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November 2019 Faith Community Reflection

On Purgatory

Fr Mark Higgins

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Almighty God has allowed some of the saints to visit and experience heaven, hell and purgatory during their earthly lives so that they could share this knowledge with us. In this month of praying for the Holy Souls, how do some of these saints describe purgatory from their own first hand experiences? Among the many saints who were gifted with extraordinary insights on this place of purification we will consider three brief points taken from the writing of St. Catherine of Genoa, St Faustina and St. Padre Pio.

According to St. Catherine of Genoa purgatory is first of all a place of sorrow for sin. Indeed, Almighty God allowed her, while she was living her Catholic Faith at a fairly lukewarm level, to experience something of this sorrow for sin that the Holy Souls are caught up in. On March 20, 1473, Catherine was given a “clear vision of her own wretchedness and shortcomings and at the same time of God’s goodness”, a taste of the reality of purgatory, a disclosure of exactly where she stood before God, and the kindling within her of an ‘inner fire’, a burning feeling, that she understood that the Holy Souls possessed, which arises from the deep contrition they have for their past sins, and their love for God who they have offended and who they are separated from by their sins.

St. Faustina experienced purgatory principally as a place of suffering. This Polish nun met with many souls from purgatory who came to visit her and to ask for her prayers. In every apparition, St. Faustina said that the visions she had were of people suffering, of people being purged of their sins in flames, of undergoing a painful purification to make them fit to enter into the all Holy Presence of God.  She writes, “One night, a sister who had died two months previously came to me. I saw her in a terrible condition, all in flames with her face painfully distorted. This lasted only a short time, and then she disappeared. A shudder went through my soul because I did not know whether she was suffering in purgatory or in hell.”

Of course whilst the suffering in purgatory is great, the experience is still completely unlike hell because, according to St. Padre Pio, in purgatory there is also a great degree of joy. Indeed, St. Padre Pio said that one of the greatest joys in purgatory will be the frequent visits from your guardian angel who will bring you consolation and encouragement, he will tell you about your loved ones on earth and he will rejoice with you as each day you become purified the more, closer to being ready for him to escort you into the presence of God.

So, whilst the Holy Souls are filled with a deep sorrow for sin and a suffering completely beyond our comprehension, there is also a happiness in that place beyond all words so much that the souls gladly undergo their satispassion knowing that it is preparing them to be with God. 

This month, let us also support these Holy Souls and aid them with special devotion through our own prayers, penances, masses and indulgences.