Many of you are probably familiar with one of the most famous Seinfeld episodes of all time. The actual title of the episode is “Soup Nazi” and, for those of you who don’t know, Jerry, George and Elaine go out to a new soup stand Kramer has been raving about. Its owner is referred to as the “Soup Nazi,” due to his harsh temperament and insistence on a very strict manner of behavior while ordering. As the episode progresses, the owner explains to Kramer that he demands perfection of himself, his soup, and his customers. When the customers screw up their order, even a little bit, they get kicked out of line. When that happens, the owner yells, “No soup for you!” In some cases, the owner even bans them from coming back for a year!
So how does any of this relate to a teaching of the Church? Well, when I was watching this episode recently, it struck me that these same concepts can be related to the concepts of Purgatory and Heaven. Yep, I’m serious. But don’t worry, this post is really short and to the point!
Ok, so just to be clear…yes, Catholics must believe in Purgatory because it is a defined doctrine of the faith. But what is Purgatory? Well, in 1 Peter 3:19 (as explained in the last post about Limbo), the author describes that, after His death on the cross (but before His resurrection), Jesus went to preach to the spirits “in prison.” Clearly, that does not refer to the souls in Hell because nothing can be done to help them. Similarly, that passage can’t describe the souls in Heaven because Heaven was not opened until after the Resurrection. Therefore, it can be assumed that Jesus went to visit the souls in Purgatory (or perhaps one of the versions of limbo, depending on how you want to describe it.) Similarly, in 2 Maccabees 12:46, the author states that it is holy and wholesome to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins. Again, this thought clearly does not apply to the souls in Heaven or Hell. All that said, Purgatory is taught to be a place wherein souls are purified before continuing their journey to Heaven. Yes, all souls in Purgatory eventually reach Heaven. The souls in Purgatory are from those people who died in a state of grace but who had even one venial sin on their soul and/or had to suffer the temporal punishment due to previous sin even if they died without sin.
But ok, getting back to the Soup Nazi…how in the world does that relate to Heaven and Purgatory?? Hah, hold on for this analogy! In some ways, I think that we can relate Heaven to the soup line…both require perfection! Except, for those in the soup line, there is no Purgatory…its all or nothing! In the soup line, if the customers screw up at all, i.e., if they are not 100% perfect, they get kicked out of line and get no soup. They can even get banned. If we screw up at all in our life, even the smallest venial sin, we are, by definition, unfit for the perfection of Heaven. In that situation (without Purgatory) we could also expect to be kicked out of the line for Heaven and told “No Heaven For You!” We wouldn’t even be lucky enough to be banned for a short period of time. Nope…in that case, we would go straight down!
In some ways, God is like the soup maker…he demands perfection from all of us (Matthew 5:48). However, unlike the customers in the soup line, God gives us one last chance to get our soup in Heaven. He doesn’t condemn us for making small mistakes. So thank God for Purgatory, because without Purgatory, not too many souls would be making it through the Pearly Gates!