Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Many non-Catholic Christians question the doctrine of purgatory. Although Orthodox Churches pray for their dead, they have no clear answer as to why a dead person needs prayers if he/she is in heaven where he/she already enjoys the blessed life with the holy ones in the presence of God, or if he/she is in hell where the damned do not have hope in the goodness and mercy of God. However an explanation was offered by Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church as to the reason why the Coptic Orthodox Church offers prayers for their dead. He simply says that Christians who have departed this life go to paradise (not heaven) if they are blessed and wait there in peace for the Day of Judgment. The unrepentent go to Sheol (not hell) where they await their damnation on Judgment Day. As for other Christian souls, they do not rest and so the Church prays for them that they may attain peace in their hope to be among the elect on Judgment Day. In history, however, purgatory was known since the early centuries of Christianity. Purgatory affirms why Catholics pray for the dead in the hope that they died in grace. It can be inferred from the words of Christ himself. In Matthew chapter 12, Christ speaks of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as a sin that will not be forgiven "neither in this age nor in the age to come." But what sin Christ cannot forgive? Note that Christ spoke of this sin after he was accused that his healings are performed by the power of Satan, so he immediately relates his power to the Holy Spirit. But why could not he, who has all the power to forgive, forgive this sin? Here we refer to the principle of the cooperation of the sinner with grace. Even though grace is a free gift from the Spirit of God, it must be received by the person. The fathers of the Church, especially St Augustine, interpreted this sin as the total refusal of the person to repent of his/her sins until the last moment of life. Since the Holy Spirit is always urging sinners to repent, this sin is considered a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which again is impossible for anyone who repents before death. Now, if Christ mentions that there are sins that are forgiven in the next life, it means that some sins are committed that do not lead immediately to hell where there is no hope, and not to heaven where no one defiled with any slight impurity can see God who is all pure. These sins are known as "venial sins." In purgatory, a state of the saved souls that are yet not able to see God, a purification takes place. The fire of purgatory is the burning desire of wanting to be with God. The soul in purgatory knows that she is saved but longs to be with the beloved One. From Church history, it is known that many saints passed through purgatory before they were to see God "face to face" (Cf. 1 Cor. 13). The elect must "complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of his body" (Col 1, 24). This means that for us to see God we must die to ourselves even if gradually; for no one can see God and live.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Today we celebrate the feast of Divine body of Christ in the Melkite Catholic Church. While violence continues to rage in the Middle East, we need to look beyond the divisions of religions. In the Middle East, factions of the same people are found in war against each other in the name of religion. Christians are scared that Muslim fundamentalism will take over their freedom. Western powers are taking advantage of the largely undemocratic political systems to force their form of democracy and oultaw dictators, but my impression is that it has to do with control of the area economically and politically. Muslims are divided between Shia and Sunni. Christians are divided between Western and Eastern. Let's forget for a moment the schism between factions, cultures, and religions and ask the one God whom we all worship to help us stop the blood shedding in the name of Christ who shed his blood for the reconciliation of all people with his Father. This would be a celebration of the Divine Heart...The heart of Jesus!