Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 36

detail from a painting of Saint John of God saving sick people from a fire at the royal hospital, by Manuel Gomez-Moreno Gonzalez, 1880; Museo de Bellas Artres, Granada, Spain; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Motives for Assisting the Holy Souls – Intimate Ties which Unite us to them – Filial Piety – Cimon of Athens and his Father in Prison – Saint John of God saving the Sick from the Conflagration

If we are obliged to assist the holy souls because of the extreme necessity in which they are, how much greater does this motive become when we remember that these souls are united to us by the most sacred ties, the ties of blood, by the Blood of Jesus Christ, and by the ties of human flesh and blood, whence we have been brought forth according to the flesh?

Yes, there are in Purgatory souls united to us by the closest family ties. It may be a father or a mother, who, languishing in those horrible torments, extend their arms in supplication towards me. What would we not do for our father or for our mother, if we knew they were pining away in some loathsome dungeon? An ancient Athenian, the celebrated Cimon, had the grief to see his father imprisoned by heartless creditors whom he was unable to satisfy. What was worse, he could not raise a sum sufficient to effect his father’s ransom, and the old man died in prison. Cimon hastened to the prison and requested that they would at least grant him the body of his father that he might give it burial. This was refused him, under pretext that, not having had wherewith to pay his debts, he could not be set at liberty. “Allow me first to bury my father,” cried Cimon, “I will then return and take his place in prison.”

We admire this act of filial piety, but are we not also bound to imitate it? Have we not also, perhaps, a father or a mother in Purgatory? Are we not obliged to deliver them at the cost of the greatest sacrifices? More fortunate than Cimon, we have wherewith to pay their debts; we need not take their place; on the contrary, to deliver them is to purchase our own ransom.

We admire, also, the charity of Saint John of God, who braved the fury of the flames to save the poor sick during a conflagration. This great servant of God died at Granada in the year 1550, kneeling before an image of Jesus crucified, which he embraced and continued to hold clasped tightly within his arms, even after he had breathed forth his soul to God. Born of very poor parents, and obliged to support himself by tending flocks, he was rich in faith and confidence in God. He took great delight in prayer and hearing the Word of God; this was the foundation of the great sanctity which he afterwards attained. A sermon by the Venerable Father John d’Avila, the Apostle of Andalusia, made such an impression upon him, that he resolved to consecrate his entire life to the service of the sick poor. Without other resource than his charity and confidence in God, he succeeded in purchasing a house, in which he assembled all poor abandoned sick, that he might give them nourishment for soul and body. This asylum soon developed into the Royal Hospital of Granada, an immense establishment, filled with a multitude of the aged and infirm. One day a fire having broken out in the hospital, many of the sick were in danger of perishing by a most horrible death. They were surrounded on all sides by flames, so that it was impossible for anyone to attempt their rescue. They uttered the most heartrending cries, calling Heaven and earth to their assistance. John sees them, his charity is inflamed, he rushes into the fire, battles through flame and smoke until he reaches the beds of the sick; then raising them upon his shoulders, he carries these unfortunate creatures one after another to a place of safety. Obliged to traverse this vast furnace, working in the heat of the fire for a whole half-hour, the saint had not sustained the least injury; the flames respected his person, his clothing, and even the least hair of his head, God wishing to show by a miracle how pleasing to Him was the charity of His servant. And those who save, not the body, but souls from the flames of Purgatory, is their work less agreeable to God? Are the necessities, the cries and moans of those souls less touching to a heart of faith? Is it more difficult to aid them? Is it necessary to cast ourselves into the flames in order to rescue them?

Assuredly, we have every facility in our power for affording them relief, and God does not demand great efforts on our part. Yet the charity of fervent souls inspires them to make the most heroic sacrifices, and even to share the torments of their brethren in Purgatory.

MLA Citation