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Purgatory is Good News

Purgatory is good news! The teaching on purgatory has been part of the tradition of the Church from the very beginnings of Christianity. The practice of praying for those who have died is as old as the Mass itself, dating back to the apostolic times. Praying for the dead was not an invention of the Christians, but rather, a continuation of

the Jewish tradition. Jesus told us that he came “not to destroy but to fulfill” the faith of the people revealed already in the Old Testament, and completed and fulfilled in the New Testament. Praying for the dead would make no sense if only Heaven and Earth existed, since we cannot help those who are in Hell, and we need not help those who are already in Heaven. Prayers for the dead can be found on the walls of the catacombs where Christians gathered for Mass during the great persecutions of the first 300 years of Christianity. The belief about purgatory is very simple, it states that those who have not completed their own purification here on earth and yet who die in the state of friendship with God will be allowed to complete this purification after death. Only those who are perfect can enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and that perfection has to do with achieving perfect union with God. St. John of the Cross wrote about stages of purification that all Christians are called to pass through in this life. As is the case with our physical life so is the case with our spiritual life: growth includes suffering. If we want to grow in our knowledge of languages, our ability to be good at sports, our proficiency or mastery of any subject, we will need to suffer by putting in the hard work. The same is true when it comes to our growth in spiritual perfection. Virtue is acquired by dying to self and responding to God’s invitation to humble ourselves, to embrace difficulties, to pray when we don’t feel like it; namely, to “pick up our cross and follow Jesus”. Suffering is just part of life, but it can be used for good or for evil. Jesus invites us to embrace difficulties and sufferings of this present life for the benefit of our sanctification. To do this we don’t have to look very far, opportunities to experience suffering will find us. Here are some examples: when someone frustrates me I can choose to respond with kindness, when laziness prevents me from offering time for God I can respond with generosity, when my comfortable life makes me forget about the poor and needy I can respond by sharing some of my blessings, etc. These are different ways of experiencing purgation here on earth, for the sake of uniting ourselves with Jesus and becoming more like him. Before we enter heaven we will all have to become perfect, as the Heavenly Father is perfect. Just as it would be impossible for us to enjoy the brightness of the sun if we spent our entire life in a dark basement, so too we would not be able to enjoy the sanctity of God’s presence in Heaven if we spent our entire life in the darkness of our own sinfulness. The process of purification that we must all go through in preparation for Heaven is a sign of God’s tremendous mercy, for God desires that all may be saved. Purgatory starts here on earth, and it should be completed by the time we die. This is a transformation from sinners to saints, and it is available to us all. The good news is that God’s mercy extends even beyond this life through the teaching on purgatory, the final completion of our union with God if we still need it. All of this means that true transformation is possible for us here on earth. The journey of faith is one that enables a real change from within, a change of our very being into holiness. Our salvation is not just based on having connections, knowing someone who can get us in, as would be the case if God simply said to us: “I know you are imperfect, but don’t worry, I’ll get you in”. God’s call for us is much more optimistic, God believes that we can actually become perfect through a life of purification and faith. This means that we get into Heaven not simply because we know someone who can get us in, but actually because we have allowed the love of God to prepare us and make us worthy of such a great gift. Jesus saves us, and on top of that he invites us to be transformed into true disciples. How awesome is that? Purgatory, whether here on earth or after we die, is an amazing gift of God’s generosity and belief in our capacity for holiness. Now that’s awesome! Fr. Kuzma

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