Tuesday, 19 May 2015
The Condition of the Suffering souls in Purgatory, by Rev. John A. Nageleisen. § 57. The Suffering Souls Show Their Gratitude by Praying for Their Benefactors. Part 2.
424. True, for the Church suffering there is no longer any time for action, but only for suffering; no longer any time for gaining merit, but only for bowing submissively to the will of God and paying indebtedness to His Divine Justice "to the last farthing." But this places no obstacle to our intercession for the Souls in Purgatory.
The sinner is separated from Jesus Christ, the source of supernatural life; he is a dead member of His body. Hence he cannot gain merit for heaven. "And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." (I Cor. xiii. 8.) The sinner therefore has no merit of his works, however good they may be in themselves, even if he should give all his possessions to the poor, or suffer martyrdom. But though gaming no merit for heaven by his good works, the sinner may obtain through them the grace of conversion. God does not owe him this grace. If He imparts it to him, it is granted not as a merit, but as an effect of divine mercy in reward for the good disposition shown by the good works he performed in co-operation with active grace. How effective good works are for conversion is demonstrated by Cornelius the centurion, "a just man and one that feareth God" (Acts x. 22), whom God led to the true faith on account of his good works. It is proved by the conversion of the Ninivites: "And God saw their works, that they were turned from their evil way: and God had mercy with regard to the evil which He had said that He would do them, and He did it not." (Jon. 11. 10.) And of Manasses we also read: "He did evil before the Lord And after that he was in distress, he prayed to the Lord, his God, and did penance exceedingly before the God of his fathers. And he entreated Him and besought Him earnestly: and He heard his prayer and brought him again into Jerusalem into his kingdom, and Manasses knew that the Lord was God:" (II Paralip. xxxiii.)
425. Though Manasses was a sinner, God heard his prayer: can we imagine that His living Heart will refuse to hear the prayers of the Holy Souls, who for* get their own sufferings to be mindful of the sufferings of others? Even though these Souls cannot effectively pray for themselves, will God reject their prayers when they pray to preserve their brethren from the flames of hell, and if it so please Him, also from the purifying flames in which they themselves are confined ? Can we imagine that God hears the supplications of sinners, but refuses to hear those of His beloved spouses? God undoubtedly hears them and grants their petitions —not because He is bound to do so by His promise, or because their prayers are meritorious; but simply because He loves these Souls. The Suffering Souls, then, can present our needs to God by way of intercession ; and God in His mercy and love deigns to hear them, though He does not always grant their petitions. On earth we can rely on God's promise that He will grant our prayers; the saints in heaven can rely for the hearing of their prayers on God's complacency and on their merits; the Suffering Souls must rely on Gpd's love for them.
426. Concerning the prayer of the Suffering Souls for the living, St. Augustine in his treatise on the care for the dead writes as follows: Holy Scripture testifies that sometimes the dead are sent to the living, while on the other hand St. Paul was transported from among the living into paradise. When Saul beheld the camp of the Philistines, he was much afraid and sought consolation with the Lord. "And he consulted the Lord, and the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by spirits, nor by prophets." (I Kings xviii. 6.) And he went to the woman of Endor, who called up for him the spirit of Samuel. "And Samuel Said to Saul: Why hast thou disturbed my rest, that I should be brought up? And Saul said: I am in great distress: for the Philistines fight against me, and God is departed from me, and would not hear me, neither by the hand of prophets, nor by dreams; therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest show me what I shall do. And Samuel said : Why askest thou me, seeing the Lord has departed from thee, and is gone over to thy rival ? For the Lord will do to thee as He spoke by me, and He will rend thy kingdom out of thy hand, and will give it to thy neighbor David; because thou didst not obey the voice of the Lord, neither didst thou execute the wrath of His indignation upon Amalec; therefore hath the Lord done to thee what thou sufferest this day. And the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hands of the Philistines: and to-morrow thou and thy son shall be with me, and the Lord will also deliver the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines." (I Kings xvm. 15—19.) Thus Samuel proved Saul's protector as in life so also after death, even enabling him to prepare for death by announcing it to him for the very next day.
427. Judas the Machabee also, renowned for his solicitude for the dead, was visited by apparitions from the other world. "Nicanor being puffed up with exceeding great pride, sought to set up a public monument of the victory over Judas. But Machabeus ever trusted with all hope that God would help them; and he exhorted his people not to fear the coming of the Gentiles, but to remember the help they had before received from heaven, and now to hope for victory from the Almighty. And speaking to them out of the law and the prophets, and withal putting them in mind of the battles they had fought before, he made them more cheerful. Then after he had encouraged them, he showed withal the falsehood of the Gentiles, and their breach of oaths. So he armed every one of them, not with defence of shield and spear, but with very good speeches and exhortations, and told them a dream worthy to be believed, whereby he rejoiced them all. Now the vision was in this manner: Onias, who had been high-priest, a good and virtuous man, modest in his looks, gentle in his manners, and graceful in his speech, and exercised from a child in all virtues, holding up his hands, prayed for all the people of the Jews. After this there appeared also another man, admirable for age and glory, and environed with great beauty and majesty. Then Onias, answering, said: This is a lover of his brethren, and of the people of Israel. This is he that prayeth much for the people, and for all the holy city, Jeremias, the prophet of God. Whereupon Jeremias stretched forth his right hand, and gave to Judas a sword of gold, saying: Take this holy sword a gift from God, wherewith thou shalt overthrow the adversaries of my people Israel." (II Machab. xv. 6—16.) This apparition of two just souls to Judas Machabeus and his victory over the enemy are regarded by some interpreters of Scripture as being the reward he received for the twelve thousand drachms of silver he had sent to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered in atonement for the sins of those who had fallen in battle.
428. Even the reprobate are concerned for the salvation of their relatives. When Dives was refused the cooling drops of water which he craved in his torments, he besought Abraham to send Lazarus to his father's house: 4 'For I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments." (Luke xvi. 28.) And Abraham listened to his prayer, explaining to him that they had Moses and the prophets, whom if they did not hear, neither would they believe even if one should rise again from the dead; which argumentation seems to imply that if they had not had Moses and the prophets, he might have sent Lazarus to them. Now, if Onias and Jeremias, who as yet did not see God from face to face, could pray to Him and had their petitions granted ; if even reprobate sinners, for whom the time of merit was past, could implore the mercy of heaven—why, then, should the souls in Purgatory be denied the privilege of praying for the living? Richard of. Mediavilla proves the probable truth^ of this doctrine as follows : "Prayer is a work of charity. If the souls in Purgatory prayed for us during their mortal life, when not yet confirmed in grace, they will do it so much the more, now that they are confirmed in grace. True, their prayers, like our own, may not always be heard, because the Holy Souls do not so-clearly discern the counsels of God as do the saints in heaven. Nevertheless their prayers benefit many, yea, all of us, provided no obstacle be placed on our part. It follows therefore that the souls in Purgatory effectually pray for us, notwithstanding the fact that their time of merit by works is past."
429. Concerning the comparisons made between persons in their death agony and the Holy Souls in their agony of suffering, they are in all respects inadequate and therefore inadmissible. The reason is. this: The souls in Purgatory suffer indescribable torments, yet they suffer so patiently and with such resignation to the will of God, that they experience neither worry nor terror. Being assured of their final salvation, their pains are no obstacle to their love of God or their charity for man. Though in a state of terrible punishment, they are nevertheless convinced that He who-punishes them regards both them and us with paternal complacency. Therefore they are resigned in their own sufferings and they remember our needs in their prayer. If like our Lord Himself many of these souls were able even in this world to preserve perfect equanimity and peace of heart amid the many tribulations, persecutions and sorrows that they had to bear, they will not lose their composure in the torments of Purgatory, where despite their terrible suffering they have the consoling assurance of being confirmed in the grace of God. Even in this life devout souls follow the example of our Lord, who prayed for the salvation of the world amid the tortures of His crucifixion— they remember their friends and enemies in their prayers: why should they not be permitted to do so in the next world ?
430. The condition of souls separated from the body cannot be compared with the condition of souls united with the body. If the body experiences pain, the spirit also is affected thereby. Hence Aristotle remarks, that the heart of a sick man is continually disconsolate and in pain. In illness we are scarcely able to formulate a good thought or an act of resignation to the will of God, as Holy Scripture testifies: "For the corruptible body is a load upon the soul, and the earthly habitation presseth down the mind." (Wisd. ix. 15.)
431. In proof of what we have just said let us adduce the sayings of some of the holy martyrs. St. Stephen exclaims, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God... Lord Jesus, receive my spirit... Lord Jesus, lay not this sin to their charge." (Acts vii.) St. Tiburtius protests, "I ardently desire to shed my blood for Him who for love of me died on the cross. I do not fear the glowing coals; for me they will have the coolness of dew and the fragrance of roses and carnations." St. Lawrence addresses his tormentor, "Thou hater of the Christian name, thinkest thou to terrify me by these torments ? Know that if these be torments, they are so for thee, not for me; for I rejoice in having to endure them. For a long time I have desired nothing more ardently than to be seated at this banquet and to partake of this delicious repast. For me the flames are a refreshment; they retain their heat to scorch thee for all eternity without consuming thee. Behold, my flesh is sufficiently done on one side; turn it over and feast on it."—Hundreds of other examples might be cited in proof of the fact that divine grace can gain the mastery over bodily pain.
432. If then the martyrs rejoiced during the most cruel torments, we have so much the more reason to conclude that the souls in Purgatory, freed from the bondage of the body and enjoying the full liberty of the spirit, may suffer great torments and nevertheless enjoy peace of mind. While suffering intensely, they may yet experience great supernal consolations; they may receive favors from God by their prayers and they may be in a condition to make magnanimous and heroic acts of love for God and man. To comprehend still better this peace of soul in the midst of the most excruciating torments, we must contemplate the sacred humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. In His passion, at the height of His agony, when dying on the cross and exclaiming, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" the soul of Jesus was in perfect peace; for crying with a loud voice, He said, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit. ,, (Luke xxiii. 46.) And according to the testimony of the Evangelists He prayed for His enemies even on the cross. In like manner the Holy Souls suffer the most excruciating torments, while at the same time they are filled with heavenly consolations; the flame of the love of God and man burns more strongly within them than does the flame of the fire that surrounds them; and this love it is that urges them to become our advocates with God.