Over the last two weeks, we talked about Pope Francis telling Emanuele “God is the one who decides who goes to Heaven.” The reality of death reminders us our days on earth are numbered. Therefore, we should strive to make the best of our time here using our God-Given gifts to do His will and receive His grace. To die in the grace of God is called a Good Death. The surest way to die a Good Death is to live a good Christian life so God, in His mercy, may judge us worthy of entering His Kingdom.
When we die, our soul leaves the body and is judged immediately by God. At death, the possibility of merit, demerit, or conversion ceases. The soul will go directly to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. This is called the “Particular Judgement”. Our soul is reunited with our body during the “Final Judgement” when Christ returns at the end of time. (More on Final Judgement and Hell next week.)
Purgatory comes from the Latin word purgare, meaning “to purify.” Our belief in the soul needing purification after death to enter Heaven is rooted in ancient Jewish thought and strongly implied in Scripture. Purgatory has been part of Sacred Tradition since the Church’s beginning. Evidence of Purgatory is found in the 2nd Book of Maccabees (two centuries before Christ). Jewish militants led by Judas Maccabees returned to a battlefield to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades only to find them wearing tokens of a pagan idol – a clear violation of God’s 1st Commandment. Judas Maccabees and his soldiers offered prayers for the dead so their sins may be forgiven. They took up a collection for the poor in Jerusalem as a “sin offering” (2 Maccabees 12: 43-45). Praying for the dead implies their sins may be cleansed in the next life. That’s why we pray for the dead today.
St Paul writes upon our death that the work we do will be tested by fire. If the work is good, we survive the test and are rewarded. If not, the work is lost, and we can only be saved through fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). In speaking of the resurrection, St Peter writes “we may have to suffer various trials, so the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7).” Fire is a biblical symbol for purification. Being saved through fire after being judged for our life’s work means we can undergo a purification process after death. This purification takes place in Purgatory.
Our Catechism says “On the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love (CCC 1022.)” Therefore, we should strive to live a good life in God’s grace so we can die a Good Death. Always remembering “God is the one who decides who goes to Heaven.” Deacon John
Adapted from “Introduction to Catholicism for Adults” by Rev. James Socias