Purgatory Explained, Part 1, Chapter 35

Saint Severinus of CologneArticle

Matter of Expiation – Want of Respect in Prayer – Mother Agnes of Jesus and Sister Angelique – Saint Severin of Cologne – Venerable Frances of Pampeluna and the Priests – Father Streit, S.J.

We should treat holy things in a holy manner. All irreverence in religious exercises is extremely displeasing to God. When the Venerable Agnes ofLangeac, of whom we have already spoken, was Prioress of her convent, she very much recommended to her Religious respect and fervor in their relations with God, reminding them of these words of Holy Scripture, Accursed be he that doth the work of God with negligence. A sister of the community named Angelique died. The pious Superior was praying near her tomb, when she suddenly saw the deceased sister before her, dressed in the religious habit; she felt at the same time as though a flame of fire touched her face. Sister Angelique thanked her for having stimulated her to fervor, and particularly for having frequently made her repeat during life these words, Accursed be he that doth the work of God with negligence. “Continue, Mother,” she added, “to urge the sisters to fervor; let them serve God with the utmost diligence, love Him with their whole heart, and with all the power of their soul. If they could but understand how rigorous are the torments of Purgatory, they would never be guilty of the least neglect.”

The foregoing warning regards in a special manner priests, whose relations with God are continual and more sublime. Let them, therefore, remember it always, and never forget it, whether they offer to God the incense of prayer, whether they dispense the Divine Treasures of the Sacraments, or whether at the altar they celebrate the mysteries of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. See what Saint Peter Damian relates in his 14th Letter to Desiderius.

Saint Severin, Archbishop of Cologne, edified his church by an example of all virtues. His apostolic life, his great labors for the extension of God’s kingdom in souls, have merited for him the honors of canonization. Nevertheless, after his death he appeared to one of the canons of his cathedral to ask for prayers. This worthy priest not being able to understand that a holy prelate, such as he had known Severin to be, could stand the need of prayers in the other life, the deceased Bishop replied, “It is true God gave me grace to serve Him with all my heart and to labor in His vineyard, but I often offended Him by the haste with which I recited the Holy Office. The occupations of each day so absorbed my attention, that when the hour of prayer came, I acquitted myself of that great duty without recollection, and sometimes at another hour than that appointed by the Church. At this moment I am expiating those infidelities, and God permits me to come and ask your prayers.” The biography adds that Severin was six months in Purgatory for that one fault.

Venerable Sister Prances of Pampeluna, whom we have before mentioned, one day saw in Purgatory a poor priest whose fingers were eaten away by frightful ulcers. He was thus punished for having at the altar made the Sign of the Cross with too much levity, and without the necessary gravity. She said that in general priests remain in Purgatory longer than laymen, and that the intensity of their torments is in proportion to their dignity. God revealed to her the fate of several deceased priests. One of them had to undergo forty years of suffering for having by his neglect allowed a person to die without the Sacraments; another remained there for forty-five years for having performed the sublime functions of his ministry with a certain levity. A Bishop, whose liberality had caused him to be named almoner, was detained there for five years for having sought that dignity; another, not so charitable, was condemned for forty years for the same reason.

God wills that we should serve Him with our whole heart, and that we should avoid, in so far as the frailty of human nature will permit, even the slightest imperfections; but the care to please Him and the fear of displeasing Him must be accompanied by a humble confidence in His mercy.

Jesus Christ has admonished us to hear those whom He has appointed in His place to be our spiritual guides as we should Himself, and to follow the advice of our superior or confessor with perfect confidence. Thus an excessive fear is an offense against His Mercy.

On 12 November 1643, Father Philip Streit, of the Society of Jesus, a Religious of great sanctity, died at the Novitiate of Briinn in Bohemia. Every day he made his examination of conscience with the greatest care, and acquired by this means great purity of soul. Some hours after his death, he appeared all radiant to one of the Fathers of his Order, Venerable Martin Strzeda. “One single fault,” he said, “prevents me from going to Heaven, and detains me eight hours in Purgatory; it is that of not having sufficiently confided in the words of my Superior, who, in the last moments of my life, strove to calm some little trouble of conscience. I ought to have regarded his words as the voice of God Himself.”

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