Purgatory And What It's Probably Like: Protestants Too Report Experiences
By Michael H. Brown
It's incredible that there is any doubt: How can we deny the existence of a "gray" area in the afterlife -- when there are gray areas in every other aspect of existence?
We speak here of purgatory. It only makes sense. It only accents God's mercy. And it comes to mind during the intense last days of Lent, when we are called to purify, to do some of our purgatory here -- as well as to pray for the dead.
Would God be so severe and unforgiving as to present only two extreme destinations -- the incredible, ineffable splendor of paradise or the atrocious unspeakable horrors of hell?
No, purgatory exists. It's in the Book of Maccabees (12:42-46). And Protestants need to know this. There are Protestants suffering in purgatory because no one is praying for them. It's in the Bible where there are prayers -- atonement -- for the dead (see 1 Samuel 31). It's in ancient Jewish tradition. And it was in the Bible that is so closely heeded by many Protestants -- until, in certain versions of the Bible (including the King James), the Book of Maccabees (upon which Mel Gibson may base his next movie) was taken out.
Yes, there is a middle ground, a place of purgation, and it seems only logical that the majority of people go there. We have reports from Protestants who have had near-death experiences and were baffled to have found themselves in a middle area between hell and Heaven. One, Angie Fenimore, who tried to commit suicide in 1991, recalled a death experience in which she landed on a shadowy plane with black mist swirling around her. The dark was almost palpable. Everyone there was swathed in sullied robes. The same was reported by an atheistic doctor named George Rodonaia in the Soviet Union, who was "killed" in an auto accident and to his shock found himself in a place of darkness.
Not quite hell, but serious business. "The souls in purgatory are enveloped, as it were, in a thick shroud into which they have wound themselves while living here on earth," noted an anonymous revelation in a remarkable bookstore booklet called Secrets of Purgatory. "It is the garment of their own egoism."
We are accountable for every moment on earth, said this revelation. Time is not our own. God has numbered the seconds of our lives and knows what is to be gained from them. "He has ordained a holy purpose, a duty, a plan for every moment of our lives, and we must fulfill all these intentions of His," said the revelation. "We must give an account of every moment."
Reason for panic? Not for those who are sincere. Not for those who partake of the sacraments. And not for those who try to live lives of love. Most of us may need some purification when we die, but there are also pleasant levels. There are levels next to Heaven. There are levels through which a soul may only have to spend a few minutes before proceeding to paradise and the direct eternal presence of Jesus.
But it is important for us to realize that the afterlife is crucial -- the entire reason that we are on earth! And it's crucial to know that we must spend every waking moment preparing for it. Some, including St. Padre Pio, have said that certain souls spend part of the purgatory on earth. He reported their manifestations. He said he was visited by more of them than living humans. Is this why some report "haunted" houses? Yet another medical doctor, Dr. George Ritchie -- a Protestant -- described Jesus taking him to various places in the afterlife and showing him at one level how countless souls were earthbound. Though invisible, they were still mingling on our plane because they had sins to purge or were overly attached to earth through their pride, avarice, and obsessions.
The husband of mystic Maria Esperanza reports that she has often been visited by purgatorial souls -- including one that grabbed her hand and caused a burn mark.
While Protestants would interpret that as Hell, there are also fires in the worst parts of purgatory.
"Every moment during which we live without supernatural motive is rueful waste," said the purgatorial revelation. "We fail to realize the beautiful way of grace. We should not forget to make a good intention in everything and to do all with a supernatural motive."
The key? According to this inspired, anonymous revelation (once distributed by monks in Illinois), we must shed our attachments to anything of the world. When we consider everything in the world a cross, we reduce the attachments to a minimum. We also take a step closer to Heaven when we distrust ourselves, when we admit our mistakes, when we are quick to accept blame, and when we are careful that we have humble piety.
Piety without humility counts for little!
We must be like the good thief on the Cross, for God judges differently than we do. "Jesus had many excuses for him," notes the revelation of the thief. "A poor education, few talents, and many other things which moved Him to mercy -- especially because the thief was himself not satisfied with his state and wanted to become better. When he saw the Savior on the Cross he realized how he could become better and wholly reconciled himself to the Merciful Love."
This is key: seeking merciful love. Seeking only God. Wanting earnestly to enter Heaven directly -- as so few do.
"Those souls are the quickest to enter Heaven who quickly sense their sins, who are not obstinately taken up with their own self-conceit," the revelation continues. "God judges us, not according to our failings, but according to our good will. A soul who is always ready to recognize God's Will and to do it is indeed by that very fact good. Such a soul does not quickly take offense when somebody reminds it of its failings, and tries in a spirit of great joy, pleasure, and gratitude to overcome and lay aside this or that fault."
Dreary? Hardly. It's liberating. And its effects are eternal. One thing to remember: Confession. When we are in a true state of repentance, we are perfectly purified through Merciful Love. We already fulfill our purgatory -- if that repentance is truly pure. Souls who have completely reconciled to God and have great confidence in His Merciful Love "simply brush by the entrance of purgatory or merely pass through without stopping."
"He is an exact God, a perfect God," says The Secrets of Purgatory. "He desires that we have minute order in our souls and that we preserve spiritual purity. We must again and again admit our mistakes, bewail and lament them, and long to make all things right, down to the smallest detail. It is inexpressively beautiful to see a poor soul enter the realm of Heaven. Oh, it is so awe-inspiring that one cannot behold this scene without shedding tears."
[Resources: The Secrets of Purgatory, CD: Intercession for the Holy Souls, and Return from Tomorrow]
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