Until Paying The Last Penny


“Truly I tell you, you will  never get out until you have paid the last penny” ( Mathew 5:26).

If this is true, we should be  doubly cautious to repay whatever we owe to others, right in time.  It will not be out of place to  study the context  when Jesus  gave this advice.  “Come to terms  quickly with your accuser while you are  on the way to  court with him, or your accuser  may hand  you over  to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be  thrown into prison” ( Mathew 5:25).  Jesus’ advice is applicable to anyone  who is  on the way to court accompanied by his accuser, and to the presence of the judge. Anyone  means everyone and everyone includes you too. If it is you too, then it is me too. Jesus gave this brief but  precious piece of advice to  each one of us.

As Christians, we are  duty bound to  account for  every penny entrusted to us.  Elsewhere, Jesus says that if we are faithful in small things, we will be entrusted with  bigger things. Being faithful and  accountable is part of our christian identity.  So, if you borrow, repay it promptly. But   when you lend never expect repayment. Jesus himself said it.  Do you think Jesus was  poor in economics? No. He is a master economist who advised us to lend freely without expecting repayment, so that   we will be repaid in full  with interest in the coming life. 

Those  who  have paid  their entire dues need not read further.   But is there anybody   who can claim  that he has  paid all his dues?  Chances are that their numbers are  very less when compared to the vast majority of people  who have  something  outstanding in  their  account book as payable.

We are  coming  straight to the point.  Our discussion is about  what we owe to the  owner of all wealth, the Almighty God. 

We know, Israelites started their relation  with  God through a kind of contract. God gave them  His commandments and  in return to the Israelites  obeying the commandments,  He promised  them everything good. Unfortunately,  the  observance of the Law in its strictest form was  not easy  for  them.  Then came Jesus, and he  instituted a  New  Covenant with his own blood. It was  the ransom he paid for  enabling us to  face the  just Judge   to get a  favorable order  to enter   heaven. 

But  heaven is only one among the  three possibilities, we  should understand, the other two being hell and purgatory. Today  our  subject is purgatory and I think we should  start from the  Catechism of Catholic Church.  

CCC 1022: Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven – through a purification or immediately, or immediate and everlasting damnation. At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.

CCC 1030: 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 purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. 

CCC 1031: The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire. As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

What the Church teaches us  is that  immediately after death  a particular  judgement is  happening as a result of which  the soul is awarded either eternal bliss or eternal damnation. In the case of eternal bliss, it can  be either  immediate or  through a  purification. This stage of purification is intended for those who  die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly  purified. The need for  purification is that since  God is holy we  have to be holy to  meet Him.  It can so happen that a person  dies with venial sins for which  he couldn’t get absolution through confession. Again there can be those souls who could not do the required reparation for the offences they committed. 

The punishment for sin  comes in two ways.  First is  eternal damnation. When we  receive the sacrament of confession, we are saved from this  eternal punishment. However, the second punishment is   on a different footing because  it is linked  to  the reparation of  the   consequences of our sins. To take an example, suppose somebody  attacks another person resulting in  his permanent  physical incapacitation and consequent loss of  earnings. Later on, he  repents sincerely about  what he did, confesses his sin and gets absolution. In this way he is  saved from eternal fire.  But he has a duty to restitute what the other person lost by his action, in the instant case his capacity to earn his livelihood. 

God  desires that the  one who   deprived another person of his  daily bread should  compensate for it. It can be by supporting him financially or procuring him a job or sponsoring the  education of his children. If he fails  in this duty he is liable for temporal punishment which is different from eternal punishment. Only those  souls who are  absolved of both their  eternal punishment  as well as temporal punishment are immediately admitted  to  heaven. Those who are yet to  do the reparation  in lieu of their  temporal punishment are bound to undergo a certain stage  of  purification , which is called purgatory, before their  final entry into eternal bliss.

Having said this, how should we approach this subject?  Forget about those who go directly to heaven. They are cleansed of all  stains of sin. But for those who are destined to undergo a  period of purification, they owe a certain debt to  God. It may be the  reparation for venial  sins committed  by him and not  confessed or it may be  the works of reparation  wanting for those  sins, which he  got absolved in  confession.  For us, the easiest way is to  do the reparation for all our sins, then and there so that  our  account book before God is squared off  at the time of death.  But it seldom happens in practice.  So the destiny of a large number of  people will be purgatory, where they have to undergo the purifying fire for long, long periods.  I can imagine  a sigh of  relief  coming   from  many who read  this, because  there is  something like purgatory, which they can expect though  they are   not entitled   for direct entry  into heaven!

My dear brothers and sisters, I request you not to be carried  away by the  prospects of an easy   probation   period in  purgatory. It is  not a comfortable place. We have the testimonies of many saints and  seers who had the  (mis)fortune of getting a vision  of  what we call purgatory. All of them say in one voice  that what  expects us there  is unbearable and  cannot be compared to  anything  on earth.  A day in  purgatory  will be like  a thousand years  on earth.  Most important torment of those poor souls  detained there is the  pain of  not being able to unite with  God. At the moment of  death, the soul wants to return to God  from where  it  originated.  But Divine Justice prevents it from   approaching God till the purification is  completed.  It is foolish to take  purgatory  as something silly and  continue our  life  as it was before. Those who do so  might end up at the other door, the one leading to eternal perdition. Why should we take chances? Especially when  the road to heaven is  still open!.

Moreover, the Church  has granted us a  precious gift in the  form of  ‘indulgences’ as a means  to get absolved from the liability for  temporal punishment. I admit, indulgences has been a hotly debated subject during the past few centuries.  Without  going into the details, I would  call your attention to the  promise Jesus gave his disciples; “If you  forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). If the Church, as  the true heir of the Apostolic anointment can forgive sins, isn’t it logical to think that  the Church has the   authority to  grant remission  from the  consequences of sin as well? 

Sadly, many Christians do not believe in  purgatory. They  argue that  death is the final point upto which  we can procure the absolution of  sins. If we buy this argument it contradicts  what Jesus himself  told in relation to  the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. “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” ( Mathew 12:32). Jesue clearly teaches us that  there is a chance of certain  sins to be forgiven  in the coming age, which refers to the period after death.

 Even before Christ the practice of praying for the dead was prevalent in Israel as evidenced from  2 Macc 12: 42-46. We read that Judas Maccabeus and his people have made  atonement  for  the dead.  St Paul also mentions about the practice of  receiving baptism on behalf of the dead. These texts from the Scripture support  Church’s teachings that  there really exists a possibility of  remission of certain kinds  of sin after death. They are attributed to the  devout prayers of the living on  behalf of the dead.

I would like to make one thing very very clear. Our  goal is  heaven for which   we should strive hard. In the unfortunate event of some among us  failing to qualify in the race to  enter  heaven directly, then treat purgatory  as   Plan-B.  Plan-A is always heaven. Dying in a  state of  grace after repaying the debts caused by our sins will  make us entitled to heaven.  Repaying  should be complete and perfect. That is why our Lord  teaches us that  until we pay the last penny we will not  get  out.  Best ways to  repay the  debt are   by doing works of  penance, mortification and reparation. If we withdraw voluntarily  from the pleasures  permitted to us, it will  go a long way in  paying our debt  accrued due to our wayward life in past years. Fasting and mortification are  two best tools  in this regard.  Holy Communion, Rosary and certain prayers will  bring us abundant  benefits by way of  indulgences. Never waste an opportunity to gain indulgences as we need to square off the account  before the  last bell.

What about  our departed dear ones? We don’t know their final destination. However, it is always wise to pay for the dead on the assumption that  they are  going through  a state of  purification in purgatory. Church  encourages the  believers to  pray for those poor souls in purgatory, to the extent of including it as one among the fourteen works of mercy.

 Many people offer Gregorian Mass (Holy Mass  offered continuously for 30 days) for the dead.  Whether you  can afford to have a  Gregorian Mass or not, it is always advisable to   offer every Holy Mass which you attend, for the benefit of  your departed ones. Needless to say, every Holy Mass should be  offered, first of all, for the  forgiveness  of our own sins   and remission of its punishment, second intention being  God’s mercy to pour upon the dead. Prayers for the faithful departed pleases God, who uses our supplications to purify these souls that he loves. It is an act of mercy on our part for those we have known and loved, for those who are not remembered, and for those who have no one else to pray for them.

St Paul writes; ‘May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorous, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of  my chain; when he arrived in  Rome,he eagerly searched  for me and found me – MAY THE LORD GRANT  THAT  HE WILL FIND MERCY FROM THE LORD ON THAT DAY!’.  From this verse, it is  fairly sure that  Onesiphorous was no more at the time when  Paul wrote  it. Wasn’t Paul praying  for the  soul of  Onesiphorous, which again  demonstrates the   belief of the Church in the existence of  purgatory during the  past two millennia.

Since the  time of Paul many saints including Augustine, Gregory the Great, Bernard, Bede, Jerome, Ambrose, Origen and Bellarmine  have affirmed Church’s   belief in the  existence  of   purgatory and the need of praying for the  poor souls  undergoing purification there.  We are familiar with the prayer of   St Gertrude.  

‘Eternal Father, I offer You the most precious blood of Your Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today,  for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal Church, for those in my own home, and in my family. Amen’.

St. Faustina had a vision of purgatory which she  narrates in her diary: ‘…I saw my Guardian Angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid’. (Diary 20)

Listen  what Jesus told  St Faustina: “Today bring to Me the souls who are in the prison of Purgatory, and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. Let the torrents of My Blood cool down their scorching flames. All these souls are greatly loved by Me. They are making retribution to My justice. It is in your power to bring them relief. Draw all the indulgences from the treasury  of My Church and offer them on their behalf. Oh, if you only knew the torments they suffer, you would continually offer for them the alms of the spirit and pay off their debt to My justice”(Diary 1226).

Accordingly, Faustina wrote  the following prayer: ‘Most Merciful Jesus, You Yourself have said that You desire mercy; so I bring into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart the souls in Purgatory, souls who are very dear to You, and yet, who must make retribution to Your justice. May the streams of Blood and Water which gushed forth from Your Heart put out the flames of the purifying fire, that in that place, too, the power of Your mercy may be praised.  Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the souls suffering in Purgatory, who are enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. I beg You, by the sorrowful Passion of Jesus Your Son, and by all the bitterness with which His most sacred Soul was flooded, manifest Your mercy to the souls who are under Your just scrutiny. Look upon them in no other way than through the Wounds of Jesus, Your dearly beloved Son; for we firmly believe that there is no limit to Your goodness and compassion” (Diary 1227).

During the apparitions  at Fatima, Our Lady, after  giving a vision of the hell, taught  the  children a special prayer  which was later incorporated into the Rosary after every mystery:  ‘O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need’. Who are those most in need other than those poor souls imprisoned  in purgatory! 

Having  said  this, do not forget to  strive hard to  pay all our debts – until the last penny – when we are still alive and when  there  is  enough light around. Because night  will soon befall us of which our  Lord has warned.  ‘Night is coming when no one can work’ (John 9:4). What is the point in  carrying over your debts  to another life of which  we  know pretty little! 

 Our request to  all  our readers is to have a thorough examination of   conscience and if you find out that you owe  even a penny, take a  firm decision to see that it is paid off in this life itself through prayer, penance, mortification and  reparation or through  indulgences. Be wise not to carry the  unnecessary baggage of old debts  while you approach the  threshold of  the New Heaven and New Earth.  Meanwhile do  pray for  those departed souls,  who are  going through the agony of  purifying fire in purgatory.  Be merciful to them with our prayers so  that the  Father will also  grant us  His mercy.

Let us pray: 

Let the souls of the  faithful enter into Heaven by the mercy of the Lord.

Eternal Father, by the  precious blood of Christ, have mercy on them.

 1 Our Father, 1 Hail Mary,  1 Glory be    



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