Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 45

Venerable Cesare BaronioArticle

Advantages of Devotion towards the Holy Souls – Their Gratitude – Saint Margaret of Cortona – Saint Philip Neri – Cardinal Baronius and the Dying Woman

Is it difficult to understand the gratitude of the holy souls? If you had ransomed a captive from the galling yoke of slavery, would he be grateful for such a benefit? When the Emperor Charles V took possession of the city of Tunis, he restored to liberty twenty thousand Christian slaves, who before his victory had been reduced to a most deplorable condition. Penetrated with gratitude towards their benefactor, they surrounded him, blessing him and singing his praises. If you gave health to a person dangerously sick, fortune to an unhappy creature who had been reduced to poverty, would you not receive in return their gratitude and their benedictions? And those souls, so holy and so good, will they conduct themselves differently with regard to their benefactors – those poor souls whose captivity, poverty, suffering, and necessity far surpass all captivity, indigence, or malady to be found upon earth? They come especially at the hour of death, to protect them, to accompany and introduce them into the happy abode of their eternal rests.

We have already spoken of Saint Margaret of Cortona, and of her devotion to the holy souls. It is related in her biography that at her death she saw a multitude of souls that she had delivered from Purgatory form in procession to escort her to Paradise. God revealed this favor granted to Margaret of Cortona through the medium of a holy person in the city of Castello. This servant of God, rapt in ecstasy at the moment when Margaret departed this life, saw her soul in the midst of this brilliant cortege, and on recovering from her rapture she related to her friends what Our Lord had been pleased to manifest to her.

Saint Philip Neri, founder of the Congregation of the Oratory, had a most tender devotion towards the holy souls in Purgatory, and he felt a particular attraction to pray for those who had been under his spiritual direction. He considered him-self under greatest obligation to them, because Divine Providence had confided them in a special manner to his zeal. It seemed to him that his charity ought to follow them until their final purification was accomplished, and they were admitted into the glory of Heaven. He confessed that many of his spiritual children appeared to him after their death, either to ask his prayers or to return him thanks for what he had already done for them He declared also that by this means he had obtained more than one grace.

After his death, a Franciscan Father of great piety was praying in the chapel in which the venerated remains of the saint had been deposited, when the latter appeared to him surrounded with glory and in the midst of a brilliant train. Encouraged by the air of amiable familiarity with which the saint regarded him, he ventured to ask the meaning of that bright band of blessed spirits which accompanied him. The saint replied that they were the souls of those whose spiritual guide he had been during life, and whom by his suffrages he had delivered from Purgatory. He added that they had come to meet him on his departure from this world, that in their turn they might introduce him into the Heavenly Jerusalem.

“There is no doubt,” says the devout Father Rossignoli, “that on their entrance into eternal glory the first favors which they ask of the Divine Mercy are for those who have opened to them the gates of Paradise, and they will never fail to pray for their benefactors, whenever they see them in any necessity or danger. In reverses of fortune, sicknesses, and accidents of all kinds they will be their protectors. Their zeal will increase when the interests of the soul are at stake; they will powerfully assist them to vanquish temptation, to practice good works, to die a Christian death, and to escape the sufferings of the other life.”

Cardinal Baronius, whose authority as historian is well known, relates that a person who was very charitable towards the holy souls was afflicted with a terrible agony when on her death bed. The spirit of darkness suggested to her the most gloomy fears, and veiled from her sight the sweet light of Divine Mercy, endeavoring to drive her into despair; when suddenly Heaven seemed to open before her eyes, and she saw thousands of defenders fly to her aid, reanimating her courage, and promising her the victory. Comforted by this unexpected assistance, she asked who were her defenders? “We are,” they replied, “the souls which you have delivered from Purgatory; we, in our turn, come to help you, and very soon we shall conduct you to Paradise.” At these consoling words the sick person felt that her fears were changed into the sweetest confidence. A short time afterwards she tranquilly expired, her countenance serene and her heart filled with joy.

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