Charity for the souls in Purgatory is one of the most touching characteristics of our Catholic Church. From the earliest ages of Christianity prayers and good works have been offered for the dead bonding the Church Militant with the Church Suffering.
However, it was not until the late 19th Century that a special Order was created for the relief and deliverance of the faithful departed through spiritual and temporal works of mercy. The Order of the Holy Souls Helpers is one of the most beautiful stones that marked the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Founded with the special purpose of assisting the souls in Purgatory by the various means which God has revealed, this religious Order of women rose at a providential epoch.
In a century very much like our own, where material interests, indifference alternated with unbelief, the ancient practices of prayers and Masses for the dead had been for the most part swept away.
When God intends to manifest that He is, so to speak, the original Author of any special work,” says Father Garside, “often he writes His cipher on some lowly heart which the world ignores; He comes suddenly and foreshadows to it some indication of His will, the full meaning of which will not be clearly unfolded, until the divinely chosen hour shall have arrived for its executions.”
So it was with the origin of the Helpers of the Holy Souls. This order existed only as a pious idea in the heart of a young girl destined to be its foundress, Eugenie-Marie-Joseph Smet. (Blessed Sister Mary of Providence.)
As a little girl she would puzzle her playmates by a remark, “the souls are in prison, a fire, but the Good God asks us only for a prayer to let them out and wo don’t say it.” As a young woman, she once said to an Archbishop: “Day and night I am pursued by the same thought: one does not pray enough for the dead. Hundreds of thousands of people die every day. Where is there a community devoted exclusively to the relief and deliverance of these dear souls?”
Considering that there was not in the Church, any religious institute for which the principal end was the relief of the Holy Souls, she set herself to work with great zeal. The Cure d’ Ars encouraged her by telling her that it was the will of God and “a realization of the love of the Heart of Jesus.” Like a burning brand the words from Ars were lodged within her spirit. The pledge of future fire. With five companions she pronounced her vows and launched her work in Paris on December 27, 1856.
She offered herself as a victim of expiation for these souls. All her prayers, all her mortifications, all her heroic acts were offered for them.
Blessed Mary had incredible nuggets of great wisdom and insight, “If we enter on the royal road of the Cross, each trial or sorrow will be a station before which we shall kneel to adore the hand of Providence, and the last station on that road will be the gate of Heaven.
Who but Jesus can satisfy these hungry hearts of ours, starving as they are for happiness! If we thirst after God, we must thirst for everything that draws us closer to Him.
Let us make no other projects than to do God’s will. If the souls in purgatory could exchange places with us, how gladly they would suffer, and how slight our sufferings seem to them! Those who cannot suffer cannot love.
Fear nothing but not to do perfectly God’s will. You feel as if you did nothing, knew nothing, and felt nothing. Never mind; the good God will contrive to weave a crown for you out of all the nothings you have offered up for His love.
Personal sanctification is the first step towards apostleship. Before we can follow the martyrs to distant lands, we must vigorously accept daily martyrdom of minute sacrifices. If we only knew what benefit it procured for the souls in Purgatory.
Whenever anything happens, I say to myself, It has happened; and so it is God who allowed it to happen. I will not puzzle myself anymore with those two words, “why” and “how.”
Oh, let us put on Jesus Christ’s livery with joy and love and thus, clothed, descend continually into purgatory, to give the poor souls, by our acts, our sufferings, and our prayers, all the hope and consolation expressed by the Name of Jesus.
The souls in purgatory suffer without a moment’s interruption. Their helpers must never cease a moment to assist them. How could we think of rest on earth? Let us then be docile instruments in God’s hands. It is a marvelous mystery of love that He should make use of nothing and accomplish something.
Holy suffering souls, who can obtain so many graces for us, remember us in the midst of your sufferings. I will work unceasingly to obtain for you the joys of heaven and I know you will plead for me.”
Her genious was exercising charity towards her neighbor and at the same time and by the same acts, for the relief of the souls in Purgatory and of the poor of the earth. Offering to God for the holy souls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy done for the living.
Purgatory had found the way into the depths of her being: “Today I feel as thought my hands were on fire. I am burning…My God may I burn with love for You! Like St. Catherine of Genoa, she had entered into myserious participation in the pains of Purgatory, feeling its fire in her members, and the uanppeased hunger and thirst for God: “I feel within me, an inconceivable hunger and thrist for God. We must help souls to reach the object of their creation, never lose its urgency.”
Charity, charity, charity, for the suffering souls is our call. The first Mother of the Helpers of the Holy Souls will live; the flame of Blessed Mary of Providence can never die.
Let us pray that we carry that flame of love for our holy heroes to the ends of the earth and may we never be classed with those whom St. Bernard describes as producing “much weeping but no fruit, and who are more to be pitied themselves than the dead whose loss they mourn!”
~Excerpted from an article written by Susan Tassone