Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 33

statue of Saint Jean Marie Vianney, by Emilien Cabuchet, 1867; photographed in March 2009 by Andreas König; swiped off WikipediaArticle

Relief of the Holy Souls – For whom are we to Pray? – Great Sinners – Father Ravignan and General Exelmans – The Widow in Mourning and the Venerable Cure d’Ars – Sister Catherine of Saint Augustine and the Sinner Dead in a Grotto

Father Ravignan, an illustrious and holy preacher of the Society of Jesus, also cherished great hope for the welfare of sinners carried away by a sudden death, when otherwise they had borne no hatred in the heart for the things of God. He lived to speak of the supreme moment, and it seems to have been his opinion that many sinners are converted in their last moments, and are reconciled to God without being able to give any exterior sign thereof. In certain deaths there are mysteries of Mercy where the eye of man sees nothing but strokes of Justice. As a last glimmer of light, God sometimes reveals Himself to those souls whose greatest misfortune has been to ignore Him; and the last sigh, understood by Him who penetrates hearts, may be a groan that calls for pardon; that is to say, an act of perfect contrition. General Exelmans, a relative of this good father, was suddenly carried to the tomb by an accident, and unfortunately he had not been faithful in the practice of his religion. He had promised that he would one day make his Confession, but had not had the opportunity to do so. Father Ravignan, who, for a long time had prayed and procured prayers for him, was filled with consternation when he heard of such a death. The same day, a person accustomed to receive supernatural communications thought he heard an interior voice, which said to him, “Who then knows the extent of God’s mercy? Who knows the depth of the ocean, or how much water is contained therein? Much will be forgiven to those who have sinned through ignorance.”

The biographer from whom we borrow this incident, Father de Ponlevoy, goes on to say, “Christians, placed under the law of Hope no less than under the law of Faith and Charity, we must continually lift ourselves up from the depths of our sufferings to the thought of the infinite goodness of God. No limit to the grace of God is placed here below; while there remains a spark of life there is nothing which it cannot effect in the soul. Therefore we must ever hope and petition God with humble persistency. We know not to what a degree we may be heard. Great saints and doctors have gone to great lengths in extolling the powerful efficacy of prayer for the dear departed, how unhappy soever their end may have been. We shall one day know the unspeakable marvels of Divine Mercy. We should never cease to implore it with the greatest confidence.”

The following is an incident which our readers may have seen in the Petit Messager du Coeur de Marie, November 1880. A Religious, preaching a mission to the ladies at Nancy, had reminded them in a conference that we must never despair of the salvation of a soul, and that sometimes actions of the least importance in the eyes of man are rewarded by God at the hour of death. When he was about to leave the church, a lady dressed in mourning approached him and said, “Father, you just recommended to us confidence and hope; what has just happened to me fully justifies your words. I had a husband who was most kind and affectionate, and who, although otherwise leading an irreproachable life, entirely neglected the practice of his religion. My prayers and exhortations remained without effect. During the month of May which preceded his death, I had erected in my room, as I was accustomed to do, a little altar of the Blessed Virgin, and decorated it with flowers, which I renewed from time to time. My husband passed the Sunday in the country, and each time he returned he brought me some flowers, which he himself had plucked, and with these I used to adorn my oratory. Did he notice this? Did he do this to give me pleasure, or was it through a sentiment of piety towards the Blessed Virgin? I know not, but he never failed to bring me the flowers.

“In the beginning of the following month he died suddenly, without having had time to receive the consolations of religion. I was inconsolable, especially as I saw all my hopes of his return to God vanish. In consequence of my grief, my health became completely shattered, and my family urged me to make a tour in the south. As I had to pass through Lyons, I desired to see the Cure d’Ars. I therefore wrote to him asking an audience, and recommending to his prayers my husband, who had died suddenly. I gave him no further details.

“Arrived at Ars, scarcely had I entered the venerable Cure’s room than, to my great astonishment, he addressed me in these words: ‘Madame, you are disconsolate; but have you forgotten those bouquets of flowers which were brought to you each Sunday of the month of May?’ It is impossible to express my astonishment on hearing M. Vianney remind me of a circumstance that I had not mentioned to anyone, and which he could know only by revelation. He continued, ‘God has had mercy on him who honored His Holy Mother. At the moment of his death your husband repented; his soul is in Purgatory; our prayers and good works will obtain his deliverance.'”

We read in the Life of a holy Religious, Sister Catherine of Saint Augustine (Saint Alphonsus, Paraph, of the Salve Regina), that in the place where she lived there was a woman named Mary, who in her youth had given herself up to a very disorderly life, and as age brought no amendment, but, on the contrary, she grew more obstinate in vice, the inhabitants, no longer willing to tolerate the scandal she gave, drove her from the city. She found no other asylum than a grotto in the forest, where, after a few months, she died without the assistance of the Sacraments. Her body was interred in a field, as though it were something contagious.

Sister Catherine, who was accustomed to recommend to God the souls of all those of whose death she heard, thought not of praying for this one, judging, as did everyone else, that she was surely damned.

Four months later the servant of God heard a voice saying, “Sister Catherine, how unfortunate I am! You recommend to God the souls of all; I am the only one upon whom you take no pity!” “Who then are you?” replied the sister. “I am poor Mary, who died in the grotto.” “What! Mary, are you saved?” “Yes, by the Divine Mercy I am At the point of death, terrified by the remembrance of my crimes, and seeing myself abandoned by all, I called upon the Blessed Virgin. In her tender goodness she heard me, and obtained for me the grace of perfect contrition, with a desire of confessing, had it been in my power to do so. I thus recovered the grace of God and escaped Hell. But I was obliged to go to Purgatory, where I suffer terribly.

My time will be shortened, and I shall soon be liberated, if a few Masses are offered for me. Oh! have them celebrated for me, dear sister, and I shall ever remember you before Jesus and Mary.”

Sister Catherine hastened to fulfill this request, and after a few days the soul again appeared, brilliant as a star, and returning thanks for her charity.

MLA Citation