Skip to main content

Heaven – A Catholic Understanding

A Victim of History

Catholic teaching about purgatory was a victim of the Protestant Reformation. Luther objected to the sale of indulgences linked to the promise of a shorter time for the souls of the dead in purgatory. This was an abuse, driven by the need of some Renaissance popes for money to build St Peter’s basilica in Rome.

What human can look on the face of God?

Christian belief about heaven is that it is a place where humans will see God to the fullest extent to which they are able, and love God with every spark of their being. This is something we struggle to imagine, being so often torn between our own needs and desires and the net of relationships with others that make up our lives. Even with those we love, elements of fear, defensiveness and competition stemming from a bruised past will often distort our efforts to embrace others.

To love God fully, these scars have to be healed. God never forces but invites out of friendship. Such transformation requires profound personal insight, surrender, utter trust and sorrow for past failures – that is, a process of purification. If this has not happened during our life it must somehow take place after death.

Purgatory is not a place or a time as we understand those, as God does not dwell in our space/time continuum. It is a process, more or less intense. We can some sense of this from our own experience. One hour in a dentist’s chair can seem never-ending; an hour with an old, dear friend can vanish in the blink of an eye. For anyone who has shared deeply with men and women steeped in prayer and the search for God, purgatory is not a bizarre Catholic teaching but a very commonsense and believable notion.

Catholic Discovery

Explanations , Our Catholic World related , Heaven