Sunday, May 5, 2013

Back to Purgatory with St. Catherine of Genoa

When I first read the Treatise on Purgatory of St. Catherine of Genoa, I resolved to return to that work which touched me no less at second reading than at its first. Depending on where you come from and whether you know your Catechism, beware! Unless you read the whole little track attentively, common reservations or prejudices shared by much of contemporary society might just leave you reeling:

“So that the souls in Purgatory enjoy the greatest happiness and endure the greatest pain; the one does not hinder the other.” [A Treatise on Purgatory (Saint Catherine of Genoa) Kindle Edition - Highlight Loc. 254]

St. Catherine is thoroughly Catholic and confident in her free will. Her world view and faith are untainted by reformation pessimism. While living in genuine hope, she understands, as should we, that people can exclude God from their lives and find Hell waiting when death comes to claim them:

“Hence it is manifest that there is perversity of will, contrary to the will of God, where the guilt is known and ill will persists, and that the guilt of those who have passed with ill will from this life to Hell is not remitted, nor can be since they may no longer change the will with which they have passed out of this life, in which passage the soul is made stable in good or evil in accordance with its deliberate will. As it is written, "Ubi te invenero," that is in the hour of death, with the will to sin or dissatisfaction with sin or repentance for sin, "Ibi te judicabo." Of which judgment there is afterwards no remission, as I will shew: After death free will can never return, for the will is fixed as it was at the moment of death.” (Highlight Loc. 156-61)

No doubt, it is lukewarmness which keeps us from that longing for the courts of God's House and understanding how this saint could teaching about Purgatory already this side of Heaven:

“I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise; and day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls, more and more as the hindrance to His entrance is consumed. Sin's rust is the hindrance, and the fire burns the rust away so that more and more the soul opens itself up to the divine inflowing. A thing which is covered cannot respond to the sun's rays, not because of any defect in the sun, which is shining all the time, but because the cover is an obstacle; if the cover be burnt away, this thing is open to the sun; more and more as the cover is consumed does it respond to the rays of the sun.” (Highlight Loc. 131-36)

May this Year of Faith find us all more knowledgeable in matters of faith and stir our hearts to genuine repentance and an insatiable longing for Heaven. Mortal sin is objectively so and my refusal out of pride to accept it as such changes nothing. Most of the ignorance we encounter in Catholics today is vincible; it could very easily be overcome with good will and honest effort. There is an urgent need for a much more frequent use of the sacrament of Penance, firm purpose to sin no more and through self-sacrifice to make atonement for the temporal punishment due for that which we indeed bring upon ourselves.

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