Every man has his character, and every man's character has its leading characteristic, that by which his peculiar character most often shows itself. Our Lord is "one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin,"* and He too has a human nature and therefore a human character. Whether that human character of Divine perfection has any especial characteristic, that is, whether one perfection manifested itself during His Human Life more prominently than another, may well be doubted. What cannot be doubted is that if there be one feature of our Lord's life more striking than another it is His generosity; a limitless generosity which can be measured only by His immeasurable love of His Eternal Father and of the souls whom He has redeemed.
To generosity the Sacred Humanity itself and our Lord's Human Heart owe their very existence; for what but generosity moved the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity to assume our fallen nature, and give Himself "a redemption for all,” + when by the sin of our first parents we had lost our inheritance; or, what but generosity can account for the manner of that redemption, and for every action of our Lord's life on earth? The very least part of all He did and suffered, being in itself of infinite value, would have amply sufficed to satisfy the justice of His Eternal Father, and restore us to favour; but it is not His way to stop at what is merely necessary to meet the requirements of justice. To show us how to suffer; to sweeten and sanctify our sufferings by His own; to teach us how to fight and conquer our threefold enemy; to lead us on by His example to expiate our sins by penance; and, in all this and above all this, to give us what can only be called a prodigal proof of His love; His generosity overpassed all justice, and made Him embrace a life of hiddenness and poverty and suffering, which began with the humiliations of the stable-cave, and ended with the ignominy of the cross: and this, not only for mankind in general, but for every individual human soul that has ever, and shall ever, come forth from the hand of God. What more could the generosity of our Divine Redeemer find to do for us?
+ Heb. iv, 15. t 1 Tim. ii. 16.
Very much more. Our sanctuary lamps remind us of it at every moment of the day. If the Sacred Heart of our Lord owes even its existence to generosity, if generosity ruled and directed His whole mortal life, where else can we find the cause of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, and of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?
And what but generosity, in its most loving excess, can explain why Our Divine Lord is not content to remain with us only in some one favoured spot, and to be offered in sacrifice by one privileged priest? Because His generosity is limitless, He gives Himself to each one of us, at all times, and in all places; and all must confess with St. Peter: "In very deed I perceive that God is not a respecter of persons."* Alas, too often we know and see the outrages to which He is thereby exposed; we know how at this very moment, in more than one great city of the United Kingdom, His Sacred Body is passing through sacrilegious hands, that have been made His tabernacles by the crime of one of His own fallen ministers. Generosity shows itself in self-sacrifice; but was there ever such an utter annihilation and sacrifice of self as this?
And now, what must we do for our Lord? If generosity is His leading trait, if it characterized Him on earth and characterizes Him now as He dwells amongst us sacramentally, surely it should be the distinctive quality of those who are striving to make their lives perfect reflections—faint it may be, but still in their measures perfect reflections—of His own. Can we study His life without at least wishing to be generous with a twofold generosity, that is at once all for Him, and—like Him—all for the souls whom He died to save! But mere wishes and feelings will avail but little if they do not lead to generosity in every action of our service of God. How we are to attain that we are best taught in the prayer attributed to St. Ignatius: "Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous, teach me to serve Thee as Thou deservest, to give and not to count the cost , to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not seek for rest, to labour and not to desire reward save that of knowing that I do Thy Will." When we strive to do all this in the wide, loving spirit of true children of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, then we shall be generous indeed.
* Acts x. 34.
PRAYER.0 Jesus, through the most pure Heart of Mary, I offer the prayers, work, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of Thy Divine Heart. 1 offer them especially that we may imitate Thy generosity, and that, seeking only Thy greater glory, we may become worthy instruments of Thy grace. Amen.
JESUS, having been taken from the cross, is placed in a new sepulchre in which His flesh, fearfully mangled by the ordeal through which it had passed, reposed for a little while. Its rest was not the deep sleep which weighs down human beings after they breathe their last sigh, and from which only the trumpet of the angel will awaken them ; it is a tranquil slumber from which the voice of God will soon arouse Him.
Two passions — hatred and fear — watch round His tomb. It is covered with a huge stone and secured by the seal of the synagogue. The soldiers are on guard to prevent any secret approach. It is confidently believed that these precautions will stifle for ever in the tomb the voice of Him who had said of His body : "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will build it up again (John ii. 19). How ridiculous and foolish men make themselves when they attempt to run counter to the designs of God or to give the lie to His promises ! On the morning of the third day there is an earthquake ; an angel descends and rolls away the stone ; and the flesh of Jesus, receiving Life again by the divine power, springs forth, glorious and immortal, from the arms of Death.
Let us adore our risen Saviour! No longer is He a prisoner whom the soldiers of the synagogue and the pretorium drag about from one tribunal to another ; no longer is He the man forsaken by His Father and His friends, and complaining most touchingly of the rigors of divine justice ; no more is He the condemned man whom all insult who dare address Him ; no longer is he the man covered with wounds and become like a leper whose aspect is fearful to look upon ; nor is He any more the dead body which His afflicted Mother enshrouded with reverent hands and saw laid in a sepulchre. Now He is free, joyous, triumphant, radiant, immortal. Let us, with the Psalmist, sing to the Lord : " Thou hast broken my bonds, and I will offer to Thee a sacrifice of praise." Thou hast not forgotten the Just One in His tomb, "nor hast Thou allowed Thy Holy One to see corruption." With St. Paul we will cry out : " O death ! where is thy victory ? O death ! where is thy sting?" (1 Cor. xv.) "Christ rising from the dead, dieth now no more, death shall have no more dominion over Him ; for in that He liveth, He liveth to God" (Rom. vi.) Let us sing these canticles of joy and then turn our thoughts upon ourselves.
This great mystery includes for us a lesson, a figure, and a promise.
The ineffable joy and glory of the Resurrection have been purchased at the price of most horrible sufferings. It was inevitable. It is our Saviour Himself who tells it to those who, like the disciples of Emmaus, might be scandalized or weakened on account of His Passion : " Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to have entered into His glory ? " (Luke xxiv.) Now, the road of soldiers must be the same as that travelled by their leader. Enlisted under the banner of Jesus Christ, we cannot hope to attain the incorruptible glory and unalloyed happiness, promised by Almighty God, through the broad pathway of pleasure and enjoyment, which is unhappily too much frequented. Jesus did not take that road. It was the rough way of sorrow and pain, in which we can easily trace His bloody foot- steps, that conducted Him to eternal honors. It was the cross He bore and on which He died that opened the gates of heaven, barred and bolted against the luxury of worldlings. The motto of every Christian ought to be : "Let me suffer, O Lord ! in this life, that I may live eternally in the next."
This is the lesson of the Resurrection.
There is in it also a symbol or figure. The mystery of the Resurrection is a lively figure of the spiritual transformation which ought to take place in each of us. Sin is death. It is the tomb in which the captive soul sleeps a fatal sleep. The enemy takes all manner of precautions to prevent its awakening. Yet he cannot prevent the voice of God from reaching even this sepulchre of the sinful soul. " Arise," says that voice, " thou who sleepest ; arise from the dead. Christ will enlighten thee " (Ephes. v.) At the first sound of that voice let us rise from sin. We may never hear it more. Death long continued will breed corruption.
But how will I rise ? How break the cords that tie me down ? How roll away the heavy stone that is laid over me ? How break the inveterate habits and the shameful laxity of the will, which is weakened so much by its many consents to sin ? Courage, Christian ! In the figure just given there is a promise. For us Christ died, and " for our justification He rose again." The divine virtue of His glorified humanity will one day bring together the scattered dust of our bodies, and will make our flesh, dissolved in death, live again eternally incorrupt ; but at present He addresses Himself to the soul especially to draw it from sin to justice, and to give it strength to " walk in the pathway of a blessed newness of life."
I count on Thee, O my adorable Master ! Have pity on me ! I am dead, or at least I feel myself dying day by day ; for it is not life that languishes in tepidity. In virtue of Thy blessed Resurrection enable me to rise from the tomb of my failings. Create, O Lord ! a new spirit within me, so that, penetrated with Thy light, disengaged from the influences of the flesh, active and alert in good works, and bent upon the perfection of my life, I may live henceforth only for Thee, as Thou livest only for God.
THE ASCENSION — JESUS IN HEAVEN.LET us go to Mount Olivet. Thither Jesus brings His disciples for the last time. He recalls to their minds their divine mission, confirms the powers conferred upon them, again promises the Holy Spirit, gives them His blessing, bids them adieu, and rises towards heaven. The hearts of the apostles, divided between grief and wonder, follow with their eyes their adorable Master, who is leaving them, and whom they will never see again on earth. A bright cloud intercepts their view of the triumphant humanity of their Saviour, but they continue to look towards the heavens whither He had ascended. Now they understand all ; and their hearts, so recently gross and carnal, break all earthly chains.
Let us with them raise our hearts to heaven. Sursum corda ! If Jesus leaves us He does not forget us, nor does He abandon us to our exile without hope. His going is not to put an immense distance between His glory and our misery ; it is to prepare a place for us : " I go to prepare a place for you " (John xiv. 2). This is His promise ; can we suppose He will not keep it?
O Jesus, our only love! we have need of hearing this good word fall from Thy adorable lips to console us in Thy absence. Thou goest to prepare a place for us; is this world, therefore, not our most suitable home? Ah ! no. It is too full of troubles to give that joy to the heart to which it aspires; it is too narrow to satiate the immensity of our desires ; it is too uncertain to give us any assurance of eternal possession, the idea of which is inseparable from all our dreams of happiness. The eternal life of God, His infinite perfections, the perfect love of God, the boundless space which His immensity fills — this is the "length and breadth and depth" of which St. Paul speaks; this is the place to which we should direct our course and in which we should anchor our bark of life, the place which Jesus went to prepare for us.
He is there indeed. It is our humanity that triumphs in his person and sits at the right hand of God. Even if we were not called to a participation in His glory and beatitude we ought to be anxious to know where it is and to register His victory in our human records. If he belongs to God He belongs to us also; if He is of the divine substance He is also of our flesh and blood, and we may well declare with a holy doctor: " Where a part of me reigns, I believe I reign also; where my flesh is glorified, I am glorified; where my blood is king, I too am king."
But listen, Christian! Jesus does not wish to reduce you to the sterile honor of knowing His triumph. By His ascension He enters into the bosom of God the Father, not as a delegate, but as a precursor of humanity. This is the expression of St. Paul in his sixth chapter to the Hebrews. The precursor prepares the way for those who follow Him, and the place in which they are to rest after the fatigue of the journey. The precursor puts all things in order; He waits for His friends and calls them in. But how much more certain and efficacious His office is when, instead of being a servant merely, He is master of those for whom He prepares a place, and master of the place as well!
Christ, our precursor, is all this. Let us consider carefully the words of the apostle. He teaches us that Christ asserted our rights by His very presence in the bosom of God. For we are His property, and He has a right to enter into heaven with what belongs to Him. " He is our head; we are the body and members of that head." But where the head is, there likewise ought to be the body and the members. But Jesus would be our precursor only half-way if, by His action, He did not put us in condition to realize our lights — that is to say, if He did not prepare God to receive us and did not prepare us to take possession of God.
He is our priest "for ever"; or, in other words, He presents eternally to God the most sacred gifts that humanity has to offer, and to humanity the most sacred gifts of God. Our acts of religion would never have penetrated this sanctuary, in which they ought to mark out a place for us, if they did not pass through the hands of Jesus Christ. And if we return to God after our transgression, our repentance is only acceptable because "we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Just." If the groans of our misery or the expressions of our love are heard in heaven it is because Jesus appropriates them; for "He lives only to intercede for us.' He shows to the Father the marks of His glorious wounds, and makes His blood plead more strongly than that of Abel.
O God! Thou canst not resist this strong cry. It must be that Thou permittest us to mark our places in the sacred tabernacles which Thou fillest with Thy blessedness. This is the will of my Lord Jesus; and in preparing Thee to receive us He prepares us to take possession of Thee. The incarnate Word, humbled and annihilated in the days of His life on earth, became on the day of His ascension the inexhaustible treasury of the gifts of God. "Christ, ascending on high, led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men" (Ephes. iv. 8). Thus it is that the remedies of our faults, the succor of our weakness, the light of our darkness, the solace of our pains, the impulses towards good, all descend into our souls to make them worthy of God, whom we ought to possess. He extends His benign influence even to our corruptible flesh, which He prepares for the resurrection.
O Christian! meditate upon this glorious and consoling mystery. Never more turn to creatures as the end of your life. This world is not your resting-place. Honors, riches, pleasures, human affections are unworthy of a great and generous soul. Look to your Leader and Precursor; have confidence in His divine ministry; abandon yourself to His holy grace; raise your heart to heaven. Sursum corda!
THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY GHOST — THE SPIRIT OF JESUS.
THE apostles were assembled together in one place, awaiting in recollection and prayer the effect of the promises of Jesus. For He had said: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself ; that where I am you also may be. . . . And I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete [comforter or advocate], that He may abide with you for ever ; the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not nor knoweth Him ; but you shall know Him, because He shall abide with you and be with you " (John xiv. 3, 16, 17). Ten days after the Ascension of our Lord a mighty event took place. It was the fulfillment of the promise, and is thus recorded in the Acts of the Apostles : And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them cloven tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon each one of them ; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak" (Acts ii.)
O wonderful prodigy ! But a moment ago these men were ignorant and could not clearly understand the doctrine of their Master; now they possess a full knowledge of the most sublime truths. At one moment they express themselves in a weak and stammering manner; the next they are filled with a marvelous eloquence. At one moment they are weak and timid even to the extent of cowardice — they hide themselves, so as not to be involved in the misfortunes of their Master ; the next they come forth boldly, and fearlessly proclaim their faith and love, and this, too, before a people who load them with injuries and drag them before, their tribunals. They seem at one moment ungrateful and almost without hope; the next they are devoted to the words of their Master, even unto death. Now they are sad and downcast ; all at once their hearts abound in hope and joy. What has happened ? The Holy Ghost, having descended from heaven, has brought to perfection in the souls of the disciples the spirit and form of the Christian life, which until now were only in a crude, inchoative state. This is His special mission. The holy Fathers have sometimes called Him the " perfective force."
Learn from this, O Christian soul ! that the effusion of the Holy Spirit is as necessary for thy salvation as is the application of the blood and merits of Jesus Christ. " The end of man, which is to see God and possess Him eternally, is beyond the powers of nature," says St. Thomas of Aquin ; " our reason cannot conduct us to it, if its natural movement does not bring to its aid the instinct and motion of the Spirit of God. 9 ' It is so necessary for us that without it we possess only the rudiments of the Christian and supernatural life.
Jesus, the divine Architect, makes of our souls His temples, having purified them with His precious blood. It is the Holy Ghost who consecrates us in marking us with His character, and conferring upon us the unction of His love and the illumination of His gifts. Pentecost is therefore, in the Church, a universal and perpetual festival. Our baptism is a pentecost; our confirmation is a pentecost. Besides this, as St. Thomas teaches, the divine Paraclete returns constantly in His secret visits, to illuminate, strengthen, and beautify with His gifts the souls of the just.
But let us hear attentively the word of God : " The Lord does not come in times of disturbance " (3 Kings xix.) We must have peace in our souls ; we must remove the agitation of vain thoughts and of vain desires, if we would receive the Spirit of God. Let us await His coming, like the apostles, in recollection and prayer.
It is not likely that God will surprise us by sudden visits of His light and grace ; in the ordinary workings of His providence He only sends His Holy Spirit to us when we say with earnest fervor : Come ! Veni Sancte Spiritus !
Let us invoke Him, then, in the dark night of temptation, in the agony of doubt. When, enveloped in the darkness of ignorance and drawn on by the glare of creatures, our uncertain spirit asks for the truth to guide it ; and when, desirous of the knowledge and light of faith, we desire to penetrate the divine mysteries, let us invoke the Holy Spirit, for he is indeed the " Spirit of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge."
When we are moved to determine and fix our vocation in life, when we are about to perform some work in which our consciences are deeply concerned, or if it is our duty to direct. souls in the ways of God, let us invoke the " Spirit of counsel."
When we feel the love of God languish in our hearts, or even when we are moved by a holy zeal and we wish to love God with good effect, let us invoke the Holy Spirit, for He is truly the " Spirit of piety ."
When the power of evil attacks us and the world persecutes us, when passion torments us, and when sorrow oppresses us, let us earnestly call Him to our assistance, for He is the " Spirit of fortitude."
When the abyss of sin is open before us and ready to engulf us, let us invoke Him with all our strength, for He is the "Spirit of the fear of the Lord,"
In all our sufferings let us invoke Him, for He is indeed the Paraclete — the Comforter.
Against the slavery of all evil habits that weigh down the will let us invoke Him, for " where the Spirit of God is, there is true liberty."
Has He come ? Then let us meet Him with attention, vigilance, and profound respect. Let us not "'grieve the Spirit of God by our faults and imperfections."
THE ASSUMPTION OF THE MOST BLESSED VIRGIN — JESUS AT THE TOMB OF HIS MOTHER.MARY languished waiting anxiously many years for the blessed day that would reunite Her with Her Son. It came at length. Her lamp of life was peacefully extinguished in the home of the beloved disciple, St. John, surrounded by other apostles, whose messages she bore to heaven. A virgin sepulchre received the mortal remains of the spotless Virgin. It was the mysterious cradle soon to be visited by the Author of life. Sleep on, dear Blessed Mother, sleep on, whilst the infant Church mourns around thy grave !
Soon one of the disciples desired to see again His Mother's face, and to kiss the blessed hand that had caressed the Saviour of the world. The tomb was opened, but the immaculate body was not there ; instead of it were found roses and lilies of the sweetest perfume — a fitting symbol of her perfections and virtues.
Thus a miracle is performed in the silent shade of the tomb. Jesus, from the highest heavens contemplating the spotless body which was the tabernacle of His humanity, repeated the words of the prophet : " Thou wilt not give Thy Holy One to see corruption." He applies it to His holy Mother ; He will not suffer Her to feel the corruption of the grave. Mary slumbers in death, as Her Son once did, but He awakes Her with these loving words of the Canticles : "Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. The winter is now past ; the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land ; the time of pruning is come ; the voice of the turtle is heard. The fig-tree has put forth her green figs ; the vines in flower yield their sweet smell. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come. . . . Come from Libanus, where the incorruptible cedars grow. Come and be crowned." *
* Antiphon of the Assumption.
Mary can neither rise nor ascend to heaven of Her own power, but the Author of life extends to Her His omnipotent force, places His angels at Her service, and they bear Her to Her home in heaven.
To us poor mortals the privilege of incorruption in the tomb does not belong. Wretched children of Adam, defiled, from the first moment of our existence, by original sin, unfaithful to the grace of our regeneration, frequently guilty of sin after having been pardoned, we have opened to death all the avenues of life. Death entered with sin and has written on our flesh this terrible word : Corruption ! Nothing escapes its cruel tooth. The skin, gradually eaten away, soon disappears entirely, leaving only a dry skeleton ; and this, too, silently crumbling into dust, is mingled with the surrounding earth by the grave-digger's spade when he is preparing a place for other dead bodies. This is the end of all.
Let us not be terrified, however, at our nothingness. Men may seek for us in vain ; but the all-seeing eye of God follows through the mazes of nature the wanderings of the particles which once composed our bodies. When the world shall have finished its course the Author of life will visit the empire of death, and with His sovereign voice will address the elements of which human bodies were once constituted, saying : " Unite, arise, come." Then the bones of each human being shall be recomposed, and the flesh shall recover the texture and color by which it was once before known. This is a certain truth.
And it is no less certain that our resurrection will be the same as our death. It will be glorious or ignominious, it will be for eternal joy or eternal sorrow, according as our death shall have been in justice or sin.
Let us meditate seriously on these truths ; and whilst we carry about with us our bodies as vessels made by the divine hand for honor, and destined to receive from the same hand a new existence which no inimical force can destroy, let us take good care not to make of them objects of almost idolatrous attention which cannot save them from the ravages of time or the corruption of the grave. If to-day we hear the forebodings of death, if we are saddened by our infirmities, if our thoughts are gloomy and dark, if the perfection of our souls is retarded or burdened with the weight of our bodies, let us not repine. Patience ! Patience ! One day this poor companion of the soul will rise immortal, incorruptible, brighter than the stars of heaven, obedient to the commands of the soul which will impart to it a wonderful agility. If the body presses us with gross demands, and even incites to sin, we must inexorably repress it. We must preserve ourselves from all defilement by wise precautions, strong resolutions, and salutary chastisements. The more we resemble in the flesh the unsullied flesh of our Holy Mother, the more resplendent will be the glory of our resurrection.
THE CORONATION OF THE MOST BLESSED VIRGIN — JESUS THE REMUNERATOR.
HEAVEN is opened. Our Most Holy Mother, invited by Her Son, triumphantly enters in. " Come and be crowned,’ our Saviour says to Her. Let us assist in spirit at this coronation. It is the eternal consecration of all the virtues, of all the dolors of Mary. It is the recompense which confers upon Her the greatest power ever before imparted to a creature. All the kings of Judah gather round their well-beloved daughter. " David dances for joy ; the angels and archangels unite with Israel's sweet singer to chant the praises of their Queen. The virtues proclaim Her glory ; the principalities, powers, and dominations exult with joy ; the thrones felicitate Her who was the living and immaculate throne of the Most High. The cherubim salute Her in a canticle of praise, and the seraphim declare Her glory," says St. John Damascene. Finally Jesus comes, and, amid the plaudits of the whole Court of Heaven, places a crown on the brow of His Most Blessed Mother.
Jesus forgets nothing. All is crowned in Mary : Her thoughts, Her desires, Her actions, Her virtues, Her merits — even Her privileges, of which She had rendered Herself most worth by Her constant correspondence with the admirable designs of God. The feast of the Coronation is a feast of justice.
Christian soul, this feast of justice ought to rejoice your heart ! It is your Mother is honored, it is your Mother's triumph ; and Her triumph teaches us that we have a just God in heaven, who, when the day of remuneration comes, will remember all. Therefore what signify the difficulties, sorrows, languors, and tribulations of our short lives ? "For the rest there is laid up for us a crown of justice which the Lord, the just judge, will bestow upon us in that day" (2 Tim. iv.) O senseless souls who run after earthly goods, can you say this of the world you seem to adore or of the rulers of the world ? They promise riches, pleasures, celebrity, love. Your whole soul is held in a state of tension by the toys of imagination, covetous desires, or other passions ; your senses themselves are disturbed, your health is injured, your life is filled with intrigues, troubles, and meannesses. Humble yourselves, throw away earthly cares, else you will never be able to say, with the noble and fervent confidence of the true Christian : " There is laid up for me a crown." Crowns of gold or of roses, of honor or affection, often slip from your grasp just when you think you hold them most securely. And if you were able to obtain at once all the crowns of the world, you must bring them at last before the "just Judge," who will, with pitiless hand, tear them from your brow and throw them down to rot where you received them. We cannot carry with us to heaven useless or hurtful ornaments. Our crown in heaven — our true crown — will remain eternally on our brow and will never fade. "And when the Prince of pastors shall appear you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory " (1 Peter v. 4).
Feed yourself, then, O my soul ! on these deep and consoling thoughts. The all-just Rewarder of all faithful souls sees you and knows you. Despise the vain objects of worldlings and cling to the road that brings you to a crown of glory. It is a rough and difficult road. You will have to overcome obstacles, to leap over more than one abyss, to avoid ambuscades(def. attack from an ambush.), to fight the enemy, to repair reverses and even defeats. Courage ! Courage ! All your marches, all your efforts, all your labors and combats are in God's keeping : " For the rest there is laid up for you a crown." You will say: " If I could only march alone on the hard road leading to glory ! But no ; I must carry along with me this miserable body. It is a furnace of sin, and of sorrow too. It obscures my sight so that I cannot see clearly what I ought to see ; from it come doubts, scruples, dryness, disquietude, chagrin, and anguish. From time and from nature it receives many blows and wounds. How many are the evils, both external and internal, of our sad lives ! " Courage ! Courage ! All these are counted ; all will be crowned. At once a champion, a pilgrim, and a martyr, you will be able to say with the great Apostle of the Gentiles : " I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. For the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just judge, will render to me at that day ; and not to me only, but to them also who love His coming " (2 Tim. iv. 7, 8).
The distinctive character of the devotion to the Sacred Heart is the desire of offering reparation to the outraged love of our Saviour. If men had always and everywhere treated the Blessed Sacrament with grateful reverence, there would have been a true service of the Sacred Heart in love and adoration, but such a service would have differed in one essential respect from that which we are asked to render now. Our Lord has made it impossible to doubt His meaning. It was a devotion of reparation which He commissioned Blessed Margaret Mary to demand. Not only did He repeatedly assert this intention in clear words, but the symbol which He selected for the outward expression of the spiritual object of the devotion displays the same idea, and should suffice to keep it ever present to the memory of our associates. It is not a simple image of the Sacred Heart which is presented to our veneration, but an image of the Sacred Heart encircled by the crown of thorns and surmounted by the Cross. We are not at liberty to think that any portion of this divinely chosen symbol is devoid of significance. Evidently it enters into the design, and is not a mere artistic arrangement, that the Cross, instead of being superimposed, is planted deeply in the Sacred Heart. In this there is matter for fruitful meditation. Our Lord could not have shown more unmistakeably that the Sacred Heart and the Cross must not be put asunder.Love of the Cross for All Servants of the Sacred Heart
When we see the enemies of God jubilant, and the work of demolition and sacrilege going forward almost unchecked, the thought may sometimes rise to our minds unbidden that our Saviour is forgetting His promises. Those promises were not unconditional. How have we observed our part of the compact? Perhaps the desire of sharing in the Cross of Christ which we frequently express in a set form of words has never found its first entrance into our hearts. Perhaps the prayers which are intended to breathe the very spirit of the devotion to the Sacred Heart have been pronounced by our lips alone. If it be so, then our Lord has more reason to complain of us than we of Him. He has not forgotten His promises, but we tie His hands. He is ready to give, but prayer is a necessary condition, prayer of those who love Him; and those do not love Him, who cry out, Lord, Lord! without ever dreaming of doing the things which He says.* "Many follow Christ unto the breaking of bread, but few unto the drinking of the chalice of the Passion." If we wish to help the good cause with efficient help, we must be careful to keep conjoined in our hearts the love of the Sacred Heart and the love of the Cross. If we take the Cross by itself, detached from the Sacred Heart, we shall certainly not have the courage to carry it: if we take the Sacred Heart apart from the Cross, we are not soldiers of Christ, but weak seceders.
It is too true that the greater part of Christians shrink from the very thought of helping our Lord to carry His Cross. Not in precise words, but equivalently, they tell Him that they are very grateful for what He has done to redeem them, but that they do not wish to take up their cross and follow Him. Their courage fails only because they do not sustain it by seeking strength from the Sacred Heart. They look at the Cross as an instrument of torture and death, and, feeling the repugnance of nature, they dare not even attempt to carry it. If they would call to mind that grace can accomplish many things which are hard to flesh and blood, and if, trusting in the Divine assistance, they would show their good will by making one earnest effort for a first beginning, they would speedily learn by their own experience that God helps those who help themselves. There is suffering in store for all, whether they be resigned or not. They are wise and happy who take up their cross cheerfully for the love of Christ our Lord, without waiting until they are compelled to carry it, and then wearying themselves in fruitless efforts to dislodge the heavy load. "My yoke is sweet and My burthen light," Jesus Christ has said; but the sweetness and the lightness are for those who follow Him of their own accord and serve Him, not for fear, but love. Those who forget that the Cross is planted in the Sacred Heart, that is to say, those who fix their mental gaze upon the suffering, pure and simple, and keep out of sight the motive which supplies courage, and the direct assistance of God's grace, which makes endurance not only possible, but easy, have only themselves to blame if they find their strength unequal to the weight which falls to their share.
* St. Luke vi. 46. t Imitation, bk. ii. c. xi.
There is an opposite error which is almost equally fatal to true progress and spiritual usefulness, and it consists in looking at the Sacred Heart alone, without adverting to the fact that It holds the Cross firmly embedded. That devotion to the Sacred Heart is not acceptable which begins and ends with protestations of sympathy for the sufferings of our Blessed Saviour. In all genuine piety there must be some effort to imitate what we gratefully remember, some desire to bear our Lord company on the road to Calvary. Piety which is entirely removed from the spirit of self-sacrifice is little better than mere sentiment, which the lightest summer breeze of temptation will be strong enough to dissipate.
From those who belong to His Holy League our Lord may well demand prayer of the right kind, prayer supported by mortification, prayer made at the foot of the Cross in union with the sorrowful Heart of the Mother of Jesus. At all times this is true, but the lesson comes before us each year with fuller force in the holy season of Lent, consecrated as it is to the remembrance of the Passion. "Rise, brethren, let us march together, Jesus will be with us. For the sake of Jesus, we have accepted the Cross, for the sake of Jesus we will remain upon the Cross. He Who is our Captain and our Guide will be our Helper also. Behold, our King goes in front, and will fight for us. Let us follow valiantly, casting our fears away, and holding ourselves in readiness to die bravely in battle, nor let us ever bring upon our glory the reproach of fleeing from the Cross."*
Sacred Heart of Jesus! through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer to Thee the prayers, labours, and crosses of this day, in expiation of our offences, and for all Thy other intentions.
I offer them to Thee in particular to obtain true love of the Cross for all who desire to love the Sacred Heart. Grant, dear Lord, that by uniting in their devotion these two objects of holy love, they may both sanctify themselves and labour fruitfully for the salvation of their brethren. Amen.
* Imitation, bk. iii. c. lvi.
From thoughts we naturally pass to words. Kind words are the music of the world. They have a power which seems to be beyond natural causes, as if they were some angel's song, which had lost its way, and come on earth, and sang on undyingly, smiting the hearts of men with sweetest wounds, and putting for the while an angel's nature into us.
Let us then think, first of all, of the power of kind words. In truth there is hardly a power on earth equal to them. It seems as if they could almost do what in reality God alone can do, namely, soften the hard and angry hearts of men. Many a friendship, long, loyal, and self-sacrificing, rested at first on no thicker a foundation than a kind word. The two men were not likely to be friends. Perhaps each of them regarded the other's antecedents with somewhat of distrust. They had possibly been set against each other by the circulation of gossip. Or they had been looked upon as rivals, and the success of one was regarded as incompatible with the success of the other. But a kind word, perhaps a mere report of a kind word, has been enough to set all things straight, and to be the commencement of an enduring friendship. The power of kind words is shown also in the destruction of prejudices, however inveterate they may have been. Surely we must all of us have experienced this ourselves. For a long time we have had prejudices against a person. They seem to us extremely well founded. We have a complete view of the whole case in our own minds. Some particular circumstances bring us into connection with this man. We see nothing to disabuse us of our prejudices. There is not an approach to any kind of proof, however indirect, that we were either mistaken in forming such a judgment, or that we have exaggerated the matter. But kind words pass, and the prejudices thaw away. Right or wrong, there was some reason, or show of reason, for forming them, while there is neither reason, nor show of reason, for their departure. There is no logic in the matter, but a power which is above logic, the simple unassisted power of a few kind words. What has been said of prejudices applies equally to quarrels. Kind words will set right things which have got most intricately wrong. In reality an unforgiving heart is a rare monster. Most men get tired of the justest quarrels. Even those quarrels, where the quarrel has been all on one side, and which are always the hardest to set right, give way in time to kind words. At first they will be unfairly taken as admissions that we have been in the wrong; then they will be put down to deceit and flattery; then they will irritate by the discomfort of conscience which they will produce in the other; but finally they will succeed in healing the wound that has been so often and so obstinately torn open. All quarrels probably rest on misunderstanding, and only live by silence, which as it were stereotypes the misunderstanding. A misunderstanding, which is more than a month old, may generally be regarded as incapable of explanation. Renewed explanations become renewed misunderstandings. Kind words, patiently uttered for long together, and without visible fruit, are our only hope. They will succeed. They will not explain what has been misunderstood, but they will do what is much better—make explanation unnecessary, and so avoid, the risk, which always accompanies explanations, of reopening old sores.
In all the foregoing instances the power of kind words is remedial. But it can be productive also. Kind words produce happiness. How often have we ourselves been made happy by kind words, in a manner and to an extent, which we are quite unable to explain? No analysis enables us to detect the secret of the power of kind words. Even self-love is found inadequate as a cause. Now, as I have said before, happiness is a great power of holiness. Thus, kind words, by their power of producing happiness, have also a power of producing holiness, and so of winning men to God. I have already touched on this, when I spoke of kindness in general. But it must now be added, that words have a power of their own both for good and evil, which I believe to be more influential and energetic over our fellow men than even actions. If I may use such a word when I am speaking of religious subjects, it is by voice and words that men mesmerize each other. Hence it is that the world is converted by the foolishness of preaching. Hence it is that an angry word rankles longer in the heart than an angry gesture, nay, very often even longer than a blow. Thus all that has been said of the power of kindness in general applies with an additional and peculiar force to kind words. They prepare men for conversion. They convert them. They sanctify them. They procure entrance for wholesome counsels into their souls. They blunt temptations. They dissolve the dangerous clouds of gloom and sadness. They are beforehand with evil. They exorcise the devil. Sometimes the conversions they work are gradual and take time. But more often they are sudden, more often they are like instantaneous revelations from heaven, not only unravelling complicated misunderstandings and softening the hardened convictions of years, but giving a divine vocation to the soul. Truly it would be worth going through fire and water to acquire the right and to find the opportunity of saying kind words!
Surely then it gives life quite a peculiar character that it should be gifted with a power so great, even if the exercise of it were difficult and rare. But the facility of this power is a fresh wonder about it, in addition to its greatness. It involves very little self-sacrifice, and for the most part none at all. It can be exercised generally without much effort, with no more effort than the water makes in flowing from the spring. Moreover the occasions for it do not lie scattered over life at great distances from each other. They occur continually. They come daily. They are frequent in the day. All these are commonplaces. But really it would seem as if very few of us give this power of kind words the consideration which is due to it. So great a power, such a facility in the exercise of it, such a frequency of opportunities for the application of it, and yet the world still what it is, and we still what we are I It seems incredible. I can only compare it to the innumerable sacraments which inundate our souls with grace, and the inexplicably little modicum of holiness which is the total result of them all, or, again, to the immense amount of knowledge of God which there is in the world, and yet the little worship He receives. Kind words cost us nothing, yet how often do we grudge them I On the few occasions, when they do imply some degree of self-sacrifice, they almost instantly repay us a hundred fold. The opportunities are frequent, hut we show no eagerness either in looking out for them, or in embracing them. What inference are we to draw from all this? Surely this,—that it is next to impossible to be habitually kind, except by the help of divine grace and upon supernatural motives. Take life all through, its adversity as well as its prosperity, its sickness as well as its health, its loss of its rights as well as its enjoyment of them, and we shall find that no natural sweetness of temper, much less any acquired philosophical equanimity, is equal to the support of a uniform habit of kindness. Nevertheless, with the help of grace, the habit of saying kind words is very quickly formed, and when once formed, it is not speedily lost. I have often thought that unkindness is very much a mental habit, almost as much mental as moral; observation has confirmed me in this idea, because I have met so many men with unkind heads, and have been fortunate enough never to my knowledge to have come across an unkind heart. I believe cruelty to be less uncommon than real inward unkindness.
Self-interest makes it comparatively easy for us to do that which we are well paid for doing. The great price, which every one puts on a little kind word, makes the practice of saying them still easier. They become more easy, the more on the one hand that we know ourselves, and on the other that we are united to God. Yet what are these but the two contemporaneous operations of grace, in which the life of holiness consists? Kindness, to be perfect, to be lasting, must be a conscious imitation of God. Sharpness, bitterness, sarcasm, acute observation, divination of motives,—all these things disappear when a man is earnestly conforming himself to the image of Christ Jesus. The very attempt to be like our dearest Lord is already a well-spring of sweetness within us, flowing with an easy grace over all who come within our reach. It is true that a special sort of unkindness is one of the uglinesses of pious beginnings. But this arises from an inability to manage our fresh grace properly. Our old bitterness gets the impulse meant for our new sweetness, and the machine cannot be got right in a moment. He, who is not patient with converts to God, will forfeit many of his own graces before he is aware. Not only is kindness due to every one, but a special kindness is due to every one. Kindness is not kindness, unless it be special. It is in its fitness, seasonableness, and individual application, that its charm consists.
It is natural to pass from the facility of kind words to their reward. I find myself always talking about happiness, while I am treating of kindness. The fact is the two things go together. The double reward of kind words is in the happiness they cause in others, and the happiness they cause in ourselves. The very process of uttering them is a happiness in itself. Even the imagining of them fills our minds with sweetness, and makes our hearts glow pleasurably. Is there any happiness in the world like the happiness of a disposition made happy by the happiness of others? There is no joy to be compared with it. The luxuries which-wealth can buy, the rewards which ambition can attain, the pleasures of art and scenery, the abounding sense of health, and the exquisite enjoyment of mental creations, are nothing to this pure and heavenly happiness, where self is drowned in the blessedness of others. Yet this happiness follows close upon kind words, and is their legitimate result. But, independently of this, kind words make us happy in ourselves. They soothe our own irritation. They charm our cares away. They draw us nearer to God. They raise the temperature of our love. They produce in us a sense of quiet restfulness, like that which accompanies the consciousness of forgiven sin. They shed abroad the peace of God within our hearts. This is their second reward. Then moreover we become kinder by saying kind words, and this is in itself a third reward. They help us also to attain the grace of purity, which is another excellent reward. They win us many other graces from God; but one especially:—they appear to have a peculiar congeniality with the grace of contrition, which is soft-heartedness towards God. Everything, which makes us gentle, has at the same time a tendency to make us contrite. A natural melting of the heart has often been the beginning of an acceptable repentance. Hence it is that seasons of sorrow are apt to be seasons of grace. This too is a huge reward. Then, last of all, kind words make us truthful. O this is what we want,—to be true! It is our insincerity, our manifold inseparable falseness, which is the load under which we groan. There is no slavery but untruthfulness. How have years passed in fighting, and still we are so untrue! It clings to us; for it is the proper stain of creatures, We fight on wearily. Kind words come and ally themselves to us, and we make way. They make us true, because kindness is, so far as we know, the most probable truth in the world. They make us true, because what is untruthful is not kind. They make us true, because kindness is God's view, and His view is always the true view.
Why then are we ever anything else but kind in our words? There are some difficulties. This must be honestly admitted. In some respects a clever man is more likely to be kind than a man who is not clever, because his mind is wider, and takes in a broader range, and is more capable of looking at things from different points of view. But there are other respects in which it is harder for a clever man to be kind, especially in his words. He has a temptation, and it is one of those temptations which appear sometimes to border on the 'irresistible, to say clever tilings; and somehow clever things are hardly ever kind things. There is a drop either of acid or of bitter in them, and it seems as if that drop was exactly what genius had insinuated. I believe, if we were to make an honest resolution never to say a clever thing, we should advance much more rapidly on the road to heaven. Our Lord's words in the Gospels should be our models. If we may reverently say it, when we consider of what a sententious and proverbial character His words were, it is remarkable how little of epigram, or sharpness, there is in them. Of course the words of the Eternal Word are all of them heavenly mysteries, each one with the light and seal of His Divinity upon it. At the same time they are also examples to us. On the whole, to say clever things of others is hardly ever without sin. There is something in genius which is analogous to a sting. Its sharpness, its speed, its delicacy, its wantonness, its pain, and its poison,—genius has all these things as well as the stingThere are some men who make it a kind of social profession to be amusing talkers. One is sometimes overwhelmed with melancholy by their professional efforts to be entertaining. They are the bugbears of real conversation. But the thing to notice about them here is, that they can hardly ever be religious men. A man, who lays himself out to amuse, is never a safe man to have for a friend, or even for an acquaintance. He is not a man whom any one really loves or respects. He is never innocent. He is for ever jostling charity by the pungency of his criticisms, and wounding justice by his revelation of secrets. II n'est pas ordinaire, says La Bruyere, que celui qui fait rire se fasse estimer.
There is also a grace of kind listening, as well as a grace of kind speaking. Some men listen with an abstracted air, which shows that their thoughts are elsewhere. Or they seem to listen, but by wide answers and irrelevant questions show that they have been occupied with their own thoughts, as being more interesting, at least in their own estimation, than what you have been saying. Some listen with a kind of importunate ferocity, which makes you feel, that you are being put upon your trial, and that your auditor expects beforehand that you are going to tell him a lie, or to be inaccurate, or to say something which he will disapprove, and that you must mind your expressions. Some interrupt, and will not hear you to the end. Some hear you to the end, and then forthwith begin to talk to you about a similar experience which has befallen themselves, making your case only an illustration of their own. Some, meaning to be kind, listen with such a determined, lively, violent attention, that you are at once made uncomfortable, and the charm of conversation is at an end. Many persons, whose manners will stand the test of speaking, break down under the trial of listening. But all these things should be brought under the sweet influences of religion. Kind listening is often an act of the most delicate interior mortification, and is a great assistance towards kind speaking. Those who govern others must take care to be kind listeners, or else they will soon offend God, and fall into secret sins.
We may, then, put down clever speeches as the first and greatest difficulty in the way of kind words. A second difficulty is that of repressing vexation at certain times and in certain places. Each man meets with peculiar characters who have a specialty, often quite inexplicable, of irritating him. They always come at the wrong time, say the most inopportune things, and make the most unfortunate choice of topics of conversation. Their presence has always something intrusive about it. You may admire, respect, even like the persons; yet you give out sparks when they touch you, and explode if they rub against you. This is only one example of many species of vexation, which it is difficult to repress in our social intercourse, and which it is the office of the spirit of kindness to allay.
The unselfishness of speedily and gracefully distracting ourselves from self is also singularly difficult to practise. A man comes to us with an imaginary sorrow when we are bowed to the earth with a real one. Or he speaks to us with the loud voice and metallic laugh of robust health, when our nerves are all shrinking up with pain, and our whole being quivering, like a mimosa, with excruciating sensitiveness. Or he comes to pour out the exuberance of his happiness into our hearts which are full of gloom, and his brightness is a reproach, sometimes almost a menace, to our unhappiness. Or we are completely possessed with some responsibility, harassed by some pecuniary difficulty, or haunted by some tyrannical presentiment of evil, and yet we are called upon to throw ourselves into some ridiculous little embarrassment, some almost fictitious wrong, or some shadow of a suffering, for which another claims our sympathy. Here is grand material for sanctification. Nevertheless such materials are hard to work up in practice. It is weary work cleaning old bricks to build a new house with.
These are difficulties; but we have got to reach heaven, and must push on. The more humble we are, the more kindly we shall talk; the more kindly we talk, the more humble we shall grow. An air of superiority is foreign to the genius of kindness. The look - of kindness is that of one receiving a favour rather than conferring it. Indeed it is the case with all the virtues, that kindness is a road to them. Kind words will help us to them. Thus out of the difficulties of kind speaking will come the grand and more than sufficient reward of kind speaking,—a sanctification higher, completer, swifter, easier, than any other sanctification.
Weak and full of wants as we are ourselves, we must make up our minds, or rather take heart, to do some little good to this poor world while we are in it. Kind words are our chief implements for this work. A kindworded man is a genial man; and geniality is power. Nothing sets wrong right so soon as geniality. There are a thousand things to be reformed, and no reformation succeeds unless it be genial. No one was ever corrected by a sarcasm; crushed perhaps, if the sarcasm was clever enough,—but drawn nearer to God, never. Men want to advocate changes, it may be in politics, or in science, or in philosophy, or in literature, or perhaps in the working of the Church. They give lectures, they write books, they start reviews, they found schools to propagate their views, they coalesce in associations, they collect money, they move reforms in public meetings, and all to further their peculiar ideas. They are unsuccessful. From being unsuccessful themselves they become unsympathetic with others. From this comes narrowness of mind. Their very talents are deteriorated. The next step is to be snappish, then bitter, then eccentric, then rude. After that, they abuse people for not taking their advice; and, last of all, their impotence, like that of all angry prophets, ends in the shrillness of a scream. Why they scream is not so obvious. Perhaps for their own relief. It is the phrenzy of the disregarded sibyl. All this comes of their not being genial. Without geniality no solid reform was ever made yet. But if there are a thousand things to reform in the world, there are tens of thousands of people to convert. Satire will not convert men. Hell threatened very kindly is more persuasive than a biting truth about a man's false position. The fact is, geniality is the best controversy. The genial man is the only successful man. Nothing can be done for God without geniality. More plans fail for the want of that than for the want of anything else. A genial man is both an apostle and an evangelist; an apostle, because he brings men to Christ; an evangelist, because he pourtrays Christ to men.
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