According to Padre Pio, the Capuchin Friar of Pietrelcina, Italy, who was canonized on June 16, 2002 by Pope John Paul II, “It has ever been the teaching of the Church . . . that Purgatory exists . . . It is a place or condition wherein the souls of the just undergo that purifying fire that renders them fit for God and the joys of eternal life.” Therefore, it is said that “Pio spent scores of hours each week in the confessional.”1
Padre Pio’s concern for purgation was not limited to the confessional. It also shaped his understanding of the Eucharist: “The Holy Mass is a sacred union of Jesus and myself. I suffer unworthily all that was suffered by Jesus (emphasis added) who deigned to allow me to share in His great enterprise of human Redemption”.2
Over and against Pio’s understanding of salvation is the biblical teaching of substitutionary atonement, expressed by the 16th Century English Reformer, Bishop John Hooper:
“I do believe and confess that Christ’s condemnation is my absolution, that his crucifying is my deliverance, his descending into hell is my ascending into heaven, his death is my life, his blood is my cleansing and purging, by whom only I am washed, purified and cleansed from all my sins, so that I neither receive nor believe any other purgatory, either in this world or in the other, whereby I am purged, but only the blood of Jesus Christ, by which all are purged and made clean forever.”3
3. Bishop John Hooper, quoted in Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Theology of the English Reformers (London, 1965), page 65, style slightly updated.
Hooper’s understanding of the biblical teaching is quite clear. But wouldn’t it be nicer, if his picture didn’t make him look like such a proud peacock in contrast to the humble monk??
Indeed. Not to mention that the contours of Pio’s Southern Italian face reminds me of my family and therefore warms might heart. I probably should find a quote from the Italian Protestant reformer Peter Martyr Vimigli for the best of both worlds.
I learned a valuable lesson about purgatory when I was a young boy. One day, in a lot on our block, I was playing baseball with my friends. I hit a foul ball into a window in the apartment next to the lot. I must confess, we ran as quickly as we could to get away from the apartment and get home. About 10 minutes later, the doorball rang, and a man had my baseball in his hand. My fahter called me to the door, and even before he or the man could ask if I broke the window, I said “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. It was an accident.” The man said “I forgive you, but that doesn’t fix my window.”
Even though I was forgiven I still had to be repair the window! Yes, Christ forgives our sins, but how do we repair the damage we do to others through sin? What if we die without repairing this damage? That is what purgatory is about. In Catholic thinking, we are forgiven, we are saved, we have Heaven as our reward, but not just yet. We must be perfected.
Besides, what is the relationship between Padre Pio’s dedication to confession, and his bearing of the marks of Christ, the stigmata? Unless we are prepared to explain away the phenomena as psychologically induced, or self-inflicted, we have to ask “Why would Christ allow this resemblance to him on a man who’s theology is in such error? Maybe its because it is correct.
Purgatory is much maligned and misunderstood. Indeed, many in Protestantism believe in it, but don’t realize it. I hear many Protestants speak of a final purification, and I’ll say, “Congratulations, that’s purgatory.” Pretty simple stuff, and not the shadowy, mystical, smoke and mirrors some would have you believe.
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