"Big Four" Highlights


Heaven, Hell, Purgatory

We are all going somewhere – forever
By Brian Caulfield, FFG Editor

What is the purpose of life? How should we live?

These are big questions that define our existence on earth, yet even people of faith tend not to think about them. Our earthly life is short and uncertain; our life after death is eternal. Compared to the future that lies beyond the grave, our life here will seem like a mere flash – but what an important flash it will prove to be.

The choices we make – how we love God and neighbor – will determine where and how we will spend eternity.

“In all you do, remember your last days, and you will never sin” (Sirach 7:36).

But how often in the course of the day do we think about our last days?

Traditionally, the Catholic Church has taught about the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven, hell. With All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2) approaching, let’s take a few minutes to get to know these places better – and decide where we want to go on judgment day.

Hell Hath Much Fury

Let’s start off where we don’t even want to joke about going. Let’s talk about hell.

The first thing to know is that hell is real, and you can go there if you please. I know people who joke about going to hell. They don’t go to Mass on Sunday. They cheat on their wives and lie. They use contraception or have been sterilized. “I’m going to hell,” they say in a joking manner, expecting someone to tell them it’s all a myth. Honesty forces me to say, “Don’t even joke about it. Pray to God for guidance in your life.” If you continue till the end in mortal sin, God will not deny you a ticket to hell. If you live your life like you belong down there, God will let you go.

This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about hell:

“Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices forever, with no turning back” (CCC, 1861).

Hell is real, and we can go there forever.

Purgatory: A Hospital for Souls

Let’s move up the ladder a bit to Purgatory. Many Catholics today are not familiar with the word or the concept. Maybe Grandma prayed for “the holy souls in Purgatory” but a modern Catholic need not be concerned with such things.


Though a temporary state, Purgatory is a defined doctrine of the Catholic Church. The teaching makes good sense, and is truly good news for the majority of mankind who slip and fall each day. Purgatory is for those who die in God’s friendship (state of grace) but are not yet ready for the pure light of heaven. They need to be purged or purified of venial sins and attachment to sin.

The important thing to know about Purgatory is that every soul that goes there is on the way to heaven! Although the purgation may cause suffering to the soul, the prospect of entering heaven must fill the soul with hope and joy.

The Catechism states:

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo a purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC, 1030).

Let us rejoice that God has made a place for poor sinners to recover the splendor of Christ in their souls after a lifetime of imperfect but good-willed attempts. Let’s thank God for Purgatory, and let’s pray for the souls there now, so they may be more quickly cleansed and delivered into the presence of God.

Heaven Is Open to All

Heaven is not some dreamy place in the clouds – it is a place of ultimate reality, where God, our creator, reigns. There is a tendency to spiritualize heaven into a “state of mind” or a “state of being.” Yet we know that there are at least two human bodies already in heaven: the resurrected body of Jesus Christ and the body of Mary assumed into heaven. In time, all the bodies of the redeemed will enter heaven reunited with their souls.

The Catechism states:

“By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has ‘opened’ heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ” (CCC, 1026).

St. Thomas More said something like this: Let us pray for one another so that we may merrily meet in heaven.