Of all the French Saints, my heart goes out to St Margaret Mary, to whom Our Lord gave the revelations concerning His Sacred Heart. It may seem an irony, but Margaret Mary knew much heartache.  She only lived to be 43, from 1647 to 1690 and in that short life she suffered many emotional agonies and her soul ached for others, even those who persecuted her who were often the other nuns in her convent in Paray le Monial. 

When souls from Purgatory appeared to her, her heart ached for them. On one occasion she was before the Blessed Sacrament, and a figure all on fire appeared before her. Margaret Mary felt a heat so hot that she thought it would immolate her, too, and she was so upset at his plight that she burst into tears. The man in flames told her that he had been a Benedictine monk of the monastery of Cluny and that once she had confessed to him and he had given her Holy Communion.  Since then, he had died and was going through a most painful purgation. Our Lord had given him special permission to appear to Margaret Mary so he could request that she pray for him and that she offer for him all that she would do and would suffer for 3 months. Sister Margaret Mary gave him every assurance that she would, but that she'd have to ask permission of her mother superior first. Satisfied by her answer, the Benedictine monk told her why he was in Purgatory. 

Firstly, in his earthly life he had been afflicted by narcissism, he attached such importance to his personal image and how he was perceived by others that he wanted his own glory first and God's glory second. Secondly, he lacked charity towards his fellow Benedictine monks. Thirdly, he gave too much devotion to other people and thus elevated God's creatures over love of God Himself.  The monk said that his conversations on holiness with other people,"much displeased God". 

Margaret Mary obtained permission from her superior - who was often very tough on her - to suffer for this priest, and at the end of the 3 months, the priest went to Heaven. But his purgatory was most dreadful and perhaps to our way of thinking his sins do not seem to merit so hard a punishment, but he was a priest and in the annals of the saints and mystics who converse with holy souls, it is a common thread that priests suffer more and for longer. 

It is a trend in the life of Padre Pio that of all the holy souls who appeared to him, the ones who had to do the most exacting penance in Purgatory were very often priests. When Pio was a young friar, he was confined for some years in his home village of Pietrelcina. He offered his daily Mass at the local church and once there were several sightings of a dead priest who was doing his Purgatory in the same church where he'd been pastor. This priest made known that he had a most horrible Purgatory for one key reason: when he was alive he had neglected to offer prayers of Thanksgiving after the Consecration at Mass, and instead had rushed out of Mass so that he could be among the people and get a beverage with them at the local hostelry. He made known to Pio that he had extreme pain in Purgatory because he had omitted the prayer of thanks he was meant to say after he had received the Holy Eucharist, all in a bid to get him out the door of the church faster. 

Pio was, however, able to intercede for laypeople to be given less severe sentences. In the case of the brother of Maria Pompilio (Maria was a notable spiritual daughter of Pio's), Pio was able to intercede for Maria's brother time in Purgatory to be reduced from eleven years to one year. Not so in the case of a very holy priest, Padre Vittore who was taken young and suddenly. When this priest died without being able to say goodbye to his family or get the Last Rites, his sister, Carmela Marocchino, worried that he might have been damned. She went to visit Padre Pio and found the brown-robed friar was crying for the loss of her brother. Pio assured her that Vittore was saved but that he was in Purgatory. Carmela asked, "Padre, why did the Lord take him?" Pio said that Vittore had been taken because he was the best, "Do you know what Jesus did with your brother? Jesus went into the garden. There were many flowers there, one more beautiful than the other. He walked over to the most beautiful and picked it.  This precisely is what he did with your brother."

This priest, "the most beautiful" flower had been taken because he was the most exquisite soul. Yet a while later when Carmela enquired of Padre Pio if Vittore was released from Purgatory, Pio said no, and told her that Purgatory is different for priests, "My daughter, we priests have more responsibility before God, and when we appear before Him, it is with fear and trembling. Therefore, let us pray." Maria had to wait longer still, and at Christmas Padre Pio gave her the glad news that her brother had gone to Heaven. She was astounded that her brother had spent 11 months in Purgatory because as she said, "because of the responsibility of so many souls under his spiritual direction."

That the brother of Maria Pompilio, a very ordinary lay man got the same time as an exceptionally holy priest is instructive of how much priests must atone for times, even the smallest moments, when they have failed souls. This is not to say that priests are held in less favor by God, rather they are held to a higher account because they are fathers of souls. 

Please consider offering The Litany of Padre Pio for priests. 

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This post was informed by Languet's excellent biography of St Margaret Mary and by Padre Alessio Parente's book, The Holy Souls "Viva Padre Pio" which is available in the Spirit Daily store. I have a lot of personal fondness for Padre Alessio who was Padre Pio's assistant in the stigmatist's last years and who cared so tenderly for Pio. 

Portrait of a Benedictine Priest was executed by an unknown artist and is housed in Blairs Museum. The painting of Our Lord appearing to St Margaret Mary is also by an unknown artist. 


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