With particular acts, one’s conscience confers peace on the soul when an action is good; and when an action is evil, it imposes guilt. With a guilty conscience, the soul’s memory is essentially saying: “This is not what you were created for; nor is it consistent with the memory you have of God.” And through a peaceful conscience we are reminded that the good deeds we do are a fulfillment of that impression God made at the very beginning.
However, when we stray from the path of moral goodness and God's will, the soul gets lost in the rough. With this, it becomes stained and unclean. And the New Testament gives clear indication that the believer can, by drawing on the blood of Christ and his divine grace, make himself clean again through love and sacrificial virtue. In the event that this is not carried out before death, God, in his fiery merciful love, makes up the difference. St. Catherine of Genoa, who had a vision of purgatory, once said the following:
“This holy Soul found herself, while still in the flesh, placed by the fiery love of God in Purgatory, which burnt her, cleansing whatever in her needed cleansing, to the end that when she passed from this life she might be presented to the sight of God, her dear Love. By means of this loving fire, she understood in her soul the state of the souls of the faithful who are placed in Purgatory to purge them of all the rust and stains of sin of which they have not rid themselves in this life.”
The “rust of sin” which the Saint refers to is no man-made doctrine; it comes straight from Scripture. In the New Testament especially, the sacred authors admonish their readers to be found without “spot,” “blemish,” “stain” or “wrinkle.” Here are just a few texts:
“…be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him [God].” (II Peter 3:14)
“…keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Timothy 6:14)
“…discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:10)
“…let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, making holiness perfect in fear of God.” (II Corinthians 7: 1)
“...To the one who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you unblemished and exultant, in the presence of his glory…” (Jude 24)
These admonitions to be without blemish, stain, defilement and blame when the Lord comes for us presupposes that we can be found with blemish, stain, defilement, and blame. These imperfections are nothing less than the rust of sin (not its guilt but its effect) which holds us back from enjoying the Beatific Vision of God when we die.
To use another analogy, St. Paul likens the imperfection of the soul to a house built with hay, straw or wood in addition to good material such as gold and silver. The house- a symbol of our life –must withstand the pure and holy fire of God if we are to live in his presence. As is well known, however, straw and wood, which represents those unholy qualities of the soul, will not withstand fire. But in God’s mercy such unworthy building material will be purged away with nothing but gold and silver remaining. The burning of this flammable material will be at a cost; as such, the soul will suffer. As St. Paul said, “But if someone's work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.”
In burning up these marks of imperfections the soul returns to its native beauty. The purgatorial love of God restores that divine impression that the soul received upon its creation. And when every blemish, stain, defilement and blame has been removed, the soul can behold the face of God and say, "It's good to see you again."