there, that we may come to their assistance. She tells us that it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be freed from their sins. I know that Christians in general do not need much persuasion to make them think of this holy work. We know that if we go to confession and communion for the benefit of those poor souls, if we fast, give alms, or have Masses said that by these means we appease the justice of God.
The holy souls now know the value of good works and indulgences: but they cannot do any good action, nor can they gain any indulgences except those obtained by the living and applied to them. Still there are many young people who think so little of the life to come, that even the state of purgatory is to them a matter of no moment; they have no thought of the great pains endured there. They come to church on this day from custom, and by their exterior irreverence scandalize the faithful and affect the benefit of or destroy the good altogether of many a prayer which would be said for those detained in that place of torment.
Paradise, my dear young friends, is that most beautiful place, that magnificent celestial city, whose walls are built of gold and precious stones, where none can dwell except those who are pure and immaculate. Hence it is that the souls in purgatory, how holy soever they may be and dear to God, are detained in that prison until they have atoned for every sin, even the smallest. Most of us, even the best, have to accuse ourselves of slight lies, little acts of disobedience, and many other venial faults, for which we have not had even a thought of sorrow: still we are told, "Thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing."
This atonement is made by suffering which God inflicts as punishment in order to purify those souls. This suffering consists of a fire so terrible that the hottest flames on earth would be pleasant in comparison. St. Gregory says that it is a fire of the same nature as hell. We would have hearts of stone if we saw people burning in a fire and would not try to rescue them. We know that the poor souls are in such a terrible purifying fire; then shall we not try to succor them? God has given us the right to come to their relief by our prayers.
The souls in purgatory deserve our sympathy; they are holy souls, destined for heaven and the sight of God, and many of them are connected with us by the ties of blood, if not of religion and humanity. They are souls who were once on earth, breathed the same air, lived in the same houses, and slept in the beds which we now occupy. Perhaps in that sea of flames is your father or mother, brother or sister, whom you pretended to love so tenderly in life, whose property you inherited, who has sacrificed all for you. Are you not almost bound by justice to help him or her? "They are your flesh and blood."
My dear young people, your dead friends and relatives who died well may be there, and this relationship appeals to your kindly feelings. Remember your father and mother, who when on their death-bed said: "My child, will you forget me after I am dead?" And you replied with anguish: "I promise, with all my heart, that as long as I live I shall not forget to pray for you." And yet scarce had a few days passed when you forgot all your affectionate vows.
Modern Catholic young men may perhaps say there is no purgatory; because nowadays pretended enlightenment is so great that our wise people know everything. They deny some of the dogmas of our faith, things of common belief among us, which rest on good foundation. But I am sure that your Catholic education has impressed on your minds the reality of purgatory, though you may be rather negligent in the performance of the duty of praying for the dead. Perhaps you say a few prayers for them, but they are cold; you hear some Masses for them, but with distraction; you say the Rosary for them, but carelessly. Now that you are firmly persuaded of your duty in this regard, pray earnestly for the dead and you may be sure God will hear you and apply the satisfaction of your prayers to them. Should your prayers be the means of releasing a soul from purgatory sooner than it would otherwise have been released, how grateful will not that soul be to you! how interested in your behalf! how anxious for all your needs, temporal and spiritual! That soul will certainly stand before the throne of God and say, "Lord, I recommend to Thee my benefactor: it is he whom Thou didst hear in my behalf, and in answer to his prayers liberated me from the flames of purgatory. Reward him then, my God, for that kindness." If that person is in the state of grace, he will persevere in the love of God to the end of his days, and should he be in sin he will obtain the grace of conversion; this soul will go also to the Blessed Virgin and will say, "To thee I commend my generous liberator; obtain for him every grace from thy divine Son; give him the necessary power to save his soul."
That soul will also approach the angels, and say: "my dear angels of heaven, now my companions and associates, I am anxious to commend to you him who has done so much
for me on earth; he has prayed to God for me, offered Masses, Rosaries and indulgences for me, so that I am now here praising God, while I should have had to stay in that place of
torment a long time to come, to satisfy God's justice for my faults during life, had he not interceded for me." On all sides will this poor liberated soul gain advocates for us, and God Himself will shower many blessings, both spiritual and temporal, on us.
Let us therefore pray diligently and with faith for the souls in purgatory; let us especially say indulgenced prayers: among which the Rosary is certainly the richest. Have your beads always in your hand and say a few Hail Marys on them now and then, for you know that God has mercy on the poor souls in their pains when we pray. Ask Our Lady and the saints to help them.
Cardinal Baronius knew of a person who had greatly at heart the necessities of the poor souls in purgatory. In every possible way he sought means of relieving them; he gave alms, had Masses said, prayed and had communities to pray, all for the souls in purgatory. He took sick, and when death was at hand, Satan, with his cohorts of wicked spirits, surrounded his bed. The distressed man did not know how to keep up his courage. His despair was at its worst when he saw the heavens open, and a great number of the heavenly court descending to his rescue and help; the dying man felt new courage, and asked them who they were. They answered that they were the souls that he had rescued from purgatory by his good works, and now had come to conduct him to heaven. What joy must have come over this poor man! how he must have valued that devotion to the souls in purgatory which had brought to him so many benefits, and the grace of courage at the hour of death.
St. Peter Damian when still very young lost his parents. One of his brothers gave him a home in his house, but his wife, who was a hard woman, gave him barely enough to eat. One day he found a piece of money and instead of buying something to eat with it he brought it to a priest and asked him to say a Mass for his father and mother. This holy action procured him vocation to the priesthood and he became a great saint and most useful to the Church; he was ordained priest, was Bishop of Ostia and afterwards cardinal.
Source: Sermons for Children's Masses, Imprimatur 1900