Purgatory is No Joke

Purgatory is No Joke August 1, 2022

“Purgatory is no joke.” This quote comes from Father McTeigue SJ. I often listen to him on my drive home from work. His program, The Catholic Current, airs weekdays at 5 p.m., EST. He followed up to this statement with a quote from the Protestant C.S. Lewis on his view of purgatory. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce:

If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.

Many non-Catholics misunderstand the doctrine of purgatory. They see it as unbiblical and an admission by those who believe it that Christ’s work on the cross was insufficient to guarantee immediate entrance into heaven. I will attempt to clarify this doctrine and show that, contrary to the misconceptions surrounding it, non-Catholics should follow Lewis’ example and affirm this experientially and theologically sound doctrine.

What Does the Bible Say?

The Bible is clear that God demands holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16). Only holiness can exist in the direct presence of God and not suffer. No sin, nor attachment to things of earth, belongs in heaven (Hebrews 12:14 and Revelation 21:27). The Bible verse that most explicitly supports purgatory states:

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15

This verse makes clear that all wood, hay, and straw (sinful attachment) burn up because they cannot survive “the fire.” Only gold, silver, and precious stone (good works/attachment to God) survive “the fire.” Also note that those in “the fire” suffer loss but will ultimately be saved “through fire.”

Attachment to Sin

Moreover, since God requires holiness, to exist in His presence with any attachment to things of this earth (even good things) and sinful things is impossible. Now, allow me to make clear that only those whose ultimate destination is heaven go to purgatory. These faithful believers in Christ died in God’s grace and desired God’s presence but their personal holiness remained incomplete. They still had (mixed with the gold, silver, and precious stone) wood, hay, and straw. Spiritually speaking, they need a shower. They need the cleansing shower of purgatory. God’s grace provides that last purification for the saved to enter and enjoy heaven. What an amazing God!

Back to C.S. Lewis

To concluded, let’s circle back to C.S. Lewis. The below quote is from Letters to Malcolm and perfectly illustrates the need for purgatory.

Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into joy? Should we not reply, With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleansed first. It may hurt, you know-even so, sir.

Lord, thank you for your cleansing fire!

 

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