this mystery as a predestination to glory. This is quite different from the exaggerated Calvinistic view that sees signs of election (being saved) in our status and worldly success. Such a view would insinuate that the poor are abandoned, even by God. This notion is utterly reprehensible. God gives sufficient grace to all men and women to be saved. What we need is faith and cooperation in that grace.

Is it just to damn someone for all eternity?

The souls in hell chose by their own free will and understanding the bondage to sin over the freedom of the children of God. Like the fallen angels before them, they will never again change their minds and hearts. God will not drag a soul by force into heaven. We cannot know all the reasons why such souls were created in the first place; however, beyond this mystery, the affirmation of God’s justice and its support to Christian morality cannot be underestimated.

For more such material, contact me about getting my book, CATHOLIC QUESTIONS & ANSWERS.