The month of November is dedicated to the poor souls in purgatory. These holy souls are assured of their salvation and enjoy the possession of the three theological virtues, and yet they suffer greatly. Indeed, excepting only the pains of hell, there is no suffering which can compare with that which the souls endure in the purifying fires of purgatory.
The one consolation of purgatory would be the fact that it is only temporal and not eternal suffering which must be endured. Indeed, every soul in purgatory will eventually enjoy the beatitude of heaven. However, the souls which languish there are not consoled by this thought, for it seems to them that their purgation will go on forever. While they do truly possess the theological virtue of hope (and so are certain of their salvation), yet they are overcome by the thought that their current sufferings will go on forever and that God has abandoned them.
This is the teaching of the mystical doctor, St. John of the Cross. His experience of the dark night of the soul gave him light in this point.
Dark Night of the Soul, book II, chapter 7
Speaking of the sufferings which those who on earth suffer the dark night of the soul must endure in order that they be purged from every evil impulse and desire, St. John of the Cross compares this to the sufferings of purgatory. Indeed, the dark night of the soul is a veritable purgatory on earth, just as the unitive way is a quasi-heaven in the soul even while she remains upon earth.
“This is the reason why those who lie in purgatory suffer great misgivings as to whether they will ever go forth from it and whether their pains will ever be over. For, although they have the habit of the three theological virtues—faith, hope and charity—the present realization which they have of their afflictions and of their deprivation of God allows them not to enjoy the present blessing and consolation of these virtues.
“For, although they are able to realize that they have a great love for God, this is no consolation to them, since they cannot think that God loves them or that they are worthy that He should do so; rather, as they see that they are deprived of Him, and left in their own miseries, they think that there is that in themselves which provides a very good reason why they should with perfect justice be abhorred and cast out by God for ever.
“And thus although the soul in this purgation is conscious that it has a great love for God and would give a thousand lives for Him (which is the truth, for in these trials such souls love their God very earnestly), yet this is no relief to it, but rather brings it greater affliction. For it loves Him so much that it cares about naught beside; when, therefore, it sees itself to be so wretched that it cannot believe that God loves it, nor that there is or will ever be reason why He should do so, but rather that there is reason why it should be abhorred, not only by Him, but by all creatures for ever, it is grieved to see in itself reasons for deserving to be cast out by Him for Whom it has such great love and desire.”
How greatly do the poor souls need our prayers! They cannot help themselves and they know not how long they must yet suffer. As we come to the end of the month of November, we would do well to gain a plenary indulgence for their succor through visiting a cemetery and offering prayers in their behalf.
Eternal rest grant them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.