§ 55a. Motives Relating to Ourselves.
368. The fear of neglecting our own spiritual welfare by thus zealously aiding the Suffering Souls is a vain apprehension. There is no better means of promoting our own salvation than charity for the souls in Purgatory. The greatest benefits accrue to us therefrom. We know by our own experience how manifold are the dangers that threaten our spiritual and temporal welfare, and how much need we have in all things of divine blessing and protection; and these we secure to ourselves most effectually by charity for the Suffering Souls. This charity is therefore of the utmost consequence in relation to our salvation; for by it we not only help the Suffering Souls to a more speedy attainment of heaven, but we thereby increase our own zeal and atone for our own faults.
369. Hence our Lord exhorts us: "Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity; that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings" (Luke xvi. 9.), thus reminding us to engage the prayers of the poor by our alms, in order to obtain the graces necessary for our salvation. Now, who amongst the poor will more certainly pray for us than the souls in Purgatory, those friends of God who are in such great distress, so needful of help and unable to do anything for themselves? And whose prayer is more powerful than that of these elect Holy Souls?— Let us therefore make them our friends by mitigating their torments by means of our prayers and good works.
370. If the scanty alms which we give to the poor during life and which relieves them only partly and for a time, imposes on them the obligation of praying for us in return, is it not obvious that the souls of the faithful departed must feel themselves impelled to implore God's choicest blessings on us for relieving them from the utmost misery and leading them to supreme bliss? They will not be ungrateful or forgetful as Pharaoh's chief butler was of Joseph. "Remember me, when it shall be well with thee," thus Joseph spoke to the butler. It will not be necessary for us to address such words to the Poor Souls. Released from their fiery prison and admitted to the long desired vision of God, they will of their own accord intercede for us, for our families and for all our dear ones; they will pray for us at the throne of God, asking His blessing on all our undertakings. They will surround our death-bed to assist us in that all-important combat, protecting us against the final assaults of the enemy. They will in fine conduct our souls to the tribunal of God, recommending them to His mercy. And so the word of Holy Writ will be verified in us, "Do good to the just, and thou shalt find great recompense; and if not of him, assuredly of the Lord." (Eccli. xii. 2.)
371. Even self-interest should impel us to come to the relief of the Suffering Souls. St. Vincent of Paul assures us, "I do not remember ever to have heard or read that a person devoted to charity died an evil death." Now, what charity is more genuine, what mercy more truly Christian, than that shown towards the Suffering Souls ? We call them Poor Souls; and they are truly poor. They are a class of poor whom we do not see with mortar eyes; a class of sufferers, whose distress is revealed to us by faith, whose misery is most helpless. Most surely they will pray for us, even before we have obtained their final release. They will obtain for us a happy death; and if perhaps we shall be sentenced to that place of torment from which we released them, they in their turn will not cease to implore divine mercy until they have obtained our release. Eternal Truth declares, "With the same measure that you shall mete withal, it shall be measured to you again." (Luke to. 38.)
372. How confidently we might expect our end, if we had the conviction that during our life we have released only one soul from Purgatory ! This would insure for us the mercy of God. He would inspire others to make satisfaction for us by their mortifications, penitential exercises and other suffrages. He would apply in our favor the prayers, Holy Sacrifices, fasts and other pious works of the Church. And we shall be greatly in need of suffrages; for we can scarcely hope to leave this world in such a state of perfection and purity that we shall owe nothing to divine justice. For at the tribunal of Eternal Justice nothing will be overlooked, everything will be scrutinized; the time of mercy is over; justice asserts its claim. Will it then not be to our everlasting gain, if we have released at least one soul from Purgatory ? This soul would most certainly be our advocate with God in return for our charity, and would obtain for us what we obtained for it.
373. But the reverse is also true. "With the same measure that you shall mete, it shall be measured to you again."' If we are uncharitable and insensible to the claims of the deceased during our lives, we shall receive in just retribution the same treatment after death. Let us place vividly before our eyes the condition in which we shall then be. We shall yearn for the assistance of others, for the application to us of the fruits of Holy Mass, for prayer, alms, etc. Let us therefore do . for the souls in Purgatory now, what we shall wish to be done for us then. Let us practice the golden rule of the Gospel, "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." If we do not pray for the dead now, our survivors will forget us also, and we shall have to serve out our sentence "to the last farthing." And even in case suffrages are offered for us, God will apply them to other more deserving souls. For St. Augustine declares, "God reserves to Himself the distribution of our suffrages. He accepts them in favor of those souls who during life excelled in charity towards the poor. 'With the same measure that you mete, it shall be measured to you again'." Great, then, are the benefits which we receive in return for our charity towards the Suffering Souls.
374. Moreover, by remembering the Suffering Souls the torments of Purgatory are placed vividly before our mind. When the Church teaches us her doctrine of the middle state, she wishes us to take to heart salutary lessons concerning the rigor of divine justice—that justice, which demands satisfaction for the least sin of omission or commission, and atonement for every fault not atoned for during life. Let us therefore endeavor most earnestly to avoid even the least sin; and if we have the misfortune to fall, let us rise at once and make atonement. Now is the time of mercy; now our tears, prayers, self-denials, works of charity, etc., are of great value before God; now we can atone for much by doing a little. St. Catherine of Genoa remarks, "On earth we can pay a debt of great amount by a small sum; that is, we can atone by a little suffering in this world for great punishment due to us in the next."—God treats us now as the king in the Gospel treated his servant, who owed him ten thousand talents: He condones the whole debt. But after death the time of mercy is at an end. If we are not merciful here, we shall be cast into prison like the merciless servant, where we shall be detained until the "last farthing is paid." How great therefore are the benefits that we receive from charity for the dead!
375. Everything done for the faithful departed in the state of grace and from motives of Christian charity is most salutary for them. It hastens their release, it procures their admission to eternal bliss. But these suffrages are also most salutary for us ; and the benefits we thereby insure to ourselves will be the greater, the more diligent and zealous we are in offering our suffrages, provided we offer them also from pure and holy motives. Charity for the Suffering Souls renders us more compassionate; it increases our spiritual fervor; it impels us to greater exertions for the attainment of perfection ; in a word, it promotes in us the growth of holiness. The devout consideration of Purgatory, of whose inmates the sanctity and justice of God demand such rigorous satisfaction, will teach us both the misfortune of guilt, as also the ineffable happiness of innocence. These decenniums, these centuries of suffering show us the abyss which sin and guilt opens between God and man; and our hearts must have lost entirely the faculty of love, its springs of affection must have dried up, if on making such a meditation they do not tremble to their very depths, and cry to the atoning Blood of Christ for mercy. Should we therefore not love and practice this devotion instead of disregarding and neglecting it ? Will this devotion not make us more merciful, more zealous, more devoted to works of charity and piety ? Will it not bring us nearer to our last end, to God and His kingdom ?
376. From all this it follows that charity for the souls in Purgatory is of the greatest importance as far as our own salvation is concerned. By our good works we help the Suffering Souls, while at the same time we revive our own zeal. But the Suffering Souls also show themselves grateful towards us, and this even before they have attained their release by our intercession. Jesus Christ Himself is grateful to us for the aid we give them. He is so bountiful to us poor mortals; and we share His bounty with souls that are still poorer than we are ourselves, but who are nevertheless holy and confirmed in His grace. What a privilege, to be able to relieve those in torment, to bring joy to those in distress ! We often remark, "I am continually worried by crosses and trials, and I feel so despondent. I tried everything without avail; I am forgotten by God. Oh, what a life! Working incessantly, but without merit, because I am in the state of sin !" And yet if such persons would only add to these trials a few well-meant offerings for the souls in Purgatory, matters would soon wear a different aspect. Perhaps this alone is wanting to insure their triumph over evil, to achieve success, and to perfect their works, prayers and good purposes.
377. Little as this may seem to us, we must remember that in spiritual matters little things are of great importance. 'Another parable He proposed to them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field: which is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown up, it is greater than all herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and dwell in its branches." (Matth. xiii. 31, 32.) Who would suppose that so mighty a tree is contained in so insignificant a seed? The beginning is so small, scarcely visible to the eye—the end so grand and imposing. And yet the whole is contained in the insignificant little seed.—Those few but sincere offerings for the Suffering Souls are so insignificant in our eyes, but they contain a mighty source of consolation, of strength and courage to do great things for ourselves and for the souls in Purgatory. On the other hand, a misconception concerning the providence of God is the source of all our pusillanimous distrust. At first we scarcely deem it worthy of our notice, but in the end it leads to serious consequences.
378. It is a doctrine of faith (hat the essential beatitude of heaven consists in the vision of God. Yet the vision of the saints, compared with God's contemplation of Himself, is less than a drop of water compared with the ocean. "All nations are before Him as if they had no being at all, and are counted to Him as nothing, and vanity." (Isai. xi. 17.) Hence St. Augustine says, "O Lord, God of all truth, how unhappy the man that knows all creatures, but knows not Thee! How happy he who knows Thee, even though he be ignorant of all else! Thou alone, O my God, dost make Him happy." Nevertheless God grants to His elect also an additional happiness, which consists in the knowledge of His creatures. To see God and enjoy His possession is the essential happiness of heaven; to know and enjoy His creatures is its additional happiness.