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Wanting Purgatory Now – A Journey Towards Holiness

July 10, AD2017

eucharist, mass, gifts, offering

There are a number of things that distinguish Catholics from Protestant Christians.  One of these things is a belief in purgatory.

Protestants think that simply accepting Jesus Christ as their savior (Solus Christus, Sola fide) guarantees that they will go to straight to heaven. Catholic Doctrine, however, says there are no guarantees.

Purgatory might best be described as an in-between state or place, so to speak, where some or even many souls go before they get to heaven. A lot of people do not understand purgatory, however, because it is rarely talked about. It’s not a real popular topic for homilies either.

Many Catholics probably assume that they will have no choice but to end up ‘doing time’ in purgatory. They live their lives as if purgatory is a foregone conclusion, and there is no way to avoid it. But there is a path that leads straight to heaven: If we can live saintly lives here on earth, which is what we are meant to do, purgatory won’t be a mandatory stopover for us on the way to heaven.

Purgatory

Catholic Teaching on purgatory is succinctly explained in the Catechism:

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.  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:

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

1032 then says that this teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, mentioned in Sacred Scripture, and that the “Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.”

So purgatory is not so much a punishment or a second chance, but rather a place or state where a soul is purified so as to be able to enter heaven and stand before God. Purgatory might even be looked upon as yet another gift of God’s love.

Growing Spiritually

Over the years I have grown in my relationship with God to the point where I began to pray daily for my purgatory here on earth, in this life. I think of St. Paul who said in Philippians 1:21-23: “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, [for] that is far better.”

When I was in my twenties and early thirties, my spiritual life was very basic.  It consisted of pretty ordinary things, like going to church on Sunday, giving to the collection, going to confession when I felt like it, and saying some prayers and reading some scripture. My spiritual life was not really based on becoming a certain kind of person or on finding a path to grow or mature spiritually. Instead it was solely based on what I did.

My walk with God was almost like a kind of employer/employee relationship. If I did certain things all the time, God would make sure that somehow I wouldn’t go to hell, but that I would end up in heaven. And for a lot of people, this may be the way they live out their faith as well. But there is so much more to walking with God then just a basic 9 to 5 routine. What I discovered is that how I was living was not good enough because I was not truly alive.

Forgiving Sins and Sinners

As a young man I went to confession quite frequently, but maybe not for all of the right reasons. There were certain habitual sins in my life that kept reoccurring and causing me to feel guilty. This resulted in my seeking out the sacrament of reconciliation for the same things over and over, so much so that I became embarrassed! I began to drive out of town to find a church that I had not been to, just so I could confess to a priest who did not know me!

One time during confession, I finally told the priest all of this and when I had finished, he said, ‘You must realize, that Christ not only forgives sins, but he also forgives sinners.’ The priest went on to explain how forgiveness of sins is like the prodigal son coming home, whereas the forgiveness of sinners is like the prodigal son staying home. In other words, forgiving the sin changes how one stands before God in regards to a certain sin, but forgiving the sinner is more of a conversion that takes place inside of a person which prevents those sins from being committed anymore. Any change that is going to occur and endure must have an element of conversion contained within it.

True Conversion

I began to pray that I could experience true conversion deep down inside where it really matters. In addition, I started to make a more concentrated effort to relate to God, not just as a homework assignment, but in my life here on planet earth. I made a practice to memorize certain bible verses such as: “But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Matthew 6:20-21), and “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke: 21:36).

Verses such as these taught me certain things about my spiritual growth and development. I realized that following Christ is more than just a set of requirements and heaven is more than just an eventual destination. Rather, following Christ is a relationship that involves my entire person, one that receives His entire person in return. Heaven is not simply my eventual destination but my personal destiny and the fulfillment of my being.

Laying up Treasures in Heaven

I began to focus on more than just doing penance for the sin of the moment. Additionally, I try to focus on giving of myself as Jesus gave of Himself. I also began to realize that laying up treasures in heaven was more than just being rewarded for doing good. It was a much deeper union with God because of a greater capacity to love.

Eventually I began to grow spiritually in ways that produced a longing to be with God. Everyday life became a new opportunity to desire union with God above all else. I began to learn the true meaning of self-sacrifice and self-denial. I took notice of the examples set by St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Theresa of Calcutta, and focused on the little things of everyday life that come our way. Nothing is too small if done out of love for God. I realized that learning to love God with all of my heart and soul and mind and strength is possible if I allow the Holy Spirit to work inside me.

Praying for Purgatory Here on Earth

I now realize, as I meditate on who I really am, that I do not obey naturally and normally all of the time without giving temptation or disobedience a passing thought. Even if I am staying free of mortal sin, I still seem very capable of venial sin without much forethought at all. That kind of person, that expression of self, cannot live in heaven. But it can be purified and prepared for heaven.

I have begun to experience that process right here and right now. I pray every day for my purgatory here on earth according to God’s will. Even if I do not completely avoid the purification process in the life to come, that does not mean I cannot work towards that goal.

I practice things like daily mass and frequent reception of the Eucharist, along with Adoration. I also have masses said for those who have passed on, especially those who may be in purgatory with nobody to pray for them. Remember what Jesus said, “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matthew 7:2).

Loving God

I believe that the love I give to God and to others out of love for God will be returned to me. Since I cannot outdo divine love or God’s grace in generosity, just maybe, by doing things like having masses said for others, especially those who might be forgotten by everyone else, God will take this into account for me.

I now spend extra time in Eucharistic Adoration, where Jesus is really and truly present, and I pray that I might not be temporarily separated from him in purgatory. And I pray to become more saintly, so that in the end, I may not need purgatory at all. I pray that before my life is over, I will have learned to love the way they do in heaven. If I can, maybe I can skip purgatory and go straight to heaven.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Hello. My name is Michael Cretaro. I live in upstate New York. I am a parishioner of St. Agatha's Catholic Church and have been all of my life. My brother John was an ordained Deacon. My Catholic faith is more than just something that is important to me. It defines who I am and why I am here. It defines where I am going and how I view the world and treat others. It is the very reason that I am able to make sense of how things work in the world today. My catholic faith gives me wisdom and understanding. And with God's grace it helps me to explain these things in writing to those who are drawn to them by the Holy Spirit. I have self published a book entitled "Questions from the Creator". It takes 63 questions from the bible and answers them in a way that enables the reader to understand what is really being said. In my writing I remain true to the teachings of the Church for I do not believe in things otherwise. I have had experience in doing radio shows and writing for the local diocesan Catholic newspaper. Some of the people who have been a influential blessing on me are Dr. Scott Hahn of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio and EWTN as well as the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, whom I love. I am 53 years old and live with my sister Mary. I am single and have no children, leaving my free time to serve the Lord and his Church according to his will. I am very thankful for and excited about this opportunity. Thank you.

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  • Suellen Ann Brewster

    Thank you for the beautifully written, personal article. I believe those who read it and are open to the Holy Spirit will find some freedom in the truth that we are not to aim for purgatory, but for heaven! Spending a lot of time with St. Therese is very helpful in attaining this freedom. It appears you are a good student of hers! I once heard a helpful analogy for purgatory although, as all analogies, it is imperfect. Recall the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy et al arrive at Oz. They are not immediately taken in to see the Wizard. They are cleaned up first! They are made to look their best! Well I can only speak for myself, but I know that if I were to die right now, the things I do, and mostly the thought I think, are not holy, holy, holy. My soul is not ready to be in the presence of Almighty God. Should I “miss” heaven (I pray and pursue life in such a way that I hope that I will not) I will be thankful to get all cleaned up in the antechamber. Thank you again for the well written article!

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    With all due respect to my Roman Catholic brethren, “purgatory”sounds like a confused,chaotic concept; in fact, your New Catholic Encyclopedia claims that purgatory isn’t explicitly taught in Scripture! Hmm…I myself am firmly convinced that the Letter to the Hebrews dispenses with the idea altogether, because here’s my question to anyone who thinks that they can answer it (And PLEASE: undergird your answers with carefully exegeticed Scriptures, O.K.?)—My question is this: If I was a Roman Catholic and died and went to Purgatory, would Jesus the Christ go with me? If not,why not,and if so,why so? Again,please—Make your case using the Word of God, IF you can…I await ANYONE’S reply.—PEACE IN CHRIST, ALWAYS!—🦁🦁🦁.

  • Eddie

    Thank you for that beautiful essay I have had a very similar faith walk. I always thought Purgatory was a definite stop off, I don’t believe that anymore, I do believe we can do our Purgatory on earth. While I do not pray for suffering, when it comes I take the opportunity to suffer patiently, uniting it to Christ’s sufferings and I believe that these offerings will allow us to do our purgatory now and heaven later. When I was struck by a car by the grace of the Holy Spirit I was able forgive the careless driver at the scene while waiting for an ambulance even though he refused to help me and filmed me with his cell phone yelling in pain…I was yelling for God the Father to help me. I had a broken dislocated shoulder, leg and broken back. The ER doctor tried unsuccessfully for 40 minutes to pull my broken shoulder back into the socket. I thought I was dying so I kept praying out loud Jesus, Joseph, Mary, because I wanted their names to be the last names I uttered. The ER doctor mocked me by addressing me as Jesus, Joseph and Mary rather than by my name. At first I wanted to choke him but I recognized another moment of grace and forgave him. I used my long painful recovery to evangelize and speak of God’s goodness and mercy. I offered it all up in reparation for my sins and the sins of the whole world. I used this horror and my continued suffering for the glory of God. My relationship with and to God has matured. I am resolved not to stop in Purgatory, so I will see you in heaven. I still sin, I go to confession often, I love daily mass and adoration because I love to be with Jesus. I have devotion to the holy souls and in no way do I presume that I am on solid ground as St. Paul warned, but I am hopeful because I have a personal relationship with the Lord. Your essay was a powerful confirmation to me. Your love for God and your mature faith come out loud and clear. God bless you. This piece really refreshed me spiritually. I relate my story to highlight the encouragement to do our purgatory now on earth and how rather than praying for suffering, when it comes making an act of the will and to stay faithful and unite it to Christ’s. You really are on point with this essay. Well written and beautifully inspired by the Holy Spirit. God bless you and your sister.

  • Mark McCann

    Hey, a really interesting article, Michael! I especially loved the part about forgiving the sin and forgiving the sinner. My Protestant friends seem to talk about forgiveness as a legal status before God, even though they also talk about sanctification and growing in faith and conversion and being a new creation. One pastor I know does talk about salvation as something that happens, is happening, will happen; so there is hope. I frequently get the “deer in the headlights” stare when I talk about my faith in terms of the mystical, intimate, changed relationship with God – I think it’s the mystical part they can’t handle; or maybe it’s just me and my strange ways – and I am left wondering how people can not see the ever-deepening journey toward heaven that takes place in a heart that has truly been remade by Christ. I haven’t really seen anything that talks about Purgatory in terms of “time” like here on earth. Yet, people seem to want to turn it into some sort of divine “waiting room” like in the movie, “Beatlejuice.” I’d like to hear your thoughts on all this. Great piece!

    • Eddie

      You make a great point. People who have not had the beautiful grace of the mystical encounter with the Lord can not understand it. It is truly a gift from the Holy Spirit. God bless you.