By Reverend Ray Atwood, Prince of Peace Cluster
“But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). Paul is indicating that salvation comes through a purging fire. Catholics call this purging fire “Purgatory.”
Jesus also refers to Purgatory in Matthew’s Gospel, when He says: “Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mt. 12:32). Some translations use the word “world” instead of “age.”
Saint Peter in his first Letter refers to faith, “more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire” (1 Pet. 1:7). Fire is part of the testing experience.
The Book of Wisdom talks about “the souls of the just” being in the hand of God (3:1). Saint John in Revelation talks about those “who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates” (references to the heavenly Jerusalem (22:14).
All these passages refer to a purging that precedes Heaven. The good news is that the souls in Purgatory are destined for salvation. The bad news is that they are not yet perfectly purified in order to enter it.
Purgatory is a tough concept for many Christians to grasp. The problem is, in part, the lack of clear biblical references to this spiritual reality, but nothing as clear as the Lord’s command to baptize (Mt. 28:19) or to celebrate the Eucharist (Mk. 14:22-23). Nevertheless, the notion of a final purging of those souls destined for Heaven is part of Christian revelation and has been for centuries.
There are couple things to keep in mind when discussing Purgatory. First, Purgatory is a final cleansing. It is meant for those who will enter Heaven, but are not yet prepared. Second, Purgatory is God’s work, not ours. The souls in Purgatory are totally helpless. We can help them and they can help us with their prayers, but they cannot help themselves. God purifies them. Third, Purgatory is an expression of God’s mercy because if there were no cleansing, it is unlikely that many souls would be purified sufficiently to stand face-to-face with almighty God. And we know what the alternative is! May the good Lord make holy and pleasing in His sight in this life and the next.