This is a talk I gave to the North Shore Latin Mass Society. It considers the historical, mystical and theological perspectives of the five sorrows of the Rosary.
I’m going to write on five surprising things of St. Joseph in celebration of his feast day today.
1) St. Joseph was probably born without original sin. I know this one sounds heretical, but follow me here. A nun in Ohio received private revelations from Mary and Joseph in 1956, all of which were approved by Cardinal Burke in his letter to the USCCB in 1997. These apparitions are known as “Our Lady of America.” St. Joseph said the following about himself in this apparition: “It is true, my daughter, that immediately after my conception I was, through the future merits of Jesus and because of my exceptional role of future Virgin-Father, cleansed from the stain of original sin. I was, from that moment, confirmed in grace and never had the slightest stain on my soul. This is my unique privilege among men. My pure heart also was from the first moment of existence inflamed with love for God.” Mary was conceived without original sin. Joseph was conceived with original sin. However, if this apparition is true (and I believe it is) then immediately after his conception, Joseph was cleansed by God via the merits of Jesus on the cross applied retroactively. Thus, Jesus is still the Divine Savior of His foster-father, Joseph. Many ancient saints, popes, doctors and theologians of the Church have firmly believed that St. Joseph never committed an actual sin—neither mortal, nor even venial. This theological assertion does not empty the cross of its power, but rather reveals the omnipotence of God to apply the merits of the Redemption as He sees fit, even outside of time. Again, Jesus still saved Joseph from sin. (But this one probably deflates the old joke of Joseph getting blamed for everything in the breakfast-nook by the rest of the Holy Family.)
2) St. Joseph, betrothed to Mary, was a young-virgin himself. Although not defined, this is the teaching of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Combine this with the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity, and the outcome is that St. Joseph is still a virgin in heaven. This sheds light on the hidden life of Nazareth, namely, that it took great virtue—not old age—to live in celibacy with the most beautiful woman ever created. This also means that Jesus was the only child that Joseph ever raised. Imagine this father teaching his son the Hebrew Scriptures late at night in his workshop. The angels themselves could not have made greater praise than these deep but tender, joyful whispers of the Psalms coming from a carpenter’s workshop day and night. (For Scriptural clarity on the identity of the mother of those relatives of Jesus always debated to be either His “brothers” versus His “cousins,” you can decide for yourself by reading Matt 27:55-56. It’s the entire Scriptural key to Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.)
3) St. Joseph was probably taken body-and-soul into heaven at his death. Have you ever seen a first class relic of St. Joseph? Me neither. St. Francis De Sales, a doctor of the Church, considers it definite that St. Joseph was taken body-and-soul into heaven at his death. Many such saints look to Gen 50:25 as a prophesy. Common sense dictates: Would God let his own foster father rot in the ground until His second coming? Indeed, we know that although Mary’s Assumption was unique, Mary was not the only one taken body-and-soul into heaven for a preemptive resurrection of the body. (See Gen 5:24, 2 Kings2:11 and Matt 27:53.) That St. Joseph should be among this small party of bodies in heaven is easy to believe when you consider that St. Joseph has been defined doctrinally by the magisterium as the second greatest saint. (See the writings by Pope Leo XIII.) I would have thought that the runner up to Mary would have gone to, say, St. Paul or St. Catherine of Siena. Nope. St. Joseph is the second greatest saint, even higher than the angels in glory. A simple carpenter! In fact, St. Teresa of Ávila says of St. Joseph: “I do not remember that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant.” Remember this when you pray for—and with—the dying. Since St. Joseph died with Jesus and Mary at his side, he is considered the patron of a good death. My experience is that his intercession is almost immediate.
4) St. Joseph is the head of the Holy Family. This seems obvious, but think about it: St. Joseph is #3 in holiness in his family, but he is #1 in the authority of his family. Right here we have the whole Catholic answer to the issue of women’s ordination, the role of the father as the spiritual leader of the family and even the necessity of complementary roles played by two different genders in the family. Why? Because the Holy Family reveals to post-moderns that roles themselves do not imply superiority; roles prove natural law. (Natural Law is the universal law of family and morality already stamped into the heart of human beings found in any culture.) One day, we Americans may learn that the equality of dignity enjoyed by man and woman is not the same as a bland, interchangeable sameness of family members. How boring. Rather, real roles provide beauty when they are lived without chauvinism or manipulation. Mary was holier than Joseph, but that didn’t stop her from being obedient to him. In fact, Jesus—the Divine Word of the Universe—was obedient to both of them (Luke 2:51.) So, what was Joseph’s role, anyway? That of every man: To protect, guard, provide, teach, guide and love. When a woman lets a man do this, it’s not conveying inferiority. It’s letting him live the fullness of his own masculine love for his family.
5) St. Joseph is the Return of the King. If you look at St. Joseph’s genealogy in the Gospel of St. Matthew, you will see that Joseph had to be the hidden king of Israel by being a direct descendent of King David. Why didn’t anyone know it? Because David’s royalty had to go underground to give way to a corrupt Hebrew theocracy in cahoots with Greek invaders. (For more, see the Old Testament’s 1 and 2 Maccabees, aka the Jewish Braveheart…Yes, some poor Protestans took out the most exciting book in the Bible because Luther didn’t like the Purgatory reference in 2 Macc 12:39-42.) Anyway, follow closely for one more minute: St. Joseph was “King of Israel.” This is proved right there in Matt 1:6-16. He is in the direct bloodline of King David! Read it if you think that that is a title that belongs only to Jesus. In fact, Jesus being the supposed-son of the king may have been a cruel but prophetic twist on the head-placard written by Pontius Pilate at Jesus’ crucifixion: HIC EST IESUS, REX IUDAEORUM—Matt 27:37. Of course, Jesus goes beyond Joseph as the prophesied everlasting King of Israel (2 Sam 7:12-13) since Jesus is God. If you’ve read any Scott Hahn, you know that the queen of a Jewish king was not his wife, but rather His mother (1 Kings 2:19.) Thus, if Jesus is king, then the queen of Israel is clearly Mary. Put it all together and this means: For different reasons, Mary and Joseph are both hidden royalty! The royal duty of Joseph was to guard and protect his queen, Mary. But it doesn’t end there. His duty of guarding this queen was the cameo of his longer vocation to protect the Catholic Church by his intercession in heaven. Is this a pious but random connection? No. The Church’s theology is that Mary lived as the exemplar (supreme goal and example) of the Church. This means that everything St. Joseph did once for her on earth, he would do now for the Church from his spot in heaven. Now it is easy to understand why St. Joseph’s current role is to guard and protect the Church in her pilgrim state of danger here on earth. He is summoned to protect her from both theological error and real demons. We need to call on him now more than ever in this time of nearly unprecedented confusion within the Church and diabolical attack within the family (the domestic Church.) “St. Joseph, terror of demons” is ready to help us pray and act and teach as men.
Lastly…I’ve traveled to missions and parishes on five continents during the past three years and I would argue that it is mostly in Western nations where people consider religion to be a “woman thing.” Not so in the Middle East, in India, in Africa. God is for both genders. Consider the witness of the 21 Egyptian Christian martyrs whose heads were sawed off with knives last month while they were still alive. (This is not “beheading” as the media erroneously calls it. “Beheading” was something merciful that Herod did to John the Baptist.) Did you know that these 21 were not ultra-religious Copts hand-picked by ISIS for torture? They were ordinary Christian men. Did you know every one of them was given the chance to verbally deny Jesus and then accept Islam? These normal fathers and husbands submitted to a gory death on the shores of Libya instead of denying our dear Savior, Jesus Christ. Beshir Kamel, a brother of two of the martyrs, later said that his brothers and friends were “a badge of honor to Christianity…ISIS gave us more than we asked when they didn’t edit out the part where they declared their faith and called upon Jesus Christ. ISIS helped us strengthen our faith.” Yes, this was the year 2015. Perhaps it is no coincidence that both Josephs of the Bible have blessed the sands of Egypt by their courageous and manly witness when compromise could have “saved” them. St. Joseph, genetically so close to these modern heroes and martyrs of Libya/Egypt, pray for similar men to be raised up in the Church of the Americas.
—I originally wrote this article for Those Catholic Men.
The Four Last Things refer to death, judgment, heaven and hell. The 10 Last Things as a phrase does not exist, but all are found in Scripture and Tradition. Remember, Advent (starting tonight) is the time to prepare not only for Christ’s first coming, but also His second coming.
So, when is Jesus coming back to earth? The answer: At the end of the world. When is the end of the world? Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”—Mt 25:13. A theologian of Scripture here in the USA said he believes one reason why so many men have left the Catholic faith for Protestantism is because the Catholic pulpit is silent on the apocalypse. It’s sad, especially since we have the clearest and richest tradition.
Although we’ll be discussing no specific dates, the Sacred Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) both name the ten things that must come at the end of the world:
1) The Gospel must first be preached to the whole world. The extent of the level of the orthodoxy of the proclaimer is not clear, nor is it clear if every person or simply every nation will have heard the truth of Christ and His Church before the end of the world. At least every land will have heard the basics by the second coming of Christ.
2) The Jews will return to the Holy Land and ultimately enter the Catholic Faith. Obviously, the first of these has happened (1948) and the second has not yet happened. I had thought that the first was only a vestage of Protestant dispensationalism, but I recently discovered in Yves Dupont’s Catholic Prophesy that Saints like Alphonsus Liguori had taught that the Jews must return to Israel before Christ’s second return.
3) The Great Tribulation and Apostasy. Before the end of the world, CCC 675 speaks of “the Church’s ultimate trial” which will be both “apostasy from the truth” and “persecution.” Perhaps this one has been fulfilled. Indeed, many Catholics have apostatized, formally or informally. However, many Catholics and other Christians are being persecuted for following Christ. Since Christ’s birth, there have been 70 million Christian martyrs. Of these, the past hundred years have witnessed the majority— 45,500,000 of all 70,000,000 martyrdoms! Granted, most of these were Orthodox at the hands of communists; it’s still persecution of Christians. Jesus said this tribulation would also be accompanied by an increase in earthquakes (Mt 24:7.) Even CNN admits a marked increase in earthquakes the past 100 years.
4) The Anti-Christ or the man of lawlessness. Although there have been many anti-Christs (1 John 2:18) we’re going to have to experience the big one, “the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”—2 Thess 2:3-4. See CCC 676–680.
5) The Restrainer. Mercy is defined as the divine limit to evil. The anti-Christ will deceive so many people that God will send someone to limit evil. His name in the Bible is “The Restrainer.” (I know “the Restrainer” sounds like the coolest Marvel Comic book hero. But he’s right in the Bible, which might explain why our Protestant brothers and sisters speculate about him more than Catholics.) Anyway, this mysterious good-guy will come along at the end of the world as an agent of Divine Mercy so that the man of lawlessness doesn’t win. “Only he who now restrains it will do so until [the man of lawlessness] is out of the way.”—2 Thess 2:7. Some Catholic theologians speculate the Restrainer will be St. John the Baptist or St. Michael the Archangel. But he is unknown at this point.
6) Widespread disturbances in nature. “Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.”—Mt 24:29-30
7) Second Coming of Jesus Christ. There’s an actual “day and hour” (Mt 24:36) to Christ’s return to earth. This day has definitely not yet come. “As the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”—Mt 24:27. Once, at a lunch, a priest with several impressive degrees snickered at me for taking these words literally. Then, I have to wonder: If Jesus doesn’t return with power, maybe he’ll return on a My Little Pony Cutie Mark Magic Princess Twilight Sparkle Charm Carriage Playset? (That’s an actual toy at Target! I have to wonder who named that…An 8 year old girl in love with a cutie named Mark who was allowed to combine her eleven favorite words randomly?) Anyway, my point isn’t to rally tough-guy fundamentalism. I just can’t imagine a fitting middle ground between Christ coming as a baby and then coming in glory. Unless…Jesus comes strolling into Seattle with corduroy pants and a Dockers short-sleeve at His awful second coming. For my part, I’ll believe the Apostle’s description of the last day: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”—1 Thess 4:16. See CCC 681 and the 13th century hymn Dies Irae, “Day of wrath and doom impending…heaven and earth in ashes ending.” Google it. The rest of it gets even more terrible, in the ancient Latin sense of the word.
8) Final Judgment. The Church teaches that every one of us on earth will be judged by Christ at the end of life, be it our particular judgment or the general judgment. The particular judgment is what you will experience if you die before Jesus returns in glory. It’s simply your judgment when you come before God a bit after cardiac arrest. A great Spanish priest described that moment as a 2-dimensional instantaneous download of your entire life, replete with Christ’s judgment of you (heaven or hell). The general judgment, or the Last Judgment, however, is what everyone will experience when Christ returns to earth. This will also affect those who have already died. For everyone, it will be like a 3-dimensional instantaneous download of every good and evil action committed by every person on the planet (Luke 8:17) and how it affected you and vice-versa. In short, during your death and/or Christ’s return, your chance for mercy will be done. That’s what the confessional is for. On judgment day, you will answer for any unconfessed sins, and you will see how every one of your actions affected the whole world, for better or for worse. I’m not trying to scare you. This is Our Faith: You matter. See CCC 1021 and CCC 1038–1041.
9) Resurrection of the Body. Simultaneous to #8, everyone will get their body back. It will be physical, spiritual and hopefully glorified. I write “hopefully” because even those even in hell will get a body back for eternal torture (John 5:29.) Happily, 100% of those in purgatory will go to heaven and also get their glorified body back. But most adult Catholics think of heaven as an amorphous reality for the soul…kind of like a nursing home hot tub where billions of doped-up souls stare in a smiley bliss. Rather, let’s consider Jesus’ resurrection: He could eat fish but walk through walls; He shined with glory, but He had wounds. In fact, the four Catholic doctrinal points of the resurrection is that your new body will be: 1) Glorified (like Jesus at the Transfiguration), 2) Agile (not subject to gravity. I promise I’m not making this up.), 3) Subtle (from the Latin, meaning the body will obey the soul as the essential form of the body…meaning you won’t accidentally burp in your new body.) and 4) Impassible (unable to suffer.) Does this all sound just a little fantastic? CCC 996 says: “From the beginning, Christian faith in the resurrection has met with incomprehension and opposition. On no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body.” Wait. No other point met with more opposition? What about contraception and same-sex marriage? You see, the resurrection of the body is the foundation of all other Catholic morality since “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”—2 Cor 5:10. Apparently, man’s notion of once-saved always-saved doesn’t fool God. See CCC 988–1019.
10) New Heavens and a New Earth. First, this earth will burn (2 Pt 3:10.) Then God will make a New Heavens and a New Earth (Is 65:17.) Where else did you expect to use your new body? Notice that the physical reality of eternity is already found in the Old Testament. For the Jews, the “age to come” will not be any more nebulous than this age. But it will be an era of peace. That era of the Messiah’s peace will permeate so deeply into creation that even the lion will lie down with the calf. (Show off that Bible trick at parties since 99% of you thought I should have written “lamb.” You’re wrong! See Isaiah 11:6.) There’s a solid section on the New Heavens and the New Earth in CCC 1042–1060. Finally, since I made fun of a goofy notion of heaven in #5, I really should highlight all of Christian history’s most beautiful description of heaven. It’s composed by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle John. This description of heaven spans from Revelation 21 to 22 (the last two chapters of the Bible) but here’s my favorite, the beginning of the end, literally and eschatologically:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more.—Rev 21:1-4a
NB I originally wrote the above for Those Catholic Men, but since pubication I had remembered a few more things that must happen before Christ returns, hence the insertion of a few “new” ones.
Today’s feast honors St. Felix of Valois, a 13th century saint who gave himself to be the ransom (replacement) of Christians taken hostage by Muslims. At Mass tonight, I preached my sermon on St. Felix and the theology of both Christianity and Islam.
In this short video, Stephen Colbert (comedian-turned-theologian) says “Faith ultimately can’t be argued; faith has to be felt.” Let’s cut through his poor philosophy and consider reality:
1) Feelings are often no different from biochemical pleasures. God uses feelings in all stages of prayer, but it is not central to the substance of the soul where the Blessed Trinity resides. If faith must be “felt” as Colbert said, then where does that leave Mother Teresa who couldn’t feel anything for 60 years of prayer? But false-positives abound, too: If I drink an enormous Chemex hipster coffee and feel like a saint who could take on the world, did I just “feel” an increase in my faith? Of course not. That is because there is some correlation between good spiritual “feelings” and the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norephinephrine. That’s why we called coffee in seminary “liquid consolation.” But we were joking. Sadly, Colbert was not. Back to neurotransmitters: These reuptake mechanisms are also found in more intense pleasures (like cocaine.) So, “feeling your faith” doesn’t increase faith anymore than cocaine. Even atheistic scientists will agree with me here: Spiritual “feelings” are frequently nothing more than the release of biochemicals in the brain. I make no moral judgment against either feelings or pleasure here. God created both and can affect both in prayer, but it’s not the central tenet of faith.
2) One’s opinion of truth is only as good as the evidence that one has to support it. Few doubt this truth in science, but if religion refers to truth, then this is true in religion also. Regarding feelings and logic together, Colbert does admit that “they do not defy each other but complement each other. ” He then says, “Logic itself will not lead me to God.” This is partly true,1 but there’s a glaring omission in the above video: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical binary event (true or not true) upon which hinges our entire creed. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”—1 Cor 15:17. Colbert inadvertently disparages the starting point of Christianity, namely, that the Resurrection and Divinity of Jesus Christ can be given some real evidence. Or rather, we can not prove that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, but we can disprove the contrary with pretty air-tight historical arguments found in books like Kreeft/Tacelli’s Handbook of Catholic Apologetics.
For all the Social Justice Catholics that promote Colbert, we have to admit it’s ironic that Colbert puts the emphasis on feelings—something the poor don’t have the luxury of always enjoying in their daily walk with Christ. The Christians being crucified by ISIS may not “feel” their faith, but they have a hope in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ based in a historical event. But I guess feelings are good for a multi-millionaire hanging with the Jesuits of Manhattan.
Yes, for Colbert, “faith ultimately can’t be argued; faith has to be felt.” In this philosophy, random biochemicals in the brain must take precedent over truth. Besides this conclusion being false for both Jesus on the cross (not good feelings but lots of truth) and St. Thomas Aquinas (who says very little of feelings and lots of truth) there’s actually another odd problem with Colbert Catholicism: It’s the most boring version of Catholicism we have heard since the 1970s. Almost all of my Gen-X friends raised by progressive-Catholic baby-boomers have left the Catholic Church. Inclusive-Catholicism turned out to be exclusive-Catholicism, precisely because it was founded on the feelings of a few ex-hippies instead of the Truth.
Most normal people long for one of two ways of life:
Feelings=Pleasure=Religion of hedonism (max out on pleasure.)
Logic=Truth=Religion of Catholicism (max out on truth and love, but it hurts just a little on the way to heaven.)
At the end of the day, here are our best two options: An-unbridled-pleasure-fiend or a total saint. I don’t believe in a middle-ground—practical or theological—where you get neither.
This isn’t to say that Catholicism is cold-cut syllogisms without any affections of love of Jesus Christ. Nor does it mean that all pleasure is bad. God made feelings and God made pleasure. But at the end of the day, we have to decide if we’re going to live for feelings or the truth. 2
So, what is faith, then? “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.”—Heb 11:1. Evidence means just that—evidence, as I wrote above in regards to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ. But if Colbert wants this at a more personal level, the word “faith” in Greek (πιστις) is actually also the same as trust. It means a trust-of-life, not just a single statement of salvation. It means daily decisions, not just a single act of consent of the intellect (Protestantism) or emotions (Colberism.) You see, if faith is trust, then this includes loving and hard decisions in the body all day long, including chastity, for “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”—2 Cor 5:10.
Jesus rarely said “Believe in me.” He frequently said “Follow me.”
Mother Teresa’s faith went deeper than both emotions and logic. For 60 years she did not “feel her faith.” Yet she got up at 3am or 4am to pray for two hours before her Eucharistic Lord and served Jesus in the poorest of the poor in the streets of Kolkata for decade after decade. Mother Teresa was living trust in the body when the feelings weren’t there. These were decisions she lived out in her body, and yet her emotions were so dark that she had to make constant acts of faith in God via her will—acts that were above and beyond the dark night of the soul that lasted a grueling 60 years. This is a tough marriage to a Divine Spouse! She often complained lovingly of her silent lover…
In fact, at the risk of scandalizing my readers, I’ll point out what she once wrote to a friend: “Pray for me, pray that I may have the courage to keep on smiling at Jesus—I understand a little the tortures of hell—without God.” I used the word “scandalized” because you should be surprised that Mother Teresa felt herself (not made herself, but felt herself) to be “without God.” And yet, she made constant acts of faith—essentially hope against hope—of having no feelings of God, yet seeking Him anyway.
Since her death, many people who felt on the verge of suicide have since found strength in the ways of Mother Teresa. People who had struggled their whole life with very personal sins and thought God abandoned them found hope in Mother Teresa. Why? Because, they reason, if God loved Mother Teresa even when she couldn’t feel Him, then His love must still be there. If God could love Mother Teresa as she was, maybe He loves me in my serious sin. They are right. And it is still His kindness that leads us to repentance.
In fact, in that same letter, Mother Teresa explained her suffering for the life of the world: “I have no words to express what I want to say, and yet last First Friday—knowingly and willingly I offered to the Sacred Heart—to pass even eternity in this terrible suffering, if this would give Him now a little more pleasure—or the love of a single soul.”
St. Thomas Aquinas found this debate so important that it’s his very first response in his 3000 page “summary” of the Catholic Faith: “It was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man’s whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation.”—ST I.1.1 respondeo ↩
Colbert, if you ever read this, I’ll happily discuss this on or off the air in your studio. Our mutual friend, Fr. Z (not the blogger), can hook us up. ↩
Every Christian is called to do the “Works of Mercy,” upon which our final judgment will be based, as seen in Matthew 25: 1 Did you know that St. Thomas Aquinas considered one of them to be the greatest and most encapsulating? Before scrolling down to see the answer, see if you can guess which one:
The Corporal Works of Mercy are:
- To feed the hungry;
- To give drink to the thirsty;
- To clothe the naked;
- To shelter the homeless;
- To visit the sick;
- To ransom the captive;
- To bury the dead.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy are:
- To instruct the ignorant;
- To counsel the doubtful;
- To admonish sinners;
- To bear wrongs patiently;
- To forgive offences willingly;
- To comfort the afflicted;
- To pray for the living and the dead.
Answer to my quiz: St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Of all prayers, the most meritorious, the most acceptable to God, are prayers for the dead, because they imply all the works of charity, both corporal and spiritual.”
As if the picture didn’t give it away…In any case, the last one of all fourteen is considered the most important: Praying for the dead.
How beautiful that a person in a wheelchair on earth can do the greatest work of mercy that entails all of the other ones! To pray for the souls in purgatory is considered the greatest deed a human can do, according to St. Thomas Aquinas. It is the greatest petitionary prayer we can utter on earth, in which we do all 14 works of mercy. (No time to explain right now, but you can probably figure it out.)
I am convinced that never in the history of the Church have the Holy Souls of Purgatory been so ignored. As you probably know, they cannot pray for themselves, but they can pray for us. This is one of the reasons we must pray for them. Are they in the millions? billions? I hope so, because that means a lot are saved. Some saints have claimed that their power to intercede for you and for me is greater than the intercession of the saints.
Love the souls in purgatory by praying for them a lot. That is my resolution at my new parish, for I have utterly failed up to this point.
The early Church documents I have read seem to say that the earliest Christians prayed more for the dead than they even prayed for the living. Love the souls in purgatory by praying and offering sacrifice for them a lot. If you don’t love the souls in purgatory as a lover (for the others’ sake) then love them as a mercenary, for in praying for them they will reward you a thousandfold while you are on earth and/or purgatory one day…a speedy exit will be assured, they say.
The Final Judgment
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
(Matthew 25:31-46 ESV)↩