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Good evening Father
I would like you to provide a theological explanation to aid me in a personal reflection.
I knew a mother who wasn’t happy during her 52 years of marriage, but remained faithful to the Sacrament. Her life was also tainted by the death of one of her children away from the Faith. She prayed a lot for her son after his death. She was devoted to the Rosary and to Sunday Mass. She died when she was in her eighties.
The question I ask myself, in light of the Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church…
Colloquially, we would say that this mother’s life “was a purgatory” so could it be considered a source of salvation for her son? Jesus’ justice could consider the life of this mother a source of salvation for her son? Or do we have to conclude that that son is damned?
I recall that Jesus used Saint Monica’s prayers to convert her son Augustine.
Can we Christians, through our pain, illness and suffering, be a source of forgiveness for other people?
Can God, who knows our lives, plan for us to be instruments of salvation for those who are away from the Faith?
I’ll be waiting for your answer and I thank you for your goodness

Father’s answer

Dear Massimo,
1. Each one of us, inserted in Christ and living in sanctifying grace, can earn for himself and for others as well.
Under this light, the Purgatory that we go through in this life is more excellent than the one we go through in the next because that one has only a purificatory purpose, while the one we go through here is also meritorious.

2. It’s meritorious for ourselves and it’s meritorious for others.
God himself states this through Saint Paul when he writes: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24).

3. The sufferings we offer for the conversion of sinners or for somebody in particular are certainly meritorious.
In the Gospel we read that Jesus never denies the cries of those who suffer.
For three times he raised people from the dead moved by the tears of a mother, the only son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17), of a father, Giairus, devastated by the death of his young daughter (Mt 9:18-26), of two sisters, Martha and Mary, who are mourning the death of their brother Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44). Saint Augustine attributes his conversion to his mother’s tears.

4. In regards to the situation you described, could Our Lord have refused a mother’s pain for the resurrection of her son in the next life, even if he didn’t show any sign of repentance?
In light of the Gospel texts cited above, I think not.
Our Lord can take note of the sufferings, tears and prayers of our loved ones who have already died when it comes to the salvation of our loved ones.
Just like Christ’s sacrifice had retroactive effects for the people who lived in Old Testament times, why couldn’t our suffrages have a retroactive effect for those who died with no outward sign of repentance?

5. Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, together with her sister Celine, multiplied sacrifices and charitable acts on behalf of a certain Enrico Pranzini, condemned to the guillotine, who she herself calls a “great criminal”.
She writes: “In the depth of my heart, I felt the certainty that our wishes would be granted; however, in order to encourage myself and to keep praying for sinners, I told the Good God that I was sure of his forgiveness of the wretched Pranzini and I would have believed so even if he wouldn’t confess his sins or show a sign of repentance, so great was my faith in the infinite mercy of Jesus, but that I nevertheless asked Him “a sign” of repentance just for my consolation…
My prayer was granted to the letter! Even though my father never allowed us to read the papers, I did not think there was any disobedience in looking at the news about Pranzini. The day after his execution I found the newspaper “La Croix” by chance. I hastily opened it and what did I see? Tears betrayed my emotions and I had to run out of the room. Pranzini hadn’t asked for confession, he had mounted the scaffold and was about to put his head in the gruesome stock when, following a sudden inspiration, he turned back, grabbed a Crucifix that a priest was presenting to him and kissed the Divine Wounds for three times!
Then, his soul went on to receive its merciful sentence from He who says: “There shall be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who have no need of repentance…” (Story of a Soul, 135).

5. Each one of us is called to make of our life a sacrifice pleasing to God, as we repeat each time we go to Mass when we say: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands [the sacrifice of my life] for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church”.
The good of all his holy Church extends in particular to all the souls in need of salvation, since it’s because of this good that Christ sacrificed Himself and invites each one of us to make our sacrifices precious by uniting them with His.

I thank you, I recommend you to the Lord and bless you.
Father Angelo

Translated by Marta G.