The Reality of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

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“Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail where no thief approaches and no moth destroys” (Luke 12:33).

Last Sunday, Jesus refused to intervene in a property dispute of a man who had interrupted Him while He was teaching. Jesus tells us that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. It is vanity (mere breath) if we dedicate our whole lives only to the pursuit of earthly riches if we fail to be rich towards God. The rich man whose land yielded much is called a fool because, in his plan to enjoy his riches, he failed to consider the hungry, the sick, the homeless and the poor.

Today’s Gospel passage picks up right here. Having quieted the young man who was only thinking of how to get his share of property, Jesus went on to teach us in concrete terms of the reality of heaven, hell and purgatory as well as what we must do or avoid to make heaven.

Lesson One: It is Only those Things you Give Away that Belong to You.
To the young man who had come to Jesus seeking for the secret to eternal life, Jesus responded: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22). Today, Jesus is repeating Himself: “Sell your possessions and give alms; provide yourselves with … a treasure in the heavens” (Luke 12:33). Kindness rendered to others selflessly is your ticket to the eternal bliss of heaven.

On the last day, Jesus says, the “King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:34-36).

When last did you give a serious thought about heaven? Now, when last did you think about your account balance? When last did you think of buying a car, getting a parcel of land or going to purchase more goods for your business? Jesus was not lying at all when he said: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” St. Basil and St. Ambrose would say, if you are looking for a bank (a safe place or a barn) to store your riches, then consider the bellies of the poor, the houses of the orphans and widows, check under the bridge where the homeless stay, look out for those risking their lives to hawk pure water, sweets or biscuits on our busy streets. Dear friends, it is what you give out, (the help you render to others) that speaks on your behalf when you die. These are your true treasures because they can never be stolen or taken away from you.

Lesson Two: Heaven is the Reward of Righteousness.
Jesus says to us today: “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning and be like men who are waiting for their master to return from the marriage feast.” What does this mean? By asking us to gird our loins, Jesus is saying: “zip up.” Flee from immorality, flee from indecent dressing, do not let down your moral guard, do not allow the devil entrance into your mind through unholy pictures, videos, books, conversations and the like. Girding your loins means placing a filter to what you consume through your phone, the internet and the media.

According to St. Gregory Nazianzen “we gird our loins when by continence we control the lusts of the flesh. For the lust of men is in their loins … But because it is a small thing not to do evil, unless also men strive to labour in good works, it is added, ‘and your lamps burning in your hands; for we hold burning lamps in our hands, when by good works we show forth bright examples to our neighbours.” That is to say, it is not enough that we avoid lust and sins of the flesh, by adding that our lamps must be kept burning, Jesus is teaching us that we must also, carry out good works (show good example to those living in darkness).

For St. Gregory of Nyssa, “for the sake then of keeping watch, our Lord advised above that our loins should be girded, and our lamps burning, for light when placed before the eyes drives away sleep. The loins also when tied with a girdle, make the body incapable of sleep. For he who is girt about with chastity, and illuminated by a pure conscience, continues wakeful.” Heaven is for those who are pure in heart, who never relax into sin, persons who place the light of God’s word before their eyes daily.

When Peter asked if this parable is meant for everyone, Jesus added another quality of those who would go to heaven. “Who then is the faithful and wise steward whom the master has set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? As the saying goes, to whom much is given, much is expected. That is to say, if God blesses you, it is so that you would be a blessing to others. Your gifts in life are not meant only for you. On the other hand, the priest is like a steward put in charge of God’s household to feed the people. “Peter, do you love me? … Feed my Lambs”(Cf. John 21:15-17).

Lesson Three: Different Types of Punishment Indicates the reality of Purgatory.
In today’s first reading, the book of Wisdom clearly spelt out the reality of heaven and hell when it says: “The deliverance of the righteous and the destruction of their enemies were expected by thy people. For by the same means by which thou didst punish our enemies thou didst call us to thyself and glorify us” (Wisdom 18:7-8). While the blessed are glorified, the wicked are punished. This is exactly what Jesus teaches us in our Gospel passage. The good and faithful servants are called blessed while those who failed to live up to their master’s expectations are punished. Nevertheless, as Jesus notes, there would be different types of punishment.

a. For him who goes about beating the menservants and the maidservants as well as eating and drinking and getting drunk, Jesus says the master of the house will punish him and put him with the unfaithful. Here Jesus shows us that there is such a place reserved for the unfaithful.

b. For the servant who knew his master’s will but did not make ready or act according to his will, he shall receive a severe beating. Note that unlike the first, this particular servant is not transferred to the place of the unfaithful.

c. Jesus then mentions another servant who did not know his master’s will and yet in his ignorance did what deserved a beating. Such servant according to Jesus would be given only a light beating and still unlike the first, this servant does not go to the place of the unfaithful.

If we are to understand hell as the place of the unfaithful, it simply follows that there is actually a place other than heaven and hell where souls go to receive either severe or light beating. This place is what the church calls purgatory. As the Catechism puts it: “Purgatory is the final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” (CCC 1030-1031) This purification is done so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

Lesson Four: Faith Makes Everything Come Together.
Our second reading today may be considered as a hymn of the praises of faith. Behind the great achievements of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob was a strong and determined faith; a firm assurance within them of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, without faith, it would be impossible for us to please God as his children. It is true that none of us living has been to heaven to know how the place is, but just like Abraham who did not hesitate to move even when he did not know exactly where God was calling him to, we are called to follow God’s instructions by faith.

Too often we think of faith only in terms of what we stand to receive from God. We are very quick to recite passages such as Mark 11:24 which says: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” What we do not often realize is that faith also applies to the everyday choices that we make. Every sin we commit is a statement of what we actually believe. Abraham did not disobey when he was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac because even though he loved Isaac, he believed God was capable of providing more sons for him. The question we must ask ourselves today is: ‘What do my actions say about my faith?’

Let us pray: Almighty ever living God, bring to perfection in our hearts the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters and we may merit to enter heaven which is the inheritance which you have promised, Amen.

Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu