Friday, January 8, 2010

St. Therese of Lisieux, Purgatory, Human Weakness and Why I haven't blogged

SO to translate the title of this post: A Miscellaneous Ramble Through Paul's Thoughts Today. I should probably start with St. Therese - But I'm going to make you read to the bottom for that. You can probably just skim though.

So here is the deal. I'm pretty good at looking and acting like a decent sort of chap, at least for short engagements, or especially over the internet (my wife and kids of course know better). Occasionally someone, usually at a celebration for a baptism, will comment on what great kids I have and what a great Dad I am and how I am "holy" or a "saint" or some such. When this first occurred it startled me but I quickly came up with a response: "Well, I'm hoping to get into purgatory, but I figure I'm going to be there for a LONG time."

Over the past few years as I have wrestled with my demons. I have tried and failed to overcome and defeat sin in my life. I have tried and failed to be better husband and father. I have tried to be less selfish. I have tried to stop being so glutenous - and I'm not just talking about dieting - and failed. And so on, right on through the list of 7 deadly sins. Then there is total failure at work and even being productive. To be clear - my 'trying' has meant prayer and relying on God.... I know I will never heal myself.

Through all of this I have often found myself contemplating my failures, weaknesses and sins while trying to figure out "what next." Always the answer is the same although sometimes I try really hard to find another. The answer is go to confession, resolve to keep trying and commit myself to Christ. That is followed by doing better at daily prayer etc..

To my thinking my line about purgatory seemed very applicable. Actually, I really sometimes doubt whether I will ultimately "make the cut" or "be saved." Really. I see a real possibility of Hell in my eternity. So the question becomes "Why bother continuing to fail? Why not just accept my fate and stop trying." And my resolution has been to go back and modify that line. In my own thoughts I think well "I'm either going to be the fellow in Hell that tried hardest to stay out, or suffer more than just about anybody else in purgatory."

Believe it or not, that has brought some peace to me - if you can call it that. Due to some gift of grace I can't fathom, I'm stubborn and I'm not going to quit on God. Really if I burn for eternity so be it, but I'm not going to go there on purpose! I have to admit, there hasn't been much of the virtue of Hope in me. I am getting very, very tired of the whole thing.

So, if I hooked you on St. Therese - here it comes and the purgatory part too. I've read "The Story of a Soul" and probably one or two other bits of writing from St. Therese, but I wasn't aware of anything about her theology of purgatory. Cleaning up my very disorganized and cluttered office / sleeping area I found a partly crumpled printout of "God's Mercy is Greater: The Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux on purgatory" by Father Dr. Hubert van Dijk, ORC. I don't know where I got it from, I had to google it to find the link for you all.

I am sure many of you will struggle to digest St. Therese's views. They challenge my understanding of purgatory! "Oh! How you grieve me! You do great injury to God in believing you're going to Purgatory. When we love, we can't go there." (Last Conversations, ICS. Washington DC, 1971, pg 273) WOW! So according to this paper, St. Therese said that we would offend God if we didn't trust enough that we would get to heaven right after dying. Here is one more direct quote from St. Therese speaking to one of her novices Maria Philomena:
You do not have enough trust. You have too much fear before the good God. I can assure you that He is grieved over this. You Should not fear Purgatory because of the suffering there, but should instead ask that you not deserve to go there in order to please God, Who so reluctantly imposes this punishment. As soon as you try to please Him in everything and have an unshakable trust He purifies your every moment in His love and He lets no sin remain. And then you can be sure that you will not have to go to Purgatory.
Somehow, I find this message to be a very great source of Hope for me today. Because regardless of my weaknesses and failures, I do Love God! I want to Trust in God's Mercy. I know enough not to take that too far and fall into presumption. I still abhor my sins.

Now, about blogging. Among other things besides being an alcoholic and a drug addict, I'm a perfectionist, obsessive compulsive with ADHD and a quitter. There in my weaknesses and sinfulness, I'm a great one for good starts! I'm terrible at FINISHING! I wrote a few posts here, and you people actually READ them, and some people shared how they liked them and I obsessed on writing them for a few days. Then came the day that I couldn't find a way to right a piece that was "good enough" and the self imposed pressure was on to be a big shot blogger. So I disappeared into a different fantasy besides the real world responsibilities I should focus on.

That's that

God Bless


  1. Paul,
    It's nice to see you back. I've read that writing of St Therese on Purgatory; there is hope in it, but I found it difficult at first. I too am one of those people who wonders if "I will make the cut."
    As for blogging~give it to God. I find when I do that He supplies the material to write about.
    Thanks for the honest and thoughtful post.
    God Bless!

  2. Paul,

    It's almost like you just posted my own recent struggles. My own demons are a little different from yours, but the path seems very similar - right down to the difficulty blogging. Keep at it, my friend, God never gives up!

  3. Re Blogging - there's so much crap* out there that it is refreshing to read something worth reading. Thank you for this post

    Re: St. Therese theology of the big P. I am reading, nearly done, Maurice & Therese: The Story of A Love (their letters to each other). I've been knocked out by understanding her theology of heaven and some of her thinking regarding Purgatory is inferred. She's declared as a Doctor of the Church so I am finding that there is some adjustment needed in my thinking and therefore my faith (as in how I respond to such teaching in terms of the practical living out of my day to day spiritual journey).

    Paul, thank you for your honesty.

    As a former Protestant I can understand how Protestants misunderstand Catholics in regard to salvation because sometimes "Catholic guilt" goes too far and seems to make God's grace too little, too inadequate to save us from ourselves. The other extreme is, of course, a cocky kind of self assurance of the once-saved-always-saved kind. Neither end of the spectrum is faithful to the teachings of Jesus's glorious Church. I say this as a an encouragement to us not as a criticism of you or your experience.

    Re the demons - what frival said is what I was just about to say, different badboys, very similar path, including blogging as, ah-hem, we know.

    *By crap I am thinking of those who most often carp on and on about others, full of nastiness and false humility, slicing and dicing others, on a daily basis calling out the faults of other Catholics - too liberal, too traditional, too much!

  4. Thank you for this post. It was so good to hear of St. Therese's attitude concerning Purgatory. I have also struggled a lot with throwing in the towel, but whenever I do I think about what Peter said: "Where else would we go?"