"God commands not impossibilities, but by commanding he suggests to you to do what you can, to ask for what is beyond your strength; and he helps you, that you may be able."

St Augustine

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"The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary consists in hearing the word of God and living by it."

R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP

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"This is the greatest wisdom -- to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. "

Thomas á Kempis

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Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.  (1877 - 1964)  taught at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960, and served for many years as a consulter to the Holy Office and other Roman Congregations.

 
  LIFE EVERLASTING
   

By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange,OP

 

PART1. SOUL IMMENSITY IN OUR PRESENT LIFE(cont)

 

6. PURGATORY BEFORE DEATH - THE NIGHT OF THE SOUL

 
These deep purifications of the soul have often been treated, for example, by Tauler, by Louis de Blois, and by St. John of the Cross.

Louis de Blois, [31] explaining the phrase which Tauler uses, namely, the depth of the soul, speaks as follows: "The substance of the soul cannot operate directly. It cannot feel, cannot conceive, judge, love, will, except by its faculties. In this it differs from the divine substance, which alone is pure act, and hence is immediately operative of itself. [32] God has no need of faculties by which to pass from potentiality to act. He is thought itself, He is love itself. God is like a flash of genius and love, eternally subsistent. On the contrary, the human soul and the angel need faculties. They cannot know except by the faculty of intelligence, they cannot will except by the faculty of will. Hence we cannot admit, following St. Thomas, [33] that the essence of the soul has latent acts of knowledge and of love, acts which would not proceed from our faculties.

But it is true that our most profound acts, roused into activity by God, differ strikingly from the superficial judgments of daily life. These acts are so deep, so profound in the depths of our superior faculties, that
they seem rooted in the very substance of the soul. In this sense, excellent authors like John of the Cross speak of substantial touches of the Holy Spirit in the depth of the soul, touches that bring forth a mystic knowledge, very elevated and intense acts of infused love. [34]

Since God is more intimate to the soul than itself, since He preserves it in existence, He can touch and move it ab intus, from within. He touches the very bottom of our faculties by a contact, not spatial but spiritual, dynamic, divine.

Comparison has often been made between our superficial consciousness and the shell which envelops the body of a mollusk. Man, too, has his shell, that is, routine habitudes of thinking, willing, acting, attitudes which are the result of his egoism, of his illusion, of his errors. Nothing of all this is in harmony with God, hidden in the depth of our soul. This shell, this superficial consciousness, must be broken before the soul can know what lies in its most profound depths.

That which breaks the shell is the trials, especially the trial which is called purgatory before death. A poor woman, mother of many children, suddenly loses her husband, on whom the family depended. The soul of this poor woman suddenly reveals a great Christian. The
father of a family is captured and kept in a war prison for many years. If he is faithful, God bends toward him, reveals to him the grandeur of the Christian family for which he suffers.

We can see the same truth in a king robbed of his crown: in Louis XVI, say, the king of France, condemned to death and executed during the Terror. Having lost his own kingdom, he came to see before death the grandeur of the kingdom of God.

All Europe at this moment is passing through this purifying trial. Please God that we may understand. Pain is, in appearance, the most useless of things, but it becomes fruitful by the grace of Christ, whose love
rendered His sufferings on Calvary infinitely fruitful. The Holy Father in Rome recently recalled in a congress of Catholic physicians these words of a French poet:

Man is an apprentice, pain is his master: Nothing can be known, except so far as man has suffered.

Thus pain, suffered in a Christian manner, is most useful. Already in the physical order it is useful, in admonishing us, for instance, of the beginning of a cancer. Similarly moral pain is useful, since it makes
us desire a life superior to that of sense. Pain makes us desire God, who alone can heal certain wounds of the heart, and who alone can fortify and remake the soul. Pain invites us to have recourse to Him who alone can restore peace and give Himself to us.

Listen to St. John Chrysostom: "Suffering in the present life is the remedy against pride, which would turn us astray, against vainglory and ambition. Through suffering the power of God shines forth in weak men, who without His grace would not be able to bear their afflictions. Suffering, patience, manifests the goodness of him who is persecuted. By this road he is led to desire eternal life. Memory of the great sufferings of the saints leads us to support our own, by imitating the saints. Finally, pain teaches us to distinguish false goods which pass away from true goods which last eternally." [35]

Listen to Holy Scripture: "My son, reject not the correction of the Lord, and do not faint when thou art chastised by Him. For whom the Lord loveth He chastiseth, and He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." [36]

We must purify the depths of the soul. Our Lord says often: "If any man will follow Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." [37] Again: "I am the true vine (you the branches) and My Father is the husbandman. Every branch in Me . . . that beareth fruit, He will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit."

This lesson is particularly necessary for those who by vocation must work, not only for their own personal sanctification, but also for that of others. Hence St. Paul says: "We are reviled, and we bless; we are persecuted, and we suffer it; we are blasphemed, and we entreat." [38]

The purifying action of God on the depths of the soul appears above all in what is called purgatory before death, that purgatory which generally souls must traverse in order to arrive at divine union here below.

During this purgatory charity is rooted more and more in the depths of the souls and ends by destroying all unregulated love of self. This unregulated love is like a blade of dogs-tail grass, which grows again and again. This bad root receives its deathblow when charity reigns entirely in the depth of the soul.

Purgatory before death means passive purification, both of sense and of spirit. Its goal is to purify the very depths of our faculties, to extirpate, with iron and fire, all germs of death. During this anticipated purgatory the soul merits, whereas after death the soul cannot merit. St. John of the Cross says: "In spite of its generosity the soul cannot arrive at complete purification of itself, cannot render itself entirely suited for the world of divine union and the perfection of love. God Himself must set His hand to the work and purify the soul in His own dark fire." [39]

Purification of sense comes first. We are deprived of consolations which may have been useful for the moment, but which become an obstacle when we seek them for their own sake with a sort of spiritual gluttony. The ensuing sense-aridity leads us into a life much more disengaged from the senses, from the imagination, from reasoning. We begin to live by the gift of knowledge, which gives us an experimental and intuitive knowledge, first of earthly vanity, then of God's grandeur. Temptations, which become very frequent, lead us to
make meritorious acts, even heroic acts, of chastity and patience. We are purified by losing certain friendships, by losing fortune, by undergoing sickness, by family trials, for example, in the case of a person unsuitably married.

This purification of sense has as its goal to subject our superior faculties entirely to God. But these superior faculties too have need of purification. The stains of the old man, says St. John of the Cross, [40] persist in the spirit though the soul itself may not be conscious of them. They yield and disappear only under the soap and lye of purification.

Even those far advanced often seek themselves unconsciously. They are much attached to their own judgment, to their particular manner of doing good. They are too sure of themselves. They may be seduced by the demon, who carries them on to presumption. Their
faults can become incurable, being taken for perfections. [41] Selfishness prevents them from seeing these faults.

Hence purification of the spirit is also indispensable. It is a purgatory before death, meant to purify humility and the three theological virtues. This purification proceeds under an infused light, an illumination from the gift of knowledge, a light which seems obscure because it is too strong for the feeble eyes of our spirit, just as the light of the sun is too strong for nocturnal birds. This light manifests more and more the infinite grandeur of God, superior to all the ideas we ourselves can make. On the other hand, it shows us also our own defectiveness, reveals in us deficiencies that of ourselves we would never find. Humility becomes genuine humility. The soul wishes to be nothing, wishes God to be all-in-all, wishes to be unknown and reputed as nothing. Temptations against the theological virtues, common at this stage, lead to the highest heroism.

Purification sets in strong relief the formal motive of the three theological virtues. Secondary motives seem to disappear. We believe, in the absence of every other reason, for this sole and unique motive: God has said it. We adhere more and more strongly to Primal Truth, in an order immensely beyond miracles and human reasonings. We hope against hope, resting solely on God's omnipotence and goodness. We are to love, not consolations, sensible or spiritual, but God for His own sake, because of His infinite goodness. And this pure love of God leads us to a pure love of our neighbor, whatever be our neighbor.

The three formal motives of the theological virtues, namely, Primal Truth, aiding Omnipotence, Infinite Goodness, are three stars of the first magnitude shining in this night of the spirit. St. Theresa of the Infant Jesus [42] passed through this night in the last years of her life. St. Vincent de Paul, suffering for another priest tormented in his faith, was himself assailed for four years with temptations against the faith, so strong that he wrote the creed on a parchment, which he pressed against his heart every time the temptation became vehement. These four years in the dark night of faith multiplied his heroic acts a hundredfold. St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, endured a similar trial for forty-five years. This trial was meant chiefly to repair the sins of the world. Further, since he himself was already
deeply purified and had arrived at the transforming union, he was thus prepared to be the founder of an order devoted to reparation.

This passive purification of the spirit leads to mystic death, to the death of irregulated self-love, of spiritual pride, often subtle and little recognized, to the death of egoism, the principle of every sin. It
cleanses the depth of the will from all wicked roots. Love of God and of neighbor now reigns without rival, according to the supreme command: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind."
[43]

Thus the soul has passed through purgatory before physical death, and it has passed through in the state of merit, whereas in the other purgatory after death merit is not possible. Thus even here on earth the soul is spiritualized, supernaturalized, down to its very depths, where all spiritual life begins and ends. The soul aspires more and more to reach its source, to re-enter the bosom of the Father, that is, the depths of God. It aspires more and more to see Him without medium. It experiences ever more keenly that only God can satisfy it.

Great saints exemplify St. Augustine's word: "The love of God has reached the scorn of self." Thus we read that the apostles, [44] after their imprisonment, came forth rejoicing because they had been judged worthy to suffer opprobrium for the name of Jesus. "And every day they ceased not, in the temple and from house to house, to teach and preach Christ Jesus." Their blood, shed with that of thousands of other martyrs, was the seed of Christianity. The love of God even to the scorn of self triumphed over selfishness reaching to the scorn of God. Unselfish love of God converted the world, Roman and barbarian.

What will reconvert the world of today? Only a constellation of saints can lead the masses back to Christ and the Church. Mere democratic aspirations, as conceived by Lamennais and many others, are not sufficient. There is need of the love of a Vincent de Paul if we would reach the depths of the modern soul. Everlasting life must again become, not a mere word, but an experienced reality.
 

 
 

   
 
31. Insitutio spiritualis, chap. 12. See also The Sermons of Tauler chap. 1, pp. 74-82, 105-20.
32. Ia, q.54, a.1; q.77, a.1, 2.
33. Ibid.
34. The Ascent of Carmel, Bk. II, chap. 30. St. John of the Cross, like Tauler, speaks the concrete and descriptive language of experimental psychology, not the ontological and abstract language of rational psychology.
35. Consolationes ad Stagir., Bk. III.
36. 36 Prov. 3:11; Heb. 12:6.
37. 1 John 15:2.
38. 1 Cor. 4:12.
39. The Dark Night, Bk. I, chap. 3.
40. Ibid., Bk. II, chap. 2.
41. Ibid., Bk. II, chap. 2.
42. Life of St. Theresa of the Infant Jesus, chap. 9 (toward the end).
43. Deut. 6:5; Luke 10:27.
44. Acts 5:14.