The following two pieces are from a treatise by Catherine of Genoa a Christian mystic from the late 15th century. I added some of my own commentary in between.

“Chapter VIII: Of the Necessity of Purgatory and How terrible it is.

When I look at God, I see no gate to Paradise, and yet because God is all mercy he who wills enters there. God stands before us with open arms to receive us into His glory. But well I see the divine essence to be of such purity, greater far than can be imagined, that the soul in which there is even the least note of imperfection would rather cast itself into a thousand Hells than find itself thus stained in the presence of the Divine Majesty. Therefore the soul, understanding that Purgatory has been ordained to take away those stains, casts itself therein, and seems to itself to have found great mercy in that it can rid itself there of the impediment which is the stain of sin.”

The beginning of this paragraph is absolutely beautiful to me: there is no gate to Paradise; God welcomes all with open arms. Such a succinct image of divine love and acceptance! If only she had stopped there… but then it wouldn’t be much of a treatise on purgatory. The rest of the paragraph I understand as a clear description of human nature: comparing ourselves to an unattainable image of purity, we deem ourselves unworthy and choose to live in a purgatory of our own making so that we may one day be worthy. God is standing there, willing to take us in, just as we are, but we say “No! Not yet!”.

“No tongue can tell nor explain, no mind understand, the grievousness of Purgatory. But I, though I see that there is in Purgatory as much pain as in Hell, yet see the soul which has the least stain of imperfection accepting Purgatory, as I have said, as though it were a mercy, and holding its pains of no account as compared with the least stain which hinders a soul in its love. I seem to see that the pain which souls in Purgatory endure because of whatever in them displeases God, that is what they have willfully done against His so great goodness, is greater than any other pain they feel in Purgatory. And this is because, being in grace, they see the truth and the grievousness of the hindrance which stays them from drawing near to God.”

I think that in the second paragraph it’s possible that the author is projecting her own self-judgement onto God. She already said that God is willing to accept us just as we are, so where is this displeasure coming from if not from our own lack of acceptance? I would like to suggest that the only thing we need to purge ourselves from is this self-condemnation and the one thing we need to learn in this purgatory-on-earth is the ability to show ourselves the same acceptance and love that God is offering us at the gateless gate of heaven.

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