Purgatory, a Stopover of Hope
It was at this time Frances saw a vision of Hell. It was so horrendous, she could not speak of it without sobbing uncontrollably. The vision of Hell and its horror, the excruciating agony of its tenants, tormented her more than any suffering she had endured on earth.
Frances wrote that having passed through this unbearable inferno, she was carried into Purgatory by her Heavenly Angel. There, she saw neither the utter hopelessness nor the endless pitch-black gloom she had seen in Hell. Instead, it seemed as if they were in a fog where the bright hope of life eternal with Jesus was trying to cut through. It must be like when you awaken to the dawn. It is still dark from the cover of night, but the promise of a new day begins, as you see a glimmer of the sun trying to filter through. Here, in this level of Purgatory, the pain of the Poor Souls was seeing that glimmer of Divine Hope and yet not being able to see God in His Beatific Vision. Although these souls suffered intensely, their pain was lessened by the presence of the Angels who came to visit and help them in their suffering. Oh, how good and merciful is our God.
She said that Purgatory is composed of three distinctly different levels, as diverse as being in three different countries of one continent. One level is located beneath another, the souls consigned to a level based on the seriousness of the offense and the debt owed. The deeper they are interred, the longer the time before their delivery.
St. Frances is led to the deepest Dungeon of Purgatory
The Angel brought Frances to the lowest level of Purgatory, to a a cavern filled with a roaring fire, its red-hot flames cutting through the black smoke that darkened the cave. But as horrible as it was, Frances said it was not as hot as in Hell. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could see bodies being plunged into what appeared to be a cauldron of raging fire, its flames enveloping them, pulling them down. She was told that these were souls who had been guilty of committing serious sins, had confessed and were absolved of their sins by a priest, but had not satisfied the wrong done by their act against God.
In this vision, she was told that for each mortal sin committed and forgiven, a payment of seven years of reparation in Purgatory was necessary to erase it from the soul. Since the damage done by each mortal sin affects the world differently, some more deadly and lasting, the length of time and punishment differs. The type of pain and suffering measured out to each of these souls, was in proportion to the type of sin, the damage done by the sins, and the number of wounds inflicted on our Lord's Sacred Heart by these sins.
In this level, she found the Poor Souls of the Laity and Religious, alike. Those of the Laity were souls who had led a life of sin, and converted toward the end of their lives. Conversion to the Lord and His Church is God's gift to us, as only the Holy Spirit can convert men's hearts. As they had not paid their debt on earth, they had to clear the invoice due the Lord here in Purgatory.
The Souls of the Religious were those who had not kept the vows they had professed. No sooner had this been explained to her than St. Frances saw the soul of a priest who was very well known. He had a covering on his face, to try to hide the ugly blemish that had remained. Now, this priest had led a truly priestly life, faithfully administering the Sacraments and pastoring his flock. His only sin had been an intemperate need to gouge himself at mealtime, seeking his reward from God's creation rather than God alone.
The Angel then led Frances to the Intermediate Dungeon
This region was reserved for those souls who had not sinned as seriously as those of the lowest dungeon, nor caused irreparable damage by their transgressions. As their souls were not free from the ugly blemishes that are a result of sin, they were required to spend time in Purgatory; but because of God's Justice they did not need to spend time suffering the intense punishment of souls in the dungeons below. This dungeon had three compartments:
(1) The first was a cavern of ice, sharp icicles threatening the souls below. It was incredibly cold in here. She could see the poor souls trying to warm themselves to no avail, as ice seemed to be hemming them in, closing in on them, surrounding them; the walls, the floor, the ceiling, nowhere to get away from the endless freezing cold!
(2) Next, there was an underground prison of boiling oil and pitch. The sickening odor of burning flesh filled the area. She could see the Poor Souls, covered with black pitch, writhing in pain. No matter what they did, they could not escape the boiling petroleum nor the sticky hot, black mess which clung to them.
(3) In the third and last level she saw Souls struggling not to drown in what appeared to be a pool filled with liquefied ore, resembling melted gold and silver. Had these Souls attached too much importance to the rewards of the world, counting the Graces from the Lord as nothing in comparison?
The Saint visits the Upper Dungeon
Our Saint does not go into detail on this level of atonement, only that this is the place where the Poor Souls condemned themselves, upon seeing that one time before the Lord, how they had transgressed against Him. The more we study about Purgatory, the more I find myself asking the question, "Am I offending You, my Lord?" This is not so much from the viewpoint of suffering in Purgatory (my foremost desire being Heaven), but the thought of Jesus and how He will look, as my unrequited sins pass before me, the many times I failed to put Him first, the missed opportunities to love Him by loving my brothers and sisters. Oh my Lord, how my heart breaks thinking I may have offended you!
The Souls in this dungeon have the anguish which the Poor Souls in Purgatory say is the most painful, the absence of the Beatific Vision. Can you imagine knowing that your loved one is somewhere but you cannot see him or her? Multiply that by a million-fold and you get a small idea of how it must be for those who, having seen Jesus that one time, can no longer see Him. Oh, Lord, how we long to see Your Face! The consolation of being in this place is that this is the last place before being united with Jesus, Mary and the whole Celestial Family; they know they are on their way.
It is the year 1414, and we find Pope John XXIII convening the Council of Constance which was called to end the Schism in the Western Church. After 45 sessions Gregory XII, the Roman Pope agreed to step down and the Council fathers deposed John XXIII, the Pope residing in Avignon. Then the Council elected Pope Martin V.
Lorenzo and Battista returned to Rome and they along with the rest of the family, were allowed to occupy their palace once more. But Lorenzo was no longer a zealot on fire; he was tired and broken. Tragedy had taken a toll on him. Frances tenderly cared for her spouse. The miracles connected with Frances began to spread throughout the seven hills of Rome. People asked her to pray for them, and they were healed. Others asked her to settle disputes between families and even on civil matters. God was using her. Lorenzo loved her more and more each day, but he could see that she was to go another step in her walk with Jesus; he released her from occupying his bed and living a fully sacramental life as his wife. He just asked that she remain under his roof, living as brother and sister.
Frances could see that this was the Lord's way to tell her this was His Will and His timetable, and so she founded a community of women. This dream had been growing in her mind and heart and now, it was to become a reality: a community of women living in the world, bound by no vows, who would devote themselves to a life consecrated to doing God's Will through serving the poor and helpless. She received the full approval of her confessor and the first community was called the Oblates of Mary, later to be known as the Oblates of Tor de' Specchi.
The community of women continued to live at home and serve the poor for seven years when they were called to open a house for the women to meet and pray together. It was an old building, but they loved it and named it: Tor de' Specchi. Whenever she could get some free time from caring for her family (never neglecting them for one moment), she would go to the house and share the work and prayer life of the community of women she had founded. Three years passed when the Lord called Lorenzo Home. A grieving widow laid her dear spouse to rest beside his children Evangelist and Agnes. Her family no longer needing her (Battista was married), Frances told them she was thinking of entering her community.
On the Feast of St. Benedict, Frances requested she be allowed to enter as just another member of the community. The one whom she had chosen as Superior when the house had first opened, Agnes de Lellis, immediately insisted on stepping down and the community of women greeted their foundress as their Superior, all her objections failing to accomplish her desired effect. She continued living a life of extreme austerity and maintained all the forms of mortification and discipline she had practiced all her life.