§ 29. Alms-deeds Release the Suffering Souls.
137. We read in Holy Scripture: "Water quencheth a flaming fire, and alms resisteth sin." (Eccli. 111. 33.) And: "Lay out thy bread and thy wine upon the burial of a just man." (Tob. iv. 18.) Does Tobias here instruct his son to remember the dead by feasting? Not at all; but according to Lyranus he taught him to feed the poor and to do other works of mercy at the death of the just, for he said to him, "Prayer is good with fasting and alms, more than to lay up treasures of gold; for alms delivereth from death, and the same is that which purges away sins and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting.'' (Tob. xn. 8, 9.)—Pope Benedict VIII. after his death appeared to the bishop of Capua and said, "Know that I have died; and though I am in the state of grace, yet I am greatly-tormented in Purgatory. Therefore I pray thee, tell my successor John to give alms to the poor, for then I shall be released from my insupportable torments." His request was fulfilled; and he was soon released from Purgatory on account of the alms distributed for his sake.
138. It is scarcely necessary to add, that alms given for the Suffering Souls help to atone for our own sins of extravagance, sins proceeding from the abuse of wealth ; -and that this is almost the only way of attaining salvation for those who live in affluence. "If it were not possible," observes St. Chrysostom, "to atone for our misdeeds by alms, we might have reason to complain and say, 'Oh, how happy we should be if the gates of heaven could be opened by money, if we could purchase the glory of the saints by means of our earthly possessions !' Now, my brother, this is very easy of accomplishment; therefore avail yourself of this privilege. Before you lose your wealth, hasten to place it at the disposal of the Suffering Souls, as the price of their eternal salvation. Perhaps you will lose it by the malice of man; perhaps your passions will consume it; at all events death will deprive you of it sooner or later: charity alone insures you against this misfortune and renders you its possessor forever. You will prevent the loss of your earthly possessions by consigning them to the tabernacles of God, where you will enjoy them for all eternity along with the souls released by means of them." Thus speaks the Holy Ghost in the Book of Tobias : "Give alms out of thy substance, and turn not away thy face from any poor person ; for so it shall come to pass that the face of the Lord shall not be turned from thee." (Tob. iv. 7.) —Eusebius, duke of Sardinia, devoted the tenth part of his revenue to the relief of the Suffering Souls; his charity even went so far, that he gave to the poor the annual income of one of his cities, thereby to succor the suffering spouses of Christ in Purgatory. Might we not follow his example by devoting to the same purpose part of the proceeds of a certain business undertaking, of the rent of a certain house, of the interest of certain out-standing capital ?
139. We must remember that the surplus of our wealth does not belong to us, but to the poor; and that it is our bounden duty to make use of only so much of it as corresponds with our state of life. We must one day render a strict account of the use we have made of our possessions. But our Divine Savior does not claim a great part of our wealth and property. He does not strike us with sudden death like Ananias and Saphira, who secretly retained part of the proceeds of their property. He is satisfied if we devote a small part of what we possess to relieve the Suffering Souls. It is His will that the wealthy who spend on superfluous articles of dress sums of money sufficient to relieve a great number of poor, should also do something to clothe the Suffering Souls; that is, they should aid these Souls to enter into eternal glory by relieving in their behalf the distress of the poor. The punishment of Purgatory is inflicted on many a soul who during its earthly life was wanting in charity, to the poor. Oh, let us therefore hasten to appease the wrath of God by charity! By so doing we will gain the grateful friendship of those whom we have relieved in their suffering and ransomed from their painful captivity. They will aid us in working out our own salvation.
140. But alas, how small is the number of those who practically recognize alms-giving as one of the essential duties of a Christian !—Still there are some— devout Christians, mindful of the distress and misery of the Suffering Souls—who do not pride themselves merely in being persons of rank and wealth—no; but they consider themselves rather as being members of the mystical body of Christ, and as such, brethren of the Suffering Souls. Forsooth, how can a Christian enjoy true happiness as long as he is convinced that these just souls are suffering in a lake of fire ? If he is not moved to compassion by this consideration, he is devoid of every human feeling, and acts contrary to the dictates of reason and religion. A man so regardless of a most sacred duty would be regarded as a bad citizen even by a pagan commonwealth; he would be . despised for his meanness, hardness of heart and ignobility of character even by the votaries of the unchristian world: how must he then be regarded by the Church of Christ? As a monster unworthy the name of Christian, disgracing the faith he professes, the sacraments he receives, the holy temple he enters; for they are all symbols of Christian concord and charity. —In the next world, too, divine justice is meted out most rigorously to those who neglect the giving of alms for the relief of the Suffering Souls. "For judgment without mercy to him that hath not done mercy." (James ii. 13.)
141. According to this declaration of the Holy Ghost, what kind of judgment must he expect, who from miserly greed permits the soul of a relative or benefactor to languish for months, years, perhaps for centuries in the horrible torments of Purgatory ? Such persons sometimes receive just retribution even in this world. Father Rosignoli relates that a splendid farm was ruined by a terrific storm, whilst the adjoining fields were spared. A soul from Purgatory thereupon declared in an apparition, that the owners had been thus visited in punishment for their ingratitude towards their deceased parents.—A soul appearing to a relative, thus addressed him: "Ungrateful nephew, you had no compassion for the soul of your uncle. Remember your promise, man with a heart harder than stone! In consequence of your faithlessness I had to suffer indescribable torments in Purgatory. To-day I enter into the bliss of the saints; but you shall die, and in retribution for your neglect the whole time I still owe shall be added to your term of suffering." A few days later the man died, and went to receive his sentence at the tribunal of God.
142. Not only the wealthy, but also the poor are able to give alms, if they only have the good will. The angels sang at the birth of our Savior, "On earth peace to men of good will." (Luke 11. 14.) Hence many good Catholics combine and unite their savings for the purpose of procuring Masses for the repose of the souls of the faithful departed. And in order to assist these souls the more effectually, they direct their efforts also to the conversion of non-Catholics, in the hope that thereby the prayers for the relief of the Suffering Souls may be increased more and more. They have riot the mission to preach the Gospel to the heathen and unbeliever, but they pray for the Suffering Souls; they contribute something every month to assist poor students preparing for the priesthood, or for the support of Catholic schools or missionaries, poor churches, orphan asylums and protectories, etc. —all this for the purpose that the Catholic Church may become known to and loved by all nations. By the prayers of these charitable souls our Lord is implored to show mercy to the captives in Purgatory, to release them speedily, to bless the efforts of the missionaries, to grant the grace of conversion to all unbelievers, and to protect all the members of their union. Their motto is, "All for the greater glory of God and of His saints, and for the relief of the Suffering Souls.
143. God often rewards even in this, world these efforts for the relief of the Suffering Souls, and gives a hundred-fold increase to these little alms-deeds.— The Rev. Father James Montford, of the Society of Jesus, born in England in 1605, wrote a remarkable work on Purgatory. In this work the author mentions that the following incident was revealed to him in a letter written by William Friesen, a printer of Cologne: "On a certain holy day, when my place of business was closed, I was occupying myself in reading the manuscript of your book on 'The Souls in Purgatory, which you sent me to print. While absorbed in the perusal of your work, a messenger came and told me that my youngest child, aged four years, showed the symptoms of a very grave disease. The child rapidly grew worse, and the physicians at length declared that there was no hope for its recovery. The thought then occurred to me that I could save my child by making a vow to assist the Suffering Souls in Purgatory. Without delay I repaired to a chapel and with all fervor supplicated God to have pity on me; and I vowed that I would distribute gratuitously one hundred copies of the book that had awakened in me such a hearty sympathy for the Suffering Souls. I promised that I would give the books to ecclesiastics and religious, thereby to increase devotion to the Holy Souls. I acknowledge that I had hardly any hope. As soon as I returned to the house, I found the child much better. He asked for food, although for several days he had not been able to swallow anything but liquids. The next day he was perfectly well, got up and went out for a walk, and ate as if nothing had ever ailed him. Filled with gratitude I was anxious to fulfil my promise. I went to the College of the Jesuit Fathers and begged them to accept as many copies of the work as they pleased, and to distribute them among themselves and other communities and ecclesiastics as they saw fit, in order that my benefactors, the Suffering Souls, might be assisted by further prayers offered in their behalf.
"Three weeks had not passed by, however, when another accident quite as serious befell me. My wife, on entering the house one day, was suddenly seized with a trembling in all her limbs. She was thrown to the ground and remained lying there- insensible. Little by little the illness increased until she was deprived of speech. Remedies seemed to be in vain. The malady at length assumed such aggravated proportions that everyone thought she had no chance whatever of recovery. The priest who assisted her had already addressed words of consolation to me, exhorting me to Christian resignation. I turned again with confidence to the souls in Purgatory, who had assisted me once before, and I went to the same church. There prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament I renewed my supplication with all the ardor with which affection for my family inspired me. This time I made a vow to distribute two hundred copies of the book, in order that a greater number of persons might be moved to intercede for the Suffering Souls. I besought those who had already been delivered from Purgatory to unite their prayers with mine on this occasion. After this prayer, as I was returning to the house, I saw my servants running towards me. They told me with delight that my wife had undergone a great change for the better; that the delirium had ceased and that she had recovered her power of speech. I hurried in at once to assure myself of the fact: all was true. Very soon my wife was so perfectly recovered that she came with me to church to make an act of thanksgiving to God for all His mercies.—Your Reverence may confidently believe me: God is my witness that all happened just as I have related it to you."
144. God does not so much regard the amount of alms given as He does the heart of the one who gives it. The poor widow in the Gospel (Luke xxi. 3.) was able to give only two mites; the good thief had nothing to give but the resolve of a true conversion. Yet both were acceptable to God.—Our charity must be commensurate with our means. "According to thy ability be merciful. If thou have much, give abundantly: if thou have little, take care even so to bestow willingly a little." (Tob. iv. 8, 9.) If this be our rule, our alms will be acceptable to God; the mite of the poor will be of greater value in His eyes than the abundancy of the rich. But the will alone is not sufficient when the means of helping the Poor Souls are at our command. "And if a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food, and one of you say to them: Go in peace, be you warmed and filled: yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit?" (James in. 15, 16.) To every such Christian St. Paul addresses the following words of exhortation: " Let him labor working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have something to give to him that suffereth need." (Ephes. iv. 28.)
Good Christians feel within themselves an ardent desire to relieve the suffering of the Poor Souls ; and therefore they will do all in their power to satisfy this desire. They often make the greatest sacrifices for this purpose; and if they find it impossible to give material aid, they at least devote a part of their time and labor to this praiseworthy object. This can be done for instance by exhorting others to this work of suffrage. And the number of those who offer to God all their labors, sufferings and good works for a more speedy relief of the Suffering Souls is by no means small.
145. Charity sometimes impels a man to endanger his life for the benefit of his fellow-man. The same may be done to promote the spiritual life of our fellow-men. St. Catherine of Siena implored God to permit the soul of her father to enter heaven without undergoing the punishment of Purgatory. When the Supreme Judge declared to her that it was indispensably necessary that His Justice should be satisfied, she offered to bear the full rigor of her father's punishment Her offer was accepted; and thenceforth her life was one of continued suffering and trial.—Yet, so many persons think that a small sacrifice, a prayer of some months' or years' duration, a suffering patiently borne, the Holy Sacrifice offered up once in a while during the year, should suffice to release their dear ones from Purgatory. St. Catherine of Genoa says of herself, that she was permitted to suffer the torments of Purgatory for the space of two years—to suffer so much of these torments as it is possible for any mortal to endure. It may not be possible for us to do this. But if we only have the good will, we certainly can devote some"time to prayer for the relief of the # Holy Souls; or we can do something for the house of God, for the poor, etc., in this intention. This will be a most acceptable alms in aid of the Suffering Souls, and a consolation for them and us.
146. A soul from Purgatory revealed the following to St. Margaret of Cortona: "Did men but know from what great torments charity towards the poor delivers us, and what great treasure is contained therein, they would give everything they possess to the poor and for pious purposes to gain our prayers." For this reason we often witness that zealous Christians bequeath part or all of their estate to religious institutions, corporations, and for other pious purposes. St. Theresa relates that a benefactor of her convent was delivered from Purgatory on account of his liberality. The Lord said to her: "My daughter, his salvation was in great danger; but he found favor with me in return for the magnanimous donation he made to you. But his soul will not be released from Purgatory until after the first Mass shall have been celebrated in the new convent." At the communion of this Mass the saint saw the soul of her benefactor gloriously entering heaven.
147. Others are filled with such compassion for the Suffering Souls, that they are not content with praying for them once in a while, but consecrate themselves entirely and unreservedly to God's service for this purpose, either retiring to a convent or devoting themselves to missionary labors. Between 1850 and i860 a religious congregation of women was founded, called the " Helpers of the Holy Souls." Their object is to pray, suffer and labor for the souls in Purgatory. On rising in the morning their first aspiration is, " My Jesus, mercy!" Thus they gain already at early dawn an indulgence of one hundred days for the Suffering Souls. They repeat this ejaculation every time they make a genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament, and, interiorly, whenever one member meets another. They end all their prayers with the words, " Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let eternal light shine upon them," which ejaculation they repeat on many other occasions. When the clock strikes the hour, they say, " O God, we offer to Thee for the relief of the souls in Purgatory all the acts of love by which the Sacred Heart of Jesus glorified Thee at this hour during His sojourn on earth." Every day they recite the Office of the Dead, and after Mass they sing the De profundis. All their religious exercises are offered up for the souls in Purgatory.
Another religious congregation devoted to the interest of the Church militant and the Church suffering is that of the missionaries of the Most Precious Blood of our Lord, well known in Europe and America. In the United States of North America this Congregation numbers about one thousand members, eighty-five of whom are priests. Its members are divided into three classes—Priests, Lay-brothers and Sisters. In their convents, of which there are about twelve, the Sisters practice the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Precious Blood for the relief of the Suffering Souls. There is no hour of the day when these good religious do not invoke divine mercy. When they meet they salute one another, saying: " Praise be to Jesus Christ!" and apply to the Suffering Souls the indulgence granted for this aspiration. The Sisters receive holy communion every day, except on the day of their confession, and on extraordinary occasions even then. The Brothers of this Congregation receive holy communion four times a week, and on all intervening feasts. The whole community labors and prays for the relief of the Suffering Souls, for the propagation of the faith, for the welfare of the Church and in honor of the Most Precious Blood. Before retiring for the night the members recite for the faithful the psalm De profundis together with the prayer of the Church that follows it. During the night they relieve one another from hour to hour in praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Thus do these religious, as well as the members of some other Orders, devote their lives to God for the benefit of the Suffering Souls.
148. To remove a scandal, to repair an injury, to pay debts, in a word to make good whatever the departed souls failed to settle before leaving this world— all of these are most meritorious works by which the punishment of Purgatory may be softened and abbreviated.—To the Venerable Dominic of Jesus-Mary there appeared the soul of an artist who had to suffer for an immoral picture, until it was destroyed by the agency of Dominic.—The soul of a citizen of Pampeluna appeared to the Venerable Prances of the Blessed Sacrament after being released through her efforts from a debt not yet paid at the time of his death.—The Venerable Servant of God, Brother John de Via, a Franciscan, was admitted to heaven only after his brethren had recited the offices which he had omitted during life.—Pope Benedict XIII. relates that a husband appeared to his wife, thanking her for paying his debts and saying, " May God reward you for your charity. I was in bonds and torments until you paid what I owed."—A curate in Baden had an apparition in which he saw the soul of the parish priest burning in Purgatory; and he was informed that to release the soul from its punishment it would be necessary to satisfy the obligation of saying thirty-five Masses, for which the priest had received the customary stipend without having had time before his death to say the Masses. The curate said the Masses, and the soul appeared to him no more.
149. In consequence of these and similar apparitions it came to be believed that the souls are detained in Purgatory until restoration is made of their unjust gains, or the scandal given by them is repaired. Regarding this belief it must be remembered that by incurring such a guilt man commits sin, whereby he renders himself liable to punishment. This punishment, to be endured in this world or the next, is proportioned to the guilt incurred. As soon as divine justice is appeased by means of the punishment endured, the soul is admitted to heaven; there is nothing to debar it. It may be that the goods unjustly acquired have not been restored, or the scandal given has not yet been repaired; but the soul is no longer able to mix in temporal concerns; therefore, the guilt incurred being atoned for, there is no longer any obstacle to its admission to heaven. The time of atonement, however, can be shortened by the vicarious discharge of such liabilities. Hence Benedict XIII. remarks: " It must by no means be inferred that souls, whose debts remain unpaid, will be detained in Purgatory until the debts are paid for them; but only that they are released more speedily by the adjustment of their liabilities through the charity of the living."