Warning: We are about to get into some pretty deep theological discussion, well at least deep for me. As I wrote in my last post, my sister passed away last week and as one who has to analyze everything on different levels (maybe over analyze would be a better way to put it) I began thinking about Purgatory. As far as I know, I believe this is a uniquely Catholic belief.
Let me give you the textbook definition of Purgatory, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:
As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.
Basically we can look at Purgatory as being somewhere between Heaven and Hell, this is the place where our sins are washed away before we can get into Heaven. Of course in order to go to Purgatory, we have to profess our belief in God, even if it is on our deathbed. We have three choices of places to go after death:
- We can go directly to Heaven
- We can go directly to Hell
- We can stop in Purgatory on the way to Heaven.
Once in Purgatory, we may stay there for awhile, but from what I have read and heard, we will eventually get to Heaven.
Alright, so what was I thinking about regarding Purgatory and my sister? Is it possible for us to be in Purgatory while we are still alive? As I had mentioned in my last post, my sister suffered from mental illness. For the last 35 years or so, her life (at least as I see it) wasn’t all that good. She suffered from Paranoid Schizophrenia, with all the attendant symptoms, delusions, hearing voices, paranoia. For the record, she wanted nothing to do with me for the last ten years, so I don’t have first hand knowledge of this, but I don’t imagine she was very happy or that her quality of life could have been all that good. Again, this is an assumption om my part.
Therefore, if this were in fact true, could this have been her Purgatory? If she were suffering, was this the suffering she needed to go through in order for her to get to Heaven? We as Catholics are taught that only Saints go directly to Heaven, everyone else has to go through Purgatory, but is it possible that my sister had her Purgatory while she was alive?
We always hear that God has a plan for all of us, and I believe that, but I wonder what His plan for my sister was? It wasn’t her fault she had this illness, yes, some of her actions may have contributed to it (a subject of debate between my siblings and I) but it certainly wasn’t something she chose. We all have the free will to sin or not sin, but we don’t have the choice on whether or not we suffer from mental illness.
I don’t know the answer for this, at least not yet, but I will continue looking into it. If anyone has any input, please feel free to leave a comment.
Some resources on Purgatory: