“Without mortification, nothing can be accomplished.”
--Saint Philip Neri
The purpose of Advent within the Church has always been a time of preparation. Just as in Lent, we prepare for one of the greatest events in the history of the world: the birth of Christ. God came to earth and became man. In the modern day, Advent has become a time to buy gifts for one another, get into the “Christmas spirit”, and spend time with family and friends. However, the Church has always held Advent as a time similar to Lent; a time of looking at our weaknesses and common faults, and getting rid of them. New Year’s resolutions come from the Catholic traditions of Advent: making amendments to our frequent faults and striving for perfection. One of the wonderful Catholic teachings that you do not hear anymore is that in order to get to heaven you need to join Christ on the Cross. You must crucify your “self”, or your fallen and sinful nature, if you wish to be saved. You can either do it here in this life, as the proclaimed saints of the Church did, or you can do it in purgatory if you die without serious sin on your soul. Truly, as Christ Himself said, in order to enter Heaven we must be perfect, and if we die in a state of imperfection, if we still have attachments to things of this world, then we will have to pass through purgatory in order to be cleansed.
Let us reflect for a moment upon purgatory. This is not a defense; there are other articles that defend the existence of purgatory. These are reflections upon purgatory to motivate you to start purging yourself now of earthly attachments. Tradition holds that there were two monks who promised each other, if it be God’s will, that whoever died first would share his state with the other. So it happened that one of them passed away. Soon after the one who had passed appeared to the second, and revealed that he had received 12 years in purgatory from the Just Judge. The still living monk congratulated him upon his privileged state. The monk in purgatory responded, “If you knew my suffering you would not rejoice. I would rather be flayed alive for a thousand years upon the earth than burn in these fires for a single day.”
Another story is related from the blessed visionary Saint Lidwina of Schiedam.
St. Lidwina of Schiedam was a 15th century Dutch saint and mystic. As a teenager, she had an ice skating accident that left her debilitated the rest of her life. A sinful man was converted by her prayers and and exhortation and was able to make a good confession, but he died soon after, unable to do much penance. After some time, she asked her guardian angel if he was still in purgatory, and she had this vision:
“‘He is there,’ said her angel, ‘and he suffers much. Would you be willing to endure some pain in order to diminish his?’ Certainly,’ she replied, ‘I am ready to suffer anything to assist him.’ Instantly her angel conducted her into a place of frightful torture. ‘Is this, then, Hell, my brother?’ asked the holy maiden, seized with horror. ‘No, sister,’ answered the angel, ‘but this part of Purgatory is bordering upon Hell.’
“Looking around on all sides, she saw what resembled an immense prison, surrounded with walls of a prodigious height, the blackness of which, together with the monstrous stones, inspired her with horror. Approaching this dismal enclosure, she heard a confused noise of lamenting voices, cries of fury, chains, instruments of torture, violent blows which the executioners discharged upon their victims. This noise was such that all the tumult of the world, in tempest or battle, could bear no comparison to it. ‘What, then, is that horrible place?’ asked St. Lidwina of her good angel. ‘Do you wish me to show it to you?’ ‘No, I beseech you,’ said she, recoiling with terror; ‘the noise which I hear is so frightful that I can no longer bear it ; how, then, could I endure the sight of those horrors?’
“Continuing her mysterious route, she saw an angel seated sadly on the curb of a well. ‘Who is that angel?’ she asked of her guide. ‘It is,’ he replied, ‘the angel-guardian of the sinner in whose lot you are interested. His soul is in this well, where it has a special Purgatory.’ At these words, Lidwina cast an inquiring glance at her angel; she desired to see that soul which was dear to her, and endeavour to release it from that frightful pit. Her angel, who understood her, having taken off the cover of the well, a cloud of flames, together with the most plaintive cries, came forth." Do you recognise that voice?’ said the angel to her. ‘Alas! yes,’ answered the servant of God. ‘Do you desire to see that soul?’ he continued. On her replying in the affirmative, he called him by his name; and immediately our virgin saw appear at the mouth of the pit a spirit all on fire, resembling incandescent metal, which said to her in a voice scarcely audible, ‘O Lidwina, servant of God, who will give me to contemplate the face of the Most High?’
“The sight of this soul, a prey to the most terrible torment of fire, gave our saint such a shock that the cincture which she wore around her body was rent in twain; and, no longer able to endure the sight, she awoke suddenly from her ecstasy. The persons present, perceiving her fear, asked her its cause. ‘Alas!" she replied, ‘how frightful are the prisons of Purgatory! It was to assist the souls that I consented to descend thither. Without this motive, if the whole world were given to me, I would not undergo the terror which that horrible spectacle inspired.’
“Some days later, the same angel whom she had seen so dejected appeared to her with a joyful countenance; he told her that the soul of his protege' had left the pit and passed into the ordinary Purgatory. This partial alleviation did not suffice the charity of Lidwina; she continued to pray for the poor patient, and to apply to him the merits of her sufferings, until she saw the gates of Heaven opened to him.” (Purgatory, by Fr. F. X. Schouppe, S.J., p. 16-19)
With these two stories in mind, would it not be easier to face any trial this world can offer in order to spare us from the fires of purgatory?
In conclusion, I encourage you to look at your life today. Use this time of Advent to your advantage! Ask for the graces necessary to begin to crucify your “self” with Christ. If you are in mortal sin, make a worthy confession and amend your life. Begin to practice mortification and penance worthy of your state in life, and pray for the souls in purgatory. Let this Advent be the start of something truly wonderful. For the glory of God and the salvation of souls, Amen.