St. Pius V Corner: Saving Souls Here And Beyond

St. Pius V Corner: Saving Souls Here And Beyond

The Dogma of Purgatory is too much forgotten by the majority of the faithful; the Church Suffering, where they have so many brethren to succour, whither they foresee that they themselves must one day go, seems a strange land to them. This truly deplorable forgetfulness was a great sorrow to Saint Francis de Sales. “Alas!” said this pious doctor of the Church, “we do not sufficiently remember our dear departed; their memory seems to perish with the sound of the funeral bells.”

Fr. Francis X. Schouppe, Purgatory Explained (1893)

In my early days, I admit that I have been overly heavy dealing with matters pertaining to moral theology (e.g. “Is it wrong to eat meat on Fridays?”) or proving truths of the Faith (e.g. Mariology). It’s an attitude which also spills over onto many quarters of social media, which I’ve jumped in at times. I’m not saying these are unimportant – getting dogmatics down right is absolutely necessary for salvation. Christ prayed for his faithful “that they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee” (St. John 17:21), and St. Paul advised that the Church be united in “one Lord, one faith and one Baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) as well as to doctrinally “…speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that you be perfect in the same mind, and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). To deny this is to put Christ’s prayer in vain.

However, we must also not forget to look after our own spiritual life. Without knowledge of the Faith, our zeal for holiness and love of God will deplete; when we forego our duty in prayer, as many saints like St. Louis De Montfort, St. Alphonsus Liguori or St. Teresa of Avila testify, we become lukewarm in the Faith and risk embracing other dangerous and deficient ideologies. We need a solution, and this comes in the form of a simple formula – “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart,… soul, and… mind.” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (St. Matthew 22:37,39). When we love God, we will be inclined not only to seek the truths He has revealed, but to do His will, and have love of Him in our acts towards others. Most especially, we are called also to help not only our family members, friends, and strangers around us, but also the souls of the saved who have passed on before us; the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

How does this theme relate to Angel Beats? Through the deeds of its main character, Yuzuru Otonashi, who in his endeavours on earth and for the remaining souls in the afterlife, leaves thoughts on two kinds of Christian charity: natural, and supernatural. (Note: since my brain came up with another set of Catholic anime reflection posts, this will be the last St. Pius V Corner until early next year)

Yuzuru Otonashi’s Background

How it started: Yuzuru doing little kind things for his sickly sister

I had a purpose in life. She was right beside me, all along. Whenever she said “thank you”, it was enough to keep me going. I can’t believe I was just too stupid to notice. She meant so much to me, yet I couldn’t do anything for her aside from reading the manga I bought for her. Her life, so simple and all, was she truly happy with that? Will I really be able to move on from her passing? All these things I never noticed were the best moments of my life… and now there’s nothing by my side like that anymore.

Yuzuru struggles to come to terms with Hatsune’s death

Prior to the series’ start, Yuzuru was what you’d describe as a worthless dirt-bag. Having dropped out of school due to lack of motivation and a hedonistic preference, he works multiple dead-end jobs to sustain his meager lifestyle, making his outlook on life practically bleak. The only solace in his life was his clinically bedridden sister, Hatsune, who he’d spend his free time with, buying her manga volumes and chatting about things. Over time, he begins to realize that being with, and doing all these favours like taking her to see Christmas lights and watching the stars, were bright spots amidst his miserable life. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes when she succumbs to her disease, leaving him the only surviving member of his family.

His subsequent depression is lifted after seeing a nurse spark joy in a child’s life, and he vows to pull a 180-degree life turnaround. His relentless studying gets him accepted into a medical university, bringing him one step closer to his newfound dream of serving others as he did with his sister. When a freak train accident that strands him and several others for one week, he gets his, albeit unfortunate, chance to do this; but it greatly takes a toll on his physical health. He dies just moments before the rescue team reaches his group; there, he lands in the school of quasi-purgatory, though in the process he loses his memories, which would not be recovered until episodes 7 and 9.

If I become an organ donor, even if my life ends, I can use my body to save someone else’s life. That way, we can leave behind meaning in our lives. You know, you’re really amazing, Otonashi… all these people here, they were living in despair and now because of you (getting them to become organ donors), they’re leaving hope for others. In a way, you’re saving everyone’s lives.

Yuzuru receives praise for his heroic act of charity
How it ended: Yuzuru dies, but not without becoming an organ donor as his last supreme act of earthly charity

The Merits Of Fraternal Charity

Yuzuru’s life throughout saw involvement with making someone’s life better. At first he spends time with his bed-ridden sister with simple pleasures, and after she dies, he regains a firmness to help others, which drives him to work towards becoming a doctor. Even in times of misfortune he does not hesitate to help others out of their troubles – assuming the de facto role as the leader of the stranded, he treats their injuries, provisions food and water, gives them hope, and takes responsibility for their slip-ups, even at the expense of his life, letting others have food and water before he does. In spite of his physically beleaguered state, he signs himself off as an organ donor, so that someone else can benefit from him after he passes to eternity, forming his last act of goodwill.

It was the practice of fraternal charity that developed his character to become more compassionate, generous, and patient with others. Just as many saints wrote, fraternal charity is an excellent means through which we can model ourselves after Jesus Christ, who, driven by love for humanity and the desire that they may all be united to God, the source of all that is good, spent His ministry confirming His brethren in the Faith through His good works, and calling us to do the same. A well-ordered charity towards neighbour, one which does not seek self-satisfaction, but denigrates it so that others may benefit, allows us to see the face of God in others; for this reason it is called the queen (source) of all virtues, towering over faith and hope in necessity. In the words of esteemed Dominican theologian Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange:

St. Thomas points out also that in the perfect charity toward one’s neighbor, the great sign of our love of God extends not only to all in general, but as soon as the occasion presents itself to each of those with whom the perfect have relations, not only to friends but to strangers and even to adversaries. Moreover, this fraternal charity is intense in them, reaching even to the sacrifice of exterior goods and of life itself for the salvation of souls, since Christ said: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” (St. John 15:12)

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages Of The Interior Life (1938-39), pg. 160
Moved by the death of his friend St. Lazarus of Bethany, Christ intercedes towards his resurrection

Admirable as this naturally-ordained virtue is, ultimately the life of a Christian is a pilgrimage on Earth – thus the better it is to sanctify all our actions and thoughts for an even higher purpose: love of God. The Church has one form of practice emphasizing this path: devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, which second to the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of my favourite parts of Catholic spirituality. Yuzuru’s deeds towards his friends in quasi-purgatory implicitly calls this into mind – and thereby comprises what I feel is the best portion coming out of Angel Beats.

Yuzuru In Quasi-Purgatory

Now I get it… this was a place to save young souls. Hinata catching the ball meant he would have been fulfilled and obliterated, so to speak…. Iwasawa was the only one before us who figured it out for herself, and became obliterated. Because of our personal situations, and our inability to be rid of them, we were sent here. But Kanade… wanted to show us a second chance at life.

Yuzuru discovers the secret behind Kanade and her kuudere ways

Yuzuru wakes up to find himself in quasi-purgatory, flanked by a high school in the background. He is instantly recruited by Yuri Nakamura, the head of the SSS (Afterlife Battlefront), who along with other students have the goal of defeating Kanade Tachibana, a white-haired girl who they believe to be an evil mastermind, for trying to get them to accept their death and become mindless drones in the school. Thrown into the situation with little knowledge and no other alternative, he joins them, and spends the first half of the series engaged in operations to disrupt the school life and try to overthrow her.

How it started: Yuzuru befriends Kanade, in spite of his group’s aversion to her dankness

Beneath this militaristic façade however, Yuzuru learns from Kanade the real reason for this place: a hospice for various adolescents who died early, their unfulfilled hopes keeping them from moving on. Everything falls into place – it starts in episode 2 with Yuri, who holds resentment over the death of her three younger siblings during a home invasion; Hinata, brooding over a failed baseball game; Ayato, a wannabe god-emperor masking a crippling inferiority complex from childhood, and Yui, the new guitarist of the school rock band, a paraplegic who, like his sister, missed out on the joys of life, including marriage. Realizing how much like them he was, he sympathizes with Kanade and once again, gives his life in service to bring his friends out of quasi-purgatory.

Yui becomes the first to go in episode 10 after Yuzuru helps her do some sports tricks, and culminates in Hinata confesses his feelings for her, the last regret on her list. The rest follow suit; by episode 13, he and Kanade help Yuri, Hinata, and Ayato pass on by doing an emotional mock graduation ceremony. Kanade becomes the last to leave, but much to his anguish, not before revealing that it was she who benefitted from his organ donor permission; for after he died, his heart was used to revive her and give her a few more years to live. Her debt is satisfied as she gets the chance to thank Yuzuru, the person who saved her life, even for a bit, though he is in tears for that.

If I told you what my debt was, I’d be obliterated immediately… I’m the girl who you saved with your heart. Yes, right now it’s beating within me. For the longest time I wanted to find the person who gave me this life back. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to move forward from this realm… Thank you for giving me this wonderful life!

On the manner in which Yuzuru liberates Kanade from quasi-purgatory
How it ended: Yuzuru becomes a mediator towards the students in quasi-purgatory

The Merits Of Praying For Our Forgotten Friends

Consider now, Christian soul, the greatness of this work of charity and gratitude; consider how well-pleased God will be with the prayers and good works of those who offer them in satisfaction, to release the Holy Souls – how pleased He will be if the admission of such a soul to the beatific vision were thereby hastened even for one hour. Remember the words of Our Lord: “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to Me.” (St. Matthew 24:40)… Dionysius the Carthusian quotes (St. Gertrude), saying: “As often as you release a soul from Purgatory, the Lord is so pleased thereat as if He Himself had been rleeased from prison by you; and in due time He will reward you most graciously for this act of charity.”

Fr. John A. Nageleisen, Charity For The Suffering Souls in Purgatory (1895), pgs. 326-327

Purgatory, in the Catholic sense of the term, refers to a middle ground of sorts between Heaven and Hell. Although it has its basis in Scripture (see 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, 2 Maccabees 12:38-45, St. Matthew 12:32) and was traditionally believed by many early Church Fathers such as Sts. Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria and Pope St. Gregory the Great, it was not dogmatically defined until the Second Council of Lyons in 1274. Up until here is where the true purgatory and Angel Beats‘ conception of it separate; the former is hot, fiery and spiritually strenuous, filled with individuals who are reconciled with God, but require an additional purification from slight (venial) sins that weren’t properly made up for before death – like how Yuri, Yuzuru and Kanade needed to satisfy unfulfilled earthly longings before moving past quasi-purgatory. A defense of Purgatory will not be the subject of this post; but rather, the focus will be made on its inhabitants.

These very individuals, who the Catholic Church calls the Holy Souls in Purgatory, make up the entirety of the “Church Suffering”, in contrast to living believers on Earth (the Church Militant) and those in Heaven (the Church Triumphant). They remain, surrounded by an intense fire, not as a means of torment but as a sign of God’s infinite love for them, quenching their spiritual state to perfection, which is key to enter Heaven. The more venial sins are on their soul, the longer the stay in Purgatory will be, considering the amount of penance needed to be done in order to expiate them. The atonement of their faults cannot be done by them alone, since they no longer have the earthly faculty to do such: it is the job of the Catholic believers on Earth, such as their family or friends. But even those unrelated have a duty to remember these faithful departed.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the most effective means of releasing souls from Purgatory (depicted at the bottom)

Angel Beats recognizes this, somewhat. In episode 9, where Yuzuru recovers his memories and chats with Kanade over the purpose of quasi-purgatory, he reflects on his own good deeds back home, as well how much suffering his friends have, and are currently going through. Worst of all, some like Yuri or Ayato have no one to remember them – perpetually dooming them to living endless eons in quasi-purgatory. Desiring to alleviate that suffering, and help them find that new life despite barely knowing them, he elevates his motives to that divine standard. Devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory also plays on this supernaturally-based love of those who came before us – remember, Christ promises to all: “And every one that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever.” (St. John 11:26).

Fr. John A. Nageleisen, a Catholic missionary priest for the Congregation of the Most Precious Blood, gives four motives for a Catholic to take up devotion to the Holy Souls:

  • They assist in the work of God by helping souls reach Him, fulfilling His desire that souls join in praising Him in Heaven
  • The aforementioned soul will be free from the pains of Purgatory, in attaining the blessed joy of seeing their Creator
  • The individual will lessen their time in Purgatory, through the gratitude of the soul they freed
    • At the same time, they will receive spiritual assistance through their prayers, and vouch for them upon their death; they will provide temporal assistance and protection from harm
  • The devotion itself will encourage holiness, calling believers to pay more mind to spiritual affairs, and become frequent in fervently making acts of Christian faith, hope and charity

How To Help The Holy Souls In Purgatory

We are always bound to love and help each other, but the greater the need of our neighbor, the more stringent and the more urgent this obligation is. It is not a favor that we may do or leave undone, it is our duty… Now, who can be in more urgent need of our charity than the souls in Purgatory? What hunger or thirst or dire sufferings on this Earth can compare to their dreadful torments? Neither the poor nor the sick nor the suffering we see around us have any such urgent need of our succour... Who can have more claim on us? Among them, too, there may be our mothers, fathers, our friends and near of kin.

Fr. Paul O’Sullivan, How To Avoid Purgatory (1936), pgs. 12-13
Hinata in episode 10, after freeing Yui from quasi-purgatory

To help his quasi-purgatorial friends, Yuzuru listened to their stories, consoled their troubles, and procured whatever it took to achieve their “obliteration”. Similarly, for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, the way to win their ultimate salvation, for the greater glory of God, is also rooted in these same works of charity; which are meritorious not only for them, but ourselves as well, since “charity covereth a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). The same Fr. Nageleisen describes several means by which we can obtain this end, provided we are in a state of grace, or not having any mortal sin on us and interiorly pledge our intention to help the Holy Souls:

  • Performing good works: for instance, almsgiving or temporal assistance to others
  • Bearing with difficulties or the faults of others patiently, offering them up to God for the Holy Souls’ relief
  • Having Masses, for example, Gregorian Masses, consisting of 30 consecutive Masses in their memory, offered for them
    • Hearing such Masses, and receiving Holy Communion reverently
  • Pious recitation of the Church’s prayers for the dead, like Psalm 129 or these ones
    • Obtaining indulgences for them. This can either be partial, such as the prayers in the Raccolta or plenary; note that the latter requires Confession, Communion, praying for the Pope’s intentions, and a serious detachment from all sin.
  • Hardcore devotees may make a Heroic Act of Charity, giving all their prayers and good works exclusively for the Holy Souls’ relief, foregoing their own. This vow can be renewed or revoked at any time.

Personally, I make use of indulgences, and own a copy of the Church’s official 1958 list of such. Through these, we may practice a spirit of penance for ourselves, increasing our relationship with God and cutting down our own Purgatorial time. These acts will undoubtedly gain us many divine graces to persevere through difficulties, and earn the compassion of the Holy Souls. Their help, as well as those of the living, may one day become our most precious treasure, guiding us to Heaven. In a way, I have Angel Beats to thank for seeing the value of this devotion.


St. Gertrude the Great, a friend of the Holy Souls

Consider the effects of this twofold charity Yuzuru lived. He went from a sullen shut-in to a wonderful person animated by a desire to brighten other’s lives. His personal condition saw improvement, and his attitude transformed. In quasi-purgatory, this purpose was renewed thanks to Kanade’s kind admonitions, and his commitment to leading his SSS brigade friends to a new life, wrought a heavenly satisfaction that substituted what he could not do on Earth.

In like manner do we find many throughout history whose lives have been profoundly moved by charity for the Holy Souls, leading them to the holiness we ought to imitate. Were you to read a book on Purgatory, you would find countless stories of pious laypersons and saints including Sts. Benedict Joseph Labre, John Vianney, Gertrude the Great, Mary Magdalene de Pazzi and Nicholas of Tolentino encountering these souls, and their empathy towards them. As underrated as it is today, it cannot be denied the great efficacy of this devotion, that it has a place among the spiritual works of mercy. See also the words of St. Gertrude, the famed abbess of the Benedictine monastery in Saxony, who lovingly summarizes the Holy Souls this way:

The Holy Souls in Purgatory are our friends. If we all adopted a Holy Soul to pray for, Purgatory would be empty in no time.

St. Gertrude the Great

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