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Cindy O'Brion wrote:

Hi guys,

I am a Catholic convert and have spent most of my life as a Protestant.

It seems to me that a lot of the differences between Catholic and Protestant beliefs come from the differences in perceptions of life after death. Protestants seem to totally separate the living world and the spiritual world, e.g. praying for the dead and asking for Saintly intercessions.

I am trying to pinpoint my thought process on this and am wondering if you have a perspective.

Thank you for your time,

Cindy O'Brion

 

  { Do the differences among Catholics and Protestants come down to perceptions of life after death? }

John replied:

Cindy,

In many ways you are on the right tract.

Protestant theology not only separates the living members of the Church from the dead ones,
but in doing so separate the Head from the Body. In their desire to keep the focus on Jesus, they neglect the members of Jesus' Body. By this I mean they forget that the point of the Incarnation was to unite God and man.

By becoming a man, Christ forever involved man in his own salvation. That is not to say that man can pay the price Jesus paid on the Cross but rather, as members of the Body of Christ, we become co-redeemers every time we preach the gospel by word or deed.

He has also commissioned all Christians to pray for each other and the world. To that our Protestant brothers would say, Amen!, however, they fail to follow through on that principle.
You see, if all Christians share in Christ's intercessory mission, that must include the Christians who are in His Presence, be they in Heaven or Purgatory. Those Christians aren't dead; they are alive in Christ. They are still a part of the Body.

  • If they had a ministry of healing whilst on earth, wouldn't that ministry be more powerful now that they can discern God's will unfettered by worldly encumbrances?

The question of praying for the dead is a bit different.

In Protestant theology, we are justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ. When we express that faith, we are declared righteous and nothing else is necessary for us to enter Heaven. They say Christ's righteousness is legally imputed to us and simply covers up our sin. Therefore, Protestants reject the notion of purification after death.

The problem with this theory is that nothing unrighteous can enter Heaven. (Revelation 21:27)
If we are simply declared righteous, without God actually making us righteous, we are condemned to spend eternity in that condition.

Catholic Theology says that when God declares us righteous, he infuses (and not just imputes) the righteousness of Christ into us. Now being made righteous by grace through faith, we must continue in that righteousness. Of course none of us really do because, although sin is vanquished when we are justified, the desire to sin (concupiscence, or as the Protestants put it, sin nature) remains. The remedy for this situation is for man to constantly yield to grace, repent of sin, and to allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify or purify us.

This process often takes more than a lifetime. The part of this process, which continues after death, the Church calls Purgatory.

It's important to note at this point that the entire process is a work of grace. Indeed our salvation is a complete work of grace from beginning to end which requires our free will cooperation along the way.

Now our Protestant brother would agree that in this life, we continue to grow in faith as the
Holy Spirit sanctifies us.

  • So what happens if that isn't completed in us by the time we die?

At this point, they don't know what to say. Some have answered by saying:

That God immediately finishes the job after we die.

Well that's pretty much a tacit admission of Purgatory. After we die, we exit time as we know it. We put a time frame on Purgatory so we can understand it with our human minds. For all we know Purgatory could could last a micro instant yet we should still pray for those souls because God is not limited by time and space and He can make our prayers efficacious in the eternal now.

We can only grasp at this mysteries. St. Paul wrote that we see dimly through a dark glass.
(1 Corinthians 13:12)

So it is with these matters but we do know enough to pray for each other. We know enough to pray for that friend or relative who might not be following God or is struggling with sin, hence,
we should continue to pray for the dead until the Jesus returns and the need for Purgatory is no more.

I hope this helps,

John DiMascio

Mike replied:

Hi, Cindy —

I just wanted to add to what John has said.

John said:
Those Christians aren't dead; they are alive in Christ. They are still a part of the Body.

This is very important to keep in mind.

Many times even in our Church, we refer to those who have passed from this earthly life as having died and we have Masses said for the dead. The reason is because we are looking at this through our own earthly eyes and those of our family and friends.

When we look at this issue from a Christian view, they are not really dead but have departed to their particular judgment and hopefully, eternal life.

This is why you should never see any answer on this site refer to Masses for the Dead.

A better expression would be: Masses for the Faithful Departed.

As John said they are alive. Whether they are in Heaven, or being healed of their remaining
self-inflicted wounds from earth in Purgatory, both are saved and more alive than we are here on earth.

John said:
The remedy for this situation is for man to constantly yield to grace, repent of sin, and to allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify or purify us.

This process often takes more than a lifetime. The part of this process which continues after death, the Church calls Purgatory.

For new converts to the Faith Purgatory can be a confusing issue. Here is an analogous way to look at Purgatory.

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.

Hope this helps,

Mike

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