We are not all created to know God equally. We are not all loved equally. The person who is wealthy and has a lovely home on the California or Greek coast, if these things have not been won through vice, has, indeed, been blessed by God more obviously than a homeless person in Tampa. This does not mean that the homeless person will not end up being a greater saint. That is the mystery of grace as well as us seeing the mystery of blessings.
We are not all created to know God in His Glory in heaven equally. St. Mary, of course, knows and loves God more than any other creature. Who can say who else is close to Mary’s perception and ability to see and love, as well as receive God’s love more deeply than most people?
Dante places one of my favorite saints close to the throne, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who on my old blog, I had written much about and who I call “the saint of love”.
The great saints have the blessing of seeing God in His glory more clearly and knowing Him more intimately than lesser saints, than those striving to be saints.
Perhaps most Catholics do not realize that purgatory brings no merit. One cannot win a higher place in heaven by sustaining the fires of purgatory. Purgatory is, “purgation”, the cleansing of all sins of the senses and spirit, the tendencies to sin, and the predominant fault.
We shall see God by the graces we have merited while on earth, and by the love of God we have learned on earth.
One cannot “fudge” this examination of the soul in the particular judgment. One cannot cram for salvation, although God can lift people out of sins and does grant great graces for some “at the last minute”.
Such is the parable of the men working in the fields and receiving the same wage, no matter how hard they has worked all day—heaven is granted to all who have worked, sweat, begged and repented for it.
Garrigou-Lagrange puts it this way: “The degree of penetration is according to the intensity of the light of glory they have received, and this again is in proportion to their merits and their love of God acquired here on earth.” The they are those who have gone to heaven.
Purgatory purges one so that one is able to go to heaven, as only the perfect see God. However, if one has missed chances for holiness, for gaining merit, for being open to the love of God rather than the love of self and love of men, one cannot make up for these deficiencies after death.
Garrigou-Lagrange gives us a prayer, so that we can earn merit and learn love here and now. First, he states, “Let us often ask the good God to enlighten us through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that we may walk aright amid this interior light and shadow.” He is assuming that one is baptized and confirmed, that one has the gifts of the spirit released through the Dark Night, in order to see the darkness of the mystery of God in one’s life.
A version of this prayer is one I say after Communion, almost daily. “Grant me, O Lord, to know the obstacles that I am more or less conscious of placing in the way of grace and its working in me, and give me to strength to remove them, no matter what it may cost me.”
I also pray that God would remove all my hidden sins, my predominant faults and any thing standing between Him and me.
But, merit is more than the removing of obstacles. Merit is gained through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, through charity, through mortification. Without these actions, merit cannot be gained.
But, merit can also be gained by the quiet and uncomplaining acceptance of the sorrows and trials that God gives one. The highest merit is the humble acquiescence of God’s Will which may allow, in His permissive will, for the suffering of His servants.
All these events, such as serious illness, or financial set-backs, the loss of friends, calumny against us, even death of loved ones, can be the source of great merit.
Pray to live up to the spiritual potential that God created you to have—not for selfish reasons, but in order to please God by fulfilling His Perfect Will for your lives.
Remember that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the cardinal virtues, aid us on on way to this fulfilling of God’s plan for our lives.
Remember that faith, hope and love, the theological virtues, are given in baptism. The cardinal virtues flow from those: prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance. The gifts of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, fortitude, knowledge, understanding, piety, counsel, fear of the Lord lead each one of us to a deeper and deeper love of God; that personal relationship with the Trinity, Which dwells within.
Notice that these come before the fruits. And, recall that the life of the virtues flourishes only after purgation, that purification which frees up the supernatural virtues, although one may be walking in natural virtue.
So, merit comes out of the use of knowledge, wisdom, fortitude, and so on. If the gifts are not being used, if one ignores these gifts, merit cannot be gained at all, as the will and the intellect are weakened through sin.
Wisdom and prudence are intellectual virtues and thus, intellectual gifts; the other cardinal virtues, temperance, justice and fortitude come from the will. The will must be clear to accept these virtues, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit which lead one to greater holiness. Mercy also flows from the will. Garrigou-Lagrange reminds us of these Thomistic insights.
Step-by-step we gain merit but only, only after purgation. If we must go to purgatory, our merit in heaven has been diminished by sin.
Purgatory is not merely punishment for sin, but that refining fire which prepares one for heaven, if one has not allowed God to prepare one while on earth. I have prayed for my purgatory on earth. But, if one does, one must prepare one’s self for trials, which will purify one here and now.
My regret is that I did not “put all this knowledge and will” together until late in life. But, better late than never.
It is never too late to beg God for purgation and to earn merit here and now.