Purgatory Explained, Part 1, Chapter 18

Saint Gertrude of NivellesArticle

Pains of Purgatory – Saint Perpetua – Saint Gertrude – Saint Catherine of Genoa – Brother John de Via

As we have already said, the pain of sense has different degrees of intensity, It is less terrible for those souls that have no grievous sins to atone for, or who, having already completed the most rigorous part of their expiation, approach the moment of their deliverance. Many of those souls suffer then no more than the pain of loss, and even begin to perceive the first rays of heavenly glory, and to have a foretaste of beatitude.

When Saint Perpetua (Cf. Mar., eh. 7) saw her young brother Dinocrates in Purgatory, the child did not seem to be subjected to any cruel torture. The illustrious martyr herself writes the account of this vision in her prison at Carthage, where she was confined for the faith of Christ during the persecution under Septimus Severus in the year 205. Purgatory appeared to her under the figure of an arid desert, where she saw her brother Dinocrates, who had died at the age of seven years. The child had an ulcer on his face, and, tormented by thirst, he tried in vain to drink from the waters of a fountain which was before him, but the brim of which was too high for him to reach. The holy martyr understood that her brother was in the place of expiation, and that he besought the assistance of her prayers. She then prayed for him, and three days later, in another vision, she saw the same Dinocrates in the midst of lovely gardens. His face was beautiful, like that of an angel; he was clad in a shining robe; the brink of the fountain was beneath him, and he drank copiously of those refreshing waters from a golden cup. The saint then knew that the soul of her young brother now enjoyed the bliss of Paradise.

We read in the Revelations of Saint Gertrude that a young Religious of her convent, for whom she had a special love on account of her great virtues, died in the most beautiful sentiments of piety. (Revelationes Gertrudiana ac Mechtildiana. Henri Oudin, Poitiers, 1875). Whilst she was fervently recommending this dear soul to God, she was rapt in ecstasy and had a vision. The deceased sister was shown to her standing before the throne of God, surrounded by a brilliant halo and in rich garments. Nevertheless, she appeared sad and troubled; her eyes were cast down, as though she were ashamed to appear before the face of God; it seemed as though she would hide herself and retire. Gertrude, much surprised, asked of the Divine Spouse of Virgins the cause of this sadness and embarrassment on the part of so holy a soul. “Most sweet Jesus,” she cried, “why does not Your infinite goodness invite Your spouse to approach You, and to enter into the joy of her Lord? Why do You leave her aside, sad and timid?” Then Our Lord, with a loving smile, made a sign to that holy soul to draw near; but she, more and more troubled, after some hesitation, all trembling, withdrew.

At this sight the saint addressed herself directly to the soul. “What! my daughter,” she said to her, “do you retire when our Lord calls you? You, that have desired Jesus during your whole life, withdraw now that He opens His arms to receive you!” “Ah! my dear Mother,” replied the soul, “I am not worthy to appear before the Immaculate Lamb. I have still some stains which I contracted upon earth. To approach the Sun of Justice, one must be as pure as a ray of light. I have not yet that degree of purity which He requires of His saints. Know, that if the door of Heaven were to be opened to me, I should not dare to cross the threshold before being entirely purified from all stain. It seems to me that the choir of virgins who follow the Lamb would repulse me with horror.” “And yet,” continued the Abbess, “I see you surrounded with light and glory!” “What you see,” replied the soul, “is but the border of the garment of glory. To wear this celestial robe we must not retain even the shadow of sin.”

This vision shows a soul very near to the glory of Heaven; but her enlightenment concerning the infinite Sanctity of God was of a different order from that which has been given to us. This clear knowledge causes her to seek, as a blessing, the expiation which her condition requires to render her worthy of the vision of the thrice holy God. This is precisely the exact teaching of Saint Catherine of Genoa. We know that this saint received particular light from God concerning the state of the souls in Purgatory. She wrote a work entitled A Treatise on Purgatory, which has an authority equal to that of Saint Teresa. In chapter 8 she thus expresses herself: “The Lord is all-merciful. He stands before us, His arms extended in order to receive us into His glory. But I see also that the Divine Essence is of such purity that the soul, unless she be absolutely immaculate, cannot bear the sight. If she finds in herself the least atom of imperfection, rather than dwell with a stain in the presence of the Divine Majesty, she would plunge herself into the depths of Hell. Finding in Purgatory a means to blot out her stains, she casts herself into it. She esteems herself happy that, by the effect of a great mercy, a place is given to her where she can free herself from the obstacles to supreme happiness.”

The History of the Seraphic Order (Part 4., n. 7; cf. Merv., 83) makes mention of a holy Religious named Brother John de Via, who died piously in a monastery on the Canary Islands. His infirmarian, Brother Ascension, was in his cell praying and recommending to God the soul of the departed, when suddenly he saw before him a Religious of his Order, but who appeared to be transfigured. So radiant was he, that the cell was filled with a beautiful light. The brother, almost beside himself with astonishment, did not recognize him, but ventured to ask who he was and what was the object of his visit. “I am,” answered the apparition, “the spirit of Brother John de Via. I thank you for the prayers which you have poured forth to Heaven in my behalf, and I come to ask of you one more act of charity. Know that, thanks to the Divine mercy, I am in the place of salvation, among those predestined for Heaven – the light which surrounds me is a proof of this. Yet I am not worthy to see the face of God on account of an omission which remains to be expiated. During my mortal life I omitted, through my own fault, and that several times, to recite the Office for the Dead, when it was prescribed by the Rule. I beseech you, my dear brother, for the love you bear Jesus Christ, to say those offices in such a manner that my debt may be paid, and I may go to enjoy the vision of my God.”

Brother Ascension ran to the Father Guardian, related what had happened, and hastened to say the offices required, Then the soul of Blessed Brother John de Via appeared again, but this time more brilliant than before he was in possession of eternal happiness.

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