THE DUTY OF THE LIVING TOWARD THE SOULS IN PURGATORY. Part 2.
IV. We are bound to assist the souls in Purgatory on the title of kindred. Among those who prolong a weary existence in that dungeon, are many, who are united to us by the closest ties of flesh and blood, or of affinity. In that flame languish grandparents, parents, children, brothers, sisters, wives, and others, who were dearer to us than our right eye. Perhaps the sin for which they are tormented, may have been committed for our sake, or on our account. A father is tormented because he failed to discharge one of the first duties of a parent, in not correcting us ; or because he was over zealous in making temporal provision for us. A mother is tormented because she may not have trained her daughter to a strict sense of modesty; or may have a little encouraged her vanity. A son is punished, because he may not have paid that strict filial respect which was due to his parents; or, in the other extreme, may have obeyed them in things which were contrary to the divine law. A brother is punished, because he may have been the occasion of sin to a brother; or may have failed to correct him when he was wandering from the path of God. A wife is punished, because she had more at heart the interest of her husband, than that of her own soul, or of God. Others are tormented for other sins, committed on account of us, who are among the living. If we are bound on the title of common humanity, as we shall soon see, to assist those who are of the same nature as our selves ; how much more are we bound to assist those who are closely related to us ? Hence St. Augustine (Lib. de Cura pro mortuis, cap. 18, n. 22.) says : " More diligently, however, does each one do these things for his particular friends, that they may be done in like manner for him by his own." Then from the depth of the flame of Purgatory, there is perhaps crying out to you a father or mother, a brother or sister, a wife or some near and dear friend. The sin for which they are tormented may have been committed for your sake. You can easily offer for their liberation, the ransom, which is out of their own power. Will you be deaf and insensible to the sighs which they send forth from their bed of fire ? Will you be so ungrateful, as not to endeavour to free from these flames those whom you have delivered up to them ? Whilst you partake of the fruit of their industry, will you offer no share of it to them ? You would thus resemble those impious brothers, "that," as the prophet Amos (vi. 6.) says, "drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the best ointments, and they are not concerned for the affliction of Joseph." Will you imitate those wicked sons of Jacob, who had no compassion for their brother, Joseph, whom they had cast into the pit ? If you act so toward the dead of your own kindred, the practice of the pagans would be enough to condemn you. Tertullian (Lib. de Corona militis.) tells us, that those pagans "performed the obsequies of dead relations with the greatest honour." The respect which they paid to their dead is calculated to condemn those Christians, who neglect to offer up a prayer, or per form any other pious work, for their dead relatives.
V. Finally, we are bound to assist the dead on the title of common humanity. They have the same nature in common with us. Therefore we should' display love for them. The writer in Ecclesiasticus (xiii. 19.)," ' says: "Every beast loveth its like: so also every man, him that is nearest to himself." They who are in Purgatory, and we, were formed out of the same clay, and by the same God. As they have the same earth for their mother, they have the same God for their father. They too were planted by the hand of God. Hence the prophet Malachias (ii. 10.) says : " Have we not all one father ? Hath not one God created us? Why then doth every one of us despise his brother ?" We are bound especially to assist our brethren when they are in those difficulties, in which it is easy for us to give them aid. The very saints in heaven, whose happiness is secure, do not forget us. They are solicitous for our happiness, and they continually offer their prayers to the throne of God, that we may arrive at the same haven of salvation, which they have reached. Why then should we not, in like manner, render aid to those other members of the Church, the suffering souls in Purgatory ? If the saints assist us, who are able to assist ourselves, why should we not come to the relief of those poor souls, who cannot in the least relieve themselves, or alleviate their sorrows ? He must be bereft of every feeling of humanity, who does not stir a hand to relieve those who are continually crying out to him, with a plaintive voice, in the words of the Psalmist, (Ps. xli. 2.) "When shall I come and appear before the face of God ? My tears have been my bread day and night, whilst it is said to me daily : Where is thy God ?" Let us listen to the instruction of St. Bernard: (Serm. de Diversis, 42.) " We owe them (the dead) compassion and prayer on account of the partnership of a similar nature, that the just Father may take away their misery, and change scourges into benefits, and thus at length may record them for the blessed joys of the city." Again encouraging us to show mercy to the dead, he draws this inference : " It remains that we should have compassion for them, to whom we have been united by humanity." In other words, St. Bernard would have us to be persuaded, that as the same nature is common to us and the dead, we should have compassion for them, and relieve them by prayers and good works. In doing this, we would only follow the pious and provident advice of St. Paul (Heb. iiii. 3.) who addresses us in the following manner: " Remember them that are in bonds, as if you were bound with them." Let us bury deep in our heart the advice of the apostle. Let us give all the succour we can to the helpless dead, who are composed of the same nature, who are formed of the same clay, and who have the same Father, with us.
From the very cradle of the Church, assistance has been rendered to the dead. The apostle (II Tim. I. 18.) prayed for Onesiphorus who, according to many authorities, was dead at the time : " The Lord grant unto him to find mercy of the Lord in that day." It is stated in the Apostolical Constitutions,* that the Greek bishops, in performing the obsequies of the dead, prayed that God " may place them in the region of the just who rest in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with all those who from the beginning pleased God." Tertullian (Constit. Apost. Lib. 8, cap. -1o.)also says : " We make oblations for the dead on an annual day . . . Of these and other diciplines of this kind tradition is held out to thee as the author, custom as the confirmer, and faith the inspector." It is according to this universal and constant practice of the Church, that St. Ambrose offered up his fervent prayers for the souls of Theodosius, and Satyr ; and St. Augustine made continual remembrance of his pious mother, St. Monica. We should follow on the footsteps of those bishops and illustrious doctors, and continually offer our most fervent prayers to the throne of God for all the faithful departed, but especially for those who were our near relatives in the flesh.
And now I have finished the body of the work, which I had proposed to myself to do. Nothing remains, but an appendix, in which the divine authority of the books of Machabees is established. If this book may have strengthened the faith of any wavering soul on Purgatory, or may have induced any one to practise more devotion to the dead, I shall have been amply rewarded for the labour of writing it. I ask one request of the kind and gentle reader. It is this: that when I shall have departed this life, he may deign in his goodness to offer a prayer to God for my soul.