The Path of Perfection

Carracci-Purgatory

Carracci – Purgatory

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030

This morning I had a discussion online with a Protestant Minister.  She identified herself as a Priest, and she was admonishing my friend for praying for his deceased mother (on the Anniversary of his mother’s death, I might add).  She said his mother was dead and prayers won’t help her.  My heart sank as I know the biggest mercy God allowed for us was Purgatory, and the biggest heartache is all those in Purgatory who have no one to pray for them.

She prodded me to tell her where in the bible was the verse on Purgatory.   Since I know the Protestants have removed the deuterocanonical books of the bible,  I didn’t quote 2 Maccabees 12:46, which says, “Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.”  I instead decided to quote from Matthew for her.

Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”  He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good.  If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments. He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness;  honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 19:16-19

Here, the man wants to know how to get to heaven.  Jesus simply tells him to keep the commandments.  Have you ever wondered, what would have happened if the man just walked away?  He would have left with the certainty that he would gain eternal life.

But the man prodded more;

The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack? Matthew 19:20

Jesus didn’t answer back and say, “nothing, that’s it, you’re good.  Have a nice day.”

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21

The verse goes on to tell us; When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” Matthew 19:22

Now ask yourself this question, if that man had died right then and there, what was his assurance of Salvation?  It appears there are two paths.  One of following the law in love, and one of total perfection.

If he had died, still attached to the sinful desire of his many possessions, do you think he was going to hell?  Jesus had already appeared to tell him that he was doing good and could gain eternal salvation, so why the second part? Why, the “if you wish to be perfect?” 

Because we will either be perfected in this life or the next.  Jesus tells us forgiveness can be had in the next life.

“And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”  Matthew 12:32

In Matthew Chapter 5, we see Jesus explain the path of perfection this way;

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? and if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48

So few people, except the Saints, ever strive to live the perfection Jesus describes here in this life.  Because perfection in this life requires a lot of sacrifice and suffering because of the desires of this world.  But we would do well to remember that the Church Suffering are the Souls in Purgatory.  One way or another we will be perfected.  Nothing imperfect can enter the Presence of God.

I told the Protestant Minister that we are all part of the Communion of Saints.  We have a duty to pray for one another.  And that Purgatory was a place of perfection where we could pray for those in the Church suffering to be perfected.  That it’s a process of purification, more than it’s a place.  The Protestant Minister could not accept this.  She continued on the path of Salvation by faith alone and that works cannot get us to heaven.  I pointed out that God asks for our cooperation.

See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  James 2:24

I said that we are saved by his grace, but we are judged by our works.  For every “no” we say when God asks us to do something, we will be judged for it.  For everything He asks us to unattach ourselves from that we don’t, we will be judged for it.  We will be perfected.  This is not a punishment, this is the greatest mercy ever gifted.  Being perfected in God so we can enter in to His full glory.  What a grace that he gave us a way to perfection.

But we can strive for that perfection here in this life.  It is what Saint Paul spoke of when he said;

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church… Colossians 1:24

We cooperate with God.  In this way, we too share in redemption.

In the end, the Protestant Minister and I had to agree to disagree.  Though she did agree that nothing imperfect could enter heaven.  This disconnect comes with our cooperation in the plan of Salvation.  She doesn’t think we need it, other than faith alone.  The problem with this is even the devil has faith.  I mean, his very existence depends on God still allowing it, the devil knows God is real.  The devil believes in Jesus, but he certainly didn’t cooperate with Him.   This kind of thinking, where we don’t have to cooperate leads to acceptance of all kinds of sin because if God has covered all of it, and we don’t have to cooperate in the plan, then why worry about sinning? And I think much of this boils down to a misunderstanding of the Sacramental life.  Most Protestant theology only accepts the grace of Baptism, but many reject Confirmation and Eucharist.  It leaves a giant hole.  In a future post this point will be outlined, as to why the Sacramental life is so important.

In the meantime, pray for the Suffering Souls in Purgatory!

Eternal Father,
I offer You the most precious blood
of thy Divine Son, Jesus,
in union with the Masses said
throughout the world today,
for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory,
for sinners everywhere,
for sinners in the universal Church,
for those in my own home,
and in my family. Amen.”

About veilofveronica

I am a mother and wife as well as an RCIA and Adult Faith Formation catechist at a parish in the south. I have 3 children and a great husband.
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9 Responses to The Path of Perfection

  1. Hello Veil of Veronica,
    I enjoyed reading your insightful post. It was interesting to read your wise perspective on Matthew’s chapter 19 and the rich man. I never thought about it in reference to purgatory and I think it makes sense. Unfortunately, the protestant minister you spoke with could not understand. It’s a challenge we deal with when we are explaining the Catholic Faith. You’re on to something when you say that it boils down to some protestant’s misunderstanding of the sacramental life. The giant hole is the *lacuna* in the theology of faith and works and the importance of cooperating with grace through works of charity and justice to sustain and increase that grace throughout life for salvation and eternal life. Very interesting dialogue, thanks so much for sharing! – Alvin

  2. deereverywhere says:

    Father Jeffrey Kirby once said when asked where the idea of purgatory came from said the Jews. In temple, I guess the narthax, the names of all who died were on a plaque on a wall and after a year their names were moved to another wall. While this wouldn’t have done anything to the poor pastor’s understanding, I found it very interesting. Of course it is in Maccabees but I never heard it explained like that. I remember being horrified and in shock when a Baptist friend said she didn’t believe in purgatory. How very lucky we are to have the fullness of the church.

    As an aside, how can she judge that a prayer is “wasted”? I don’t remember reading anything in the bible about wasted prayers. She will be in mine.

    We Catholics quote the bible more than any other denomination. We just keep quoting Lk 1:28, 42, 48, over and over again, not to mention Mathew 3😇

    • Yes the Maccabees reference I didn’t even bring up because I knew that book wouldn’t be in her bible…but it’s pretty clear there. It’s very sad that so many have no one to pray for them because of this disregard of the Doctrine.

  3. James Ignatius McAuley says:

    Sue,

    I read somewhere that one of the biggest shocks to a protestants when they die is that (a) there is a place of purification after death, (b) most of them end up there, (c) that they are grateful to Catholic and Orthodox who pray for the dead.

    Note her lack of understanding of the concept of perfection, and further, that nothing unclean shall enter heaven. The Lutheran view that God merely covers up our sins instead of transforming us (theosis). Once you have the Lutheran view, you need not have pray for the dead. This also explains why there is no real pursuit/call to holiness in Protestantism. There is no need to pursue perfection, because, once you are saved, God covers up all your sins in the blood of Christ.

    Luther’s and ultimately protestant problems with purgatory developed in part from the inordinate focus on God as a wrathful, just judge that prevailed in late medieval spirituality. You could never be sure you were saved and thus more masses for the dead, more chantrys, more penances and fastings were proposed as the solution. There was no balance to include the love of God, or His mercy. You had people, like Luther with an unhealthy spirituality, or the opposite result of people giving up and losing faith, laying the foundation for the modern secular world. When the reformation came, it was people like Luther who, trying to address the problem of the unhealthy/unbalanced spirituality, jettisoned the whole system. When they were asked to justify this scripturally, the next thing to do was to toss out of the bible the inconvenient deuteron canonical books of late Judaism.

    The Orthodox, lead by St. Mark of Ephesus objected strongly to the notion of purgatorial fire at the Council of Ferrara-Florence, 1437-1449. St. Mark had no problem praying for the dead, but the inordinate focus of a punishing fiery purgatory was unknown to the Greek tradition.

    Yet a solution was offered that came about at the eve of the reformation through St. Catherine of Genoa’s marvelous treatise on Purgatory that was done in 110, but not available, regrettably until 1551. There purgatory is described as the love of God and the completion of the spiritual quest of union with God that began on earth. It is the most positive and best book on the subject.

    • Excellent information. I will have to look up that Treatise on Purgatory. I didn’t even know it existed. Most of what I gleaned about purgatory came from prayer because the catechism certainly doesn’t say much, except that it exists. Thank you for all the information. God Bless.

      • James Ignatius McAuley says:

        Whoops, I meant 1510, not 110. The beat edition is from 1979, Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press. This is a superb translation. With a preface by servant of God Catherine duHueck Doherty and an introduction by Father Benedict Groeschel.

  4. Pingback: The Three Witnesses, The Initiation Sacraments and Sacramental Life | Veil of Veronica

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