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Posts Tagged ‘Purgatory’

Dabbling With Dogma

In 08 Musings by Jack Reagan on 2015/01/09 at 12:00 AM

Several years ago, I volunteered to teach a religion class for adults.  No one inquired as to whether or not I was qualified to teach the class – or even about my orthodoxy.  I  had volunteered and that was apparently sufficient qualification.  Years later I read in a book that when the teacher of a class designed for prospective converts was asked about the dogma of Purgatory, she replied, “We don’t believe that anymore.”  Apparently, once again, the fact of volunteering qualified her to teach converts.

It would be interesting to know just who she meant by “we” because Purgatory is a doctrine of the Church and always has been. Yet, some Catholics seem to think they have some divine right to declare some doctrines and morals as passé.  If a particular doctrine fits their mindset, fine; if not, they ignore it.  The problem is that Catholic doctrine and the moral code are not of human origin.  A lawmaker can change his own laws, but not those of higher authority.  The Supreme Court can declare abortion legal, but God does not agree.  Thus, no human can decree that any official doctrine is defunct today.  To do so is a direct challenge to divine authority and wisdom.  No human or group of humans has the intelligence to debate or outthink God . . . although, nowadays, many will dispute this.

As noted above, Purgatory is very much a part of the Church’s teaching.  There are references to it in both the Old and New Testaments.  The Protestant Bible does not contain the books that refer to Purgatory, so they do not accept Purgatory.  The entire month of November in the Church calendar is devoted to the souls in Purgatory who are awaiting their release into Heaven.

For that teacher to claim that belief in Purgatory is passé is rather risky because Purgatory affects so many people after death.  But for the sake of argument, let’s say that the Church did in fact drop the doctrine of Purgatory. What are the implications?  (Ideas do have consequences.)

Purgatory, in Catholic doctrine is a place where the dead who have not atoned sufficiently for their sins while on earth go to make up what is needed.  Since God is a HOLY God, no one can be is Heaven who is not holy.  That means, without any taint of past sin.  Sin and Heaven are totally incompatible.  (It is said that true martyrs and those who obtain a plenary indulgence at the moment of death may be exempted from this rule. )

Without Purgatory, there would be only Heaven and Hell as eternal destinations.  That is unreasonable for a good God because some people may be sinners (we all are), but they do not deserve Hell.  Human life consists of grades of existence.  There is good, better and best.  Report cards range from A to F.  Manufactured goods often have different grades of the same product.  Thus, for God to declare that at the point of death, one must be able to go right to heaven is just about impossible for the average human.  To consign that person to Hell for relatively small sins would be cruel and not part of the divine nature.

I’ll bet that the teacher who denied Purgatory assumes that when she dies, she will find herself in Heaven forthwith.  Since a heretic is also a sinner, according to her doctrinal idea, she must be sent to Hell.  There are many people, like her, who pick and choose doctrines and fully expect that God is such a pushover that He can’t bear to send anyone Hell; therefore, everyone gets to Heaven – at least eventually.  One reading of the words of Christ in the Gospels will dissuade you from that nonsense.

We are all aware that the broad Christian world is in a mess, most of it caused by picking and choosing what doctrines and moral laws to follow as individuals.

Thus,  large numbers of Catholics do not attend Sunday Mass; large numbers use contraception; some support abortion.  Many of those who do attend Church have no sense of reverence at all and act las though they are at a social event.

The problem is that while people may redesign God to suit themselves, God cannot be redesigned and His established rules do not change.  To forget that we are merely creatures made by God, who is the Master of all, invites spiritual catastrophe.  Once we die, there is no opportunity to repent or change ideas.  The exam we call life is over, and grades are given out.

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All Souls’ Day, November 2nd

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2011/10/29 at 10:10 AM

• Today, my friends, is a beautiful day of prayer for Catholics around the world. While it is the day that we remember our deceased loved ones, it is also a day in which we are called to meditate on the gift of eternal life.

• And so while the vestment I wear is black to symbolize our mourning for the dead, it is trimmed in silver to remind us that in our mourning, we are called all the more to bear witness to our hope in the resurrection of all men.

• Throughout the course of our 2000 years of history, the Catholic Church has always recognized the pastoral necessity of praying for the deceased as a means of helping them on their way to Heaven.

• Yesterday at Mass I spoke a bit about purgatory, and I mentioned how purgatory is not so much a place of punishment, but rather is a manifestation of God’s great love and mercy for us.

• While it’s true that the souls in purgatory suffer, it is so they can be perfected and thus prepared for the joys of Heaven!

• I also mentioned that purgatory is necessary for those of us who have maintained a spiritual friendship with God and desire to be in union with Him, but who have failed to make sufficient reparation for our sins or who still harbor some attachment to sin.

• As Catholics it is of utmost importance that we realize the utter devastation of sin, even those little sins that we think no one notices.

• Yesterday I mentioned how God has an image of who He wants us to be in this life. But sin makes us less than who we are called to be. It deforms our natural goodness and strips us of our dignity as people made in God’s image and likeness.

• Moreover, all sin separates us from God and from one another. It weakens the love we have for God, and in the case of mortal sin, it actually destroys that love for God within us.

• Our Lord, who loves us in infinite fashion, shows us nothing but love and benevolence throughout out lives. And sin is a rejection of His love; and therefore every sin is an injustice against God.

• In order to help correct this injustice, we must do penance to make reparation for our sins. That’s why a priest gives us a penance whenever we go to confession.

• Furthermore, throughout our lives we should seek constantly to make reparation for our sins. And this is why traditionally the Church has encouraged Catholics to give up meat on Fridays, and why the Church asks us to fast during Lent.

• These acts of sacrifice are a means for us to make reparation for our sins, to correct the injustice we’ve committed against God. Penances also help to break our attachments to sin.

• If at the time of our death we are in a state of grace and not in a state of mortal sin, but still have not made sufficient reparation for our sins, our Lord allows us to be purified in the fires of purgatory so that whatever sin remains within us may be burned away.

• I think a helpful analogy is to think of a bride on her wedding day. Every bride goes to great lengths to be as beautiful as she can be for her bridegroom on her wedding day.

• In the same way, purgatory is like the morning of our eternal wedding day. The suffering that we undergo in purgatory is how we are prepared for our bridegroom and the wedding feast of Heaven!

• However, as Catholics we believe that we cannot do anything to help ourselves once we are in purgatory. Therefore, we must rely on the prayers of others to help purify us.

• We do this in a primary way at funeral Masses. You see, my friends, the primary purpose of a funeral Mass is to pray for the repose of the soul of the deceased person. The prayers of every funeral Mass are geared toward this intention.

• Catholics are also encouraged to have Masses offered for their loved ones, and many of you are very faithful to this practice.

• But we also have All Souls Day, which is the day set aside each year to pray for all the dead.This is the way the Church ensures that all the poor souls in purgatory are receiving prayers.

• This day occurs right after All Saints Day in order to highlight the connection between the three states in which the Church exists.

• Yesterday we honored all of the saints in heaven, and as Catholics we believe that there is a very real bond that exists between us who are living on earth and the saints in heaven. The communion of the faithful does not dissolve simply because some of the faithful die.

• As Catholics we believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ: those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven.

• We believe that together we all form one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the saints are always attentive to our prayers. They forever intercede for us from Heaven for our good and the good of the entire Church, and we refer to them as the Church Triumphant.

• But at the present time some of our Lord’s disciples are pilgrims on earth. This is us, the Church Militant. Others have died and are being purified in purgatory, and we refer to them as the Church Suffering.

• Just as the Church Triumphant prays for us, the Church Militant, so too must we, the Church Militant, pray for the Church Suffering so that they may become the Church Triumphant.

• Our prayers, sacrifices and penances can greatly aid the souls in purgatory, and thus the Church instituted today’s feast for that very purpose.

• And so, my friends, we meditate today on God’s promise of eternal life for those who love Him, and pray that all those who have gone before us may obtain the pardon of their sins, the help of God’s grace, and life everlasting.

• Let us assist the deceased with our prayers, and let us also pray that when we die our hope for eternal life may be fulfilled as well! Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them! Amen.

Copyright 2009 by Reverend Timothy S. Reid

Reverend Reid is pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic  Church in Charlotte, NC

All Saints’ Day, November 1st

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2011/10/28 at 10:59 PM

The saints remind us clearly of our call to purity and holiness of life. They remind us of the necessity of living in faith,hope, and love, and they show us the joy of embracing a life of virtue.

• But most importantly, the saints remind us that God has an image of who He wants us to be, and that we should strive with all our might to be that man or woman God has called us to be.

• Sacred Scripture tells us that our Lord has created us in His own image and likeness, but our Lord has also created each of us with a certain plan for our lives. In His mind our Lord has an image of the person He wants each of us to be.

• Throughout the course of our lives, if we choose to listen to our Lord through prayer, if we choose to follow God’s will, if we endeavor to grow in virtue and seek to make reparation for our sins, we are gradually transformed into that person our Lord has called us to be.

• In other words, growing into that person that God has called us to be is simply a matter of growing in holiness. It’s a matter of living out the Beatitudes that we heard in today’s Gospel.

• If we manage to live lives of holiness here on earth and become that person that God desires us to be and accept His mercy for the times we have fallen short, then we enter into the joys of Heaven and live united with our Lord for all eternity.

• Of course, if we are not sorry for our sins, if we have not asked for God’s mercy, if we have forfeited God’s friendship through mortal sin and have no desire to be united to Him, then we will merit the eternal pains of hell.

• But if we fail to realize God’s desire for our life but are still striving for holiness, and if we are sorry for our sins and have asked for our Lord’s mercy, then our Lord allows us to be perfected and made into the image He has of us in the afterlife. And this we call purgatory.

• Rather than being a place of punishment, purgatory, my friends, is actually a great sign of God’s mercy.

• You see, my friends, God and sin are mutually exclusive; they cannot exist together. So if we are to be eternally united with God in Heaven, then we must be free of all sin and all of our attachment to sin.

• If we fall short in our duty to grow in holiness in this life, or if we fail to make proper reparation for our sins, but still love God and desire to be with Him, then our Lord allows us to be purified in purgatory.

• This purification will involve suffering (commonly understood as purifying fire), and through this process God’s fiery love “burns” away all impurities on the person’s soul.

• And once the process of purification is completed, the soul enters into God’s presence and is fully united to Him. So purgatory is God’s way of preparing us fully to live with Him in Heaven forever.

• The saints are the people who have fulfilled that image God has of them during their lives on earth. They are people who have lived a life of holiness to a heroic degree and who have no need of purgatory.

• In other words, the saints are people who have proven not only that living a life of holiness is possible in this life, but that holiness is possible for any person living in any circumstance.

• In the Book of Revelation, we hear of St. John’s famous vision of heaven, and he tells us about the servants of God who come from every tribe of the children of Israel.

• St. John tells us of the great multitude of people standing before the throne of God, from every nation, race, people and tongue, and in doing so St. John tells us that sainthood is not restricted to a certain group or class of people. Sainthood is for all of us!

• And the Church’s history has borne this out. While the Church does make distinctions between various classes of saints, such as martyrs, pastors, virgins and religious, the Church’s roll of saints includes both men and women of all ages from every continent.

• And today’s feast calls us to be among their number when we die.

• The beautiful thing is that the saints not only call us to join them around God’s throne in the eternity of heaven, but through their merits and intercession they actually help us to fulfill God’s will and grow in holiness.

• The author of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the saints in Heaven as a “great cloud of witnesses,” and he writes: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:1-2).

• As we celebrate this great Solemnity of All Saints, as we bask in the glory of this great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, let us trust in their intercession to help us in whatever struggles life brings to us.

• Let us look to their example of heroic virtue and purity of life and seek to imitate it for the sake of our souls. Like the saints in Heaven, let us live out the Beatitudes with faithfulness and integrity so that we may one day join them around God’s throne.

Copyright 2009 by Reverend Timothy S. Reid

Reverend Reid is pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic  Church in Charlotte, NC