How can this Mercy of God,
Be So Misunderstood?
Because it was often used
as a tool
to strike fear into you,
instead of drawing Hope out!
Recently someone indicated that it was just easier to go to a protestant church that didn’t believe in Purgatory. The implication being if they ignore The Church teaching on Purgatory, it just will go away. They thought if they don’t believe in it, then they will notbe held liable to going there.
Someone else said Purgatory was often taught as a scary cruel place where “bad” children might go if they didn’t straighten up. That sounds more like HELL if you think about it.
How do we as Catholics gain a proper and grateful view of something which was often burned into our minds as so terrible?
First we need to accept that it is real. Regardless of what you may have heard in the last few decades, The Church has not “done away” with Purgatory. So how do we see it for what it really is…a Mercy of God?
We need to realize it is not middle ground between Heaven and Hell. It is however, a “place” you may rightfully want to avoid, but not for the reasons you may think. It’s true it is a state of suffering but probably not in the way you have been told. The suffering in Purgatory is a result of the soul’s longing for God. Purgatory was often depicted with fire because The Church wanted to convey the reality of a holy soul waiting to be united completely with God. That “pain” of waiting is worse than fires could every be. Think about the person you love the most in the world and how painful it would be to lose them. That is not a physical pain, is it? It is however, VERY real! Most of us would prefer physical pain to the pain of loss or separation. Even if it was onlytemporary loss or separation.
Next, there is no going to Hell from Purgatory. So let’s clear that up. It is not a place ofjudgment where your fate is decided. Purgatory may be better thought of as God’s washroom. Here is a good way to explain it.
In this life we have our human and bodily senses. We see, touch, smell, feel, taste, and hear, the reality around us. It is easy to be flooded by these senses and not catch the spiritual reality of the ever present God who loves us immensely. At our death the soul is separated from the body and it’s bodily senses. We will perceive God starkly as all TRUTH, the perfection of His being will blow us away. (That is why the old testament folks said no one can see God and live. He is too great! Too Holy! Too much love to comprehend in this life.) In other words when we die, we will see HimVERY clearly with nothing between us.
Finally, after stumbling around in this life, blinded by our fallen nature andtemptations to sin, our complete understanding of His love for us will be so evident that we will desire immediate and complete union with Him.
The realization that we were made for this union with Him, forever, will be so clear and so driving that we will long for it in the most extreme way. However, if we are aware of our own imperfections we may choose to temporarily “step away” to betterprepare ourselves for this ultimate union. God does not refuse us so much as we defer to a better preparation of our souls to be united with Him because His glory is so huge compared to what we can understand and prepare for, in this life.
So, yes, there is pain. That pain of longing. The separation from the one who loves you the most. What is the point of that longing the purpose of enduring that separation? To free you from the attachment to Sin. What does that mean?
Well, think about the last time you sinned. You probably did not get up first thing in the morning thinking, ” I wonder how I can offend God today?” We often choose “The fleeting pleasure of sin” over God’s will for us, for just that reason. Sin has a certainpleasure. Whether it’s the desire to gain something, feel something, controlsomething, or just the fulfillment of our own feelings of entitlement, we sin for the pleasure of it.
The odd little secret about our souls is that they respond to weakness by becomingweaker and they respond to strength by becoming stronger. When we give in to sin, we become weaker toward that sin. When we resist it (with and by the Grace of God) we become stronger against it.
So when we are forgiven of the guilt of the sin, does anything remain? Ask yourself an honest question. Think of the last time you knowingly, actively, chose to sin. Now, whatever it was you did, what if tomorrow God spoke to the world and said that wasnot a sin anymore. Would you run back to do it again? Be honest! Would you seek the same “pleasure” of that act or thought again? If you said yes, you are not alone. And that is the attachment sin has to you. It’s a good “gut check” isn’t it? To see how you really feel about your own sins.
It is not that Jesus Christ did not do everything to redeem and forgive you, He did! But you must be humble and realize this weakness you have. If you are not at the perfect point of contrition, that is to say, you hate your sins because they separate you from the one you love most and who loves you the most. Then there may be a littleattachment left that sin has to you. If you do not desire with all your heart to run screaming from temptation to sin and into the loving arms of your God, then there may be a little attachment to sin left in you. Well congratulations, you are part of thehuman race.
So, back to Purgatory. How will you detach yourself from that weakness toward sin? Could you enter into Heaven and be in the presence of God who is all perfect love and be dragging in even the smallest attachment to sin? Probably not! So what happens if you die without being perfect? What happens when you face God with no excusesand nowhere to hide that little desire to sin? It does not mean you hate God or want to go to Hell. It does not mean you are a bad person. You are just not ready yet to be in the presence of perfect love. Let’s liken it to Thanksgiving Dinner at Grandma’s.
You arrive early. You see the wonderful spread of food. You smell turkey cooking and fresh bread baking. You see the grand table set for everyone you love to be happy together again. But it’s early, too early to be seated. So you step outside for an hour or so to play football in the side yard with all your cousins. The time passes quickly and suddenly Grandma is ringing the dinner bell. You run inside to see, everyone else isseated. Everyone else is about to eat. Now you really see and smell the fine bird and the wonderful bountiful spread of food that has been prepared for you. Not only that, but you have worked up quite an appetite. You are heading toward the table when youcatch sight of yourself in the mirror. To your surprise you are covered in mud and leaves from the fine football game in the side yard.
You just know you can not go sit next to your beloved Grandma coated in mud and leaves. So what do you do? You head to the washroom and prepare yourself to be present at the meal.
Does your Grandmother hate you? Of course not! Are you unworthy to sit with your relatives and eat? Of course not! Was the food bought and prepared with you in mind? Yes! Were you invited to be there? Yes! So, what is stopping you from sitting down to the feast except your own desire to be clean first? That is similar to Purgatory.
The wait for Grandma’s cooking could almost be described as painful. Why? Because it is so good! But your own sense of decorum separates you temporarily in order to better prepare yourself to be fully integrated with your family and to enjoy the communal meal with each other.
Out of your desire not to smell bad and look muddy, you take the time away from yourultimate union with them, to be cleansed of the impediments which keep you from thatgreat union of food and family.
With Heaven, God sets the communal meal. He sends the invitation. He sends His Son to redeem you, to bring you, and make sure you arrive at your destination. He is not demanding you get cleaned up before you sit down. But you are at the GREAT TABLE with all your family, everyone you love, all the holy angels and saints. Would you like to take a moment and clean up from the attachments of sin left over from this life? Most of us would.
Just like Granny’s washroom is part of her house and you are still in her presencewhile you are getting cleaned up in the bathroom, in Purgatory you would still be “in” apart of Heaven or an annex to it while in the process of being purged of those attachments that you have to sin. When you are ready you will join the others at the great banquet and you will be completely filled with love forever and ever without the least imperfection. Now doesn’t that sound like something good?
So be perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect. Be Holy! Try your best toavoid Purgatory! But do not fear it if it is necessary to endure it. Just know it is amercy of God to bring you to the most holy and perfect state of the beatific vision which is Heaven and union with Him forever.

The Church often expressed ideas in art as a way to catechize people who could not read. Many depictions of Purgatory are scary and harsh.

Fire is often used to portray the pain of suffering souls in Purgatory.

It is ultimately the blood of Jesus Christ (as depicted here) being applied to our attachment to sin which frees or €œpurges € us. How blessed we are to have a God who loved us so much He died for us to make us worthy to be with Him forever!

Do not let scary depictions of Purgatory keep you from the truth about God €™s love and care for your soul. Look at Purgatory (which is a dogma of The Church) as part of the great love and mercy of God, and it will be no more scary than the soap and water that Granny set out in her wash room! Certainly do not let fear drive you from the onlyChurch that Jesus Christ actually started. Be Catholic! Be Holy!