Hey, Father! Why does the church teach purgatory exists? Where is purgatory in the Bible? I thought Jesus’ sacrifice of himself was enough?
— Dale in Mattoon
Purgatory exists not to keep us from God but to prepare us for him.
First, some biblical evidence of purgatory: 2 Maccabees 12:46 says, “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”
Yes, Christ’s sacrifice is the source of eternal salvation and apart from the cross there is no other way by which we are saved. But have you conformed your life to it? That’s the question of sanctity: Have you conformed your life to the mystery of the cross? Do you fight temptation, love your neighbor and your enemy, forgive and seek forgiveness, practice heroic virtue, and pray without ceasing?
If so, then you are already one of those most rare and beautiful of people who do not need purgatory: a saint. If not, then purification continues in this life and if needed, in the life to come.
For example, imagine you’re playing baseball with your friends and the ball breaks your neighbor’s window. You go to your neighbor and apologize. He forgives you. But, you’re not off the hook yet. You still must pay to replace that window. That’s purgatory.
Here’s another story to illustrate:
A mother and her a son lived in Chicago. Drafted into the Air Force during the Vietnam Conflict, the son became a fighter pilot but was shot down. Not knowing if he were alive or dead, the military classified him as missing in action (MIA). Years passed, but no word was heard of or from him. Then, one day, there was a knock at the door. When the mother opened it, before her stood her son. After the crash, he had been captured and endured years as a prisoner of war (POW). Released and on his way home, a clerical error prevented his mother from being notified.
Seeing her son, the person she wanted most in the world, she did a strange thing: She closed the door and said, “Could you please come back in 20 minutes?”
When we die and come face to face with the all holy God, we may realize we are not ready for such overwhelming sanctity, joy and fulfillment. We may need a little time to prepare ourselves. And in his great mercy, God grants it. That’s purgatory.
This is also a reminder for all of us to pray for the souls in purgatory, as they cannot pray for themselves. So, offer up those little sacrifices for those souls, so they be more quickly joined with God and the saints in heaven.
Father Seth Brown is pastor at St. Mary’s in New Berlin, Sacred Heart in Franklin, Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Alexander, and St. Sebastian in Waverly.