THE POWER OF UNCERTAINTY
I am reading How Mankind Committed the Ultimate Infamy at Auschwitz, a New History by Laurence Rees. He chronicles the history of the infamous World War II concentration camp with new perspective based on information gleaned from dozens of original interviews with survivors and Nazi perpetrators.
One of the cruelties of the concentration camp for its victims was never knowing if/when they would be set free, which gave the camp overseers much more power and kept the inmates scrambling to comply with orders. The situation reminded me of the Roman Catholic concept of purgatory: a condition of penance/torture-by-fire after death that is also without defined limit. Or so the teaching goes. And knowledge of purgatory definitely had a certain power over me when I was growing up, kept me on my knees, so to speak, doing what I could to avoid it.
WHAT A GIRL COULD DO
The only ones who escape some or all of this cruel sentence in Roman Catholicism are those who earn “plenary indulgences” via some rite or some “works” such as confession to a priest followed by a certain prayer (and then remain sin free), by visiting various Catholic shrines or holy places (some pilgrimages+indulgences are available for a limited time only, however), by attending Mass and receiving communion, by suffering physically, or by doing various kinds of “good works” . Or so it goes.
I wrote before (https://pnissila.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/out-of-the-fire-on-leaving-roman-catholicism/) how this teaching contributed to my fear of God when I was a child, for it was never specified how long one would have to suffer in purgatory’s fires after death (note: nowadays, the emphasis is more on purgatory as a place of “purification,” or “perfection,” the exact method downplayed). Even a few minutes seemed gruesome to me.
QUESTIONS AD INFINITUM
And I wondered: would a given sin net a day or a thousand days in the fire? How much more time would a mortal sin, even though confessed, add to the sentence? Did sins of omission rank less in burn/purification time than sins of commission? What if your relatives didn’t like you and they never prayed for you to have a shortened purgatory sentence, or what if they couldn’t afford to have Masses “said” to get you out sooner, or what if you didn’t have relatives or they didn’t know you had died? So many questions for a child afraid of fire. I wouldn’t hear the good news related to all this for many years, but fortunately, I did.
THE GOOD NEWS!
To those still bound by this teaching, who believe, like I did long ago, that you must somehow do some of the penance required by God for your sins, I invite you to consider the following scriptures that have helped me and countless others in the process out of Roman Catholicism and into the joy of our salvation:
“For by one offering he (Jesus) hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified: (Hebrews 10: 14 KJV).
“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down and the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).
“It is finished” (John 19:30).
The good news is really– good. Jesus, the only Lamb of God, paid the price, i.e. the penance, for our sins. In full. One time. On the cross. Praise God. Believers are free, indeed.
 Just a few references on how to avoid purgatory from a priest, a nun, and a Roman Catholic saint.
According to Fr. Paul O’Sullivan: http://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/purgb2.htm
According to Sister Angelica: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbbMYapIOvA
On Purgatory itself:
Fire photo from the public domain at: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/hledej.php?hleda=fire