The Feast of All Souls: Part 3
“It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead.”–2 Machab. xii.
The remembrance of their pitiable state, and the desire to help them, in consequence of our natural sympathy, are calculated to awaken the tenderest feelings, and to move the hearts of the children of the Church to celebrate this feast with zeal.
But, besides the motive of natural sympathy for all in distress, there are motives of faith which impel us to procure their relief not only on All Souls Day, but on every day of our life. For this our love and interest in their regard is a work not only pleasing to God and meritorious for us, but also efficacious for the relief of the departed souls.
Hence, we see evinced in the lives of all the saints a most ardent zeal in the cause of these poor afflicted ones. For their relief they offered to God not only prayers, but also the Masses, penances, the most severe sicknesses, and the most painful trials; and all this as a retribution and a practical display of the belief which they cherished–that they who have slept in Christ are finally to repose with Him in glory. Now, I maintain that we, too, shall feel in our breasts this same strong, this same ardent zeal, if we carefully weigh the assurance of the Holy Ghost and practice the counsel it implies: “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead.
How holy, how wholesome, this practice is we shall endeavor to consider today for the consolation of the poor souls and of ourselves.
O Mary, most compassionate, most tender Mother, inspire our hearts with a deep compassion for the poor souls in Purgatory, so that we may be moved to pray for those suffering children of thine and assist them with all our power! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
When the Church, on her festive days, offers up prayers and sacrifice, she thereby wishes to remind the faithful of the solemnity of the occasion, and to exhort them to draw profit, for their spiritual welfare, by meditating upon what they witness. Therefore, it is but just and proper that we place before our eyes, upon this day, the motives and proofs which show forth the holiness of the act of praying for the departed souls, and the spiritual blessings that will accrue from the practice to them and to us.
Now, as to what regards the holiness of the act, it is plain that it is one performed through love of God. It is an act that tends to relieve the souls that have left this world in the state of grace and advance them, somewhat sooner, to, the contemplation of the splendor and beatific vision of God.
It is, moreover, an act which enables these same souls the sooner to praise God in the presence of the Angels and Saints, for the accomplishment of the work which He began in their creation and finished in their redemption and salvation.
Who can tell what ardent praise the happy soul offers to God in heaven; what heartfelt thanks it lavishes upon its Lord when it reaches the realms of everlasting bliss; how much it rejoices the heart of God to receive all this exaltation and thanks from the lips of a soul forever saved! It is a most holy act, which at the same time rejoices and comforts so exceedingly the heart of Jesus in heaven, and affords the now happy soul an occasion of thanking Him for all that He has accomplished for it by His life and death on the cross. The same may be said of the heart of Mary. What a most holy and praiseworthy deed does he not perform who assists the soul of the elect the sooner to receive the affectionate embraces of Mary, to do her homage, and to return her everlasting thanks, in heaven, for her motherly care. Yea, the entire Church triumphant feels an increase of glory as often as a soul enters into heaven, and thanks that pious soul who was the instrument, in the hands of God, of conducting it the more rapidly into the celestial Paradise.
The same, again, may be said of the Church suffering. She, too, is a part of God’s kingdom; for in the Church we distinguish the Church militant, the Church suffering, and the Church triumphant. By the interest we display in the cause of the poor souls, we acknowledge them as our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. Besides, by this we honor the Church, because we thereby solemnly acknowledge that all who are of her fold, in the grace of God, are heirs and heiresses of Heaven.
It is a holy thought, moreover, to pray for the dead, as our text affirms. And why? Because all that we perform for the help and delivery of the poor souls in Purgatory, are works of Christian faith and piety. Such are prayer, the august sacrifice of the Mass, the reception of the holy sacraments,, alms-deeds, and acts of penance and self-denial.
It is a holy and at the same time a wholesome thought; because it so powerfully excites within us the desire to sanctify our own self. This will be evident if we only consider what are the predominant causes of that lukewarmness of ours in the service of God, which, in spite of all the promises, the encouragements and counsels of the Holy Spirit, still hinders us from advancing with the zeal of the Saints, in the path of Christian perfection. The sources of our spiritual misery may particularly be traced to an inordinate love for worldly goods and interests, the pampering of our bodies, and thoughtlessness in the matter of venial sins and imperfections.
First, the undue attachment to the things of this world is a serious, a very serious, impediment to piety and zeal, and the foundation of innumerable defects. There are, indeed, many reasons, if we were only to seek for them, which indisputably prove to us the vanity and folly of this inordinate yearning after the possession of earthly goods. But nothing places this folly so forcibly before our eyes as the thought of the poor souls in Purgatory, the warning cry of poor souls from the grave: “Our money is lost; lost to the last farthing. Today my turn; tomorrow yours!” Remember, dear Christians, that we, too, shall once be poor, helpless, and suffering souls in Purgatory; and what shall we carry with us of all our earthly goods and treasures? Not a single farthing!
Therefore, how important is it not to avoid the pitfalls which the anxious care of goods and chattels, of gold and possessions, prepares in our path to salvation. Even were there no danger of offending God grievously through inordinate worldly cares, still, how great are not the obstacles they oppose to the practice of good works and to our efforts after Christian perfection. Yes, alas, it is often too true, and that in the case of many of the most zealous members of a congregation. What prevents them from actually carrying out the many purposes of amendment which they so often form? It is naught else than their inordinate love and care for the perishable goods of this earth.
The second source of our tepidity in the service of God, and which gives rise to so many imperfections, is sensuality. This is an avenue broad and convenient, by which the Evil Spirit frequently approaches our heart. How often has he not, in this way, come upon it unawares and vanquished us? How often have we not yielded to sensuality on the plea of necessity, or of conforming to others? Yes, the inordinate love of comfort, of seeking pleasures for the body, is a great check to progress in the spiritual life. Here, also, we have sufficient proof to show how foolish and deceitful is the thought that the joys of the world and the pleasures of the senses can replenish us with all good, and satisfy our desires. Blinded men, who are not afraid of Purgatory, provided they can enjoy this transitory life! Yet they shall not be satisfied, because the heart of man is so great that its Lord and Creator alone can satisfy its desires.
To remind us forcibly of this insane love of earthly comforts and happiness, we need only think of the great, the powerful, and the wealthy, whose bodies are moldering in the dismal grave. Think of the poor souls who, having left their bodies upon earth, are now undergoing intense suffering for the sins they committed by over-indulgence. Oh, how they now lament having surrendered their bodies to sensual delights, and having, on this account, too often shunned carrying the cross of Christ.
Finally, the third cause of lukewarmness, and the fountain of innumerable imperfections, is the great disregard of venial sins. Of course, every Christian knows that a deliberate venial sin offends the majesty of God, and is next to mortal sin, the greatest evil that can befall a soul. Its heinousness can not be more strongly impressed on the mind than by considering those excruciating pains, which afflict the poor souls in Purgatory, in punishment of such an offense. To understand their condition, we should know what Purgatory is. It is, as theologians maintain, the same fire that burns and rages so intensely in Hell, and whose glowing heat penetrates the poor, sad soul, as no other fire can do.
What is not the agonizing anguish that fills a mother’s breast upon hearing the heart-rending cries of her child as she beholds it rushing forth from an adjoining apartment, all in flames? And yet, what is a mother’s heart and her love for her child in comparison with the heart of God, as Creator.
Nevertheless, God confines souls, that are His most dear children, and are still in His grace, in Purgatory. There they suffer, not only for hours and days, but for years and years; and yet He receives them not into His fatherly embrace before they have become spotless in His sight. Yes, these souls themselves would not leave Purgatory until every trace of the least imperfection were washed away.
O, children of the Church, what a motive for us to live religiously, to avoid the smallest sin, and to do penance for the past. What a stimulus to practice all virtues and good works, to display our zeal for souls with the diligence and perfection of the Saints, remembering, at the same time, the words of the Holy Ghost: “Blessed are the dead who have slept in the Lord, for their works follow them, and they now repose from their labors in everlasting peace,” through Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.