St. Francis de Sales and Purgatory


By Susan Tassone

The opinion of St. Francis De Sales was that the thought of purgatory should cause not so much pain as consolation. Those who fear purgatory do so in consideration of their own interests and self-love, he said, rather than in the interests of God.

No doubt — as St. Catherine of Genoa told us — the torments are so great that the greatest suffering of this life cannot be compared with them.

But the interior satisfactions in purgatory are such that no enjoyment or prosperity on earth could equal it. St. Francis De Sales tells us why:

“The souls in purgatory are in a constant state of union with God,” the saint taught.

“They are perfectly submissive to His Holy Will, or their will is so transformed into the Will of God, that they cannot wish for anything but what God wishes; in such a way, if paradise were opened to them, they would rather precipitate themselves into hell than appear before God with the stains which they still see on themselves [our italics].

“They are purified voluntarily and lovingly, because such is the Divine good-pleasure. ‘Thou are just, O Lord, and Thy judgment is right.’ “They wish to be there in the manner that pleases God, and for as long a time as He pleases.

“They are impeccable, and cannot have the least motion of impatience, or be guilty of the smallest imperfection. They love God more than themselves, and more than all things else, with a perfect, pure, and disinterested love. They are consoled by the angels.

“They are assured of their salvation.

“Their most bitter bitterness is in the most profound peace.

“If purgatory is a kind of hell as regards to pain, it is a kind of paradise as regards to the sweetness which charity diffuses through the heart — charity which is stronger than death, and more powerful than hell, and whose lamps are fire and flames: A state more desirable than terrible, since its flames are flames of love.”

If all these things are so, then why be charitable to the souls in purgatory?

The reason is because the states of these souls are desperately lonely. Their time of merit ends when the soul leaves the body. If they are in purgatory, they are unable to help themselves.

The suffering souls rely totally on us! Our compassion will give them the glory which they will render to God in Heaven that is delayed.

These two motives should engage us by our prayers, almsgiving, and all kinds of good works, especially offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for them to obtain their speedy deliverance!

When St. Francis de Sales’ friends or acquaintances died, he never grew weary of speaking fondly of them, or recommending them to the prayers of others.

His usual expression: We do not remember sufficiently our dead, our faithful departed. Indeed, we do not speak enough of them. We turn away from that conversation as from a sad story when we should be recalling their needs and lives (at least to ourselves, in prayer). Scripture assures us that true love is stronger than death.

St. Francis was accustomed to saying that in this single work of mercy we practice all the corporal works of mercy together when we assist the suffering souls.

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