By Father Martindale
All Saints and All (Saved) Souls: Nov. 1 & 2 HEN trying to decide which saints we would write about during this month of November, we felt that we could not omit the tremendous (and obligatory) Feast of All Saints : and again, that we would be giving a false perspective to the " Saints " themselves if we left out the Commemoration of " All Souls "-those souls which, in due course, will " graduate " and find themselves transferred from November 2 to November 1. And we have to acknowledge that All Souls' Day is, at least abroad, a much more popular celebration than All Saints, We cannot quite say that this is unreasonable. We are glad that Saints are Saints; because that means that they have become what God always wanted them to be: on the other hand, we cannot do anything for them, precisely because they are and have all that they are meant to. We hope, of course, that they will pray for us, and we are right to ask them to; but then, we are sure that they will do so, for the whole purpose of their existence-so far as we are concerned-is that they should so help us. But the Souls in Purgatory are in a very different situation.
Unlike Christ How do we usually think of Purgatory? I suppose, as a " place " in which souls " pay off " their debt of " temporal punishment " for sins committed, forgiven, but not fully expiated during " this " life. We think of them, perhaps, as souls to whom God says: "Your sin is forgiven; but you must still take your thrashing." And He proceeds to cause them to suffer-a barren suffering, because in any case they are hound to reach their "heaven" in due time. So far as this idea goes, it is a true idea; but it does not go nearly far enough, nor is it fully in keeping with the doctrine of the Saints about Purgatory, especially not of that great teacher about Purgatory, St. Catherine of Genoa.
Unless my memory has quite failed me, she says that the Souls in Purgatory suffer. most certainly, but are not aware of any particular " sin " for which they are being punished. They suffer because the!• are unlike Christ : they know they are unlike Him, and are in anguish till they become wholly like to Him : but they think about Him rather than about themselves: their attention is concerned with His beauty. rather than with any ugliness of their own.
An Example now use a crude example. A rackety young man falls well and truly in love with a girl who thoroughly deserves to be loved. She loves him in return: in fact, she had always been in love with him, however unworthy he had been. At once. he sees how dreadful a caricature of love had been his whole behaviour hitherto: he remembers his past performances (if at all) with loathing: he could not possibly repeat them: he feels that a gulf separates him from the ideal girl whom now, he knows. in spite of all, he loves, and-miracle of miracles-is loved by. Herein is anguish: " How could I have been like that?" Herein is purification : " I could not possibly go back to that-now that I have met, and truly love, her." Herein is joy: "Thank God that from now on I have an undivided heart : my whole love is given to her; and her whole love is given to me."
Such is a youthful human history that one meets over and over again.
A soul that leaves its body " sees God " -not indeed as it will in the Beatific Vision, unless of course it is already so perfectly purified that it forthwith must be " enheavened "-it just is perfectly united with God : but we are writing precisely of those who are not like that; who are to go to Purgatory." The soul therefore " sees " God sufficiently to realise that here is the perfect Beauty, the perfectly lovable, and indeed the altogether loving-and that it is unlike Him, that it has made itself unlike Him, because it has not yet perfectly loved Him nor what is like Him.
Forthwith its Purgatory begins-anguish, that it should be thus unlike Him: purification, because the deeper the realisation of that unlikeness and the more intense the anguish, the more impossible it becomes for the soul any more to choose that unlikeness; to prefer what "clashes" with God: and again, joy, for what deeper joy can there be than to know that it is momentarily becoming more like God-hating what He hates; loving what He loves and is? (I used the word " momentary "-perhaps wrongly though inevitably.) Whatever be the nature of " time " in Purgatory, it certainly cannot be our sort of time, which is measured by the revolutions of the earth, and by the sun. Hence in a sense we may be right in estimating Purgatory not as "very long," or "comparatively short," or " lasting hardly for a day ": but rather, we can think of it as " deep ": the intenser the anguish, the more rapid the purification. What we, in our world of time and space, have to picture as lasting hour after hour, year after year, may well, in " Purgatorial-time " be instantaneous. This in no way exempts us from behaving as we are bound to in the world in which we actually are living, and having Mass offered again and again, and over a course of years and indeed of centuries.
The Merit of Mass The Merit of Mass anyhow reaches God in His Eternity, and a thousand years ago and a thousand years hence are all of them simultaneous with Him. Hence we are perfectly right in fulfilling Our Lord's command to pray for those who persecute us, by praying for Nero, or Elizabeth, or any of those who, dead long ago, cannot be said to be persecuting us, save in the sense that they persecuted Christ in His Mystical Body, that ever-living Body in which we form as true a part as ever the martyrs did, whole worlds away though they may seem to us.
Now we know very little, dogmatically, about Purgatory; perhaps, only that it exists, and that souls there are helped by our prayers and by Mass. The nature of the Purgatorial Fire, for example, is wholly an affair of speculation. Without excluding any theologian's theory, we may be allowed to think thus of the suffering we shall there endure. Let us think first thus about "sin." When I commit sin, 1 can, perhaps, think of myself as committing sin A, sin B, sin C; through God's grace 1 repent these; and am forgiven : i die : God says, equivalently: " You owe 15, 10, 5 scourgings respectively, as temporal punishment, for these sins," and my Purgatory proceeds.
But we can think more deeply than that. Sins are not, precisely, outside actions which I commit, my " 1" remaining unaltered underneath them. My sin is my self sinning. I have altered my very self : it has deteriorated: I not only look less like God : I am less like God : less like Christ. The moment I " sufficiently see God," as was said above, my Purgatory begins simply because I also see myself. I see myself as -thanks be to His goodness!-saved; but. as having made myself unlike Him : that is the result of my bad choices: the guilt is forgiven : but those choices have altered me: I require to be altered back; and that is precisely what my pain at the sight of God. and of myself, is doing. I am my own punishment. 1 hardly can he said to inflict it on myself: I am it. There is that terrible line about a lost soul : " And thou thyself for all eternity." It is, itself, the source of its undying fire.
Not " Christlike " Consider, even, those of us who may commit no grave sins at all, but who yet cannot be described in any true, or full, sense as " Christlike." We may not even be conscious of this. The fact remains that we are not what Christ wishes His Christians to be. We may take fundamentally the same views of life-of money, social position-as anyone else does: not notice how selfish we arc, how hard, how conceited: even more likely, we may not appreciate those somewhat wrong things that we do : in confession we say that we have prayed with distractions; have been "rather " uncharitable; have " perhaps been slow " about putting away bad thoughts, and so forth. Even in graver subjects, how often must a priest hear it said to him : " Yes; I know it's strictly forbidden : but 1 can't really see that those things matter so very much."
Alas, we know all too well how very many do not for a moment hesitate to describe themselves as Catholics, but will say in so many words that they cannot " see eye to eye " with the Church in the matter of contraception, and so, practise it, and simply omit it in confession.
Reconstruction of Charactet Here then you perceive that an entire mentality has to be transformed: that a sufficient vision of God has to reveal to such an one that albeit responsibility has not been fully his, yet his mind has been wrong all the way through. I often feel about Purgatory that it will involve the entire pulling to pieces and reconstruction of a whole character. That must be a perfectly appalling experience. When 1 am aware that while I do not yield to acts of, say, cruelty, yet there is in me a certain element of cruelty: that part of myself is cruel; and that though this may even provide me with occasions of merit in so far as I conquer that bad instinct, yet somehow that whole element in me must be changed : at what costl at price of what piercing pain, passing-as St. Paul says God's Word does -between joint and marrow, soul and the very spirit! We all know how long it takes to build up a character-let alone to change a character. Hence nothing would astonish me less than that Purgatory should last, in such cases, " very long." Or, in the other way of looking at it, should be unbelievably intense and probing: a flame diving into the innermost of the self. Pray. therefore; pray often and hard for the Souls in Purgatory.
Gratitude But let your whole feeling about Purgatory be one of profoundest gratitude and of anticipated joy! That God should thus be willing to purify me! that He should not reject me! That the very pain I shall experience will be due to my vision of His loveableness and lovingness! And Peace. For certainty is attained : were my Purgatory to endure till Judgment Day, yet I have the certainty that all is well, and that I can no more sin, I cannot wish to do so: there is nothing in me, radically, any more that loves sin! Let us then sum up Purgatory in terms of Vision of God; Vision of Self : Agony because of my unlikeness to Him: Joy because I am continuously becoming liker to Him: Gratitude, that such a thing should have befallen me; Peace, in the knowledge that the best of all is ensured to me.