Month: October 2016

Seven Common Characteristics of the Saints


(Saint Martin de Porres)

There are many characteristics that the saints have in common, and here are seven that I have noticed, relying particularly on the great Father Faber:

1. THEY LIVED FOR THE GLORY OF GODComment: The saints understood in an intense and radical manner that God is the Supreme Good of our lives, and so they patterned their lives to do all that they could for the Glory of God. In short, the saints realized that God is our true end and that nothing compares to the inestimable treasure we have in God.



(Christian souls arrive in Purgatory singing and escorted by an angel, Canto II, Dante. Drawing by Gustave Dore)

“The faithful who apply indulgences as suffrages for the dead are practicing charity in a superior way and with their thoughts on the things of Heaven are dealing more virtuously with the things of earth.” (Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences)

My mission:  to come up with a short but powerful devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory who are counting on our prayers so that they may advance to the one thing their hearts desire and yearn for: union with God.

Plan:  Find the shortest indulgenced prayer possible that can be offered up all day long for the Holy Souls with virtually no effort.

Result:  Consulted The Handbook of Indulgences and discovered on page 82, #55, that “a partial indulgence is granted the Christian faithful who devoutly sign themselves with the cross while saying the customary formula: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Now, an indulgenced prayer is normally made for your own benefit, but can be applied as a suffrage to the poor souls in Purgatory, thus reducing their sufferings in Purgatory and advancing them nearer to the one true goal of life: to be with God in Heaven. Those souls are counting on our prayers!


(I am relying on Father Faber, who makes the following points in various contexts in All for Jesus; the whole inspiration and basic content for this note comes from him.)

1. You begin to make the Sign of the Cross with awesome reverence knowing you are helping the poor souls;

2. In practicing this devotion you grow closer to the Trinity as you say their names with tenderness and love; and you remind yourself, in signing yourself with the cross, that the cross is the true wisdom of God, i.e., love entails sacrifice;

3. You give great glory to God because you assist Him in the ultimate goal of His love: bringing souls to Heaven to praise Him;

4. You practice the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love because you practice faith in the supernatural value of this devotion as revealed by the Church, you hope for something you cannot see, and you show love for your brothers and sisters in Purgatory by making this prayer applicable to them;

5. You grow in holiness since this prayer, which could have been made for your own welfare as an indulgence to reduce your time in Purgatory, is given in loving sacrifice as a suffrage to the poor souls;

6. You develop a habit of devotion that keeps your mind attuned to the supernatural operation of grace and to the goal of life: salvation! (and this is an attitude which acts as an antidote to worldliness – our arch enemy); and

7. It is possible that when these souls reach Heaven they will pray for you and for your salvation – ALL THIS BY REVERENTLY MAKING THE SIGN OF THE CROSS A FEW TIMES A DAY with the preface of saying: “For the Holy Souls in Purgatory,” or for Grandpa Smith or Aunt Mary. How easy can Jesus make things for us! Or you could say, “MotherMary, For the poor souls in Purgatory you love so much.”

Now imagine for the next 40 years you made such an act of love, by making the sign of the cross for the poor souls 5 times a day (30 seconds of prayer). At the day of judgment, you will have said about 73,000 (seventy-three thousand) prayers for the poor souls in Purgatory! What an awesome devotion in the Communion of Saints!

For the souls in Purgatory: “In the Name of the Father….”

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Source: All for Jesus, F.W. Faber

Note: In the updated Manual of Indulgences this prayer is found on page 98, #28, part II (4th Edition).

Image: The image is from the Wikipedia article on Purgatorio by Dante. The caption states: “Purgatorio, Canto II: Christian souls arrive singing, escorted by an angel.” The drawing is by Gustave Dore, Public Domain, U.S.A.

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“We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

“Modern man does not know what he is doing because he does not know what he is undoing” (G.K. Chesterton)

Daniel Bell, the famous Harvard sociologist who died in 2011, was deeply concerned about the type of country we would be living in if the religious dimension of society was eclipsed by secularism. In 1976, in somewhat prophetic words, he wrote: “Modern societies have substituted utopia for religion – utopia not as transcendental, but one to be realized through history…with the nutrients of technology….The real problem with modernity is the problem of belief. To use an unfashionable term, it is a spiritual crisis, since the new anchorages have proven illusory, and the old ones have become submerged. It is a situation which brings us back to nihilism; lacking a past or a future, there is only a void…What holds one to reality if one’s secular system of meanings proves to be an illusion? I will risk an unfashionable answer – the return of Western society to some conception of religion.”

Here in the United States we are witnessing our democratic form of government clamoring for life and vitality because it is detached and removed from its Christian heritage. We are witnessing first-hand what happens to a democracy that was so fortunately undergirded by Christian moral principles, when it then decides to abandon those moral principles and to replace them with a system of moral relativism masquerading as tolerance and pluralism. And we are beginning to wonder: can that democracy survive? And we see that the society our children are inheriting is a strangely different society than the one we grew up in; and one senses a painful paganism – really a materialism –  permeating the whole country. The great Saint John Paul II saw this horrifying reality taking place in the Western world. Here is what he said in his very important encyclical, The Splendor of Truth:

“This is the risk of an alliance between democracy and ethical relativism, which would remove any sure moral reference point from political and social life, and on a deeper level make the acknowledgement of truth impossible. Indeed, “if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.” (from # 101)

This is happening folks, right now, right before our very eyes. The victims: most especially our kids, with profound desensitization to the spiritual life and to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, i.e., the only true Kingdom. Our kids at least have a right to see what is transpiring, how they are being robbed of such a humanizing, transcendent force known as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are witnessing first-hand a massive loss of faith – virtually an apostasy. Do we realize what this loss of faith means to the future of our democracy?

In his classic work, Democracy in America, Alex de Tocqueville pointed out that the Christian faith of the American people was a great benefit to the success of their democracy. He said: “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” One wonders what a modern day Tocqueville would have to say about the situation of our current democracy where Christians, more and more, are becoming second class citizens (think, for a moment, of the chilling effect on free speech for American Christians who are silenced out of fear of losing their jobs).

With paganism comes a loss of sacramental life, and with a loss of sacramental life comes a corresponding loss of salvation. “Ay, there’s the rub.” Indeedwith fewer baptisms will come a corresponding loss of supernatural life in society. The “free man’s worship of nothing” does not bode well for American democracy. One day you may wake up and suddenly realize that with your own children and grandchildren you are an eyewitness to the reemergence of your pagan line of descendants (after how many generations of Catholics who sacrificed so much so that your own progeny could inherit the priceless gift of faith?). Well, be consoled, at least they have really top notch cell phones!  

 And Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

Tom Mulcahy, J.D.

Reference. The edited quote from Daniel Bell is taken from his famous book, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, p.28. During a recent trip to Charlotte, North Carolina my wife took this picture of me at the Billy Graham Library. We agree with the message expressed in the poster.


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 “…they have not opened their hearts to the truth in order to be saved” (2 Thes. 2:11)

Salvation in Christ is a most precious gift. Indeed, it is the greatest gift of all. Dear God, give us the grace to meditate on the magnitude of the gift of salvation merited by Jesus Christ.

Yet, here in the United States and Canada (and certainly in Europe, too) we are witnessing an unprecedented loss of faith. People who can look back at generations of Catholic ancestors who preserved the faith for them have now themselves become the very reemergence of that family’s pagan line of descendants. This loss of faith has enormous implications, and has even the momentum of a mass apostasy. It is worth contemplating what happens to a Christian nation, once blessed by the Gospel, which then rejects it?

Perhaps more often than a human being breathes in air for physical life God is sending each one of us actual graces to grow closer to Him.  On God’s part He is doing everything possible to save us. Here is the great risk God allows: we can reject his many graces and perish. Jesus warns us of this risk on many occasions.

The great Saint Pope John Paul II, a man of very great wisdom, had some very important words to say about the radical possibility of a human being – endowed with a free will – rejecting God’s invitation to eternal life. In Dominum et Vivificantem Saint Pope John Paul II explains in sobering terms that the “radical refusal [of a person] to accept [the] forgiveness of sin” means that this person claims the right to “persist in evil” (46), despite the fact that the Holy Spirit has been sent to convince the world about sin and judgment. “Those who are converted,” says Saint John Paul II, “are led by the Holy Spirit out of the range of the judgment, and introduced into the righteousness of Christ….” (48). To reject the the convincing concerning sin which comes from the Holy Spirit, a human being is, in essence, rejecting the “redemptive power of Christ’s blood” (46).

If a human being is not led out of sin and into the redemption merited by Jesus Christ he “persists in evil” and thereby perishes. The Pope points out that man is tempted to falsify truth by the dark opposition of Satan and the “constant pressure on man to reject God….” (38). Having chosen to persist in evil the human being enters, upon his death, into a definite state of suffering called hell. Saint John Paul II explains:

“Man” perishes” when he loses “eternal life”. The opposite of salvation is not, therefore, only temporal suffering, any kind of suffering, but the definitive suffering: the loss of eternal life, being rejected by God, damnation. The only-begotten Son was given to humanity primarily to protect man against this definitive evil and against definitive suffering. In his salvific mission, the Son must therefore strike evil right at its transcendental roots from which it develops in human history. These transcendental roots of evil are grounded in sin and death: for they are at the basis of the loss of eternal life. The mission of the only-begotten Son consists in conquering sin and death. He conquers sin by his obedience unto death, and he overcomes death by his Resurrection” (no. 14, Encyclical Salvifici Doloris).

Is it possible to grow in holiness if we are not concerned for souls? Zeal for the salvation of souls is a hallmark characteristic of the Saints. The need for a new Evangelization could not be greater or more urgent.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Christ and the Young Rich Man by Heinrich Hoffman, 1889, Public Domain, U.S.A.

P.S. How much grace God sends to someone estranged from Him is not subject to precise theological formulation.The starting point is the Infinite Goodness of God who is generous to every soul. The great Saint Alphonsus de Ligouri  quotes with approval Soto who said: “I am absolutely certain, and I believe that all the Holy Doctors who were worthy of the name were always most positive, that no one was ever deserted by God is this mortal life.” A more recent theologian, Father Garrigou-LaGrange says, “Christ’s humanity communicates to us from minute to minute the actual grace of the present moment, as the air we breathe continually enters our lungs. *** Outside the sacraments, this activity of the Savior transmits the lights of faith to unbelievers who do not resist it.” Finally, Father Faber states: “Figures could not put down the number of graces  He has given and is hourly giving to us” (p. 142); Faber states that even a man in mortal sin, through faith and hope, receives “incessant crowds of…actual graces” (p. 250). At page 313 Faber states that “God is infinitely merciful to every soul,” and “no one ever has been lost…by surprise….” ( The Creator and the Creature, TAN).

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                  For our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:29)

In his encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI does a wonderful job of demonstrating how 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 clearly supports the doctrine of Purgatory. It is interesting to note, as well, that Dr. Scott Hahn, a Protestant convert, mentioned this New Testament passage in 1 Corinthians as being decisive for him in accepting the Church’s teaching on Purgatory (he says, “I must admit that theologically and psychologically 1st Corinthians 3 basically sealed it up. It was all sewn up for me when I worked through this, praying, studying, pondering. I think it’s strong and clear.”).






(The Catacombs, where early Christians inscribed on the walls prayers for the dead)

“Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that  your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know’ – ‘Even so, sir.”  (C.S.Lewis, Letters To Malcolm, chapter 20)

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1030)

Believe it or not, all Christians do in fact believe in Purgatory.  Let me show you why. We are told in the Letter to the Hebrews that no one can see the Lord without possessing holiness (Hebrews 12:14). This brings us to Larry and Jane Smith, husband and wife, who unfortunately died together in an automobile accident when Larry fell asleep at the wheel of his brand new Ford Explorer.  Little did Larry and Jane know that they would meet the Lord on that fateful day. By way of background, Jane had been a very holy and devout Baptist who walked the straight and narrow path of the Lord.  Moved by her love for Christ, she had led a holy and righteous life and had been very kind to the poor.  The grace of God had certainly worked wonders in her life. On the other hand, Larry had been a habitual sinner.  The three sins which had taken root in his soul were his love for pornography, his dishonest business practices and his hate for certain races.  Fortunately for Larry, the one time he went with his wife to church he picked up a tract on the table and followed the directions which told him “How to be saved.”  That day in church he repented of his sins and accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior.  He was saved.

For two days after being saved Larry actually managed to avoid committing a serious sin.  But then the struggle became too much and he reverted back into the pattern of sin which had been routine in his life for many years.  Then, as you know, he fell asleep at the wheel and died.

When the moment came for the book of Jane’s life to be laid out in front of the judgment seat of Christ, there was nothing but joy and contentment.  Jane was pure and holy and Jesus was very pleased with the state of her soul.  He gave to her a white linen garment to put on, representing the righteous deeds she had done during her life (see Revelation 19:81).

The moment for Larry’s judgment was not so joyful.  Larry was so full of sin that he could not even look upon the Lord.  When asked by Jesus what he had to say in his defense, Larry was smart enough to remind the Lord that he had been saved the day he repented of his sins and accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior (since, for the purpose of this fictional story, Jesus is an Evangelical Protestant, Jesus responded to Larry by letting him know that Larry’s faith, as little as there was of it, had saved him).  Jesus told Larry that he was free to walk through the gates of heaven.

But then something happened to Larry. As he started to walk through the gates of heaven, all of the saints and angels in heaven came forward and blocked Larry’s path. They shouted at Larry: “Even though you have been saved, you still stink of sin and our Lord has made it clear that you cannot enter into heaven until you are holy.  You must be purified.  You must be cleansed of your sin.  We cannot have you enter heaven looking at the angels with lustful eyes or still hating races of people who were made in the image and likeness of God.  You must be purged from your sin.”  Larry said: “How is this to be done?”  The angels and saints responded: “You must spend some time outside the gates of heaven doing penance for your sins and transforming your soul, with the aid of God’s grace, from a state of sin to a state of grace.  Then, and only then, can you enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus has saved you from hell, but you are not worthy yet to enter the kingdom of God.  Our God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29), and until the fire of his love destroys all the sin within you, you must wait outside and become purified.  Then, and only then, may you look upon the face of our holy God.”

Although to a Catholic Larry’s fate may well have been worse than Purgatory, the circumstances of his life and death underscore the absolute necessity for a state of purification prior to the glory of entering heaven.  Even if you believe a person is saved by his faith alone in Jesus – irrespective of the conduct of his life – he cannot enter heaven in a defiled state.  He must be purified of his sin.  Therefore, unless you believe a person can somehow enter into heaven in an impure state, you do in fact believe in Purgatory.

Historically, it is quite clear that the early Christians believed in a state of purification after death. We know, for example, that the Christians living in the catacombs in Rome inscribed prayers for the dead on the walls.  In addition, prayers for the dead are contained in some of the earliest Christian writings.* The key proof text in scripture is 2 Maccabees 12:46, which states: “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins.” Obviously, we would not pray for the dead if they were already in heaven. Every Catholic Mass offered throughout the world includes prayers for the living and the dead, and there is an extraordinary list of Catholic saints who have experienced private revelations of Purgatory, the most recent of which include Saint Padre Pio and Saint Faustina Kowalska (the saint of the Divine Mercy revelations). Finally, is there not in our hearts a God-given instinct to pray for the souls of the dead? In Letters to Malcolm C.S. Lewis makes mention of this instinct to pray for the dead:

“Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age, the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him? I believe in Purgatory.”

In conclusion, scripture, common sense, Sacred Tradition and our natural desire to pray for the dead convince us that some of  us may have to undergo a period of purgation before entering heaven, for we are told in the clearest Biblical terms, at Revelation 21:27, that —

                      “NOTHING UNCLEAN SHALL ENTER [HEAVEN]….”                             

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.


Image: A Procession in the Catacombs of Callistus by Alberto Pisa, 1905, Public Domain, U.S.A.

References: *See article at, *”The Roots of Purgatory,” pertaining to the subject of early Christian writings and Purgatory. See also, Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating. Finally, Pope Benedict XVI elaborates profoundly on the New Testament basis for Purgatory in his encyclical, Spe Salvi (sections 45-48), and I will be posting a note on that at some point.

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(The incorrupt body of Saint Bernadette)

“In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth. These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that one may well call man a religious being [homo-religiosus] ….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 28)




“so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched [Saint Paul] were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” (Acts 19:12)

I had a dream about a faith-filled and holy Protestant man…

He was standing by the road in the throes of a dreadful and deadly illness, barely clinging to life, and crying out, “someone help me.” Suddenly, he sees a kind lady approaching him with Saint Paul’s handkerchief, the one mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, the one that God allowed to heal so many people. As he sees the relic coming close to him, his sense of hope ascends to an incredible height! His family is amazed that such a grace is being  given to him. But suddenly something sends him a scruple and he reasons: why should I touch a handkerchief that touched Saint Paul, a mere human? No, I will pray directly to Jesus, lest I steal away Jesus’ glory by honoring Paul. The crowd is urging him to touch the handkerchief but he refuses to do so. Suddenly, Jesus appears to him to calm his fear of offending Him, and says: “My son, be not afraid, it will give me great glory if you touch the handkerchief, for Paul was once my great enemy but through grace he became a mighty image of myself, and his transformation into a saint has given my Father great glory.”

Suddenly the man realizes that by amazing grace Saint Paul has been incorporated into the mystical body of Christ. He – Paul – is a part of Christ’s body. The man sees that God is indeed glorified in His saints (see 2 Thessalonians 1:10). He touches Saint Paul’s relic. He’s healed. His wife is crying tears of joy. And everyone is saying, “praise God!” 

What a great mystery the communion of saints is! How much does it tell us about how wonderful our Heavenly Father is! In the historical Protestant faith the model for justification is the courtroom and legal righteousness (imputed), but in the Catholic faith the model for justification is Divine sonship. We truly become sons and daughters of the eternal Father and cry out “Abba,”( Papa). It’s all a family affair. And what gives a Father more glory than allowing his sons and daughters to partake of His own life, and eat at his table, and perform miracles like Jesus did, and bring his children’s prayers to Him (I see the clear influence of listening to many hours of Scott Hahn tapes in the tone and content of this paragraph!).

“To venerate the relics of the saints is a profession of belief in several doctrines of the Catholic faith [including] the belief in the special intercessory power which the saints enjoy in heaven because of their intimate relationship with Christ the King; and… the truth of our closeness to the saints because of our connection in the communion of saints — we as members of the Church militant or pilgrim Church, they as members of the Church triumphant” (Fr. W. Saunders, “Church Teaching on Relics”). The fact that the New Testament identifies, in Paul’s Handkerchief, such a striking example of God’s power working through the relic of a Saint profoundly authenticates the Church’s teaching in this area.

So why pray to a saint in Heaven? : because it shows great confidence in the amazing munificence of the redemption merited by the Precious Blood, that sinners are made into saints and allowed participation in the very Trinitarian life of the omnipotent Creator. How great God is!! Far from detracting from God’s glory, the doctrine of the communion of saints is a rather amazing manifestation of it.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

P.S. It would be incredulous to think that Saint Paul, now glorified in heaven, has less influence in the Communion of Saints than what he had on earth! If we can pray for each other, consider what the Saints in Heaven can do! Its a beneficial practice to make friends with a new Saint and to be devoted to that Saint for a particular need which corresponds to that Saint’s particular sanctity. See what happens!

Image: Saint Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna, 1482, Public Domain, U.S.A.

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