Tuesday, 2 June 2015
The Condition of the Suffering souls in Purgatory, by Rev. John A. Nageleisen. § 60. The Holy Souls Assist Their Benefactors in the Affairs of Salvation.
463. If the Holy Souls show themselves grateful even with regard to the temporal affairs of their benefactors, how much more solicitous will they be for the spiritual welfare of those who assisted them! They will do their utmost to preserve from the everlasting flames of hell those by whose aid they were released from the purifying flames of Purgatory.—The Venerable Colmar, Bishop of Mayence, writes: " A pious lady was greatly disturbed at the thought: What will become of me when I die and must appear before the tribunal of my Eternal Judge? There is a hell—and I have so often offended my God! Woe unto me if I should be rejected by the Lord !' So great did this fear become with her, that she was quite disheartened. But recollecting herself, she regained confidence; for she said, I will pray for the souls in Purgatory; I will assist at Mass for them every day ; I will offer for them the merit of all my good works. Perhaps I shall be so fortunate as to release some of them, and then I shall no longer have cause to entertain such great fear; for these souls will pray for me, and I shall not be lost.' She was immediately reassured, and thenceforth was a devout helper of the Holy Souls."
464. A Scotchman, whose brother was stricken with sudden death, was greatly affected by the sad loss. Though he was a Protestant, he knew that into heaven "there shall not enter anything defiled." (Apoc. xxi. 27.) As the religious denomination to which he belonged did not recognize a middle state, he was greatly concerned about his brother's condition in the next world, so much so, that he abandoned himself entirely to melancholy. God, who rewards the least solicitude for the eternal welfare of the deceased, led this loving brother to the true faith. By the advice of his physician he traveled on the continent, where he met Abbe Paume. This saintly man took great interest in him, and explained to him the doctrine of the Church concerning prayer for the dead. On All Souls' day the good man visited the priest and said to him, "I am resolved to ask admission into the Church from love of my brother. I shall find great relief in being able to pray for him, and your faith not only permits, but directs me to do so, teaching that thereby I shall greatly benefit him. Your faith thus deprives death of its terrors; your love does not cease with life, but extends beyond the grave. You know the frailties of human nature, frailties that are not grievously sinful; but yet they are obstacles to perfect purity. God has revealed that there is a middle state of purification between heaven and hell. Perhaps my brother is sentenced to it, and to release him I wish to become a Catholic. This faith, which teaches me to pray for the dead, will console me and relieve my anxiety." And he was received into the Church.
465. Sister Margaret Ebner, of the Order of St. Dominic, was a great friend of the Suffering Souls, and released numbers of them by her prayers and austerities. And they were most grateful to their benefactress. As she had no greater desire than to serve God in the most perfect manner, and to arrive at the greatest degree of perfection, she recommended herself to the Holy Souls for this particular intention. And they assisted her most effectually, so that she often remarked, "Oh, that all persons striving after perfection would have recourse to the Suffering Souls, and would make them their intercessors and helpers! They would soon make great progress in virtue and would hasten their attainment of perfection."
466. Pope Benedict VIII. relates the following: The saintly Jesuit, Father Alphonsus Lortesi, was troubled like St. Paul with great temptations. Having tried various means to rid himself of them, he had recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Purity, who thereupon appeared to him and requested him to pray fervently for the souls in Purgatory. He followed this advice and was freed from his temptations.—A nobleman, a great benefactor of the Suffering Souls, was one night awakened from sleep and told that he should make his confession immediately, because he was soon to die. He did so. He received holy communion, and died shortly afterwards. Such warnings by the Suffering Souls, such admonitions to penance and reformation of life, are frequent. Hence the well-known remark of Pope Adrian IV.: "Whosoever prays for the Suffering Souls with the intention of helping them, imposes on them the obligation of gratitude and assistance."
467. Blessed Frances of the Five Wounds was notable for her intimate intercourse with the holy angels and the Suffering Souls. In reference to the latter the history of her life recounts many well authenticated occurrences, one of the most remarkable of which is the following: Death bereaved her of a friend, a lady to whom she was indebted for various benefits. For a long time afterwards Frances offered all her prayers, sufferings and good works for the soul of her deceased friend. One day her friend appeared to her while she was engaged in prayer and revealed to her many things regarding the future life. For instance Frances asked her whether her suffrages had benefited her. The soul replied that their application was in the hands of the Blessed Virgin, and that by means of them she had received great consolation and a reduction of days and months of suffering. Frances then expressed a doubt concerning a certain offering she had made of a particular pain, and asked if it had been of benefit to her. "O, yes," the soul gratefully replied. "The very moment you began to feel the pain an angel transferred me to a place so agreeable and pleasant that I Seemed to be in paradise. When I asked the angel if it were really so, he replied in the negative and said it was only an interruption of my sufferings. After your pain ceased I was returned to my torments." A short time afterwards this soul was released and re-appeared to her benefactor, thanking her for her charity.
468. A priest relates the following: "Some years ago, when I was appointed pastor of my present charge, I found that the children of the communion class had great difficulty in remembering the answers of the catechism. I did my best to assist them, advising various means from the use of which I hoped for an improvement of their memory. They did their best, but with little success. I was greatly perplexed, for they were good children, and anxious to receive their first communion, which I was in conscience bound to refuse them as long as they did not know their catechism. All at once I remembered that I had read some examples showing how efficacious the prayer of the Holy Souls is for those who ask their aid. I now told the children to add thenceforth to their morning and evening devotions a prayer to and for the Suffering Souls, for the intention of obtaining a better memory. They followed my advice, and I was astonished at the result. The children, who had hitherto been unable to repeat any answers of the catechism that presented the least difficulty, now answered the most intricate questions very fluently; and they even comprehended and could repeat the explanations which I gave. I hope that by making this known the devotion to the Holy Souls will be increased, and that the belief in the efficacy of their prayers will be strengthened; and I am confident that my confreres will find in prayer for the Suffering Souls the same assistance in the performance of their duties as I did."
469. The following incident is related in the "St. Benedict's Stimmen" 1881, number 1 and 2:
One hundred years ago the reign of terror in France was at its height. Louis XVI. and Mary Antoinette had already fallen victims to the fury of the populace. France was deluged in blood. After the defeat of the Royalists near Quiberon Count Hyacinth of St. Florent, with over nine hundred of his comrades in arms, was imprisoned in Aubrey, where he expected his sentence of death. One day, while sitting near the window of his prison cell, the young Count was surprised at seeing a beautiful young lady looking in from the outside. He recognized in the lady his twin sister Hermania.
"Dear Hermania, ,, he exclaimed, "how can you thus expose yourself to danger by coming to see me ?
You well know the penalty imposed by the republic on the intercourse with royalists. You promised to be careful,
"I know, dear brother," she replied in a low voice; "but to-day is our birth-day, and I could not let it pass by without seeing you. To-day we both attain the age of nineteen ; and it is the first time in our life that we do not celebrate the feast together And, Hyacinth, I felt so depressed; I could no longer resist the desire of seeing you, to reassure myself that you are alive and well."
"As you see, I am quite well," he replied, pressing her small white hand which she reached to him through the grating. "Do you remember," he continued, "that our dear deceased mother was wont to say that we both always had the same thoughts and sentiments ? I also felt very melancholy all day, very likely because you did. But now you must regain your cheerfulness, or I also shall remain gloomy."
"Do they treat you well?" the girl anxiously asked.
"I have everything I wish for except liberty," replied the brother. "I almost feel ashamed at being so well cared for, while my royalist comrades are suffering. . . But I hear someone coming. . . Good-bye, sister dear; may our next birth-day be a happier one!"
The girl left the window, walked across the grass-grown court and escaped through an opening in the wall. Hyacinth had scarcely seated himself, when the door was opened, and the republican commander entered. Politely saluting the prisoner, he addressed him as follows:
"The officers of my staff, particularly Oberon, seem to esteem you greatly."
"Oberon is always very kind to me," Hyacinth replied, without taking his eyes off a picture he had painted.
"He told me that you celebrate your birth-day today. How old are you ?" "Nineteen, sir!"
"At your age a person expects to live for many years to come."
"Not always, sir!" the prisoner sadly rejoined. "In these times even youth may not hope for a long life, "Tis said, 'In times of peace the son buries his father, in times of war the father buries his son.' My parents are dead, and strangers will have to bury me."
"You are melancholy to-day, St. Florent. You must dine with us, and we will cheer you up by celebrating your birthday."
Hyacinth accepted the invitation with thanks. After dinner, when the desert had been brought and the servants had retired, the commander addressed himself to his guests :
"The republic promulgated a law to-day that concerns you, too, St. Florent. Hitherto the prisoners made at Quiberon—those of them that are not yet twenty-one years old—were not shot. Henceforth they, too, are to be executed; and therefore the sentence includes you also. That this is the case is proved by the fact that the soldiers detailed for this purpose are ready to execute the order at once."
Scarcely had he finished speaking when a detachment of troops entered the room. Several of the republican officers joined Oberon in pleading for the young royalists life, but in vain. Hyacinth remained cool. Standing erect before the commander, he said, "I do not ask to be dealt with more leniently than my comrades. Since loyalty to our king has become a crime, I am as guilty as they are. But I request time to prepare myself before I go forth from the banquet hall to death."
His request was refused. Then the young nobleman turned courageously to his executioners, saying, "I am ready." And he was led forth into the beautiful moon-lit night.
The soldiers stood their prisoner up against the wall of the court and then retired a few paces.. The commander observed the proceedings from the window of the hall. Suddenly a figure ran out from under the window of Hyacinth's cell, crossed the court and embraced the doomed man.
"Hermania, you here!" thus Hyacinth softly addressed his sister, meanwhile trying to free himself from her embrace.
"Fire !" cried the distracted girl. "If my brother must die, let me die with him !"
One of the officers succeeded in loosening her hold on her brother, and led her away.
"Fire!" now cried the young royalist. It was the last time that his sister heard his voice as that of one living, for in the next moment the executioners leveled their muskets, and four bullets ended the mortal career of Hyacinth de St. Florent.
Fifteen years had passed since Count Hyacinth's death. Hermania de St. Florent was thirty-four years of age ; and though her features were hard and cold, they still retained much of their former beauty. Her heart had been embittered and hardened by the cruel fate of her brother; it was, alas, inaccessible to the consolations of religion. In the first moments after her brother's execution she had cried in despair, "This trial exceeds my strength; I can not bear it." —She had to bear it; but she bore it without resignation. Her once so loving heart was closed to all human affection. Her life was blameless; she disdained the amusements and comforts of the world, and yet she did not seek peace where it was alone to be found—in resignation to the will of God. "O how treacherous is life!" she exclaimed on the fifteenth anniversary of her brother's death. She stood at the window of her chateau, and was about to retire from it, when she observed the pastor of the village coming up the road. She hastened to meet him, for she held him in high esteem. After the usual exchange of greetings the conversation drifted to the occurrences of the day, when the priest had occasion to mention the date.
"Yes," sorrowfully replied the lady; "to-day is the third of August, a date I shall never forget. To-day is the anniversary of my brother's cruel death."
The priest deemed this an auspicious moment to call her attention to the consolations of religion, and observed, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted."
"This is not the first time," she replied quietly but firmly, "that your reverence intimates that I should comply with the demands of religion. Your remarks indicate that you do not comprehend my character. The doctrines of the Gospel are known as well to me as they are to you, and I fully acknowledge their truth. You desire me to pray; but if I did so, I should also have to repeat the words of our Blessed Lord, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us." But this I cannot do ; for I have not forgiven the murderers of my brother, and I shall and will not forgive them. True, I can no longer do them harm, for the most of them were since called before the tribunal of God; but I still have the will and desire of revenge. The very thought of it fills me with delight; for then I feel that I still possess a heart. You tell me to seek consolation at the foot of the altar. If I did so, should I not be obliged to forgive my enemies ? How can I, so full of hatred and desire of revenge, kneel at the altar ?—Now reverend sir, you know my exact position: can you continue to urge me to fulfil my religious duties when you know that doing so would on my part be mere mockery ?"
"For the sake of your soul's salvation, my dear daughter, suppress such sentiments!" rejoined the priest in agitation. "Remember our Savior on the cross. He prayed for His executioners. ,,
"He was God, and I am only a frail mortal."
"But Christ is our example, and all the saints strove to imitate Him."
"I am no saint!"
"True enough, alas ! You are a poor, much-suffering woman. But you yourself have referred to a thought that should fill you with confidence and courage. Yes, He is our God; and because He is our God, He also has the power and the will to grant the grace and help necessary to observe His commandments. He demands that we forgive our enemies as He Himself did; and He will not refuse us His grace to do so if we place no obstacle."
"That is possible. I never thought of it."
Rising to take leave, the priest remarked, "I fear your case is a most difficult one. But I do not despair. I shall recommend you to the souls in Purgatory, by whose intercession I have often found help in cases that humanly speaking were hopeless. And if perchance your brother should be still among those souls, I will pray that he may be permitted to soften the heart of her who is so dear to him."
"My brother ! You forget that he is dead fifteen years. It can not be possible that he is still in Purgatory !"
"This is a question to which we cannot give a definite answer. But this we know for certain: God's mercy is great, especially to those who suffer from man's un-mercifulness. Count Hyacinth was made to suffer death suddenly and unexpectedly, and we have no evidence that he had sufficient time during the few moments accorded to him between his sentence and its execution to prepare himself duly to appear before the tribunal of God. By no means do I question his Catholic faith ; but might he not have to atone for the youthful indiscretions so prevalent with young people of his class?"
Hermania was now alone ; and as was her custom since her brother's death, she watched through the night following her birth-day. She could not bring herself to seek repose during that night. The old servant, who was aware of this custom, had brought lights, and had securely fastened the doors and windows of her apartments. Now she was left to her musings. She sat in her easy chair, reviewing in her mind the sorrowful past. She thought of that night when she watched under her brother's window expecting his release, and saw him led to a cruel death; she saw the gleam of the muskets in the moon-light, and her brother, pa^e but firm, standing at the wall. But what is this ?—She rubbed her eyes.—Yes, she is wide awake. She hears the slow ticking of the great clock in the hall. But there, before her—O God can it be true ?—there stands her brother ! —Yes, it is he, not changed like her; he is still in the bloom and beauty of his nineteenth year. But oh, how sorrowful, how dejected! And yet his look betokens resignation ! There was something in his appearance that restrained his sister from advancing to meet him; she felt that there was an impassable gulf between them. He was spiritualized; she still belonged to this material world. Placing her hands on her throbbing heart, she tremblingly addressed him:
"Hyacinth, my brother, what has brought thee back to the troubles of this world ?"
"Sister," replied the spirit in a solemn tone of voice, "I am come to complain of the cruelty with which I have been treated."
"I know," she hastened to rejoin; "thy death is written as with characters of fire in my heart. Thy blood calls to me to be avenged. What can I do for thee?"
"I do not refer to my death. Viewed from eternity, life seems like a grain of sand on the sea-shore. Death is but a passing pain, the threshold of the King's palace. What saddens me is that thou hast forgotten,—my dear sister, whom I so ardently loved."
"I forget thee ? Did I leave a day pass without remembering thee ? Were not my nights disturbed by painful dreams of thee ? In the flower of my youth I rejected for thy sake every enjoyment and amusement of life, for my heart could not rejoice without thee."
"Thy tears and despair avail me nothing. I crave thy prayer, to help me to atone for my faults. I am suffering in Purgatory for the unatoned sins of my latter years. Above all, I suffer because in the haste of my execution I forgot to pardon my murderers. I did not remember the example of our Divine Savior and of St. Stephen. I forgot that we are commanded to love our enemies. By this neglect I burdened my soul with a double guilt, because from it proceeded in part thy revengeful disposition. A long time was given thee to fulfil thy Christian duty of forgiving my murderers. Because thou wouldst not, thou couldst not pray for me. For fifteen years I waited in vain; not a single prayer was said for me on earth. My body was interred without the blessings of the Church ; no priest celebrated a Holy Mass for my soul. I saw innumerable souls ascend to heavenly bliss, released by the prayers and holy communions offered for them on earth. I had to remain behind. In my last moments, already at the threshold of eternity, I consoled myself with the thought, 'My sister's prayers will follow me beyond the grave.' This very night the first De profundis was said for me. It obtained permission for me to come here and implore thy help. Oh, take pity on thy brother, assist him to have his punishment abridged. Love thy enemies ! Mortals on earth can not comprehend the torments that harass a soul that has seen God for a short moment and is then again banished from His presence."
Hermania fell on her knees.
"O Hyacinth, pardon me! I was cruel towards thee, thinking to honor thy memory."
She covered her face with her hands and wept convulsively. Finally looking up again, the apparition had vanished; and the first dawn of morning appeared in the east. She remained on her knees, praying as she had not prayed for years. When the sound of the church bell, calling the people to five o'clock Mass, aroused her, she rose and hastened to church. The peasants were astonished at seeing their mistress kneeling in their midst, the first time in many years.
Her first prayer was for the murderers of her brother. She called to our Savior in His own words, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do!" The racking hatred that so long had tormented her and closed her heart to the soothing influence of grace vanished; and then, with scalding tears of contrition, she prayed for her brother.
After Mass she visited the good priest, and related to him her experience of the night, promising him to atone for her long neglect of duty by a truly Christian life.
"Thanks be to God " ejaculated the pious pastor. "Whether your apparition of last night was a reality or a dream, it is certain that our Heavenly Father intended thereby to remind you of your duty."
"Most certainly it was no dream," she gravely replied. "Did you say a Deprofundis for my brother?"
"Yes, I did."
"Then it was Hyacinth himself whom I saw. He told me it had been the first prayer that was said for him."
A few days later Mile. St. Florent knelt at the altar to receive her Divine Lord in holy communion, fully reconciled to Him by a contrite confession.
Thenceforth she devoted herself to works of charity; and though not very wealthy, the poor always found her their true friend, who gave them her service if she had no money to give. Soon she was known as "the good lady of St. Florent." To those who thanked her for her aid she was wont to reply, "All I ask in return is a prayer for my brother, not for myself." Thus she lived for twenty-five, years. Finally the third of August found her on her death-bed. She had already received the last sacraments, and calmly awaited the final summons. Suddenly her features were overspread with joy. "I see Hyacinth!" she exclaimed. "He is coming in heavenly splendor to receive me and conduct me to God. He is supremely happy, and I shall soon be united with him."—She fell back: brother and sister were united in their God.
470. Not very long ago a pious Christian in Paris did his utmost to induce one of his friends, an old man who was near death, to return to God and religion by a sincere conversion. But all his efforts were in vain. Finally he had recourse to the intercession of the Holy Souls. He promised to have a certain number of Masses said for the release of the most forsaken soul, on condition that this soul would implore for his friend the grace of a true contrition. And behold, on that very day the aged sinner asked for a priest, made his peace with God and died soon after with all the signs of sincere penitence.—In the neighborhood of the imperial castle of Ambras, near Innsbruck in the Tyrol, there is an open space in the midst of a vast forest, where the mortal remains of a great number of Tyrolese defenders of their country are buried, along with the bodies of the enemies against whom they fought.
This place in the course of time became the destination of numerous pious pilgrims, who go there to pray for the Suffering Souls. So great is the number of extraordinary favors obtained there, that the trees for a great distance are covered with votive tablets testifying to the efficacy of the prayers of the Holy Souls. A new chapel recently built there also proves that the confidence of the peasants of the neighboring villages is as strong as ever.
471. To a saintly religious, Father Dominic of Jesus-Mary, there appeared the soul of a deceased artist, who asked him to warn a certain gentleman against retaining an immoral picture which the deceased had painted to his order, and to inform him that two of his sons would die in a short time. Moreover he should warn the gentleman that he himself would die soon if he did not do as requested. The good religious performed his errand, and the gentleman in great consternation gave him the picture to destroy it. Within a month his two sons really died. The gentleman repented; and he removed all his profane pictures, replacing them with religious ones.
To the Venerable Frances of the Blessed Sacrament there appeared repeatedly one of her relatives, deceased many years before, whose son was party to an unjust law suit. Despite all warnings he persisted for years in the unjust proceedings. Again his father appeared, declaring that his release depended on the termination of the law suit. Now at last the contending parties came to an agreement. They were not only reconciled, but fulfilled the other requests made by the departed soul to hasten its release. The son moreover was so affected by the occurrence that he thenceforth led a most exemplary life.
The gratitude of souls released and of souls still in torment, and the great relief given the latter by prayer, incited the Venerable Frances to the greatest fervor in suffrages for them; and not content to befriend the Holy Souls continually herself, she did her utmost to gain for the same devotion her Sisters in religion, priests, and all with whom she had occasion to converse in her position as portress of the convent. Thus she relieved and ransomed a countless number of Suffering Souls, whose gratitude she very frequently experienced.