The first conversation regarding purgatory I had was with a priest in a confessional box. I mentioned about going to heaven after death and was abruptly stopped by him telling me to be humble because I didn’t know if I would be going to heaven. I forgot about it after leaving confession. Strangely since then I have heard, in close succession, enough of the same view from other religious so as to give me concern.
Here are the reasons they gave to explain why no one should think they can go to heaven without first going to purgatory, followed by some reflections.
- “No one is good enough so anyone who thinks she can go directly to heaven lacks humility.”
Is this real humility? What is humility? ‘Humility is Truth’ says St. Teresa of Avila. The Truth is that God has an earnest desire for us to reach for spiritual growth, i.e. fullness of love. The Truth is that we can’t reach it with our own efforts only. So, humility is to accept the truth and live by it.
People with this view as expressed above are (knowingly or unknowingly) far from being truly humble. False humility does exist! True humility lies in complete trust in God, His mercy, His love and most of all His Promise as it is. These people doubt Him as a Heavenly Father who yearns to bring us to Him to the point of coming down from heaven to die for us. This yearning, if reciprocated by the soul, enkindles such a fire of love that the soul becomes willing to give up all things to be with her Beloved. God, seeing this, will do His part which she cannot do herself – He raises her to Himself.
All Catholics know God is Love but do they actually understand the true depth of His love and its implications for their life? Knowing is not enough. It has to be received into the core of our hearts, and in fullness!
What of our Holy Mother? She was to be the first and only human to carry God in her womb. Was she lacking in humility when she said “yes” without doubt or hesitation? Should she have said she was not good enough? Her “yes” was not only total humble obedience, but a courage that stemmed from a formidable faith and trust in God that He could bring about a miracle that she couldn’t understand.
Sadly, some people place their own good works above the grace of God and believe in their own judgement rather than the wisdom of God. Since they already judge themselves unworthy they have no need for God’s judgement. They forget that none of us will ever be good enough to enter heaven. Never ever by our own merits! It has always only been one thing – the Grace of God.
- “God is so pure that no impurities should enter His kingdom. Therefore one needs to be purified in purgatory first.”
As if the Fire of Love here on earth can’t purify us.
Some people believe their weaknesses/sins are above God’s goodness and purity! To think that they have the power to somehow affect the purity of God and His kingdom by their impurity is actually quite an insult to the omnipotence of God. Besides why does one need to wait to be purified in purgatory? Can one not be purified in her earthly Christian life? St. Therese of Lisieux puts it perfectly:
“Ah! since that day love penetrates me and surrounds me; this Merciful Love each moment renews and purifies me, leaving in my heart no trace of sin. No, I cannot fear Purgatory; I know that I do not merit even to enter with the Holy Souls into that place of expiation, but I know too that the fire of Love is more sanctifying than the fire of Purgatory, I know that Jesus cannot will needless suffering for us, and that He would not inspire me with the desires I feel if He were unwilling to fulfill them.” (St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Story of the Soul, Ms. A, 84)
Here is her humility: “I don’t (even) merit even to enter with the Holy Souls into that place of expiation”i.e. purgatory. But she doesn’t accept one half of the truth, she takes it entirely. “I know that the fire of Love is more sanctifying that the fire of Purgatory.”
Some might argue St. Therese is a saint therefore she’s different. We are all called to be saints. She even offers her way to the weakest. So one needs to know: are we taking on board her little way or not!
Counting on Purgatory actually is a very bad solution because it prevents us from growing! The purification in Purgatory is not “meritorious”, it doesn’t allow us, our capacity to love, grow. While the Fire of Love here on earth makes us grow tremendously. So why accept to remain for the rest of eternity like dwarfs! This is really absurd and an insult to us and to God. Allowing the infinite growth of our capacity to love by the fire of love here on earth, is simply a “must” for whoever really understand what Purgatory is and what Purification is here on earth (for the latter, please see St. John of the Cross’ works).
- “Only the martyrs go directly to heaven.” One lady was told by her priest that martyrs are the persecuted Christians in the Middle East because they die for their faith. “In the West, we have no such opportunity.”
What is martyrdom? Do people have to literally be shot or beheaded to become martyrs? No genuine Christians should think they can escape martyrdom. As true followers of Christ, aren’t we called to be martyrs in our daily lives? Sacrificing our will and desires to do the will of God and to die to ourselves – this is martyrdom. As union with Christ is our ultimate goal, martyrdom is the way to this union. Now, if these people mean to say they aren’t willing to die to themselves – that is another matter.
Having the fullness of love in our heart is the key to understanding true Martyrdom! St. Paul says it: “if I gave my body to the flames and I don’t have Love, then it is in vain” (see 1 Co 13:3).
St. John of the Cross explains also that true martyrdom is realised by the growth of Love in us, until it reaches its perfection in us – it is not the fact itself of dying(see quote below). This is why the Church talks about “Perfection of Love” (Vatican II, Perfectae Caritatis).
“Let us take another example. A soul has great desires to be a martyr. It may happen that God answers him, saying: Thou shalt be a martyr. This will give him inwardly great comfort and confidence that he is to be martyred; yet it may come to pass that he dies not the death of a martyr, and notwithstanding this the promise may be true. Why, then, is it not fulfilled literally? Because it will be fulfilled, and is capable of being fulfilled, according to the most important and essential sense of that saying — namely, in that God will have given that soul the love and the reward which belong essentially to a martyr; and thus in truth He gives to the soul that which it formally desired and that which He promised it. For the formal desire of the soul was, not that particular manner of death, but to do God a martyr’s service, and to show its love for Him as a martyr does. For that manner of death is of no worth in itself without this love, the which love and the showing forth thereof and the reward belonging to the martyr may be given to it more perfectly by other means. So that, though it may not die like a martyr, the soul is well satisfied that it has been given that which it sired. For, when they are born of living love, such desires, and others like them, although they be not fulfilled in the way wherein they are described and understood, are fulfilled in another and a better way, and in a way which honours God more greatly than that which they might have asked. Wherefore David says: “The Lord has granted the poor their desire.” And in the Proverbs Divine Wisdom says: ‘The just shall be given their desire.’ Hence, then, since we see that many holy men have desired many particular things for God’s sake, and that in this life their desires have not been granted them, it is a matter of faith that, as their desires were just and true, they have been fulfilled for them perfectly in the next life. Since this is truth, it would also be truth for God to promise it to them in this life, saying to them: Your desire shall be fulfilled; and for it not to be fulfilled in the way which they expected.”(St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, 18,13)
Some even might argue that Martyrdom is not for everybody. Here is what Council Vatican II says about martyrdom:
“Since Jesus, the Son of God, manifested His charity by laying down His life for us, so too no one has greater love than he who lays down his life for Christ and His brothers.(230) From the earliest times, then, some Christians have been called upon—and some will always be called upon—to give the supreme testimony of this love to all men, but especially to persecutors. The Church, then, considers martyrdom as an exceptional gift and as the fullest proof of love. By martyrdom a disciple is transformed into an image of his Master by freely accepting death for the salvation of the world—as well as his conformity to Christ in the shedding of his blood. Though few are presented such an opportunity, nevertheless all must be prepared to confess Christ before men. They must be prepared to make this profession of faith even in the midst of persecutions, which will never be lacking to the Church, in following the way of the cross.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 42)
- “Being in purgatory is being on the way to heaven. One should be satisfied if he goes to purgatory.”
In other words, as long as we are not in hell we are ok. Why are we being told to aim for mediocrity then, when there’s something as supreme as heaven? If one is satisfied only to go to purgatory, how will one be living one’s life? This view takes away all motivation to live a meaningful spiritual life and certainly does not encourage growth. How can man aspire to something he doesn’t believe is possible? Christians are not called to be easily contented. We are called to be ambitious, passionate and courageous in our quest for Him and His righteousness. Jesus did not say, ‘as long as you don’t go to hell.’ He says ‘be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect’. Be perfect like God? Is this achievable in human terms? Why instruct us with something so impossible? Give God a sinner and He will make a saint out of him. Desire and love Him with all our hearts, all our minds, all our strength and all our souls and He will perfect us. With Him, comes heaven – not purgatory.
If God created us and saved us in order to reach the fullness of Love. Why do we want to disappoint Him? If somebody wants to give us a present and we refuse it, it is an offence! The same applies to God. St. John of the Cross says that is an offence to God not to aim for these heights!
When, at the age of seventeen St. Therese of the Child Jesus read St. John of the Cross she prayed to God to make all that she read a reality in her life!
Magnanimity is a real virtue. It is not opposed to humility, on the contrary, it leans on it. It is to accept wholeheartedly the greats things God has prepared for us and is calling us to receive. If we are God’s Children, how then do we understand the fact of being “called” to become his Children?
- “If one believes she’s going to heaven, then it’s a gift from God. It’s not for everyone.”
What is their understanding of holiness then? The Church teaches that we are all called to be saints and yet some religious claim that only some are gifted to believe they will get straight to heaven. Not only is their view incorrect, it’s also dangerous because it implies that God chooses some and not others. It portrays a God who plays favouritism and who is undependable, unreliable and difficult to please. As for the ‘chosen few’, it feeds false pride. Christ died for ALL. Whatever He has He offers to ALL. He stands by the door of every heart, knocking to enter. First conversion is merely the start of a friendship with Christ. When one opens her heart and Jesus enters to eat and drink, that’s a relationship that will lead to true love and eventually marriage. Of course, when Jesus has entered into our hearts, we need to keep them clean as one would keep one’s home clean for a beloved guest. If then some do not wish to do keep their hearts clean, then sure, it’s not for everyone, but we are then talking about people who don’t want it rather than it not being offered to them.
Here is the paradox: everybody agrees that we are all called to holiness. But when it comes to talk about holiness, real life holiness, everybody avoids the question, and come up with all sorts of statements of false humility, then end up by denuding of all meaning the idea that “all are called”. Even if the door and the path are narrow and that many (all) are called but only few are elected, we should believe in what Jesus came to offer us! Otherwise we offend Him, offend His love for us, and reveal that we don’t believe that He can make us saints! We still, then, silently and in practice, are agreeing that holiness is a man-made reality – which is totally false!
Furthermore, this verse ‘many are called but few are elected’, should not be taken literally that God will only elect a few! It means, rather, that though many are called, only a few truly reciprocate His love. Therefore instead of seeing it from a negative angle (few are elected) it’s a reminder that our active participation is absolutely necessary in order to be ‘the elected’; at the same time trusting God to do the rest. This is a verse that offers great hope for us yet also places great responsibility on our side as it tells us that it is in fact our choice to be the elected or not.
Christian Death According to St. John of the Cross
“It should be known that the natural death of persons who have reached this state is far different in its cause and mode from the death of others, even though it is similar in natural circumstances. If the death of other people is caused by sickness or old age, the death of these persons is not so induced, in spite of their being sick or old; their soul is not wrested from them unless by some impetus and encounter of love far more sublime than previous ones; of greater power, and more valiant, since it tears through this veil and carries off the jewel, which is the soul.
The death of such persons is very gentle and very sweet, sweeter and more gentle than was their whole spiritual life on earth. For they die with the most sublime impulses and delightful encounters of love, resembling the swan whose song is much sweeter at the moment of death. Accordingly, David affirmed that the death of the saints is precious in the sight of the Lord [Ps. 116:15]. The soul’s riches gather together here, and its rivers of love move on to enter the sea, for these rivers, because they are blocked, become so vast that they themselves resemble seas. The just one’s first treasures, and last, are heaped together as company for the departure and going off to the kingdom, while praises are heard from the ends of the earth, which, as Isaiah says, are the glory of the just one [Is. 24:16].” (St. John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love, II,30)
The truth is the journey into union with Christ, spiritual marriage and finally Christian death is not an easy one, just as His coming to die for us shows true love requires huge sacrifices. There are some Catholics (consecrated and lay) who do not wish to live a challenging spiritual life so they are happy to settle for a happy medium – purgatory. It is indeed their right to choose not to be transformed by Christ but they have no right to tell others that going directly to heaven is not achievable. It is not only cruel but a sin to destroy the faith and confidence of those who believe.
St. Paul wrote, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love.”
On these three lie the success of spiritual life. A love that would require a merciful act from the Holy Spirit to finally free the spirit from the broken heart of a yearning soul, in order for it to fly up hand in hand with the Him into eternal bliss. What a happy death! Such a love that is possible between God and His children is the power that shapes a mountain of unshakeable faith and hope and it is this that gives them the courage to say ‘Yes! I am going directly to heaven.’ Who dares challenge it?