Nov 2, 2012
After having received a vision of purgatory, St. Catherine of Genoa could not say enough about the happiness which is to be found there. Of course, the Saint did not mince words about the pain souls experience as well. In her treatise on purgatory, she wrote, “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.”
St. Catherine depicts purgatory not so much as a place but rather as a process through which the effects of sin – referred to as the “rust of sin” – are purged away. Although the idea of divine punishment is not to be disregarded in her account, what comes to the fore, nevertheless, is the application of God’s burning love for the soul. This is to be the context in which purgatory is considered. The idea of a torture chamber, portrayed in so many books, is not the main theme in her writings.
It is the infusion of this fiery love of God into the soul – so attractive, yet, at the same time, so painfully felt – which burns away the real substantive effects selfishness and other vices leave upon the soul. Scripture refers to these effects as blemishes, spots and defilements. As we garnered from the New Testament already, we are called to be found without these effects when the Lord calls us to heaven. This implies one important truth: it is possible that we, as Christians, can be found with imperfections.
Even more importantly, by being baptized into Christ we can purify these imperfections through faith, love and sacrifice. “By kindness and piety guilt is expiated, and by fear of the Lord man avoids evil.” (Proverbs 16:6) “Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sin.” (I Peter 4:8) And to add yet one more passage from the same epistle: “… whoever suffers in flesh has broken from sin.” (4:1) This is why St. Therese the Little Flower could say that when she dies there would be nothing left for her to burn. Her life of love and sacrifice for the Lord would be the holocaust that would make purgatory unnecessary.