(This article was actually posted yesterday. It was sent out through subscriptions, and I, in fact received it in my in-tray. For some reason, however, it doesn’t appear to have been posted to the website. I apologize if you receive this twice.)
Traditionally, the Church dedicates the month November in honor of the Holy Souls in purgatory, the souls of those who have died in a state of grace, but who are not yet purified to stand before the Beatific Vision, that is, seeing God face to face.
The souls in purgatory suffer, yet not without hope. Their suffering, as in life, atones for sin, paying the temporal punishment for their offenses. Because they have died, they cannot receive the sacraments, and they are unable to offer up works of mercy to help themselves. This where we come in.
We have a symbiotic relationship with the souls in purgatory. We can help them, and they can help us. We ask for their intercession, and we pray for their souls to be at rest. The sacrifices we make for them, the masses we offer for them, the novenas we pray for them help them to enter heaven. Now, I don’t know about you, but I find this quite mysterious. I just don’t get it. But honestly, it really doesn’t matter if I get it or not. Life is full of mystery, and certainly, many of the Truths of the Church are full of mystery. So my choice is to believe or not. So I believe.
It is not, however, a blind belief. When I read an account of an event in the newspaper, the credibility of the event is elevated by the story of its witnesses. The same is true in faith. The life of Jesus is known because witnesses told the story and eventually wrote it down so that 2000 years later we still know Him. Throughout Church history, the saints were given visions of heaven, hell, and purgatory. They are witnesses to the Truth. Saint Faustina wrote of her visions of Purgatory in her diary, Divine Mercy in my Soul. The three entries of her diary below paint a pretty full picture:
I saw my Guardian Angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid. The flames which were burning them did not touch me at all. My Guardian Angel did not leave me for an instant. I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God. I saw Our Lady visiting the souls in Purgatory. The souls call her “The Star of the Sea.” She brings them refreshment. I wanted to talk with them some more, but my Guardian Angel beckoned me to leave. We went out of that prison of suffering.[I heard and interior voice] which said, My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it. Since that time, I am in closer communion with the suffering souls. (Divine Mercy in My Soul, entry 20)
Once I was summoned to the judgment [seat] of God. I stood alone before the Lord. Jesus appeared such as we know Him during His Passion. After a moment, His wounds disappeared except for five, those in His hands, His feet and His side. Suddenly I saw the complete condition of my soul as God sees it. I could clearly see all that is displeasing to God. I did not know that even the smallest transgressions will have to be accounted for. What a moment! Who can describe it? To stand before the Thrice-Holy God! Jesus asked me, Who are you? I answered, “I am Your servant, Lord.” You are guilty of one day of fire in purgatory. I wanted to throw myself immediately into the flames of purgatory, but Jesus stopped me and said, Which do you prefer, suffer now for one day in purgatory or for a short while on earth? I replied, “Jesus, I want to suffer in purgatory, and I want to suffer also the greatest pains on earth, even if it were until the end of the world.” Jesus said, One [of the two] is enough; you will go back to earth, and there you will suffer much, but not for long; you will accomplish My will and My desires, and a faithful servant of Mine will help you to do this. Now, rest your head on My bosom, on My heart, and draw from it strength and power for these sufferings, because you will find neither relief nor help nor comfort anywhere else. Know that you will have much, much to suffer, but don’t let this frighten you; I am with you. (Divine Mercy in My Soul, entry 36)
One night, a sister who had died two months previously came to me. She was a sister of the first choir. I saw her in a terrible condition, all in flames with her face painfully distorted. This lasted only a short time, and then she disappeared. A shudder went through my soul because I did not know whether she was suffering in purgatory or in hell. Nevertheless I redoubled my prayers for her. The next night she came again, but I saw her in an even more horrible state, in the midst of flames which were even more intense, and despair was written all over her face. I was astonished to see her in a worse condition after the prayers I had offered for her, and I asked, “Haven’t my prayers helped you?” She answered that my prayers had not helped her and that nothing would help her. I said to her, “And the prayers which been any help to you?” She said no, that these prayers had helped some other souls. I replied, “If my prayers are not helping you, Sister, please stop coming to me.” She disappeared at once. Despite this, I kept on praying.
After some time she came back again to me during the night, but already her appearance had changed. There were no longer any flames, as there had been before, and her face was radiant, her eyes beaming with joy. She told me that I had a true love for my neighbor and that many other souls had profited from my prayers. She urged me not to cease praying for the souls in purgatory, and she added that she herself would not remain there much longer. How astounding are the decrees of God! (Divine Mercy in My Soul, entry 58)
Reading St. Faustina’s words, “I did not know that even the smallest transgressions will have to be accounted for,” makes chills run down my spine. “My sin is ever before me,” (Ps 51:3) invades my consciousness, and I see my selfishness and lack of charity in the smallest of many daily acts that occur without consideration – and that doesn’t even consider the big stuff. “Oh, Lord, you have probed me and you know me.” (Ps 139:1). Only mercy can save me.
We need to get serious about where we want to spend eternity. I want to go to heaven, so I have to live my life and order each decision of my day according to that desire. If I aim at nothing I will hit every time. Where is our aim?
The saint we honor today, Saint Martin de Porres is counted among the elect because of the heroic charity he practiced throughout his life. Born of mixed race in Lima, Peru, in 1579 to a Spanish father and freed black slave, Martin was abandoned by his father as a boy and lived in poverty with his mother and sister. In 1603, he became the Dominican brother, serving in the infirmary and collecting alms. He is most known for his work with the sick and the poor of Lima, particularly slaves, and for establishing an orphanage and a hospital for care of the poor. Many miracles were associated with him including raising someone from the dead, levitation, bilocation, and instantaneous cures.
St. Martin kept his eye the prize.
If we truly want to get to heaven, then St. Faustina’s words are a twofold call to action for us.
- We must imitate the example of St. Martin by serving those around us selflessly. We must exercise charity in all we think, say, and do. It doesn’t necessarily have to be public and heroic, like St. Martin, but it must be consistent and selfless.
- We must pray. Saint Martin spent much time in prayer, meditation and fasting. He had a great devotion to the Eucharist. His spiritual life fueled his works of mercy. Prayer and the sacraments will equip us as well, giving us the grace to know and to do God’s will.
Do you want to add a powerhouse to your prayer? Ask the Holy Souls in Purgatory to help you. They can’t help themselves, but they can help us. Pray for them and with them. Keep your eye on the prize, and imagine yourself one day in heaven meeting a soul you helped who also helped you. What a happy day that will be!
Holy Souls in Purgatory, Pray for us! Anne
More info on the Holy Souls and our obligation to them
More on St. Martin de Porres