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Why You Don’t Want to Go to Purgatory

October 17, 2015 by  
Filed under Last Things, Matthew Leonard, Purgatory

Matthew_Leonard_155_2Editor’s Note: It give us great pleasure to introduce you to Matthew Leonard, who joins our writing team today.  He is the Executive Director of the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology, has written several books, is in demand as a speaker and has his own radio show and has appeared on EWTN, Relevant Radio, Immaculate Heart Radio, CBS Radio, and the list goes on! Please welcome him warmly and make him feel at home.

Why You Don’t Want To Go To Purgatory


We’ve all heard it before.


The universal call to holiness means we’re supposed to get holy. Every one of us is called to sainthood. And really, what are the alternatives? Well, behind door number 1 is the eternal fire of hell. No thanks.

Slightly less warm is behind door number 2 – purgatory – the place scripture says our work on earth will be “tested” by fire (cf 1 Cor 3:13).

Interestingly, I don’t think we take purgatory seriously enough. In fact, it seems that many of us are pretty resigned to that fact: that’s where we’re going to end up. How many times have you heard someone declare with a sigh, “As long as I make it to purgatory!” Really? That’s what you want? Cuz it’s not going to be cupcakes and brownies.

We may not know exactly what it is or how long it lasts, but we do know it’s gonna hurt. Scripture says nothing unclean can enter heaven, and our impurities are going to be “revealed by fire.” So we’re talking way hotter than James Brown’s hot tub on SNL.*

St. John of the Cross said that purgatory is more terrible than a thousand deaths. Without God’s grace, it’s a purification we couldn’t survive. Yikes!

The good news is, you don’t have to go there. Our Lord provides door number 3 – it’s called sainthood. Love God with everything you’ve got, and there’ll be no reason for the eternal elevator to stop on the way up.

So make sure to set your sights as high as possible. Besides, it’s not a good idea to aim for purgatory…You might miss.

Keep striving, my friends! God bless you.


Art: An Angel Frees the Souls of Purgatory, Ludovico Carracci, circa 1610, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.

*SNL: Saturday Night Live–a comedy show.

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About Matthew Leonard

Matthew Leonard is an internationally known speaker, author, podcaster, blogger, and Executive Director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology (founded by Dr. Scott Hahn). A convert to Catholicism and former missionary to Latin America, Matthew is a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country appearing on SiriusXM, EWTN, CBS, and the Magnificat. He formerly hosted his own program on Radio Maria titled “The Art of Catholic”, before migrating to iTunes. Matthew hosts the popular Journey Through Scripture video series and is a featured speaker by Lighthouse Catholic Media. He also holds a Masters in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. In addition to numerous articles, he is the author of Louder Than Words: The Art of Living as a Catholic and Prayer Works! Getting A Grip On Catholic Spirituality, and contributed to The Joys & Challenges of Family Life: Catholic Husbands and Fathers Speak Out. Matthew lives in Ohio with his wife Veronica and their five children. Learn more about him at

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  • LizEst

    Welcome to our writing team, Matthew! May the Lord bless you abundantly!

  • ThirstforTruth

    I remember the nuns telling us that over 60 years ago; aim for the highest place so that you won’t fall too low, as I recall Heaven is what they meant. . Good advice then and still good advice today. Heaven is our goal, our home, and we should aim for nothing less. With God’s grace and the saints help, we should have confidence it is possible.

    • Karen Taylor Frigon

      This brings me more comfort than the fear of purgatory. I often have doubts about the idea of purgatory, and I look to St. Therese of Lisieux’s writings that say (paraphrasing) that if you truly trusted and believed in Jesus our God then we will go straight to heaven. I’d rather let my time here on earth be led by trust in a loving God than by fear.

      • BeingSavedByGrace

        Purgatory is actually a CONTINUATION of God’s Infinite Mercy toward us. The alternative would be Hell.
        Believing and Trusting in Jesus comes down to believing everything He tells us to do and ALIGN our lives to live according to His Will, every second of our days. The Gospels are a great place to check on that alignment; see ourselves in the mirror, where the mirror is the Word.

        I agree and can say that you are right about what to focus on, but God’s perfect Justice, which complements His Mercy demands perfection (be perfect as your Father who is in Heaven is perfect).

        There is our goal.

  • Cindy Pierre

    Amen! If we make it our mission, our delight and our privilege to unite with God daily, then our wills will align with His! God desires sainthood for all of us. It is attainable if we make it our chief endeavor and ask The Lord to purify us constantly. How much time and energy do we spend on temporal aims when there is rest and peace in striving for the only thing that matters: our Holy and Perfect Lord. Let us learn from the saints that have gone before and adopt their ways but also embrace the specific way in which God is calling us to sanctity. Let us love God and our neighbor without restraint. May the Blessed Mother and the saints intercede for us, and may the Holy Spirit indwell in us and keep us clean.

  • Salvatore Buttaci

    My father used to tell us to strive for the A and not the B or C. For us the A should be Heaven where we can praise God forever. I read a book sometime ago, written by a Catholic priest, called PURGATORY. It was frightening. All it had going for it was that it said Purgatory had an ending and it led to Heaven. Another priest once told me hardly anyond goes directly to Heaven, all of us needing to be purged of the traces of our sins. Is this true?

    • LizEst

      Well, we do not know for sure. However, it is logical that many are in need of purification. This does not mean that many, also, are not living good lives. So, the important thing is to model our lives on Christ, which will necessarily take us to the cross. There are many saints in heaven we do not know the names of because they have not been raised to the altars, i.e. canonized, by the Church. So, there is great hope to go directly to heaven…if we are living the Gospel, love God and neighbor as God does, have true contrition for our sins, pray, frequent the sacraments, attend Mass, etc.

    • BeingSavedByGrace

      We have lost our sense of how much harm sin does, and how horrible it is. Since NOTHING impure will enter Heaven. That being said, EVEN St Padre Pio stated that “when I am done with my purgatory…”.
      That little piece of info scared the living lights out of me, along with a bunch of other things I learned from other Catholic mystics and saints.
      So, the bottom line is that it is practically impossible to go straight to Heaven, time in Purgatory is unique for each person, just like the type of suffering can differ.
      Some people will be there until the end of the world, others have a very short stay.
      From what I have gathered through all I studied on the subject, even the souls that are deep in Purgatory, would not want to come back, because they know that from there they will end up in Heaven, and coming back would provide the opportunity to ‘miss the boat’ and go to Hell.

      Sometimes God’s Grace comes in the form of a scare ‘the living lights out of us’. Be grateful that youi came across both those priests. It sounds about right.

  • Bruce davis

    This is why we must always Pray for the dead. We don’t know who has made it there, and if they were a good Christian, chances are that’s where they are, in Purgatory. Today’s Protestants do not believe in Purgatory, that as long as you have accepted Jesus Christ into your heart, you have been Saved, and it’s true, you have. However, mortal sin does take that away, and everyone sins, therefore, everyone needs to be purified before entering Heaven.
    This is actually Lorry, but I don’t know how to change the name on the post as!!!!!!

    • LizEst

      Not sure about changing the name. You might have to set up a new DISQUS account.

  • Mary Anne

    This might be a good time to do an article on indulgences, too. We so seldom hear about them any more, too, because they are such a wonderful way to help the souls in purgatory and reduce the time we ourselves may need to spend in purgatory (or eliminate it all together).

  • Wesley

    I am afraid, I have in the past committed many Moral sins ( I wanted to say serious moral sins but moral is serious enough) although my life has changed I feel like I am working at a no win situation. At the same time I know I am called to be a saint but I feel like it’s a vocation that I missed.

    • LizEst

      Wesley — As long as you have been truly sorry for your sins and confessed them in the sacrament of penance, those sins are gone and you are on your way to heaven. That’s what the sacrament is for; that’s why Christ instituted it: to help us when we fall, to restore us to His grace. Keep to this road.

      There are many others who have done the same and have become saints. St. Augustine, for one, was a great sinner before he repented, the good thief on the cross, St. Angela di Foligno…and many others have been, too. Be not afraid. God loves you. You haven’t missed the vocation. There is always time to become a saint before you die, no matter how dark your sins. God is merciful and wants you in heaven. What a wonderful God we have!

    • James

      *mortal sins

  • IAmBrianBoru

    A very thought provoking piece. I write a few pages of inserts for our parish bulletin every week, and with All Saints and All Souls days coming on the horizon, not to mention the start of the Year of Mercy soon after, and this makes me consider even more than I already have been about how to write a few brief articles on Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. My challenge is that a lot of what I write is in the line of apologetic/theologic/homiletic thinking.

    Thanks for adding a little fuel to my fire!

  • LizEst

    Yes, there is restitution that must be done for our sins. It’s kind of like when someone breaks a window and the owner forgives the person who did it, there is still residual damage that must be made up for. In the case of sin, your sins are forgiven but there still remains residual damage that must be made up for. That’s the temporal punishment (what you would otherwise have to face in purgatory). This does or does not get made up for during the course of one’s lifetime. So, if your sins have been confessed, they will not prevent you from going to heaven…even if you must spend time in purgatory.

    Having said that, the Church does offer indulgences, which serve to take away some or all of the temporal punishment due to sin. The “king” of indulgences is the plenary indulgence because it remits all temporal punishment due to sin. In other words, if you met the conditions of this indulgence and fulfilled it, and died immediately thereafter–not having sinned since–you would go straight to heaven. No purgatory. So, whenever a plenary indulgence is offered, it is good to avail oneself of it. It wipes away all punishment one may have accrued up to that point. And, the good thing is that you can receive a plenary indulgence more than once.

    Hope this helps…and God bless you Wesley. You are on the right track!

    • Eskimo man

      I thought that a plenary indulgence only covers one sin? If I got just one plenary indulgence surely that does not make me Holy enough to go straight to Heaven?

      • LizEst

        A plenary indulgence removes all temporal punishment due to sin. That’s the beauty of it. If you got one plenary indulgence AND died immediately thereafter without committing additional sin, mortal or venial, you would go straight to heaven. A partial indulgence does not remove all temporal punishment due to sin. The conditions for receiving a plenary indulgence are pretty strict. So, most people receive the partial indulgence. But, even that is worth the effort.

        • Eskimo man

          Thank you for that, I never really got into indulgences thinking that I would need too many to cover all my sins. I am a pathetic habitual sinner that needs a break, maybe a plenary indulgence will help me. God Bless you in J+M+J.

  • John Savage

    Can anyone help here, because the main protestant churches and, I believe the Anglican church, do not believe in purgatory-where in scripture does it mention purgatory?

    • MariaGo

      For the Biblical basis for purgatory, check out this article.

      These Bible passages may help as well.

      Purgatory is the state where the Holy Spirit purifies people who
      are saved but who still need to repent of their particular sins.
      Christ remits eternal guilt at justification, but completes
      personal sanctificatin, if necessary, in purgatory.

      1 Cor 3:15 – “he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping
      through the flames.”
      Lk 12:59; 1 Pet 1:7; Mt 5:25-26 – examples of temporal
      Heb 12:6-11 – God’s painful discipline
      Mt 12:32 – no forgiveness…nor in the age to come.
      Rev 21:27 – nothing unclean shall enter heaven
      Heb 12:23 – souls in heaven “having been made perfect.”
      Col 1:24 – “extra” suffering

    • LizEst

      Great question, John! Scripture does not use the word “Purgatory”; however, Scripture does indeed talk about Purgatory and it has long been part of Church Tradition, since the early days of the Church…so, from way before Protestantism came into being.

      First of all, we read this in the Old Testament, in 2 Maccabees 12:43-45, about Judas Maccabeus: “He took up a collection…which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.”

      In Matthew 12:32, Jesus says, “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” We know there is no forgiveness of sin either in hell or in heaven. So, the only place this forgiveness of sins is done “in the age to come” is in purgatory.

      Some also cite Luke 12:59 (you should read in context), which says, “I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”

      Then, there is 1 Corinthians 3:10 which speaks of St. Paul laying a foundation and that the Day (the day of judgment) will reveal all and goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 3:15: “If someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.”

      And, 1 Peter 1:3-9 is also sometimes used.

      You will also want to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 1030-1032. The Church formally formulated Her doctrine of Purgatory in the Council of Florence (1439) and Trent (1563). But, even before that, it was long held as part of our Tradition:

      Gregory of Nyssa, who lived from 335 to around 395, in “De iis qui in fide dormiun”, also said, “”If one who loves and believes in Christ,” has failed to wash away his sins in this life, “he is set free after death by the fire of Purgatory.”

      St Augustine (354-430): “Of those who suffer temporary punishments after death, all are not doomed to those everlasting pains which are to follow that judgment. (“City of God” 21:13 [413-427])
      And, Augustine again: “The man who perhaps has not cultivated the land and has allowed it to be overrun with brambles has in this life the curse of his land on all his works, and after this life he will have either purgatorial fire or eternal punishment.” (“The Literal Interpretation of Genesis”, 2:20 [388/389])

      There is more, but I hope this helps! And, oh yes, God bless you!

  • Rose

    Welcome, Leonard, I love your style of writing, short, to the point and made me laugh! I read it out loud to my daughter, something I’ve not done with any other article. Keep them coming! God Bless you!

  • Eskimo man

    I would suggest weekly confession even if you are not in a state of mortal sin, and if you suffer enough here on earth for your sins you can avoid purgatory.

  • BeingSavedByGrace

    It can Wesley, depending what the DEPTH of desire and conviction with which one turns away from the sin, and its seriousness. FOCUS on loving the Lord with all your might, and learn to love your fellow mankind through the eyes of Jesus.

    EMBRACE everything that the Lord sends your way with a grateful heart and, even in the midst of horrible suffering, learn to be GRATEFUL that the Lord is providing you with the means to bring healing into the Mystical Body of Christ and is granting you the means to perfect you in this life. Furthermore, when the Lord ‘allows’ suffering to take place in someone’s life, it is because He sees the person worthy of suffering. In that case, we offer it up for the salvation of souls.

    It is through suffering that we are made perfect in this world, IF we know how to embrace it. This suffering can take on the shape of big things, or just be the small every day things that we do. Strive for holiness, and ALWAYS ask the Lord to help you in your journey.

    NEVER, EVER loose sight of His Love and Mercy for you; TRUST with ALL your heart and soul, and don’t worry about the rest.

    Pray for the Grace of complete surrender to the Lord’s Will, so that you can BECOME a perfect instrument in His hands in this world, so that others see Jesus through you.

    REMEMBER this.
    IF we put too much focus in the ugly end, we are not focusing on being disciples of Christ, and become distracted by things that take our sight out of the winner of the race; Jesus (Hebrews 12).

    May your journey be a joyous and fruitful one.

  • Jeanette

    Sorry for the length but this summary might be helpful:
    PLENARY INDULGENCE – the usual conditions for every plenary indulgence:
    – Sacramental confession [according to previously issued norms, within abut 20 days before or after]
    – Eucharistic communion [according to previously issued norms, preferably on the day, or the days before or after], prayer for the intentions of Supreme Pontiff [certain prayers are not specified]

    In particular, DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY – The plenary indulgence usual conditions plus specific conditions for this particular Indulgence:
    On Divine Mercy Sunday, in any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, take part in the prayers and devotions held in honour of Divine Mercy or, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!”)

    Partial Indulgence
    A partial indulgence, granted to the faithful who, at least with a contrite heart, pray to the merciful Lord Jesus a legitimately approved invocation. [e.g. Jesus I trust in You. My Jesus mercy. or any other approved invocation]

    Those who cannot go to church or the seriously ill:
    Conditions for a Plenary Indulgence:
    – totally detesting any sin,
    – the intention of fulfilling as soon as possible the three usual conditions of confession, communion and prayers for the Holy Father
    – recite the Our Father and the Creed before a devout image of Our Merciful Lord Jesus
    – pray a devout invocation to the Merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you).

    If it is impossible to do even this:
    – with a spiritual intention unite with those carrying out the prescribed practice for obtaining the Indulgence in the usual way and offer to the Merciful Lord a prayer and the sufferings of their illness and the difficulties of their lives, with the resolution to accomplish as soon as possible the three conditions prescribed to obtain the plenary indulgence.

  • janeasinner


  • L Almaraz

    Do you not recall the words of the good thief hanging besides Christ? Surely he confessed he deserved to be there due to his bad deeds (which I believe were more serious than just stealing) but not Jesus. Jesus assured him he would be in heaven with him. Some have questioned that he needed to go to Purgatory for purification but maybe his horrific suffering in his cross was sufficent to allow him to enter heaven.

    • LizEst

      Through His Paschal suffering, death and resurrection, Christ paved the way for the good thief. Christ’s word of mercy was sufficient for the good thief to enter heaven. Nothing in Scripture says otherwise.

  • LizEst

    Yes, I’m sure he suffered a great deal. That was the whole point of crucifixion, a most cruel death.

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