Perfection for the Dead

‘Master,’ I asked, ‘after the great Judgment
will these torments be greater, less,
or will they stay as harsh as they are now?’

And he replied: ‘Return to your science,
which has it that, in measure of a thing’s perfection,
it feels both more of pleasure and of pain.

‘Although these accursed people
will never come to true perfection,
they will be nearer it than they are now.’

From Dante’s Inferno, Canto VI, 103 – 111, the Hollanders’ note being, ‘Thoroughly in accord with the penal code of hell, this “improvement” in the condition of the damned will only result in their ability to feel more pain.’

“Do you know, Mrs.Blythe”– Bruce dropped to a “whispery” tone, edging a little nearer to Anne– “what I would like to do to the Kaiser if I could?”

“What would you like to do, laddie?”

“Norman Reese said in school today that he would like to tie the Kaiser to a tree and set cross dogs to worrying him,” said Bruce gravely. “And Emily Flagg said she would like to put him in a cage and poke sharp things into him. And they all said things like that. But Mrs. Blythe”– Bruce took a little square paw out of his pocket and put it earnestly on Anne’s knee– “I would like to turn the Kaiser into a good man – a very good man – all at once if I could. That is what I would do. Don’t you think, Mrs. Blythe, that would be the very worstest punishment of all?”

“Bless the child,” said Susan,” how do you make out that would be any kind of a punishment for that wicked fiend?”

“Don’t you see,” said Bruce, looking levelly at Susan, out of his blackly-blue eyes,” if he was turned into a good man he would understand how dreadful the things he has done are and he would feel so terrible about it that he would be more unhappy and miserable than he could ever be in any other way. He would feel just awful – and he would go on feeling like that forever. Yes”– Bruce clenched his hands and nodded his head emphatically, “yes I would make the Kaiser a good man – that is what I would do – it would serve him ‘zactly right.”

From L. M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside, such though-provoking wisdom from little Bruce’s mouth. And finally, from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:

‘It warns in this book how unstable you make the rest of your soul by ripping it, and that’s just by making one Horcrux!’

Harry remembered what Dumbledore had said, about Voldemort moving beyond ‘usual evil’. 

Isn’t there any way of putting yourself back together?’ Ron asked.

Yes,’ said Hermione, with a hollow smile, ‘but ti would be excruciatingly painful.’

‘Why? How do you do it?’ asked Harry.

‘ Remorse,’ said Hermione. ‘You’ve got to really feel what you’ve done. There’s a footnote. Apparently the pain of it can destroy you.’

If I could locate it, this post would also contain an excerpt from a letter I received sometime last year from an exceptional young man who is very strongly attracted to the priesthood. He was speaking of sins being reduced, how they’re not regarded in the proper gravity, how the ‘smallest’ venial sin is still a separation from God and if regarded in that proper light, ought to be enough to bring tears to one’s eyes.

It has never occurred to me to think ‘perfection’ and ‘hell’ in the same sentence. Heaven being perpetual unity with God, purgatory being the cleansing and purification necessary to enter into the state which heaven is by nature; what of perfection in hell? Perfection is unattainable for the eternally damned, the eternally separated from God, but through their suffering, they are still moved towards it, and as they, in a sense, become more good, become more aware of the weight of their sins, their suffering becomes more intense.

By that logic, a measure of how much better we may be becoming is how aware we are becoming of our sins, and how much sorrow it brings us, enabling truer repentance.

From Bad Catholic’s post, Y’all Suck At Sinning:

But is this not what Satan would want? Is this not the ultimate victory of the one who hates us? Real hatred against you wouldn’t have you sinning happily. Real hatred would have you sinning awfully, bored with your very sin, addicted to shallow things, unable to taste even illicit happiness, much less real joy, sinning out of commitment, spending long nights justifying your actions, burning your bridges to wholeness, forgiveness and peace.

From In Conversation with God, not entirely sure which volume, but which I typed out in a previous post:

For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?

Jesus’ question forces us to take a radical look at the broad horizon of our life to which only God gives ultimate meaning. […]

The saints were men and women with a great desire to belong to God completely, despite their defects.

We could each ask ourselves: have I a true desire to be a saint?

The answer would most assuredly be in the affirmative: yes.

But our reply should not be as to a theoretical question, because for some holiness is unattainable, something to do with ascetical theology — but not a real goal for them, a living reality.

We want to make it happen with the help of God’s grace. […]

We must start by making the desire for holiness flourish in our own soul, telling Our Lord: ‘I want to be a saint’; or at least ‘When I experience my softness and weakness, I want to want to be a saint’.

To banish doubt and make holiness more than an empty word let us turn and look at Christ:

The Lord Jesus, divine teacher and model of all perfection, preached holiness of life (of which he is author and maker) to each and every one of his disciples without distinction:

‘You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Matt 5:48)

He has taken the initiative.

If He had not, the possibility of being a saint would never have occurred to us.

Jesus puts it to us as a command: be perfect!, and so it is not surprising that the Church makes sure her children hear the following resounding words:

Therefore all the faithful are invited and obliged to holiness and the perfection of their own state of life.

Consider then how vehement our desire for holiness has to be!

In Holy Scripture the prophet Daniel is called vir desideriorum, a man of desires.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were all worthy of such a title! […]

Allow your soul to be consumed by desires — desires for loving, for forgetting yourself, for sanctity, for Heaven.

Do not stop to wonder whether the time will come for seeing them accomplished, as some pseudo-adviser might suggest.

Make them more fervent each day, for the Holy Spirit says that he is pleased with men of desires. […]

You tell me, yes, you want to. Very good: but do you want as a miser longs for gold, as a mother loves her child, as a worldling craves for honours, or as a wretched sensualist seeks his pleasure?

No?

Then, you don’t want to!

What I find so interesting about this particular meditation is the point it makes at the end. So many people desire what is evil… for different reasons; for some, it may be a conscious desire for evil, but more often than not, it’s simply that they don’t know any better. Their consciences haven’t been correctly formed… […] … right? But how sad it is, then, when the ones who desires evil do everything they can to get at it, and yet we who aspire to desire only what is good are not ready or willing to do everything it takes to get at that good on the same level as the person who does everything they can to get at the evil?

Things to mull over…

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