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Does purgatory exist?

/ 05:10 AM November 03, 2017

I write this to express some concerns regarding the piece by Benre J. Zenarosa, titled “Spirited away” (Opinion, 10/31/17). Though a good piece and interestingly about life, death, truth, and God, I must say that I disagree with some points the writer made. The main thing to do when the Catholic faith is attacked is to defend it. I shall do so with the limited capacity and knowledge I have.

Jose Rizal is our national hero indeed. But the heeding of his words as a premise is weak to substantiate the claim that purgatory is not biblically based. First, even if Rizal said that the idea of purgatory is absent in the New and Old Testaments, even if Moses or Jesus did not mention it, the Bible is not interpreted literally. In Catholic theology, there is exegesis and eisegesis: The former is the contextual and historical analysis of the biblical text, while the latter is the interpretation of the reader (in most cases, a scholar). Zenarosa’s argument appeared to be a sweeping generalization of what the Catholic faith teaches. The Bible began from Catholic tradition and is preserved through deep interpretation—not as baseless as “because Jesus or Moses said so.” Whatever happened to Paul the Apostle? He’s in the Bible. He had mentioned something about a cleansing “fire” (See 1 Corinthians 3:15). How about Jesus’ parables and intimations? Jesus implicitly stated something about purgatory in Matthew 5:25-26. Second, the Bible’s interpretation—especially on matters such as purgatory—is not based only on particular lines, which is in a sense selective or myopic. Like literature or history, doing a reading or interpretation of the Bible comes with critical analysis and inference—not to forget, divine inspiration. No wonder Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Thomas of Aquino, and other doctors of the Church produced tomes on Catholic doctrine and theology, including those on death and the existence of purgatory. Therefore, they are still based on the Bible and not “invented teachings.” Perhaps Zenarosa is better than the Church fathers?

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Concerning historical facts: It does not mean that because Rizal said something and is our national hero, his words are true per se. “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” are historical novels. However, everything written there ought not to be taken as historical fact. So what does Zenarosa mean by “Are we blind to historical facts?” Substantiate please. What Zenarosa has presented goes something like this: Rizal said it, therefore it is true. First, Rizal is human, capable of mistakes like us. Second, he is not a theologian and is probably not in the proper disposition to determine such matters of the Catholic faith, especially that the line Zenarosa stated is written in a novel and not a personal memoir. Third, even if we had the deepest or most profound ruminations on life, God, and religion, we are limited. Saints Augustine and Thomas, the greatest thinkers in Church history, would agree. And lest we forget: The devil is capable of sowing confusion in our minds.

Zenarosa has also asked the question: “Where did the doctrine of purgatory come from?” However noble the query, he has failed to give a precise answer. He just jumped from the said question to Pope Benedict XVI’s scrapping of the doctrine of limbo, making it look like it was nothing serious. Although limbo was not a Catholic teaching in the first place, it was only brought to light during the International Theological Commission of 2007 and gave more weight to the reality of purgatory.

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Purgatory is real. How so, he may ask? God is merciful. Period. He himself said it: “With God’s grace and mercy, someday I hope to talk to my father again… with the almighty Father in heaven, in his paradise.”
“But nothing unclean shall enter [heaven] (Rev. 21:27).” We can’t really expect that when we die we are absolutely free from all stains of sin. Sometimes it is inevitable to fall short. Thus, the existence of purgatory so that the souls may be cleansed from sins to be able to enter heaven. This reality is a manifestation of God’s great love and mercy. It is a gift from God which we ought to cherish. That is why prayers for the poor, suffering souls in purgatory are necessary. That is why we commemorate the dead (and the saints) during “Undas.”

I agree that we should really “rethink our stand and course.” For “deception is rampant” and the devil is cunning. God bless.

JOSE MARTIN V. SINGH, [email protected]

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TAGS: Bible, biblical text, New and Old Testaments, purgatory
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