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(The following article was originally written by a young woman living in the seclusion of the Alps and, then, was translated from German into English by Rev. Bernard Doyls, S.V.D. It was first published in 1955 with the Imprimatur of Cardinal Stritch.)

PURGATORY IS A PLACE OF MERCY

"I am not afraid of Purgatory. I know that I am not worthy to enter that place of expiation with those holy souls. But I know, also, that the fire of Love is more sanctifying than the fire of Purgatory." (St. Therese, Little Flower of Jesus)

Purgatory is a place of mercy and of goodness. Never would I have imagined that God is so infinitely good to the suffering souls. It is His tender mercy toward them which is, and always was, the greatest cause of astonishment to me. Nowhere have I seen merciful love pour itself out so freely as there. In that cleansing fire, I have found the goodness and mercy of God, as my soul sought it.

It seems to me as if the soul asks God, "May I live once more? Can I yet make amends?" Then God says, "Yes, you are now entering the novitiate of Heaven. You must suffer now and expiate all your sins. Thereby you will be made pure and worthy to enter My Kingdom."

Oh, with what gratitude does the soul accept its Purgatory! It rejoices because God is so good as to send it to such a place of purification. How much does the soul thank the Precious Blood, through which Purgatory has been merited! Truly it is a place of redemption, where souls have gathered at the brink of the abyss; it is the last place of refuge – an invention of Merciful Love.

Purgatory is also a place of realization. There souls awake from sleep and see, in a split second, how lovable and good and great God is. They realize then how very often they have spurned His tremendous love and infinite mercy, and how they have thereby grieved their Savior. They see the great benefits which have been bestowed on them in life; they see all the squandered graces and lost opportunities of merit; they see also the bitter sufferings of Jesus for whom they showed so little affection while on earth.

All the goodness of God is revealed to them, and they see the injustice with which they have repaid Him and His merciful love. There burns the fire which purifies the soul; there unutterable sufferings and pain, united to the merits of the Most Precious Blood, is the only expiation for sin.

I always think this way: The Poor Souls suffer just because of the goodness and love of God. The greater this merciful love had been toward them on earth, so much greater pain do they suffer in Purgatory.

In eternity these souls are certainly no longer as obstinate as they were in life. The goodness of God, the merciful love of God, and the rays of His sublimity soften them. God is not severe, not cruel toward the Poor Souls, as many imagine Him to be. No, He is good, full of compassion and love for them. And each soul in Purgatory fully realizes that He is so very good.

It seems as if I hear throughout the whole realm of Purgatory, "Oh, how good. How very good is God! Would that we had known Him! For if we had, we would surely have better understood Him, and would have wished to love Him more."

This knowledge of the Divine Love, and the realization of its own obduracy, affects the soul deeply, and constitutes its greatest torment. I experience this even in my own heart, and it is just this striking contrast which causes such great suffering.

But it is also a blessed suffering! It involves no despair, for the Poor Souls know for certain that they are not lost. They know that God is merciful, and that He will take them to Heaven, where all their sinfulness is entirely forgiven and forgotten; where He will forever reward the least good they have done in this life. The power of this love is so great that the Poor Souls can endure it only with pangs of remorse. But no matter how much they may suffer from that repentance, they are still happy; they are free from all worry and uncertainty; they fully realize that they are about to enter into everlasting light.
 

Purgatory Purifies

In Purgatory I have also learned gratitude toward the Precious Blood; for everything there is bedewed and vivified with It, and I witness the great benefits derived through It. I truly believe that the Poor Souls are consoled only by this Most Precious Blood, and they render It the most beautiful veneration imaginable.

It is there I experience so much the consolations of my Savior. I see how Jesus once more recovers from these souls what they have wasted and lost. Many great and ugly gaps must be refilled by suffering. Each soul appears to me like a beautiful mosaic made by God, with a marvelous divine art, and consisting of many little stones. All the graces which we possess, God has worked into this masterpiece.

If we destroy or lose these tiny mosaic stones, if we do not continually endeavor to beautify this mosaic in our souls, we cause such ugly gaps. In Purgatory this picture must be completed; everything that had been lost must be restored, so that nothing is wanting to the soul’s original splendor.

God Himself – the wonderful God – would be outraged if all were not restored. The souls which enter Heaven must lack nothing. Otherwise something would be lacking to God, and His happiness would consequently no longer be perfect. We have all been called to that vocation – to become the splendor of God. Since we belong entirely to God, we are His members. It is a wonderful mystery which I cannot describe, but only contemplate.

This is the very reason why there is a Purgatory, or, as I would like to call it, a workshop of reparation. Yes, it is out of love and mercy that God leaves the souls in Purgatory. If they did not have to be radiantly pure in order to enter Heaven, they would never, never through all eternity, possess that plentitude of happiness which is theirs after such a purification.

They have then a deeper understanding of God, and enjoy Him more throughout all eternity. Oh, the longest Purgatory is as nothing compared to the joys which these poor, suffering souls justly expect in Heaven. No soul in Purgatory is without consolation; no matter how deeply they are buried in fire, the souls in Purgatory are not without consolation. The certainty that they suffer only to be everlastingly happy is their greatest consolation.
 

Surprises in Purgatory

But not all souls endure equal pain in Purgatory. Many believe that those who have sinned most are kept for the longest time from the Beatific Vision. This may indeed be true, in many cases, but it is not always so.

In Purgatory I have learned not to pass judgment on such matters any longer. God has an infinite number of reasons for pardon, and it is a wonderful experience to discover them in Purgatory. In eternity it is often so very different from what we think! Here we are not at all capable of forming correct convictions, and we are not at all worthy to pass judgment.

Oh, how different are the decisions of this Divine Judge compared to our own! Often we think, "This soul is surely lost, or at least deeply buried in Purgatory," – and for a long time this particular soul already has been in Heaven. Or again we think, "This soul is surely in Heaven – it was so holy," – but is till in Purgatory.

Yes, God alone knows the hearts of His creatures. God alone judges correctly. Yet, God is wondrously gentle and kind in His judgments, while we, on the contrary, are so hard and blunt. The Lord is unjust to no one. As Judge He is so tender, so loving, so righteous! Everyone who is of Good Will is dealt with most kindly.

The souls in Purgatory are enveloped, as it were, in a thick shroud into which they have wound themselves, while living here on earth. It is the garment of their own egoism. Their main care in this life was themselves, just as the world’s highest ideal is self-glorification and honor. It is this which fashions that coarse garment, through which the Light of God can hardly penetrate.

Many souls on earth do not seriously ask themselves the question, "Does my way of living please God?" Instead they think, without anxiety, that their life is upright and most praiseworthy, but they are mistaken.

Indeed, there are even people who gladly go to church, who pray and perform works of mercy – but a thin hard crust forms around their souls. They think that everything they undertake is very pleasing to God. But they never truly seek God’s wishes. They perform all their actions without love, without a holy fear of God. They dull their conscience through the fulfillment of external duties only. If someone calls their attention to a fault, immediately they endeavor to pardon and justify their actions. There are many such souls in Purgatory; these are even now not entirely susceptible to the truth. It comes only gradually, so that only after a long while does the grace of God break through the shroud, and arouse the soul from sleep.
 

True Wisdom and Piety

There are also souls in Purgatory who had great wisdom and learning in this life; who were famous; who did much good for their fellow men; who upheld all righteousness and justice. However, they performed these actions because of ambitious motives. They were entirely permeated with the spirit of the world, living a selfish and independent life, while completely ignoring their Lord and Creator.

These souls enter eternity with the least knowledge of God. On earth they were well-versed in everything; now they find themselves in the greatest quandaries. Formerly they were so highly educated, and now they know nothing, for God reveals the truly great things only to the humble.

Such "wise" men often have shallow souls. They frequently remain a long time in Purgatory – until they have been liberated from their ego; until they are aroused from their slumber; until they lose all concern for themselves. They lie dead and lifeless in their shroud, until Light Everlasting finally penetrates through their windings to the interior. These are the most helpless souls, for they have so much of the world and self in them.

There are in Purgatory wise men who stood in great repute among worldlings, but now they find themselves greatly perplexed. For there, the smallest and poorest child is often wiser than they. Again this truth comes to light, "God reveals great things to the humble."

In His judgment, the Lord is infinitely merciful. He purifies and preserves immaculate the truly good qualities which the soul possesses, in order to reward the soul everlastingly for them. And when so many, many faults and failings still occur, God does not allow the good to be lost, for He esteems every act, even the smallest offering, very highly. Ah, yes, if only we could recognize, as the Lord does, all the good which He has bestowed on us!

Souls who are pious and devout on earth, on account of the esteem they thereby received from men, suffer the pains of Purgatory for a long time. I behold many souls in Purgatory whose desire to become Saints was motivated by self-will and self-love, or who devoted themselves assiduously to the interior life in order to please their confessors and spiritual directors; whose only motive was not God, but their own glorification, their own egoism.

Yes, these were souls who practiced piety, but who were not humble; who wanted to see no faults in themselves; who self-confidently thought that their way of living was the best possible – souls who performed deeds of penance in proud imitation of the Saints, not in humility and repentance. Such imitation appears real, but God cannot be deceived. These are souls who had a proud desire to become holy; who continually looked at the number of their mortifications and sacrifices as in a mirror. They could do great things, but neglected the small, important duties.

Such souls are indeed deep in the flames of Purgatory — their whole life was one prolonged deception. Oh, how much the eternal Truth now burns and consumes them! God is not pleased with them, and the souls experience this in great torment and anguish. But they still need these excruciating pains before they can become repentant as God wants them to be; before their proud self can be humbled. As soon as the dispositions of repentance and humility are aroused, these souls will be thoroughly cleansed, until the time when God’s grace will lead them out into the clear air of self-knowledge, where they will no longer love themselves but Jesus.
 

Humility Important

No longer do I seek anything great in souls, but only littleness and simplicity. I myself have learned, more and more, to be very small and simple. Oh, there are even more souls in Purgatory who have deceived others. Alas, no one prays for them because they were considered to be pious here on earth. Oh, these miserable ones! Jesus has whispered to me that I am to pray for these, since others believe them to be in Heaven. These souls, who are so self-satisfied, must inevitably sense the fire of humilitation.

Humble piety – this is so often lacking, and is so rare – a truly sincere piety. What does it profit us if we know everything about Heaven and earth, and do not know the most important thing: that we are nothing and can do nothing; that our actions are performed only through God? What does a storehouse of knowledge profit us, if we do not possess the wisdom of little children? Without this wisdom, we are unable to recognize the Merciful Love; for is he not poor who knows nothing of mercy?

The building built entirely upon self collapses, because it was not constructed on a foundation of humility. Humility is the basis for all graces, yes, for our entire life. If this wisdom is lacking, then all other knowledge and holiness amounts to nothing; then it falls to pieces during the first windstorm. Where there is humility, there is weakness, and there is also the power of God. Where there is contrition, there is mercy.

(We thank Merciful Love in Fresno, California for authorizing us to reprint the above article, which appeared in their Divine Love, Issue No. 87, 4th Quarter, 1981.)



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