Purgatory Explained, Part 2, Chapter 53

photograph of a Saint Thomas Aquinas roundel, Convento de Las Duenas, Salamanca, Spain; swiped with permission from the flickr account of Father Lawrence Lew, OPArticle

Advantages – Charity towards the Dead Rewarded – Saint Thomas of Aquin, his Sister, and Brother Romano – The Archpriest Ponzoni and Don Alphonso Sanchez – Blessed Margaret Mary and Mother Greffier

The Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas of Aquin, was likewise very devout towards the suffering souls, who appeared to him several times, and we know of them by the testimony of the illustrious Doctor himself.

He offered his prayers and sacrifices to God, particularly for the departed souls whom he had known or who were related to him. When he was Professor of Theology at the University of Paris he lost a sister, who died in Capua, at the convent of Saint Mary, of which she was Abbess. As soon as he heard of her decease, he recommended her soul to God with great fervor. Some days later she appeared to him, conjuring him to have pity on her, and to redouble his suffrages, because she suffered cruelly in the flames of the other life. Thomas hastened to offer for her all the satisfaction in his power, and solicited also the suffrages of several of his friends. He thus obtained the deliverance of his sister, who came herself to announce the glad tidings.

Some time after this, having been sent to Rome by his superiors, the soul of this sister appeared to him in all the glory of triumphant joy. She told him that his prayers had been heard, that she was freed from suffering, and was going to enjoy eternal repose in the bosom of God. Familiarized with these supernatural communications, the saint feared not to interrogate the apparition, and asked what had become of his two brothers, Arnold and Landolph, who had died some time previous. “Arnold is in Heaven,” replied the soul, “and there enjoys a high degree of glory for having defended the Church and the Sovereign Pontiff against the aggressions of the Emperor Frederic. As to Landolph, he is still in Purgatory, where he suffers much, and is greatly in need of assistance. As regards yourself, my dear brother,” she added, “a magnificent place awaits you in Paradise, in recompense for all you have done for the Church. Hasten to put the last stroke to the different works which you have undertaken, for you will soon join us.” History tells us that, in fact, he lived but a short time after this event. On another occasion, the same saint, being in prayer at the Church of Saint Dominic at Naples, saw approaching him Brother Romano, who had succeeded him at Paris in the chair of theology. The saint thought at first that he had just arrived from Paris, for he was ignorant of his death. He, therefore, arose, went to meet him, saluted him and inquired of him concerning his health and the motive of his journey. “I am no longer of this world,” said the Religious with a smile, “and by the mercy of God I am already in the enjoyment of eternal beatitude. I come by the command of God to encourage you in your labors.” “Am I in the state of grace?” asked Thomas immediately. “Yes, dear brother, and your works are very agreeable to God.” “And you, had you to suffer Purgatory?” “Yes, for fourteen days, on account of little infidelities which I had not sufficiently expiated on earth.”

Then Thomas, whose mind was constantly occupied with questions of theology, profited by the opportunity to penetrate the mystery of the beatific vision; but he was answered with this verse of Psalm 47: Sicut audivimus, sic vidimus in civitate Dei nostri – “As we have learned by faith, we have seen with our eyes in the city of our God.” Saying these words, the apparition vanished, leaving the Angelic Doctor inflamed with the desire of the Eternal Good.

More recently, in the sixteenth century, a favor of the same nature, but perhaps more wonderful, was granted to a zelator of the souls in Purgatory, an intimate friend of Saint Charles Borromeo. Venerable Gratian Ponzoni, Archpriest of Arona, interested himself in the cause of the poor suffer ing souls throughout his whole lifetime. During the pest which carried off so many victims in the diocese of Milan, Ponzoni, not content with administering the Sacraments to the plaguestricken, hesitated not to become sexton, and to bury the dead bodies; for fear had paralyzed the courage of all, and no one would take upon themselves that terrible task. With a zeal and charity truly apostolic, he had assisted a large number of the unfortunate victims in Arona in their last moments, and had interred them in the cemetery near his church of Saint Mary. One day, after the office of Vespers, as he was passing by the cemetery in company with Don Alphonso Sanchez, then governor of Arona, he stopped suddenly, struck with an extraordinary vision. Fearing some delusion, he turned towards Sanchez and said, “Sir, do you see the same spectacle which presents itself to my view?” “Yes,” replied the governor, who had the same vision, “I see a procession of the dead, advancing from their graves towards the church; and I avow that until you spoke I could not believe my eyes.” Assured of the reality of the apparition, the Archpriest added, “They are probably the recent victims of the pest, who wish to make known that they are in need of our prayers.” He immediately caused the bells to be rung, and invited the parishioners to assemble on the following morning for a solemn service for the dead.

We see here two persons whose sound judgment guarded them against all danger of illusion, and who, both struck at the same time, seeing the same apparition, hesitate to give credence to it until they were convinced that their eyes saw the same phenomenon. There is not the least room for hallucination, and every sensible man must admit the reality of a supernatural occurrence, attested by such witnesses. Nor can we call in question those apparitions based upon the testimony of a Saint Thomas of Aquin, as related above. We must also guard against too easily rejecting other facts of the same nature, from the moment they are attested by persons of recognized sanctity and truly worthy of belief. We must be prudent, no doubt, but ours must be a Christian prudence, equally removed from credulity and from that proud, conceited spirit with which, as we have remarked elsewhere, Jesus reproached His Apostles, “Noli esse incredulus, sed fidelis ” Be not faithless, but believing. (John 20:27).

Monseigneur Languet, Bishop of Soissons, makes the same remark with reference to a circumstance which he relates in the Life of Blessed Margaret Alacoque. Madame Billet, wife of the doctor of the house – that is to say, of the convent of Paray – where the blessed sister resided, had just died. The soul of the deceased appeared to the servant of God, asking her prayers, and charging her to warn her husband of two secret affairs that concerned his salvation. The holy sister gave an account of what had taken place to her Superior, Mother Greffier. The Superior ridiculed the vision, and the one who related it to her; she imposed silence upon Margaret, forbidding her to say or do anything regarding what had been asked of her. “The humble Religious obeyed with simplicity; and with the same simplicity she related to Mother Greffier the second solicitation which she received from the deceased some days later; but the Superior treated this with the same contempt. However, the following night she herself was aroused by such a horrible noise in her room that she thought she would die from fright. She called the sisters, and when assistance came, she was on the point of swooning away. When she somewhat recovered, she reproached herself with incredulity, and no longer delayed to acquaint the doctor with what had been revealed to Sister Margaret.

“The doctor recognized the warning as coming from God, and profited by it. As for Mother Greffier, she learned by experience that if distrust is ordinarily the wisest policy, it is sometimes wrong to carry it too far, especially when the glory of God and the good of our neighbor is concerned.”

MLA Citation