At his Sermon on the Mount Jesus Christ said: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Mt. 5:46-48. That‟s a tall order, considering God is “Holy, holy, holy!”
To enter the fullness of heaven we must be made perfect, purified from all sin and attachment to sin: the sins of commission and omission. Thus, we pray for all people but especially our deceased loved ones who we hope died in the state of grace, but who need to make reparation for their sins.
In today‟s Gospel Jesus said to the servant who was shown mercy, but did not show mercy to the other servant, “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?‟ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should “pay back the whole debt.” Mt. 18: 33-35. If we do not repair the damage our sins have caused by doing sufficient penance here on earth, we will have to “pay back the whole debt” in purgatory.
Although we are called to give ourselves and our gifts completely to God for the salvation of souls, only some people will love God perfectly to give everything, like the mar-tyrs, and thus be brought to the fullness of heaven immediately.
The majority of practicing Christians will have to be purified in purgatory because of our attachment to earthly things at the expense of our relationship to Jesus Christ and his Church, and those who are materially or spiritually poor.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph, #1030) states: “All who die in God‟s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of Heaven.”
“The Church gives the name "Purgatory‟ to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned …As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is 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. (Mt 12, 32) From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.” (Catechism, #1031)
Thank God that Jesus Christ gives us the opportunity to show mercy even after our brothers and sisters have died in the Lord. When Jesus gave the power of the Keys to the Kingdom of God to St. Peter, the rock on which Jesus would build his Church, the Lord Jesus said to him, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Cf. Mt. 16:16-19
As the Vicar of Christ on earth the Pope has the power to write the guidelines to help those in Purgatory, where the fiery love of God, over time, is purifying people of their sins. Yet, we can reduce that time for them and for our-selves by seeking indulgences which helps us to become holier.
An “indulgence” is the remission of temporal punishment due to sin of which has already been forgiven, assuredly in the Sacrament of Confession. A “plenary indulgence” (complete remission) can be applied to oneself or to a deceased person once a day, for 21 days, by doing the following:
I. Make a good confession (good for 21 days);
II. Pray for the Pope‟s intentions: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be;
III. Receive the Eucharist in the state of grace on the day of doing the indulgent work;
IV. Complete the indulgent work such as praying a family Rosary, or prayerfully reading Sacred Scrip- ture for 30 minutes, or praying the Rosary before the tabernacle;
V. And, the most difficult, be detached from all sin, even venial sin. Anytime any temptation comes to mind, you must detest it.
The partial completion of the above wins a partial in-dulgence. This work to help release the poor souls in purga-tory takes much faith, hope and charity, because we do not see immediate results. The grace that we tap into to help our suffering friends in purgatory is called the Church‟s treasury. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
#1476: We call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church‟s treasury, which is “not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries.” On the contrary the „treasury of the Church‟ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ‟s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and at-tain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy.”
#1477: “This treasury includes the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense…. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission the Father en-trusted to them. In this way they attained their own salva-tion and at the same time cooperated in saving their broth-ers in the unity of the Mystical Body.”
We practice our faith because we are not yet perfect; and the more we practice seeking forgiveness and forgiving others, the more we can help bring ourselves and our loved ones to the perfection of heaven: through, with and in Jesus Christ and his Mystical Body, the Church.
Peace in Christ,
Fr. Thomas McCabe