On the Road with the Sisters: Purgatory

Today, Sisters Teresa Benedicta and Martin Thérèse share insights into Purgatory, the Church’s teachings on it, and miracles, apparitions, and authenticated relics associated with Purgatory and the poor souls.

Sister Martin Thérèse:  Purgatory is about temporal punishment due to sin. We all sin. When we die and we’re face-to-face with God, we’re going to be so aware of our unworthiness that we are going to desire to be purified for our sins, and all the suffering that comes through that, we’re actually going to want to experience so that we can be in the presence of God, fully alive, cleansed of all of our sins.

Sister Teresa Benedicta: When I was younger, the image that always came to mind is when we would have guests, mom would go in to “clean the house” mode. All of a sudden, everything stopped and everything had to be immaculate. It’s kind of like that with our own souls where we would be uncomfortable in God’s Presence if we hadn’t cleaned up a little bit of what’s there.

One of the prominent things in Catholic culture and in Catholic art is the reality of death. You look at the paintings of the Saints, particularly from the Middle Ages, and there are often skulls in paintings. We don’t know the time, but all of us need to be prepared for it because at the moment of death, our life choices that we’ve made determine our eternity. It was so present, particularly in a world where death was common with plagues and diseases in a way that is not so much for us now because we expect to live longer, but none of us know and all of us should be aware and present to the reality that this life is very short. When you think about eternity, this is a moment in all our future and how we live this moment is so essential.

Sister Martin Thérèse:  Why are we here? We’re not here for this world. We’re here for the next, and death is inevitable for each and every one of us.

Sister Teresa Benedicta:  One of the churches that touched me is Chiesa Santa Maria Scala Coeli, the Church of Holy Mary Ladder to Heaven. In the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux knew where the bodies of slaughtered slaves were buried, and he wanted to pray for the souls of those who’d been killed by Emperor Diocletian.

[The saint of Clairvaux] and the pope of that time offered a requiem Mass on that spot and St. Bernard has a vision in which he sees a ladder ascending from the altar up into heaven and the souls of those who died are accompanied by the angels ascending into heaven, and for him, it was a reminder that after people die, we’re still connected in faith and when we pray for people, especially when we offer Mass for the dead, it helps them get to the point where they can see the face of God. Now, in the church they have that picture [of his vision].

Sister, You showed me in Rome the Purgatory Museum, and I’m kind of skeptical. Can you explain some of the things that we saw in the Purgatory Museum?

Sister Martin Thérèse:  The museum that I showed you has all of these artifacts left by the poor souls in Purgatory, and I know you’re very skeptical about it, but you have to remember what the purpose is: the purpose is to increase the devotion to pray for the poor souls. 

In the Museum, there are burn marks, primarily hands that have left marks, but probably the most striking one was the deep handprint of a priest on a piece of wood and a cross that he had traced.

 A priest who appeared to a nun. He needed prayers, and he appeared to her and asked her to pray for his soul because he was suffering in Purgatory. When he appeared to her, it is said that he had rested his hand on her desk because her desk is where she does all of her work and to remind her, he traced the cross on the desk.

One of my favorites in there is the handprint on a shirtsleeve. The story is that Mrs. Leleux appeared to her son. She had died. Her husband had died previously. On the night of June 21st, his mother appeared to him, and she chastised him for the way he was living his life because he wasn’t living a Christian life. She said,

“Your father left you a good sum of money, and he asked you one thing to do with that money and that was to offer Masses for us when we died; for our souls, if we ended up in Purgatory, and you have not done that.” While she was speaking, she touched his arm, and you can see the print of her hand on his shirt sleeve now.

Sister Teresa Benedicta:  That thought makes me uncomfortable, that people I love would appear or would leave burn marks. Why would you not be freaked out by that idea?

Sister Martin Thérèse:  The idea of it is scary if you think about it, but I think there’s something to the fact that first God’s not going to allow anything that we can’t handle. You think you think that you can’t handle it, but I would think it’s the same thing if my mom when she dies if she were to appear to me, I think there’d be a sense of comfort because there’s a familiarity. It’s my mom. She’s the one who raised me, the one who cared for me, so I don’t think there would be fear. Now if it was someone who I didn’t know, there might be a little!

I think there are a lot of forgotten souls. I think a lot of times there’s a danger of canonizing our loved ones when they die, and when we do that, we have to be careful because they might be suffering in Purgatory. 

Sister Teresa Benedicta:  It’s interesting, Sister, I was really moved at Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel. He portrays, in the lower left corner, the souls in Purgatory. It’s interesting because he has the Saints both in Heaven and on Earth, praying for them and through their intercession, you see the souls in Purgatory, both from people on Earth and in Heaven moving from Purgatory into Heaven.

Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” [Sistine Chapel, Vatican City]

God’s merciful, so prayer is never wasted. If it doesn’t go to Grandma, it’ll go to someone else who needs it. It’s up to God where He gives it.

Sister Martin Thérèse: I absolutely love our Faith, all the devotions particularly praying for the poor souls in Purgatory, the rosary, offering Masses for them. It’s so rich. 

Thank you, sister, for all of your research. I love it. 

Sister Teresa Benedicta:  And thank the poor souls in Purgatory.


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