|Devotion to Our Lady||
St. Lidwina was born at Schiedam, Holland, on April 18th, 1380; and died on April 14th, 1433. Her father came of a noble family while her mother was a poor country girl. Both were poor. Very early in her life St. Lidwina was drawn towards the Mother of God and prayed a great deal before the miraculous image of Our Lady of Schiedam.
During the winter of the year of 1395, Lidwina went skating with her friends, one of whom caused her to fall upon some ice with such violence that she broke a rib in her right side. This was the beginning of her martyrdom. No medical skill availed to cure her. Gangrene appeared in the wound caused by the fall and spread over her entire body.
An authenticating document from the town officials of Schiedam, her hometown, attests that Lidwina shed skin, bones, parts of her intestines, which her parents kept in a vase and which gave off a sweet odor. These excited so much attention that Lidwina had her mother bury them.
This document (which has survived) also attests to her complete lack of food and sleep. At first she ate a little piece of apple, then a bit of date and watered wine, then river water contaminated with salt from the tides. For years she lay in pain which seemed to increase constantly.
Some looked on her with suspicion, as being under the influence of the evil spirit. Her pastor, Andries, brought her an unconsecrated host, but the saint distinguished it at once. But God rewarded her with a wonderful gift of prayer and also with visions. After her fall, Lidwina fasted continuously and acquired fame as a healer and holy woman. Numerous miracles took place at her bed-side.
Lidwina's Vision of Purgatory
St. Lidwina of Schiedam was a 15th century Dutch saint and mystic. As a teenager, she had an ice skating accident that left her debilitated the rest of her life. A sinful man was converted by her prayers and and exhortation and was able to make a good confession, but he died soon after, unable to do much penance. After some time, she asked her guardian angel if he was still in Purgatory, and she had this vision:
She Mistook Purgatory for Hell
“‘He is there,’ said her angel, ‘and he suffers much. Would you be willing to endure some pain in order to diminish his?’ Certainly,’ she replied, ‘I am ready to suffer anything to assist him.’ Instantly her angel conducted her into a place of frightful torture. ‘Is this, then, Hell, my brother?’ asked the holy maiden, seized with horror. ‘No, sister,’ answered the angel, ‘but this part of Purgatory is bordering upon Hell.’
Terrors of Purgatory
“Looking around on all sides, she saw what resembled an immense prison, surrounded with walls of a prodigious height, the blackness of which, together with the monstrous stones, inspired her with horror. Approaching this dismal enclosure, she heard a confused noise of lamenting voices, cries of fury, chains, instruments of torture, violent blows which the executioners discharged upon their victims. This noise was such that all the tumult of the world, in tempest or battle, could bear no comparison to it. ‘What, then, is that horrible place?’ asked St. Lidwina of her good angel. ‘Do you wish me to show it to you?’ ‘No, I beseech you,’ said she, recoiling with terror; ‘the noise which I hear is so frightful that I can no longer bear it ; how, then, could I endure the sight of those horrors?’
“Continuing her mysterious route, she saw an angel seated sadly on the curb of a well. ‘Who is that angel?’ she asked of her guide. ‘It is,’ he replied, ‘the angel-guardian of the sinner in whose lot you are interested. His soul is in this well, where it has a special Purgatory.’
A Spirit All On Fire
At these words, Lidwina cast an inquiring glance at her angel; she desired to see that soul which was dear to her, and endeavour to release it from that frightful pit. Her angel, who understood her, having taken off the cover of the well, a cloud of flames, together with the most plaintive cries, came forth." Do you recognize that voice?’ said the angel to her. ‘Alas! yes,’ answered the servant of God. ‘Do you desire to see that soul?’ he continued. On her replying in the affirmative, he called him by his name; and immediately our virgin saw appear at the mouth of the pit a spirit all on fire, resembling incandescent metal, which said to her in a voice scarcely audible, ‘O Lidwina, servant of God, who will give me to contemplate the face of the Most High?’
“The sight of this soul, a prey to the most terrible torment of fire, gave our saint such a shock that the cincture which she wore around her body was rent in twain; and, no longer able to endure the sight, she awoke suddenly from her ecstasy. The persons present, perceiving her fear, asked her its cause. ‘Alas!" she replied, ‘how frightful are the prisons of Purgatory! It was to assist the souls that I consented to descend thither. Without this motive, if the whole world were given to me, I would not undergo the terror which that horrible spectacle inspired.’
“Some days later, the same angel whom she had seen so dejected appeared to her with a joyful countenance; he told her that the soul of his protege' had left the pit and passed into the ordinary Purgatory. This partial alleviation did not suffice the charity of Lidwina; she continued to pray for the poor patient, and to apply to him the merits of her sufferings, until she saw the gates of Heaven opened to him.” (Purgatory, by Fr. F. X. Schouppe, S.J., p. 16-19)
THERE ARE COUNTLESS SOULS BESEECHING OUR HELP!
WILL YOU HELP THEM OR WILL YOU JUST LET THEM BURN?
At the expressed desire of the Directors of the Bulletin “Notre Dame de la Bonne Mort,” this pamphlet is published with all the reservations ordered by the Church in the decree of Urban VIII, and as a purely historical document.
It was sent to that periodical by a zealous and devout missionary and is a pious document based on alleged conversations between a nun and a soul in Purgatory.
No one can deny off-hand the possibility, or in fact, the reality of such apparitions of souls in Purgatory to persons still living. Such apparitions are not rare and there are many accounts of them. They are of frequent occurrence in the lives of the Saints. God allows these apparitions and manifestations both for the relief of the souls in question who thus arouse our pity, and to instruct us by showing us the rigor of divine justice when it comes to faults which we often treat lightly.
A nun, identified for us merely as Sister M. de L. C., of a convent at V., without warning began to hear prolonged sighs beside her. This was in November 1873. She cried out, “Oh, who are you? You frighten me! Whatever you do, don’t show yourself! Tell me, who are you?” No answer was forthcoming. The sighs continued and came even nearer. In vain did the poor Sister multiply her prayers, communions, ways of the cross, and rosaries. The sighs did not cease and remained unexplained until February 15, 1874, when a voice she recognized was heard saying: “Do not be afraid, you will not see me in my sufferings. I am Sister M.G.” Sister M.G. was a nun who had died at V., a victim to devotion and duty, February 22nd, 1871, at the age of 36. she began appearing from Purgatory to a fellow nun in her convent, named Sister M. de L.C (name kept anonymous in the manuscript to protect the nuns identity, as the manuscript was published while the nun was still living) as related in the booklet “An Unpublished Manuscript on Purgatory” published by The Reparation Society of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Inc., 2002.
Let us add that all witnesses of her life were agreed that Sister M. de L. C. was endowed with a sound judgment, and keen and cultured intellect, and possessed a great amount of common sense. In the spiritual life, she never sought the extraordinary. On the contrary, she avoided it.
Sister M. de. L. C. kept her director well informed of all that happened. He was the Reverend Father Prevel of the Fathers of Pontingy, who later became Superior General of his congregation. Prominent priests have declared without hesitation that it contains nothing contrary to Faith, nothing that is not in accord with the true principles of the spiritual life, rather matter that will edify devout souls.
Revelations of a Suffering Soul in Purgatory to Sister M. de L.C.
We are in the state of being unable to satisfy our longings. Oh, what a suffering that is, but we desire it and there is no murmuring against God here. We desire only what God wants. You on Earth, however, cannot possibly understand what we have to endure. I am much relieved as I am no longer in the fire. I have now only the insatiable desire to see God, a suffering cruel enough indeed, but I feel that the end of my exile is at hand and that I am soon to leave this place where I long for God with all my heart. I know it well, I feel more at ease, but I cannot tell you the day or the hour of my release. God alone knows that. It may be that I have still many years of longing for Heaven. Continue to pray; I will repay you later on, though I do pray a great deal for you now.”
“Why is it that I pray for you with less fervor than I pray for others and that often I forget to recommend you?”
“Do not trouble yourself about that. It is a punishment for me. Even if you prayed more I should not be any the more relieved. God wills it thus. If He wants you to pray more He will inspire you to do so. I repeat again, do not be worried about me. You will never see me in my sufferings. Later on, when your soul is stronger, you will see souls in Purgatory and very awful ones, but let this not frighten you. God will then give you the necessary courage and all that you need to accomplish His holy will.”
“Is this not a punishment?”
“No, certainly not! I am here for my relief and for your sanctification. If you would but pay a little more attention to what I say.”
“That is true but these happenings are so extraordinary that I do not know what to make of them; it is not an ordinary thing to hear you in this way.”
“I understand well your difficulty and I am aware of your sufferings on this account. However, if God wishes it and it relieves me, you will have pity on me, will you not? When I am released you will see that I will do far more for you than you have ever done for me. I already pray much for you.”
Where is Sister --?
“In the lowest Purgatory, where she receives no benefit from anyone's prayers. God is often displeased, if one may speak thus, when many religious come to die, because He has called these souls to Himself that they might serve Him faithfully on Earth and go straight to Heaven at the moment of death, but because of their infidelity, they have to stay long in Purgatory ― far longer than people in the world who have not had so many graces.”
“I can tell you about the different degrees of Purgatory because I have passed through them. In the great Purgatory there are several stages. In the lowest and most painful, it is like a temporary Hell, and here there are the sinners who have committed terrible crimes during life and whose death surprised them in that state. It was almost a miracle that they were saved, and often by the prayers of holy parents or other pious persons.
"Sometimes they did not even have time to confess their sins and the world thought them lost, but God, whose mercy is infinite, gave them at the moment of death the contrition necessary for their salvation on account of one or more good actions which they performed during life. For such souls, Purgatory is terrible. It is a real Hell with this difference, that in Hell they curse God, whereas we bless Him and thank Him for having saved us.
“Next to these come the souls, who though they did not commit great crimes like the others, were indifferent to God. They did not fulfill their Easter duties and were also converted at the point of death. Many were unable to receive Holy Communion. They are in Purgatory for their 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.
There are in this stage of Purgatory religious of both sexes, who were tepid, neglectful of their duties, indifferent towards Jesus, also priests who did not exercise their sacred ministry with the reverence due to the Sovereign Majesty and who did not instill the love of God sufficiently into the souls confided to their care. I was in this stage of Purgatory.
“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. In this part of Purgatory, there are also different degrees according to the merits of each soul.
“Thus the Purgatory of the consecrated souls or of those who have received more abundant graces, is longer and far more painful than that of ordinary people of the world.
“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. This Purgatory has its very painful martyrdom like the others. The deprivation of the sight of our loving Jesus adds to the intense suffering.”
“Great sinners who were indifferent towards God, and religious who were not what they should have been are in the lowest stage of Purgatory. While they are there, the prayers offered up for them are not applied to them. Because they have ignored God during their life, He now in His turn leaves them abandoned in order that they may repair their neglectful and worthless lives.
While on Earth one truly cannot picture or imagine what God really is, but we (in Purgatory) know and understand Him for what He is, because our souls are freed from all the ties that fettered them and prevented them from realizing the holiness and majesty of God and His great mercy. We are martyrs, consumed as it were by love. An irresistible force draws us towards God who is our center, but at the same time another force thrusts us back to our place of expiation.
“In the second Purgatory, which is still Purgatory, but very different from the first, one suffers a great deal, but less than in the great place of expiation. Then there is a third stage, which is the Purgatory of desire, where there is no fire. The souls who did not desire Heaven ardently enough, who did not love God sufficiently, are there. It is there that I am at this moment. Further, in these three parts of Purgatory, there are many degrees of variation. Little by little, as the soul becomes purified, her sufferings are changed.
“You sometimes say to me that the perfecting of a soul is a long process and you are also astonished that after so many prayers, I am so long deprived of the sight of God. Alas, the perfecting of a soul does not take any less time in Purgatory than upon Earth. There are a number of souls, but they are very few, who have only a few venial sins to expiate.
These do not stay long in Purgatory. A few well-said prayers, a few sacrifices soon deliver them. But when there are souls like mine ― and that is nearly all whose lives have been so empty and who paid little or no attention to their salvation ― then their whole life has to be begun over again in this place of expiation. The soul has to perfect itself and love and desire Him, whom it did not love sufficiently on Earth.
This is the reason why the deliverance of some souls is delayed. God has given me a very great grace in allowing me to ask for prayers. I did not deserve it, but without this I would have remained like most of those here, for years and years more.”
If the pain of loss makes but a feeble impression upon us, it is far different with the pain of sense; the torment of fire, the torture of a sharp and intense cold, affrights our sensibility.
This is why Divine Mercy, wishing to excite a holy fear in our souls, speaks but little of the pain of loss, but we are continually shown the fire, the cold, and other torments, which constitute the pain of sense. This is what we see in the Gospel, and in particular revelations, by which God is pleased to manifest to His servants from time to time the mysteries of the other life.
Let us mention one of these revelations. In the first place, let us see what the pious and learned Cardinal St. Robert Bellarmine quotes from the Venerable St. Bede. England has been witness in our own days, writes Bede, to a singular prodigy, which may be compared to the miracles of the first ages of the Church. The account of St. Bede is as follows:
To excite the living to fear the death of the soul, God permitted that a man, after having slept the sleep of death, should return to life and reveal what he had seen in the other world. The frightful, unheard-of details which he relates, and his life of extraordinary penance, which corresponded with his words, produced a lively impression throughout the country. I will now resume the principal circumstances of this history.
There was in Northumberland (Northeast England) a man named Drithelm, who, with his family, led a most holy and religious Christian life. He fell sick, and his malady increasing day by day, he was soon reduced to extremity, and died, to the great desolation and grief of his wife and children. The latter passed the night in tears by the remains.
The following day, before his interment, they saw him suddenly return to life, arise, and place himself in a sitting posture. At this sight they were seized with such fear that they all took to flight, with the exception of the wife, who, trembling, remained alone with her risen husband.
He reassured her immediately: “Fear not,” he said; “it is God who restores to me my life; He wishes to show in my person a man raised from the dead. I have yet long to live upon Earth, but my new life will be very different from the one I led heretofore.”
Then he arose full of health, went straight to the chapel or church of the place, the monastery of Melrose, and there remained long in prayer. He returned home only to take leave of those who had been dear to him upon earth, to whom he declared that he would live only to prepare himself for death, and advised them to do likewise. Then, having divided his property into three parts, he gave one to his children, another to his wife, and reserved the third part to give in alms.
When he had distributed all to the poor, and had reduced himself to extreme indigence, he went and knocked at the door of a monastery, and begged the Abbot to receive him as a penitent Religious, who would be a servant to all the others.
The Abbot gave him a retired cell, which he occupied for the rest of his life. Three exercises divided his time prayer, the hardest labor, and extraordinary penances. The most rigorous fasts he accounted as nothing. In winter he was seen to plunge himself into frozen water, and remain there for hours and hours in prayer, whilst he recited the whole Psalter of David.
The mortified life of Drithelm, his downcast eyes, even his features, indicated a soul struck with fear of the judgments of God. He kept a perpetual silence, but on being pressed to relate, for the edification of others, what God had manifested to him after his death, he thus described his vision:
“On leaving my body, I was received by a benevolent person, who took me under his guidance. His face was shining brilliantly, and he appeared surrounded with light. He led me on silently, as I thought, towards the north-east. Walking on, we arrived at a large deep valley of immense extent, all fire, braziers and cauldrons of flame on one side; the other side had ice, the most intense cold and the blast of a glacial wind with violent hail and cold snow flying in all directions.
“This mysterious valley was filled with innumerable souls. Both sides were full of souls, which seemed, by turns, to be tossed from one side to the other, as it were by a violent storm; for when the poor wretches could no longer endure the violence of the fire and the excess of heat, they sought relief and leaped into the middle of the cutting cold of the ice and snow; and finding no rest there, only a new torture, they leaped back again into the middle of the unquenchable flames. I contemplated in a stupor these continual changes of horrible torments, and as far as my sight could extend, I saw nothing but a multitude of souls which suffered with out ever having repose. Their very aspect inspired me with fear.
"Now whereas an innumerable multitude of deformed spirits were thus alternately tormented, far and near, as far as could be seen, without any intermission, I began to think that this perhaps might be Hell, of whose intolerable flames I had often heard talk.
"My guide, who went before me, answered to my thought, saying, ‘Do not believe so! No, this is not, as you think, the Hell of the reprobate. Do you know what place this is?'
"'No!' I answered.
"'Know,' he resumed, 'that this valley, where you see so much fire and so much ice, is the place where the souls of those are punished who, during life, have neglected to confess their sins, and who have deferred their conversion to the end. Thanks to a special mercy of God, they have had the happiness of sincerely repenting before death, of confessing and detesting their sins. This is why they are not damned, and on the great day of judgment will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Several of them will obtain their deliverance before that time, by the merits of prayers, alms, and fasts, offered in their favor by the living, and especially in virtue of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered for their relief.'"
“When he had conducted me, much frightened with that horrid spectacle, by degrees, to the farther end, on a sudden I saw the place begin to grow dusk and filled with darkness. When I came into it, the darkness, by degrees, grew so thick, that I could see nothing besides it and the shape and garment of him that led me. As we went on through the shades of night, on a sudden there appeared before us frequent globes of black flames, rising as it were out of a great pit, and falling back again into the same.
"When I had been led there, my guide suddenly vanished, and left me alone in the midst of darkness and this horrid vision, whilst those same globes of fire, without intermission, at one time flew up and at another fell back into the bottom of the abyss; and I observed that all the flames, as they ascended, were full of human souls, which, like sparks flying up with smoke, were sometimes thrown on high, and again, when the vapor of the fire ceased, dropped down into the depth below. Moreover, an insufferable stench came forth with the vapors, and filled all those dark places.
"Having stood there a long time in much dread, not knowing what to do, which way to turn, or what end I might expect, on a sudden I heard behind me the noise of a most hideous and wretched lamentation, and at the same time a loud laughing, as of a rude multitude insulting captured enemies. When that noise, growing plainer, came up to me, I observed a gang of evil spirits dragging the howling and lamenting souls of men into the midst of the darkness, whilst they themselves laughed and rejoiced.
"Among those men, as I could discern, there was one shorn like a clergyman, a layman, and a woman. The evil spirits that dragged them went down into the midst of the burning pit; and as they went down deeper, I could no longer distinguish between the lamentation of the men and the laughing of the devils, yet I still had a confused sound in my ears. In the meantime, some of the dark spirits ascended from that flaming abyss, and running forward, beset me on all sides, and much perplexed me with their glaring eyes and the stinking fire which proceeded from their mouths and nostrils; and threatened to lay hold on me with burning tongs, which they had in their hands, yet they did not dare touch me, though they frightened me.
"Being thus on all sides enclosed with enemies and darkness, and looking about on every side for assistance, there appeared behind me, on the way that I came, as it were, the brightness of a star shining amidst the darkness; which increased by degrees, and came rapidly towards me: when it drew near, all those evil spirits, that sought to carry me away with their tongs, dispersed and fled.
“He, whose approach put them to flight, was the same that led me before; who, then, turning towards the right, began to lead me, as it were, towards the south-east, and having soon brought me out of the darkness, conducted me into an atmosphere of clear light. While he thus led me in open light, I saw a vast wall before us, the length and height of which, in every direction, seemed to be altogether boundless. I began to wonder why we went to the wall, seeing no door, window, or path through it.
"When we came to the wall, we were presently, I know not by what means, on the top of it, and within it was a vast and delightful field, so full of fragrant flowers that the odor of its delightful sweetness immediately dispelled the stink of the dark furnace, which had pierced me through and through. So great was the light in this place, that it seemed to exceed the brightness of the day, or the sun in its meridian height. In this field were innumerable assemblies of men in white, and many companies seated together rejoicing. As he led me through the midst of those happy inhabitants, I began to think that this might, perhaps, be the kingdom of heaven, of which I had often heard so much.
He answered to my thought, saying: 'This is not the kingdom of Heaven, as you imagine!’
“When we had passed those mansions of blessed souls and gone farther on, I discovered before me a much more beautiful light, and therein heard sweet voices of persons singing, and so wonderful a fragrancy proceeded from the place, that the other which I had before thought most delicious, then seemed to me but very indifferent; even as that extraordinary brightness of the flowery field, compared with this, appeared mean and inconsiderable.
"When I began to hope we should enter that delightful place, my guide on a sudden stood still; and then turning back, led me back by the way we came.
“When we returned to those joyful mansions of the souls in white' he said to me, ‘Do you know what all these things are which you have seen?’
"I answered. I did not; and then he replied, ‘That vale you saw so dreadful for consuming flames and cutting cold, is the place in which the souls of those are tried and punished, who, delaying to confess and amend their crimes, at length have recourse to repentance at the point of death, and so depart this life; but nevertheless because they, even at their death, confessed and repented, they shall all be received into the Kingdom of Heaven at the Day of Judgment; but many are relieved before the Day of Judgment, by the prayers, alms, and fasting, of the living, and more especially by Masses.
"'That fiery and stinking pit, which you saw, is the mouth of Hell, into which whosoever falls shall never be delivered to all eternity.
"'This flowery place, in which you see these most beautiful young people, so bright and merry, is that into which the souls of those are received who depart the body in good works, but who are not so perfect as to deserve to be immediately admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven; yet they shall all, at the Day of Judgment, see Christ, and partake of the joys of His Kingdom; For whoever are perfect in thought, word and deed, as soon is they depart the body, immediately enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; in the neighborhood, whereof that place is, where you heard the sound of sweet singing, with the fragrant odor and bright light.
"'As for you, who are now to return to your body, and live among men again, if you will endeavor to examine your actions, and direct your speech and behavior in righteousness and simplicity, you shall, after death, have a place or residence among these joyful troops of blessed souls; for when I left you for a while, it was to know how you were to be disposed of.’
"When he had said this to me, I much abhorred returning to my body, being delighted with the sweetness and beauty of the place I beheld, and with the company of those I saw in it. However, I did not dare ask him any questions; but in the meantime, on a sudden, I found myself alive among men.”
Such was the account of Drithelm. When asked why he so rudely treated his body, why he plunged himself into frozen water, he replied that he had seen other torments, and cold of another kind.
Now these and other things which this man of God saw, he would not relate to slothful persons and such as lived negligently; but only to those who, being terrified with the dread of torments, or delighted with the hopes of heavenly joys, would make use of his words to advance in piety.
In the neighborhood of his cell, there lived a monk, Hemgils, eminent in the priesthood, which he honored by his good works: he is still living (at the time St. Bede wrote this testimony) and leading a solitary life in Ireland, supporting his declining age with coarse bread and cold water. He often went to that man, and asking several questions, heard of him all the particulars of what he had seen when separated from his body; by whose relation we also came to the knowledge of those few particulars which we have briefly set down.
He also related his visions to King Alfrid, a man most learned in all respects, and was by him so willingly and attentively heard, that at his request he was admitted into the monastery above mentioned, and received the monastic tonsure; and the said king, when he happened to be in those parts, very often went to hear him. At that time the religious and humble abbot and priest, Ethelwald, presided over the monastery, and now with worthy conduct possesses the episcopal see of the church of Lindisfarne.
After Drithelm had left his family for the monastery, he had a private place of residence assigned him in that monastery, where he might apply himself to the service of his Creator in continual prayer. And as that place lay on the bank of the river, he would often to go into the river to inflict penance upon his body, and many times to dip quite under the water, and to continue saying psalms or prayers in the same as long as he could endure it, standing still sometimes up to the middle, and sometimes to the neck in water; and when he went out from thence ashore, he never took off his cold and frozen garments till they grew warm and dry on his body.
And when in the winter the half-broken pieces of ice were swimming about him, which he had himself broken, to make room to stand or dip himself in the river, those who beheld it would say, “It is wonderful, brother Drithelm (for so he was called), that you are able to endure such violent cold!” He simply answered, for he was a man of much simplicity and in different wit, “I have seen greater cold.” And when they said, “It is strange that you will endure such austerity;” he replied, “I have seen more austerity.” Thus he continued, through an indefatigable desire of heavenly bliss, to subdue his aged body with daily fasting, till the day of his being called away; and thus he forwarded the salvation of many by his words and example. (St.. Bede, Ecclesiastical History, Bk. 5.12)
This event produced a deep sensation in England; a great number of sinners, touched by the words of Drithelm, and struck by the austerity of his life, became sincerely converted.
"This fact," adds St. Robert Bellarmine, "appears to me of incontestable truth, since, besides being conformable to the words of Holy Scripture, Let him pass from the snow waters to excessive heat (Job 29:19). Venerable Bede relates it as a recent and well-known event. More than this, it was followed by the conversion of a great number of sinners, the sign of the work of God, who is accustomed to work prodigies in order to produce fruit in souls."
St. Frances of Rome
It has pleased God to show in spirit the gloomy abodes of Purgatory to some privileged souls, who were to reveal the sorrowful mysteries thereof for the edification of the faithful. Of this number was the illustrious St. Frances, foundress of the Oblates, who died in Rome in 1440. God favored her with great lights concerning the state of souls in the other life. She saw Hell and its horrible torments; she saw also the interior of Purgatory, and the mysterious order—I had almost said hierarchy of expiations— which reigns in this portion of the Church of Jesus Christ.
In obedience to her superiors, who thought themselves bound to impose this obligation upon her, she made known all that God had manifested to her; and her visions, written at the request of the venerable Canon Matteotti, her spiritual director, have all the authenticity that can be desired in such matters. Now, the servant of God declared that, after having endured with unspeakable horror the vision of Hell, she came out of that abyss and was conducted by Her celestial guide into the regions of Purgatory. There reigned neither horror nor disorder, nor despair nor eternal darkness; there divine hope diffused its light, and she was told that this place of purification was called also “sojourn of hope”. She saw there souls which suffered cruelly, but angels visited and assisted them in their sufferings.
Purgatory, she said, is divided into three distinct parts, which are as the three large provinces of that kingdom of suffering. They are situated the one beneath the other, and occupied by souls of different orders. These souls are buried more deeply in proportion as they are more defiled and farther removed from the time of their deliverance.
The lowest region is filled with a fierce fire, but which is not dark like that of Hell; it is a vast burning sea, throwing forth immense flames. Innumerable souls are plunged into its depths: they are those who have rendered themselves guilty of mortal sin, which they have duly confessed, but not sufficiently expiated during life. The servant of God then learned that, for all forgiven mortal sin, there remains to be undergone a suffering of seven years. This term cannot evidently be taken to mean a definite measure, since mortal sins differ in enormity, but as an average penalty. Although the souls are enveloped in the same flames, their sufferings are not the same; they differ according to the number and nature of their former sins.
In this lower Purgatory the saint beheld laity and persons consecrated to God. The laity were those who, after a life of sin, had had the happiness of being sincerely converted; the persons consecrated to God were those who had not lived according to the sanctity of their state. At that same moment she saw descend the soul of a priest whom she knew, but whose name she does not reveal. She remarked that he had his face covered with a veil which concealed a stain. Although he had led an edifying life, this priest had not always observed strict temperance, and had sought too eagerly the satisfactions of the table.
The saint was then conducted into the intermediate Purgatory, destined for souls which had deserved less rigorous chastisement. It had three distinct compartments; one resembled an immense dungeon of ice, the cold of which was indescribably intense; the second, on the contrary, was like a huge cauldron of boiling oil and pitch; the third had the appearance of a pond of liquid metal resembling molten gold or silver.
The upper Purgatory, which the saint does not describe, is the temporary abode of souls which suffer little, except the pain of loss, and approach the happy moment of their deliverance.
Such, in substance, is the vision of St. Frances relative to Purgatory.
St. Magdalen de Pazzi
The following is an account of that of St. Magdalen de Pazzi, a Florentine Carmelite, as it is related in her Life by Father Cepare. It gives more of a picture of” Purgatory, whilst the preceding vision but traces its outlines.
Some time before her death, which took place in 1607, the servant of God, Magdalen de Pazzi, being one evening with several other Religious in the garden of the convent, was ravished in ecstasy, and saw Purgatory open before her. At the same time, as she made known later, a voice invited her to visit all the prisons of Divine Justice, and to see how truly worthy of compassion are the souls detained there.
At this moment she was heard to say, “Yes, I will go.” She consented to undertake this painful journey. In fact, she walked for two hours round the garden, which was very large, pausing from time to time. Each time she interrupted her walk, she contemplated attentively the sufferings which were shown to her. She was then seen to wring her hands in compassion, her face became pale, her body bent under the weight of suffering, in presence of the terrible spectacle with which she was confronted.
She began to cry aloud in lamentation, “Mercy, my God, mercy! Descend, O Precious Blood, and deliver these souls from their prison. Poor souls! you suffer so cruelly, and yet you are content and cheerful. The dungeons of the martyrs in comparison with these were gardens of delight. Nevertheless there are others still deeper. How happy should I esteem myself were I not obliged to go down into them.”
She did descend, however, for she was forced to continue her way. But when she had taken a few steps, she stopped terror-stricken, and, sighing deeply, she cried, “What! Religious also in this dismal abode! Good God! how they are tormented! Ah, Lord!” She does not explain the nature of their sufferings; but the horror which she manifested in contemplating them caused her to sigh at each step.
She passed from thence into less gloomy places. They were the dungeons of simple souls, and of children in whom ignorance and lack of reason extenuated many faults. Their torments appeared to her much more endurable than those of the others. Nothing but ice and fire were there. She noticed that these souls had their angel-guardians with them, who fortified them greatly by their presence; but she saw also demons whose dreadful forms increased their sufferings.
Advancing a few paces, she saw souls still more unfortunate, and she was heard to cry out, “Oh! how horrible is this place; it is full of hideous demons and incredible torments! Who, O my God, are the victims of these cruel tortures? Alas! they are being pierced with sharp swords, they are being cut into pieces.” She was answered that they were the souls whose conduct had been tainted with hypocrisy.
Advancing a little, she saw a great multitude of souls which were bruised, as it were, and crushed under a press; and she understood that they were those souls which had been addicted to impatience and disobedience during life. Whilst contemplating them, her looks, her sighs, her whole attitude betokened compassion and terror.
A moment later her agitation increased, and she uttered a dreadful cry. It was the dungeon of lies which now lay open before her. After having attentively considered it, she cried aloud, “Liars are confined in a place in the vicinity of Hell, and their sufferings are exceedingly great. Molten lead is poured into their mouths; I see them burn, and at the same time tremble with cold.”
She then went to the prison of those souls which had sinned through weakness, and she was heard to exclaim, “Alas! I had thought to find you among those who have sinned through ignorance, but I am mistaken; you burn with an intenser fire.”
Farther on, she perceived souls which had been too much attached to the goods of this world, and had sinned by avarice.
“What blindness,” said she, “thus eagerly to seek a perishable fortune! Those whom formerly riches could not sufficiently satiate, are here gorged with torments. They are smelted like metal in the furnace.”
From thence she passed into the place where those souls were imprisoned which had formerly been stained with impurity. She saw them in so filthy and pestilential a dungeon that the sight produced nausea. She turned away quickly from that loathsome spectacle. Seeing the ambitious and the proud, she said, “Behold those who wished to shine before men; now they are condemned to live in this frightful obscurity.”
Then she was shown those souls which had been guilty of ingratitude towards God. They were a prey to unutterable torments, and, as it were, drowned in a lake of molten lead, for having by their ingratitude dried up the source of piety.
Finally, in a last dungeon, she was shown souls that had not been given to any particular vice, but which, through lack of proper vigilance over themselves, had committed all kinds of trivial faults. She remarked that these souls had share in the chastisements of all vices, in a moderate degree, because those faults committed only from time to time rendered them less guilty than those committed through habit.
After this last station the saint left the garden, begging God never again to make her witness of so heartrending a spectacle: she felt that she had not strength to endure it. Her ecstasy still continued, and, conversing with Jesus, she said to Him, “Tell me, Lord, what was Your design in discovering to me those terrible prisons, of which I knew so little, and comprehended still less? Ah! I now see; You wished to give me the knowledge of Your infinite sanctity, and to make me detest more and more the least stain of sin, which is so abominable in Your eyes.”
That which shows still more the rigor of Purgatory is that the shortest period of time there appears to be of very long duration. Everyone knows that days of enjoyment pass quickly and appear short, whilst the time passed in suffer ing we find very long. Oh, how slowly pass the hours of the night for the poor sick, who spend them in sleeplessness and pain. We may say that the more intense the pain the longer appears the shortest duration of time. This rule furnishes us with a new means of estimating the sufferings of Purgatory.
The following is taken from a pious author quoted by Father Rossignoli. (Merveilles, 17). Two Religious, of eminent virtue, vied with each other in leading a holy life. One of them fell sick, and learned in a vision that he should soon die, that he should be saved, and that he should remain in Purgatory only until the first Mass should be celebrated for the repose of his soul. Full of joy at these tidings, he hastened to impart them to his friend, and entreated him not to delay the celebration of the Mass which was to open Heaven to him.
He died the following morning, and his holy companion lost no time in celebrating the Holy Sacrifice. After Mass, whilst he was making his thanksgiving, and still continuing to pray for his departed friend, the latter appeared to him radiant with glory, but in a tone sweetly plaintive he asked why that one Mass of which he stood in need had been so long delayed.
“My blessed brother,” replied the Religious, “I delayed so long, you say? I do not understand you.” “What! did you not leave me to suffer for more than a year before offering Mass for the repose of my soul.” “Indeed, my dear brother, I commenced Mass immediately after your death; not a quarter of an hour had elapsed.” Then, regarding him with emotion, the blessed soul cried out, “How terrible are those expiatory pains, since they have caused me to mistake minutes for a year. Serve God, my dear brother, with an exact fidelity, in order that you may avoid those chastisements. Farewell! I fly to Heaven, where you will soon join me.”
We find in the Annals of the Friar Minors, under the year 1285, a fact which is also related by St. Antoninus in his Summa. (Part 4, § 4). A religious man suffering for a long time from a painful malady, allowed himself to be overcome by discouragement, and entreated God to permit him to die, that he might be released from his pains. He did not think that the prolongation of his sickness was a mercy of God, who wished to spare him more severe suffering. In answer to his prayer, God charged His angel-guardian to offer him his choice, either to die immediately and submit to the pains of Purgatory for three days, or to bear his sickness for another year and then go directly to Heaven. The sick man, having to choose between three days in Purgatory and one year of suffering upon earth, did not hesitate, but took the three days in Purgatory.
After the lapse of an hour, his angel went to visit him in his sufferings. On seeing him, the poor patient complained that he had been left so long in those torments. “And yet,” he added, “you promised that I should remain here but three days.” “How long,” asked the angel, “do you think you have already suffered?” “At least for several years,” he replied, “and I had to suffer but three days.” “Know,” said the angel, “that you have been here only one hour. The intensity of the pain deceives you as to the time; it makes an instant appear a day, and an hour years.” “Alas! then,” said he with a sigh, “I have been very blind and inconsiderate in the choice I have made. Pray God, my good angel, to pardon me, and permit me to return to earth. I am ready to submit to the most cruel maladies, not only for two years, but as long as it shall please Him. Rather six years of horrible suffering than one single hour in this abyss of unutterable agonies.”
This severity of Divine Justice in regard to the most fervent souls is explained by the infinite Sanctity of God, who discovers stains in that which appears to us most pure. The Annals of the Order of St. Francis speak of a Religious whose eminent sanctity had caused him to be surnamed Angelicus. (Chronique des Frères Min., p. 2, I, 4. c. 8; cf. Rossignoli) He died in odor of sanctity at the monastery of the Friars Minors in Paris, and one his brethren in religion, a doctor in theology, persuaded that, after a life so perfect, he had gone directly to Heaven, and that he stood in no need of prayers, omitted to celebrate for him the three Masses of obligation which, according to the custom of the Institute, were offered for each departed member.
After a few days, whilst he was walking and meditating in a retired spot, the deceased appeared before him enveloped in flames, and said to him, in a mournful voice, “Dear master, I beg of you have pity upon me!” “What! Brother Angelicus, do you need my assistance?” “I am detained in the fires of Purgatory, awaiting the fruit of the Holy Sacrifice which you should have offered three times for me.” “Beloved brother, I thought you were already in possession of eternal glory. After a life so fervent and exemplary as yours had been, I could not imagine that there remained any pain to be suffered.” “Alas! alas!” replied the departed, “no one can believe with what severity God judges and punishes His creatures. His infinite Sanctity discovers in our best actions defective spots, imperfections which displease Him. He requires us to give an account even to the last farthing.
The learned and devout cardinal, St. Robert Bellarmine, relates the history of St. Christine the Admirable, who lived in Belgium at the close of the twelfth century, and whose body is preserved today in St. Trond, in the church of the Redemptorist Fathers. The Life of this illustrious virgin was, he says, written by Thomas de Cantimpré, a Religious of the Order of St. Dominic, an author worthy of credit and contemporary with the saint. Cardinal James de Vitry, in the preface to the Life of Maria d’Ognies, speaks of a great number of holy women and illustrious virgins; but the one whom he admires above all others is St. Christine, of whom he relates the most wonderful deeds.
Christina renounced all comforts of life, reduced herself to extreme destitution, dressed in rags, lived without home or hearth, and not content with privations she eagerly sought all that could cause her suffering. At first, she fled human contact; and suspected of being possessed, was jailed. Upon her release, she took up the practice of extreme penance.
This servant of God, having passed the first years of her life in humility and patience, died at the age of thirty-two. When she was about to be buried, and the body was already in the church resting in an open coffin, according to the custom of the time, she arose full of vigor, stupefying with amazement the whole city of St. Trond, which had witnessed this wonder. The astonishment increased when they learned from her own mouth what had happened to her after her death. Let us hear her own account of it.
“As soon,” said she, “as my soul was separated from my body, it was received by angels, who conducted it to a very gloomy place, entirely filled with souls. The torments which they there endured appeared to me so excessive, that it is impossible for me to give any idea of their rigor. I saw among them many of my acquaintances, and, deeply touched by their sad condition, I asked what place it was, for I believed it to be Hell. My guide answered me that it was Purgatory, where sinners were punished who, before death, had repented of their faults, but had not made worthy satisfaction to God. From thence I was conducted into Hell, and there also I recognized among the reprobates some whom I had formerly known.
“The angels then transported me into Heaven, even to the throne of the Divine Majesty. The Lord regarded me with a favorable eye, and I experienced an extreme joy, because I thought to obtain the grace of dwelling eternally with Him.
But my Heavenly Father, seeing what passed in my heart, said to me these words: ‘Assuredly, my dear daughter, you will one day be with Me. Now, however, allow you to choose, either to remain with Me henceforth from this time, or to return again to earth to accomplish a mission of charity and suffering. In order to deliver from the flames of Purgatory those souls which have inspired you with so much compassion, you shall suffer for them upon Earth; you shall endure great torments, without, however, dying from their effects. And not only will you relieve the departed, but the example which you will give to the living, and your life of continual suffering, will lead sinners to be converted and to expiate their crimes. After having ended this new life, you shall return here laden with merits.
“At these words, seeing the great advantages offered to me for souls, I replied, without hesitation, that I would return to life, and I arose at that same instant. It is for this sole object, the relief of the departed and the conversion of sinners, that I have returned to this world. There fore be not astonished at the penances that I shall practice, nor at the life that you will see me lead from henceforward. It will be so extraordinary that nothing like to it has ever been seen.”
All this was related by the saint herself; let us now see what the biographer adds in the different chapters of her Life.
“Christine immediately commenced the work for which she had been sent by God. Renouncing all the comforts of life, and reduced to extreme destitution, she lived without house or fire, more miserable than the birds of the air, which have a nest to shelter them. Not content with these privations, she eagerly sought all that could cause her suffering. She threw herself into burning furnaces, and there suffering so great torture that she could no longer bear it, she uttered the most frightful cries. She remained for a long time in the fire, and yet, on coming forth, no sign of burning was found upon her body.
"In winter, when the River Meuse was frozen, she plunged herself into it, staying in that cold river not only hours and days, but for entire weeks, all the while praying to God and imploring His mercy. Sometimes, whilst praying in the icy waters, she allowed herself to be carried by the current down to a mill, the wheel of which whirled her round in a manner frightful to behold, yet without breaking or dislocating one of her bones.
"On other occasions, followed by dogs, which bit and tore her flesh, she ran, enticing them into the thickets and among the thorns, until she was covered with blood; nevertheless, on her return, no wound or scar was to be seen.”
Such are the works of admirable penance described by the author of the Life of St. Christine. “This writer was a Bishop, a suffragan of the Archbishop of Cambray; and we have,” says St. Robert Bellarmine, “reason for believing his testimony, since he has for guarantee another grave author, James de Vitry, Bishop and Cardinal, and because he relates what happened in his own time, and even in the province where he lived.
"Besides, the sufferings of this admirable virgin were not hidden. Every one could see that she was in the midst of the flames without being consumed, and covered with wounds, every trace of which disappeared a few moments afterwards. But more than this was the marvelous life she led for forty-two years after she was raised from the dead, God clearly showing that the wonders wrought in her by virtue from on high. The striking conversions which she effected, and the evident miracles which occurred after her death, manifestly proved the finger of God, and the truth of that which, after her resurrection, she had revealed concerning the other life.”
Therefore, St. Robert Bellarmine argues, “God willed to silence those libertines who make open profession of believing in nothing, and who have the audacity to ask in scorn, Who has returned from the other world? Who has ever seen the torments of Hell or Purgatory? Behold two witnesses! They assure us that they have seen them, and that they are dreadful. What follows, then, if not that the incredulous are inexcusable, and that those who believe and nevertheless neglect to do penance are still more to be condemned?”
“I saw in a dream,” she says, “one of our sisters who had died some time previous. She told me that she suffered much in Purgatory, but that God had inflicted upon her a suffering which surpassed all other pains, by showing her one of her near relatives precipitated into Hell.
“At these words I awoke, and felt as though my body was bruised from head to foot, so that it was with difficulty I could move. As we should not believe in dreams, I paid little attention to this one, but the Religious obliged me to do so in spite of myself. From that moment she gave me no rest, and said to me incessantly: ‘Pray to God for me; offer to Him your sufferings united to those of Jesus Christ, to alleviate mine; and give me all you shall do until the first Friday in May, when you will please communicate for me!’ This I did, with permission of my superior.
“Meanwhile the pain which this suffering soul caused me increased to such a degree that I could find neither comfort nor repose. Obedience obliged me to seek a little rest upon my bed; but scarcely had I retired when she seemed to approach me, saying: ‘You recline at your ease upon your bed―look at the one upon which I lie, and where I endure intolerable sufferings.’ I saw that bed, and the very thought of it makes me shudder. The top and bottom was of sharp flaming points, which pierced the flesh. She told me then, that this was on account of her sloth and negligence in the observance of the rules. ‘My heart is torn,’ she continued, ‘and causes me the most terrible suffering for my thoughts of disapproval and criticism of my superiors. My tongue is devoured by vermin, and, as it were, torn from my mouth continually, for the words I spoke against charity and my little regard for the rule of silence. Ah! I would that all souls consecrated to God could see me in these torments! If I could show them what is prepared for those who live negligently in their vocation, their zeal and fervor would be entirely renewed, and they would avoid those faults which now cause me to suffer so much!’
“At this sight I melted into tears. ‘Alas!’ said she, ‘One day passed by the whole community in exact observance would heal my parched mouth; another passed in the practice of holy charity would cure my tongue; and a third passed without any murmuring or disapproval of superiors would heal my bruised heart; but no one thinks to relieve me!’
St. Margaret Mary adds: “After I had offered the Communion which she had asked of me, she said that her dreadful torments were much diminished, but she had still to remain a long time in Purgatory, condemned to suffer the pains due to those souls that have been tepid in the service of God. As for myself, I found that I was freed from my sufferings, which I had been told would not diminish until the soul herself should be relieved.”
We have already said that Divine Justice is extremely severe in regard to sins against charity. Charity is, in fact, the virtue which is dearest to the Heart of our Divine Master, and which He recommends to His disciples as that which must distinguish them in the eyes of men. “By this,” He says, “shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:35). It is, then, not astonishing that harshness towards our neighbor, and every other fault against charity, should be severely punished in the other life.
St. Margaret Mary, being one day before the Blessed Sacrament, suddenly saw before her a man totally enveloped in fire, the intense heat of which seemed about to consume herself. The wretched state, in which she saw this poor soul, caused her to shed tears. He was a Benedictine Religious of the monastery of Cluny, to whom she had formerly confessed, and who had done good to her soul, by ordering her to receive Holy Communion. In reward for this service, God had permitted him to address himself to her, that he might find some alleviation in his sufferings.
The poor departed begged that all Margaret-Mary would do and suffer for the space of three months, might be applied to him. This she promised, after having obtained permission. Then he told her that the principal cause of his intense suffering was for having sought his own interests before the glory of God and the good of souls, by attaching too much importance to his reputation. The second was his want of charity towards his brethren. The third, the natural affection for creatures to whom, through weakness, he had yielded, and to which he had given expression in his spiritual communications with them, “this being,” he added, “very displeasing to God.”
It is difficult to say all that the St. Margaret-Mary had to suffer during the three months following. The deceased never left her. On the side where he stood she seemed all on fire, with such excruciating pain, that she could not cease to weep. Her Superior, touched with compassion, ordered her penances and disciplines, because pain and suffering greatly relieved her. The torments which the Sanctity of God inflicted upon her were insupportable. It was a specimen of the suffering endured by the poor souls.
Of this we have several proofs, taken from the Life of St. Margaret-Mary. “I learned from Sister Margaret-Mary,” says Mother Greffier in her Memoirs, “that she one day prayed for two persons of high rank in the world who had just died. She saw them both in Purgatory. The one was condemned for several years to those sufferings, despite the great number of Masses which were celebrated for her. All those prayers and suffrages were by Divine Justice applied to the souls belonging to some of the families of her subjects, which had been ruined by their injustice and lack of charity. As nothing was left to those poor people to enable them to have prayers offered for them after their death, God compensated these poor people in the manner we have related. The other was in Purgatory for as many days as she had lived years upon earth. Our Lord made known to Sister Margaret-Mary that, among the good works which this person had performed, He had taken into special consideration the charity with which she had borne the faults of her neighbor, and the pains she had taken to overcome the displeasure they had caused her.”
On another occasion our Lord showed St. Margaret-Mary a large number of souls in Purgatory, who, for not having been united with their Superiors during their life, and for having had some misunderstanding with them, had been severely punished and deprived, after death, of the aid of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, and also of the visits of their guardian-angels. Several of those souls were destined to remain for a long time in horrible flames. Some even among them had no other token of their predestination than that they did not hate God. Others, who had been in religion, and who, during life, showed little charity towards their sisters, were deprived of their suffrages, and received no assistance whatsoever.
Let us add one more extract from the Memoirs of Mother Greffier. “It happened whilst Sister Margaret-Mary was praying for two deceased Religious, that their souls were shown to her in the prisons of Divine Justice, but one suffered incomparably more than the other. The former regretted greatly that by her faults against mutual Charity, and the holy friendship that ought to remain in religious communities, she had in part deprived herself, among other punishments, of the suffrages which were offered for her by the community. She received relief only from the prayers of three or four persons of the same community for whom she had had less affection and inclination during her life. This suffering soul reproached herself also for the too great facility with which she took dispensations from the rules and exercises of the community. Finally, she deplored the care which she had taken upon Earth to procure for her body so many comforts and commodities. She made known at the same time to our dear Sister that, in punishment for three faults, she had to undergo three furious assaults of the demon during her last agony, and that each time believing herself lost, she was on the point of falling into despair, but by the Blessed Virgin, towards whom she had borne great devotion during her life, she had been snatched three times from the claws of the enemy.”
The two following accounts are found in the annals of the religious order of the Society of Jesus.
The first prodigy we find in the Life of the venerable servant of God, Angela Tholomei, a Dominican nun. (Cf. Rissignoli, Merveilles, 7). She was raised from the dead by her own brother, and gave a testimony of the rigor of God’s judgments exactly conformable to the precedent account given above.
Blessed John Baptist Tholomei, (Cf. Marchese, Sagro Diario Dominicano, Napoli, 1672. Tom. 13, p. 483, et tom. 6, p. 22) whose rare virtues and the gift of miracles has placed him on our altars, had a sister, Angela Tholomei, the heroism of whose virtue has also been recognized by the Church. She fell dangerously sick, and her holy brother by earnest prayer besought her cure.
Our Lord replied, as He did formerly to the sister of Lazarus, that He would not cure Angela, but that He would do more; He would raise her from the dead, for the glory of God and the good of souls. She died, recommending herself to the prayers of her holy brother.
Whilst she was being carried to the tomb, Blessed John Baptist, in obedience, no doubt, to an inspiration of the Holy Spirit, approached the coffin, and, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, commanded his sister to come forth. Immediately she awoke as from a profound slumber, and returned to life.
That holy soul seemed struck with terror, and related such things concerning the severity of God s judgments as make us shudder. She commenced, at the same time, to lead a life which proved the truth of her words. Her penance was frightful. Not content with the ordinary practices of the saints, such as fasting, watching, hair-shirts, and bloody disciplines, she went so far as to cast herself into flames, and to roll herself therein until her flesh was entirely burnt. Her macerated body became an object of pity and of horror. She was censured and accused of destroying, by her excess, the idea of true Christian penance.
She continued, nevertheless, and contented herself with replying, “If you knew the rigors of the judgments of God, you would not speak thus. What are my trifling penances compared with the torments reserved in the other life for those infidelities which we so easily permit ourselves in this world? What are they? What are they? Would that I could do a hundred times more!”
There is no question here, as we see, of the tortures to which great sinners converted before death are subjected, but of the chastisements which God inflicts upon a fervent Religious for the slightest faults.
Let us relate a similar instance which confirms in every point that which we have just read. This prodigy concerns Anthony Pereyra, Brother Coadjutor of the Society of Jesus, who died in the odor of sanctity at the College of Evora, in Portugal, August 1st, 1645. Forty-six years previously, in 1599, which was five years after his entrance into the Jesuit novitiate, this brother was attacked by a mortal malady in the island of St. Michael, one of the Azores islands. A few moments after he had received the last sacraments, in presence of the whole community, who assisted him in his agony, he appeared to breathe forth his soul, and soon became as cold as a corpse. The appearance, though almost imperceptible, of a slight beating of the heart, alone prevented them from burying him immediately. He was therefore left for three entire days upon his bed, and his body already gave clear signs of decomposition, when suddenly, on the fourth day, he opened his eyes, breathed and spoke once more.
He was then obliged by obedience to relate to his superior, Father Louis Pinheyro, all that had passed within him since the last terrible moments of his agony. We here give an abridged account of it, as written by his own hand.
“I saw first,” he says, “from my deathbed my Father, St. Ignatius, accompanied by several of our Fathers from Heaven, who came to visit his sick children, seeking those whom he thought worthy to be offered by him and his companions to our Lord. When he drew near to me I believed for a moment that he would take me, and my heart thrilled with joy; but soon he pointed out to me that of which I must correct myself before obtaining so great a happiness.”
Then, nevertheless, by a mysterious disposition of Divine Providence, the soul of Brother Pereyra separated itself momentarily from his body, and immediately a hideous troup of demons, rushing towards him, filled him with terror. At the same moment his guardian-angel and St. Anthony of Padua, his countryman and patron, descended from Heaven, put to flight his enemies, and invited him to accompany them to take a glimpse of, and taste for a moment, the joys and sufferings of eternity.
“They led me then by turns,” he adds, “towards a place of delights, where they showed me a crown of incomparable glory, but which I had not as yet merited; then to the brink of an abyss, where I saw the reprobate souls fall into the eternal fire, crushed like the grains of wheat cast upon a millstone that turns without intermission. The infernal gulf was like one of those lime-kilns, where, at times, the flames are, as it were, stifled by the mass of materials thrown into them, but which feeds the fire that it may burst forth with more terrible violence.”
Led from there to the tribunal of the Sovereign Judge, Antony Pereyra heard himself condemned to the fire of Purgatory; and nothing, he assures us, can give an idea of what is suffered there, nor of the state of agony to which the souls are reduced by the desire and the delay of the enjoyment of God and of His sacred presence.
When, by the command of God, his soul had been reunited with his body, the renewed tortures of his malady for six entire months―with the additional torture of fire and iron―caused the flesh (already incurably tainted with the corruption of his first death) to fall in pieces; yet not this, nor the frightful penances to which he unceasingly delivered him self, so far as obedience permitted, during the forty-six years of his new life, could appease his thirst for suffering and expiation. “All this,” he said, “is nothing in comparison with what the justice and infinite mercy of God has caused me not only to witness, but also to endure.”
In fine, as an authentic seal upon so many marvels, Brother Pereyra discovered to his superior in detail the secret designs of Providence regarding the future restoration of the kingdom of Portugal, more than half a century before it happened. But we may add without fear, that the highest guarantee of all these prodigies was the astonishing degree of sanctity to which Brother Pereyra ceased not to elevate himself from day to day.
It is not just souls who were once great sinners who have to suffer the fires of Purgatory, but also souls that were very fervent while here on Earth, but who are subjected to chastisements which God inflicts upon a fervent Religious for the slightest faults. The first example is where a Religious who died after an exemplary life, and then makes known her sufferings in a manner calculated to inspire all souls with terror. The event took place on November 16th, 1859, at Foligno, near Assisi, in Italy. It made a great noise in the country, and besides the visible mark which was seen, an inquiry made in due form by competent authority establishes it as an incontestable fact.
There was at the convent of Franciscan Tertiaries in Foligno, a sister named Teresa Gesta, who had been for many years mistress of novices, and who at the same time had charge of the sacristy of the community. She was born at Bastia, in Corsica, in 1797, and entered the monastery in the year 1826.
Sister Teresa was a model of fervor and charity. We need not be astonished, said her director, if God glorifies her by some prodigy after her death. She died suddenly, November 4th, 1859, of a stroke of apoplexy.
Twelve days later, on November 16th, a sister named Anna Felicia, who succeeded her in office, went to the sacristy and was about to enter, when she heard moans which appeared to come from the interior of the room. Somewhat afraid, she hastened to open the door; there was no one. Again she heard moans, and so distinctly that, notwithstanding her ordinary courage, she felt herself over powered by fear. “Jesus! Mary!” she cried, “what can that be?” She had not finished speaking when she heard a plaintive voice, accompanied with a painful sigh, “Oh! my God, how I suffer! Oh I Dio, die peno tanto!”
The sister, stupefied, immediately recognized the voice of poor Sister Teresa. Then the room was filled with a thick smoke, and the spirit of Sister Teresa appeared, moving towards the door, and gliding along by the wall. Having reached the door, she cried aloud, “Behold a proof of the mercy of God.” Saying these words, she struck the upper panel of the door, and there left the print of her right hand, burnt in the wood as with a red-hot iron. She then disappeared.
Sister Anna Felicia was left half dead with fright. She burst forth into loud cries for help. One of her companions ran, then a second, and finally the whole community. They pressed around her, astonished to find a strong odor of burnt wood. Sister Anna Felicia told what had occurred, and showed them the terrible impression on the door. They instantly recognized the hand of Sister Teresa, which had been remarkably small.
Terrified, they took to flight and ran to the choir, where they passed the night in prayer and penance for the departed, and the following morning all received Holy Communion for the repose of her soul. The news spread outside the convent walls, and many communities in the city united their prayers with those of the Franciscans.
On the third day, November 8th, Sister Anna Felicia, on going in the evening to her cell, heard herself called by her name, and recognized perfectly the voice of Sister Teresa. At the same instant a globe of brilliant light appeared before her, illuminating her cell with the brightness of daylight. She then heard Sister Teresa pronounce these words in a joyful and triumphant voice: “I died on a Friday, the day of the Passion, and behold, on a Friday, I enter into eternal glory! Be strong to bear the cross, be courageous to suffer, love poverty.” Then adding, affectionately: “Adieu, adieu, adieu!” she became transfigured, and like a light, white, and dazzling cloud, rose towards Heaven and disappeared.
During the investigation which was held immediately, November 23rd, in the presence of a large number of witnesses, the tomb of Sister Teresa was opened, and the impression upon the door was found to correspond exactly with the hand of the deceased. “The door, with the burnt print of the hand,” adds Mgr. Segur, “is preserved with great veneration in the convent. The Mother Abbess, witness of the fact, was pleased to show it to me herself.”
Wishing to assure myself of the perfect exactitude of these details related by Mgr. Segur, I wrote to the Bishop of Foligno. He replied by giving me a circumstantial account, perfectly according with the above, and accompanied by a facsimile of the miraculous mark. This narrative explains the cause of the terrible expiation to which Sister Teresa was subjected. After saying, “Ah! how much I suffer! Oh! Dio, che peno tanto!” she added that it was for having, in the exercise of her office of Sacristan, transgressed in some points the strict poverty prescribed by the Rule.
Thus we see Divine Justice punishes most severely the slightest faults. It may here be asked why the apparition, when making the mysterious mark on the door, called it a proof of the mercy of God. It is because, in giving us a warning of this kind, God shows us a great mercy. He urges us, in the most efficacious manner, to assist the poor suffering souls, and to be vigilant in our own regard.
Whilst speaking of this subject, we may relate a similar instance which happened in Spain, and which caused great rumors in that country. Ferdinand of Castile thus relates it in his History of Saint Dominic. (Malvenda, Annal. Ord. Prӕdic.) A Dominican Religious led a holy life in his convent at Zamora, a city of the kingdom of Leon. He was united in the bonds of a pious friendship with a Franciscan brother like himself, a man of great virtue. One day, when conversing together on the subject of eternity, they mutually promised that, if it pleased God, the first who died should appear to the other to give him some salutary advice.
The Friar Minor died first; and one day, whilst his friend, the son of St. Dominic, was preparing the refectory, he appeared to him. After saluting him with respect and affection, he told him that he was among the elect, but that before he could be admitted to the enjoyment of eternal happiness, there remained much to be suffered for an infinity of small faults of which he had not sufficiently repented during his life.
“Nothing on Earth,” he added, “can give an idea of the torments which I endure, and of which God permits me to give you a visible proof.” Saying these words, he placed his right hand upon the table of the refectory, and the mark remained impressed upon the charred wood as though it had been applied with a red-hot iron.
Such was the lesson which the fervent deceased Franciscan gave to his living friend. It was of profit not only to him, but to all those who came to see the burnt mark, so profoundly significant; for this table became an object of piety which people came from all parts to look upon. “It is still to be seen at Zamora” says Father Rossignoli, (Merveilles, 28) “at the time at which I write [towards the middle of the 19th century]; to protect it the spot has been covered with a sheet of copper.” It was preserved until the end of the last century. Since then it has been destroyed, during the revolutions, like so many other religious memorials.
In the Life of Blessed Stephana Quinziani, a Dominican nun, mention is made of a sister named Paula, who died at the convent of Mantua, after a long life of eminent virtue. The body was carried to the church and placed uncovered in the choir among the Religious. During the recitation of the Divine Office, Blessed Quinziani knelt near the bier, recommending to God the deceased Religious, who had been very dear to her. Suddenly the latter let fall the crucifix, which had been placed between her hands, extended the left arm, seized the right hand of Blessed Quinziani, and pressed it tightly, as a poor patient in the burning heat of fever would ask the assistance of a friend. She held it for a considerable time, and then, withdrawing her arm, sank back lifeless into the coffin.
The Religious, astonished at this prodigy, asked an explanation of the Blessed Sister. She replied that, whilst the deceased pressed her hand, an inarticulate voice had spoken in the depths of her heart, saying, “Help me, dear sister, succor me in the frightful torture which I endure. Oh! if you knew the severity of the Judge who desires all our love, what atonement He demands for the least faults before admitting us to the reward! If you knew how pure we must be to see the face of God! Pray! pray, and do penance for me, who can no longer help myself.”
Blessed Quinziani, touched by the prayer of her friend, imposed upon herself all kinds of penances and good works, until she learned, by a new revelation, that Sister Paula was delivered from her sufferings, and had entered into eternal glory.
I Don't Care How Holy You Think You Are... Pay You Must!
This severity of Divine Justice in regard to the most fervent souls is explained by the infinite Sanctity of God, who discovers stains in that which appears to us most pure. The Annals of the Order of St. Francis speak of a Religious whose eminent sanctity had caused him to be surnamed Angelicus (Chronique des Frères Min., p. 2, I, 4. c. 8; cf. Rossignoli). He died in odor of sanctity at the monastery of the Friars Minors in Paris, and one his brethren in religion, a doctor in theology, persuaded that, after a life so perfect, he had gone directly to Heaven, and that he stood in no need of prayers, omitted to celebrate for him the three Masses of obligation which, according to the custom of the Institute, were offered for each departed member.
After a few days, whilst he was walking and meditating in a retired spot, the deceased appeared before him enveloped in flames, and said to him, in a mournful voice:
“Dear master, I beg of you have pity upon me!”
“What! Brother Angelicus, do you need my assistance?”
“I am detained in the fires of Purgatory, awaiting the fruit of the Holy Sacrifice which you should have offered three times for me.”
“Beloved brother, I thought you were already in possession of eternal glory. After a life so fervent and exemplary as yours had been, I could not imagine that there remained any pain to be suffered.”
“Alas! alas!” replied the departed, “no one can believe with what severity God judges and punishes His creatures. His infinite Sanctity discovers in our best actions defective spots, imperfections which displease Him. He requires us to give an account even to the last farthing."
Better Pay Now Than Later!
The natural conclusion which follows from these terrible manifestations of Divine Justice is that we must hasten to make satisfaction for our sins in this life. Surely a criminal condemned to be burned alive would not refuse a lighter pain, if the choice were left to him. Suppose it should be said to him, You can deliver yourself from that terrible punishment on condition that for three days you fast on bread and water; should he refuse it? He who should prefer the torture of fire to that of a light penance, would he not be regarded as one who had lost his reason?
Emperor Maurice Pays Now!
Now, to prefer the fire of Purgatory to Christian penance is an infinitely greater folly. The Emperor Maurice under stood this and acted wisely. History relates that this prince, notwithstanding his good qualities, which had endeared him to St. Gregory the Great, towards the close of his reign committed a grave fault, and atoned for it by an exemplary repentance. (Berault, Histoire Eccles., année 602).
Having lost a battle against the Khan or King of the Avari, he refused to pay the ransom of the prisoners, although he was asked but the sixth part of a gold coin. This mean refusal by Maurice put the barbarous conqueror into such a violent rage, that he ordered the immediate massacre of all the Roman soldiers, to the number of twelve thousand.
Then the Emperor acknowledged his fault, and felt it so keenly, that he sent money and candles to the principal churches and monasteries, to beg that God would be pleased to punish him in this life rather than in the next.
These prayers were heard. In the year 602, wishing to oblige his troops to pass the winter on the opposite bank of the Danube, a mutiny arose among them; they drove away their general, and proclaimed as Emperor, Phocas, a simple centurion. The imperial city followed the example of the army. Maurice was obliged to flee in the night, after having divested himself of all marks of royalty, which now served but to increase his fears.
Nevertheless, he was recognized. He was taken, together with his wife, five of his sons, and three daughters that is to say, his entire family with the exception of his eldest son, whom he had already caused to be crowned Emperor, and who, thus far, had escaped the tyrant.
Maurice and his five sons were unmercifully slaughtered near Chalcedon. The carnage began with the youngest of the princes, who was put to death before the eyes of the unfortunate father, without uttering a word of complaint. Remembering the pains of the other world, he esteemed himself happy to suffer in the present life, and throughout the massacre he spoke no other words than those of the Psalmist: "Thou art just, O Lord, and Thy judgment is right!" (Psalm 118).
Is it difficult to understand the gratitude of the holy souls? If you had ransomed a captive from the galling yoke of slavery, would he be grateful for such a benefit? When the Emperor Charles V took possession of the city of Tunis, he restored to liberty twenty thousand Christian slaves, who, before his victory, had been reduced to a most deplorable condition. Penetrated with gratitude towards their benefactor, they surrounded him, blessing him and singing his praises. If you gave health to a person dangerously sick, fortune to an unhappy creature who had been reduced to poverty, would you not receive in return their gratitude and their benedictions? And those souls, so holy and so good, will they conduct themselves differently with regard to their benefactors? those poor souls whose captivity, poverty, suffering, and necessity far surpass all captivity, indigence, or malady to be found upon earth. They come especially at the hour of death, to protect them, to accompany and introduce them into the happy abode of their eternal rest.
St. Margaret of Cortona had a great devotion to the holy souls. It is related, in her biography that, at her death, she saw a multitude of souls, that she had delivered from Purgatory, form in procession to escort her to Paradise. God revealed this favor granted to Margaret of Cortona through the medium of a holy person in the city of Castello. This servant of God, wrapt in ecstasy at the moment when Margaret departed this life, saw her soul in the midst of this brilliant cortege, and on recovering from her rapture she related to her friends what our Lord had been pleased to manifest to her.
St. Philip Neri, founder of the Congregation of the Oratory, had a most tender devotion towards the holy souls in Purgatory, and he felt a particular attraction to pray for those who had been under his spiritual direction. He considered himself under greatest obligation to them, because Divine Providence had confided them in a special manner to his zeal. It seemed to him that his charity ought to follow them until their final purification was accomplished, and they were admitted into the glory of Heaven. He confessed that many of his spiritual children appeared to him after their death, either to ask his prayers or to return him thanks for what he had already done for them. He declared also that by this means he had obtained more than one grace.
After his death, a Franciscan Father of great piety was praying in the chapel in which the venerated remains of the saint had been deposited, when the latter appeared to him surrounded with glory and in the midst of a brilliant train. Encouraged by the air of amiable familiarity with which the saint regarded him, he ventured to ask the meaning of that bright band of blessed spirits which accompanied him. The saint replied that they were the souls of those whose spiritual guide he had been during life, and whom by his suffrages he had delivered from Purgatory. He added that they had come to meet him on his departure from this world, that in their turn they might introduce him into the Heavenly Jerusalem.
“There is no doubt,” says the devout Father Rossignoli, “that on their entrance into eternal glory the first favors which they ask of the Divine Mercy are for those who have opened to them the gates of Paradise, and they will never fail to pray for their benefactors, whenever they see them in any necessity or danger. In reverses of fortune, sicknesses, and accidents of all kinds they will be their protectors. Their zeal will increase when the interests of the soul are at stake; they will powerfully assist them to vanquish temptation, to practice good works, to die a Christian death, and to escape the sufferings of the other life.”
Cardinal Baronius, whose authority as historian is well known, relates that a person who was very charitable to wards the holy souls was afflicted with a terrible agony when on her deathbed. The spirit of darkness suggested to her the most gloomy fears, and veiled from her sight the sweet light of Divine Mercy, endeavoring to drive her into despair; when suddenly Heaven seemed to open before her eyes, and she saw thousands of defenders fly to her aid, reanimating her courage, and promising her the victory. Comforted by this unexpected assistance, she asked who were her defenders? “We are,” they replied, “the souls which you have delivered from Purgatory; we, in our turn, come to help you, and very soon we shall conduct you to Paradise.” At these consoling words the sick person felt that her fears were changed into the sweetest confidence. A short time afterwards she tranquilly expired, her countenance serene and her heart filled with joy.
In the year 1629, at Dole, in Franche-Compte, Hugette Roy, a woman of the middle station in life, was confined to bed by inflammation of the lungs, which endangered her life. The physician considering it necessary to bleed her, in his awkwardness cut an artery in the left arm, which speedily reduced her to the last extremity.
The following day, at dawn, she saw enter into her chamber a young girl clad in white, of most modest deportment, who asked her if she was willing to accept her services and to be nursed by her. The sick person, delighted with the offer, answered that nothing could give her greater pleasure; and instantly the stranger lighted the fire, approached Hugette, and placed her gently on the bed, and then continued to watch by her and serve her like the most devoted infirmarian.
But, oh wonder! Contact with the hands, of the unknown one, was so beneficial that the dying person found herself greatly relieved, and soon felt entirely cured. Then she would absolutely know who the amiable stranger was, and called her that she might question her; but she withdrew, saying that she would return in the evening. In the meantime astonishment and curiosity were extreme when the tidings of this sudden cure spread abroad, and nothing was spoken of in Dole but this mysterious event.
When the unknown visitor returned in the evening, she said to Hugette, without trying to disguise herself, “Know,my dear niece, that I am your aunt, Leonarde Collin, who died seventeen years ago, leaving you an inheritance from her little property. Thanks to the Divine bounty, I am saved, and it was the Blessed Virgin, to whom I had great who obtained for me this happiness. Without her I was lost. When death suddenly struck me, I was in the state of mortal sin, but the merciful Virgin Mary obtained for me perfect contrition, and thus saved me from eternal damnation. Since that time I am in Purgatory, and our Lord permits me to finish my expiation, by serving you during fourteen days. At the end of that time I shall be delivered from my pains if, on your part, you have the charity to make three pilgrimages for me to three holy sanctuaries of the Blessed Virgin.”
Hugette, astonished, knew not what to think of this language. Not being able to believe the reality of the apparition, and fearing some snare of the evil spirit, she consulted her confessor, Father Antony Roland, a Jesuit, who advised her to threaten the unknown person with the exorcisms of the Church. This menace did not disturb her; she replied tranquilly, that she feared not the prayers of the Church. “They have no power,” she added, “but against the demons and the damned; none whatever against predestined souls, who are in the grace of God as I am.”
Hugette was not yet convinced. “How,” said she to the young girl, “can you be my Aunt Leonarde? She was old and worn, disagreeable and whimsical, whilst you are young, gentle, and obliging?” “Ah, my dear niece,” replied the apparition, “my real body is in the tomb, where it will remain until the resurrection; this one which you see is one miraculously formed from the air, to allow me to speak to you, to serve you, and obtain your suffrages. As regards my irritable disposition, seventeen years of terrible suffering have taught me patience and meekness. Know, also, that in Purgatory we are confirmed in grace, marked with the seal of the elect, and therefore exempt from all vice.”
After such explanation, incredulity was impossible. Hugette, at once astounded and grateful, received with joy the services rendered during the fourteen days designated. She alone could see and hear the deceased, who came at certain hours and then disappeared. As soon as her strength permitted, she devoutly made the pilgrimages which were asked of her.
At the end of fourteen days the apparition ceased. Leonarde appeared for the last time to announce her deliverance; she was then in a state of incomparable glory, brilliant as a star, and her countenance bore an expression f the most perfect beatitude. In her turn, she testified her gratitude to her niece, promised to pray for her and her whole family, and advised her ever to remember, amid the sufferings of this life, the end of our existence, which is the salvation of our soul.
The historian, Bzovius, in his History of Poland, under the date 1598, relates a miraculous event which happened to the Venerable Stanislaus Chocosca, one of the luminaries of the Order of St. Dominic, in Poland (Cf. Rossignoli, Merveilles, 67). One day, whilst this Religious, full of charity for the departed, recited the Rosary, he saw appear near him a soul all enveloped in flames. As she besought him to have pity on her, and to alleviate the intolerable sufferings, which the fire of Divine Justice caused her to endure, the holy man asked her if this fire was more painful than that of Earth? “Ah!” she cried, “all the fires of Earth compared to that of Purgatory are like a refreshing breeze” (Ignes alii levis aurӕ locum tenent si cum ardore meo comparentur).
Stanislaus could scarcely believe it. “I wish,” he said, “to have a proof. If God will permit, for your relief, and for the good of my soul, I consent to suffer a part of your pains.”
“Alas! You could not do this! Know that no human being could endure such torment and live. However, God will permit you to feel it in a light degree. Stretch forth your hand.”
Chocosca extended his hand, and the departed let fall a drop of sweat, or at least of a liquid which resembled it. At the same instant the Religious uttered a piercing cry and fell fainting to the ground, so frightfully intense was the pain. His brethren ran to the spot and hastened to give him the assistance which his condition required. When restored to consciousness, he related the terrible event which had occurred, and of which they had a visible proof.
“Ah! My dear Fathers,” he continued, “if we knew the severity of the Divine chastisements, we should never commit sin, nor should we cease to do penance in this life, in order to avoid expiation in the next.”
Stanislaus was confined to his bed from that moment. He lived one year longer, in the most cruel suffering, caused by his terrible wound; then, for the last time, exhorting his brethren to remember the rigors of Divine Justice, he peacefully slept in the Lord. The historian adds that this example reanimated fervor in all the monasteries of that province.
We read of a similar fact in the Life of Blessed Catherine de Racconigi. (Diario Dominicano, September 4th; cf. Rossignoli, Merveilles, 63).
One day, when suffering so intensely as to need the assistance of her sisters in religion, she thought of the souls in Purgatory, and, to temper the heat of their flames, she offered to God the burning heat of her fever. At that moment, being rapt in ecstasy, she was conducted in spirit into the place of expiation, where she saw the flames and braziers in which the souls are purified in great torture. Whilst contemplating, full of compassion, this piteous spectacle, she heard a voice which said to her, “Catherine, in order that you may procure most efficaciously the deliverance of these souls, you shall participate, in some manner, in their torments.”
At that same moment a spark detached itself from the fire and settled upon her left cheek. The sisters present, saw the spark distinctly, and saw also with horror that the face of the sick person was frightfully swollen. She lived several days in this state, and, as Blessed Catherine told her sisters, the suffering caused by that simple spark far surpassed all that she had previously endured in the most painful maladies. Until that time Catherine had always devoted herself with charity to the relief of the souls in Purgatory, but from thenceforward she redoubled her fervor and austerities to hasten their deliverance, because she knew by experience the great need in which they stood of her assistance.
There is in Purgatory, as in Hell, a double pain the pain of loss and the pain of sense.
The pain of loss consists in being deprived for a time of the sight of God, who is the Supreme Good, the beatific end for which our souls are made, as our eyes are for the light. It is a moral thirst which torments the soul. The pain of sense, or sensible suffering, is the same as that which we experience in our flesh. Its nature is not defined by faith, but it is the common opinion of the Doctors that it consists in fire and other species of suffering. The fire of Purgatory, say the Fathers, is that of Hell, of which the rich glutton speaks, Quia crucior in hac flamma, “I suffer,” he says, “cruelly in these flames.”
As regards the severity of these pains, since they are inflicted by Infinite Justice, they are proportioned to the nature, gravity, and number of sins committed. Each one receives according to his works, each one must acquit himself of the debts with which he sees himself charged before God. Now these debts differ greatly in quality. Some, which have accumulated during a long life, have reached the ten thousand talents of the Gospel, that is to say, millions and ten of millions; whilst others are reduced to a few farthings, the trifling remainder of that which has not been expiated on Earth. It follows from this that the souls undergo various kinds of sufferings, that there are innumerable degrees of expiation in Purgatory, and that some are incomparably more severe than others. However, speaking in general, the doctors agree in saying that the pains are most excruciating. The same fire, says St. Gregory, torments the damned and purifies the elect. (In Ps. 37). “Almost all theologians,” says Bellarmine, “teach that the reprobate and the souls in Purgatory suffer the action of the same fire.” (De Purgat., i. 2, cap. 6).
It must be held as certain, writes the same Bellarmine, that there is no proportion between the sufferings of this life and those of Purgatory. (De Gemitu Columbӕ, lib. 2, cap. 9). St. Augustine declares precisely the same in his commentary on Psalm 31: Lord, he says, chastise me not in Thy wrath, and reject me not with those to whom Thou hast said, Go into eternal fire; but chastise me not in Thine anger: purify me rather in such manner in this life that I need not to be purified by fire in the next. Yes, I fear that fire which has been enkindled for those who will be saved, it is true, but yet so as by fire. (1 Cor. 3:15). They will be saved, no doubt, after the trial of fire, but that trial will be terrible, that torment will be more intolerable than all the most excruciating sufferings in this world.
Behold what St. Augustine says, and what St. Gregory, Venerable Bede, St. Anselm, and St. Bernard have said after him. St. Thomas goes even further; he maintains that the least pain of Purgatory surpasses all the sufferings of this life, whatsoever they may be. Pain, says Blessed Peter Lefevre, is deeper and more acute when it directly attacks the soul and the mind than when it reaches them only through the medium of the body. The mortal body, and the senses themselves, absorb and intercept a part of the physical, and even of moral pain. (Sentim. du Blessed Lefèvre sur la Purg. Mess, du S. Cœur, Nov. 1873).
The author of the Imitation of Christ explains this doctrine by a practical and striking sentence. Speaking in general of the sufferings of the other life: There, he says, one hour of torment will be more terrible than a hundred years of rigorous penance done here. (lib. 1, chap. 24).
To prove this doctrine, it is affirmed that all the souls in Purgatory suffer the pain of loss. Now this pain surpasses the keenest suffering. But to speak of the pain of sense alone, we know what a terrible thing fire is, how feeble so ever the flame which we enkindle in our houses, and what pain is caused by the slightest burn; how much more terrible must be that fire which is fed neither with wood nor oil, and which can never be extinguished! Enkindled by the breath of God to be the instrument of His Justice, it seizes upon souls and torments them with incomparable activity. That which we have already said, and what we have still to say, is well qualified to inspire us with that salutary fear recommended to us by Jesus Christ,
But, lest certain readers, forgetful of the Christian confidence which must temper our fears, should give themselves up to excessive fear, let us modify the preceding doctrine by that another Doctor of the Church, St. Francis of Sales, who presents the sufferings of Purgatory soothed by the consolations which accompany them.
“We may,” says this holy and amiable director of souls, “draw from the thought of Purgatory more consolation than apprehension.” The greater part of those who dread Purgatory so much think more of their own interests than of the interests of God s glory; this proceeds from the fact that they think only of the sufferings without considering the peace and happiness which are there enjoyed by the holy souls. It is true that the torments are so great that the most acute sufferings of this life bear no comparison to them; but the interior satisfaction which is there enjoyed is such that no prosperity nor contentment upon Earth can equal it.
The souls are in a continual union with God. They are perfectly resigned to His will, or rather their will is so transformed into that of God that they cannot will but what God wills; so that if Paradise were to be opened to them, they would precipitate themselves into Hell rather than appear before God with the stains with which they see themselves disfigured. They purify themselves willingly and lovingly, because such is the Divine good pleasure.
They wish to be there in the state wherein God pleases, and as long as it shall please Him. They cannot sin, nor can they experience the least movement of impatience, nor commit the slightest imperfection. They love God more than they love themselves, and more than all things else; they love Him with a perfect, pure, and disinterested love. They are consoled by angels. They are assured of their eternal salvation, and filled with a hope that can never be disappointed in its expectations. Their bitterest anguish is soothed by a certain profound peace. It is a species of Hell as regards the suffering; it is a Paradise as regards the delight infused into their hearts by charity —Charity, stronger than death and more powerful than Hell; Charity, whose lamps are all fire and flame. (Cant. 8). “Happy state!” continues the holy Bishop, “more desirable than appalling, since its flames are flames of love and charity.” (Esprit de St. Franҫois de Sales, chap. 9, p. 16).
Such are the teachings of the doctors, from which it follows that if the pains of Purgatory are rigorous, they are not without consolation. When imposing His cross upon us in this life, God pours upon it the unction of His grace, and in purifying the souls in Purgatory like gold in the crucible, He tempers their flames by ineffable consolations. We must not lose sight of this consoling element, this bright side of the often gloomy picture.
So while Purgatory is a place of terrible, inexpressible suffering, it is also a place of awesome and inexpressible peace and joy at being able to repay our debts and be properly purified from our sins and imperfections, so that the soul does not look "out of place" in Heaven when it finally gets there!