Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 1

Saint Claude de la ColombiereArticle

Fear and Confidence – The Mercy of God – Saint Lidwina and the Priest – Venerable Claude de la Colombiere

We have just considered the rigors of Divine Justice in the other life; they are terrific, and it is impossible to think of them without trembling. That fire, enkindled by Divine Justice, those excruciating pains, compared to which all the penances of the saints, all the sufferings of the martyrs put together, are as nothing, who is there that thinks he will be able to look upon them and not shudder from very fear?

This fear is salutary and conformable to the spirit of Jesus Christ. Our Divine Master desires that we should fear, and that we should fear not only Hell, but also Purgatory, which is a sort of mitigated Hell. It is to inspire us with this holy fear that He shows us the dungeons of the Supreme Judge, whence we shall not depart until we have paid the last farthing. (Matthew 5:26). We may say of the fire of Purgatory that which is said of Hell fire: Fear ye not them that kill the body and are not able to kill the soul, but rather fear him that can cast both soul and body into Hell. (Matt. 10:28). Yet it is not the intention of Our Lord that we should have an excessive and barren fear, a fear which tortures and discourages, a gloomy fear without confidence. No; He wishes that our fear should be tempered with great trust in His mercy; He desires that we should fear evil in order to prevent and avoid it; He desires that the thought of those avenging flames should stimulate us to fervor in His service, and cause us to expiate our faults in this world rather than in the other. ” Better is it to purge away our sins, and cut off our vices now, ” says the author of the Imitation, “than to keep them for purgation hereafter .” (I mil. 1, 24). Moreover, if, notwithstanding our endeavors to live well, and to satisfy for our sins in this world, we have well-grounded fears that we shall have to undergo a Purgatory, we must look forward to that contingency with unbounded confidence in God, who never fails to console those whom He purifies by sufferings.

Now, to give our fear this practical character, this counterpoise of confidence, after having contemplated Purgatory in all the rigor of its pains, we must consider it under another aspect and from a different point of view – that of the Mercy of God, which shines forth therein no less than His Justice.

If God reserves terrible chastisements in the other life for the least faults, He does not inflict them without, at the same time, tempering them with clemency; and nothing shows better the admirable harmony of the Divine perfection than Purgatory, because the most severe Justice is there exercised, together with the most ineffable Mercy. If Our Lord chastises those souls that are dear to Him, it is in His love, according to the words, Such as I love I rebuke and chastise. (Apocalypse 3:19) With one hand He strikes, with the other He heals. He offers mercy and redemption in abundance: Quoniam apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio. (Psalm 129)

This infinite Mercy of our Heavenly Father must be the firm foundation of our confidence; and, after the example of the saints, we must keep it always before our eyes. The saints never lost sight of it; and it was for this reason that the fear of Purgatory never deprived them of their peace and joy of the Holy Ghost.

Saint Lidwina, who so well knew the frightful severity of expiratory suffering, was animated with that spirit of confidence, and endeavored to inspire others with the same. One time she received a visit from a pious priest. Whilst he was seated at her bedside, together with other virtuous persons, the conversation turned on the sufferings of the other life. Seeing in the hands of a woman a vase filled with grains of mustard seed, the priest took occasion to remark that he trembled when thinking of the fire of Purgatory. “Nevertheless,” he added, “I should be satisfied to go there for as many years as there are grains of seed in this vase; then, at least, I should be certain of my salvation.” “What do you say, Lather?” replied the saint. “Why so little confidence in the Mercy of God. Ah! if you had a better knowledge of what Purgatory is, of what frightful torments are there endured!” “Let Purgatory be what it may,” he replied. “I persist in what I say.”

Some time after, this priest died, and the same persons who had been present during his conversation with Saint Lidwina, questioning the saint as to his condition in the other world, she replied, “The deceased is well off, on account of his virtuous life; but it would be better for him if he had had more confidence in the Passion of Jesus Christ, and if he had taken a milder view of the subject of Purgatory.”

In what consisted this lack of confidence which met the disapproval of our saint? In the opinion which this good priest had that it is almost impossible to be saved, and that we shall enter Heaven only after having undergone innumerable years of torture. This idea is erroneous, and contrary to Christian confidence. Our Saviour came to bring peace to men of good will, and to impose upon us, as a condition of our salvation, a yoke which is sweet and a burden which is not heavy. Therefore, let your will be good, and you will find peace, you will see all difficulties and terrors vanish. Good will! that is everything. Be of good will, submit to the Will of God, place His Holy Law above all else, serve the Lord with all your heart, and He will give you such powerful assistance that you will enter Paradise with an astonishing facility. I could never have believed, you will say, that it was so easy to enter Heaven! Again, I repeat, to effect in us this wonder of Mercy, God asks on our part an upright heart, a good will.

Good will consists, properly speaking, in submitting and conforming our will to that of God, who is the rule of all good will; and this good will attains its highest perfection when we embrace the Divine Will as the sovereign good, even then when it imposes the greatest sacrifices, the most acute suffering. Oh, admirable state! The soul thus disposed seems to lose the sensation of pain, and this because the soul is animated with the spirit of love; and, as Saint Augustine says, when we love we suffer not, or, if we suffer, we love the suffering. A at si laboratur, labor ipse amatur.

Venerable Claude de la Colombiere, of the Society of Jesus, possessed this loving heart, this perfect will, and in his Retrait Spirituelle he thus expresses his sentiments: “We must not cease to expiate the past disorders of our life by penance; but it must be done without anxiety, because the worst that can befall us, when our will is good and we are submissive and obedient, is to be sent for a long time to Purgatory, and we may say with good reason that this is a great evil. I do not fear Purgatory. Of Hell I will not speak, for I should wrong the Mercy of God by having the least fear of Hell, although I have merited it more than all the demons together. Purgatory I do not fear. I wish I had not deserved it, since I could not do so without displeasing God; but, as I have merited to go there, I am delighted to go and satisfy His Justice in the most rigorous manner it is possible to imagine, and that even to the Day of Judgment. I know that the torments there endured are horrible, but I know that they honor God, and cannot prove an injury to the souls; that there we are certain never to oppose the Will of God; that we shall never resent His severity; that we shall even love the rigors of His justice, and await with patience until it shall be entirely appeased. Therefore, I have given with my whole heart all my satisfactions to the souls in Purgatory, and even bequeath to others all the suffrages which shall be offered for me after my death, in order that God may be glorified in Paradise by souls who shall have merited to be raised to a higher degree of glory than myself.”

Behold to what an excess of Charity, the love of God and our neighbor transports us when it has once taken possession of the heart; it transforms, transfigures suffering in such a manner, that all its bitterness is changed into sweetness. “When thou shalt arrive thus far, that tribulation shall be sweet to thee, and thou shalt relish it for the love of Christ: then think that it is well with thee, for thou hast found a Paradise upon earth.” (Imit. 2,12). Let us therefore have great love for God, great Charity, and we shall have little fear of Purgatory. The Holy Ghost bears testimony in the depths of our hearts that, being children of God, we have no need to dread the chastisements of a Father.

MLA Citation