Purgatory: Mud-Room of Heaven

Non-Catholic Christians often misunderstand purgatory as a second chance at heaven for damned souls. Nothing could be more untrue! Damned souls go someplace warmer. Purgatory is only for folks who have ‘died in friendship with God,’ which is a Catholic phrase that means ‘born again.’

Purgatory is like a mud-room. The mud-room is at the entryway to a midwestern home. It’s the place where you take off muddy boots and manure covered barn jackets, and put on something cleaner. Using the mud-room makes you ready to walk through the home’s kitchen and living room without getting yelled at for tracking in mud. Purgatory is like that, since it is the place where a soul can get ready for the bliss and holiness of heaven.

Many souls are just not ready to meet God, but they are trusting souls who have tried to follow God in the best way they knew how. They may not have known much, like the good thief on the cross. Or they may have been too proud or arrogant or simply lacked insight, so they may have committed serious sins without being aware of them as something they need to repent of, and confess to God (and the priest) about.

My current devotional reading is a devotional book about the ‘holy souls’ in purgatory. It gives another reason for purgatory— to get souls less attached to worldly things. Imagine an older woman who dies, but is constantly fretting over what her daughter-in-law is doing with her house and possessions. She needs to set her mind on heavenly things and not the horrible wallpaper her daughter-in-law chose for the front bedroom!

Some Christian souls, like martyrs, are deemed to be ready for heaven straight off. Jesus said to the good thief that he would be in Paradise that day. So, either Jesus considered purgatory a part of heaven (the mud-room?) or else the thief was given the grace to go direct to heaven or perhaps spend only 20 seconds in purgatory to get ‘ready.’

C. S. Lewis is considered by many an authoritative model of the modern Protestant Christian, but he admits to a belief that ‘something like’ purgatory is needed to make us fit for heaven.

There are Bible verses held to speak of purgatory. An article by apologist Dave Armstrong lists some of these verses. I would suggest that you read the article to understand more about the Bible and purgatory.

25 Descriptive and Clear Bible Passages about Purgatory: https://www.ncregister.com/blog/darmstrong/25-descriptive-and-clear-bible-passages-about-purgatory

The important thing about purgatory is that it is not a substitute for accepting Jesus Christ as your savior now, or living a Christian life now, or avoiding sin now. Purgatory is for the ‘holy souls,’ not for people who want to ‘have fun’ now and worry about their souls later. When ‘later’ comes, in the form of death, there is no more mercy available for the damned soul. No damned souls are in purgatory, any more than they are in heaven.

As a Catholic convert who was not brought up on belief in purgatory, and who once knew a lot of (often silly) arguments against it, I find myself a little behind on knowing the concept. I recommend two devotional books by Susan Tassone and published by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, for other Catholic converts wishing to gain greater knowledge of purgatory and the Holy Souls. [Where do the ‘holy souls’ get their ‘holy?’ Jesus, of course!]

Thirty-Day Devotions for the Holy Souls – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/809593.Thirty_Day_Devotions_for_the_Holy_Souls

Day by Day for the Holy Souls in Purgatory – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23490846-day-by-day-for-the-holy-souls-in-purgatory

“We’re Not Christian, We’re Catholic!”

One of my pet peeves, now that I’m Catholic, is the fact that many Evangelical Christians sometimes use the word ‘Christian’ to mean the totality of people who are ‘saved’ enough to go to heaven, and at other times use ‘Christian’ to mean ‘Evangelical Christian’ or even ‘Evangelical Christian like the ones in our church.’ Since I was brought up in an Evangelical-ish Presbyterian congregation and only converted as a mature adult, I resent being sometimes ‘outside’ the Christian fold in the speech of such people.

Sadly, this thinking has gone beyond messing up Evangelical Christians. I have heard of a Catholic husband who corrected his wife, saying ‘We’re not Christian, we’re Catholic!’ Obviously he had imbibed the idea of ‘Christian’ as ‘Evangelical Christian,’ and may have felt that he was sticking up for the Catholic faith against a faith-compromising wife.

OK, here the fact: ‘Christian’ is a term that applies to all followers of Jesus, no matter their denomination. Or non-denomination. Even in groups that both Catholics and Evangelical/Ptotestants think of as ‘cults,’ like Mormons (LDS), Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witnesses, there are folks who are following Jesus. They may have a lot of flawed doctrines (beliefs) in their heads, but if they are looking to Jesus to save them from their sins, they are part of our ‘tribe.’

Some Evangelicals, aware of this, like to use the term ‘Bible Christians’ to differentiate between themselves and between Christians like Catholics and Eastern Orthodox that they consider ‘beyond the pale.’ But from a Catholic perspective, I would resent that. Who is it that preserved the New Testament manuscripts and copied them— not to mention deciding which Christian books were a part of the Bible like Revelation and Romans, and which books, though good, did not make the cut, like the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas? Protestants and Evangelicals didn’t come along until centuries later. So— when Joel Osteen urges listeners who have prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’ to get themselves in a ‘good Bible-based church,’ I consider my own Precious Blood Catholic Church to be one.

In my lifetime, popular culture has gone from thinking of Christians as virtuous but dull, to characterizing Christians, particularly those who stand up for unpopular teachings, as ‘haters,’ homophobes, and misogynists. We writers who are Christians need to stand up for Christianity as a whole— not just those bits of Christianity we know from our own denomination or church congregation.

Now, I don’t think there is anything at all wrong with a writer who happens to be Methodist or Lutheran or Pentecostal or Catholic using their own specific faith in their fiction, rather than a generic homogenized ‘Christianity.’ Back when I was a Missouri Synod Lutheran, I would have loved to read a Christian sci-fi or fantasy novel that mentioned the ‘means of grace’ or quoted from Luther’s catechism. And I now have favorite Catholic authors that are explicitly Catholic in their works.

But we need to face up to the fact that Christianity is divided and this is not necessarily good. Perhaps the best thing an author could do is to try to show Christians acting in unity in spite of divisions, and being kind to Christians from other denominations that the writer believes are very wrong. (For example, I have Amish and a Lutheran family on my fictional starship Destine, which is otherwise pretty full of Catholics. And in another work in progress, I have a group of young Mormon missionaries who volunteer to act as messengers for the Pope, who is in exile in Upper Michigan during the zombie apocalypse. The awkward bit comes when the Pope gives them his papal blessing and one of the Mormon missionaries responds by giving the Pope his own priestly blessing.)

What about non-Christian authors? Well, if you are non-Christian and still want to be respectful to Christianity, rather than mocking it, in my opinion you are being fair-minded and kind. I hope you will recognize that all persons in the many denominations and divisions of Christianity have a claim to be called ‘Christian’ even if some Christians think of ‘Christian’ as mostly ‘Christians-like-me.’ And that Christians can be kind and helpful to one another without ceasing to believe that their own denomination is the most correct. (After all, these days it is common for Christians to seek out another, more correct denomination if they feel their own is in error in an important way— that’s what I did— twice.)