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Poor Souls in Purgatory / St. Martin de Porres /
Providence of God / Meditation on Divine Providence

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

MP3 Disc 11 Received from Breslin

These Sermons were taped by Daniel Peper who
traveled and taped Fr. Hardon from 1990 to 1995

(Transcriber comments, 02-28-08: The CD recording begins with, what appears to be, the end of a meditation or homily. There are three homilies on the CD: The Poor Souls in Purgatory (given on November 2), St. Martin de Porres (given on November 3) and the Providence of God. There is one meditation: Divine Providence. The CD recording ends in the middle of the meditation on Divine Providence.)

  1. Homily on the Poor Souls in Purgatory
  2. Homily on the Feast of St. Martin de Porres
  3. Homily on the Providence of God
  4. Meditation on the Divine Providence of God

…a grace, no more temptations, no more struggles, but that everlasting joy for which we were made. We were not made, thanks dear Lord, we were not made for this world, we were made for the everlasting happiness in the embrace of the Holy Trinity and the company of our Blessed Mother. Amen.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

1.  Homily on the Poor Souls in Purgatory (November 2)

…Masses immediately after this one, which is the priest’s privilege on All Soul’s Day. You are welcome, if you can, to stay for at least one or both Masses. There will be no homilies at the second and third Mass. And also the intentions: this Mass, of course, being offered for the intention that was announced. The second Mass will be for the intentions of the Holy Father and the third for all the poor souls. And you may receive a second time at a second Mass, but not three times.

We should ask ourselves, I think, three very simple questions. Who are the poor souls? Second, why do we pray for the poor souls? And third, how should we practice devotion to the poor souls in purgatory?

The poor souls, as we call them, also the faithful departed, are those who having died in God’s friendship, without unrepentant mortal sin, but who have died with still venial sins on their souls, expiate for an undetermined length of time the punishment that was still due to their sins. We call them poor souls, because they cannot merit, that’s the key word, they cannot merit for themselves. We call them the faithful departed, because although dead in body, they are very much alive in soul, having remained faithful to God before their souls left their bodies.

Why? Why do we pray for the poor souls? Because, they need our prayers. One of the most devastating and tragic effects of the so-called Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, that Protestants stopped praying for the poor souls.

While teaching at Western Michigan University for five years, a friend of mine called me up, five in the morning, to tell me, “The night before I went to the wake of a Protestant minister. After consoling the family, I knelt down and said some prayers for the soul of the faithful departed as I trusted of this minister. I left, and the minister’s daughter; she told her friend, who called me up. ‘I couldn’t fall asleep. I thought to myself, if that priest could pray for the soul of my father, so can I. Gee, I’ve never done this before. I got out of bed and knelt down and prayed for the repose of the soul of my father, the Protestant minister.’”

We believe the souls of those who have died in God’s grace should be prayed for. We call them suffrages for the poor souls.

Finally, how, how should we practice, and the language is correct, how should we practice devotion to the poor souls?

First of all, we should pray for them. Over the years it’s been my custom, first thing in the morning when I get up and the last thing at night before I fall asleep, to pray for the poor souls. Not a bad idea by the way, because, when we die, we’ll want somebody to pray for us. And, you can be sure, the first people who will pray for us are those who we have prayed for when they were in purgatory.

Secondly, we should practice mortification: things go wrong, something we don’t like enters our lives, somebody says something that hurts us, we have a pain, whatever the inconvenience, we offer that for the poor souls. Then most surprisingly, but all good Catholic doctrine, we should invoke the poor souls. They cannot help themselves, but they can help us, and let’s be honest, we need all the help we can get.

Finally, I never realized this before; it dawned on me and it is again, good Catholic piety, we should not only invoke the poor souls, but talk to the poor souls.

I lost my father when I was just a year old; never knew him. Lost my mother a year after my ordination. Immediately after her death I was sent to Rome for my graduate studies in theology; talked to the Rector, said, “Look start talking to your mother, this is real.” Engage in conversation especially with our dearly beloved whom we had known during their lives on earth because you see we form one big family, otherwise known as the communion of saints, composed of those on earth, those in purgatory, and those in heaven. Converse with them, share your trials and difficulties with them. Ask for their help, but be sure to give them your help too.

Lord Jesus, we believe, that the souls of your faithful departed do not yet see Your face, but they believe and they’re absolutely sure they are reaching heaven. Give us, dear Savior, such a great love for the poor souls, here on earth, that if it is your will, we oh dear Savior, we hope, that when you call us from this life into eternity we will not have to be in purgatory, but enter from the sorrows of this life, enter the joys prepared for those who love You on earth with their whole heart. Amen.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

2.  Homily on the Feast of St. Martin de Porres (November 3)

Today, for the Feast of St. Martin de Porres, we could not of had a better gospel than the one we just read:

“Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

St. Martin de Porres, a Peruvian, Dominican lay brother, was a very humble man. His father was a Spanish nobleman, and his mother, a descendant of one of the African slaves. All his life, St. Martin did menial jobs unknown to the outside world; satisfied with the least in the community and treated humiliatingly.

If there is one virtue that especially we in the wealthiest, the most prosperous nation in human history, it is one virtue we need, beginning with the speaker, is humility. Humility is prayerful. A humble person recognizes that before God, he is absolutely dependent and helpless.

Why does God send us difficulties, trials, suffering, disappointment, sickness, failure? For one fundamental reason, so we might get down on our knees and pray.

Humility is obedient; obedient to legitimate authority, as St. Martin de Porres was; a model of humility; obedient to the mysterious designs of God’s providence.

Humility is patient. A person who is truly humble is willing to accept anything, and the word is anything, from the hands of God, no matter how painful, recognizing I’ve got it coming. I deserve it.

Humility works; it labors. Martin de Porres was an example. For those days, sixty years was a long life span. Sixty years, and most of those spent in simple, menial, humble labor.

How I can identify with Martin de Porres. My father died when I was a year old. Mother had only me. She worked literally till the day of her death. Oh, how many people run away from work. A cynic defined work is that which a man would rather not be doing if he could be doing something else.

We were born to labor. I must say it, America is a lazy nation, compared with the hard work that most of the human race has to make even to earn a simple, humble living. Most of the human race goes to bed hungry every night.

What an examination of conscience, and I’ll begin with the speaker. We need to ask ourselves daily: “Lord, how humble have I been? How patiently have I accepted the difficulties, humiliations you’ve sent me? How much have I prayed and how hard have I worked?”

On the last day we shall be judged by the one single virtue that our Lord told us to imitate him in practicing: “Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart.”

Dear Jesus, bend these proud minds of ours to acknowledge our complete, constant dependence on you. Bend these knees of ours in prayer. And above all, dear Jesus, protect us from, ever for a moment, deliberately indulging in self-admiration, self-adulation, self-adoration. Only You, our God, deserve to be honored and praised. Help us, dear Jesus, to be as You were, our God, meek and humble of heart. Amen.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

3.  Homily on the Providence of God

But, we know when the Church tells us, Christ meant, we are to trust God in everything in our lives.

Let’s put this into the context in which it belongs. This is the end of the sixth chapter of Matthew.

By this time Christ had given many commandments to those who believe in him and want to follow him.

And some were very demanding laws. Summarily, Jesus concluded, “I want you to be concerned only about the things of heaven. For where thy treasure is, there also will thy heart be.” He told his followers, “only on keeping the laws of God. Seek only the Kingdom of God and his justice. And then God will provide everything else you need.”

I won’t quote all ten verses, just the start and the end. “Therefore”, says Christ, “I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, what you shall eat, nor yet for your body, what you shall put on.” And he forbids his followers to be anxious five times. I counted them in ten verses. “Do not be anxious.”

And then that beautiful statement, if only we were courageous enough to follow it:

“Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have anxieties of its own. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Christ had no doubts, none whatever, that to follow him faithfully would mean trial, trouble, and the cross.

However, without denying the obvious, following the Master is demanding on human nature. So, it’s not easy, but “Don’t be anxious, don’t worry. Trust me.”

Now our only concern should be to do the will of God as Jesus told us, to:

“Seek only the Kingdom of Heaven and His justice. And then all these earthly things will be provided for.”

One more aspect to our reflections on Divine Providence; a living faith in the providence of God; although Christ spoke as we said explicitly, only about food, drink and clothing; He meant that we should not be anxious about anything in the world.

Now to bring this home, how to make sure that this is not a theological lecture, but a retreat conference. What must we do?

First, we must be sincerely detached from the things of this world. Our hearts must be open to do the will of God.

I’ve given too many retreats. I’ve counseled too many souls. I’ve struggled in my own life with too many problems and crosses that the Lord in His mercy has sent me. One thing I know, and I share it with you, we must be absolutely, nakedly honest before God.

Lord, I want to do your will and I mean it. In other words, we must be internally free from the tyranny of our natural desires and fears.

All this talk about Providence is not just sophisticated theology or much less reading a novel. This is not fiction; it is fact. God is running the world. He is in charge of everything.

But watch it, part of God’s providence is our exercise of prudence. God’s providence over the sun, moon and stars, over the mountains and seas, over the animals and trees; God’s providence for them is quite different from His providence for us.

If we are to live this providence and be able to trust God as the Psalmist did; that He will provide, and He will provide, but we must allow Him to provide; we must master our naturally sinful impulses.

First condition, second: If we are to live out this providence of God in our lives; trusting him absolutely and being anxious about nothing besides, and he will help us, but we must do it; we must shed ourselves of all our inordinate attachments and fears. You’ve got yours. I’ve got mine.

Second: If we are to live out our faith in the providence of God we must pray; constantly pray, always. Why? Because we constantly need the grace that only God can give us to put our faith in God’s providence into practice. In other words, anxieties will come, but they must always be seen as temptations. Worries will come, but we must not give into them, rather we must use them; use them as means for deepening our child-like trust in God. And every act of confidence in God’s providence that we make strengthens us to face new problems, as we call them, and to overcome new troubles and anxieties that God will send us.

Talk about providence; I made just a moment’s aspiration; sure enough, the Lord came through. I was still writing these notes at eight minutes to eight before Mass. I said, “Lord, I’ve got about four minutes, help me. I need a good, nice prayer. I did a prayer of total reliance on God’s providence and I am supposed to give a conference on Divine Providence. Where can I find a good prayer?” So as Providence would have it, this prayer book which was written, I can’t believe it: 1963! 25th anniversary of the publication of this prayer book. I was asked to write it by my Jesuit superiors; to write a prayer book in English for all the English-speaking Jesuits in the world. I was told to do it, so I wrote it. But then, after awhile, the book was published, but I forgot all the things that were in that book. Divine Providence book is not too heavy. “I’ll take it from Detroit to New Mexico. It might just possibly have something I need.” So, eight minutes to go, I look up P in the index, Providence of God, page 150-51. Wonderful! Hope there’s something there that I can use; kept looking at the clock; page 150, Providence of God. O Lord, thanks! Just what I need. I didn’t even have time to transcribe this prayer, so I brought the prayer book along.

Let’s close, with a prayer of my confrere, Blessed (now Saint) Claude la Colombiere, the spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary.

Says, Blessed Claude:

“Loving and tender providence of my God, into your hands I commend my spirit; to You I abandon my hopes and fears, my desires and repugnances, my temporal and eternal prospects. To you I commit the wants of my perishable body; to You I commit the more precious interests of my immortal soul, for whose lot I have nothing to fear as long as I do not leave Your care. Though my faults are many, my misery great, my spiritual poverty extreme, my hope in You surpasses all. It is superior to my weakness, greater than my difficulties, stronger than death.

Though temptations should assail me, I will hope in You; though I break my resolutions, I will look to You confidently for grace to keep them at last. Though You should kill me, even then I will trust in You, for You are my Father, my God, the support of my salvation. You are my kind, compassionate, and indulgent parent, and I am Your obedient child, who cast myself into Your arms and beg Your blessing. I put my trust in You, and so trusting, I shall not be confounded. Amen.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

4.  Meditation on the Divine Providence of God

This is our second conference on the Providence of God.

First, by way of summary, of what we’ve so far seen, we saw something of the meaning of Divine Providence, the teaching of Sacred Scripture and especially of Christ. Throughout the Bible, if there is one sustained theme; it is trust in God: be not anxious, do not worry, be not despondent, be not desolate, trust, have confidence. And Christ’s crowning exhortation, “Do not be afraid, I have overcome the world.”

However, there are two sides to Divine Providence; the one we have seen; just remind ourselves; Providence is, it emphatically is, the foundation of our virtue of hope. We our confident that because God loves us he will provide, hence, providence, he will provide whatever we need to do his will, provided we honestly want to do it.

Providence on that first level is trustful confidence on our part that the Lord will provide all the means we need on earth to reach heaven in the life to come. However, providence is not only the foundation of our hope, which it is, it is also the foundation of our Faith. Our Faith, as lived out in this world. And that is the scope of our meditation now.

In order to grasp something of the profound revealed meaning of Divine Providence as the bedrock of our Faith to be lived out I would like to cover the following points, and I am numbering them as I go along.

First: In order to reach heaven, we need supernatural grace from God, better, supernatural graces, because we need them constantly.

Second: In His ordinary providence God communicates his supernatural graces through what we call the external graces that envelop our daily lives.

Third: These external graces are nothing mysterious. They are all the creatures that God puts into our lives; get that verb, puts; all the creatures that God puts into our lives and that he wants, these are the creatures, to be the means for our obtaining the supernatural graces we need to be saved and sanctified.

Fourth: While all the creatures that enter our lives are meant to be channels of supernatural grace, all of them, question, all of them, exclamation mark; not all, however, are meant by God to be sources of grace in the same way.

Fifth: As a result, our task in life, frankly, our main task in life, is to examine these creatures; look at them, study them, and during the retreat, be very courageous in sifting these creatures in order to find out how, that’s the key adverb, how God wants me to use the creatures in my life as channels of His grace.

Sixth: And here we will be in very familiar territory. Some of these creatures, all meant to be graces, all of them, but some of these creatures are to be possessed and enjoyed. Others are to be, you know the verb, endured. Still others, put there by God, but they are to be removed. And finally, some creatures God puts into our lives that we might, though we don’t have to under pain of sin that we might surrender, in other words sacrifice, in order to show our love for Him.

And then, a concluding prayer.

First then, no one is saved without Divine Grace. One of my favorite definitions of grace,

when over the years I’ve been teaching a supernatural life: grace is that which we need beyond what we have to reach our eternal destiny; grace is that which we need beyond what we have to reach the eternal destiny for which we were made.

That which we have we call nature. That which we need we call grace.

On the board, depending on what level I’m teaching, I would put n + G = H: n standing for nature, G for Grace and H for Heaven.

Nature is all that we have when we come into the world; ourselves, the world around us, all of that is nature. But none of that is sufficient to get us into Heaven; to believe that is to be a Catholic; not to know that is to be an unenlightened Catholic. That’s simple and has been defined so many times by the Church it is simply, bread and butter for the nourishment of our supernatural life. We need grace. In fact, that’s what the adjective supernatural means. What is supernatural? Well, what do you think? That which is super, then pause and take a breath, natural. Everything above, beyond, more than, we ourselves; all the whole wide world can of itself provide us is nature, and that cannot get us into heaven.

Secondly, God’s ordinary providence…

END of CD (transcriber’s comment: 02-28-08)

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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