One Day in Purgatory

Author: s. Anna

Purgatory and the poor souls—a world almost unknown to us who make our pilgrimage through this life toward eternity. But can we plead total ignorance?

Sacred Scripture hints at a place where souls reside after death and are purified so as to attain the fullness of glory (2 Macc. 12:32; 38-45; Matt. 5:23- 26; 12:32); 1 Cor. 3:10-15; 1 Peter 3:18- 20; 4:6). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC, 1030).

Some saints have been granted the grace of seeing purgatory. Saint Faustina describes her experience in her Diary: “I saw my Guardian Angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid. The flames that were burning them did not touch me at all. My Guardian Angel did not leave me for an instant. I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God. (…) [I heard an interior voice] which said, ‘My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it’” (20).

In her Treatise of Purgatory, Saint Catherine of Genoa states: “Confronted by God’s perfect holiness, the souls of some deceased persons feel themselves to be so sullied and unworthy of approaching Him that they subject themselves to unimaginably great and at the same time purifying torments. Despite this, they are happy because they know they have been saved.” Saint Padre Pio once said to his spiritual charge, Don Domenico Labellarte, founder of four institutes of consecrated life, “Son, a whole life spent in the worst torments is better than one day in purgatory.”

Brother Daniel

Capuchin Brother Daniel Natale (d. 1994) was another holy man privileged to see purgatory. The process of his beatification began in July 2013 in San Giovanni Rotondo.

Michele—as his parents christened him—was born, the fourth of seven children, on 11 March 1919 in San Giovanni Rotondo. He barely completed three years of elementary school. As a child he helped his parents in the fields. On June 4, 1933, on the Feast of Pentecost, he set out for the monastery to attend Holy Mass, to offer his wishes of the season to his guardian, and to receive from him his blessing before entering the lower seminary of the Capuchin Brothers. In the sacristy he met Padre Pio. Great was his joy and surprise, for the Padre had had no contact with the faithful for two years. From him Michele received a special blessing upon embarking on his life as a religious.

When he reached Vico del Gargano, it turned out there were no longer any seminarians there. He remained as a postulant in the monastery for nine months after which they transferred him to Foggia. Wanting to test the young postulant, the Father Provincial gave him the life of St. Conrad of Parzham to read. Upon reading the book at a single sitting, the fifteen-year-old went before the Provincial to be examined. Father Bernardo d’Apicella was astounded by the boy’s brilliance. He told him to get ready to leave as there was an opening at the seminary. But Michel replied: “ No, Father, I want to remain a brother! I came to the monastery to be a saint and my reading the life of St. Conrad has taught me you don’t have to be a priest in order to achieve sanctity.”

He entered the novitiate in 1935 and took the name Daniel. A year later he took his temporary vows, and in 1940, his permanent vows. Throughout WWII he worked as a cook and alms collector at the Provincial Curia of the Capuchin Brothers in Foggia. During the bombings in 1943 he provided first aid to the wounded, buried the dead, and salvaged sacred articles. After the war he helped the demobilized soldiers. In 1952 there occurred at the Regina Elena Clinic an event that would have a profound effect on the rest of his life.

Regina Elena Clinic

For some time now Brother Daniel had been suffering from severe stomach pains. On seeing a doctor and undergoing tests, he received the worst possible diagnosis: cancer of the spleen. In those days it was tantamount to a death sentence. With this sad piece of news he went to see Padre Pio, who said to him: “Have the operation!” “No point,” said Brother Daniel. “The doctor says there’s no hope. I know I shall die.” To which the Padre replied: “It doesn’t matter what the doctor says.” And he referred him to a doctor at the Regina Elena Clinic, saying: “Do not worry. I will always be with you.” He said this with such strength of conviction that Brother Daniel immediately went to Rome. There he saw the doctor that Padre had recommended to him: At first Professor Riccardo Moretti refused to operate. He was convinced his patient would not survive it. In the end, some inner impulse prompted him to risk it. The operation took place the next morning. Despite being anaesthetized, Brother Daniel remained conscious. Though he suffered great pain, he did not show it; indeed, he was happy to offer up his sufferings to Jesus. At the same time he had the impression the pain was purifying his soul of his sins. Suddenly he felt himself falling asleep. According to the doctors, the patient fell into a coma. He remained comatose for three days; and then apparently he died. The doctor made out his death certificate. The family gathered around to pray for the deceased. Several hours later, to the surprise of all, the dead man suddenly returned to life.

Two hours of purgatory

What happened to Brother Daniel during those few hours? Where did his soul go? Here is his own account: “I stood before the throne of God. I saw God not as a stern judge but rather as a merciful and loving Father. Then I understood that God had cared for me from the first to the last moment of my life; loved me as if I had been the only living creature on the earth. I realized I had not returned this infinite Divine love. I was condemned to two or three hours of purgatory. ‘What!’ I said to myself. ‘Only two or three hours? And then I’ll be able to remain with God for eternity—enjoying His everlasting love?’ I leapt for joy and felt like a lucky devil. (…)

“Suddenly, from God knows where, I felt a sharp, intense pain. The senses with which I had most offended God in this world, my ears, my tongue—these experienced the worst pain. It was unbelievable suffering, since in purgatory the soul feels as though it had a body. Not a moment went by without this suffering, and every second of it felt like an eternity. (…)

“I thought I’d visit a confrere of mine. I’d tell him I was in purgatory and ask him to pray for me. This confrere was astounded since he could hear my voice but could not see me. ‘Where are you?’ he asked. ‘Why can’t I see you?’ (…) Only then did I realize I had no body. So I contented myself with a strenuous reminder that he pray for me. And I left.

“‘What!’ I said to myself. ‘Wasn’t it to be only two or three hours of purgatory? But already it feels like three hundred years!’ Then the Virgin Mary appeared to me. I had begun to entreat her, saying: ‘O Blessed Virgin Mary, secure for me from God the grace of returning to earth, that there I may live and act for love of Him alone!’ I felt Padre Pio’s presence and I begged him also: “For the sake of your cruel sufferings, for the sake of your blessed wounds, Father Pio, intercede for me before God that He may free me from these flames and give me the grace of living out my purgatory on earth.’ Then I saw nothing more, though I knew Padre Pio was talking with Mary. Some moments later the Virgin Mary appeared to me again. She nodded her head and smiled to me; and at that very moment I was restored to my body. With a sudden movement I threw back the sheet covering my head. Those watching and praying over me, ran terrified to the door, shouting for the nurses and doctors. Within a few moments the whole clinic was astir. Everyone thought I was some kind of vision.”

Next morning Brother Daniel got out of bed unaided and sat down in an armchair. The time was seven o’clock. The doctors normally made their rounds at nine. This day Dr. Riccardo Moretti, who had signed his death certificate, arrived a little earlier. Standing before Brother Daniel, he said with tears in his eyes: “Now I believe. I believe in God. I believe in the Church.” Until then Dr. Moretti had been an unbeliever. No one knows exactly what happened to him that night. All we know is that he never slept a wink and that some time during those nightmarish hours he had undergone a complete inner transformation. Like Doubting Thomas he had become believer.

As for Brother Daniel, he really did spend the rest of his earthly existence living out his purgatory. By his own choice. To his sister Felicia he said at the end of his life, “Dear sister, for the last forty years I have not known what it is like to feel good!”

Seize the occasion

What lessons can we learn from Brother Daniel’s story? This Capuchin monk chose many years of suffering on earth over a few hours of purgatory after death. Never did he regret his choice; on the contrary, he felt himself singularly blessed that this was possible in his case. Note also that Brother Daniel had been free from mortal sin, since such sins sever our bond with God and bar our way to salvation. He did penance for his venial sins—mostly slight transgressions against the vow of poverty. The first lesson is that purgatorial sufferings are extremely acute and that even minor sins need to be atoned for, either here on earth or, incomparably more painfully, after death. We must not take minor sins lightly, but rather strive to avoid them, confess and make reparation for them. The symbolic penance imposed by the priest in the confessional is often an incentive for us to impose our own penances. We can make a treasure of our daily labors and sufferings by accepting and offering them up to God in atonement for our sins and those of our neighbors. Every suffering offered up to God in reparation for sin lightens purgatory—either ours in the future or a poor soul’s now, depending on our intention.

Brother Daniel said another important thing: “What causes the greatest pain in purgatory is not so much the fire, though that is intense, but rather the feeling of being far from God and the knowledge that while on earth one had the means of avoiding purgatory and yet did not take advantage of it.” Every time a soul commits a sin, it distances itself further from God. This feeling of separation at the moment the soul, right after death, comes to see His goodness and loving-kindness in the beatific vision causes the soul to suffer inexpressible longing for God, who is love. But the soul cannot approach Him until it is purified. God gives us every means of becoming saints, that is, of living close to Christ, of being united with Him. These means are above all prayer and sacraments, feeding on God’s word and the teachings of the Church and then seeking after God’s will and living it out. Sin is not only the evil we commit but also the good we fail to do, especially the good affecting the salvation of our soul. After death we will be held accountable also for the help that God offered us and we did not use. This, according to Brother Daniel’s experience, will be a cause of terrible regret for us who lived out our lives thoughtlessly on earth.

Let us help

While in purgatory, Brother Daniel sought help from a living fellow monk. This reminds us that the poor souls in purgatory rely on our help. The teaching of the Church is as follows: “From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: Let us help and commemorate them” (CCC, 1032). We need to remember the souls of the dead and especially the souls suffering in purgatory. Can we leave them suffering so without help? Let us offer them our help in such a way and as earnestly as we should like others to help us after our death.

Sister Anna of the Institute
of Apostles of the Crucified Jesus

previous   |   next Back

Copyright © Wydawnictwo Agape Sp. z o.o. ul. Panny Marii 4, 60-962 Poznań, tel./ fax: 61/ 852 32 82 | tel. 61/ 647 26 86