Tuesday, September 28, 2010


My mother, Susanne and myself, Judy

Excerpt from the book HUNGRY SOULS by Gerard J.M. Van Den AArdweg


Immaterial spirits take on material forms to make themselves visible, and these forms express essential features of their spiritual and moral state of being. Demons appear as repulsive creatures; if they disguise themselves as human persons, there is usually some abhorrent quality of shape or manners that puts the seer on his guard. An angel may appear "as a light whiter than snow in the form of a young man, quite transparent and brilliant as crystal," as the Angel of Portugal in the story of Fatima, thus expressing his heavenly origin.

The ghostly forms of souls from Purgatory show, on the one hand, recognizable characteristics of the face and body that they animated during earthly life and with which they will be united on the day of general judgment. On the other hand, the appearance of the ghost sometimes symbolizes its state of suffering and/or its individual moral imperfections: the "rust of sin" not yet cleaned off, the imperfect habits and tendencies that the person carried with him across the threshold into the afterlife.

These apparitions clearly prove that it is the individual person and not some depersonalized, anonymous "soul matter" that survives bodily death. The reports of so many seers over the centuries are doubtless reports of direct contacts with a supernatural reality and with real persons. If there is much symbolic in the way they appear, these symbols seem to be the most appropriate method to bring the living as near to the supernatural reality of Purgatory as they can possibly come.

In some mysterious way, the deceased is present, there and then, in the place and in the moment he appears. At the onset of an apparition, the seer and bystanders often observe physical phenomena such as atmospheric changes, a gust of cold wind, crackling sounds, a strange and sudden silence; the spirit develops its figure and form out of a hazy cloud or mist, or starts as a passing shadow. It is not unusual for animals to perceive something physical, too: dogs may become scared, and cattle or chickens become restless. The perception of a spirit cannot be reduced to a merely mental event, something internal in the seer; it is a manifestation outside of him. He can see the door opening or a strange light that makes the objects in the dark room visible; objects (such as a light-switch on the wall) cannot be perceived anymore during the time the phantom stands before it, but as soon as it is gone, the object is normally visible again.

There are roughly three variants of the visible forms or figures of appearing poor souls: either they come in the figures of the persons they were in life, with their typical clothes; amid flames; or again, as deformed humans with remarkable symbolic features that represent their sins and/or punishments—sometimes even as humanized animals or animalized humans. Ghosts from Purgatory are as a rule recognizable by their eyes and mouth, wrote the 20th-century seer Eugenie von der Leyen. "You never see such eyes in men . . . they demonstrate, or give to understand, misery. The mouth . . . this bitterness is found in no [living] human."

The saintly Bavarian mystic, Sister Maria Anna Lindmayr (1657— 1726), regularly saw the poor souls in a manner that characterized the spiritual or moral state of their souls. Their features symbolized their vices as well as the kind of punishment they suffered:

I have always been given to understand that: how you sin, so you must do penance . . . [Some] appeared to me very hungry, emaciated, in an indescribable form. These implored me to help them by fasting severely on water and bread, to correct what was wanting in them during their lifetime by their eating and drinking well and abundantly. Others again made known by their behavior their quick-temperedness and impatience and they implored me to help them by acts of patience and meekness. Such souls . . . were shown to me, their mouth locked with a nail.

Some souls do not show the fire they are in, at least not initially, but appear as they had been in life. A deceased friend of Maria Anna walked before her on the street when she went to church, early in the morning; this happened so naturally that the seer "did not give it a thought, otherwise I would have been frightened," and only when she was in the church did she realize what she had seen (by then the apparition had vanished). In a subsequent apparition, although no trace of burning or flames had been visible when it had manifested itself as the woman on her way to church, this same soul nonetheless demonstrated that it was burning by touching the foot of the seer "with a glowing finger."

The visible appearance of the soul of a woman who came to Eugenie von der Leyen changed in response to the question of the seer:

"Do you then suffer so much?"

"Look at me!" was the soul's reply. Then she was as if flooded with fire.

It is sometimes thought that the strange or fantastic — and of course, symbolic — forms sometimes adopted by souls from Purgatory, and the severity of the punishments in that abode, are merely products of the romantic imaginations of certain cultural periods, notably the Middle Ages and the Baroque. That theory, however, becomes rather improbable if we look at various trustworthy reports of well-examined apparitions made to psychologically healthy, virtuous, and even saintly persons of those periods, and then compare them to reports from less "imaginative" ages. The Servant of God, Mother Maria Anna Lindmayr, a balanced personality in the age of the Baroque, displayed a quite natural, sober attitude when she wrote that she "could never have imagined that things were that harsh in purgatory; yes, no one would be able to grasp it. I was instructed, though, by this [poor] soul [a deceased friend who repeatedly appeared to her in 1690], and so I could afterwards believe what otherwise I would never have believed." This kind of apparition does not differ much either from those of earlier times or from those of more rationalistic ages closer to our own century.

Moreover, it has always been believed, from the Church Fathers on, and in the Jewish tradition as well, that the sufferings of Purgatory surpass all terrestrial sufferings, so that the sometimes terrible images seen by those with whom the poor souls enter into contact, although "symbolic," can hardly be qualified as exaggerations of the imagination.

It cannot escape us that the seers of souls from Purgatory are often reported to be especially good and pious persons. That sounds logical, for God permits a soul to appear so that it can be released from Purgatory, or at least, that its suffering be mitigated, and the pious (or at least, compassionate) person is more likely to respond to its requests. (Of course, God may choose others for one reason or another.) These considerations may also explain why apparitions from Purgatory and burned-in hands are predominantly (exclusively?) found in Catholic regions, more precisely, when and where Catholicism is flourishing, especially the devotion to the holy souls.

Many canonized saints have been great helpers of the suffering souls. To honor the saints who are known for promoting devotion to these souls, the facade of the church of the Sacred Heart of Suffrage in Rome is adorned with beautiful statues of St. Augustine, St. Dominic, St. Francis Xavier, St. Victor, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Nicolas of Tolentino, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Gregory the Great, and St. Odilon of Cluny. On its stained-glass windows are the images of many famous saintly helpers of the poor souls: St. Francesca Romana, St. Bridget, St. Ambrose, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Efraim, St. Peter Damian, St. Francis de Sales, again St. Catherine of Genoa, and others. As we shall see in later chapters, several recently canonized saints have also been zealous helpers of the "holy souls," including Padre Pio, Josemarfa Escriva, and Sister Faustina.

The poor souls themselves sometimes express a preference for visiting persons who are generous enough to respond to their supplications with often great sacrifices. "What then can I poor wretch give you for special help?" Mother Maria Anna Lindmayr asked a supplicating soul. "My child!" was the reply, "How is it with people on earth? Don't they like to be with their friends and benefactors? Therefore we, too, like to be with you." To a similar question, Eugenie von der Leyen got similar answers (from various souls): "You have always prayed for me" . . . "You attract us" . . . "The purer you are, the more you can help us" . . . "We are without pain when we are near you."

Thus many saints were regularly visited by poor souls. It is also true that certain other persons appear to have been specifically called to holiness by devoting their life in a heroic way to the alleviation or deliverance of the suffering souls. Their charity helps the poor souls while at the same time purifying and sanctifying themselves. Are there more women than men among these unselfish and spiritually privileged people? It would seem so, if we go by the documented reports about persons who entertained such self-sacrificing, intensive relationships with the poor souls. Should this correlation with the female sex be confirmed, it might be explained by the motherly, caring, and more compassionate nature of the woman.

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