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C. Querner wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Why did the robber on the Cross, the bad guy, die and go to Heaven that very day and yet the Catholic Church says we will be years in Purgatory for our sins?
  • Jesus forgave the robber and he didn't have to go to Purgatory.
  • Why won't He forgive me for my sins?
  • Why must I suffer in Purgatory if I am too truly sorry?

Thanks

C.

  { Can you answer some questions on Purgatory, the robber on the Cross, and why I must suffer? }

John replied:

Hi, C. —

First, thanks for the question.

Jesus did not say to the thief on the Cross today you will be in Heaven, rather He said this day you will be with me in paradise. The thief went where Jesus went. Jesus did not ascend to Heaven until forty days after His glorious, bodily Resurrection.

Note he told the woman who met Him on Easter morning that He had not yet ascended to the Father. Peter tells us in his First Epistle just where Jesus went between His death on the Cross and Easter morning.

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

1 Peter 3:18-20

So the good thief did not go directly to Heaven.

As for Purgatory, you seem to have a misunderstanding about what it is. It is a condition or place where the effects of sin on ones soul are taken care of. Forgiveness addresses the issue of fellowship with our Lord. Forgiveness is immediate, but sin has a duel effect:

  1. it separates us from God, and
  2. it injures our soul.

In Purgatory, the grace and love of God burns away these effects. The soul suffers, but it's a healing pain; just as when:

  • we suffer in the body
  • we suffer while broken bones heal, or
  • we disinfect an open wound.

St. Paul wrote, He who began a good work, would be faithful to complete it. (Philippians 1:6)
This tells us that sanctification is a process that can take a life time and perhaps longer.

St. Paul talks about this very process in 1 Corinthians:

13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

1 Corinthians 3:13-15

So while the Scriptures do not mention Purgatory, it is implied. Remember, the Bible doesn't mention the word Trinity; it implies it. It may mention the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but it does not give the formula all Christians agree on:

Three Persons, One God, all of One Substance.

You are quite right that Jesus will forgive those that ask for forgiveness, but He does more than that.

  • He rehabilitates them
  • He perfects them
  • He makes them into His Own Image, so as it says:

on that day, we will be like Him.

God Bless!

Under His Mercy,

John C. DiMascio

Mike replied:

Dear C.

Catholic Notes:

When talking with friends and family on Purgatory, it’s important they know the basics:

  • Purgatory does exist.
  • Purgatory is not a third place along with Heaven and Hell nor it is a second chance.
  • Purgatory has nothing to do with Limbo, which was only a theological opinion and was never a doctrine of the Church.
  • Purgatory is like the Holy Hospital of Heaven.
  • Souls in Purgatory have been saved just as much as the souls in Heaven.

Purgatory refers to a temporary state of purification for those who have died in the state of grace but still need to get rid of any lingering imperfections (venial sins, earthly attachments, self-will, etc.) before entering the perfection of Heaven.

Purgatory has nothing to do with one's justification or salvation. Those in Purgatory are justified; they are saved.  Purgatory has to do with one's personal holiness and the burning away of remaining self-love.  Revelation 21:27 It's our personal holiness because each person uses their free will differently in life to make good or bad choices on our pilgrimage to our particular judgment.

This article by Emily Stimpson from Our Sunday Visitor (osv.com) September 29, 2013 will also be helpful.

If you struggle to understand the Catholic view of Purgatory, this analogy may help:

Think of sin as a self-inflicted wound in your life.

When we physically hurt ourselves, many times we have to be brought to the hospital and the doctor or nurse will put an alcoholic disinfectant in our cut or wound. It will hurt ... a lot!!! but it's a good hurt; it's a holy hurt, that is needed to make us physically better.

We also have to distinguish between less severe physical injures where we cut ourselves and require stitches and more severe injures, like a NASCAR racing driver who gets into a major collision and ends up with third or fourth-degree burns over 90 percent of their body. There are varying degrees of damage that we do to our bodies, not only physically, but spiritually too!

Because Revelation tells us that nothing impure can enter Heaven (Revelation 21:27) and because God Himself is all Holy, we too, have to be all Holy to enter Heaven. To achieve this, any remaining self-inflicted spiritual wounds (meaning self-love) from our pilgrimage on earth has to be burned off, healed, and purified.

  • If our spiritual injures are along the line of just needing stitches, that healing period where our self-love has to be burned off will be short;
  • but if our self-inflicted injuries are along the line of third or fourth-degree burns, the healing process will take longer.

Saints in the past have had private revelations from the souls in Purgatory. They [the Holy Souls in Purgatory] have shared that, while the [healing|burning] fires of God’s Love in Purgatory are painful (Hebrews 12:29, Exodus 3:1-6), at the same time they had an internal, burning joy because they knew they were being conformed to the image of God and their final destiny would be total union with Him.

Instead of the good healing pain that the alcoholic disinfectant gave us under a doctor’s care to prepare us to re-enter the earthly world again, in Purgatory, we experience a holy, healing pain under Jesus’ Care which purifies our souls and prepares us to enter eternal life with God who is all Holy.

It's true that the word Purgatory doesn't appear in the Bible (neither do the words Trinity, Incarnation or even Bible). Purgatory is a Latin word and, up until the beginning of the fifth century, Greek was the spoken language among the people. That said, Greeks weren't going to give us a Latin word. Nevertheless, you'll see the sentiments of the teachings on Purgatory from the Early Church Fathers and the Scriptures. What's important is not the word, but the doctrine.

That said, the doctrine of the final purification of the elect, apart from Heaven or Hell, is clearly taught in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

2 Samuel 12:13-14
David, though forgiven, is still punished for sin.
Job 1:5
Job prayed for the Holy Souls or Faithful Departed regularly.
2 Maccabees 12:39-45

"Next day, they came to find Judas (since the necessity was by now urgent) to have the bodies of the fallen taken up and laid to rest among their relatives in their ancestral tombs. But when they found on each of the dead men, under their tunics, objects dedicated to the idols of Jamnia, which the Law prohibits to Jews, it became clear to everyone that this was why these men had lost their lives. All then blessed the ways of the Lord, the upright judge who brings hidden things to light, and gave themselves to prayer, begging that the sin committed might be completely forgiven. Next, the valiant Judas urged the soldiers to keep themselves free from all sin, having seen with their own eyes the effects of the sin of those who had fallen; after this he took a collection from them individually, amounting to nearly two thousand drachmas, and sent it to Jerusalem to have a sacrifice for sin offered, an action altogether fine and noble, prompted by his belief in the resurrection. For had he not expected the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead, whereas if he had in view the splendid recompense reserved for those who make a pious end, the thought was holy and devout. Hence, he had this expiatory sacrifice offered for the dead, so that they might be released from their sin."

Note: Though this book was rejected by the Protestant reformers and therefore is not in Protestant Bibles, one can not ignore the historical reality of this event and the reality of the words which were said.

Matthew 5:25-26
"You will be thrown into prison and not be released until you have paid the last penny."
Matthew 5:48
Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. (Perfection is to be strived for on earth.)
Matthew 12:32
Sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, in this age, or the next.
Matthew 12:36
You will have to account for every idle word on judgment day.
1 Corinthians 3:10-16
"If someone's work is burned ... the person will be saved, but only as through fire."
1 Corinthians 15:29-30
Paul mentions people baptizing for the dead.
2 Timothy 1:16-18
St. Paul prays - asks that God have mercy on his dead friend, Onesiphorus.
Hebrews 12:14
Strive for that holiness without which one cannot see God.
Hebrews 12:29
For our God is a consuming fire.
James 1:14-15
When sin reaches maturity it reaches death.
James 3:2
We all fall short in many respects.
1 Peter 3:18-20 to 1 Peter 4:6
Jesus preached to the spirits in prison.
1 John 5:16-17
Distinction made between deadly sins and one that are not deadly.
Revelation 21:27
Nothing unclean will be allowed to enter into Heaven.
See also:
Leviticus 26:41-43, Isaiah 4:4, Isaiah 6:5-7, Isaiah 33:11-14, Micah 7:8-9, Zechariah 9:11, Malachi 3:2-4, Matthew 18:34ff, Luke 12:58ff, Luke 16:19-31, 2 Corinthians 5:10,
2 Corinthians 7:1, Ephesians 4:8-10, Philippians 2:10-11, 1 Peter 4:6, Revelation 5:3, 13

Interested in what the very first Christians thought, taught, and died for?
Check out what they said on this topic.
Hope this helps,

Mike

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