PRAYERS FOR SUFFERING SPIRITS AND THE DEAD
18. Suffering Spirits ask for prayers and these are useful to them, because on recognising that someone thinks of them they feel comforted and less unhappy. However, prayer has a more direct action on them by reanimating them and instilling in them a desire to elevate themselves through repentance, by making amends, and can turn them away from bad thoughts. It is in this sense that prayers can not only alleviate, but can also shorten their suffering (See HEAVEN & HELL, second part - Examples).
19. There are some people who do not accept the offering of prayers for the dead, as according to their belief, the soul has only two alternatives to be saved or to be eternally condemned to suffering which would result in prayer being useless in either case. Without discussing the merits of this belief, let us admit for a moment the reality of eternal unpardonable penitence which our prayers are impotent to interrupt. We ask if, even in this hypothesis, it would be logical, charitable or Christian to refuse prayer for the reprobate. However impotent these might be in liberating them, would these prayers not be a demonstration of pity, capable of softening their suffering? On Earth, when a man is condemned to perpetual prison, even if there was not a minimum chance of obtaining a pardon, is it forbidden for a charitable person to help alleviate the weight of the sentence? When someone is attacked by an incurable disease, there being no hope of cure, should we abandon the person without offering some kind of relief? Remind yourselves that amongst the wicked you may find someone who has been dear to you, perhaps a friend, a father or mother, a son or daughter; and ask yourself if, because of your belief that there is no possibility of a pardon, you would refuse a glass of water to mitigate their thirst? Or a balsam which would heal their wounds? Would you not do for them what you would do for one condemned to the galleys? Would you not give them proof of your love and console them? No, this idea would not be Christian. A belief which hardens the heart cannot be allied to one of a God who puts the duty of loving one's neighbour in first place.
The non-existence of eternal punishment does not imply a denial of temporary penalty, given that it is not possible for God in His justice to confound good with evil. In this case to deny the efficiency of prayer would be to deny the efficacy of consolation, encouragement, and good advice. This would be equal to denying the strength we absorb from the moral assistance received from those who wish us well.
20. Others base their ideas on a more specific reason: that of the immutability of Divine decree. God, they say, cannot modify His decisions just when asked by one of His creatures, because if this were so then nothing on Earth would have stability. Therefore Man has nothing to ask of God; it only rests for him to submit and adore Him.
In this idea there is a false interpretation of the principle of the immutability of Divine Law or, better still, an ignorance of this law with regard to future penalties. This law is revealed by the Spirits of the Lord at this time, now that Man is sufficiently mature to understand what, within faith, conforms to or is contrary to the Divine attributes.
According to the doctrine of the absolute eternity of all punishment, the remorse and repentance of the culprit are not taken into account. All desire to better himself is useless, for he is condemned to remain eternally evil. However, if he were condemned for a determined period of time, then the punishment would cease when that time had expired. But who can say that by then he will have improved his sentiments? Who can say, as shown by many who have been condemned on Earth, that on leaving prison he will not be just as bad as before? In the first case, it would be keeping a man under the pain of punishment after he had become good; in the second, it would be the granting of amnesty to one who continues to be guilty. God's law is more provident than that; being always just, impartial and merciful, it places no fixed duration for punishment whatever the case may be. This law can be resumed in the following manner:
21. “Man always suffers the consequences of his errors. There is no infraction of God's laws which does not have its punishment.
“The severity of the penalty is proportional to the gravity of the offence.
“The duration of the penalty for an error is indeterminate, being subordinate to the repentance of the culprit and his return to goodness; the penalty lasts as long as the evil. It will be perpetual if the persistence in doing evil is also perpetual; it is of short duration if repentance comes quickly.
“From the moment the culprit cries for mercy God listens and sends hope. But the simple fact of remorse for the evil done is not enough; it is necessary that reparation be made. This then is why the guilty party is submitted to new tests wherein he can, by his own will, do good in reparation for the evil that was done.
“In this manner Man constantly chooses his own destiny. He may shorten his anguish, or prolong it indefinitely. His happiness or unhappiness depends on his will to do good.”
This is the law; the immutable law which conforms to the goodness and justice of God.
In this manner the guilty and unhappy Spirit can always save himself, because God's law establishes the condition by which this becomes possible. What the Spirit is lacking in most cases is the will-power, the strength and the courage. If by our prayers we can inspire this will-power; if we uphold the sufferer and encourage him; if by our counsel we give him the enlightenment he lacks, instead of asking God to annul His law, we turn ourselves into instruments for the execution of His law of love and charity in which He allows us to participate, so giving us proof of His charity (See HEAVEN & HELL, 1st part, chapters: 4, 7 & 8).