Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Introduction to Purgatory

So I found this book at a thrift store last weekend. Its called "Purgatory" by Fr. F.X. Schouppe, S.J. 

I decided to pick it up because even though I've been a Catholic for a year & a half now, I still don't know much about the doctrine of purgatory. It doesn't seem all that important in the grand scheme of things & very little, if any, time is spent on the subject. Any priest I've had the fortune to talk to says purgatory is not a  "real" place- rather, like indulgences or austere penances, its just one of the many traditions carried over from the superstitious middle ages. So, when, I wonder, did people stop believing in purgatory? And what were the reasons for such a departure? 

The Bible says no unclean thing will inherit the kingdom of God. Do I need to be purified in the afterlife if Jesus already  "washed my sins away" & "took the punishment for my sins upon Himself"? If Christ is my righteousness, am I not also righteous & clean & "hidden" in Him? Is it not through Christ's merit alone that I can even dare hope for heaven?

Purgatory seems to beg the question: What did Jesus' death & resurrection actually accomplish for us? Was it instant forgiveness of debt & consequence? Did the cross somehow distract God's justice & wrath away from us & toward Christ? Does salvation allow us to get off scott free? Even before I converted, I had trouble believing that. Martin Luther is purported to have compared our righteousness to snow covered dung. Whether or not he really said that (or something like it), many people seem to believe in that analogy today. Didn't Jesus also call the religious leaders of His day white washed tombs? It would appear that having our sins "covered" isn't enough. We must be transformed by the renewing of our minds & an inward, active repentance. The dung must be burned away. The tombs must be emptied & aired out. We must be pure. But if we have to go to purgatory to be purified, what was the point of Calvary?

Purgatory seems to imply that we must somehow pay our own debt to God, much like a convict will "pay his debt to society" by imprisonment. But how can we atone for our own sins? Is that even possible? Wasn't it Jesus Who accomplished that very thing on the cross? Didn't He stand in our place & sacrifice His life for us- suffering to the nth degree so we wouldn't have to?

According to the Church fathers & saints of old, in order to appropriate our salvation, we're required to be active participants with Christ- not passive observers. A common misconception seems to be that the consequence of sin is magically whisked away when we ask forgiveness. Forgiveness = instant atonement. But even Jesus told those He forgave to "Go & sin no more or something worse will happen to you". What was He talking about? Perhaps purgatory? We must repent & atone for our sins, that is, we must make the effort to right the wrongs we've committed. If we don't, we remain unclean & incur a debt we won't escape in the next life. We must settle with our accuser quickly, lest the Judge throw us into prison. Jesus tells us we won't get out till WE'VE paid the last penny. It appears that the debt is ours. Here on this earth, through grace, we are admonished to strive to make our calling sure. We're to test ourselves to see if we're still in the the faith. We're to work out our salvation with fear & trembling. Why are Christians warned to such lengths if a place like purgatory doesn't actually exist?

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