Editor’s note: The following words from St. Catherine of Genoa are selections from her book, Fire of Love, which record her meditations and prayerful insights on purgatory. We offer this for November, the month dedicated to praying for the dead.
All these things, which I have securely in mind to the extent that in this life I have been able to understand them, are, compared with what I have said, extremely great. Beside them, all the sights and sounds and justice and truths of this world seem to me lies and nothingness. I am left confused because I cannot find words extreme enough for these things.
I perceive there to be so much conformity between God and the soul that when He sees it in the purity in which His Divine Majesty created it, He gives it a burning love, which draws it to Himself, which is strong enough to destroy it, immortal though it be, and which causes it to be so transformed in God that it sees itself as though it were none other than God. Unceasingly God draws the soul to Himself and breathes fire into it, never letting it go until He has led it to the state from which it came forth — that is, to the pure cleanliness in which it was created.
When with its inner sight the soul sees itself drawn by God with such loving fire, then it is melted by the heat of the glowing love for God its most dear Lord, which it feels overflowing it. And it sees by the divine light that God does not cease drawing it, nor from leading it, lovingly and with much care and unfailing foresight, to its full perfection, doing this out of His pure love. But the soul, because it is hindered by sin, cannot go where God draws it; it cannot follow the uniting look by which God would draw it to Himself.
Again the soul perceives the grievousness of being held back from seeing the divine light; the soul’s instinct, too, since it is drawn by that uniting look, craves to be unhindered.
I say that it is the sight of these things that begets in the souls the pain they feel in Purgatory. Not that they make account of their pain; although it is most great, they deem it a far less evil than to find themselves going against the will of God, whom they clearly see to be on fire with extreme and pure love for them.
Strongly and unceasingly this love draws the soul with that uniting look, as though it had nothing else than this to do. Could the soul who understood this find a worse Purgatory in which to rid itself sooner of all the hindrance in its way, it would swiftly fling itself therein, driven by the conforming love between itself and God.
Mercy in Purgatory
When I look at God, I see no gate to Paradise, and yet he who wishes to enter there does so, because God is all mercy. God stands before us with open arms to receive us into His glory. But well I see the divine essence to be of such purity, far greater than can be imagined, that the soul in which there is even the least note of imperfection would rather cast itself into a thousand Hells than find itself thus stained in the presence of the Divine Majesty.
Therefore the soul, understanding that Purgatory has been ordained to take away those stains, casts itself therein, and seems to itself to have found great mercy in that it can rid itself there of the impediment that is the stain of sin.
No tongue can tell nor explain, no mind understand, the grievousness of Purgatory. But although I see that there is in Purgatory as much pain as in Hell, I yet see the soul that has the least stain of imperfection accepting Purgatory as though it were a mercy, as I have said, and holding its pains of no account as compared with the least stain that hinders a soul in its love.
I seem to see that the pain that souls in Purgatory endure because of that in them which displeases God (that is, what they have willfully done against His great goodness) is greater than any other pain they feel in Purgatory. And this is because they see the truth and the grievousness of the hindrance that prevents them from drawing near to God, since they are in grace.