There are many Traditional Catholics, it appears, who perceive sanctification as a sort of "green stamps" process. They approach their spirituality as if their baptismal certificate comes with an empty book, all ready to be filled with indulgences and merits. This book, when filled, is a ticket into heaven.
Therefore, they go through life, much like a squirrel gathering nuts, collecting their green stamps. People with this perception of heaven absolutely love indulgences, for indulgences are extra bonus stamps!
Unfortunately, getting into heaven is not as mechanical a process as many think. St. Peter does not have a "Glenn Beck" chalkboard, wherein every time someone sins, he gets a demerit, and every time he performs an act of charity, it is erased.
In addition, there are those who rely heavily on the many promises given, such as those of devotion to the Sacred Heart or praying the rosary. When Christ said in the beatitudes, for example, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," He did not say, "for they will soar into heaven at the moment of death."
What He is reflecting upon is the effect of the graces received when one strives to be poor in spirit. These graces draw us closer to Him and make us ever more docile to the Holy Ghost. Those who pursue such a spiritual life will ultimately enter heaven. This is true; however, no one goes to heaven without perfection and as one may be destined for heaven, there may very well be a necessary sanctification period (i.e., purgatory) before that happens.
So when God promises eternal life, it is erroneous to perceive that promise as a "Get Out of Purgatory Free" card.
IT'S NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU DO; IT'S ABOUT WHO YOU ARE
It is unfortunate that in these End Times, few are educated on the interior life when it is such a vital part of our spirituality. Most religious today are either too busy, too uninformed, or just too disinterested to address such a topic from the pulpit. Traditional Catholic high schools should offer this to seniors before they go out into the world on their own. Again, how many teaching religious are well versed on the subject?
Some spiritual fathers are likely to be a hindrance and harm rather than a help to these souls that journey on this road. Such directors have neither understanding nor experience of these ways. They are like the builders of the tower of Babel. When these builders were supposed to provide the proper materials for the project, they brought entirely different supplies because they failed to understand the language. And thus nothing was accomplished. Hence, it is arduous and difficult for a soul in these periods of the spiritual life when it cannot understand itself or find anyone else who understands it. (1)
Green stamping is dangerous, for it impresses upon one the false idea that he has control over his sanctification and it can lead to spiritual sloth. Now that may sound contradictory, as green stampers are those who always appear to be on their knees, rattling off prayers like someone adding up points on a video game. This approach to sanctification, however, is actually taking the easy way.
We can apply, then, what Christ says about the narrow gate to the sensitive part of the human person, and what he says about the constricting way to the spiritual or rational part. Since he proclaims that few find it, we ought to note the cause: Few there are with the knowledge and desire to enter into this supreme nakedness and emptiness of spirit.
As this path on the high mount of perfection is narrow and steep, it demands travelers who are neither weighed down by the lower part of their nature nor burdened in the higher part. This is a venture in which God alone is sought and gained; thus, only God ought to be sought and gained. (2)
This goes back, again, to the difference between devotions and devotion. (3) Approaching devotions as a means to an end, rather than a total immersion into God is not only offensive to God, but also an act of self-love and pride.
JOHN OF THE CROSS
In "Ascent to Mt. Carmel," John of the Cross writes about those who perceive sanctification as an S&H Green Stamp-type process.
Oh, who can make this counsel of our Savior on self-denial understandable, and practicable, and attractive, that spiritual persons might become aware of the difference between the method many of them think is good and the one that ought to be used in traveling this road!
They are of the opinion that any kind of withdrawal from the world, or reformation of life, suffices. Some are content with a certain degree of virtue, perseverance in prayer, and mortification, but never achieve the nakedness, poverty, selflessness, or spiritual purity (which are all the same) about which the Lord counsels us here.
For they still feed and clothe their natural selves with spiritual feelings and consolations instead of divesting and denying themselves of these for God's sake. They think denial of self in worldly matters is sufficient without annihilation and purification in the spiritual domain.
It happens that, when some of this solid, perfect food (the annihilation of all sweetness in God -- the pure spiritual cross and nakedness of Christ's poverty of spirit) is offered them in dryness, distaste, and trial, they run from it as from death and wander about in search only of sweetness and delightful communications from God.
Such an attitude is not the hallmark of self-denial and nakedness of spirit but the indication of a spiritual sweet tooth. Through this kind of conduct they become, spiritually speaking, enemies of the cross of Christ. (4)
In his book, "Three Ages of the Interior Life," (5) Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, discusses the connection between the infused virtue of charity and Christian perfection (which is necessary for the beatific vision). He asks the question, "Can a person attain to a lofty degree of habitual charity without great effort and generosity, by long years of daily Communion and of rather weak meritorious acts, so that, with this lofty charity, he would remain notably imperfect through lack of generosity in combating inordinate passions? (6)
In answering this question, he defers to the opinion of St. Thomas and the ancient theologians who claim a direct relationship between the disposition of fervor when receiving a sacrament, and the actual amount of grace received.
In their opinion, imperfect acts of charity do not immediately obtain the increase of charity that they merit, but only when there is a serious effort toward good.
Likewise, Holy Communion received with very little devotion obtains only a scant increase of charity, just as a person profits from the heat of a fireplace in proportion as he draws nearer to it instead of remaining at a distance. (7)
He concludes, then, that without great effort a person cannot reach a high degree of charity by years of daily Communion and weakly meritorious acts. By such practices, he can succeed in remaining in the state of grace or in rising rapidly after having sinned mortally, but certainly he cannot reach a lofty charity in this way. (8)
Translation: It's quality, not quantity. No matter how many times a day one goes to confession, how many days a week, a month, a year he receives Communion, if it is done with the intent of collecting S&H green stamps, he may be in for a surprise.
Many green-stampers, because of their numerous outward signs of piety, enjoy the misplaced admiration of other green-stampers. This results in an increase of self-love and pride. In a sense, their many devotions lead them further away from God—a result directly opposite to the destination they believe themselves to be approaching.
There was once a woman who was a devout Traditional Catholic. She kept the Commandments to the best of her ability, said her daily rosary, and received the sacraments as often as possible. She followed all the rules and, essentially, was a holy woman. One day, she openly she expressed her indignation that theologians and many saints often referred to themselves and the rest of humanity as "lowly worms."
"I am not a lowly worm," she said.
St. Gertrude: "How powerfully and exuberantly are the most delicious torrents of Thy most sweet Divinity pouring themselves forth on me, vile worm that I am, crawling in my negligences and sins." (9)
Venerable Mary of Agreda: "Thou be blest, magnificent King, because Thou has deigned to show me, thy slave and a vile worm of the earth, great sacraments and most sublime mysteries, exalting my habitation and raising my spirit to a height, in which I saw things unspeakable." (10)
Catherine of Siena: "Thou be blest, magnificent King, because Thou has deigned to show me, thy slave and a vile worm of the earth, great sacraments and most sublime mysteries, exalting my habitation and raising my spirit to a height, in which I saw things unspeakable." (11)
St. Teresa of Ávila: "Blessed be Thou, O my Lord, who, out of a pool so filthy as I am, bringest forth water so clean as to be meat for Thy table! Praised be Thou, O Joy of the Angels, who hast been thus pleased to exalt so vile a worm!" (12)
St. Theresa of the Flower of Jesus: "What was I then when I was not? What was I? Who now being something am yet but a simple and poor worm of the earth?" (13)
Our Blessed Mother: "Most high God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, my eternal and highest Good, since I cannot praise Thee worthily, let it be done in the name of this humble slave by the angelic spirits; since Thou, immense Lord, who hast need of none, dost look upon this lowly wormlet of the earth in thy unbounded mercy." (14)
I will not enlarge on this, though I would like to continue discussing the matter because from my observations Christ is little known by those who consider themselves his friends. For we see them going about seeking in him their own consolations and satisfactions, loving themselves very much, but not loving him very much by seeking his bitter trials and deaths.
I am referring to those who believe themselves his friends, not to those who live withdrawn and far away from him, people of extensive learning and high repute, and many others living elsewhere in the world, anxious about their pretensions and rank. These people, we can affirm, do not know Christ. (15)
THOMAS AQUINAS ON HUMILITY
Thomas Aquinas cites the seven degrees of humility in "Suma Theologica, Secunda Secundæ Partis":
1. to acknowledge ourselves contemptible
2. to grieve on account of this
3. to admit that we are so
4. to wish our neighbor to believe it
5. patiently to endure its being said
6. willingly to be treated as a person worthy of contempt
7. to love to be treated in this fashion (16)
Such humility is truly perfection, or, as St. Thomas says, “the state of those who aim chiefly at union with and enjoyment of God: this belongs to the perfect who desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ” and who do not recoil before hard things to be accomplished for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. “The state of perfection...consists in the perfect love of God and contempt of self." (17)
In his book, "Three Ages of the Interior Life," (18) Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, discusses the connection between the infused virtue of charity and Christian perfection (which is necessary for the beatific vision). In so doing, he poses the question: "Can a person attain to a lofty degree of habitual charity without great effort and generosity, by long years of daily Communion and of rather weak meritorious acts, so that, with this lofty charity, he would remain notably imperfect through lack of generosity in combating inordinate passions? (19)
He defers to the opinion of St. Thomas and the ancient theologians who claim a direct relationship between the disposition of fervor when receiving a sacrament, and the actual amount of grace received.
In their opinion, imperfect acts of charity do not immediately obtain the increase of charity that they merit, but only when there is a serious effort toward good. (20)
Likewise, Holy Communion received with very little devotion obtains only a scant increase of charity, just as a person profits from the heat of a fireplace in proportion as he draws nearer to it instead of remaining at a distance.
Lastly, according to St. Thomas, by absolution lost merits are restored in the same degree only if the penitent has a contrition commensurate with his sin and with the graces lost.
From what we have said, we conclude that without great effort a person cannot reach a high degree of charity by years of daily Communion and weakly meritorious acts. By such practices he can succeed in remaining in the state of grace or in rising rapidly after having sinned mortally, but certainly he cannot reach a lofty charity in this way. (21)
Translation: It's quality, not quantity. No matter how many times a day you go to confession, how many days a week, a month, a year you receive Communion, if it is done with the intent that you're collecting S&H green stamps to fill your book, it's not going to cut the mustard.
ST. MAGDALEN DE PAZZI
St. Magdalen de Pazzi was a Florentine Carmelite who, in 1607, was walking in the convent garden one evening when suddenly she was ravished in ecstasy, and saw purgatory open before her. She walked for two hours around the garden, which was very large, pausing from time to time. Each time she interrupted her walk, she contemplated attentively the sufferings, which were shown to her.
"Each time she interrupted her walk, she contemplated attentively the sufferings which were shown to her. She was then seen to wring her hands in compassion, her face became pale, her body bent under the weight of suffering, in presence of the terrible spectacle with which she was confronted.
"She began to cry aloud in lamentation, 'Mercy, my God, mercy! Descend, O Precious Blood, and deliver these souls from their prison. Poor souls! You suffer so cruelly and yet you are content and cheerful. The dungeons of the martyrs in comparison with these were gardens of delight. Nevertheless, there are others still deeper. How happy should I esteem myself were I not obliged to go down into them'
"She did descend, however, for she was forced to continue her way. But when she had taken a few steps, she stopped terror-stricken, and, sighing deeply, she cried, 'What! Religious also in this dismal abode! Good God! How they are tormented! Ah, Lord! 'She does not explain the nature of their sufferings, but the horror which she manifested in contemplating them caused her to sigh at each step.
"She passed from thence into less gloomy places. They were the dungeons of simple souls, and of children in whom ignorance and lack of reason extenuated many faults. Their torments appeared to her much more endurable than those of the others. Nothing but ice and fire were there. She noticed that these souls had their angel-guardians with them, who fortified them greatly by their presence, but she saw also demons whose dreadful forms increased their sufferings.
"Advancing a few paces, she saw souls still more unfortunate, and she was heard to cry out, 'Oh! How horrible is this place; it is full of hideous demons and incredible torments! Who, O my God, are the victims of these cruel tortures? Alas! They are being pierced with sharp swords; they are being cut into pieces.' She was answered that they were the souls whose conduct had been tainted with hypocrisy.
"Advancing a little, she saw a great multitude of souls which were bruised, as it were, and crushed under a press, and she understood that they were those souls which had been addicted to impatience and disobedience during life.
"Whilst contemplating them, her looks, her sighs, her whole attitude betokened compassion and terror. A moment later her agitation increased, and she uttered a dreadful cry. It was the dungeon of lies, which now lay open before her. After having attentively considered it, she cried aloud, 'Liars are confined in a place in the vicinity of Hell, and their sufferings are exceedingly great. Molten lead is poured into their mouths; I see them burn, and at the same time tremble with cold'
"She then went to the prison of those souls which had sinned through weakness, and she was heard to exclaim, 'Alas! I had thought to find you among those who have sinned through ignorance, but I am mistaken; you burn with an intenser fire.'
"Farther on, she perceived souls which had been too much attached to the goods of this world, and had sinned by avarice. 'What blindness,' said she, 'thus eagerly to seek a perishable fortune! Those whom formerly riches could not sufficiently satiate, are here gorged with torments. They are smelted like metal in the furnace.'
"From thence she passed into the place where those souls were imprisoned which had formerly been stained with impurity. She saw them in so filthy and pestilential a dungeon that the sight produced nausea.
"She turned away quickly from that loathsome spectacle. Seeing the ambitious and the proud, she said, 'Behold those who wished to shine before men; now they are condemned to live in this frightful obscurity.'
"Then she was shown those souls which had been guilty of ingratitude towards God. They were a prey to unutterable torments, and, as it were, drowned in a lake of molten lead, for having by their ingratitude dried up the source of piety.
"Finally, in a last dungeon, she was shown souls that had not been given to any particular vice, but which, through lack of proper vigilance over themselves, had committed all kinds of trivial faults. She remarked that these souls had share in the chastisements of all vices, in a moderate degree, because those faults committed only from time to time rendered them less guilty than those committed through habit." (22)
THE CAUSE OF SUFFERING, MATTER OF THE EXPIATIONS OF PURGATORY: DOCTRINE OF FRANCISCO SUÁREZ (23) AND ST. CATHERINE OF GENOA (24)
"Why must souls thus suffer before being admitted to see the face of God? What is the matter, what is the subject of these expiations? What has the fire of Purgatory to purify, to consume in them?
"It is, say the doctors, the stains left by their sins. But what is here understood by stains? According to most theologians, it is not the guilt of sin, but the pain or the debt of pain proceeding from sin [also known as temporal punishment (25)]. To understand this well, we must remember that sin produces a double effect on the soul, which we call the debt (reatus) of guilt and the debt of pain; it renders the soul not only guilty, but deserving of pain or chastisement.
"Now, after the guilt is pardoned, it generally happens that the pain remains to be undergone, either entirely or in part, and this must be endured either in the present life or in the life to come. The souls in Purgatory retain not the slightest stain of guilt; the venial guilt which they had at the moment of their death has disappeared in the order of pure charity, with which they are inflamed in the other life, but they still bear the debt of suffering which they had not discharged before death.
"This debt proceeds from all the faults committed during their life, especially from mortal sins remitted as to the guilt, but which they have neglected to expiate by worthy fruits of exterior penance.
"Such is the common teaching of theologians, which Suarez sums up in his 'Treatise on the Sacrament of Penance.' 'We conclude then,' he says, 'that all venial sins with which a just man dies are remitted as to the guilt, at the moment when the soul is separated from the body, by virtue of an act of love of God, and the perfect contrition which it then excites over all its past faults.'
"In fact, the soul at this moment knows its condition perfectly, and the sins of which it has been guilty before God. At the same time, it is mistress of its faculties, to be able to act. On the other hand, on the part of God, the most efficacious helps are given to her, that she may act according to the measure of sanctifying grace which she possesses.
"It follows, then, that in this perfect disposition, the soul acts without the least hesitation. It turns directly towards its God, and finds itself freed from all its venial sins by an act of sovereign loathing of sin. This universal and efficacious act suffices for the remission of their guilt. All stain of guilt has then disappeared; but the pain remains to be endured, in all its rigour and long duration, at least for those souls that are not assisted by the living.
"They cannot obtain the least relief for themselves, because the time of merit has passed; they can no longer merit, they can but suffer, and in that way pay to the terrible justice of God all that they owe, even to the last farthing. Usque ad novissimum quadrantem. (26)
"These debts of pain are the remains of sin, and a kind of stain, which intercepts the vision of God, and places an obstacle to the union of the soul with its last end. Since the souls in Purgatory are freed from the guilt of sin, writes St. Catherine of Genoa, there is no other barrier between them and their union with God save the remains of sin, from which they must be purified.
"This hindrance which they feel within them causes them to suffer the torments of the damned, of which I have spoken elsewhere, and retards the moment when the instinct by which they are drawn towards God as to their Sovereign Beatitude will attain its full perfection. They see clearly how serious before God is even the slightest obstacle raised by the remains of sin, and that it is by necessity of justice that He delays the full gratification of their desire of everlasting bliss. This sight enkindles within them a burning flame, like that of Hell, yet without the guilt of sin. (27)
(1) John of the Cross, "Ascent to Mt. Carmel," 4(2)
(2) John of the Cross, "Ascent to Mt. Carmel," 7.3(2)
(4) Ascent to Mt. Carmel, Chapter 7 (7.5)
(5) Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald, O.P., "The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Volume I," trans. Sister M. Timothea Doyle, O.P., Illinois: Tan Books, 1989
(6) Ibid., p178
(7) See IIa IIae, q.24, a.6 ad 1um; Ia IIae, q. 114, a.8 ad 3um
(8) Garrigou-Lagrange, p179
(9) Revelations of St. Gertrude, Chapter 6
(10) Venerable Mary of Agreda, "Mystical City of God," Volume II, p46
(11) Letters of Catherine of Siena
(12) The Life of Teresa of Jesus, Chapter 19
(13) Treatise on the Love of God, Chapter 12
(14) "Mystical City of God," Volume I
(15) John of the Cross, "Ascent to Mt. Carmel," 7.12
(16) See IIa IIae, q. 161, a.6
(17) The Dark Night of the Soul, Bk. II, chap. 18
(18) Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald, O.P., "The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Volume I," trans. Sister M. Timothea Doyle, O.P., Illinois: Tan Books, 1989
(19) Ibid., p178
(20) See IIa IIae, q.24, a.6 ad 1um; Ia IIae, q. 114, a.8 ad 3um
(21) Garrigou-Lagrange, p179
(22) Rev. F. X. Schouppe, S.J. "Purgatory Illustrated by the Lives and Legends of the Saints," London: Burns and Oates Ltd., 1893, pp 13-16. (This book is available online at: http://www.saintsbooks.net/books/Rev.%20F.X.%20Schouppe,%20S.J.%20-%20Pu....)
(26) Matthew v.26
(27) Traiti du Pnrgatoire, chap. 3
(28) Schouppe., pp85-87