The purgative stage of illness.
When we are sick, all of our bodily eliminations literally spew out the impurities that pollute our system and are responsible for making us sick. You can be so sick you almost feel better after vomiting repeatedly - just for a minute or so, of course. Have you ever been so sick you can't even pray? That can happen.
I'm just starting to feel better today - I'm regaining my perspective I think. I have to think of it as a real purgation nonetheless. Finally this morning I was able to 'say' my prayers, and I thought of Catherine of Genoa right away - therefore she is my patron for the day. Did you know she once told an uppity priest that if she thought for one minute his habit would make her holy she'd rip it off his back and put it on and live a religious life. What's that got to do with anything? I don't know. But I love her and she knew first hand about purgation, sickness and depression, and unsentimental charity.
This morning I noted on Spirit Daily an essay on Purgatory based upon some private revelations - I didn't read it all - just skimmed it - but it led me to re-read something from John of the Cross, from his Living Flame of Love, which resonated with me more clearly. As I always say, St. John writes for contemplatives, I don't consider myself one of them. He also writes about the various stages of the spiritual life - especially in advanced souls, something I don't concern myself with since it is all above me. Nevertheless, the psychological state John describes strikes me as helpful in shedding some light on the very idea and purpose of purgatory - here on earth and in the actual state after death. I'll share some highlights here.
The purgative way.
"Spiritual writers call this activity the purgative way. In it a person suffers great deprivation and feels heavy afflictions in his spirit , which ordinarily overflow into the senses, for this flame is extremely oppressive.
In this preparatory purgation the flame is not bright for a person, but dark. if it does shed some light, the only reason is that the soul may see its miseries and defects. It is not gentle, but afflictive."
[I want to stop right there for a moment. This is what many saints described in their conversions - which were not overnight excursions. Think of Angela d'Foligno and Margaret d'Cortona - they went in stages - and others went in longer stages. Like Sr. C., the nun I mentioned in a former post, she lived in affliction all her religious life and only on her deathbed did she experience any consolation. Most of us believe we are converted, do a little penance, make a few sacrifices, do the right stuff, and boom! We're all spiritual and good. I don't think we can comprehend authentic Roman Catholic spirituality with a new age, prosperity gospel mentality. But I am no one to listen to. Let's get back to the text.]
"Sometimes, out of his goodness, god accords some delight in order to strengthen and encourage it, the soul suffers for this before and after with another trial. Neither is the flame (the Living Flame, the Holy Spirit) refreshing and peaceful, but it is consuming and contentious, making a person faint and suffer with self-knowledge. Thus it is not glorious for the soul, but rather makes it feel wretched and distressed in the spiritual light of self-knowledge which it bestows. as Jeremiah declares, God sends fire into its bones and instructs it. [Lam. 1:13]; and as David asserts, He tries it by fire. [Ps. 16:3]
At this stage a person suffers from sharp trials in his intellect, severe dryness and distress in his will, and from the burdensome knowledge of his own miseries in his memory, for his spiritual eye gives him a very clear picture of himself. [...] This purgation resembles what Job said God did to him: you are changed to be cruel toward me. [Jb. 30:21] for when a soul suffers all of these things jointly, it truly seems that God has become displeased with it and cruel.
A person's suffering at this time cannot be exaggerated; they are but little less than the sufferings of purgatory." - St. John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love, Stanza 1, Commentary, 18-21
And just think, Job was a just man. Elsewhere St. John quotes scripture, "Only with difficulty will the just man be saved."
Art: Catherine of Genoa. I got this from Idle Speculations, which has a very good post on St. Catherine which I found after searching for an image of the saint.