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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

Then can anyone outside the Church be saved?

Outline of the Answer
• Introduction
• The Testimony of the Gospels
• Possibility
• A Sincere Heart?
• Purgatory:
     Beyond Speculation
• Taking Doubt Seriously

The only honest answer to this question is, “I don’t know”—but this requires some explanation.

You see, if I simply gave you the technical theological answer of the Church, you could just say, “I don’t agree.” So, to say anything psychologically meaningful, we need to bypass a technical answer and deal directly with doubt itself.

To do this, let’s begin with what the Gospels say.

The Testimony of the Gospels

The testimony of the Gospels makes it quite clear that only through Christ can a person enter the Kingdom of Heaven.


So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came [before Me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through Me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. . . .”


—John 10:7-9


I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

—John 14:6

This testimony also makes it clear that baptism is a prerequisite for life in Christ. (Let’s not forget, though, that in the early Church baptism was an event of singular importance, unlike the mere social formality it often becomes in today’s world. In the early Church, baptism meant a sincere repentance of past sins, a literal rejection of the pagan social world, and a dedication to the holiness of a chaste body and pure heart, at all costs, persevering unto death.) So, can someone unbaptized be saved? According to the testimony of the early Church, “No.”


Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.


—Mark 16:16

The testimony of the Gospels also makes it clear that the Eucharist is essential for life in Christ.


Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.


—John 6:53


Read an excerpt from a homily attributed to
Saint Macarius, bishop


Now, can someone who denies Christ be saved? According to the testimony of the Gospels, “No.”


God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the Name of the only Son of God.


—John 3:16-18

Can someone who denies the grace offered to us through the Church be saved? According to the testimony of the Gospels, “No.”


I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without Me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in Me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.


—John 15:5-6

Therefore, the Gospels make it perfectly clear that only through Jesus can we find salvation. Saint Peter summed it up with these words:


There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other Name under Heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.


—Acts 4:12

OK. There are the many answers given to us by Scripture.


But what about those persons who are not Catholic? Is it possible that any of them can be saved? Or, said in another way, will God, in His great mercy, look deep into a person’s heart and find whatever repentance is there? Well, it’s possible. There can be hope for those who cry out to God for mercy even at the last second of life.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Lumen gentium, makes the following point: 


Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.[1]


Catechism of the Catholic Church, 847

A Sincere Heart?

Scripture says that no one can be saved outside Christ, and yet the Catechism speaks about the salvation of a sincere heart. Can these two views be reconciled? Well, the answer is “Yes.”

Church tradition makes it clear that the only impediment to salvation is unrepentant sin. Therefore, if a person outside the Church were to renounce all behaviors that the Church says are sins and repent those sins with a sincere heart, the person could be saved. But if any person actually managed to do this, he or she would be following the commands of Christ and therefore would not be “outside of Christ.” Thus even if a person outside the Church were to be saved it’s still true that there can be no salvation outside of Christ.

Consequently, when asked if someone outside the Church can be saved, the correct response is, “I don’t know.” That is, none of us now alive has the ability to know what God sees when God looks into a person’s heart. Is that heart sincere? Does it repent the sins that the Church, following the teachings of Christ, says are sins? Well, we don’t know what is going on in that person’s heart; only God knows.

So there’s the possibility. And now let’s look directly at that possibility: Would you want to risk the eternal welfare of your soul on something you don’t know?


Beyond Speculation

If God had wanted to just snap His fingers and say, “You’re all saved,” then why did He go to all the trouble of the Incarnation and Passion? The fact is, just wiping sin away would have violated our free will—and it would also violate divine justice, as Jesus told Saint Faustina, 

My mercy does not want [the suffering in Purgatory], but justice demands it.

Diary, 20

Note carefully that, contrary to popular belief, the purifying, penetential suffering in Purgatory is not punishment. In its psychological sense, punishment is a technique to decrease specific behavior. After death, however, there is no need to decrease sinful behavior. There is, though, a need to purge from all souls the desire to sin which is spiritually bound to all the sins the souls have committed through the course of their lives. This purging of a desire and all the harm brought into the world through its associated sins has been falsely called “punishment,” but it is properly called purification.

Thus, even though God forgives our sins when we repent them while we are alive—that is, He constantly welcomes us back to Him despite our sins—the stain of our sins must be removed from us after death in Purgatory before we can endure the fire of His love in Heaven. In Heaven, any stain of impurity will burn and torment a soul, so an impure soul will fling itself out of Heaven.

Yes, the purification process necessary to remove the stain of our sins is painful suffering, just as Christ’s passion was painful suffering. But the purification process of Purgatory is not arbitrary; the suffering is as painful as it needs to be, and it takes as long as it needs to take, according to the disposition of any particular soul. The “price” of a soul’s purification is penance for all the accumulated spiritual damage caused by the sins that were committed by that soul, and that penance is not something that can be evaded or simply dismissed. You can, however, decrease the extent of your suffering after death if, before death, you follow a spiritual life of holy penance that helps to make reparation for your sins and purge from your heart the desire to sin. Then, depending on the price you pay in this life, after death the remainder of the purging work will be done in Purgatory until your soul becomes pure in its love for God.

According to the testimony of the mystics, such as Saint Catherine of Genoa, who literally wrote the book about Purgatory, [2] we can understand something very important about all this.

As Saint Catherine learned, all that separates a soul in hell from a soul in Purgatory is sorrow for sin. Those souls in hell are in hell, and eternally separated from God, precisely because, in their physical lives, they declared their lack of love for God through their refusal to acknowledge, repent, and pay for their sins. But if you can cry out to God and say, “Have mercy, Lord, I was wrong. What I did was a sin. I’m sorry. Teach me how to change my life. Guide me, and I will do what You tell me,” then you can be reconciled with God and hope that when you die you will get to Purgatory rather than hell.


Read more from the writings of Saint Catherine of Genoa
about God’s love, patience, and mercy


No matter what religion you practice now, at the moment of your death you will find yourself standing before Christ in the light of divine truth. Every act of your life will be accounted for. It will all come down to one question: do you really have sorrow for all your sins? Truth will be absolute. There can be no excuses, no deception.



Consequently, the whole key to salvation is repentance.

Assuming you have no unrepentant mortal sins (sins that completely sever the relation with God), in Purgatory all imperfections will be burned away. What is left over will be sent to heaven, to enjoy everlasting life with God.


You might think here of imperfections as rust on metal, like your car. The more severe the rust, the more metal has been consumed. When the rust is cleaned away, there will be a lot of holes in the metal, right? So a soul with a lot of imperfections will have a lot of “holes” in it when those imperfections are burned out of it in Purgatory, and therefore not very much substance to get to heaven. In contrast, a soul who has lived a holy life has very much substance for heaven.

And note this, too: the soul, unlike metal, can, through spiritual purgation (with the assistance of the Sacraments of the Church) while in this world, clean off old “rust” from past sins and have new life grow back to fill the old holes—before getting to Purgatory. That’s a precious gift from God.


Taking Doubt Seriously

Now, consider the full implications of this. Only in Christ are we told what sin really is. And only through Christ’s mercy can we receive absolution for our sins once we acknowledge them. Nowhere, other than in the Catholic Church, are we offered the opportunity and the graces to see the full extent of sin, to name it as sin, and to repent it.

It’s a horrifying thought, but those persons who claim to live “good” lives and yet continue to live in sin—even as they claim that it is not sin—are fooling only themselves. And how do they fool themselves? They fool themselves by not taking their doubt seriously enough to say, “I don’t know; I could be wrong.” After all, once you can say “I don’t know” you have only one sane response: set aside speculation and stop taking risks.


God is love, not sin.



Who wrote this web page?


1. Note that this passage refers to those persons who never heard of Christ. Those who have heard of Christ but reject Him present a different case, and such persons would do well to listen to these words of Christ Himself: “Whoever rejects Me and does not accept My words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day” (John 12:48).

2. The online text (which is now in the public domain) may be found at www.catholic-forum.com: Treatise on Purgatory by Saint Catherine of Genoa.


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Recommended Reading

Hungry Souls by Gerard J.M. van den Aardweg recounts stories of supernatural visits, messages, and warnings from Purgatory. These are trustworthy, Church-verified accounts of earthly visitations from the dead in Purgatory. Accompanying these accounts are images from the "Museum of Purgatory" in Rome, which contains relics of encounters with the Holy Souls, including numerous evidences of hand prints burned into clothing and books; burn marks that cannot be explained by natural means or duplicated by artificial ones.

TAN Books and Publishers

An Unpublished Manuscript on Purgatory by Sister M. de L. C. recounts the mysterious relation continued for several years between the living nun and a departed religious suffering in Purgatory.
   “When the soul leaves the body it is as if it were lost in or, if I may say so, surrounded by God. It finds itself in such a bewildering light that in the twinkling of an eye it sees its whole life spread out, and at this sight, it sees what it deserves, and this same light pronounces its sentence. If the soul deserves to go to Purgatory, it is so crushed by the weight of the faults that still remain to be blotted out, that it hurls itself into Purgatory.”
   “In the great Purgatory there are several stages. In the lowest and most painful, like a temporary hell, are the sinners who have committed terrible crimes during life. For such souls, Purgatory is terrible. Next to these come the souls, who though they did not commit great crimes like the others, were indifferent to God. They are in Purgatory for the long years of indifference. They suffer unheard of pains and are abandoned either without prayers or if they are said for them, they are not allowed to profit by them. In the second Purgatory are the souls of those who died with venial sins not fully expiated before death, or with mortal sins that have been forgiven but for which they have not made entire satisfaction to the Divine Justice. Lastly, there is the Purgatory of desire which is called the Threshold. Very few escape this. To avoid it altogether, one must ardently desire Heaven and the vision of God. That is rare, rarer than people think, because even pious people are afraid of God and have not, therefore, a sufficiently strong desire of going to Heaven.”

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