Heaven, Hell And Purgatory

The of Ladder of Divine Ascent

Feast of All Saints is 1st November, of the Holy Souls is 2nd November.

What is the difference between a saint and a holy soul? The old answer was: “A saint is in heaven, a holy soul in purgatory.” It is the wrong answer now – don’t use it.

Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic Catechism (published 1994, 691 pages) which they put together, in homilies they gave, books they wrote witness to the Church’s understanding that there are no places heaven or purgatory or hell. They are “states of being” because all of them are in the presence of God who is everywhere in and by love.

Heaven is being with God, purgatory is being with God and longing for the purifying pain of forgiveness, hell is choosing not to accept God’s loving purifying forgiveness. (Would, could, anyone refuse God’s forgiveness?)

Our human life is completed in our dying. We all know the moment of that completion. In that final glorious moment (I know it doesn’t look glorious, but it is) you have become the person you allowed yourself to become over the years. You always had the possibility of changing, and maybe you did – for better or worse – but in the moment of truth, the moment of dying, you have become you fully.

You come before our loving God, full of the love you have lived, the regrets that you carry, the wrongs you remember, and you see in God the love that was always open to you, hear the name God always had for you, and long to be forgiven. That longing to be forgiven in God’s loving gaze is what Pope Benedict called “purgatory or purifying” and we know the pain it will bring us because we know that pain in this life. “I hurt you, and you love me,” “How can you forgive me when I have hurt you so much?” “How can I ever forgive myself for what I said, did, to you?” You know the pain, have suffered and caused it. Love is the cause and brings terrible regret and heartbreaking sorrow.

That’s purgatory. Not a place, but seeing ourselves reflected in God’s loving gaze. Heaven is being purified, purgatory is longing to be purified. Hell is – what is it?

Dear Lord, forgive us who know no more about our faith than what we learned and vaguely remember from school and pulpit.

Bless us

Fr John

(3rd November 2019)

Related Links: Popular Reads and Fr John’s Parish Newsletters