Purgatory Explained, Part 1, Chapter 33

painting of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the church of Heiligenkreuz Abbey near Baden bei Wien, Lower Austria, by Georg Andreas WasshuberArticle

Matter of Expiation – Tepidity – Saint Bernard and the Religious of Citeaux – Venerable Mother Agnes and Sister de Haut Villars – Father Surin and the Religious of Loudun

Good Christians, Priests, and Religious, who wish to serve God with their whole hearts, must avoid the rock of tepidity and negligence. God will be served with fervor; those who are tepid and careless excite His disgust; He even goes so far as to threaten with His malediction those who perform holy actions in a careless manner – that is to say, He will severely punish in Purgatory all negligence in His service.

Among the disciples of Saint Bernard, who perfumed the celebrated valley of Clairvaux with the odor of their sanctity, there was one whose negligence sadly contrasted with the fervor of his brethren. Notwithstanding his double character of Priest and of Religious, he allowed himself to sink into a deplorable state of tepidity. The moment of death arrived, and he was summoned before God without having given any token of amendment.

Whilst the Mass of Requiem was being celebrated, a venerable Religious of uncommon virtue learned by an interior light, that though the deceased was not eternally lost, his soul was in a most miserable condition. The following night the soul appeared to him in a sad and wretched condition. “Yesterday,” he said, “you learned my deplorable fate; behold now the tortures to which I am condemned in punishment for my culpable tepidity.” He then conducted the old man to the edge of a large, deep pit, filled with smoke and flames. “Behold the place,” said he, “where the ministers of Divine Justice have orders to torment me; they cease not to plunge me into this abyss, and draw me out only to precipitate me into it again, without giving me one moment’s respite.”

The next morning the Religious went to Saint Bernard to make known to him his vision. The holy Abbot, who had had a similar apparition, received it as a warning from Heaven to his community. He convened a Chapter, and with tearful eyes related the double vision, exhorting his Religious to succor their poor departed brother by their charitable suffrages, and to profit by this sad example to preserve their fervor, and to avoid the least negligence in the service of God.

The following instance is related by M. de Lantages in the Life of Venerable Mother Agnes of Langeac, a Dominican Religious. Whilst this Religious was one day praying in choir, a Religious whom she did not know suddenly appeared before her, miserably clad and with a countenance expressive of the deepest grief. She looked at her with astonishment, asking herself who it might be; when she heard the voice say distinctly, ” It is Sister de Haut Villars.”

Sister de Haut Villars had been a Religious in the monastery at Puy, and had died about ten years previous to this vision. The apparition said not a word, but showed sufficiently by her sad countenance how greatly she stood in need of assistance.

Mother Agnes understood this perfectly, and began from that day to offer most fervent prayers for the relief of this soul. The deceased was not content with the first visit; she continued to appear for the space of three weeks, almost everywhere and at all times, especially after Holy Communion and prayer, manifesting her sufferings by the doleful expression of her countenance.

Agnes, by the advice of her confessor, without speaking of the apparition, asked her Prioress to allow the community to offer extra prayers for the dead, for her intention. Since, notwithstanding these prayers, the apparitions continued, she greatly feared some delusion. God, however, deigned to remove this fear. He clearly made known to His charitable servant, by the voice of her angel guardian, that it was really a soul from Purgatory, and that she thus suffered for her negligence in the service of God. From the moment these words were uttered, the apparitions ceased, and it is not known how long that unfortunate soul may have had to remain in Purgatory. Let us cite another example, qualified to stimulate the fervor of the faithful. A holy Religious named Mary of the Incarnation, of the convent of the Ursulines, in Loudun, appeared some time after her death to her Superior, a woman of intelligence and merit, who wrote the details of the apparition to Father Surin of the Company of Jesus. “On November 6th,” she wrote, “between three and four o’clock in the morning, Mother of the Incarnation stood before me, with an expression of sweetness on her countenance that appeared more like that of humility than of suffering; yet I saw that she suffered much. When I first perceived her near me, I was seized with great fright, but as there was nothing about her that inspired fear, I soon felt reassured. I asked her in what state she was, and if we could render her any service. She replied, ‘I satisfy Divine Justice in Purgatory.’ I begged her to tell me why she was detained there. Then with a deep sigh she answered, ‘It is for being negligent in several common exercises; a certain weakness by which I allowed myself to be led by the example of imperfect Religious; finally, and especially, the habit which I had of retaining in my possession things of which I had no permission to dispose, and of making use of them to suit my needs and natural inclinations. Ah! if Religious knew,’ continued the good Mother, ‘the wrong they do their souls by not applying themselves to perfection, and how dearly they shall one day expiate the satisfactions which they give themselves contrary to the light of their consciences, their efforts to do violence to themselves during life would be very different. Ah! God’s point of view is different from ours, His judgments are different.’

“I asked her again if we could do anything to relieve her sufferings. She replied, ‘I desire to see and possess God, but I am content to satisfy His Justice as long as it shall please Him ‘ I asked her to tell me whether she suffered much. ‘My pains,’ she replied, ‘are incomprehensible to those who do not feel them.’ Saying these words, she drew near my face to take leave of me. It seemed as though I was burned by a coal of fire, although her face did not touch mine; and my arm, which had barely grazed her mantle, was burned and caused me considerable pain.”

A month later she appeared to the same Superior to announce her deliverance.

MLA Citation