§ 10. Spiritual Torments of the Suffering Souls.
37. Convinced of the existence of Purgatory, and having reviewed in spirit some features of the condition of those detained therein, let us now devote our pious attention to the contemplation of the abode itself in which these souls are sentenced to dwell, and consider the extent of their misery.
Although nothing definite can be said concerning the means applied in Purgatory in order to effect that purification which renders the souls worthy of the beatific vision of God, we are nevertheless reminded by Holy Scripture that "it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebr. x. 31.) Revelation affords us no clue to the nature of the punishments of Purgatory; we know, however, that they are two-fold : a pain of loss, and a pain of sense. On both let us hear the common and more probable opinion of theologians.
38. As the soul, by its noblest inspirations, is drawn irresistibly to God, therefore the exclusion from the beatific vision of God is the supreme, the most excruciating pain that it can endure. To understand this, at least in part, we must consider the anguish of a heart that has lost the object of its affection. In such a heart love and grief are united, for true love cannot but suffer by the absence of its object. Covers yearn for each other's presence, pining away in sighs and tears. Not unfrequently they commit suicide because the one will not outlive the other. Asylums for the insane give eloquent testimony of the sad consequences of unrequited love.—Now man is not created for this world, but for God. His inmost nature, his noblest and sublimest faculties and powers impel him and draw him on towards God. True, we mortals do not behold God, and, being devoted wholly to the perishable things of this world, we are quite unconcerned thereat. The distracting turmoil 01 the world, its unhallowed enjoyments, the profane bonds binding us to it, the overwhelming cares with which we overload ourselves—all this combines to compensate us, so to say, for the loss of God's vision. But in the same measure as man frees himself from these fetters his spirit ascends by the wings of insuperable desire to the supreme, all-beautiful Being. With some saints this spiritual ardor of love was so great, that their heart, their countenance, their whole body glowed with and reflected a physical heat. It had this effect on St. Peter Alcantara, St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Magdalen of Pazzis, St. Stanislas Kostka and others. The more they became convinced of the supremacy of things heavenly and divine over things earthly, the more ardently they became desirous of attaining them, a yearning much greater than that resulting from mere human affection.
As soon as we have deposed the robe of mortality in death, as soon as the boundless circle of eternity has received us, the soul, in its solitude and forsakenness, is seized with an invincible desire to be admitted to the beatific vision of God. Such souls have been ransomed and cleansed by the Blood of Christ; they have the indelible mark of God's grace; the imperishable crown of victory is prepared for them, for they are faithful, holy souls that love God alone. These souls, destined for heaven and sentenced to the darkness of a disconsolate solitude, are seized with the most ardent desire of seeing their God, and they see Him not! Their torment is so much the greater, the more they are conscious of the supreme beatitude of being admitted to His vision. Whoever once had the experience of the agonies of homesickness may form a faint idea of the extent of their sorrow. Hence St. Augustine exclaims, "Give me a loving soul: it will comprehend what I intend to convey."
39. Besides the pain arising from unrequited desire, deprivation of the beatific vision of God causes another great torment to the Suffering Souls: this results from the consciousness that it is not God's fault, but their own, that they cannot enter heaven ; it is a consequence of their sins. Thus their sins are brought back in all their hideousness to their spiritual view, and indescribable sorrow fills them. When Absalom was called back from his flight and permitted to enter Jerusalem, his father David would not let him come into his presence, but said, "Let him return into his house, and let him not see my face."—"And Abso-lotri dwelt two years in Jerusalem and saw not the king's face. He sent therefore to Joab to send him to the king .... I beseech thee, therefore, that I may see the face of the king: and if he be mindful of my iniquity, let him kill me. And Absalom was called for and went in to the king and prostrated himself on the ground before him." (II Kings xiv. 24—33.) So great was his sorrow at having offended his father.— It is related of St. Aloysius that he swooned away with sorrow for his few and insignificant faults.—St. Stanislas fainted when he heard immodest words; St. Oringa was attacked with nausea when obliged to listen to them.
The Suffering Souls are called to the nuptials of the Lamb; a splendid throne is prepared for them; they have escaped all dangers threatening their salvation; their loving desire of seeing God is most vehement. With St. Paul, they often repeat, "Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. viii. 24.) "Having a desire to be dissolved and be with Christ." (Philip. 1. 23.) The veil of flesh which separated them from their Beloved has falleu : now they shall see Him and share His bliss! But, alas, the Lord remembers their misdeeds ; the Most Holy One delivers them to the tormentors; because they are in need of purification, they are sentenced to the dark prison, where they must languish until they shall have paid "the last farthing." At the end of their earthly pilgrimage, at the very threshold of heaven, they are debarred from its entrance through their own fault: oh, how bitter a sorrow, how sad a condition !
40. Yet the punishment is not alike for all souls. God can join with it a species of consolation; He can mitigate it by the hope of a speedy deliverance. Severe as the pain of loss is, its infliction concerns a loving soul, a soul, willing to suffer and to atone in order to be made worthy of being united with the object of its eternal love. To such a loving soul God grants the necessary strength to bear its great trial with patience. Sure of the complacency of their Beloved, the Suffering Souls joyfully bear every pain of Purgatory with resignation to the will of God. With St. Ignatius the Martyr they say: "Let the demons exhaust all their power in me, if I but possess Christ!" Thus, undoubtedly, they are not without consolation; but their consolation is mixed with sorrow. Purgatory is not a place of reward, but of punishment.
We read in St.Benedict's Stimmen, 1880: "A soul appearing td St. Mechtildis declared to her: 'I feel no pain, except that I am debarred from the vision of God, whom I long to see so ardently that if all the longings of all men on earth were united, they would seem nothing in comparison to the desire that consumes me'."—Thus the Souls in Purgatory suffer the whole burden of the pain resulting from their separation from God, and from their unrequited desire of beholding Him, and this in so high a degree, that a pious religious, after an apparition he had, declared that he would suffer a thousand deaths for his bitterest enemy in order to save him from Purgatory, because its torments so greatly exceed the pains of this earth. The Suffering Souls' thirst for God is more intense than the panting hart's longing for water; yet it shall not be quenched until they shall have paid "the last farthing."