'Prayer, Suffering' Were Motto For Nun Who Started An Order To Help Departed
by Susan Tassone
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, the Order of the Holy Souls Helpers, was created for the relief and deliverance of the faithful departed, through spiritual and temporal works of mercy.
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 during a providential epoch.
In a century very much like our own -- where material interests and indifference alternated with unbelief -- the ancient practices of prayers and Masses for the dead for the most part had been swept away.
"When God intends to manifest that He is, so to speak, the original Author of any special work," noted one priest, "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, a group that 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), who as a little girl had puzzled playmates with remarks like: "The souls are in prison, a fire, but the Good God asks us only for a prayer to let them out and we don't say it."
As a young woman, Blessed Sister Mary once commented to an archbishop that "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?"
She set out to change that and the Cure dí Ars encouraged her, telling Sister Mary that doing what she planned was the will of God and "a realization of the love of the Heart of Jesus."
Those words were lodged within her like a burning brand and with five companions she pronounced her vows and launched the 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," she once said, "and the last station on that road will be the gate of Heaven."
The essence: Fear nothing except not to do the perfect Will of God. The good Lord will contrive to weave a crown for you out of all the nothings you have offered up for His love.
Before we can follow the martyrs to distant lands, however, we must vigorously accept daily martyrdom of minute sacrifices. If we only knew what benefit it procured for the souls in purgatory!
The souls in purgatory suffer without a momentís 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 Godís hands. It is a marvelous mystery of love that He should make use of nothing and accomplish something.
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