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In This Booklet

Explore the depths of faith with ‘Sin Confession God’s Mercy and Purgatory,’ a concise yet comprehensive tract tailored for every Catholic seeker. Delve into the profound truths of sin, confession, and the final j

ourney, addressing common misconceptions while illuminating the boundless mercy of God. This insightful work offers clarity amidst opposition and shines a light on the transformative power of divine compassion, guiding readers toward a deeper understanding of their faith and the path to spiritual renewal.

Copyright

© 2023 Kenneth C. Alimba. No part of this booklet may be reproduced without the express permission of the author. I intend to spread the gospel, and I grant permission for reprinting but with conditions, so feel free to send us a message using the Contact Page.

 

Origin And Purpose

The Church teaches that the Universe is from God- that we are a product of an intelligent Designer. Someone who made the Universe and everything in it, someone we know as God: Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a simple fact that man is a creature: we came from someone, and that someone came from someone. And if we stretch out our origins, there comes a point where it terminates at the very beginning, where time, space, and matter comes into existence in one instant. And from then on began to refine and fine-tune over centuries.

We believe that God caused this chain of events but created man not simply as part of the mindless order of the Universe but as a willing participant in the fine-tuning of the world. Man is made for a higher purpose, to share the life of God. God, who is uncreated and self-sufficient, made man to participate in his blessed life (cf. CCC I, CCC 1703).

God’s Interior life is an eternal activity in which the Father begets the Son, and both breathe forth the Holy Spirit. From this, everything else is born out of a love so pure, free, and fierce. And right in the middle, in the hottest ‘area’ of concentration of that love, He made man in his image and likeness (cf Genesis 1:26). To look like him in Spirit, being able to love, know, and act freely (cf CCC 1730). This freedom is needed for man to enjoy this life to which he is called.

Then he put a fire in the hearts of man to be drawn to communion with others and to find peace only through hard work. Remember, even God works, albeit without being exhausted. God is constantly active. So is his Universe; everything in it moves at dizzying speeds to stay stable enough for you. Therefore you are made to move, grow, speak, act, and most importantly, seek God and build the world according to a blueprint revealed by God. Ultimately, man finds his rest in God, the sole object of his love.

We find fragments of this blueprint in the diverse religions and cultures of the world and in literature and art. The seeds of God planted in us find their way to our consciousness and seek expression in many ways. It is indeed a glorious thing to ponder. However, we see this blueprint in its highest resolution in the self-revelation of God himself through his Son. In Him is the pinnacle of creation, nature, and culture. In him is the eternal Truth of God’s Word spoken in time – He is the very Word of God. The Word with whom God made all things, who ‘draws all men to himself’ (cf John 12:32), since in everything that is, there is the Word of God.

This blueprint has been preserved for many centuries by the Catholic Church, which possesses the complete Truth of the revelation of God, and in whom the Holy Spirit is actively leading to even more Truth. The dynamic nature of the Church is fascinating, especially when you consider that the Church is itself a living thing – an organism of which every member is a part. This Church has Christ for its head and the Holy Spirit for its lifeblood. This Church is Holy since it is the physical expression of the Word of God, the presence of God on earth.

Man can sense God drawing him, beckoning him to something higher than himself. We can feel this in our need for a purpose, how our entire lives come alive when we have a goal. The more selfless the goal, the better we tend to perform. We see this in our need for familial love – committing to one person to share our lives with. To foster a love powerful enough to spring forth children and tend diligently to them. In whom our lives are extended, and our identities change.

Man finds this call articulated more clearly in the Word of God himself. Man’s purpose is found in God, whose Word resides at the centre of man’s being. Even while on pilgrimage, God continues to draw man and remind him of his mission so that he can order his life properly and not fall into the misfortune of seeking any created things over the Creator.

On this journey, man continues to dream of God and seek him even when he does not know it. He seeks God in both good and terrible places.

When we seek God in good places, we engage in wholesome activities. We care for ourselves and our families and contribute to our society. We do our jobs diligently, preserve the Truth, and uphold justice. We practice virtue, pray and give alms, give an ear to those who are down, and seek after and support the less fortunate; when we do these, we seek God in a good way.

 

But then we also seek God in terrible places when we fall for the tricks of our fallen nature and place created things above God himself. When we seek pleasure above our families and our God, embezzle public funds and destroy the ripple effects of good works of those who have come before us. When we add more darkness to the world with our cynicism and hostility toward people we perceive as different, we seek God in deadly places. In these or similar acts, man seeks lasting happiness, which can only be found in God, his maker. When we have removed God from our lives, the hole this abdication leaves behind is so great that nothing can ever fill it. In fact, this hole gets bigger and bigger with each terrible act aimed at seeking fleeting happiness.

 

God: Merciful And Just

For centuries man has discovered and expressed many truths through arts and sciences. Through these, we learn the mind of God as we uncover the depth of creation. We walk around an idea from different angles and can express one Truth in many ways. This artistic expression is baked into how we perceive the world and speak about God. This is even more the case with God since it is difficult to capture the depth of God with human language.

Some statements about God though valid, do not always convey the whole Truth. We speak figuratively about a God we cannot always speak literally about since our knowledge of him is limited. This limitedness of knowledge is not a big problem since we know enough to love him deeply and commune with him in this life to be united with him in the next, which is our ultimate end/destiny.

So, we believe in a God who is just and merciful; he rewards the repentant with forgiveness and Grace. And he punishes the proud sinner who perseveres in his sin. We say ‘punish’ as though God makes a decree of punishment every time a person sins, but this isn’t true. We know now, through the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ, that God is always pursuing the sinner to offer him forgiveness. And when the sinner repents sincerely, “there is great rejoicing in heaven” (Luke 15:7)

In Truth, man punishes himself by walking a path that leads away from the only source of life. Walking the opposite of life is death. So we now know that sin contains death just like poison does. This is the justice of God, who orders all things. The commandments of God were given as prescriptions on how to live wholly. They aren’t simply a list of stuff God does not want us to do; they are a list of things that will kill us if we do them. The only reason God hates sin is because it destroys his creatures.

So, in reality, God does not smite anyone with punishment – but sin kills our life of Grace in Christ. But we can figuratively say that God punishes, which would be true. 

God is eternal, simple, infinite and unchanging. Eternity, infinity and simplicity is a state of zero succession of moments or conditions, it is also a state of absolute perfection that nothing can be added unto God, and God does not belong to any class or species nor is made up of parts, not even ‘spiritual parts’. So God is an infinite permanence and pure Spirit. Even the activity in God does not happen in successions but is a constant state of being. Knowing God’s attributes makes it easy to understand that God cannot be angry since that would mean he was happy at one point, angry, and then happy again. Emotions do not exist in God, as emotions require a body and a nervous system. And God has no body or parts. So while God is unchanging, eternal, infinite and simple, we have still seen the terrifying consequences of defying God in the scriptures, which are true. However, a good way to view it is, as we described above, those actions come with those consequences. God is not limited, he still manifests his will for us in time. This is part of the mystery of God.

So God is the unchangeable one. We who are changeable are the ones in whom the changes occur in our relationship with him. So we can say God punishes someone when we mean they have abandoned life and gone for death. We can say ‘God throws men into hell’ when we mean that Man dies in this state of alienation and does not have the life of God in Him. He is then left alone and is lost for all Eternity.

Like the Sun that shines on all, beautiful to the healthy eye but repugnant to the sick eye, yet the corruption isn’t in the Sun but in the eye of each who gazes at the Sun.

“Since our knowledge of God is limited, our language about him is equally so. We can name God only by taking creatures as our starting point, and in accordance with our limited human ways of knowing and thinking” (CCC 40)

 

“Admittedly, in speaking about God like this, our language is using human modes of expression; nevertheless it really does attain to God himself, though unable to express him in his infinite simplicity. Likewise, we must recall that “between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying an even greater dissimilitude”; and that “concerning God, we cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not, and how other beings stand in relation to him.” (CCC 43)

 

Sin

Evil is the privation or absence of good. For instance, when a creature is missing a physical thing proper to its nature, that is called physical evil. So a dog with three legs is suffering from a physical evil – since four legs are proper to it. But a goat who cannot read does not suffer any evil because that isn’t proper to its nature.

Sin is a moral evil only committable by rational beings.

Sin occurs when one performs an act contrary to right reason and the Eternal law of God. In simple terms, sin is doing anything contrary to the law of God and conscience. This law of God is written in our hearts – so we can tell what is reasonable and appreciate what is true.

This law also orients us towards the real, the just, the orderly, and the beautiful since all these flow from God, their source. The law of God is designed to help man keep his feet planted on the real, his fist to hold onto and fight for what is just, his mind to pursue order, and his heart to move and rejoice in beauty. Sin hurts and sometimes destroys our ability to see the Truth and the real, choose justice, and properly enjoy the good things of this world, and prevents us from the enjoyments of the afterlife.

And if we lose these abilities, we run into the danger of being caught in a terrible spiral where our vices cause us to medicate with more sins. It is like being depressed and being withdrawn and overfeeding – and being more depressed from the overfeeding and the withdrawal. We risk being caught in this negative feedback loop for the rest of our lives until death. This is very common but not as easily perceptible by those caught in this loop because that is the point of being caught in it. The cause of one’s emptiness will elude him since sin causes blindness, and he will grope around in the dark until he can re-evaluate his life objectively.

Mortal sin is a radical rejection of the order set by God, of his eternal law and his promise of communion in the end. It is the rejection of God’s kingdom. On the other hand, accepting the Kingdom of God means adherence to his command, recognizing his reign over all things, and remaining within the Body of Christ, the Church.

Some sins constitute this complete rejection of God, cutting one away from Him. That is what we call mortal sins. For a mortal sin to occur, there must be three things present: grave matter, knowledge, and free will. This means it must be a grave matter like adultery, murder, etc. One must also know that the action is a sin, and one must also freely choose to do it for him to be guilty of mortal sin. It is no longer a mortal sin if any of these things are missing. If it isn’t a grave matter, even with full consent and will, it cannot be mortal. And if the action isn’t chosen freely, it isn’t a mortal sin.

Sin is so dangerous because it causes one to lose Grace and builds up an unhealthy residue even after being forgiven. One still contends with the habits caused by sin and many other consequences coming from it. It can permanently alter a person’s life and change its trajectory completely.

Sin is understood in different degrees and categories. There is formal and material sin. When someone sins without knowing their action is sinful, that is called material sin. They are not guilty, at least not of any mortal sin. But when they are aware and commit, that is a formal sin. Our statements so far have been about formal sins.

Sin is also mortal and venial – the former completely destroys a person’s spiritual life. While the latter is only a weakening of the life of Grace in the soul and predisposes one to more serious sins. The Church encourages confessing venial sins but teaches that this isn’t required. However, confessing venial sins can help protect one from graver sins.

God presents man with the ultimate choice—to love Him—with the promise of eternal union with Himself or reject and live in darkness outside His kingdom. He calls out to humanity, saying, “I, the Lord who brought you into existence from nothingness, call you to love Me. I promise everlasting happiness if you believe in Me and trust in My Word. Before you were created, I was the only one who knew you; you existed solely in My heart. I loved you even when no one else could know or love you. Now that I have formed you, others can see and love you because I have given them the capacity to love you. Know that I have loved you from the very beginning.”

Furthermore, God Himself came to seek out His people to save them from their sins. The Second Person of God assumed human form and entered the world, taking on flesh from a woman specially prepared and chosen to carry and nurture God.

The remarkable reality of God’s love for humanity is vividly revealed through Jesus’ incarnation, as He dwelt among us, indicating the depth of His mercy and desire for our salvation. Through this profound act of divine love, the path to eternal union with God is laid bare, offering redemption and everlasting joy to all who believe and embrace His love.

 

Consequences Of Sin

Sin carries a twofold consequence. Firstly, grave sins cause a complete separation from God; if one dies in this state, one cannot make Heaven. This is because mortal sin kills the life of the soul, and the soul needs this life if they’re going to resurrect to life. This profound miracle of resurrection is only possible if one is attached to the body of Christ by Grace, who alone is ‘the resurrection and life”. Secondly, sin creates an unhealthy attachment to created things, which partly or wholly remain even after sacramental forgiveness.

This attachment would require expiation either in this life or in Purgatory. We will discuss purgatory later. The first consequence is ‘guilt’, and the second is ‘temporal punishment’. The guilt is eradicated, and the life of Grace is restored after a valid confession and absolution. But the temporal punishment is removed by the sorrow for sin and through penance, charity, and purgation.

“These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain” (CCC 1472)

 

By action or inaction, one turns away from God (aversio a Deum) and turns to created things (conversio ad creaturis). When this is freely done in a serious matter, with full knowledge, mortal sin has been committed. So repentance must also conversely be a turning to God (conversio ad Deum) and a concomitant turning away from created things (aversio a creaturis). This means putting God back as the sole object of one’s life and using created things as they’re supposed. Only as means for attaining to God, of taking care of oneself and those in their charge, and being modest and avoiding bad means of amassing wealth.

This conversion to God is not a mere sentiment; it must manifest practically. Just as rejecting God and turning to creatures is a practical evil, the reversal must be practical. It starts with severing ties with sin and avoiding occasions that give rise to sin. Furthermore, it involves repairing the damage caused by sin and seeking sacramental absolution to reconcile with God fully.

And since sin is also an act of disobedience, this conversion must involve an ongoing openness to the Spirit of God. This openness will involve humility in accepting his Word and a keen interest in growing one’s faith. Learning how to obey God and what the command of God is for the soul in every particular scenario.

In this informative process, people can experience profound spiritual healing, reconciliation, and the restoration of their relationship with God, leading to a life that aligns with His divine will and ultimately finding peace and true happiness.

 

“Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time, it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his Grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of Spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).” CCC 1431

 

 

God’s Attitude Toward The Sinful

Understanding God’s attitude toward us when we sin is paramount in our spiritual journey. Many weird images of God risk causing us to be complacent by thinking, ‘God will understand’ when we ‘do what we have to do as though he designed life for us to be comfortable all the time with no pain. This is unrealistic and untrue since our journey is not easy at all. Many, including Christ himself, have shed their blood on this road. It is rough. Sometimes we get some respite, but we are always joyful because of who our Father is and because we have Jesus as a companion.

The other image is that God chases sinners with thunder seeking to destroy us. This also isn’t true. God hates sin and does not like what we do to ourselves when we destroy our souls and our neighbours with our sins. Or by encouraging others to sin or looking the other way as evil becomes the norm around us. But he is always making the first move to reconcile with us. He even came down from Heaven and died on the cross for us as a first big move to get us to submit to his plan for us—a plan which will pour an abundance of Grace and steady joy into our hearts. God is love, and God is our Father who wants to see us grow and be useful. He does not want us to die in sin and does not want to kill us, either. (cf. Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 1 Timothy 2:4).

 

Timing And The Plan

It seems unfair that Jesus didn’t come in our times, right? That is what it looks like, at least on the surface. But in Truth, His coming was beneficial to all of human history – even those who came before his birth benefited and received salvation through his death. Also, we who come after are lucky that he had a plan. What is this plan? He founded the Catholic Church and commanded her to continue being him on earth.

So in a sense, Jesus is still alive in this world today – He is in his Church, where he acts, breathes, walks, and speaks to us through our teachings and traditions. He is alive in the poor and our neighbours all around us. But most of all, he is alive in the Eucharist, where he remains waiting for us to sit in silent meditation with him, albeit for a few minutes.

Honestly, I do not know what more we could’ve asked for! He ‘kept’ his power with us in his Church so that she may continue to minister salvation to all who come to God with contrite hearts. I mean, what a plan!

We are supposed to be grateful for the gifts of God he has given us in his Church. That we can receive an actual sacramental pardon for sins is a miracle. A miracle we have gotten so used to that it seems to many as nothing. But we are to pray that the eyes of faith be opened so that we can see the grandeur, beauty, and nobility of the Sacraments.

 

There Should Be No Fear

Many people fear the idea of man forgiving sins, even in the name of Christ and His Church. To them, it means impersonating or claiming divine authority above man’s grasp. However, fundamental Christian belief goes against such fear. At baptism, one receives salvation, holistic restoration of spiritual wellness, communion with God and community, and forgiveness of actual and original sin.

Without the authority of Jesus, no one could be baptized, at least not Christian baptism anyway. With him extending this authority to man, we can receive baptism. The power to forgive comes from Jesus, and the ability to baptize (in the name of Christ) comes from Jesus’ decision to establish his Church and send the Holy Spirit to them, extending his authority to every age. When you say “I baptize you,” it means “I redeem you, in the name of Christ,” which does not mean “by my power, I redeem you” but more like “by the Lord’s power/command, He saves you through my service.” Baptism is a great miracle that many have gotten used to so they forget just what it means. At baptism, one is set free from all the faults of their entire life, from original sin, and all the punishments due to personal sins are entirely wiped off. They become as clean as an angel, a spiritual wonder.

Christ works this miracle through the ministry of men. Why then must we be scared of the idea of confession when it is the same Christ who said to the same Apostles, “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained” (John 20:22-23), and by Apostolic Succession, has blessed his Church with this same authority in our day. Apostolic succession means that the power has been handed from person to person, unbroken till our time.

Christ has given man the power to act in His name. Through man, he is extending a hand of His support, a caress of His love, a kiss of His peace, a rebuke when we linger in sin, and the words of His forgiveness when we sincerely come to Him. It means we function as members of His body, being His hands, His eyes, His feet, His heart beating in the world; it means being filled with the same anointing with which the Father anointed Him and pouring forth on the earth the overflow of His divine love. It means being His hands that labour, His feet that race to help others, His heart that beats for all men, and His mouth that speaks words of hope, love, and forgiveness.

When God revealed the coming of a Messiah, the people accepted this offer. They lived joyfully in hope, without actually knowing how He had chosen to come, without understanding with specificity the implications of the incarnation. Upon His coming to the world, He was unrecognized by many simply because men are scared to accept the divine generosity of God to collaborate with man. Men are always dazzled by God’s radical proposals; of collaboration and real unity. Christ had a lot of work to do to convince the people He is the Saviour; He is not just a prophet but the Only-Begotten Son of God; He is Himself, God.

Today, we are grateful that God has come to dwell with us, and we can call Him “Emmanuel.” However, we remain scared of pondering the real implication; we are happy about His gifts but too scared to consider the implication of even His commands to us, His summons to work with Him. To collaborate with us, God took our nature and became like us; to collaborate with Him, God lifts us to become divine; through the Holy Spirit acting in the laying on of the Apostles’ (Bishops’) hands, raising in Holy Orders those upon whose shoulders are laid heavier burdens and more extraordinary privilege to work in the name of Christ; to forgive sins, to bring hope, and to minister salvation to all men.

 

What Confession Is Not

Confession is not a place where anyone goes to receive forgiveness for any sin at any time they choose, with the intention of returning to their sins afterwards. The Church teaches that the abuse of this sacrament is a sacrilege. Such abuses include lying to a priest, insincere repentance, confessing with the intention of sinning again, and holding on to a wilful attachment to sin during confession. God only forgives those who are sincere before Him. It is different when one struggles to quit a sinful habit; they, however, must return to God each time with a sincere heart—discarding all instruments of sin and modifying their lives more and more to shield themselves from the occasion of sin.

 

The conditions for forgiveness are as follows:

  1. Recognition of the evil of one’s sins.
  2. Sincerely confessing these sins to the priest without wilfully withholding any detail, and a valid absolution from the priest.
  3. Being genuinely sorry, which involves a clear intention to be better, to abandon all instruments of sin, and to make amends for any damage caused or unjust actions taken.
  4. To do penance and strive to resist such sins afterward.

 

Those who kneel before God’s throne of mercy but lie to Him or try to deceive forgiveness out of Him only worsen their condition. Instead of freeing them from sin, their bonds are made worse.

 

What Confession Is Not

Confession is a clinic for the weak, for those who suffer under the burden of sin. This is an essential point because being okay with sin means one’s heart is closed to the Grace of God. One is resisting the Grace of God or is clinging to sin and giving all manner of excuses.

There are those in genuinely difficult situations where reordering their lives would cause them to relocate, for instance, or spend a lot of money, lose their jobs, etc. Those in these conditions must first remember Jesus’s injunction that one must cut off an arm if it causes them to sin. While this isn’t literal, the point is that quitting sin can cause one great grief initially. It can mean losing a job or a big contract. It can mean losing friends, being alienated from loved ones. But this is the cost of discipleship.

If you find rectifying your condition difficult, you must consult with your priest. This is what they are there for. They can provide you with practical counsel on how to change your life to quit sinful attachments.

Confession is where our souls receive healing for the unfortunate fall into sin. But we pay a price for this healing; we swallow a bitter pill. The more tangled we are with evil, the more painful the remedy that brings us healing since it would mean changing our lives more drastically.

But we must approach honesty. Even if you are not ready to let go of the situation, sitting and talking with your priest in the confessional is okay. He can give counsel whilst withholding absolution. The good of this is that with several visits, you can receive the Grace needed to make the courageous leap.

It is important to remember that receiving communion without being in the state of Grace is extremely dangerous for one’s soul. Some people feel the need to get up during communion, irrespective of their spiritual states. This is not an inspiration from Heaven but a temptation from Hell. Please see your priest more often for confession.

 

What Purgatory Is Not 

Some people have argued that Purgatory is a Catholic invention to give themselves hope that they can still be saved even if they die in sin.

Nothing about this idea is true. First off, it is not a Catholic invention; the concept pre-dates the Church.

 

“Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from sin.” 2 Maccabees 12:46

 

The above text has some historical lesson: the Ancient Jews believed in the idea of praying for the dead; they believed in the idea of an intermediate place/state between Heaven and Hell, where the forefathers either enjoyed some sort of bliss (Limbo of the Fathers), or where people could be temporarily purified (Purgatory) as distinct from Hell where there is no hope of redemption.

Secondly, anyone who dies in mortal sin is lost. Those in Purgatory are not sinners; we call them ‘Holy souls in purgatory’, not ‘sinners in purgatory’. Their sins have already been forgiven on earth, but they still have some remnants of disfigurements in their souls from their previous sins. They need to straighten their souls, to cleanse themselves of the ‘spots’ remaining on their wedding gowns.

 

What Purgatory Is 

Jesus says the requirement for Heaven is perfect sinlessness. This idea is expressed in many parts of scripture. We must be Holy as the Heavenly Father is – imagine the standards. And this makes sense; we are created in his image (cf Genesis 1:26-27). We are also called to be like Christ, who is Son by nature. We must therefore be like the Father, just like Christ is the perfect image of the Father. (cf Colossians 1:15)

The issue is, for most people, this would be impossible. Not because of mortal sins; we have learned mortal sins are off the equation since they cause a complete cut-off from God. But we mean venial sins and imperfections – this is also a problem. For example, imagine doing your job poorly sometimes and finding it difficult always to say the Truth, i.e., refusing to deceive anyone in any way and living a life wholly focused on God, with a laser-sharp mind at mass and in every prayer or dying while owing a debt to someone.

Some of these are minor imperfections, but they still mean we are not perfect. We have not responded ‘yes’ to God in every aspect. And even those that have responded ‘yes’ have not done so readily and quickly; some have done so sluggishly and with great difficulty or grumbling.

This is why the ordinary life of every Christian should be one of penance. Making amends for the harm our sins have done to the world, especially the mortal sins we have already been forgiven of. But there is always the chance we will not finish repairing the damage we have caused.

Purgatory is a transient state of purification that souls go through before entering paradise. It is not punishment but rectifying the damage we have caused to our souls. It is taking away the last smudges remaining from our lives.

Most people struggle to keep the commands of God. Whilst this won’t condemn a soul to Hell, this difficulty means something is holding us back or slowing us down. Purgation detaches us completely from any previous attachment to sin so we can soar high enough to enter Heaven.

This comes from a mature understanding of the seriousness and consequences of sin.

 

St Paul

“Now if any man builds on this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; … Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abides which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall SUFFER LOSS: but HE HIMSELF SHALL BE SAVED; yet so as by fire.” 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

 

Meaning:

  1. Everyone’s work/deed shall be judged.
  2. Some people’s deeds will be found perfect.
  3. Some will be found imperfect and, therefore, “burned up.”
  4. The one who loses shall “suffer” and still be “saved” as through a “fire.”
  5. That someone can “suffer” for a moment after death and still be “saved” after this suffering.

 

Paul exposes the error of those who hold there can be no mercy whatsoever.

 

St. Paul shows that someone can be judged, found imperfect, purified, and saved afterwards (as through a fire).

 

The Church

We use the word ‘purgatory’ to represent the state of being ‘burned up’ or ‘saved as through a fire’. This word captures the idea because this is what happens in this encounter. There is no otherworldly place with a signpost that reads “Purgatory”; at least, this isn’t what the Church teaches. The term is derived from the act of purification that characterizes this state/event.

Some believe that no other state is possible except Heaven or Hell, but the idea portrayed is that there is a place or state other than Heaven or Hell that souls go to or through. And Jesus Himself confirms this idea in the rich man and Lazarus parable. He referred to a place of temporary rest enjoyed by the Ancient Patriarchs/Saints before His resurrection, a place we call “Limbo.” Jesus spoke of Lazarus dying and resting “in Abraham’s bosom”; the Rich man called, not to God, but to Abraham. (Luke 16). Though these holy souls were at rest, they were not yet enjoying the perfect presence of God.

We do not know nearly enough about the Last Things (Death, Judgement, Heaven, Purgatory, Hell). But we know so far that God demonstrates his power to make provisional arrangements for his children who, though lacking the degree of holiness necessary for the immediate enjoyment of Heaven, are united with him and consequently are saved in the end. See also 1 Peter 3:19 and preceding texts for context.

The very fact that “Nothing defiled shall enter heaven” (Revelation 21:27) and “All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “Whoever says he has no sin makes God a liar” (1 John 1:8) makes the idea of Purgatory all the more true. Other historical and biblical evidence and the faith of the Church show it is certain.

 

“Temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment” St Augustine The City of God (21:13).

 

The Justice of God demands rectitude for the damage caused by sin, and we will pay the price for our errors. “I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper” (Luke 12:59). But the mercy of God gives us hope because, without it, we do not deserve even the removal of guilt that condemns the soul to Hell. So this is good news for those who struggle.

 

Our God Is A Consuming Fire

Some theologians identify the fires of Purgatory as Christ Himself. When a soul who has died in communion with Christ appears before His Judge, with stains of sin still left in their soul, they are exposed to the naked fire of God’s eye, where all Truth is laid bare, and all lies melt away in this fiery gaze of love and mercy. “Fire” signifies the intensity of the transformational property of this encounter with Jesus. Pope Benedict XVI is one of those who held that the fires of Purgatory is Christ Himself. He illustrates this in his book “Eschatology” and later in his Encyclical “Spe Salvi.” The latter is quoted below:

 

“The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and Grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards Truth and towards love” Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, Paragraph 47.