Taken from The Feasts of Mother Church: With Hints and Helps For the Holier Keeping of Them by Mother M. Salome, London: Burns & Oates, 1904, pp. 227-231.
The Holy Souls in Purgatory
“Is life worth living?” Sometimes this is asked in idle jest, sometimes in bitter earnest. But no Catholic can put the question in serious doubt. He knows full well life is worth living, for life is his allotted portion in the purchase of a happy eternity. The subject is far too wide to be treated in a little article. We will only point out one single truth which alone can make life worth all the pain and sorrow on earth. This truth is the doctrine of Purgatory. The Church teaches, first, that there is a Purgatory, a place where souls suffer after death for a time on account of their forgiven, not wholly expiated sins, or for their unforgiven venial sins. “Nothing defiled can enter Heaven;” and secondly, that the soul can be helped by us upon earth. “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins.”
How many must there be falling every day into that place of expiation! Through the grace of God thousands and thousands leave this world repentant, that is with the will turned in love towards God. But what a load of unexpiated sin they bear with them! If the just man falls seven times a day, how must it be with the tepid, the careless, the indifferent? Millions are there suffering and helpless. And they are there for unmeasured time; we can form no idea of the proportion of suffering due to sin by the justice of God. Human justice differs according to the class, age, and circumstances of its object, and approaches divine justice more or less nearly. But divine justice is absolute truth, and will render to every man according to his works. The prisoners there can only expiate; they cannot merit. To us upon earth is given the power to help and save them. Power is a possession we have coveted at every succesive stage of our lives. In babyhood we crowed one over the other; in the schoolroom we fought for the first seat and its honours; in society, perhaps, we claimed rights and asserted ourselves. But these were petty triumphs, indications only of a better passion within. Just think of it! A whole realm in our power, thousands of souls with their eyes turned upon us, holy helpless, uncomplaining souls. Their voices are hushed, we cannot hear their cry; our eyes are held, we cannot see their pain.
But we believe and know. Then think again of the means at our disposal! The whole treasury of the Precious Blood, an infinite redemption, and all ours to use, to spend, to distribute. How we love plenty, superabundance; to feel there is not stint, no need to save. But to how few is such an experience given! As a rule our hearts are eaten away with a longing for means to help our poor and needy, and so little comes; we grow grey with anxious waiting and hope deferred. But for this giving only our good will is needed, our perseverance, our faith. We can dip our hands into the infinite depths and revel in the thought that as long as Purgatory lasts, there will be riches sufficient to reach the neediest soul there. Shall I only be wanting? Will the petty interests of life keep me from succouring those I love, those I revere and pity? Can I, who am not cruel, be guilty of such hard-heartedness?
The business part of the work is easy, any child can master it. To hear Mass, to say indulgenced prayers, to make the Stations, to make the heroic act — we can do all these things. There are degrees, of course, in the doing, and consequent degrees in the help administered. It is for us to gather from the Holy Sacrifice all possible pardon, to plead the cause of our clients with the Victim offered, to make the Stations with fervent devotion, adding to each the tender aspiration: “Eternal rest give to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them,” an aspiration come down to us from the earliest ages of the Church. All these practices require perseverance, fidelity, faith; but these virtues are within the compass of each one of us.
Would not life be worth living had we such high aims; did we feel our power and use it to its fullest extent? Would we not lose that fretful, listless, querulous spirit that comes over us sometimes and spoils our work? Let us try, and ask our good Angel to note the change.
But not only is devotion to the Holy Souls a work of heroic charity to others: it is a wonderful help to our own sanctification. We raise up for ourselves champions who will befriend us in our time of need and repay us as only heavenly gratitude can repay. It makes us wise and prudent, circumspect and watchful; we see what sin brings with it, what it leaves behind, and we become wary, looking to our feet. Best of all, this devotion brings us nearer to our divine Lord; we are His stewards, His helpers; He must give us His confidence, His love, and this is worth all that earth can offer.