Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Purgatory - who holds the key to the gates?

Last month an old friend of mine died peacefully in his sleep. He was not a Catholic but a good Baptist.
He farmed all of his life from the age of twelve, went to chapel, played the organ and, when his arthritic fingers no longer allowed him to play he sat up in bed singing hymns at the top of his funny squeaky voice.

He led, to all intents and purposes, a good and devout life; he did not drink or smoke, gamble or do anything very much other than to tend his stock, go to chapel and live the country life.

Whilst offering up prayers on his behalf I found myself pondering on Purgatory and as to whether Ernie was there or in Heaven for, he must surely be in one or the other.

But who is the gatekeeper?

A soul being carried to Heaven - but from
earth or Purgatory?

If St Peter holds the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven then who holds the keys to Purgatory?

Easy. It is, of course, Our Blessed Lord. It can be no other.

His Blessed Mother has, as we know, tremendous influence on Him (what son could refuse his mother a lawful request, certainly not the Son of Man).

And the saints, so we Catholics believe, have a lesser role to play in interceding for those souls in Purgatory but, ultimately, we are released with God's good grace.

That, at least, is the conventional teaching of Holy Mother Church on the subject.

But are we right in placing such an emphasis on Purgatory?
 What is wrong with hoping and praying that we go direct to the Father, direct to Heaven?

Well, according to St Therese of Lisieux, that is precisely what we should be doing. We must hope in God and if we do hope in God then that hope must be aimed at going straight to our reward.

St Therese advised one of her novices of this fact and told her that:

"You do not have enough trust.
You have too much fear before the good God.

I can assure you that He is grieved over this.

 You should not fear Purgatory because of the suffering there, but should instead ask that you not deserve to go there in order to please God, Who so reluctantly imposes this punishment.

As soon as you try to please Him in everything and have an unshakable trust He purifies you every moment in His love and He lets no sin remain.

And then you can be sure that you will not have to go to Purgatory".

This throws Purgatory into a new light (certainly for me at any rate).
I have always believed that, somehow, Purgatory would be an inevitability, provided that I departed this earth in a state of grace, but now I am not so sure.

A child has complete and utter trust in its parents and Christ said that unless we become as little children you cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven so it is perhaps right that we should embrace a desire for Heaven on the basis that we will be with Almighty God in His mercy and forgiveness.

This does not diminish the role of Purgatory in any way, it just re-aligns our thought processes.

And in the light of God's love for us He surely does not wish us to be in a state of suffering but would rather that we had the level of innocent trust to hope that we could go straight to Him.

I know that Ernie would not have approved of Purgatory (I am not sure that he was even aware of it) but I take great hope that, in his good and basic love of God, possibly, just possibly, he has sidestepped it and is now with the saints in Heaven advising them on pastoral care.

Fr Van Dijk, in his book on St Therese  produced seven key points regarding her beliefs in Purgatory.

They are:-

1. Purgatory became a rule rather than the exception.
An infinite number of souls who suffer in Purgatory and for whom the Church prays daily after consecration did not need to go there. If we think in human terms, God does not wish for us to need Purgatory. God does not put us here on earth, where we are tested and are suffering after the fall, only to let us suffer again--and much worse--in Purgatory. Everyone receives enough graces in order to go straight to God after passing the trials on earth. However, Purgatory is an emergency entry to Heaven for those who have wasted their time. However, what God considered the exception became the rule, and the rule--to go straight to heaven--became the exception.

2. To cope with the "inevitable" is a grave error.
Since God does not really want Purgatory, He does not want it for me either! But then I also have to not want it! Nobody would expose themselves to the danger of Purgatory by living a mediocre and--as is the case so often today--a sinful life. If they only thought of the intense sufferings in Purgatory. In this regard, the mystics unanimously say that the least suffering in Purgatory is much greater than the greatest suffering here on earth! The reason for this is that once in Purgatory, one does not go through the time of God's Mercy but of God's Justice. Here, the Lord's word applies: "1 tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the very last copper' (Lk 12:59). The many who carelessly say, "I will probably spend some time there," are gravely wrong. Nobody just spends some time there, one has to suffer there like one has never suffered nor could have suffered while on earth. One often even suffers a long time there also. If the Poor Souls in Purgatory had known on earth what to expect in eternity, Purgatory would have remained empty.
3. Purgatory is a waste of time.
   This is what St. Therese says, "I know that of myself I would not merit even to enter that place of expiation since only holy souls can have entrance there. But I also know that the Fire of Love is more sanctifying than is the tire of Purgatory. I know that Jesus cannot desire useless sufferings for us, and that He would not inspire the longings I feel unless He wanted to grant them." It is true that Purgatory is a wonderful grace, for if needed, without the purification in Purgatory we would not go to Heaven, and the work of art which God intended and created us to be would not be completed. But St. Therese is right: at the moment of our death we already have our place in Heaven. Afterwards, there is no growing in grace anymore. Whoever does not go through Purgatory does not miss anything.
4. We need a more positive image of God.
We already know that St. Therese told her novices that they offended God when they thought they would go to Purgatory. That is a very shocking statement: for if this is correct millions of Christians are offending God or at least hurt Him. And yet this is the case. They are focused only on themselves, thinking--not without reason--that they deserve Purgatory. They do not notice God Who is by their side and would love to help them so much. The fact that we fear Purgatory so much also has to do with a rather negative image that we have of God. We, Christians of the 20th Century, were like so many, raised with the image of a strict God, anxious to punish us as often as we deserve it. This thinking goes back to heresies like Jansenism. Quietism, or Calvinism.
5. Love banishes fear
The question of whether Heaven will follow right after death is a question of trust. God does not need our merits in order to take us straight to Him but He needs all of our trust. Or the other way around--it is not -our sins that can prevent God from giving us this grace but rather our lack of trust. Therefore, we must draw the conclusion that everything depends solely on trust. There is no trust without perfect love. And vice versa, there is no love without trust.
And this is exactly what the Apostle John writes in his first letter, "In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love" (1 Jn. 4:17-18).
This text enlightens our topic very much. Judgment Day is the day of our death. Whoever achieves perfect love at the moment of their death sees God as so merciful and generous that they cannot believe in punishment in Purgatory. We are dealing with the same kind of grace in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that this Sacrament has as its real fruit the wiping out of punishment due to our sins. After those who have received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, others present often notice that the sick enter a period of growing peace and trust, together with a great surrender to the Will of God, and even serenity and desire for Heaven. This also applies to those who up to that point did not believe or even lived in mortal sin. Even these people, as the great theologians of the scholastics say--for example, St. Albert the Great or St. Bonaventure--go straight to Heaven without having to go through Purgatory first. This shows the wonderful grace coming from the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
6. The last will be the first.
While many Christians do receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, experience tells us that they do not go straight to Heaven. The mystics often relate that many priests and religious suffer a long time and have to wait for their release. However, all of them or almost all of them have received the Sacrament of the Anointing. What is the reason for this? The answer is certainly that they did not receive the Sacrament with the necessary repentance or surrender to the Will of God, or that they did not want to change their flaws and vices a long time before their death.
St. Therese of Lisieux tells us that she heard that sometimes great saints with
many merits come before the Judgment of God, but have to go to Purgatory because our justice before God is often unclean. That is why she recommends to giveimmediately away all the merits of our good deeds, and that it is better to appear before God empty-handed. She recommends to her oldest sister and godmother Marie, to be given Heaven free of charge by God.
While on the one hand the first ones don't always get to Heaven first, on the other hand there are enough examples that the last ones become the first ones. Therese refers in her writings to the Lord's mercy towards the good thief, and wishes that the story from the "desert fathers," about how a great sinner called Paesie died out of love and is being taken straight to heaven, should be added to her autobiography, "Souls will understand immediately, for it is a striking example of what I'm trying to say."

When our great hour comes, as St. Therese writes to Abbe Roulland,
missionary in China, if only we trust, the Blessed Virgin will obtain "the grace of making an act of perfect love" should we have "some trace of human weakness" and so will we reach heaven immediately after death.
7. St. Therese's teaching, a great message for the third millennium
One can rightfully say that Therese is turning all common opinions on Purgatory upside down.She wants to appear before God empty-handed and explains why it can be easier for sinners who have nothing to rely upon, to reach Heaven than the great saints with all their merits.. She emphasizes that trust alone is enough, that merits are no guarantee but often an obstacle for the straight way to Heaven, and that sins do not need to be an obstacle. After a 'messed-up' life, God can still take one straight to Heaven if the dying person only has trust. And how easy it can be to trust if there are no merits but only one's misery! Through trust she shows the shorter way to Heaven to the small and humble. And so many can and will go that way. She writes about this to her sister Marie: "... what pleases Him (God) is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy... That is my only treasure, dear Godmother, why should this treasure not be yours?..."
As has been said, she has made sanctity available for everyone through her little way, and this is also true for the straight way to Heaven... This will no longer be an exception. Once those who are smart enough to gather from the treasures of our new Doctor of the Church will walk this way easily, especially those who want to be part of the legion of little souls which St. Therese asked God for at the end of her manuscript B, "I beg You to cast Your Divine Glance upon a great number of little souls. I beg You to choose a legion of little Victims worthy of Your LOVE!"
 Extracts from:
                              ON PURGATORY
                    by Father Dr. Hubert van Dijk, ORC
 Ernie Jenkins RIP


  1. Thanks Richard. The concept of purgatory is still very new to me and difficult for me to grasp coming from an Protestant Evangelical mindset.

    It still worries me and scares me a little, but perhaps that's healthy in a way.

  2. Stuart, it still worries and scares me but the alternative of the stark Protestant choice of heaven or hell is a cold and bleak one.
    Read Fr Van Dijk's book regarding St Therese, I find it very refreshing and reassuring.
    Purgatory is God's great way of keeping the gates of heaven open for us rather then slamming shut it in our faces.God bless.

  3. Nice post, Richard.

    Someone once told me, purgatory is a place where people are perfected in love. That cured me of my primeval fear of purgatory. I used to think of it as a junior hell...though not permanent, of course

  4. Yes Remedia I had exactly the same idea of purgatory, namely, a place where people are perfected in love.

    But I'm not sure now.

    I'll put Fr Van Dijk's book on my list Richard thanks for the tip.

  5. The Merciful Christ (1930's) gives us "JESUS I TRUST IN THEE". A soul is likely to spend a time of purification in Purgatory because of a lack of trust in Jesus to take us directly to Heaven even though we deserve Purgatory or worse. Some souls, though rare, make a perfect act of contrition whwn called to eternity. As for Catholics there are sacramentals and devotiond available to help a soul reach Heaven directly or at the very least require only a very brief stay in Purgatory. And the category Purgatory is only a general reference to a specific place which itself has numerous places within it according to the particular sins of each soul. Nor does everyone in Heaven have equal reward. It is not like life on earth where someone who has the money to do so can by an expensive house and car in order to "keep up with the Joneses" for whatever reason. Most likely pride and/or envy.