Devotion for the Dying  [and the Holy Souls in Purgatory]


By Ven. Mother Mary Potter


Chapter 2, Part 2

You may have heard how a certain lay brother in a monastery, whose duty was to cook for the community, was observed, amidst all the distraction of his office, to preserve a wonderful recollection and spirit of prayer, being constantly discovered in tears. Being asked how he did so, he replied that the fire at which he was required to be reminded him continually of the fire of Hell. We may imagine the various forms this holy man's meditations took from the sight of the fire, which was so constantly before him. At one time it would be gratitude to God, Who had died to save him from these eternal flames; another time, it would bring him humility in the thought of the sins he either had committed or might commit, or the sins of others, and the purity and justice of God, which demanded satisfaction, which demanded the fearful punishment of everlasting fire as reparation to His outraged Majesty. And then he would have to turn again to Jesus, upon Whom had been laid the iniquities of us all, and remind Him lovingly of His Passion, of all He had endured to save souls from the eternal misery of Hell-fire, and with great earnestness, with a heart full of pity, he would beg Jesus to show mercy to them; he would beseech Mary to pray they might not die in their sin and be cast, body and soul, into fire so fearful that the fire on earth may in comparison be called but a figure of it.

   The example of this holy monk shows, likewise, how every state in which God's Providence places us tends to sanctify our souls and has peculiar graces attached to it. This simple monk, in his humble employment, arrived at a higher state of holiness than he would have done if, to please himself, he had remained hours before the Blessed Sacrament.

   All the day long, there are occurrences, simple accidents of daily life, by which, if we wish, we may raise our thoughts to the unseen world. Have you ever seen a dog separated from its whelps? Chained to its kennel, the poor animal is in very agony-----giving forth one almost continuous moan, almost a sob. Howling fearfully, sometimes it will leap to the end of its chain, almost dragging its kennel with it. Wearied, it goes back into its kennel and lies down; but out again-----it cannot rest------and the melancholy howl terminates again in the low, almost human sob. It is distressing to hear, but we can draw from this scene a good thought as we think of the frantic, ineffectual efforts of the lost soul to reach God.

   So strong is the tendency of a disembodied soul to seek God that the power of God alone could keep it back. Do you know what it would be to be ever tending to what you know you could never reach-----to be ever falling and yet never reaching the ground, to be ever drawn by an attraction stronger than the attraction which draws the apple from the tree to the ground, and yet never to be able to reach the center to which you are attracted? If hope deferred maketh the heart sick, what must that place be like where, though desire in the soul is intensified, there is no such thing as hope?

    Not one straggling ray of hope enlightens those accursed of God. Can you realize it? No. You would die if you did. But Our Lord did. Jesus saw it, realized it. O Mary, whom thy favored servant, the Ven. Grignion De Montfort, has called the "Echo of God," [True Devotion to Mary, St. Louis de Montfort] make to arise up in our hearts some reverberation of the echo that arose in thine own when the cry of dereliction arose from the Heart of Jesus on the Cross: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"

    The Son of Man, He Who made Himself our brother, took the punishment of sin to its extremity. He Who died for all sinners, He Who died for each in particular, He Who saw each individually before Him as He hung on the Cross, He had taken all our iniquities upon Himself. He had placed Himself in our place before the Father; and when the Father rejected us, He felt that rejection, in a certain sense, as applied to Himself-----which we shall see by Mary's spirit in humble meditation.

     Jesus, in taking human nature, made Himself one with us. Oh, that God may give us grace to understand how Jesus is our own, our very own, and then we may come nearer, though it be but a little nearer, to understanding the dereliction of Our Lord on the Cross-----how He, the Vine, felt the branches that would die and be taken from Him! He presented Himself before the Father for all creatures, for each individual soul. Each soul sorrows for its own misery, but Jesus sorrowed for all. His grief was greater than any earthly grief, for He was capable of greater suffering; His grief was great indeed, for He alone could understand what those forever wretched souls had lost.

     Think of these things by the side of Mary, and they will be profitable to you. We must not shut our eyes to the truths of Faith because our own inclinations lead us to look at what is most consoling to ourselves and we would prefer to keep away from us the thought of the eternal fire of Hell, with its living victims, as something too terrible to contemplate.

 Unless otherwise directed, the soul should not ignore this terrible witness to God's awful purity and His most strict justice. It is a subtle device of the evil spirit to try to hinder souls from meditating on this part of God's creation, either by raising scruples, by suggesting doubts, or by various other temptations well known to directors of souls, who therefore wisely advise that what causes trouble and distress of mind can do no good in such cases, and is not to be dwelt upon. Where God is, there is peace. But did Our Lady lose her peace at the sight-----at the sight of her children in those flames? No, most certainly not. Sorrow she did, and mourn with Our Lord, but her mind would not have withheld itself-----if it could have done so-----from seeing aught that revealed more of God to her.

   As the beautiful paintings of the old masters derive a great deal of their beauty from the marvelous admixture of light and shade and would lose their charm without such contrast, so a weak soul, that looks upon the world of sin and shuts out the thought of the eternal punishment that was made to punish sin, does not see God as the stronger soul does, who, led by Mary, is taught, by the darkness of Hell, the wonderful Light and Purity of God. Mary, who though she is the Mother of fair love and of holy hope, is likewise the mother of fear: "I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of holy hope," as is read in her office. [Cf. Ecclus. 24: 24]. The immaculate flesh trembled, the spotless soul of Mary feared, as she contemplated what she knew was above even her comprehension, the Unspeakable Sanctity and Holiness of God.

   Mary saw the whole of the universe, with its lights and shadows, its exterior darkness and its unapproachable light, and derived profit from all. All God's works are instructive to us, though, like His gifts, we may abuse them instead of using them. A Saint has said, "Unless we go down to Hell in spirit now, we are likely to go down body and soul hereafter."

   Humility grows wonderfully in our souls as we look upon the punishment God created for sin and in the thought that we have within us, no matter how high our grace may be, a capability of conceiving and giving birth to that monster, that abortion, mortal sin. We are capable of doing it, as those examples of the Old Law show us. See Solomon, the wisest of men; see David, the man after God's own heart. Not only are we capable of committing mortal sin, but we, most of us, have committed it, and by mortal sin deserved eternal punishment. It is a fearful thing to contemplate.

  There is nothing so terrible as mortal sin. Its punishment, eternal separation from God, is not as horrible. The soul that commits a mortal sin turns from God, its True Spouse, and becomes an adulteress. Instead of the soul giving itself to the Holy Ghost, that by the operation of that Divine Spirit Jesus Christ may be formed within it [those who have entered the path of Mary will understand my meaning], the soul gives itself to the devil and by yielding to the operation of that evil spirit conceives and begets the enemy of Jesus Christ, sin.

   If your soul is not strong enough for the contemplation of Hell and its unfortunate inmates, you are right to treat it as an invalid must do and not consider it; but you, nevertheless, lose a grace, which you should strive to make up for by humbling yourself; but do not, I beseech you, make what is perhaps needful for yourself a rule to be applied to others with whom you may have any influence, by leading them to think that the thought of Hell, the devil, and his satellites, is a thought not calculated to do good. The evil that is caused by the forgetfulness of these truths is not known.

   We are surrounded on all sides by temptation. A Saint saw the whole earth so spread over with various temptations, with traps set by the evil spirit to ensnare the human race, that he broke out with the exclamation, "Who then can be saved?" It was but a momentary wonder, for he, of course, knew well that God's grace is sufficient to overcome all temptations. We all know this; it would be a great sin to doubt it; but, not knowing our danger, we do not seek God's grace, and we fall. We do not think that numerous of our actions are done at the instigation of the devil. Many would be offended with you if you told them that. They "would not like to think that he came to them" might be said to you, as has been said to myself.

O foolish, most foolish people! God grant they may not remain blind to this important truth until they visibly see in the next world what they should have seen by the eye of faith in this-----the power, the art, the cunning of that spirit of darkness, the ingenuity with which he has woven a web over the whole earth, and the dexterity with which he ensnares, entraps, and draws within his clutches those who, as flies, unthinkingly flutter about the earth, forgetful of the enemy who day and night lies in wait for them! They walk in the midst of dangers, heedless as moths near the flame which attracts them, and they fall like those moths through ignorance of their danger.

    Ah, you who do know that "man's life on earth is a warfare," that "we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers, the spirits of darkness in the high places"; you who know that "the devil as a roaring lion goeth about seeking whom he may devour"-----you who know this, rise up, strong in Jesus Christ, and fight for your weaker brethren. Nowhere is there more need for great help in the battle than at the deathbed. At no time is there greater need to show our love for our neighbor than at the hour of death. You know yourself that of two sick people-----one in danger of dying if not relieved, and another whose case is not so dangerous-----you know to which of the two you would first hasten with assistance. Could you see any human being, even were he a stranger, in the jaws of a wild beast and not try to help him? To the credit of the human race, be it said, neither you nor anyone could look on without making some effort to save him; even children have been known to expose their lives to save others in great danger; and yet what is the human life of the body in comparison with the immortal life of the soul!

   We are taught that the devil as a roaring lion goes about seeking whom he may devour. We know that he has his clutches already upon many souls who have but a few hours to live. Aye, there are some already within his jaws; they have but a few minutes' respite ere they are devoured and buried in Hell, and yet in those few minutes they can be saved. Oh, if we could but see as the Angels see the wonderful effect of God's grace upon the soul, the instantaneous transformation that takes place when God's spirit breathes into it but one sigh of sorrow for its sins; if we had but one glimpse of that marvelous work of God in the soul of a sinful child of Adam, we should not wonder that those magnificent creatures of God [the Angels], those beautiful spirits whose intelligences are fed with wondrous joy and love from the vision of the Divine Essence, the Divinity itself-----we should not wonder, I say, as perchance we do now, that an exterior work of God could cause a new joy to those who behold God in Himself. But we should kneel in earnest prayer that the will of God may be done on earth as it is in Heaven and that we may cooperate with that ever-blessed will of God, Who wills, not that the sinner should die in his sin, but rather that he should be converted and live forever.

We would pray that by thus using the treasures that God has put into our hands, the merits of Jesus, we may daily increase the ravishing harmony, the joyful melody that is heard in Heaven upon a sinner doing penance. God gives us a picture of the joy with which He welcomes to Himself the returning sinner in the touching account of the return of the prodigal son to his father's home. We may notice in this parable that the motive for the return of the son to his father was not a very pure or perfect one. It was not sorrow for having left his father and by his bad conduct disgraced his name; it was not a desire to see his father and relieve his anxiety about his long absence from his home. Famished with hunger, he remembered the plenty, the abundant supply, that even the servants of his father's house enjoyed, and he said, "I will arise and go to my father." But that good father looked not at the motive of his son's return; he spied him afar off and went to meet him and fell on his neck, weeping, and called to his servants to bring quickly the first robe and to put shoes on his feet and a ring on his finger and to kill the fatted calf and make merry, saying, "Because this my son was dead, and is now come to life again-----was lost, and is found."

  Thus it is that the sinner more often than not returns to God. It is not with a perfect act of contrition that a soul in most cases returns to God. It is not with a deep sorrow for having offended God Who is so infinitely good in Himself, so infinitely good to us, that the soul in general seeks to be reconciled with Him. It returns from many motives: the fear of Hell, the desire of Heaven, the wish to find peace, the feeling of the emptiness of all earthly things, and that it is perishing with hunger, hunger for its proper food, the knowledge that the things of this earth cannot supply the void it feels and that God alone can give to it the food for which it craves, finding by experience that earthly and perishable things cannot sustain an immortal spirit.

Various and imperfect as the reasons are that induce the sinner to return to God, God in His love overlooks that imperfection in the free pardon He grants when the sinner fulfills the necessary conditions of pardon, as taught us by His Church, and like the good father mentioned in the Gospel, He goes to meet His prodigal child. By His ministers He clothes the soul in the robe of charity and feeds it, and rejoices over it, and calls on His servants to rejoice, for His son was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found. He shows greater love to the forgiven sinner than to those who are ever employed in His service. He tells us Himself that there is greater joy in Heaven over one sinner doing penance than with ninety-nine just who need not penance.


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