Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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The Question Box
by Father I.J. Mikulski
(From the July 3, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
Q. I’m seeking information on purgatory. Can we relate this in some way to the Bible? My friends’ beliefs in Revelation are limited to heaven or hell. No waiting. I would like what information you may have even if I don’t understand it.
A. The purpose of this Q. B. column is to provide sensible information. What good is an obfuscated explanation if it’s restricted to a few zealous subscribers of The Theological Quarterly? Our belief in purgatory, defined at the early councils of Nicaea, Florence and Trent, is sensible.
There’s a tombstone with this inscription. “Too bad for heaven. Too good for hell. Where he went I cannot tell.” That clever line describes us and most of the people we know.
We are good, but not heavenly, people. We struggle against evil. We win most of the battles. We try to be good, do the right thing, keeping a safe distance from hovering temptations. We pray for grace and guidance, knowing “Nothing defiled can enter heaven.” (Rev. 21:27)
We are too good for hell. We are sinful, yes, but weak rather than pervasively evil. There are degrees of sin, major and minor, mortal and venial. “Every kind of sin is wrong but all sin is not deadly” (I John 5:15). We might even have clusters of habitual venial sins but not one deadly mortal sinful habit.
There must be some kind of cleansing procedure for that large middle class of people. Paul, as usual, has something to say. To his little band of Christian converts in Corinth he said “We must all appear before the judgment of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10)
We are held accountable for the choices we made, as befits adults. Kids often try to blame someone else. “He started it.” “She made me do it.” But Paul treats us as mature adults “to receive what is due.”
We have a God-given instinct about this. The Old Testament (2nd Maccabees, 100 years before Jesus Christ) declared, “It is holy and wholesome thought to pray in atonement for the dead that they may be delivered from their sins” (12:46). Some editions omit Second Maccabees, but those writings have been part of our Bible since St. Jerome compiled the first edition.
There must be some kind of cleansing, purging, refining process before we enter the presence of God where “nothing defiled can enter.” We know nothing about its duration because there is no time in eternity. No calendars or clocks. How can that be?
Where is it written that we are entitled to know everything?
Q. More people are doing it and I have decided to donate my somewhat old and very good female body to any medical group to use as they see fit. They’re transplanting various organs so I’ll give them my whole body. Is there anything morally wrong with my intention?
A. Assuming you took good care of it, your body, at any age, may be a blessing to someone who needs spare parts. If you can provide a match someone will surely remember you fondly as long as she lives.
Donating your body, or particular organs, is not contrary to Christian ethics. It’s the absolute summit of Christian charity. What more could you do?
Pope John Paul addressed this in his Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”): “A particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the donation of organs, performed in ethically acceptable manner, with a view of offering a chance of health or even of life itself to the sick who sometimes have no other hope.”
There are a couple of caveats too. Great care must be taken that the donor is dead, not just dying. The remains will be cared for with a dignity worthy of a kind and generous person.
(Father Mikulski welcomes your comments and questions. Write to him at 7718 Westwood Dr., Oscoda, Mich. 48750.)