Spe Salvi 45: Is There Hope In or For Purgatory?

The section titled Judgement as a setting for learning and practicing hope takes a look at that mysterious intermediate state between heaven and hell.

45. This early Jewish idea of an intermediate state includes the view that these souls are not simply in a sort of temporary custody but, as the parable of the rich man illustrates, are already being punished or are experiencing a provisional form of bliss.

Referencing that unique parable the Lord tells in Luke 16:19-31.

There is also the idea that this state can involve purification and healing which mature the soul for communion with God. The early Church took up these concepts, and in the Western Church they gradually developed into the doctrine of Purgatory. We do not need to examine here the complex historical paths of this development; it is enough to ask what it actually means.

Human choice determines a post-death landing spot. It’s not at all about pelagianism, but mostly how we cooperate with God’s grace or not.

With death, our life-choice becomes definitive—our life stands before the judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history.

Or in this very moment.

In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell [Cf. Catechism, 1033-1037]. On the other hand there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbors—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfilment what they already are [Cf. ibid., 1023-1029].

I believe the human indulgence to “sanctify” the dead is less about usurping the Last Judge to a judgment opposite the Temple Police, but an honest wish and hope for the very best for someone we love. After all, none of us can bargain a soul into heaven based on mortal testimonials. (Though we are encouraged to lobby, are we not?)

This document is Copyright © 2007 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the full document online here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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