§ 13. Consolations in Purgatory.
46. Every soul in Purgatory is a beloved child of God, and is conscious of this childhood with a higher degree of certainty than are the most saintly and godly souls in this world. This consciousness fills the Holy Souls with consolation amid the greatest torments of Purgatory. When St. Francis of Assisi had been assured in a vision" that he was among the elect, he exclaimed in an ecstasy of heavenly delight : "Paradise, O Paradise! We shall enter Paradise!" So great was his rapture at this assurance, that he henceforth despised all transitory things.
Mindful of the consolation of the Holy Souls at the assurance of their future beatitude, St. Francis of Sales says, 'The thought of Purgatory is productive rather of consolation than of terror. Most persons are afraid of Purgatory, because they regard themselves rather than the glory of God." And he ascribes this to those preachers who refer only to the punishments of the middle state, and do not remind their hearers also of the consolations and joys by which the sufferings of the Holy Souls are mitigated. "Great as the torments of Purgatory are," he continues, "so that they can not in any way be compared with the utmost suffering in this world, the interior consolations granted there are nevertheless so ineffable that no earthly bliss and enjoyment can equal them."
Even in this life there are occasions when joy and sorrow dwell together in the human heart. For years the lover suffers for his beloved, enduring hunger and thirst, cold and heat amid self-denials and labors, in order to prepare a home for himself and the object of his affections. The saints did the same in a still higher degree to attain the divine object of their love. How resignedly, how joyously they suffered on the rack, the cross, by fire, in torments of every description—all the while loudly praising God ! Remember St. Stephen, St. Lawrence, St. Ignatius, St. Agnes, St. Felicitas, St. Apollonia and others. God is admirable in His saints, as on earth and in heaven,'so also in Purgatory. Undoubtedly all the souls in Purgatory join with grateful hearts in the words of St. Chrysostom, "If I had to pass through a thousand hells, but were assured of finding paradise in the end—how pleasant these hells would be to me!" The Holy Souls, in their sufferings, experience a greater consolation than the saints on earth do in theirs. The former are conscious of their impeccability, they are confirmed in charity, and are no longer in danger of offending God.
47. The Holy Souls are not only sure of their eternal destiny, but know also how long they have to suffer, and that every moment of delay prolongs the duration of their exclusion from paradise. Accustomed to submit to the will of God in everything, they joyfully endure their pains ; yea, they hasten to betake themselves to the flames in order to accelerate their purification. The saints on earth did the same. Many of them retired voluntarily to a desert, to a convent cell, to a high pillar, to serve God in austere atonement; others delivered themselves to their executors, willingly suffering the torments of fire, of the rack and the sword to cancel the indebtedness contracted by their own sins, and to make reparation for the sins of others. The Holy Souls in Purgatory are animated by the same zeal for appeasing God's justice. Their zeal is so great, that not only do they not decline to suffer, but they would consent to their very annihilation for the greater glory of God; for God's will is their will. They praise God's justice, their suffering is voluntary and loving. Unselfish, their sole desire is to please God by love alone. They find sweet satisfaction in the exercise of charity and patience for these virtues' own sake, without reference to any other reward but that of pleasing Him whom they love, and who loves them with a divine love. This is essentially a heavenly consolation for these Holy Souls.
48. On the consolations of Purgatory St. Catherine of Genoa remarks: "There is no peace to be compared with that of the souls in Purgatory, save that of the saints in Paradise, and this peace is ever augmented by the inflowing of God into these souls, which increases in proportion as the impediments to it are removed. The rust of sin is the impediment, and this the fire consumes, so that the soul in this state is continually opening itself to divine communication. On the other hand it is true that the souls in Purgatory suffer torments which no tongue can describe nor intelligence comprehend unless assisted by a special grace of God. True, the love of God by which the soul is suffused fills it, as far as I can see, with an ineffable contentment; but this contentment does not take away from the souls in Purgatory the least particle of their torments. On the contrary, this love, feeling itself impeded, is the source of their pain, which is increased proportionately to the perfection of their love. And it seems to me that I see the punishment of these souls to consist rather in discerning in themselves something displeasing to God and in having voluntarily admitted it despite His great goodness, than in any other torment they have to suffer in Purgatory. They are so contented with the divine dispensations in their regard, and with doing all that is pleasing to God in the way in which He chooses, that they cannot think of themselves. They see nothing but the divine operation which is so manifestly bringing them to God that they can reflect neither on the pain nor on the consolations of their state. It would seem insupportable to a soul to see that due reparation was not made to God; to be freed from this remnant of rust it would suffer a thousand hells rather than appear before Him without being completely cleansed. Thus knowing that Purgatory is intended for the cleansing of these stains, the soul casts itself into it, and considers the removal of the impediments a great mercy.' 9 (Lechner, Life and Works of St. Catherine of Genoa)
49. The Church, in the Office of the Dead, confirms this doctrine, and describes in a touching manner the joyously sorrowful condition of the Suffering Souls. Their past, their present state, and their blissful future is placed vividly before our eyes. We are reminded of their ardent love, of their joyful praise of God; of their undisturbed peace, their sweet, unshaken hope. On the other hand we are shown their ineffable pain, profound sorrow, bitter want, their insatiable yearning and mournful plaint.
In order, however, to fully understand what was hitherto explained, and what appears to us full of mysteries, we must attentively contemplate the most sacred humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the consummation of His passion, when suffering the agonies of .death, He not only seemed forsaken by His Heavenly Father, but so to say by His own Self, because He would not permit His divinity to console His humanity. Blissful in His divinity, Jesus was so encompassed by sorrow in His humanity, that He exclaimed in the Garden, "My soul is sorrowful unto death;" and on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me !" This is a true image of the gladsome yet sorrowful condition of the Suffering Souls in Purgatory; on the one hand they are unhappy, on the other replete with hope and heavenly consolation.
50. The torments of Purgatory ought to imbue us with a holy fear of offending God; they ought to excite us to the performance of penitential works and fill us with a continual dread of the judgments of God. Drycthelm, whose resuscitation was referred to in a preceding paragraph, thenceforth was not content to lead a truly Christian life; but intent on living a model of penitence and dying a saint, he divided his property amongst his family and the poor, and retired to a monastery, where he lived so austerely, that his rigor astonished all England. He imitated the meekness and fervor of the Holy Souls; and when asked by his religious brethren how he was able, at his advanced age, to persevere in so austere a life, he replied, "My dear brethren, the rigors that I witnessed exceeded mine by far. These practices are nothing in comparison to what I saw in Purgatory."
51. There are people who cannot bear the thought of Purgatory. They are distressed to think that after serving God all their lives, after passing victoriously through their many trials, they should proceed from the sufferings on their death-bed to remain for years in the cleansing flames of an unparalleled fire. Let them abandon their unreasonable dread. If we die in the love of God we will be reconciled to the ordinations of His will. We will rejoice at escaping hell, at being sure of our salvation, at suffering purification according to the will of God and for love of Him, without expecting increase of our merit or our reward; we will rejoice that every obstacle to the operation of grace and to the practice of virtue is removed from us, and that we are drawing nearer and nearer to God without the least danger of ever losing Him. Justified souls rejoice at undergoing that final purification which enables them to render complete reparation to the offended majesty of God, and they regard their sufferings as a favor of divine mercy. Therefore, to feel distressed at the prospect of Purgatory indicates a want of submission to the will of God. Faber observes, that whosoever considers himself as having deserved hell, is glad and grateful to go to Purgatory.
52. Finally, there are others, such as do not wish to amend their lives, who are wont to declare that they will be satisfied to go to Purgatory after death, if only they escape hell. They speak without reflection and know not what they say. For if they continue voluntarily in their vices and sins, they will have to suffer a most intense Purgatory if they are so fortunate as to escape hell. Then there may be even pious persons inclined to make little of the punishments of Purgatory, because of the consolations granted to the Suffering Souls, albeit the pain is thereby not diminished in the least. Such depreciation of the torments of purification is offensive to God. Faber informs us, that when Blessed Henry Suso, as a consequence of his familiar intercourse with God, began to think less of the punishments of Purgatory, our Lord warned him that this was displeasing to Him. For Purgatory is a place of punishment, not of reward. Therefore many theologians declare that the least pain of Purgatory exceeds by far not only every temporal suffering, but the sum of all temporal sufferings.