Purgatory Explained, Part 1, Chapter 29

detail from an antique holy card of Saint Bridget of Sweden, artist unknownArticle

Matter of Expiation – Worldliness – Saint Bridget – The Young Person – The Soldier – Blessed Mary Villani and the Worldly Lady

Souls that allow themselves to be dazzled by the vanities of the world, even if they have the good fortune to escape damnation, will have to undergo terrible punishment. Let us open the Revelations of Saint Bridget, which are held in such esteem by the Church. We read there in Book six that the saint saw herself transported in spirit into Purgatory, and that, among others, she saw there a young lady of high birth who had formerly abandoned herself to the luxury and vanities of the world. This unfortunate soul related to her the history of her life, and the sad state in which she then was. “Happily,” said she, “before death I confessed my sins in such dispositions as to escape Hell, but now I suffer here to expiate the worldly life that my mother did not prevent me from leading! Alas!” she added, with a sigh, “this head, which loved to be adorned, and which sought to draw the attention of others, is now devoured with flames within and without, and these flames are so violent that every moment it seems to me that I must die. These shoulders, these arms, which I loved to see admired, are cruelly bound in chains of red hot iron. These feet, formerly trained for the dance, are now surrounded with vipers that tear them with their fangs and soil them with their filthy slime; all these members which I have adorned with jewels, flowers, and divers other ornaments, are now a prey to the most horrible torture. O mother, mother!” she cried, “how culpable have you been in my regard! It was you who, by a fatal indulgence, encouraged my taste for display and extravagant expense; it was you that took me to theaters, parties, and balls, and to those worldly assemblies which are the ruin of souls…. If I have not incurred eternal damnation, it was because a special grace of God’s mercy touched my heart with sincere repentance. I made a good Confession, and thus I have been delivered from Hell, yet only to see myself precipitated into the most horrible torments of Purgatory.” We have remarked already that what is said of the tortured members must not be taken literally, because the soul is separated from the body; but God, supplying the want of corporal organs, makes the soul experience such sensations as have just been described. The biographer of the saint tells us that she related this vision to a cousin of the deceased, who was likewise given to the illusions of worldly vanity. The cousin was so struck that she renounced the luxuries and dangerous amusements of the world, and devoted the remainder of her life to penance in an austere religious order.

The same Saint Bridget, during another ecstasy, beheld the judgment of a soldier who had just died. He had lived in the vices too common in his profession, and would have been condemned to Hell had not the Blessed Virgin, whom he had always honored, preserved him from that misfortune by obtaining for him the grace of a sincere repentance. The saint saw him appear before the judgment seat of God and condemned to a long Purgatory for the sins of all kinds which he had committed. “The punishment of the eyes,” said the Judge, “shall be to contemplate the most frightful objects; that of the tongue, to be pierced with pointed needles and tormented with thirst; that of the touch, to be plunged in an ocean of fire.” Then the Holy Virgin interceded, and obtained some mitigation of the rigor of the sentence.

Let us relate still another example of the chastisements reserved for worldlings in Purgatory, when they have not, like the rich glutton of the Gospel, been buried in Hell.

Blessed Mary Villani, a Dominican Religious, had a lively devotion to the holy souls, and it often happened that they appeared to her, either to thank her or to beg the assistance of her prayers and good works. One day, whilst praying for them with great fervor, she was transported in spirit to their prison of expiation. Among the souls that suffered there she saw one more cruelly tormented than the others, in the midst of flames which entirely enveloped her. Touched with compassion, the servant of God interrogated the soul. “I have been here,” she replied, “for a very long time, punished for my vanity and my scandalous extravagance. Thus far I have not received the least alleviation. Whilst I was upon earth, being wholly occupied with my toilet, my pleasures, and worldly amusements, I thought very little of my duties as a Christian, and fulfilled them only with great reluctance, and in a slothful manner. My only serious thought was to further the worldly interests of my family. See now how I am punished: they bestow not so much as a passing thought upon me: my parents, my children, those friends with whom I was most intimate – all have forgotten me.”

Mary Villani begged this soul to allow her to feel something of what she suffered, and immediately it appeared as though a finger of fire touched her forehead, and the pain which she experienced instantly caused her ecstasy to cease. The mark remained, and so deep and painful was it that two months afterwards it was still to be seen, and caused the holy Religious most terrible suffering. She endured this pain in the spirit of penance, for the relief of the soul that had appeared to her, and some time later the same soul came to announce her deliverance.

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