Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 65

detail of a devotional print of Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, c.1880, artist unknown; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Means to Avoid Purgatory – Holy Acceptation of Death – Father Aquitanus – Saint Alphonsus Liguori – Venerable Frances of Pampeluna and the Person who was not Resigned to Die – Father Vincent Caraffa and the Condemned Man – Sister Mary of Saint Joseph and Mother Isabella – Saint John of the Cross – Sweetness of the Death of the Saints

The sixth means to avoid Purgatory is the humble and submissive acceptation of death in expiation of our sins: it is a generous act, by which we make a sacrifice of our life to God, in union with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the Cross.

Do you desire an example of this holy resignation of life into the hands of the Creator? On 2 December 1638 there died at Brisach, on the right bank of the Rhine, Father George Aquitanus, of the Society of Jesus. Twice he had devoted his life to the service of the plague-stricken. It happened that on two different occasions the pest raged with such fury that it was almost impossible to approach the sick without being attacked by the contagion. Everyone fled and abandoned the dying to their unhappy fate. But Father Aquitanus, placing his life in the hands of God, made himself the servant and the apostle of the sick; he employed himself exclusively in relieving their sufferings and in administering to them the Sacraments.

God preserved him during the first visitation of the pest; but when it again broke out with renewed violence, and the man of God was called upon for the second time to devote himself to the care of the sick, God this time accepted his sacrifice.

When, a victim of his Charity, he lay extended upon his bed of death, he was asked if he willingly made the sacrifice of his life to God. “Oh!” he replied full of joy, “if I had a million lives to offer to Him, He knows how readily I would give them to Him.” Such an act, it is easy to understand, is very meritorious in the sight of God. Does it not resemble that supreme act of charity accomplished by the martyrs who died for Jesus Christ, and which, like Baptism, effaces all sin and cancels all debts? Greater love than this, says Our Lord, no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friend. (John 15:13).

To make this act in time of sickness, it is useful, not to say necessary, that the patient should understand his condition, and know that his end is approaching. It is therefore to do him great injury to withhold this knowledge from him through a false delicacy. “We must,” says Saint Alphonsus, “prudently impart to the sick person the knowledge of his danger.”

If the patient endeavors to deceive himself with illusions, if, instead of resigning himself into the hands of God, he thinks only of his cure, even when he receives all the Sacraments, he does himself a deplorable wrong.

We read in the Life of Venerable Mother Frances of the Blessed Sacrament, a Religious of Pampeluna, that a soul was condemned to a long Purgatory for not having had a true submission to the Divine Will upon her deathbed. She was otherwise a very pious young person, but when the icy hand of death came to touch her in the flower of her youth, nature recoiled, and she had not the courage to resign herself into the ever-loving hands of her Heavenly Father – she would not die yet. She expired, nevertheless, and the Venerable Mother Frances, who received frequent visits from the souls of the departed, learned that this soul had to expiate by long sufferings her want of submission to the decrees of her Creator.

The Life of Venerable Father Caraffa furnishes us with a more consoling example.

Father Vincent Caraffa, General of the Society of Jesus, was called to prepare for death a young nobleman who was condemned to be executed, and who thought himself condemned to death unjustly. To die in the flower of one’s age, when one is rich, happy, and when the future smiles upon us, is hard, we must own; yet a criminal who is a prey to remorse of conscience may resign himself to it, and accept it as a chastisement in expiation for his crime. But what shall we say of a person who is innocent?

The Father had, therefore, a difficult task to accomplish. Nevertheless, assisted by grace, he knew so well how to manage this unhappy man, he spoke with such unction of the faults of his past life and of the necessity of making satisfaction to Divine Justice, he made him understand so thoroughly how God permitted this temporal chastisement for his good, that he crushed rebellious nature and completely changed the sentiments of his heart. The young man looked upon his sentence as an expiation which would obtain for him the pardon of God, mounted the scaffold not only with resignation, but also with a truly Christian joy. Up to the last moment, even under the axe of the executioner, he blessed God and implored His Mercy, to the great edification of all those who assisted at his execution.

At the moment when his head fell, Father Caraffa saw his soul rise triumphantly to Heaven. He immediately went to the mother of the young man to console her by relating what he had seen. He was so transported with joy, that on returning to his cell he ceased not to cry aloud, “O happy man! O happy man!”

The family wished to have a great number of Masses celebrated for the repose of his soul. “It is superfluous,” replied the Father; “we must rather thank God and rejoice, for I declare to you that his soul has not even passed through Purgatory.” Another day, whilst engaged in some work, he suddenly stopped, his countenance changed, and he looked towards Heaven; then he was heard to cry out, “O happy lot! O happy lot!” And when his companion asked him for an explanation of these words, “Ah! my dear Father,” he replied, “it was the soul of that condemned man which appeared to me in glory. Oh, how profitable to him has been his resignation!”

Sister Mary of Saint Joseph, one of the four first Carmelites who embraced the reform of Saint Teresa, was a Religious of great virtue. The end of her career approached, and Our Lord, wishing that His spouse should be received into Heaven in triumph on breathing her last sigh, purified and adorned her soul by the sufferings which marked the end of her life.

During the four last days which she passed upon earth, she lost her speech and the use of her senses; she was a prey to frightful agony, and the Religious were heartbroken to see her in that state. Mother Isabella of Saint Dominic, Prioress of the convent, approached the sick Religious, and suggested to her to make many acts of resignation, and total abandonment of herself into the hands of God. Sister Mary of Saint Joseph heard her, and made these acts interiorly, but without being able to give any exterior sign thereof.

She died in these holy dispositions, and, on the very day of her death, whilst Mother Isabella was hearing Mass and praying for the repose of her soul, Our Lord showed her the soul of His faithful spouse crowned in glory, and said, “She is of the number of those who follow the Lamb.” Sister Mary of Saint Joseph, on her part, thanked Mother Isabella for all the good she had procured for her at the hour of death. She added that the acts of resignation which she had suggested to her had merited for her great glory in Paradise and had exempted her from the pains of Purgatory. What happiness to quit this miserable life, to enter the only true and blessed one! We all may enjoy this happiness, if we employ the means which Jesus Christ has given us for making satisfaction in this world, and for preparing our souls perfectly to appear in His presence. The soul thus prepared is filled in her last hour with the sweetest confidence; she has, as it were, a foretaste of Heaven; the experiences which Saint John of the Cross has written on the death of a saint in his Living Flame of Love.

“Perfect love of God,” he says, “renders death agreeable, making the soul taste the greatest sweetness therein. The soul that loves is inundated with a torrent of delights at the approach of that moment when she is about to enjoy the full possession of her Beloved. On the point of being delivered from this prison of the body, she seems already to contemplate the glories of Paradise, and all within her is transformed into love.”

MLA Citation