The Catholic Church provides hundreds of examples of souls who have achieved eternal life in heaven—we call them the saints. But Saul from Chicago wondered, is there an example of a soul that went through Purgatory before entering heaven?
“Well, we don’t know if the saints (that are canonized saints) if they had to experience Purgatory or not. We know that they’re now in Heaven. They could have all had to experience some degree of purgation to become perfected or some of them may have already been perfected when they left this life. I think of … the Martyrs of Gorkum, for example. There was one of the Martyrs of Gorkum who is a canonized saint because of his martyrdom but he was a wretched individual. He lived his whole life as a gross counter-example to Christianity. He was a priest; he was a diocesan priest and he lived his whole priesthood—he was in concubinage to a woman … you think of the sins a priest can commit and he committed them all,” explained Msgr. Stuart Swetland, host of Go Ask Your FatherTM on Relevant Radio®.
“But yet, the night that his [fellow priests] were arrested and he wasn’t arrested because the Protestants who were going to martyr the priests the next day didn’t want to martyr him because he was such a great counter-example to faith that they wanted to keep him around. But he insisted on being arrested with the other priests and he went to Confession that night and was martyred the next day. He’s a canonized saint but I’m sure he had to go through some purgation to overcome the tendency to sin that was still there. Perhaps his martyrdom took care of all that by a miracle of grace, but the point is that we don’t know, for all we know many if not all the saints went through that final perfection.”
Can one go through some form of Purgatory while still on earth, asked Saul? “We shouldn’t think of this as a radical change … it’s a process by which God’s grace is making us perfect. And so, if we’ve allowed God’s grace to make us perfect in space and time, then we’ve been made perfect,” responded Msgr. Swetland.
In his time as a spiritual director, Msgr. Swetland has encountered some very saintly directees. “But even the saintliest of souls, if they’re honest with you will tell you they’re still struggling in areas. They’re still not yet perfected in some areas. So it’s possible—I’m not saying I know for sure because I don’t and here we have to be very cautious—but it’s possible that every soul has to go through some perfecting yet when they leave this life, with rare exception for people like Our Lady of course did not and maybe Joseph did not, John the Baptist. But we can start naming them and as soon as we’ve named enough to cover the ten fingers there’s not much many more to go.”
Msgr. Swetland gives the example of Saint Jerome. “He’s a saint and he should be a saint. He’s a Doctor of the Church and he should be a Doctor of the Church, but boy did he have some real faults! I mean, his anger, his bitterness, his frustration; it came out all the time and was even coming out later in his life. And that’s true for other saints as well. To me, the saints always give us a great example of the fact that God’s grace is very patient with us and works with us and slowly but surely if we let him, he’ll transform us into the perfected lovers we’re called to be.”