The Catholic Defender: Purgatory Explained Helps Bring A Convert to the Catholic Church
It was June of 1985, I had already passed Basic Training and AIT. I was now at my first duty station at Fort Stewart Georgia. I was assigned as a Medic with the Ambulance Section and given responsibility for a track M113A2 vehicle. This was great experience for me as I learned a lot as we trained for our missions.
I became involved with the local Catholic Church (St. Stephens) in Hinesville Georgia. I was teaching the 5th grade CCD and still conducting Seminars on Rock music for the area to include a Catholic School in Savannah.
Those were great opportunities as we spoke to many students and families to include the presentation at the Fort Stewart Recreation Center. There were several single Soldiers present and they were very respectful. Father Norton was the Catholic Chaplain at the time and he supported our efforts.
Father Norton would become very special to me as I would serve as a "Lay Eucharistic Minister". During field operations and "in the absence of a Catholic Priest", I was responsible for the Eucharist, I could distribute Holy Communion. We often went to train at Fort Irvin California to conduct desert training for a 30 day rotation.
I would have the Blessed Sacrament with me for Catholic Communion Services in the field. I could imagine how David felt as he danced before the Ark of the Old Covenant. I had Jesus Christ in person with me. I will always treasure this gift. I met several Soldiers in my unit that became very special to me.
One was from Philadelphia who would discuss the Catholic Faith with me. He was raised a Calvinist, but was not practicing it. Originally, he became interested in the work I was doing on the Rock Seminars. He would help me prepare for them. He had some good questions he asked me concerning Purgatory.
He didn't understand why Catholics prayed for the dead. I began with the Old Testament showing that there were three places that were understood in the afterlife. Heaven, Sheol (the Netherworld) and Gehenna (hell). It is understood that if a person goes to hell, there was no getting out of it. That is eternal punishment. I shared Maccabees 12:38-46 showing that praying for the dead was part of the Jewish belief system.
Some of Judas Maccabeus's men who were killed in battle were found with Pagan amulets that offended God. This was forbidden yet some of them took the risk of disobedience. "Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas warned the soldiers to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, 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 pius thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin".
This perfectly fell into the message I was giving with the Rock Seminars as there are a lot of images that Rock fans wear that are Pagan amulets such as Pentagrams, Hexagrams, and many others. I explained how this understanding and belief carried over into the New Testament. 1 Peter 3:18-21 states, "For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the Ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now".
From the time when Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, mankind had not been allowed back to that relationship with God. Those who were not damned were placed in "prison" awaiting for the promised Messiah. I shared Luke 16:19-31 explaining Jesus showing two places of the dead.
One was hell where the rich man went and the poor man (Lazarus) was in this "prison" or the "bosom of Abraham". There is a great chasm that prevents anyone from crossing from either side to the other. Jesus says something very important, warning, "Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead".
Jesus was speaking of himself. When you read Matthew 27:51-54, your reading about the death of Jesus (Matthew 27:45-50) but follow what happens, "And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, 'Truly, this was the Son of God"!
I was beginning to make sense for my friend as he continued to ask questions about this. He felt it was clear that in the Old Testament there was this place of waiting before Christ came. Was this place of waiting done away with in the New Testament?
According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, no this place was not done away with. Jesus warns, "Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And 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" (Matthew 12:31-32).
Knowing and understanding this, St. Paul writes, "May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus because he often gave me new heart and was not ashamed of my chains. But when he came to Rome, he promptly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day. And you know very well the services he rendered in Ephesus" (2 Timothy 1:16-18).
August 1985, our unit was deploying to Fort Irwin California for a 30 day training event. My friend (Bernie) stayed back at Fort Stewart couple of days before he came out there. One night I was asleep near my vehicle when Bernie sought me out and found me and nudged me waking me up. He wanted to share with me the good news that he was received into the Catholic Faith. Father Norton had been working with him and that was why he remained a couple of more day in the rear. What a blessing!