Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 37

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Motives for Assisting the Holy Souls – Facility in Relieving them – The Example of the Saints and of all Fervent Christians – The Servant of God, Mary Villani – The Burned Forehead

We have already seen how Saint Catherine de Ricci and several others carried their heroism so far as to suffer instead of the souls in Purgatory. Let us add a few more examples of this admirable Charity. The servant of God Mary Villani, of the Order of Saint Dominic, whose life was written by Father Marchi (Cf. Rossignoli, Merv., 41) applied herself day and night to the practice of satisfactory works in favor of the departed.

One day – it was the Vigil of the Epiphany – she remained a long time in prayer, beseeching God to alleviate their sufferings in consideration of those of Jesus Christ, offering to Him the cruel scourging of our Saviour, His crown of thorns, His cords, the nails and cross – in a word, all His bitter pains and all the instruments of His Passion. The following night God was pleased to manifest how agreeable to Him was this holy practice.

During her prayer she was rapt in ecstasy, and saw a long procession of persons robed in white garments and radiant with light. They were carrying the emblems of the Passion and entering into the glory of Paradise. The servant of God knew that they were the souls delivered by her fervent prayers and by the merits of the Passion of Jesus Christ.

On another occasion, the Feast of All Souls, she was ordered to work at a manuscript, and to pass the day in writing. This task, imposed by obedience, was a trial to her piety: she experienced some repugnance to obey, because she wished to devote that whole day to prayer, penance, and pious exercises for the relief of the suffering souls. She forgot for a moment that obedience should take precedence over all else, as it is written, Mel i or est obedientia quam victimce – ”Obedience is better than sacrifice.” (1 Kings 15:22). Seeing her great charity towards the poor souls, God vouchsafed to appear to her, in order to instruct and console her. “Obey, My daughter,” He said to her; “do the work imposed upon you by Obedience, and offer it for the souls: each line which you shall write today in the spirit of Obedience and Charity, will procure the deliverance of a soul.” It will be easily understood that she labored with the greatest diligence, and wrote as many as possible of those lines, so acceptable to God.

Her charity towards the holy souls did not confine itself to prayer and fasting; she desired to endure a part of their sufferings. One day, whilst praying for that intention, she was rapt in spirit and led into Purgatory. There, amongst the multitude of suffering souls, she saw one more grievously tormented than the others, and which excited her most tender compassion. “Why,” she asked, “have you to suffer such excruciating torture? Do you receive no alleviation?” “I have been,” replied the soul, “a great length of time in this place, enduring the most frightful torments, in punishment for my former vanity and scandalous extravagance. Thus far I have not received the least relief, because God has permitted that I should be forgotten by my parents, my children, my relatives, and friends: they offer not a single prayer for me. When I was upon earth, being exclusively occupied with my extravagant toilet and worldly vanities, with feasting and pleasure, I cast but a passing thought upon God and my duties. My only serious desire was to further the worldly interests of my family. I am well punished; for you see I am entirely forgotten by all.”

These words made a painful impression upon Mary Villani. She begged this soul to allow her to feel something of what she suffered; and at the same instant it seemed as though a finger of fire touched her forehead, and the pain which she felt was so acute as to cause her ecstasy to cease. The mark remained so deeply impressed upon her forehead, that two months afterwards it was still visible, and caused her intolerable suffering. The servant of God offered this, together with prayers and other good works, for the soul to which we have just referred. This soul appeared to Mary at the end of two months, and said that having been delivered by her intercession, she was about to enter Heaven. At the same moment the scar on the forehead disappeared.

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