The only story Jesus ever told where one of the characters was named was the story about Lazarus and the rich man. As it turned out, that was probably a true story, because in both instances where Lazarus is mentioned he was dead.
When Jesus learned that Lazarus of Bethany, a brother of Mary and Martha, was sick, He remained where He was for two more days. He said to His disciples, “Lazarus is dead. I rejoice on your account that I was not there, that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Jesus came and found him already four days in the tomb. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she met Him and said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, He will give it to You.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother shall rise.”
“I know that he will rise at the resurrection on the last day.”
“I am the resurrection and the life, said Jesus. “He who believes in Me, even if he die, shall live; and whoever lives and believes in Me, shall never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world.”
Jesus went out to the tomb and cried out, “Lazarus, come forth!” And at once he who’d been dead came forth.
Christ raised up the dead body of Lazarus, just as He will everyone who’s ever lived at the end of the world. He’ll reunite our souls to our bodies. If we’re saved and judged worthy of heaven (which will be a very minuscule number of us), our bodies will be the same ones we had while alive the first time, but perfected—no sickness, no pain, no obesity, no deformities, and probably at about 25 years of age. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Good luck, because only a tiny number of people are willing to do what it takes for that to happen. Most will go to hell. I didn’t say so, Jesus did.
This historical event about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is the only one where Jesus gave anyone a second chance. Oh, sure, He raised others from the dead, but in those cases the people had just died. Their souls were probably still lingering in their bodies. Good seminary training on the Anointing of the Sick instructs would-be priests to administer the sacrament up to eight hours after apparent death because of this. But in Lazarus’ case, he’d already been in the tomb several days and begun to decay. So when Jesus raised him from the dead, it was certainly a second chance.
I had a recent encounter with a fundamentalist Protestant who seems to think that the Catholic belief in purgatory is a second chance, or so we think. As I’ve learned in the last few years, an inordinate number of Catholics appear to think the same thing… if they believe in purgatory at all. Let’s take a moment to clear that up.
Purgatory isn’t a second chance at all, but rather simple justice. Justice and our desire for it is infused into our human nature. All humans want justice, even if that desire is somewhat skewed in some people. Go back to your childhood. How many times did you tell one of your parents you were sorry for something you’d done wrong, but you were still punished? That’s simple justice, and natural to all humans.
When we make a good confession and are absolved for our confessed sins, God is telling us, “I forgive your offense, but you still have to balance the scale by making reparation for your sin.” That reparation is penance. That’s why the priest gives us a penance. We rarely end our lives with having done sufficient penance for our sins. Since nothing unclean can enter heaven (Revelation 21:27), and venial sin and forgiven mortal sin not sufficiently atoned for is unclean, that is an automatic trip to purgatory. Every soul in purgatory is saved, but those souls must remain in purgatorial pains and torments until they’ve been perfectly cleaned for heaven.
This is the same concept in our criminal justice system. If a criminal committed manslaughter, then told the judge he was sorry—even showing genuine remorse—what do you think the judge would do? Do you think the judge would say, “Oh, you’re sorry? Well, that changes everything! You’re free to go!” What do you think the victim’s family would say? What do you think the voters will do when that judge comes up for reelection? There’s no justice in this situation. The judge would either have to be neurotic or have no moral compass whatsoever. No, justice must be demanded. If God did that, He would indeed be neurotic.
Purgatory, which has a heavy basis in Scripture, is simple justice. Just as the violent felon must go to prison to pay for what he’s done before he can reenter society, so must we enter the prison of purgatory to pay for what we’ve done before we can enter heaven. God’s simple justice.
If you want to avoid purgatory, first and foremost you must do whatever you have to do to be saved. By Jesus’ own words, very, very few of us are going to be saved; most will be condemned to hell. Okay, let’s say you’re convinced that you’re going to one day enter heaven: you’re going to Mass and confession regularly, you’re performing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and you’ve got a good prayer life. Now what do you do to avoid ever seeing purgatory?
Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). How perfect is the Father? He’s infinitely perfect! So what is Jesus telling us? He’s telling us that we have to become saints. He established the Catholic Church so we could become saints. So if you’re not wanting to become a saint, why on earth are you a Catholic in the first place?!
Absolutely nothing worth having in life is easy. This includes heaven. If obtaining heaven was easy, everyone would be doing it. Seriously. No matter what sort of garbage you hear from people who lead evil lives, everyone loves the idea of spending all eternity in bliss—perfectly happy. They don’t work for it, because it’s too difficult, and what we have to do in order to attain heaven works against our fallen human nature. It’s just a lot easier to go to hell.
Have questions about this, or need help? Visit JoeSixpackAnswers.com or contact me at Joe@CantankerousCatholic.com. I’m happy to help!