Among those throughout the history of the Church who have written and spoken about purgatory, many have emphasized the sorrows or pains.
They have done so rightly, since the sufferings of purgatory are real.
However, I think it’s safe to say some have over-emphasized the pains of purgatory, such that many have lost sight of its joys. It’s important that we find a happy medium.
St. Francis de Sales taught, “If purgatory is a species of hell as regards suffering, it is a species of paradise as regards charity. The charity which quickens those holy souls is stronger than death, more powerful than hell.”
His mention of charity being a species of heaven is noteworthy. As for his view that purgatory is a “species of hell,” we will see later that the Magisterium today does not articulate the sufferings of purgatory in this way. In fact, the Catechism teaches that the “final purification of the elect” in purgatory is “entirely different from the punishment of the damned”.
The Italian mystic St. Catherine of Genoa writes, “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.”
Let’s now turn to that sweet joy of purgatory and see what might give a suffering soul reason to say with Paul, “I rejoice in my sufferings” (Col. 1:24).
A Keen Awareness of God’s Love for Us
The first thing we can say is that in purgatory, we become ever more aware of God’s love for us. Just as a thing is blocked from the forever shining rays of the sun due to it being covered, and the more the cover is removed, the more a thing is exposed to the sun’s rays, so too the souls in purgatory are more and more exposed to the divine love as impediments to entrance into heaven are removed through purification.
Catherine of Genoa explains it this way: “Day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls, more and more as the hindrance to his entrance is consumed.” With this influx of God’s presence within the soul, there comes a growing awareness of God’s love for the soul.
A Keen Appreciation for God’s “Order of Justice”
Another cause for great joy is the keen awareness and appreciation of God’s “order of justice”(God’s plan for human behavior as it relates to us as human beings and as it relates to him as our ultimate end). On this side of the veil, we don’t perceive just how wise and good God’s order of justice is, so we might perceive punishment for disrupting that order as unfair or unjust.
But in purgatory, we will have already received our judgment according to what we did in the body, whether good or evil (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). From that judgment, we will see the perfect justice in the debt of temporal punishment due for our sins.
St. Catherine explains, “So intimate with God are the souls in purgatory and so changed to his will, that in all things they are content with his most holy ordinance.”There is no room for resentment of God’s order of justice in a soul that is confirmed in God’s love.
Moreover, the holy souls realize that their purgatorial pains are a manifestation of God’s order of justice. And since they love God, they desire the glory of that order to be upheld and manifest. This is why they willingly submit to such purgatorial pains for the discharge of the debt of temporal punishment.
An Intense Love for God and Neighbor
A third cause for joy is the intense love the suffering souls have for God and neighbor. Joy and love go hand in hand. For example, right after listing love as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, St. Paul lists “joy” and “peace.”
The Catechism lists joy as a fruit of charity itself (1829).
Joy is often defined as “the pleasure taken in a good possessed.”God is the ultimate good. Whoever loves God possesses him in some measure. The souls in purgatory are confirmed in their love for God. Therefore, they possess God in some measure, even though they won’t fully possess him until they enter the beatific vision. This possession of their ultimate good, God, although imperfect, is a source of joy.
Assurance of Receiving the Final Reward of Heaven
In this life, there exists the possibility to turn away from God as our life’s goal and thus lose our inheritance of heaven. St. Paul thought it was possible for him to become “disqualified” from receiving the crown of eternal life, causing him to “pummel” his body and “subdue it” (1 Cor. 9:27).
This is why he reminds the Romans, “Continue in [God’s] kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off” (Rom. 11:22). And the Corinthians, “Let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). And the Philippians, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).
Such worries are no longer present in purgatory. All the souls there are confirmed in charity and are assured of receiving their final reward in the beatific vision.
This perhaps is the greatest of joys for the souls in purgatory, what Fr. Jugie calls the “gift of gifts.”There is tremendous peace and joy in knowing that you no longer have to fight to overcome sin and worry about losing the ultimate good that we long to fully possess: God.
To use another metaphor, a soul in purgatory stands in the vestibule of the house of the Lord, the heavenly temple, saying with the Psalmist, “I rejoiced in the things that were said to me: we shall enter into the house of the Lord” (Ps. 121:1). This assurance gives new meaning to Paul’s words, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say it—Rejoice, for the Lord is nigh” (Phil. 4:4-5). The full measure of the Lord’s presence is truly near for the holy souls in purgatory, and that is indeed a source of joy.
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