We read in the Life of St. Margaret Mary of many incidents where souls that were imprisoned in Purgatory, were allowed by God to appear to her in order to seek the help of her prayers and suffrages.
One such soul was tortured in a bed of torments on account of her indolence during life; at the same time she was subjected to a particular torture in her heart, on account of certain wicked sentiments, and in her tongue, in punishment of her uncharitable words. Moreover, she had to endure a frightful pain of an entirely different nature, caused neither by fire nor iron, but by the sight of a condemned soul. Let us see how the St. Margaret-Mary describes it in her writings.
“I saw in a dream,” she says, “one of our sisters who had died some time previous. She told me that she suffered much in Purgatory, but that God had inflicted upon her a suffering which surpassed all other pains, by showing her one of her near relatives precipitated into Hell.
“At these words I awoke, and felt as though my body was bruised from head to foot, so that it was with difficulty I could move. As we should not believe in dreams, I paid little attention to this one, but the Religious obliged me to do so in spite of myself. From that moment she gave me no rest, and said to me incessantly: ‘Pray to God for me; offer to Him your sufferings united to those of Jesus Christ, to alleviate mine; and give me all you shall do until the first Friday in May, when you will please communicate for me!’ This I did, with permission of my superior.
“Meanwhile the pain which this suffering soul caused me increased to such a degree that I could find neither comfort nor repose. Obedience obliged me to seek a little rest upon my bed; but scarcely had I retired when she seemed to approach me, saying: ‘You recline at your ease upon your bed―look at the one upon which I lie, and where I endure intolerable sufferings.’ I saw that bed, and the very thought of it makes me shudder. The top and bottom was of sharp flaming points, which pierced the flesh. She told me then, that this was on account of her sloth and negligence in the observance of the rules. ‘My heart is torn,’ she continued, ‘and causes me the most terrible suffering for my thoughts of disapproval and criticism of my superiors. My tongue is devoured by vermin, and, as it were, torn from my mouth continually, for the words I spoke against charity and my little regard for the rule of silence. Ah! I would that all souls consecrated to God could see me in these torments! If I could show them what is prepared for those who live negligently in their vocation, their zeal and fervor would be entirely renewed, and they would avoid those faults which now cause me to suffer so much!’
“At this sight I melted into tears. ‘Alas!’ said she, ‘One day passed by the whole community in exact observance would heal my parched mouth; another passed in the practice of holy charity would cure my tongue; and a third passed without any murmuring or disapproval of superiors would heal my bruised heart; but no one thinks to relieve me!’
St. Margaret Mary adds: “After I had offered the Communion which she had asked of me, she said that her dreadful torments were much diminished, but she had still to remain a long time in Purgatory, condemned to suffer the pains due to those souls that have been tepid in the service of God. As for myself, I found that I was freed from my sufferings, which I had been told would not diminish until the soul herself should be relieved.”
We have already said that Divine Justice is extremely severe in regard to sins against charity. Charity is, in fact, the virtue which is dearest to the Heart of our Divine Master, and which He recommends to His disciples as that which must distinguish them in the eyes of men. “By this,” He says, “shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:35). It is, then, not astonishing that harshness towards our neighbor, and every other fault against charity, should be severely punished in the other life.
St. Margaret Mary, being one day before the Blessed Sacrament, suddenly saw before her a man totally enveloped in fire, the intense heat of which seemed about to consume herself. The wretched state, in which she saw this poor soul, caused her to shed tears. He was a Benedictine Religious of the monastery of Cluny, to whom she had formerly confessed, and who had done good to her soul, by ordering her to receive Holy Communion. In reward for this service, God had permitted him to address himself to her, that he might find some alleviation in his sufferings.
The poor departed begged that all Margaret-Mary would do and suffer for the space of three months, might be applied to him. This she promised, after having obtained permission. Then he told her that the principal cause of his intense suffering was for having sought his own interests before the glory of God and the good of souls, by attaching too much importance to his reputation. The second was his want of charity towards his brethren. The third, the natural affection for creatures to whom, through weakness, he had yielded, and to which he had given expression in his spiritual communications with them, “this being,” he added, “very displeasing to God.”
It is difficult to say all that the St. Margaret-Mary had to suffer during the three months following. The deceased never left her. On the side where he stood she seemed all on fire, with such excruciating pain, that she could not cease to weep. Her Superior, touched with compassion, ordered her penances and disciplines, because pain and suffering greatly relieved her. The torments which the Sanctity of God inflicted upon her were insupportable. It was a specimen of the suffering endured by the poor souls.
Of this we have several proofs, taken from the Life of St. Margaret-Mary. “I learned from Sister Margaret-Mary,” says Mother Greffier in her Memoirs, “that she one day prayed for two persons of high rank in the world who had just died. She saw them both in Purgatory. The one was condemned for several years to those sufferings, despite the great number of Masses which were celebrated for her. All those prayers and suffrages were by Divine Justice applied to the souls belonging to some of the families of her subjects, which had been ruined by their injustice and lack of charity. As nothing was left to those poor people to enable them to have prayers offered for them after their death, God compensated these poor people in the manner we have related. The other was in Purgatory for as many days as she had lived years upon earth. Our Lord made known to Sister Margaret-Mary that, among the good works which this person had performed, He had taken into special consideration the charity with which she had borne the faults of her neighbor, and the pains she had taken to overcome the displeasure they had caused her.”
On another occasion our Lord showed St. Margaret-Mary a large number of souls in Purgatory, who, for not having been united with their Superiors during their life, and for having had some misunderstanding with them, had been severely punished and deprived, after death, of the aid of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, and also of the visits of their guardian-angels. Several of those souls were destined to remain for a long time in horrible flames. Some even among them had no other token of their predestination than that they did not hate God. Others, who had been in religion, and who, during life, showed little charity towards their sisters, were deprived of their suffrages, and received no assistance whatsoever.
Let us add one more extract from the Memoirs of Mother Greffier. “It happened whilst Sister Margaret-Mary was praying for two deceased Religious, that their souls were shown to her in the prisons of Divine Justice, but one suffered incomparably more than the other. The former regretted greatly that by her faults against mutual Charity, and the holy friendship that ought to remain in religious communities, she had in part deprived herself, among other punishments, of the suffrages which were offered for her by the community. She received relief only from the prayers of three or four persons of the same community for whom she had had less affection and inclination during her life. This suffering soul reproached herself also for the too great facility with which she took dispensations from the rules and exercises of the community. Finally, she deplored the care which she had taken upon Earth to procure for her body so many comforts and commodities. She made known at the same time to our dear Sister that, in punishment for three faults, she had to undergo three furious assaults of the demon during her last agony, and that each time believing herself lost, she was on the point of falling into despair, but by the Blessed Virgin, towards whom she had borne great devotion during her life, she had been snatched three times from the claws of the enemy.”