[adapted from The Other Side]

We have spoken of hell. The level above that is lowest purgatory. However horrible it may be, the soul there is saved and will one day ascend to Heaven. It isn't hell. There are many levels in purgatory. Probably infinite ones.

But gloomy the lower regions are. Pray for all deceased, every day, and especially for those in most need.

The darkness there swirls around the feet and forms a barrier, holding those there prisoner, a darkness that in the words of one woman, Angie Fenimore, who tried to commit suicide, was so thick it could be touched and "had life, some kind of intelligence that was purely negative, even evil."

"Everyone I saw was wearing dirty white robes," recalled Angie in a book about her near-death glimpse called Beyond the Darkness. "Some people’s were heavily soiled, while others’ just appeared dingy with a few stains. Sitting next to me was a man who appeared to be about sixty years old. His hair was gray, and somehow I knew that his eyes were blue, even though everything here appeared in black and various shades of gray.

"This man’s eyes were totally without comprehension. Pathetically squatting on the ground, draped in filthy white robes, he wasn’t radiating anything, not even self-pity. I knew his soul had been rotting here forever. I was sure that this man had killed himself. His clothing suggested that he might have walked the earth during Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. I wondered if he was Judas Iscariot, who had betrayed the Savior and then hung himself. I felt embarrassed that I was thinking these things in his presence, where he could 'hear' me."

The word "purgatory," said Angie, was "whispered" to her (despite the fact that she was Protestant).

It was edge of the abyss and those who were there – contemplating their lives -- radiated darkness as an aura.

"Like oil over water, the active layer of spirits of light rested above a layer of grim, motionless dark beings," wrote Angie. "Drifting onto the plane, the newly deceased were dressed in white robes, but their gowns were dingy. Like silent sleepwalkers, these spellbound souls descended into the darkness, arms to their sides, their expressionless eyes locked in empty gazes.

"They came from the same direction that I had, dull and hopeless casualties of life that had banked on true death, continuing to fill in the back edge of the prison as the darkness expanded to accommodate them. So sad, they were so young and so dead. As I watched them filing down by the dozens, I was told that most of us who are dying now are going to a place of darkness.

"Hell, while also a specific dimension, is primarily a state of mind. When we die, we are bound by what we think. In mortality the more solid our thoughts become, as we act upon them – allowing darkness to develop in others and in ourselves – the more damning they are. I had been to hell long before I died, and I hadn’t realized it because I had escaped many of the consequences up until the point that I took my life. When we die, our state of mind grows far more obvious because we are gathered together with those who think as we do."

Somehow areas of purgatory seem to branch from the tunnel where those who’ve received a glimpse have encountered what they describe as "bewildered souls."

There are the "dungeon" reaches and what has been described as the middle or "great" area of grayness, where most bound for purgatory head and where the greatest suffering – as in any part of purgatory – is God’s absence. It is gray and ashen – the ashes of sins.

"I can tell you about the different degrees of purgatory because I have passed through them," said that deceased nun during the nineteenth-century revelations called An Unpublished Manuscript on Purgatory. "In the great purgatory there are several stages. In the lowest and most painful, like a temporary hell, are the sinners who have committed terrible crimes during life and whose death surprised them in that state. It was almost a miracle that they were saved, and often by the prayers of holy parents or other pious persons.

"Sometimes they did not even have time to confess their sins and the world thought them lost, but God, Whose mercy is infinite, gave them at the moment of death the contrition necessary for their salvation on account of one or more good actions which they performed during life. For such souls, purgatory is terrible. It is a real hell with this difference, that in hell they curse God, whereas we bless Him and thank Him for having saved us.

"Next to these come the souls, who though they did not commit great crimes like the others, were indifferent to God. They did not fulfill their Easter duties and were also converted at the point of death. Perhaps they were unable to receive Holy Communion. They are in purgatory for the long years of indifference. They suffer unheard of pains and are abandoned either without prayers or if they are said for them, they are not allowed to profit from them. There are in this stage of purgatory religious of both sexes, who were tepid, neglectful of their duties, indifferent toward Jesus, also priests who did not exercise their sacred ministry with the reverence due to the Sovereign Majesty and who did not instill the love of God sufficiently into the souls confided to their care.

"In the second purgatory are the souls of those who died with venial sins not fully expiated before death, or with mortal sins that have been forgiven but for which they have not made entire satisfaction to the Divine Justice. In this part of purgatory, there are also different degrees according to the merits of each soul. Thus the purgatory of the consecrated or of those who have received more abundant graces is longer and far more painful than that of ordinary people of the world.

"Lastly, there is the purgatory of desire which is called the Threshold. Very few escape this. To avoid it altogether, one must ardently desire Heaven and the Vision of God. That is rare, rarer than people think, because even pious people are afraid of God and have not, therefore, a sufficiently strong desire of going to Heaven. This purgatory has its very painful martyrdom like the others. The deprivation of our loving Jesus adds to the intense suffering. The majority of people go to purgatory. The lowest is close to hell and the highest gradually draws near to Heaven. It is not on All Souls Day but at Christmas that the greatest number of souls leaves purgatory. There are in purgatory souls who pray ardently to God, but for whom no relative or friend prays on earth. God makes them benefit from the prayers of other people. It happens that God permits them to manifest themselves in different ways, close to their relatives on earth, in order to remind men of the existence of purgatory and to solicit their prayers to come close to God Who is just, but good."

The threshold is a beauty to behold. Holy people may do their purgatory here – and it can be brief. In some cases, mere minutes. "You should see it here," said one voice from the beyond.

From here they look as from a cloud to the landscape of Heaven in the distance.

It is the waiting room.

It is the final laundering. It is far from the "outer darkness."

Many are those who do their purgatory here.

"In 1973, there was no mention of 'near-death' experiences," a woman named Marianne wrote me. "I never had heard of such a thing. But here is what happened in my dream: I was in a room, although there were no walls -- I just knew it was a room. I was observing people in the room from the ceiling. Someone was with me -- next to me. I did not see this ‘someone,’ just felt their presence. The people who I was observing were very happy. In my frame of reference, I thought they were having a party, although there was no food or drinks. The reason for thinking it was a party is that everyone was so happy. They were smiling and talking with a feeling of great expectation. Then just as suddenly, I was back in my body asking my obviously distraught mother what had happened to me.

"In later years, after hearing about near-death experiences, I took a second look at my own experience with a new point of reference. Now I had an understanding of what had occurred. It is my belief that I was shown the upper level of purgatory -- where people are awaiting their entrance into Heaven. They were so happy, even joyous. Their appearance was young, healthy, and nicely dressed. I did not recognize anyone, but I only knew one person who had died and that was my great-grandfather. From what I knew about him, he may have needed more purgatory time -- although that is not for anyone to say, only God.

"The person next to me showing me this place, my guide, must have been an angel.

"Since that time I have had a few ‘angel’ experiences and truly believe it was an angel showing me where, if I had died that day, I would have gone."

Want to avoid it? Ask the Holy Spirit -- and your angel (this Lent) -- to show you what you must purge. We can know this much: love covers over a multitude of sins, and suffering well causes purification. Joy everlasting comes next.

[resources: The Other Side]

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