Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 39

detail of a painting of San Pedro Damiani, 18th century by Andrea Barbiani; currently in the Classense Library, Ravenna, Italy; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Motives and Incentives to Devotion towards the Holy Souls – Examples of Generosity – Saint Peter Damian and his Father – A Young Annamite – The Doorkeeper at the Seminary and the Propagation of the Faith

Examples of generous Charity towards the departed are by no means rare, and it is always useful to recall them to mind. We may not omit the beautiful and touching example of Saint Peter Damian, Bishop of Ostia, Cardinal and Doctor of the Church, an example which never wearies by repetition. Whilst still young, Peter had the misfortune to lose his mother, and soon afterwards his father marrying again, he was left to the care of a stepmother. Although he showed all possible affection for her, this woman was incapable of returning the love of this dear child; she treated him with barbarous severity, and, in order to rid herself of him, sent him away to her eldest brother, who employed him to take care of the swine. His father, whose duty it was to have prevented this, left him to his unhappy fate. But the child lifted up his eyes to Heaven, where he saw another Father, in whom he placed all his confidence. He accepted all that happened as corning from His divine hands, and resigned himself to the hardships of his situation. “God,” he said, “has His designs in all that He does, and they are designs of mercy; we have but to abandon ourselves into His hands, He will direct all things for our good.” Peter was not deceived; it was in this painful trial that the future Cardinal of the Church, he who was to astonish his age by the extent of his learning, and to edify the world by the luster of his virtues, laid the foundation of his future sanctity.

Barely covered with rags, his biographer tells us that he had not always sufficient to appease his hunger, but he prayed to God and was satisfied.

Meanwhile his father died. The young saint forgot the harshness with which he had been treated, and, like a good son, prayed continually for the repose of his father’s soul. One day he found upon the road a gold piece, which Providence seemed to have placed there for him. It was quite a fortune for the poor child. But, instead of making use of it to relieve his own misery, his first thought was to carry it to a priest, and beg him to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the soul of his deceased father. Holy Church considers this trait of filial devotion so touching that she has inserted it at length in the Office of the feast.

“May I be allowed,” says the missionary, Father Louvet, “to add one more incident of my own personal experience? When I was preaching the faith in Cochin-China, a poor little Annamite girl, who had just been baptized, lost her mother. At the age of fourteen she saw herself obliged to provide for her own support and that of her two younger brothers from her scanty earnings, which amounted to about eight sous, or about seven cents a day. What was my surprise when, at the end of the week, I saw her bring me the earnings of two days, that I might say Mass for the repose of their dear mother’s soul. Those poor little ones had fasted during a part of the week to procure this humble suffrage for their departed mother. Oh, holy alms of the poor and the orphan! If my own heart was so deeply touched by it, how much more so the heart of our Heavenly Father, and what blessings it will have called down upon that mother and upon her children.

“Behold the generosity of the poor! What an example and reproach to so many of the rich, extravagant in luxury and pleasure, but miserly when there is question of giving an alms to have Masses celebrated for their deceased relatives.

“Although before all other intentions they should devote part of their alms to have Masses offered for their own souls, or those of their friends, it is proper to use a portion for the relief of the poor, or for other good works, such as for the benefit of Catholic schools, the Propagation of the Faith, and other purposes, according to circumstances. This is a holy liberality, conformable to the spirit of the Church, and very profitable to the souls in Purgatory.”

The Abbe Louvet, from whom we have taken the above, relates another incident which de serves a place here. It concerns a man in humble circumstances who made a generous sacrifice in favor of the Propagation of the Faith, but under circumstances which rendered this act particularly valuable for the future needs of his soul in Purgatory.

A poor porter at a seminary during his long life had, penny by penny, amassed the sum of eight hundred francs, Having no family, he destined this sum for the celebration of Masses after his death. But what can charity not effect when once it has inflamed the heart with its sacred fire? A young priest was on the point of quitting the seminary for the foreign missions. The old man felt himself inspired to give him his little treasure for the beautiful work of the Propagation of the Faith. He therefore gave it and said, “Dear sir, I beg you to accept this small alms to aid you in the work of spreading the Gospel. I kept it to have Masses said after my death, but I would rather remain a little longer in Purgatory that the name of the good God be glorified.” The seminarian was moved even to tears. He would not accept the too generous offer of the poor man, but the latter insisted so earnestly that he had not the heart to refuse him.

A few months later the good old man died. No apparition has revealed his fate in the other world. But is he in need? Do we not know that the Heart of Jesus cannot allow itself to be surpassed in generosity? Do we not understand that a man who was generous enough to consign himself to the flames of Purgatory in order that Jesus Christ might be made known to infidel nations will surely have found abundant mercy before the Sovereign Judge?

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