John McQuirk.

Sermons and discourses (Volume 3) online

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of the souls in Purgatory, what can you expect when
you die? Will not the providence of a just God or-
dain that those whom you have left behind, and who
will be appealed to by the ministers of religion in
your behalf, shall be as careless and insensible to
your suffering as you are now to that of these holy
souls? But, if you fulfill your duty towards them,
you may be sure that, though those near and dear
to you and all who knew you in this life may for-
get you, yet Almighty God in His retributive justice
and mercy will put it into hearts that never knew
you, to pray for you and to do whatever lies in their
power for you ; and that, too, in the degree that you
have done it for others.


We come now to consider some of the ways and
methods by which we may, with all confidence in
their success, relieve these suffering souls. And
first and always is it to be said that the souls in Pur-
gatory can be relieved by our prayers. We pray
for one another ; we ask others to pray for us ; the
prayer of the just man avails much; the prayer of
even the sinner does not go unheard. There is noth-
ing more natural to our heart than to seek solace by
means of prayer when we are in distress or sorrow.
When we are in grief by the loss of those we have
loved, or when we are suffering under the anguish
of any great calamity, there is nothing we are more
apt to do, and certainly nothing we can more proper-
ly do, than to pray. Prayer is consolation in every
trouble; it is relief in the misfortunes and disap-
pointments of life. If then it is so natural for us to
pray — to pray for ourselves, our friends and rela-
tives — how natural must it not be for the souls in
Purgatory, who were once with us, to ask our
prayers ; and how ready should we be to tender
them. We should pray for them even before they
have asked us, even before they have conceived the
request of our prayers.



In our holy Faith no one acts for himself alone,
no one is independent of others ; we have duties one
to another; we are taught "to bear one another's
burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ." The
members of Christ's mystical body, the Church, are
like the members of the human body. The hand
does not work its own advantage exclusively; the
foot does not move for itself alone; the head is not
concerned for itself only. Every part of the body
and every organ exerts itself, not independently of
all others, but for the welfare and utility of the

As the grains of wheat which are the bread, as
the drops of wine which are the wine, which are
changed into the body and blood of Christ, are mul-
tiple and yet one, so each and every human being
baptized in Christ is a particle or element in the
mystic body of Christ — by the participation of the
same sacraments, especially by Baptism, and by feed-
ing on the body of Christ. By all being thus made
one in Christ, we are made one with the souls in
Heaven and the souls in Purgatory.

There must therefore be a real community of in-
terest between these souls and our own. Every soul
works for the general good ; each one seeking to dis-
charge his own duty, at the same time seeks and pro-
vides for the good of all. This commimity may be li-
kened to a partnership in which each one receives a
corresponding dividend at the end of a given time. If
he has put in his share and fulfilled the required con-
ditions, he receives his dividend of the accumula-
tion of the savings. As members of the Church of
Christ, if we fulfill the essential condition, we be-


come sharers in its treasury of merits ; the essential
condition is to abide in God's grace. Even though
we should lapse into a mortal sin, although while
in that state we are deprived of these merits, there
can be but little doubt that owing to what we have
already received, it will become easier to rise from
sin and be restored to God's grace, and enjoy once
more the full privileges of membership.

This, then, is the union of all holy persons in all
holy things, the most consolatory of all the articles
of our holy Faith, the threefold union of the Church
of Christ triumphant in Heaven, suffering in Pur-
gatory, militant on earth ; three several states of one
and the same Church, a truth of our holy Religion,
which any one disbelieving makes shipwreck of his

We may be sure that the faithful in Heaven and
the faithful in Purgatory pray for us continually.
What we have to consider and to feel very anxious
and doubtful about, is whether we, the Church mili-
tant on earth, discharge our duty toward the souls in
Purgatory. This duty we must discharge princi-
pally by praying for them ; by this we can undoubt-
edly relieve their sufferings. In doing this we shall
at the same time be praying for ourselves : to pray
for others is frequently the most effectual means of
praying for ourselves. Nor can we plead our ig-
norance or unskill fulness of prayer. It is not the
result of intelligence, still less of any art. The ig-
norant can pray, no one need be taught how to pray.
Every one can pray, the poor and illiterate can pray
as well as the enlightened philosopher, or the saint
after a life of prayer. When hungry we need not be


taught to ask for bread. Set forms of words are
not required to ask for food and drink for the one
famished with hunger or parched with thirst. If we
can feel and supply the needs of the body we can feel
our spiritual wants and supply them ; there is no one
who is not equal to this necessary and yet sublime
duty. ''Whatsoever you ask the Father in My name,
He will give unto you." ''When two or three are
gathered together in My name, then I am in the
midst of them." If this is so, if the prayers of two
or three gathered together in His name, are sanc-
tified by His presence and heard and made profitable,
how incomparably more heard and profitable must be
the prayers of the uncounted millions that constitute
the Church of God as it now exists on earth, as it
now exists in Heaven, and as it now exists in Pur-
gatory !

Prayer, then, is the first and most general of all
the means we can employ to relieve the sufferings
of the souls in Purgatory. The neglect of this duty
on our part is all the more grievous, because, while
forgetful and indifferent of them, they are not neg-
ligent of us ; for they pray for us. And their prayers
may be heard; for while their period of merit has
gone by, ours has not; and God is pleased to hear
their prayers for us for our sakes as yet in the con-
dition of meriting. The advantages of their prayers
accrue to us as members of the same communion of
souls ; as we may draw the interest of the patrimony
left to us, and in which we had no part in forming.
Piercing in the last degree and distressing to these
souls must it be to them to know, that, while they
do not forget us, we forget them and are so little


devoted to relieving their state of suffering. Moth-
ers, fathers, sisters, brothers, near ones and dear
ones now in Purgatory, conscious of our ingratitude
must feel keen and bitter disappointment that they
are so soon forgotten and neglected.

We can also relieve these souls by our alms. The
Jews were wont to place food upon the graves of the
dead in order that the poor passerby, partaking of
this food, might look upon it as the gift of the dead
one soliciting his intercession, and as the recompense
of his prayers. The pagan, not knowing the pur-
pose of the Jewish custom, did the same; but per-
verted it into the absurd idea that the dead might
return to eat.

In Christian times no such custom has prevailed.
Yet, for centuries, indeed till recent times, the dead
were kept in mind by their presence in burial places
around or near the church, called truly church yards,
or by being interred in vaults under the church it-
self. Even yet the dead in many places rest in sub-
terranean chapels in monasteries and other institu-
tions. This certainly is a very effectual means of
reminding the living of those once dear and near to
them, and of the duty which they owe to them. In
this continual presence there is no fear of the saying,
"Out of sight, out of mind." Thus prayer for the
dead is frequent and fervent.

But for the most part, to-day the dead are carried
far from the concourse of men and the thorough-
fares of the world ; thus relegated across rivers and
to places inaccessible, they are soon forgotten and
the duty due to them ; never are they seen unless per-
haps on occasion of some funeral, you dismount


from a carriage, and make a hasty visit to their
grave. Thus the dead soon pass out of mind and
are forgotten; forgotten in prayer, as forgotten as
if they had never been.

There is nothing more efficacious than alms for
the remission of the sins of the contrite; Holy Scrip-
ture tells us that alms cover a multitude of sins.
But there is nothing that men cling to with more
unyielding tenacity than money; it is their ruling
passion in life, and, it may be, even in death. It is
their daily labor, and their nightly dream. There
is nothing so hard to overcome as the avaricious
heart; nothing so hard to break as attachment to
money. No string so strong to loosen as the purse
string. In this sacrifice is found the merit of alms.
Yet, how hard to make people practice this sacrifice
for the duty of charity. Hence, the custom of
giving alms for the dead is almost unknown.
In this matter the dead ask for bread in the form
of prayers and alms, and there is given them a stone ;
but in the shape of a head stone or costly monu-

It is quite impossible to calculate Ihe uncounted
treasures ^at are lavished upon the resting places
of the dead in our great cemeteries. Lofty monu-
ments are erected, sumptuous sepulchres are built
over ground, or vaults excavated in the earth ; ap-
parently meant for the glory of the dead, and their
comfort in winter, or refreshment in summer.
There is more spent in these cemeteries than would
build all the churches in New York many times over.
Yet the latter are groaning under mortgages threat-
ening their destruction, while the former are free


from all debt ; banks have not yet begun to mortgage
tombstones. This money were better spent upon
churches, schools, asylums and institutions for the
living. I have nothing to say against the decent
adorning of the resting place of the bodies of the
dead; it attests our faith in the resurrection of the
body, and the immortality of soul and body. Yet,
I would have it done in such wise that their souls
should not be neglected. While you thus squander
money to honor the dead (if it be not as often to
honor the living), how much is spent upon their
souls? How about their last resting place?* How
much is set apart to prepare solace and assuageVnent
for the souls in Purgatory? How more excellent
that these monuments took the shape of institutions
of charity — which would be at once monuments to
the dead, and homes for the poor, the outcast, the
orphaned, for the children proselytized by the thou-
sand every year in this city. Why should sepulchres
be freed from debt, while the churches are sinking
under it?

We think it a great thing when some person of
high sounding name becomes a Catholic; and we
think nothing of the thousands of Catholic orphans
and destitute children that are sent to the West year
after year to lose their faith! Instead of monu-
ments, bald and meaningless, why not erect homes
of benevolence for the living in the name of the dead
and to their honor; how pleasing to God, how as-
ceptable and serviceable to the souls in Purgatory!
Verily, do the dead ask for bread and you give them
a stone. By almsgiving, therefore, both by the act
of sacrifice which it implies, and in the good that it


purchases and accomplishes, you can relieve the souls
of the faithful departed.

You can also relieve them by indulgences. There
are special indulgences which can be applied to their
souls, because this is the intention of the Vicar of
Christ when he bestows them. But the living must
supply the necessary conditions. Those who would
gain them for the souls in Purgatory must be in the
state of grace; they must perform the works en-
joined ; they must do all that the dead for whom they
seek them, would have to do if still on earth they
sought them. By virtue of the communion of saints,
which I have explained, these works of the living
and these indulgences can be applied to the dead in
Purgatory. Acts of virtue on our part become in
this manner their property.

How many think of gaining these indulgences for
these souls, and to how few has this meritorious
work ever occurred? Yet it is far better to gain
them for these souls than to gain them for our-
selves. For when you pray for another, or do good
for another, you pray for yourself and do good for
yourself. Rest assured that, if you gain indulgences
for these souls, they will gain indulgences for you
when your turn comes to need them in Purga-

There are pious souls in the Church who are de-
voted especially to the souls in Purgatory, who de-
vote all their acts of virtue, all their deeds of merit,
all that they do for salvation and sanctification, all
the indulgences which they gain during life, to these
holy suffering souls. This is what is called the heroic
act. It is heroism of the highest kind ; and a heroism


which God will reward. No one ever loses by self-
sacrifice; most people lose in the long" run, if not in
the short, by selfishness.

Finally, the supreme means of the relief for the
souls in Purgatory is the holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
It has been defined by the Church that the souls there
detained are benefited, particularly by this all-saving
Sacrifice. "Receive power," says the bishop in or-
daining, "to offer Sacrifices for the living and the
dead." This Sacrifice has this incalculable advan-
tage over all the other means that we can employ :
our prayers may be filled with imperfections or with
distractions ; our almsgiving, governed by some hu-
man motive, our indulgences we can never be ab-
solutely sure of gaining because of the imperfectness
of our dispositions ; but with the holy Sacrifice of the
Mass, no failing on the part of the priest, or on the
part of him who asks the Sacrifice, can lessen, even
for a moment. Its transcendent merits and Divine
virtue. It works altogether irrespective of human
dispositions and shortcomings ; they do not diminish,
by one iota, the unfailing efficacy of that Divine
Immolation offered by a sinner. It is just as power-
ful before God as if offered by a saint. As it derives
its virtue from the Divine Victim, which it is, it is
not marred by the human element which it employs
as its instrument. This is Its peculiar and para-
mount excellence over all the other means available
for the relief of the dead.

Do not say that the person who commands the
most money and has the most Sacrifices, will have
the shortest stay in Purgatory. By no means. It
does not at all follow that such a one will have a


shorter stay there than the poor man. Although
offered for particular souls, in the intention of the
giver, yet to God it belongs to allot these Masses.
It may be that those souls may be such before God,
that He will see fit not thus to apply them, but other-
wise to dispose of them. What then becomes of
those Masses, thus not applied according to the in-
tentions of the giver ? God can assuredly assign them
to the souls of the poor, of those who need them
most ; or of those for whom no Masses are said, for-
gotten of men and relatives, needy or otherwise; in
a word, as God sees best. No one can dictate terms
to God, or fix the rules of His justice and mercy.
Everyone should try to have the holy Sacrifice for
his dead relatives and friends and for those that need
it most.

Our duty to the dead is not confined to this season
of the year ; it extends throughout the year. Purga-
tory does not exist only during the month of No-
vember, which is called the month of the holy souls ;
it exists always ; and the suffering souls therein are
to be relieved always ; therefore, prayers and Sacri-
fices should be unceasingly offered for them.

One Mass is enough to ransom ten thousand ; nay,
all the souls in Purgatory, if it so pleased God. We
cannot fathom His wisdom, nor do the motives of
His ways and actions lie open to our understanding :
hence, we cannot say why He does not see fit to lib-
erate them all at once, and by one Mass. In Itself
it is absolutely certain that the Mass is of infinite
efiicacy, because it is the sacrifice of God made man.
When it is applied to individuals, its efiicacy must
be measured by the merits and dispositions of those


receiving it. Nothing, therefore, can we do more
pleasing to God, nor more conducive to the succor
of the holy Souls; nothing surer to earn for our-
selves the prayers of those souls, and the prayers of
those whom we leave behind, than to have It offered
up for all those who need it.


''O death where is thy victory; O grave where is
thy sting." — St. Paul, I Cor. xv; 55.

In the morning dew as it melts in the sun, in the
glory of the stars at night as they disappear in the
superior effulgence of the morning sun, in the rush-
ing flow of the crystal stream issuing from the
mountain or plain, and hastening to the ocean where
it exhausts its life and empties its waters, — in every-
thing around us, beneath us, or above us, there is
enough to remind us of the certainty of death, and
the speedy dissolution of man's and nature's works.
It is not death, but the time, the plan, the circum-
stances of death that make it appalling; divested of
these externals, we would soon become habituated to
death, and learn to meet its approach with equanim-
ity, resignation, and even with welcome. Of course
there would be always the fear of something after
death to perplex the soul, and make it rather bear
the ills of life than those of which it knew not; yet
armed with conscious innocence, and free from any
compunctious visitings of remorse, with no repin-
ings of sin, we would soon learn to be ready to meet
death in any of its myriad forms.

On every side we hear the cries and moans of the



dead, the dying, and those about to die. Not alone
from the battlefields of Europe where, within a
month, not fewer than a million of men have fallen,
W'ith the earth convulsed and reeling under the tread
of armies numbered by the million, with "horrible
combustion" dropping from the clouds, and pande-
monium, loud and strong, enough to "tear hell's con-
cave" ; and artillery that one would think must have
been forged in hell, destroying human life at in-
credible distances, and with terrific loss ; while from
the ocean's bottom emerge submarine monsters to
which leviathans wxre puny, scattering the noblest
and strongest vessels to fragments and destroying
untold human lives.

Not alone from the battlefield and the ship-
wrecked fieet come the lamentation of these human
slaughterings ; but even more so from the hospitals
and plague spots of the world; — from alcohol and
other kindred or unkindred diseases, come also the
wailings and heart-aches of the sick and dying.
Truly, indeed, are men born, live for a little while,
and then die. This is their appointed lot and irre-
vocable destiny.

The whole history of the race, from the murder
of Abel to the present, has been a continual series
of battles. Scarcely a century has gone by without
three or four great wars. They have been produc-
tive of great and untold misery; and yet some say
of great and universal good : transient evil, but last-
ing good. Human liberty and the progress of hu-
manity in all that contributes to civilization, has
been traceable to some of the bloodiest wars written
on the scroll of time. We can only hope and pray


that from the present war that is drenching Europe
with blood, may in God's providence lead to a newer
life and a more glorious civilization ; and, above all,
to the more extended growth and practice of re-
ligion and the salvation of souls.

Without the light of revelation, we might well
ask, in the words of Job: "If a man die, shall he
live again?" Hence the Apostle describes the hea-
then "as sorrowing and without hope." It is true
that our knowledge of the future derived from reve-
lation, has blended with such surmises and conjec-
tures as the physical world has supplied us with, so
that we seem to imagine that we know from nature
that which we could learn only from Divine teach-
ing. Indeed, while all nature teems with produc-
tiveness, and everything is in process of renovation,
the change affects the species or classes of things,
not the individuals ; which once perished are no more,
and know no other existence than that of which they
may be the germ or principle. From nature then
we have but little else than mere conjecture. But
the light of the Gospel comes to our aid, dispelling
our darkness, and teaching us with unfailing cer-
tainty what reason could only surmise. Jesus Christ
summons souls back to life from the bondage of
death to teach us that "He is the God of the living,
not of the dead." Lazarus, the son of the widow of
Naim, the daughter of Jairus, and His own glorious
resurrection, declare that, although we die here, we
shall rise again glorious and immortal, by virtue of
the redemption which He has purchased with His
blood and applied to the souls and bodies of all the
children of Adam. Listen to the word of Christ:


"He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood
abideth in Me, and I in him; and I will raise him up
in the last day." Thus is holy Job reassured: *'I
know that my Redeemer liveth, and that in my flesh
I shall see God," "A day shall come when they who
are in their grave shall hear the voice of the Son of
man, and shall arise unto eternal life." Hearken to
the pledge of the Saviour : "For if the Spirit of
Him Who raised Jesus from the dead, dwells in you,
will not He Who raised Jesus from the dead, resusci-
tate your mortal bodies because of the Holy Ghost
dwelling in them?''

Although now unerringly taught by the word
of God the certainty of a future life, yet we
recoil with horror from the death that leads thereto.
For we know that our entrance to that eternal life
is not absolutely secured, but rests upon the condi-
tion of our innocence: that nothing defiled can enter
the mansions of bliss, or approach unto the God of
infinite purity. We look around as in nature, and
we see no necessary token or sign of the forgiveness
of sin. While the great attributes of the Creator, —
His wisdom, power, and greatness are everywhere
to be seen, we fail to find visible evidence of that
without which to him who is conscious of violating
the eternal order of nature and the majesty of God
by sin must forever forbid the hope of heaven, and
fill the soul with dire despair. I mean the possi-
bility of the mercy of God and the forgiveness of
sin. There is nothing in sin or in the sinner that
invokes this indulgence in the one or in the other.
If it comes at all, it must be a spontaneous outpour-
ing of Divine goodness. And in all visible things,


outside of Divine revelation, we nowhere find pardon
annexed to sin or its necessary concomitant. And
even in. the revealed fall of the angels, far from
any possible forgiveness being vouchsafed, we are
taught that their sin was without prospect of restora-
tion or hope of pardon. For Christ in our redemp-
tion did not take upon Him their nature or ransom.
But even now we need not shudder at this pros-
pect, or recoil from the grave. For Christ has come
to our aid. He has died for our sins, and now again
for our justification He has made Himself our
brother in the flesh. He has become the moral head
of humanity restored to its supernatural plane, and
reinvested with all the gifts which we received on our
first creation. He has given us the loftiest assurance
that where He is, there, also, we shall be. This is
the price of His blood ; this is what He has merited

Online LibraryJohn McQuirkSermons and discourses (Volume 3) → online text (page 34 of 43)