The gift of eternal salvation is the greatest gift that God has given us, a gift that was purchased at a great price, the blood of his only begotten Son. Our Lady told the world at Fatima;“Many souls go to hell because there is no one to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.” Mariam Thresia, the foundress of CHF, hearing the cry of the Holy Mother even three decades before Fatima spent her life for the salvation of souls (salus animarum) which must always be the highest concern in the church (Can. 1752). Recognizing her call for the heaven guided mission Thresia proved in words and deeds that salvation of souls is the prime aim of her apostolate. With unquenchable thirst for the salvation of souls she offered herself upon the altar of the cross, in offering her daily sufferings with joy, and doing the divine will in all things. Combined with fasting and penance, her prayer and action became more powerful means for the conversion of souls, even for the hardened sinners. She realized the value and the fruitfulness of saving a soul.
Through the Conversion of Sinners
“What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” (Mt 16:26). Throughout the Gospels Jesus speaks of the dangers of losing the gift of salvation, missing the moment of his redemption, and risking eternal punishment by rejecting the offer God gives through the death and resurrection of his Son. Mariam Thresia’s heart was always compassionate and considerate towards ‘the lost sheep’. It was her ardent desire that sinners should come back to God, their loving Father and be saved. For that she visited them, prayed and did penance for them until the person received the sacraments with great repentance. Jesus’ question on ‘who will do reparation for the sins of the humankind she replied that she would do if it were pleasing to God’s will. Therefore she accepted the pains and sorrows with good will and carried it day and night’ (Diary, 35). She asked Jesus to allow her to carry the cross and she prepared herself to take up the sufferings for the salvation of the souls knowing that Jesus’ death on the cross was for the salvation of the world. Thenceforth she experienced the sufferings of Jesus one by one. To make God known and loved, whom she loved so much was the great desire of Mariam Thresia.
St. Augustine could say that the passion of Christ extends till the end of the world. Christ is still on the cross today, suffering in and through his afflicted members, his persecuted followers. Mariam Thresia’s deep union with Crucified Christ enabled her to see His face in suffering humanity. She was moved by the passion for souls. She constantly carried the burden of the people lost in their sins, their sorrows, and their spiritual helplessness. She longs for the conversion of sinners more sensibly than for anything else. For her, there is no greater joy than to lead a person to a transforming experience to Christ. The more she tasted this joy, the more God made her a soul winner. Mariam Thresia firmly believed, “God will grant eternal reward to those who convert a sinner and bring him to the right path” (Letter, 4). Time spent in honour of God and for the salvation of souls is ever rewarded as St. James says: “You should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).
The passion for souls is probably the highest product of spiritual communion with God. A typical example of this can be found in Saint Mariam Thresia whose ardent desire was to give her life for the salvation of the souls. One day Jesus appeared before Thresia bearing a heavy cross and in great suffering. Then she began to weep fearing that her sins were responsible for his passion. Jesus said to her, “Your sins are not the reason for this. The sins and cruelties of the people of the world are the reason”. On hearing this Thresia prayed, “My Lord, I shall bear the cross you are carrying. Give it to me”. Then the Lord told her, “Are you willing to do so? Will you carry my cross, without any complaints?” She replied, “I shall carry the cross”. The Lord said, “You bear the cross and lessen my burden” (Diary, Part 28). The love for the salvation of souls enabled her to make up for the lack of love among those who sin. The love wants to relieve the debt of suffering that sinners owe to God. The love wants to give God what sinners are depriving Him off by their sins. This made her to forget herself so that she thinks of nothing but of sanctifying them in and for God. This is the zeal that urged St. Paul ‘to become all things to all men in order to gain all’ (1 Cor 9:22).
According to Fr. Joseph Vithayathil, her spiritual guide, “Mariam Thresia had the gift of reading the hearts of others. She knew the sinners who hid their sins and received the Holy Communion in mortal sins. When there were many confessions in the church Thresia would go to church and pray for God’s grace, so that all might make a good confession” (Doc.72). She took special interest in preparing sinners for confession and advised them about the special observance of spiritual communion from time to time.
Through the Ministry to the Dying
Death will catch hold of us like a thief. Nobody knows at what age and when it happens. When we die, we have to leave everything here on earth. Remember specially that hours and minutes will pass away quickly (Exhortations. 2). Mariam Thresia believed that the life in this world is a pilgrimage to heavenly Jerusalem. She writes “I too believe that the life in this world is just a sojourn” (Letter, 16). Here she points to the momentary and transitory nature of this life. ‘The Christian who unites his own death to that of Jesus views it as a step towards him and an entrance into everlasting life’ (CCC. 1020). Hope of eternal life was her motivating force to visit the dying and prepare them for peaceful death in the Lord. She had a great concern for the dying and her spiritual ministry for their eternal salvation is commendable. She went to the dying in their homes to console them, to strengthen them and kept praying for them to receive the fullness of salvation in heavenly glory after their death. Without looking for any reward Thresia went to those who were suffering from physical and mental sicknesses and were at the point of death. She offered her prayers and sufferings for them, uniting them to the passion of Jesus. Being aware of the greatest need of the humanity to return to God, she interceded to Christ the Crucified to forgive their sins. Her love for Crucified Lord made her take up sufferings to lead her brethrento eternal salvation. (History, 367-368).
Many witnesses have remarked on Mariam Thresia’s concern for the dying. Mariam Thresia would walk miles to go to the help of people dying in their homes in spite of criticisms. Many times the Lord asked her to pray for the dying and obtain mercy for them. One of the witnesses says, “She would run any risk for the conversion of others irrespective of adverse circumstances and danger”. Sometimes even she stayed with them hours and nights for their consolation and hope. She knew the worth of a soul. It is said that during her life time no one in her parish or the surrounding places died without getting her spiritual ministry. Mariam Thresia’s ministry to the dying is a clear example on the hope in store for us in eternal life (Cf. Diary, part 27).
Through the ministry to the Souls in Purgatory
The theological basis of offering oneself for the salvation of souls especially for the souls in purgatory is the supernatural solidarity established by God. God selects certain holy souls, so that by their merits and sacrifices they may contribute to the application of the merits of the redemption by Christ. The soul that would give itself for the salvation of others must be intimately united with God and must have travelled a long way towards its own perfection in charity. It must be a soul well trained in suffering and even have a thirst for suffering (Jordan Aumann, Spiritual Theology, 175). Mariam Thresia had a great compassion for the souls in purgatory. She prayed, did penance, offered Holy Masses and performed charitable acts for the purification of the souls in purgatory (Diary, Introduction). Like many other great saints she had visions of souls in purgatory who described their sufferings (Autobiography D, Wit, 16 § 671 p. 210). Thresia exhorts her daughters “I tell you definitely that there is no pain on earth comparable to that in purgatory. Our sufferings in this world are very insignificant. We cannot get any idea of the intensity of the pain in purgatory. Oh! What a great pain!” (Exh.2). There are many instances of the souls of the departed appearing to her and asking her prayers (Biography, p. 37-46). “She used to pray for the souls in purgatory and used to advice to do so”, recalls one witness (Wit, 3 §127 p.55). She lived with and for people in this world and the next. She might not have understood if someone talked of eschatology, but she lived the truth and reality of it. During the month of November dedicated to the souls in purgatory she exhorted the sisters to pray for them referring to their indescribable pain. She spoke with great conviction since ‘she had some mystical experience of it’ (cf. Vithayathilachante Diary: Mariam Thresiayude Charithram, pp. 48-49).
Mariam Thresia’s life is marked by the passion for souls. She desired that nobody should go away from the love of God. The love of God is the motivating force of all her activities. In true love one not only loves God but also wants to bring everybody to the embrace of God’s love. With a single purpose to ‘save a soul’ she visited families, cared the sick, looked after the orphans, ministered the dying, prayed for the conversion of sinners, and showed great compassion for the souls in purgatory. Jesus came to save souls – not to care the sick, not to educate the illiterate, not to take care the of orphans, not to raise the dead (although He did). All that He did were only means to the principle end: the salvation of the soul. The presence of Mariam Thresia in the world was like a fountain offering living water to all who long for the experience of God’s love in the midst of their suffering and who cry out like Jesus “I thirst”.
Sr. Dr. Udaya Grace CHF