From Purgatory to Heaven
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Jan 7, 2013)
For St. Faustina's spiritual director, Bl. Fr. Michael Sopocko, the goal of the devout life on earth is the attainment of heaven at our journey's end. He therefore wrote at length about the afterlife, and what souls can expect if they continue in a state of grace and sanctification until death.
First, for many there will be a time spent in purgatory. For Bl. Sopocko, however, purgatory is not merely a place of temporal punishment for partially penitent sinners. It is a place of purification for souls in preparation for heaven. In this sense, it is to be seen as a gift of divine mercy:
The souls in Purgatory are certain of their salvation, know the state of their soul, are confirmed in good, and love the merciful God. All this affords them great relief in their suffering. Their knowledge of the infinite holiness of God and of their own unworthiness to behold God is great, and prompts them to bear their sufferings willingly and with utter abandonment to the will of God, since these sufferings are the means of their purification and satisfaction for their sins. Moved by contrition the souls in Purgatory would rather not go to heaven than stand before God without their wedding garments. They cannot help themselves, and their only relief is God's mercy which awakens the Christians on earth to make sacrifices for them. (God is Mercy, pp. 90-91).
Notice that Bl. Sopocko says that the souls in purgatory find "great relief" in feeling themselves confirmed in good and knowing that their final salvation, the attainment of heaven at last, is secure. In fact, this is precisely what St. Francis De Sales tells us in his writings. Moreover, Bl. Sopocko says that the souls in purgatory would rather not go to heaven until their purification process is finished.
C.S. Lewis wrote something similar in his book, Letters to Malcolm:
Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us: "It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy"? Should we not reply, "With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be clean first." "It may hurt, you know"—"Even so, sir."
Having been cleansed by the merciful love of God, the soul then enters paradise, which Bl. Sopocko delights to describe as the blissful vision of God, with all of its effects upon the soul:
God will manifest Himself to us and unite with our nature like the sun unites with our eye, and we shall lift our countenance to the radiant face of the Godhead. ... Essential happiness consists in beholding God face to face [he cites Mt 22:30; 5:8; I Cor 13:12, Jn 17:3, and I Jn 3:2 in this regard] ... It is impossible for the soul to see God, the supreme good, without loving Him with the most fervent love. Now love brings happiness, so the love of God causes the greatest happiness for the saints in heaven. ... God, the supreme Beauty, of which earthly marvels are only a dim reflection, will enrapture the soul and bring it ineffable joy. "And your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one shall take from you" (Jn 16:22). Vision, love and sublime enjoyment of God will be the essential delight of the blessed for eternity. (God is Mercy, pp. 92-93)
Without presuming to be able to describe in detail all the mysteries of the heavenly kingdom, Bl. Sopocko assures us that not only will we see God face to face, but we shall be united in one glorious mystical body with all the angels and saints, with the merciful Christ as our Head. We will rejoice in one another and in Christ forever, and we will see the whole story of human history as the tale of how God worked out His merciful and loving plan for all those who placed their trust in Him:
In heaven ... the memory of that which was done on earth will be preserved. Moreover the soul will possess infused knowledge through which it will know the glorified human nature of Christ, the properties of His Soul and of His glorified Body. This will result in untold happiness for it. The soul will also know the Queen of heaven and earth, the holy angels and the other saints.
Finally, it will know, of all the works of the universe and of the whole history of the earth, all that is of interest to it and all it should know.
As to their will the saints will have no sorrow either for their own sins for which they did penance, or for the sins of others, since they will realize that the Mercy of God has turned everything to good. (p. 94)
That Fr. Sopocko's reflections on the kingdom of heaven here echo some of the themes in the Diary of St. Faustina is not surprising. For example, here is what St. Faustina wrote in one passage about the joys of heaven at our journey's end:
Today I was in heaven, in spirit, and I saw its inconceivable beauties and the happiness that awaits us after death. I saw how all creatures give ceaseless praise and glory to God. I saw how great is happiness in God, which spreads to all creatures, making them happy; and then all the glory and praise which springs from this happiness returns to its source; and they enter into the depths of God, contemplating the inner life of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, whom they will never understand or fathom. This source of happiness is unchanging in its essence, but it is always new, gushing forth happiness for all creatures. (Diary, 777)
We can close this series on the teachings of Blessed Fr. Michael Sopocko with this consoling thought: that he and St. Faustina not only wrote about the mystery of heaven and pondered it in faith, but now, as you read this column, they are dwelling in heaven together, enfolded in the merciful Heart of Jesus, and rejoicing forever with all the saints in the radiant glory of God. What was once, for them, something they only longed for, something they only glimpsed from afar, is now an eternal reality. And we can know for sure that as they share in heaven even more deeply in the merciful love of God, they will not forget to come to the aid of those struggling to grow in faith, hope, and love here on earth.
For more information on Blessed Michael Sopocko, the confessor and spiritual director of St. Faustina, visit thedivinemercy.org/message/Sopocko.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is the director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, based in Stockbridge Mass.