THE CRY OF THE SOULS IN PURGATORY TO US
by Rev. John Evangelist Zollner, 1884
"Friend, lend me three loaves."--Luke, 11: 5
The efficacy of continued, fervent prayer, our dear Lord one day illustrated to His disciples by a very consoling example: A man went to a friendís house at midnight, asking him to lend him three loaves of bread, because he had nothing to set before a friend of his who had come off his journey to visit him. We may easily imagine, that this petition, at midnight, was very inopportune to the friend, who with his children, had retired to rest for the night; he, therefore, refused the petitioner, in these words: "Trouble me not, the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee."--Luke, 11:7. But he does not go away. On the contrary, he continues knocking the longer and louder, and because of his importunity, his friend rises from his couch more unwilling than willing, opens the door and gives him the three loaves. This petition, "Friend, lend me three loaves," the souls detained in the prison of purgatory direct to us on this day of All Souls, for they are certainly in greater distress, and need our help far more, than the petitioner mentioned in the Gospel. They cry out to us at midnight, in the dark night, i. e., from the dismal prison in which they are detained; they call us their friends, and ask us to lend them three loaves of bread. Let us contemplate this cry for help of the suffering souls, and reflect upon it word for word. Let us consider--I. The word "Friend,"
II. The word "Lend"
III The word "Me" and finally,
IV. The words "Three loaves."
The suffering souls in purgatory cry out to us: "Friend" and justly, for we are related to them both spiritually and corporally.Part II.--"Lend."
1. Spiritually. Our spiritual relationship with the suffering souls consists in this, that we and they are members of the One Church, which will exist until the end of the world in a triple state; militant upon earth, suffering in purgatory, and triumphant in heaven. By reason of this triple relationship--
(a) We believe that there is a place called purgatory, in which the souls who depart this life without being perfectly cleansed from all imperfections are detained and must suffer until they have fully satisfied the justice of God. This faith is founded upon Scripture, tradition, and reason. In the Old Testament we read: "It is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins."--II. Mach. 12:46. St. Paul writes: "If any man's works burn, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire."--I. Cor. 3: 1 5. The Apostle here speaks of a state in the other world, in which souls are tried by fire for some time; or, in other words, he speaks of purgatory. Of the Fathers of the Church who give testimony to the existence of purgatory, I shall mention only one, St. Gregory of Nyssa, who says: " If any one has departed this life knowing the difference between virtue and vice, he cannot approach the Deity, until a purifying fire has obliterated the stains with which the soul is contaminated." Reason also teaches us that there is a purgatory. How many people die who have not been guilty of mortal sins, but are not free from lesser faults. Where will they go? To heaven? Impossible, because nothing defiled can enter. To hell? By no means. For it would be contrary to the mercy and justice of God to condemn man to hell for all eternity on account of a few small faults, counterbalanced by a living faith and numerous good works. Therefore, there must be a middle place where souls are detained until they have rendered that fall satisfaction to God which they neglected here, after which they are admitted into heaven.
(b) We hope that with the suffering souls we shall one day be admitted into heaven, for which we are still combating, and they suffering. Is it not just, that we assist those suffering souls as far as we can, to attain the happy end for which they sigh, and to which we also aspire, and where we wish one day to be united with them forever? Indeed, if any one would take no interest in the suffering souls, and do nothing for their relief and release, of him we should judge, that he is not solicitous either for his own salvation, and that he has no desire to be numbered among the elect in heaven. But such a disposition would evidently be unchristian, and would lead, not to heaven, but to hell.
(c) We love the suffering souls, and endeavor to help them as much as we can in their great need. Consider the members of a body, what sympathy one has for the other; how willingly they assist one another as often as is necessary. For instance, if a hand is wounded, is it not the eyes that carefully look at the wound, the tongue that asks for help, the feet that move to obtain the appropriate remedies, the other hand that applies the remedies? Now, since all Catholics, whether living upon earth, or suffering in purgatory, or triumphing in heaven, are members of one body, should there not be the same sympathy, the same love as amongst the members of a natural body? Should we not in particular willingly and with readiness succor the suffering souls in their utmost need? Would it not be a violation of Christian charity, if we should leave them without help in their need?
2. Corporally. In a wider sense we are corporally related to the suffering souls, because we have a human nature in common with them, and like them are descendants of the first human pair, Adam and Eve. There subsists, however, a still closer corporal relationship between us and the suffering souls. There is scarcely one among us who has not lost by death a father or mother, or perhaps both parents, a brother or sister, a wife or husband, a son or a daughter, or other near relations. These departed souls, in all probability, do not yet enjoy the beatific vision; they are suffering perhaps for faults committed on your account; and should you be indifferent towards them?
Should you neglect to console them in their abandonment and to assist them to reach heaven? Would this not be very uncharitable, would it not be sinning against the debt of gratitude which you owe them, since they, while on earth, did so much good for you? Would it be right for you, children, if you would scarcely ever say an Our Father for your parents, who during their life toiled so hard and did so much for you, and who, perhaps for faults committed on your account, are suffering in purgatory? Would you deserve the name of grateful children? And with what eyes would your parents look upon you, when you would meet them in eternity. Take care, then, that you do not violate the love and gratitude which you owe the suffering souls, who are spiritually and corporally related to you.
The suffering souls in purgatory do not cry out to us: "Give," but "Lend." They ask no help of us without requital, but only, so to say, to lend them help. What we do for them is, as it were, a capital, which will be returned to us with interest. The benefits which we confer on these suffering souls will be richly repaid,Part III.--"Me."
1. By themselves. When Joseph of Egypt was in prison he requested the chief butler of Pharaoh, to whom he had foretold his deliverance from prison and reinstatement in office: "Only remember me when it shall be well with thee, and do me this kindness, to put Pharaoh in mind to take me out of this prison."--Gen. 40: II. But the butler forgot his benefactor for two years, and probably would have forgotten him forever if he had not been reminded of him by a special event. Not so the suffering souls. They do not forget us when all is well with them in heaven, but remember us in grateful love for the good we did them while in prison. They supplicate God graciously to keep from us all that might injure us in soul or body, to preserve us in his love, to grant us a happy death, and after our departure from this world to give us eternal rest and to let perpetual light shine upon us. We may also believe with many divines that the suffering souls even while in purgatory intercede with God for us and obtain many benefits for us; for although they are not able to help themselves or acquiremerits, they can pray for us, and since God loves them there is no doubt that he will graciously hear them. St. Catherine of Bologna testifies that she obtained many graces and benefits through the intercession of the suffering souls, even such as she could not obtain through the intercession of the Saints in heaven.
2. From heaven. If we show ourselves merciful towards the suffering souls, we gain the gratitude of the whole heavenly court. The Angels and Saints will look down upon us with particular pleasure, because by the release of these souls we increase their number and also their joy in heaven. If according to the words of Christ they re joice so much over the conversion of one sinner, who, because he is yet capable of sins, is not entirely sure of heaven, how much more will they rejoice over the release of the suffering souls, since they are sure of their eternal salvation. We thereby even confer a favor upon our Blessed Lord himself, for He loves them and ardently desires to see them with him in heaven. Finally, by our mercy and compassion for the suffering souls we merit the love of the Blessed Trinity; for these souls, if I may be permitted to use the expression, are daughters of God the Father, sisters of God the Son, and spouses of God the Holy Ghost, and are deprived of the blessed vision of the most Holy Trinity, because they are yet defiled by the stains of some imperfections.
Every soul suffering cries out to us: in order to express thereby her great torments. And really, their sufferings are great,Part IV.--" Three Loaves."
(a) On account of the pain of loss, since they are banished from heaven and the vision of God, for whom they long most ardently. In order to conceive an idea of this pain, represent to yourselves a man who is tormented by the most violent hunger and the most burning thirst. He sees before him a table supplied with the best meats and viands, but he can touch nothing, although he knows that all has been prepared for him; will not his sorrow be very great? Behold, similarly situated are the suffering souls. Separated from the burden of the body, from sensual enjoyments and from all the distractions of the world, their thoughts are directed exclusively to God, the centre and object of all beauty and loveliness; they feel within themselves an irresistible impulse to be united with Him; they know, too, that they are destined to possess God and the unspeakable joys of heaven; how painful, therefore, must it be to them, that they cannot possess the object of their most ardent desires! How often and how fervently may they not sigh with the Psalmist: As the hart panteth after the fountains of water, so my soul panteth after thee. My soul hath thirsted after the strong living God; 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?"--Ps . 41: 2-4.
2. On account of the pains of the sense, that is, on account of the real pains which they have to endure. The holy Fathers unanimously teach that these pains are very great, and that no earthly sufferings can be compared with them. St. Augustine says: "Although we are saved by fire, yet that fire will be more severe than all whatsoever man can endure in this life." St. Gregory the Great says: "I believe that the passing fire (in purgatory) is more intolerable than every present pain." Venerable Bede is of the opinion that no punishment of the martyrs can be compared with the purifying punishments of the suffering souls. From these and similar expressions of the holy Fathers we may infer the greatness of the pains which the suffering souls in purgatory have to endure. How great were the sufferings of the martyrs! We shudder when we hear or read of the tortures they endured! How much misery there is in this world! Who can describe the pains which people often have to endure in their sickness! And behold, these pains are nothing in comparison to what the souls in purgatory have to suffer. There is no difference between the pains of hell and those of purgatory except that the former will last forever, and the latter will end in glory; the souls of the damned suffer in despair, the souls in purgatory inflamed with love and comforted by angels. What wonder, then, that these poor souls stretch out their arms to us, exclaiming: "Me, me!" "Lend me!" "Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you, my friends, for the hand of the Lord has stricken me." "O help me, because I am tormented without measure, and am unable to help myself. Help me, that I may be freed from my torments and may be permitted to enter into the eternal rest of heaven."
What are these three loaves for which the suffering souls pray?PERORATION.
1. The white bread, or the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Judas Machabeus had sacrifices offered for the dead, of which the Scripture says, that they were wholesome. Now, when the sacrifices of the Old Law, which consisted only of animals and fruits, were wholesome for the dead, what rich blessing must the adorable Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the crucified God-man, Jesus Christ Himself, afford to the suffering souls! Hence in the earliest ages of Christianity the Sacrifice of the Mass was offered for the dead. Thus Tertullian, in the second century, numbers it amongst the duties of a pious widow to have the Sacrifice of the Mass offered for her deceased husband on the anniversary of his death. St. Augustine declares prayer and sacrifice for the repose of the souls of the departed to be an Apostolic ordinance, saying: "Because it is observed in the whole world, that the Sacrifice is offered for the repose of the souls of the faithful departed, and prayers are said for them, we believe that it is an Apostolic Tradition; for it is everywhere observed by the Catholic Church." From the most ancient liturgies we perceive, that from the beginning, as today, a memento was made for the dead, and the fruits of the Sacrifice of the Mass applied to them. Hence the Council of Trent teaches that the prayers of the faithful, but especially the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, are very useful to the souls in purgatory.
2. The home-made bread , which we use daily, or Prayer, which we offer for the suffering souls, e.g., the "Our Father," "Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them," "a Rosary," "the way of the Cross." That our prayers are of benefit to the suffering souls is evident from the Sacred Scripture: "It is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from sins." Prayer for the faithful departed was customary in the primitive ages of the Church, and St. Chrysostom expressly remarks that it was ordained by the Apostles that the departed should be remembered at the celebration of the holy mysteries. St. Ephrem, in his last testament, desires that prayers should be offered for him after his death. The emperor Constantine the Great ordained that his body should be interred in the Church, that he might become a participator in the prayers which the faithful say in that place. And St. Monica, shortly before her death, said to her son, St. Augustine: "Lay this body anywhere; be not concerned about that. The only thing I ask of you is, that you make remembrance of me at the altar of the Lord wheresoever you are." St. Augustine scrupulously complied with the wish and mandate of his mother; he prayed for her himself and conjures all readers of his confessions to pray for her.
3. The black bread , which is usually given to the poor, or alms. The constant belief of the Church proves that the souis in purgatory can be helped by alms and other works of mercy. St. Augustine says: "Without doubt the works of mercy whereby we recommend the departed (to God's mercy) are of great advantage to them, but I speak of those departed, who have so spent their life, that after death they are not unworthy of such helps." Again he says: "There is no doubt that the faithful departed are helped by the prayer of the Church, by the wholesome Sacrifice (Mass), and by alms, which are offered for them, so that God deals with them more according to his mercy than their sins have deserved." And he adds: "The whole Church acts according to this Tradition which she has received from the Fathers." If, then, you give alms, or perform other good works, and thereby have the intention that the fruits of these works be applied to the suffering souls, they are helped by them. This is particularly true of indulgences, which we can apply to the souls in purgatory by way of suffrage.
Let us then show sympathy and mercy to the souls in purgatory. Their cry to us is: "Friend," lend me three loaves." "Friend" because they are spiritually and corporally related to us, therefore, love and gratitude oblige us to succor them. "Lend" they cry out to us, because they, and the whole heavenly court, will return with interest the good we do them. "Me" they cry out to us, making known to us their great need, which is beyond expression, in order to move us to mercy and compassion. "Three loaves" they cry out, beseeching us to help them through the Sacrifice of the Mass, prayer, works of mercy and charity. Let us listen to their cry, and do what they so urgently and entreatingly ask of us. Not only to-day and during this week, but as long as we live, we should show ourselves merciful towards them, and do what we can to release them from their prison that they may enjoy the vision of God. The love and mercy shown to those poor souls will prove to be of benefit to ourselves, for the words of Christ will be accomplished in us: " Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."--Matt 5: 7. Amen.