July 16th On the suffering of souls in the middle state
Consider first, that in this middle state of souls, (which are neither so perfect and pure as to be presently associated with the angels and saints in heaven, nor yet so bad as to be condemned to that lower hell, out of which there is no redemption,) these spirits in prison suffer much from their being kept at a distance from their God, their only true and sovereign good. They are perfectly sensible now how infinite he is in himself, in goodness, beauty, truth, and all perfections; and what an infinite happiness it is to be with him and to enjoy him eternally. All those created goods that before claimed any share in their affections are now vanished away, and their whole hearts are now carried towards him with such vehement, longing desires as by us mortals can neither be expressed or conceived; so that their being detained from him, in whom alone they can find repose, is an unspeakable anguish to their souls. And what adds to their torture is the sense they now have of their sins – of all those spots and stains which disqualify them for the enjoyment of their God, and of those unhappy debts that keep them at a distance from him, which they resent with so great horror that heaven itself would be no heaven to them if their sins were to follow them thither.
Consider 2ndly, that besides these two kinds of sufferings from the absence of God and the presence of sin, which are common (though not in equal degree) to all those imprisoned spirits, there are other great torments inflicted on such as have been great debtors and negligent penitents, but all with a just proportion to their sins. ‘They shall be saved,’ says the apostle, ‘yet so as by fire,’ 1 Cor. iii. 15. But what kind of fire? O! a fire kindled by the wrath of God – a fire which shall penetrate their whole souls and burn without consuming – in some for many years, in some perhaps even to the day of judgment! But because it is said they shall be saved this fire is made light of, saith St. Austin, (Psalm xxvii.,) but surely, though they shall be saved by it, yet is this fire more grievous than whatsoever a man can suffer in this life. Christians, see, then, how much you are enemies to your own souls when, for fear of hurting these sinful carcasses, you neglect to punish your sins by mortifications and penance, and by this means reserve so much more fuel for this purging fire.
Consider 3rdly, that however rigorous the divine justice is in the punishments it inflicts on account of sin upon those souls that are in this state of a fiery purgation, yet their condition admits of many comforts that are denied to the damned, which make an immense difference between the one fire and the other. For as these souls have departed this life in the state of charity and grace, true penitents though imperfect, they are here comforted with a good conscience, and with the assurance they have that they love God and are loved by him: they know that they are his children and under his protection, and that their sufferings shall soon have an end, (for all time is short,) and shall terminate in the never-ending joys of a happy eternity. In the meanwhile the love they have for God gives them a perfect conformity with his blessed will, and a certain peace, content, and joy in all they suffer, because such is his will; they even desire that divine justice should be satisfied, and lovingly embrace those flames that are to purify them from the rust of sin and to fit them for him. O how happy should we be if, under all our sufferings here, we entered into the like sentiments! Such a purgatory as this, of temporal sufferings endured with resignation, humility, and love, would go a great way towards purifying our souls from our sins, and fitting them for heaven.
Conclude, since nothing impure can ever come to be united to the infinite purity of God till it be first thoroughly purged, either in this world or the next, to make it thy business to get thyself thoroughly purified here by penitential labours, by patience in sufferings, and by fervour in the practice of all virtues, but especially of divine charity. For this will be to thee a far more easy, mild, and wholesome purgatory than the dreadful fire of the world to come.