Remember Purgatory? Contrary to what many believe, it continues to be a doctrinal teaching of the Church. Some people, however, have incorrectly viewed it as their backup plan: just get enough prayers said on your behalf and no matter what your lifestyle, you’ll be freed from eternal damnation and transported to Heaven. Well, that has never been the teaching of the Catholic Church.
The correct teaching states that prior to entering Heaven for those already judged worthy it may be necessary to undergo a stage of purification. Why? Because the Bible tells us that nothing unclean will enter Heaven (Rev. 21:27); the pure of heart will see God (Matt 5:8); and the one with clean hands and a pure heart will stand in His holy place (Ps 24:3-4). For those of us not meeting those criteria, a cleansing process will be required.
With God there is absolute mercy (yes!), but also absolute justice (uh-oh) that is required by His Divine Nature. With mercy comes forgiveness, but for justice there is accountability. After King David had confessed his sin (2 Sam 12:13-15, 18) he was forgiven, but he still had to suffer the consequence of his actions. Hebrews 12:22-23 speaks of just men made perfect. Although just, they still needed to be made perfect to enter the heavenly Jerusalem. In 1 Cor 3:13-15, St. Paul speaks of someone being saved but only as through fire. Luke 12:42-48 presents accountability in terms of a severe beating. The Church explains this process as purification for the consequences of sins for which reparation has not been made at the time of death.
If a child breaks something and then seeks and receives forgiveness, a loving parent would be delinquent not to require the child to fix or pay for the broken item. Among other things it teaches that responsibility accompanies our actions. Our Heavenly Father is the optimum parent, granting forgiveness but also seeking accountability. For those already judged worthy of a place in the Heavenly Kingdom, the purification process of Purgatory fulfills the requirement that God’s justice demands.
God has provided the means for our final purification. The Catholic Church has given it a name and continues to faithfully teach it. We need to ensure our call and election by remaining steadfast and faithful (2 Peter 1:10-11).