§ 28. Fasting for the Benefit of the Suffering Souls.
131. Everybody in this world experiences in himself two conflicting powers, which are described by St. Paul as follows: "I am delighted with the law of God according to the inward man: but I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in" my members." (Rom. vii. 22, 23.) Reason and religion demand that in this combat of the "inward man" we decide in his favor against sin. Our soul is immortal, the breath of God, His image. Our body is a handful of clay, soon to moulder in the grave. What does it matter if the body, a food for worms, be made to suffer, if only the immortal soul be saved ? Of what „ consequence is it, if the body die, if only the soul lives? St. Paul was the apostle of the gentiles, a light of the world, a vessel of election; nevertheless he felt it a necessary duty to bring his body into subjection. He says, " I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps when I have preached to others., I myself should become a castaway." (I. Cor. ix. 27.) Many Christians are filled with terror of their adversary, the devil, of whom St. Peter says that "as a roaring lion he goeth about seeking whom he may devour'' (I. Pet. v, 8.); but let them know that the devil himself with all his cunning and power is not able to injure their souls as much as they themselves may injure it by pampering their flesh. Let us bear in mind that the assaults of hell are greatly weakened by the mortification of our flesh. If we hate satan, then how much more should we hate our flesh, which is more treacherous than satan! During mortal life the souls in Purgatory did not always have a due regard for the final results of vain pleasures, but often looked only to the momentary gratification of their senses. Hence they must now atone even for the least inordinate enjoyment of sensual pleasure.
132. In order to help the Suffering Souls, we must render satisfaction to God for the sins that offended Him. We must satisfy the demands of divine justice by corresponding works of atonement, works by which God is glorified, and man is deprived of some enjoyment in penalty for the sinful gratification in which he wrongfully indulged. Now it is manifest that God i$ glorified by every good work; whereas to fallen man every good work is troublesome and painful, so that the performance of such a work deprives him of some kind of gratification. Hence every good work has a propitiatory quality. As in prayer we consecrate our whole being to God, trampling under foot the pride of life by the humility of supplication, so also do we by fasting deny ourselves in atonement for the rebellion of our flesh against the law of God. By fasting we chastise our body, refuse gratification to its appetite, give strength to our soul and pleasure to our whole spiritual being. Fasting is directed against the lusts of the flesh and the sins proceeding therefrom, against all forbidden pleasures and enjoyments. By fasting, therefore, we atone for the sins committed by and against our body. Instead of applying this atonement to ourselves, we can offer it to Almighty God in union With the fast of Christ in favor of the Suffering Souls.
133. To propitiate the offended majesty of God was the end for which St. John the Baptist performed such austere penance. Of His fore-runner our Savior Himself said that "there hath not risen among them that are born of woman a greater" (Matth. xi. 11.); and yet "he was clothed with earners hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and he ate locusts and wild honey." (Mark 1.6.) Our Divine Redeemer Himself, "the Way, the Truth and the Life," (John xrv. 6.), gives us an example of the efficacy and value of fasting. To prepare Himself for the great work of redemption He observed a fast of forty days and forty nights. To appease divine wrath and to obtain mercy for his people, Moses "fell down before the Lord as ^before, forty days and nights neither eating bread nor drinking water, for all your sins which you had committed against the Lord, and had provoked Him to wrath : for I feared His indignation and anger, wherewith being moved against you, He would have destroyed you. And the Lord heard me this time also." (Deuter. ix. 18, 19.) This clearly demonstrates how efficient fasting is to obtain God's mercy.—Christian soul, contemplate the torments of Purgatory! Let your heart be moved to compassion for the Suffering Souls. Follow the example of Moses, thereby to release these poor spouses of Christ!
134. Lysimachus, king of Thracia, while surrounded by his enemies, suffered severely from thirst. To .obtain water he delivered himself and his army to the enemy, thus sacrificing his liberty and his kingdom for a drink. David, the royal prophet, acted differently. Surrounded by his enemies, and exhausted by the fatigues of battle, he exclaimed, "O that some man would give me water from the cistern of Bethlehem, which is in the gate!" (1. Paralip xi. 17.) The water was brought to him by three captains of his army, who risked their lives in fetching it from the cistern. "And he would not drink of it, but offered it to the Lord.''—A soul thus master of its appetite and inclinations is capable of every virtue and will surely be rewarded by the Lord.
We might mention ever so many signal blessings which the saints obtained by fasting and prayer ; but we confine ourselves to two examples. The Blessed Cecilia, a Dominican nun, was accustomed to mortify herself in drinking, thereby to honor the sacred thirst of our Lord on the cross, and to quench the flames of Purgatory. After her death she appeared to one of the Sisters, and revealed to her that immediately on her entrance into Purgatory an angel appeared bearing a golden vase from which he poured water into the flames, and then led her to heaven.—King Sancio having died of poison, the queen prayed day and night for the repose of his soul, and on Saturdays fasted on bread and water in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her husband appeared to her thanking her for her penitential suffrages, and begging her to continue them. After this apparition she persevered in fasting and prayer for forty days. Then she saw him again surrounded by heavenly splendor, and heard him address her with these words : "Now I am released from my torments. I owe it to you, my pious queen; may God bless you for it throughout all eternity."
135. In order that our fasting may be beneficial to the Suffering Souls, it is not enough for us to abstain from food and drink, but we must also refrain from committing sin. Our fasting, to be efficient for the release of the captive souls from their prison, must be done according to the spirit of God. Our Lord says by the mouth of the prophet, "Is not this rather the fast that I have chosen ? Loose the hands of wickedness, undo bundles that oppress, let them that are broken go free, and break asunder every burden. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harborless into thy house ; when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thine own flesh." (Isai. lviii. 6, 7.) Through the same prophet the Lord rejects fasting that is not attended by self-denial. "Behold in the day of your fast your own will is found, and you exact of all your debtors," (meaning, that stubbornness and want of charity render our fasting useless); "behold you fast for debates and strife, and strike with the fist wickedly. Do not fast as you have done unto this day, to make your cry be heard on high." (Isai. lviii. 3, 4.) — If you desire to relieve the Suffering Souls, the bonds of iniquity that bind your soul must be loosed, your soul must not be held captive by pride, avarice, impurity, envy and other vices.
Let us, then, fast by abstaining from hatred, anger, impurity, slander, etc.; in a word, let us fast by our works. If you see a person in distress, come to his relief; if your neighbor is prosperous, do not envy him. Let your hands fast by keeping them from acquiring unjustly what is not yours; your heart, by guarding it against covetousness; your feet, by preventing them from going to dangerous amusements. How often have we neglected all this, and yet it is an essential condition if our fasting is to be meritorious for the Suffering Souls! Let us therefore remember the exhortation of St. Augustine: "What will it avail us if we abstain from wine, but are intoxicated with anger; if we abstain from flesh meat, but like wild animals destroy the reputation and good name of our neighbors ?"
136. St. Francis of Sales relates that a mother released her son from Purgatory by performing an heroic act of charity. He had been murdered, and his mother not only forgave the murderer, but shielded him from justice. Her son was permitted to appear to her ; and he told her that this charity had pleased . God so much, that his whole punishment in Purgatory, which would otherwise have lasted for years, had been remitted to him.—Count Hyacinth of St. Florent was executed during the French revolution. His sister Hermania was so embittered against his enemies, that she refused the sacraments and mourned excessively for her brother. On the fifteenth anniversary of his death he appeared to his sister, and complained of her heartlessness, whereas he had so tenderly loved her in life. "Your tears and despair," he said, "do not help me. I yearn for your prayer, that it may help me to atone for my faults." Hermania deplored her mistake, and for the first time offered up a prayer for the murderers of her brother that God might have
mercy on him. She then continued in works of charity and mercy for twenty-five years, and at her death her brother appeared to her in heavenly splendor.— The chronicles of the convent of St. Teudon relate that one of the monks, who died about the year 1250, was released from Purgatory by the patient suffering of a woman who meekly bore the harsh treatment of her husband.—And who can estimate how many Suffering Souls were released by the self-denials of so many saints, for instance St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Malachy, St. Patrick, St. Bridget, St. Lidwina, St. Elisabeth, and innumerable others?
Let us, then, fast not only by abstaining from bodily food, but also in a spiritual sense, by mortifying our passions. Following the example of the saints, let us bear all our trials and sufferings with patience and resignation, offering them for the relief of the Suffering Souls. Let us say as often as a misfortune or adversity befalls us, "I will bear it patiently and offer it up for the release of my dear father, mother, brother, sister and other relatives, thereby to open to them the portals of paradise."