Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Purgatory, Holy Souls and Us - Knox

Dante gazes at Mount Purgatory (1530) - Agnolo Bronzino

IF YOU ACCEPT THE FULL teaching of the Church - I am perhaps speaking to some who do not, but they must pardon me for parting company with them here - if you accept the full teaching of the Church, these scruples (of unworthiness) will be sublimated for you by the doctrine of purgatory. We have, most of us, a despairing sense of inadequacy when we contemplate the holiness of God's saints, and compare our own record with it; we have, many of us, a feeling almost of envy when we visit people, or hear of people, whose life seems nothing better than one long round of suffering. Why is it that this discipline of suffering has fallen so little on us, who need it so greatly? If I may use a modern phrase, we are appalled at the differential. It straightens things out for us, if we believe that after death we shall go through a period of waiting and of discipline before we can become what we long to be, yet almost fear to be - perfect souls.

So, all through the month of November, we (remember) in our prayers the needs of the faithful departed; the holy souls, we call them, but we mean that they are not quite holy enough. What picture are we to form of those needs? We shall not find, I think, even in Dante, much aid to the imagination. But we can, perhaps, get some glimpse of what it all means if we concentrate our attention on the ancient prayer which the Church uses in this connection: "Grant them, O Lord, eternal rest, and may perpetual light shine upon them."

- Ronald A. Knox

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