|Dante Alighieri The Divine Comedy Gustave Dore Vision|
507. St. John Damascene, in his ardent love for the Holy Souls, wrote a remarkable dissertation on Purgatory, in which he relates that Josaphat, king and hermit, on the death of his father Abenner, remained at his grave for seven days without eating, drinking or sleeping, to invoke divine mercy for the departed soul. "My Lord and my God," he continued to exclaim, "remember not the sins of my father, destroy the handwriting of his debt, and grant eternal rest to his soul." After having repeated these words again and again for a long time, he was rapt in ecstasy and saw two diadems of glory resplendent with precious stones and alike in beauty. He was told that one of these crowns was destined for his father, the other for him. His first thought was: "How can this be? My father, who scarcely did anything for heaven, shall receive the same crown as I, who have left my throne to suffer these mortification's?" He was then informed that one day he would be told the reason, and that in part he was himself the cause. The royal hermit adored the inscrutable counsels of God and asked pardon for his fault. He continued to pray for his father's soul, and had the consolation to know that he was admitted to heaven.
508. One of the most renowned friends of the Holy Souls was St. Theresa. She not only prayed for them herself, but spread the devotion to them to all the houses of her Order. On All Souls' day, after the Mass of Requiem, she was wont to assemble the*community to hear an instruction on the means of helping the Suffering Souls; and every member gave a written promise to say some prayers and to perform some good works for the Holy Souls during the coming year. Theresa herself, a model of heroic charity, offered up for them all her good works and the atoning merits of her suffering. And her sufferings especially were very great. At the beginning of her religious life she became so ill that she had to return home. Finding no relief there, she returned to the convent, where she continued to suffer from all kinds of maladies for over twenty years. -During all this time she remained the constant friend of the Holy Souls, offering up for them all her trials. She saw in spirit the ineffable torments of Purgatory, and she never ceased her suffrages. She well knew that God sends us sufferings to enable us to atone for our sins; nevertheless her heroic charity taught her that He accepts this atonement also in favor of others. She lived and died a heroine of charity.
509. To convert barbarous nations and to gain them for Christ St. Francis Xavier crossed the seas, exposed himself to innumerable dangers, and died consumed by charity, forsaken and alone on the bleak shore of a desert island. He was so ardent a friend of the Suffering Souls, that he often walked the streets of cities ringing a bell and exhorting the people to pray for them. In Malacca he appointed a man to go at midnight through the streets with a lantern and a bell, and to call out, "Pray for the souls of the faithful departed suffering in Purgatory!" Scorned by the world, he was a hero of charity before God.
510. Among the numerous servants of God who aided the Suffering Souls by prayer and exercises of penance must also be mentioned the Venerable Dominic of Jesus-Mary, who died in Vienna, Austria, in 1630. A man that spent himself for the salvation of his fellow-men, he could not forget the Suffering Souls. In his writings, published after his death, we find many instances of his intercourse with the spirit world, which clearly prove how devoted he was to the Holy Souls. By his prayer and extraordinary works of self-denial and mortification he released a great number of souls, among them the soul of his own father. Once, while saying Mass in a chapel where there was an ancient miraculous picture of the Blessed Virgin, our Lord permitted him to see a number of souls leaving Purgatory while he was making the Memento for the dead. He was also informed that St. Ildephons, who had a great veneration for that miraculous picture, had also released many souls there. Father Dominic continued in his fervent charity for the Suffering Souls till his death.
511. The Venerable Thomas a Kempis relates of St. Lidwina, who lived at his time and in his country: This holy virgin suffered from an illness of forty-three years' duration. In her ecstasies she was often conducted by her guardian angel into Purgatory, where she saw the souls enduring various torments according to the degree of their guilt. Amongst them she noticed many of her friends. Thereby she was encouraged not only to suffer patiently herself, but to offer up her sufferings and to increase them voluntarily for the sake of the Poor Souls. She continually invoked the mercy of God for them, and often wept so copiously in contemplating their torments that her tears were turned into blood. She released many souls, and was particularly successful in doing so on great feasts.— Another writer mentions that she once declared herself willing, in suffrage for the Holy Souls, to continue in her sufferings to the end of the world if it so pleased God, rather than to enter heaven at once—God Him- ^ self having proposed the choice to her. By this heroic offering she released a great number of souls, amongst them those of her parents, and of all her relatives to the ninth degree.
512. Like St. Lidwina most of the friends of the Holy Souls were sorry to leave this earth, because death terminated their acts of charity in behalf of their suffering clients. Hence they offered themselves wholly to God and resigned themselves to His holy will. But charity is inventive; it is not only resigned but also becomes heroic. This charity reasons as follows: If mortal men willingly suffer the greatest pains and torments to protect their loved ones— mothers for their children, brothers and sisters for one another—why should not a Christian heart, moved by the double love of God and man, do the same? Why should we not suffer for these Holy Souls as we suffer for our loved ones on earth ?—Filled with heroic love of God disinterested souls therefore exclaim, "If I have the Happiness of gaining heaven, I know that I shall be one of the least in the mansions of bliss. But in Purgatory there are souls that will be raised above the angels after-they have atoned for their sins. For them I will gladly remain in Purgatory, that God's glory may be increased by their praise, and that innumerable other souls may find release through their intercession. No, I do not wish to be freed from Purgatory, if I can thereby secure the release of these souls. If God permits, I cede to them all the intercessions made for me. My torments will be sweet and dear to me because God's glory is increased thereby."
513. St. Paulinus, bishop of Nola, sold himself into slavery to effect the release of a poor widow's son; and he would have suffered a thousand deaths to release one soul from Purgatory. "For love is strong as death Many waters cannot quench charity, neither can floods drown it: if a man should give all the substance of his house for love, he shall despise it as nothing." (Cant. viii. 6. 7.) To heroic charity the merits gained during mortal life are not sufficient to satisfy its desire of helping these poorest of the poor; it extends itself beyond this world; it descends into Purgatory and suffers the punishment incurred, yielding to other suffering souls the atonements made by friends and relatives. Faber writes in his "All for Jesus" (chap. 11.): "See how far some have gone, whose praise is in all the churches. Father Ferdinand de Monroy, a most apostolic man, at the hour of death made a writing in donation and transfer to the souls in Purgatory of all the Masses that should be said for him after he was dead, of all the penance offered up for him, and all the indulgences gained for him."
514. Christ our Lord Himself and the saints have given us examples of this heroic love. "Christ came into this world to save sinners." (I Tim. 1. 15.) He left His glory, He became so poor that He had not where to lay His head: all for the love of us. "In this we have known the charity of God, because He hath laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." (I John ill. 16.) In imitation of this example the apostles did the same. They became, as St. Paul says of himself, the servants of all that they might gain all. "I became all things to all men, that I might save all." (I Cor. ix. 22.) This is the character of true charity. "Charity is patient, is kind. Charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked by anger, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth: beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." (I Cor. xiii. 4—7.) Charity remembers that "we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members of one another." (Rom. xii. 5.) Hence we are not to regard as extraordinary the heroic act of charity for the Suffering Souls.
515. Striving to become more and more like unto their Divine Master the saints continually remembered the souls suffering in Purgatory; for they well knew that they could not better demonstrate their love for Jesus than by effecting a speedy release of His imprisoned spouses. Hence St. Bridget hesitates not to declare, "If by our intercession we release a soul from Purgatory, we perform a work most pleasing to God ; for He regards this work as though it had been done to Himself. He will reward us for this service in a manner most profitable to us."—To render their charity for the Suffering Souls still more conspicuous these generous lovers of their Lord go a step further: they offer to Him even the sacrifice of their own will concerning the selection of the souls to be released. And to make this sacrifice still more acceptable they present it by the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this they follow the example of the servant of God, Father Oliden, of the Theatine Order. It was He who introduced this practice; and he received the assurance that it was most pleasing to God. These friends of the Holy Souls look up to their Divine Savior and see with what great love He regards His Blessed Mother Mary; they know that the more they honor and love her the more efficient their intercession will be. Hence they prefer Mary's will to their own, prefer it to their love for their friends and relatives; they are content to see Mary's will fulfilled rather than to release their own dear ones. O how pleasing to our Lord is such a love for His Mother! For is it not a most effective demonstration of love for Himself? Is it not a triumph of supernatural over natural charity? Hence this sacrifice is regarded by our Lord with the greatest complacency, as He once declared to St. Bridget, "My Mother is the Mistress of My Kingdom. She admits to it whomsoever she pleases, and what she does is well done."
516. Convinced of this truth Pope Benedict VIII. explained this practice to the people in sixty public addresses. And not content with having explained it to others, he himself publicly from the pulpit professed this heroic act. —The same was done, at the instance of the Blessed Virgin herself, by the Venerable Jesuit, Father John Ximenes; also by a great many other holy and learned persons—for instance St. Gertrude, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Theresa, St. Bridget, St. Lidwina, Venerable Eusebius Nieremberg, S. J., Catherine Emmerich, etc., etc. Even religious communities pledged themselves and do pledge themselves to day to practice this heroic act of charity. Prominent among these is the "Congregation of Helpers of the Holy Souls," a female community devoted to the care of poor sick, to whom they minister day and night. They add to the three usual religious vows a fourth, by which they cede all the fruits of their prayers and good works, and of those performed for them after death, to the Suffering Souls.
But not only religious make this act; thousands and thousands of devout souls in the world do the same. They serve God and their neighbor in ardent charity. They make use of the golden treasury of good works to apply the merits of the Most Precious Blood to the Suffering Souls, imploring our Savior to refresh them in their torments.—Christian soul, can you remain an idle spectator where such heroic deeds are performed? Are you content with sterile admiration of their charity? Oh, no! Let it not be thus! Do no longer delay to make this heroic act. Fall on your knees at once, and say with all your heart:
O Heavenly Father! In union with the merits of Jesus and Mary I offer to Thee for the Suffering Souls in Purgatory all the satisfactory works of my whole life, as also those works that will be offered for me after my death. I deliver these works into the most pure hands of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, that she may distribute them amongst those souls whom she in her wisdom and maternal love desires to release first * from Purgatory. Graciously accept, O Lord, this offering, and in return let me daily increase in Thy grace! Through Christ our Lord. Amen.