St. John Marie Baptiste Vianney (1786-1859)
Patron Saint of Parish Priests
The Incorrupt Body of the Cure' of Ars Situated in the Basilica at Ars, France
I come on behalf of God. Why am I up in the pulpit today, my dear brethren? What am I going to say to you? Ah! I come on behalf of God Himself. I come on behalf of your poor parents, to awaken in you that love and gratitude which you owe them. I come to bring before your minds again all those kindnesses and all the love which they gave you while they were on earth. I come to tell you that they suffer in Purgatory, that they weep, and that they demand with urgent cries the help of your prayers and your good works. I seem to hear them crying from the depths of those fires which devour them: "Tell our loved ones, tell our children, tell all our relatives how great the evils are which they are making us suffer. We throw ourselves at their feet to implore the help of their prayers. Ah! Tell them that since we have been separated from them, we have been here burning in the flames!
Oh! Who would be so indifferent to such sufferings as we are enduring?" Do you see, my dear brethren, do you hear that tender mother, that devoted father, and all those relatives who helped and tended you? "My friends," they cry, "free us from these pains; you can do it." Consider then, my dear brethren: (a) the magnitude of these sufferings which the souls in Purgatory endure; and (b) the means which we have of mitigating them: our prayers, our good works, and, above all, the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
I do not wish to stop at this stage to prove to you the existence of Purgatory. That would be a waste of time. No one among you has the slightest doubt on that score. The Church, to which Jesus Christ promised the guidance of the Holy Ghost and which, consequently, can neither be mistaken herself nor mislead us, teaches us about Purgatory in a very clear and positive manner. It is certain, very certain, that there is a place where the souls of the just complete the expiation of their sins before being admitted to the glory of Paradise, which is assured them. Yes, my dear brethren, and it is an article of faith: if we have not done penance proportionate to the greatness and enormity of our sins, even though forgiven in the holy tribunal of Penance, we shall be compelled to expiate them.
In Holy Scripture there are many texts which show clearly that although our sins may be forgiven, God still imposes on us the obligation to suffer in this world by temporal hardships or in the next by the flames of Purgatory. Look at what happened to Adam. Because he was repentant after committing his sin, God assured him that He had pardoned him, and yet He condemned him to do penance for nine hundred years, penance which surpasses anything that we can imagine. See again: David ordered, contrary to the wish of God, the census of his subjects, but, stricken with remorse of conscience, he saw his sin and, throwing himself upon the ground, begged the Lord to pardon him. God, touched by his repentance, forgave him indeed. But despite that, He sent Gad to tell David that he would have to choose between three scourges which He had prepared for him as punishment for his iniquity: the plague, war, or famine. David said: "It is better that I should fall into the hands of the Lord (for his mercies are many) than into the hands of men." He chose the pestilence, which lasted three days and killed seventy thousand of his subjects. If the Lord had not stayed the hand of the Angel, which was stretched out over the city, all Jerusalem would have been depopulated! David, seeing so many evils caused by his sin, begged the grace of God to punish him alone and to spare his people, who were innocent. See, too, the penance of Saint Mary Magdalen; perhaps that will soften your hearts a little. Alas, my dear brethren, what, then, will be the number of years which we shall have to suffer in Purgatory, we who have so many sins, we who, under the pretext that we have confessed them, do no penance and shed no tears?
How many years of suffering shall we have to expect in the next life? But how, when the holy Fathers tell us that the torments they suffer in this place seem to equal the sufferings which our Lord Jesus Christ endured during His sorrowful Passion, shall I paint for you a heart-rending picture of the sufferings which these poor souls endure? However, it is certain that if the slightest torment that our Lord suffered had been shared by all mankind, they would all be dead through the violence of such suffering. The fire of Purgatory is the same as the fire of Hell; the difference between them is that the fire of Purgatory is not everlasting.
Oh! Should God in His great mercy permit one of these poor souls, who bum in these flames, to appear here in my place, all surrounded by the fires which consume him, and should he give you himself a recital of the sufferings he is enduring, this church, my dear brethren, would reverberate with his cries and his sobs, and perhaps that might finally soften your hearts. Oh! How we suffer! they cry to us. Oh! You, our brethren, deliver us from these torments! You can do it! Ah, if you only experienced the sorrow of being separated from God! ... Cruel separation! To burn in the fire kindled by the justice of God! ... To suffer sorrows incomprehensible to mortal man! . . . To be devoured by regret, knowing that we could so easily have avoided such sorrows! ... Oh! My children, cry the fathers and the mothers, can you thus so readily abandon us, we who loved you so much? Can you then sleep in comfort and leave us stretched upon a bed of fire. Will you have the courage to give yourselves up to pleasure and joy while we are here suffering and weeping night and day? You have our wealth, our homes, you are enjoying the fruit of our labors, and you abandon us here in this place of torments, where we are suffering such frightful evils for so many years! ... And not a single almsgiving, not a single Mass which would help to deliver us! ... You can relieve our sufferings, you can open our prison, and you abandon us. Oh! How cruel these sufferings are!
Yes, my dear brethren, people judge very differently, when in the flames of Purgatory, of all those light faults, if indeed it is possible to call anything light which makes us endure such rigorous sorrows. What woe would there be to man, the Royal Prophet cries, even the most just of men, if God were to judge him without mercy. If God has found spots in the sun and malice in the angels, what, then, is this sinful man? And for us, who have committed so many mortal sins and who have done practically nothing to satisfy the justice of God, how many years of Purgatory! "My God," said Saint Teresa, "what soul will be pure enough to enter into heaven without passing through the vengeful flames?" In her last illness, she cried suddenly: "O justice and power of my God, how terrible you are!" During her agony, God allowed her to see His holiness as the angels and the saints see Him in heaven, which caused her so much dread that her sisters, seeing her trembling and extraordinarily agitated, spoke to her, weeping: "Ah! Mother, what has happened to you; surely you do not fear death after so many penances and such abundant and bitter tears?" "No, my children," Saint Teresa replied, "I do not fear death; on the contrary, I desire it so that I may be united forever with my God." "Is it your sins, then, which terrify you, after so much mortification? " "Yes, my children," she told them. "I do fear my sins, but I fear still another thing even more." "Is it the judgment then?" "Yes, I tremble at the formidable account that it will be necessary to render to God, Who, in that moment, will be without mercy, but there is still something else of which the very thought alone makes me die with terror." The poor sisters were deeply distressed. "Alas! Can it be Hell then?" "No," she told them. "Hell, thank God, is not for me. Oh! My sisters, it is the holiness of God. My God, have pity upon me! My life must be brought face to face with that of Jesus Christ Himself! Woe to me if I have the least blemish or stain! Woe to me if I am even in the very shadow of sin!" "Alas!" cried these poor sisters. "What will our deaths be like!" What will ours be like, then, my dear brethren, we who, perhaps in all our penances and our good works, have never yet satisfied for one single sin forgiven in the tribunal of Penance?
Ah! What years and centuries of torment to punish us! ... How dearly we shall pay for all those faults that we look upon as nothing at all, like those little lies that we tell to amuse ourselves, those little scandals, the despising of the graces which God gives us at every moment, those little murmurings in the difficulties that He sends us! No, my dear brethren, we would never have the courage to commit the least sin if we could understand how much it outrages God and how greatly it deserves to be rigorously punished, even in this world. God is just, my dear brethren, in all that He does. When He recompenses us for the smallest good action, He does so over and above all that we could desire. A good thought, a good desire, that is to say, the desire to do some good work even when we are not able to do it, He never leaves without a reward. But also, when it is a matter of punishing us, it is done with rigor, and though we should have only a light fault, we shall be sent into Purgatory. This is true, for we see it in the lives of the saints that many of them did not go to Heaven without having first passed through the flames of Purgatory.
Saint Peter Damien tells that his sister remained several years in Purgatory because she had listened to an evil song with some little pleasure. It is told that two religious promised each other that the first to die would come to tell the survivor in what state he was. God permitted the one who died first to appear to his friend. He told him that he was remaining fifteen years in Purgatory for having liked to have his own way too much. And as his friend was complimenting him on remaining there for so short a time, the dead man replied: "I would have much preferred to be flayed alive for ten thousand years continuously, for that suffering could not even be compared with what I am suffering in the flames." A priest told one of his friends that God had condemned him to remain in Purgatory for several months for having held back the execution of a will designed for the doing of good works. Alas, my dear brethren, how many among those who hear me have a similar fault with which to reproach themselves?
How many are there, perhaps, who during the course of eight or ten years have received from their parents or their friends the work of having Masses said and alms given and have allowed the whole thing to slide! How many are there who, for fear of finding that certain good works should be done, have not wanted to go to the trouble of looking at the will that their parents or their friends have made in their favor? Alas, these poor souls are still detained in the flames because no one has desired to fulfill their last wishes! Poor fathers and mothers, you are being sacrificed for the happiness of your children and your heirs! You perhaps have neglected your own salvation to augment their fortune. You are being cheated of the good works which you left behind in your wills! ... Poor parents! How blind you were to forget yourselves! ... You will tell me, perhaps: "Our parents lived good lives; they were very good people." Ah! They needed little to go into these flames!
See what Albert the Great, a man whose virtues shone in such an extraordinary way, said on this matter. He revealed one day to one of his friends that God had taken him into Purgatory for having entertained a slightly self-satisfied thought about his own knowledge. The most astonishing thing was that there were actually saints there, even ones who were beatified, who were passing through Purgatory. Saint Severinus, Archbishop of Cologne, appeared to one of his friends a long time after his death and told him that he had been in Purgatory for having deferred to the evening the prayers he should have said in the morning. Oh! What years of Purgatory will there be for those Christians who have no difficulty at all in deferring their prayers to another time on the excuse of having to do some pressing work! If we really desired the happiness of possessing God, we should avoid the little faults as well as the big ones, since separation from God is so frightful a torment to all these poor souls!