Saturday, 6 June 2015
The Heroic Act of Charity for the Suffering Souls. § 62. What is the Heroic Act of Charity for the Suffering Souls? Part 1.
479. The Heroic Act of Charity is a voluntary cession in favor of the Suffering Souls of all the good works that we personally perform during life, and that will be performed by the faithful in suffrage for us after our own departure from this world. This cession is made to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to be offered by her to God for those souls in Purgatory whom He wishes to benefit thereby, or to whom we ourselves are indebted in a particular manner. By this act we voluntarily and magnanimously resign everything that might in any way be acceptable to God as atonement for the punishment incurred by our own sins; and all this we place in the hands of the Blessed Virgin for the relief of those Suffering Souls whom she desires to favor.—God is a just Judge. If we have sinned, though we may have repented of and confessed our sins, He will sentence us to undergo some temporal punishment. This temporal punishment is a debt which we have incurred, and which we must cancel by penitential works. These works of penance are as it were the ransom by which we purchase immunity .from punishment in the next world. If our confessor imposes on us works of penance sufficient to pay off this our debt, and we perform these works well, we are thereby released from all further punishment. But if our confessor does not impose sufficient penance on us, we must voluntarily perform works of satisfaction sufficient to cancel our debt. If we do not do this, God sends us trials and sufferings, if we suffer these patiently and in a spirit of penance, He accepts them in payment for our debt. But if God does not send us sufficient sufferings, or if we do not bear them in a spirit of penance, we shall have to go to Purgatory after death; and there we shall be obliged to pay off the balance of our debt, not by voluntary acts of penance, but by sufferings imposed by God's judicial sentence. And of this place of punishment our Savior Himself says, "Amen I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence, till thou pay the last farthing." (Matth. v. 26.)
We can therefore atone for the temporal punishment of our sins by four kinds of penitential works: 1) By such as are imposed by our confessor; 2) by such as we perform of our own free volition; 3) by such as are prescribed for the gaining of indulgences ; 4) by such as God Himself imposes on us by sending us trials, sickness, poverty, etc., provided we suffer these afflictions patiently and in a spirit of penance.— Now, if we are inspired with a great love for the Suffering Souls, we will offer all these acts of penance in favor of these beloved spouses of Christ, instead of performing them in view to our own atonement, thus apparently forgetting ourselves entirely. This is indeed a heroic, a magnanimous charity.
480. But, Christian soul, perhaps you think: If I make this heroic act, and give up all my good works in favor of the Suffering Souls—what will become of me at the end of my life ?—Do not be disturbed, but ponder well the following.
By this act we yield to the Suffering Souls only that fruit or spiritual profit of our good works, which comes to us personally by way of atonement; that is, by making this act we surrender to the souls in Purgatory only the atoning value of our good works. As to the fruits of merit and intercession, they remain our own ; for the personal merit of a good act can never be ceded to others, and the fruit of intercession for ourselves and others is distinct from and independent of the atoning value of our good works. The results of merit and intercession are the following: 1) reconciliation with God ; 2) increase of sanctifying grace; 3) augmentation of our glory in heaven; 4) increase of actual grace, necessary and useful in this life for the performance of good works. Besides, our prayers and good works obtain for us consolation in adversity, the grace to resist temptations, preservation from temporal evils, etc. All this is reserved to us: the remission of temporal punishment alone is what we sacrifice by the heroic act of charity.
481. To arrive at a better comprehension of the rich profit gained by every good work—and this profit is really a five-fold one—let us consider in detail the fruits issuing from the performance of good works. Above all we must conciliate God's justice in case we have committed sin; and only after this has been accomplished will His mercy grant us the special help of His grace to attain true contrition and sincere conversion. By sin we offend the majesty of God and provoke His anger to inflict punishment. Among the punishments of sin decreed by our just and holy God one of the most severe is that he denies to the sinner, in just retribution, special and more abundant graces. But inasmuch as every good work is a work of atonement, the performance of such works will serve to appease the wrath of God, to disarm His justice, and to regain His favor. The atoning efficacy of the work reconciles Him, and disposes Him through the merits of Jesus Christ to remit wholly or in part the punishment incurred. The merits of our Savior draw down upon man the favor of God ; and so the sinner is moved by faith, hope, charity and contrition to return to God and to receive worthily the holy sacraments, by which he is sanctified and becomes again a child of God. This fruit of a good work can not be ceded to others. Reconciliation with God is an effect inseparable from the individual that obtains it.
482. A pious Russian general was the intimate friend of a priest. One day the priest chanced to pass through the village in which the general resided, when he felt himself strangely impelled to visit his friend. But as he was pressed for time, he resisted the impulse and intended to pass on. But the thought returned so persistently that he finally yielded. Scarcely had the general recognized his visitor, when he exclaimed, "Thanks be to God that you came! My wife, who as you know is a Protestant, is dying. I Hope she will not refuse your assistance." The priest went to see her, and had the happiness to receive her into the Church.—What had obtained this grace for her?—She had made the resolution, as was seen later in her diary, not to let a day pass without performing some act of charity.—A zealous priest was so convinced of the efficacy of charitable works in obtaining conversions, that when he one day had disposed an infidel lawyer on his death-bed to make a sincere confession, he confidently asked him, "By what work of charity have you obtained this grace?" The dying man at first remembered none; but when the priest insisted, he replied, "I now remember that for charity's sake I once assisted a poor widow to gain a law suit, which had threatened to deprive her unjustly of her little property."
483. Every good work aids in effecting man's reconciliation with God. It moves God to grant the sinner more grace, so.that he may be disposed to turn away from sin and to return to the friendship of his Heavenly Father. This grace finally impels the sinner to seek complete reconciliation by contrition, confession and sacramental absolution. The greater our contrition, the more perfect will be our reconciliation with God. God dwells with His grace in such a reconciled soul. This grace is an emanation of the divine nature, of the sanctity of God, and truly sanctifies the soul. By this grace the sinful state inherited from Adam becomes extinct in us ; a new life begins, a supernatural life in God, which makes the soul—God's own image—more and more beautiful, and renders man according to the words of St. Peter, "a partaker of the divine nature" (II. Pet. i. 4.)—This fruit of reconciliation with God is distinct from the fruit of atonement. First there must be reconciliation ; and only after this has been effected, can atonement for the temporal punishment of sin follow.
484. Every good work not only disposes the soul for the reception of sanctifying grace, but also increases this grace within the soul. By this grace we are made holy and pleasing to God; our souls are adorned with supernatural virtues; we are rendered capable of gaining merit; we are and remain children of God and heirs of heaven. Every soul in the state of grace is a child of the Eternal Father, a spouse of Jesus Christ, a temple of the Holy Ghost, a consort of the angels and saints. Hence by the increase of sanctifying grace we also grow in holiness and are rendered more pleasing to God; we grow in virtue and in merit; we insure our election to heaven and merit a higher place in the heavenly kingdom. 'Sanctifying grace may be likened to capital which increases by interest and compound interests Every good action performed in the state of grace—every combat against sin, every victory over temptation, every act of contrition for sins mortal or venial, or for sins perhaps long ago remitted, every worthy reception of the sacraments, every prayer, etc.—all these works performed in the state of sanctifying grace augment this grace within us, thus rendering our souls more and more pleasing to God.
485. In gaining an increase of sanctifying grace by means of our good works we even augment the value and meritoriousness of the works themselves. Suppose an artist has received two hundred dollars for a painting. By the work performed on the painting he has increased his artistic abilities, and the next painting he produces is so much better than the first that he receives three hundred dollars for it. Now if his skill and its reward increase with every new painting, how proficient and wealthy he must finally become! A hasty sketch by Raphael is prized more highly, though done in an hour, than a painting on which some obscure artist was engaged for years. It is the genius, the artistic skill of the painter which renders a painting valuable.—The same is true in spiritual life. Sanctifying grace is the genius by which our works are rendered valuable. By the supernatural virtues infused into us together with grace we perform good actions, which may be called our works of art for heaven. By every such work sanctifying grace is increased in the soul; and the virtues germinating in and growing from this grace naturally increase with it. Consequently the work following becomes more valuable than the one preceding it, and therefore merits a greater reward.—If this be so, what a wealth of grace, what a beauty must a soul possess that has persevered in grace for twenty, thirty years, a soul that has performed meritorious actions every day, every hour, yes, almost every minute of the day! What a splendid crown must await such a soul in heaven! The meritoriousness of every good work like the fruit of reconciliation with God is entirely personal and cannot be ceded to others.
486. Increase of grace and increase of merit are correlatives, whose reward responds to the degree they have both attained. The eternal bliss of heaven is the reward of our good works performed in the state of grace. These works are not solely our works; but they are in a certain sense the works of Christ dwelling and operating in us by sanctifying grace. Whence have the branches the power to bring forth fruit except from the vine ? And the tree, is it not perfected by the process of grafting? Thus sanctifying grace unites us with Christ, and it is by His power and merit that our good works are performed in a manner to make them valuable. By sanctifying grace Christ lets us share in His merits. Our works, indifferent in themselves, become supremely valuable when He adds to them the infinite value of His merits, of His most Precious Blood.