THE DUTY OF THE LIVING TOWARD THE SOULS IN PURGATORY. Part 1.
That we who are members of the Church militant ought on many accounts to render aid to the dead is easily proved.
I. The first argument is drawn from justice toward ourselves. We ought in justice to ourselves to relieve those poor souls. This is shown by two reasons :—
1. The first is, that in assisting those who are our brethren we merit to obtain similar assistance for ourselves one day. Hence St. Augustine says : "Every one does these things for his particular friends, that they may be done in like manner for him by his own." The Lord will show mercy to as if we show mercy to the dead. This is the spirit which it is said in the Book of Ruth : (I. 8.) "The Lord deal mercifully with you, as you have dealt with the dead."
This is only according to what our divine Lord, Jesus Christ, says in the gospel of St. Mark: (iv. 21.) "In what measure you shall mete, it shall be measured to you again." Those souls, that shall have been raised to glory by our prayers and other good works, will not forget their benefactors. They will not be unmindful of those who were the means of delivering them from affliction, and of hastening the day of their admission into the blessed kingdom of peace. If we be in distress; or worse, if we be in danger of straying away from God, they will cry aloud for us before His throne. They will say to the Most High, that, but for us, they should be still tormented with fire; and they will implore Him to have mercy on us, whether we be in this life or in Purgatory. Especially, if we be in danger of falling into sin, and losing our soul, they will exclaim with one voice, that but for us they should be this day tormented by fire. They will implore God to spare us. They will interpose between Him and us, as the people of Israel in ancient time interposed between king Saul and his son, Jonathan, to save the life of the latter : " Shall Jonathan then die, who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel" ? (I. Kings, xiv. 45.) Let us listen to the language of St. Bernard ; (Serm. 42, de Divers.) and, following his example, let us render all the assistance in our power to the helpless dead. Here are the remarkable and moving words of St. Bernard : " I shall rise therefore to assist them; I shall demand with deep mournful sounds, I shall implore with sighs, I shall intercede with prayers; that if by chance the Lord may so heed and judge, He may turn labour into rest, misery into glory, scourges into a crown." We should endeavour to imitate St. Bernard, and to render all the assistance we can to the suffering souls.
2. The second reason, to show that justice toward ourselves obliges us to assist them, is, that in assisting them we placate God, and render Him propitious to us. Whilst our masses, prayers, alms, and other pious works, will make satisfaction for the souls in Purgatory, they will be also a source of profit to ourselves. The satisfactions, that one makes for another, bring advantage to himself. Hence the angel Raphael, in his address to Tobias, (Tobias, xii, 12 & 14.) told him that, in reward of his good works toward his neighbour, the Lord had cured him: "When thou didst pray with tears, and didst bury the dead, and didst leave thy dinner, and hide the dead by day in thy house and bury them by night, I offered thy prayer to the Lord. . . . And now the Lord hath sent me to heal thee." Even a cup of cold water some times affords relief to our brethren. This is in truth a very trivial gift; and yet we have it from the sacred lips of Jesus Christ Himself, (Math. x. 42.) that the person, who gives it, "shall not lose his reward." Therefore the good works which we perform for the suffering souls, will be a well of grace and of merit to our selves.
II. We are bound to assist the .souls on the title of religion. They, like ourselves, have God for their father, Christ for their head, and the Church or their mother. They have the same rule of faith ; they hope for the same heaven; and they are clothed with the same robe of charity. Faith teaches us that the just who are today alive, the saints who reign with God in glory, and the souls who are suffering in Purgatory, form one Church, and one society-Hence, St. Augustine (Lib. 20, de Civit. Dei, cap. 9, n. 2) writes: "For neither are the souls of the pious dead separated from the Church which even now is the kingdom of Christ. Other wise neither should a remembrance of them be made at the altar of God." St. Chrysostom (Homil. 41, in cap. 15, Epist. I, ad Corinth.) also says: " Among martyrs, among confessors, among priests, we count the dead; for we are all one body, although some members may be more illustrious than others." Not only is it "a holy and a wholesome thought," but even it is meet and just, that they, who are members of one and the same society, should bear each other mutual aid. We ought then render to the dead that succour, which we should not think of denying to the living; especially when we know that, as St. Augustine (Enchir, cap. 110, n. 29.) observes, "it cannot be denied that the souls of the dead are relieved by the piety of the living." Let us exercise this piety in behalf of the faithful departed. Let us discharge the duty of justice to all, the dead as well as the living. Thus will we fulfil that sentence of sacred writ:f "A gift hath grace in the sight of all the living, and restrain not grace from the dead."
III We are bound to assist the suffering souls on the title of friendship and necessity. When our friends are in distress, we ought to come to their relief. For some sin, committed on our account, or in which we were participators, many of our friends are doubtless undergoing the dreadful ordeal of Purgatory. It may be, that it is the dearest friend we ever had—the boy who was our constant playmate at school; the young man who so often paced with us the halls of the college; or that other person in whose company we were so charmed to be—that is now languishing in the flames of Purgatory. That soul and mine were interwoven in friendship, as closely, as the soul of Jonathan was wedded in love to that of David : " The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." (I. Kings, xviii, I.) The laws of friendship demand, that we should remember our friends, and assist them when we are able. Therefore it is said in Ecclesiasticus, (xxxvii,6,) "Forget not thy friend in thy mind, and be not unmindful of him in thy riches." But the obligation of assisting a friend is correlative to his necessity. The greater his need, the stricter is our obligation of coming to his relief Hence the Scripture, which is ever warning us of our duty, which, like a faithful sentinel, is always keeping watch over the morals of the people, again says: (Ecclesiasticus, xxii, 28, 20.) "Keep fidelity with a friend in his poverty ... In the time of his trouble continue faithful to him." Then, if we lament the departure of our friend, if we shed a tear over his grave, let us not forget the duty which friendship entails, but let us come to his assistance. Thus, if we weep for a dear one, whose like we shall never meet again, let us resolve with St. Ambrose: (Ecclesiasticus, xxii, 28, 20.) "I have loved him alive, and there fore I shall follow him continually to the region of the living; nor shall I desert him, until with weeping and prayers I will lead the man, whither his merits call him, unto the holy mountain, where there is eternal life." Let us follow the example of the holy Doctor, and render all the assistance in our power to our deceased friends. On whom should we have compassion, if not on those dear companions, whom the Church represents as, in their distress, crying out to us in the plaintive verse of Job: (xix. 21.)' Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you my friends, because the hand of the Lord hath touched me?"