What follows is a letter recently addressed to Catholic apologetic Professor Scott Hahn in response to his online essay Purgatory: Holy Fire . The picture below is from Dante's Inferno - purgatory by Domenico di Michelino, Florence 1465. The letter is still awaiting a response.
Dear Professor Hahn:
The Bible can be a wonderful instrument for anyone interested in learning more about God and our purpose in life. However, it would be quite lacking if that were the only source or means of discovering ‘the God within.’ And I use the word ‘lacking’ for the Bible particularly when it used as weapon to control and create division among God’s people. Have we perhaps forgotten that God’s gift of compassion and understanding reaches far beyond the written word?
God’s revelation is ongoing and unceasing – and so too must be our understanding of Scripture and all of creation. The first goal in any spiritual journey must be to discover and experience God’s great and overwhelming unconditional love! Without that experience our search for meaning and understanding is incomplete. Any religion that does not help us towards that goal is a religion that has failed to understand the Great Commandment. Any religion that does not bring us to love God, our neighbour and our self does not yet know God!
As a Protestant convert to Catholicism (1986) extremely active in Church life I am today no longer a practising member. But I hasten to add continue to love God for whom my search is still ongoing. This search is often filled with more questions than answers. I have just finished reading your lengthy discourse on Purgatory: Holy Fire and cannot help but question how you arrived at some of your conclusions, for example”
Your message on purgatory focuses primarily on sin, hell, and suffering. The latter is mentioned more than 70 times in your essay. As a catechist, for more than twenty years, I found it interesting that it was always the sponsors who expressed the most fear about purgatory. Why? When we view Purgatory (not a place) as representing the final release from the ego we are simply left with the God given ‘True Self’ – free from all fear and suffering.
Your observations about heaven and hell seem primarily based on Traditional understandings and theologies. Should these teachings not be balanced against the much greater unconditional love of God for his creation?
How are people who have never experienced and/or denied the fullness of God’s unconditional love (and how many have?) to understand the message that teaches that God’s judgment will demand a ‘state of grace’ or similar prerequisites to enter purgatory and/or heaven?
All suffering is the immediate result of sin – directly or indirectly. If Jesus ‘died for our sins’, we have the right to ask “why then does suffering continue to plague this world?” The answer is of course ‘SALVATION’! It seems that only when we reach ‘a point of no return’ will we cry out for help, and surrender our ego to God. Only to discover that the fear and pain we experienced were based on our lack of trust in our Creator. Your treatment on the necessity of ‘suffering’ lacks the salvific response from Jesus when he said ‘I have come to bring you life to be lived to the full’!
For what good reason should sin be compartmentalized into categories by religious institutions, if it is used to determine who gains access to purgatory and heaven? Jesus offered his salvation to all humankind – not just repentant Catholics. Today many fundamentalist Christians prefer to ignore the ‘good news’ in favour of a more militant and judgmental approach to religion.
Is it not time to trade-in our fundamentalist understandings of heaven, hell and purgatory for the ‘good news’ offered freely by Jesus? Is it not time, to quote your brother Franciscan, Richard Rohr, "We must move from a belief-based religion to a practice-based religion, or little will change. We will merely continue to argue about what we are supposed to believe and who the unbelievers are." - Richard Rohr, The Naked Now
How can the Church continue to define human sexuality as understood by St. Augustine centuries ago in the face of modern science and psychology? Its obsessive negative attitude towards sexuality is responsible for much of the hatred towards gays, transsexuals and other minorities.
A message that chooses to relate to those it serves based on ancient Tradition can hardly expect to remain relative, especially towards the young. A Church that cannot admit its own errors from the past cannot be expected to lead us in the present.
What has the Church learned from its persecution of so- called heretics, witches, Jews, and the various inquisitions?
A message that focuses primarily on sin, hell, purgatory, suffering, (mentioned more than 70 times in your essay) etc. as a means of teaching who will return to God; discounts or dismisses the salvific opportunity to learn from our mistakes through the Holy Spirit.
I believe that God wants us to live creatively and be free to grow to our full potential. Or in other words, God is more interested in our potentials than our shortcomings.
Religious fundamentalism's great selling point is that it provides a sense of security for believers in what has become an ever more disorienting world, but it does so at the expense of cultivating an intolerance of others which can have devastating effects on global politics.
Have we perhaps forgotten that God's gift of compassion and understanding reaches far beyond the written word?
How divisive and militant the Catholic Church has become on the question of Tradition and faith?
Is it not time for us as adults to embrace a God who loves us unconditionally and created us for the benefit of all humankind?
“The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy.” – Our Lord to Saint FaustinaUpdate: Co-incidentally the following item was posted online by the National Catholic Reporter, dated January 14th
At his weekly general audience on January 12th.in Rome , Pope Benedict XVI announced that purgatory is like a purifying fire burning inside a person, a painful experience of regret for one's sins. He added. "A soul stained by sin cannot present itself to God"