' Dabo eis Cor, ut sciant me, et erunt mihi in populum, et ego ero eis in Deum: quia revertentur ad me in toto corde suo.'
' I will give them a Heart to know Me, and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, because they shall return to Me with their whole heart' (Jer. xxiv. 7).
Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen) The Valley of the Fallen is a Catholic basilica and a monumental memorial in the municipality of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, erected at Cuelgamuros Valley in the Sierra de Guadarrama, near Madrid.
Confraternity of Bona Mors(A good Death)
Wars and rumours of wars and menace of pestilence are in the distant East, and nearer home a fiercer strife and a more alarming sickness. Never since the centuries of Pagan persecution have the spirits of darkness carried on so bold a warfare against the Church of Christ as in these latest days. They hardly care any longer to take the precaution of disguising themselves in garments of light. They are almost ready to declare themselves openly, "What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Son of God? art Thou come hither to torment us before the time!”* Yet a little, and the last faint pretence of solicitude for truth and virtue will be cast aside as a superfluous restraint and the enemies of the Church will confess, when it is useless to deny, that it is not Peter whom they hate, but Jesus of Nazareth. Even now in congenial circles the fact is not concealed, although in mixed society it may be convenient for a short time longer to substitute for the ancient rallying cry, "Christianos ad leones," the more gently expressed but substantially equivalent, "Down with the Ultramontanes." Almost all who care to know, do know by this time that when Frenchmen and Italians speak of Clericals and Ultramontanes they mean Catholics who practise their religion. If a Catholic hears Mass on Sunday or goes to Communion once a year, he is by that alone an Ultramontane. God be praised, illusion is fast vanishing from the minds of honest men. The distinction between Ultramontanism and Catholicity was conceived with sufficient cleverness to do much mischief in its day, but it deceives no one now except such as wish to be deceived. It is not that the enemies of the Church are glad to drop the mask, but that they are no longer able to wear it. with advantage. In their zeal for an evil cause, they have already passed the bounds of discretion, and it is too late to draw back. They are pledged to the battle, and good men have reason to be grateful, for it is better to meet them in the open-field than to come upon them at unawares lurking in ambush or advancing through the darkness. The Church is distributing her weapons of offence and marshalling her millions. The battle may be fierce, but the issue is not doubtful. It is possible, and even easy, to fight against the Lord and His Christ; but it is quite impossible to conquer them. "He that dwelleth in Heaven shall laugh at them, and the Lord shall deride them. . . . And now, O ye kings, understand: receive instruction, you that judge the earth.”*
* St. Matt. viii. 29.
Through the mutterings of the storm and above the din of warlike preparation, is heard the calm strong voice of one whom men cannot choose but hear. "He shall not slumber nor sleep that guardeth Israel!’+ Well would it be for all who care for public tranquillity and security of life and property, if even now at this late hour they would "receive instruction" from Leo the Thirteenth. Better would it have been if they had heeded the warnings addressed to them by Pius the Ninth, or Gregory the Sixteenth. Again and again the protest has been made, but King and people heard and turned away and refused to understand and to be instructed. Half a century ago the Vicar of Christ spoke in prophetic tones of the impending evils which socialism was preparing, and exhorted the Bishops of the Church to spare no pains to counteract the mischief of bad books and seditious pamphlets and false liberty of thought.
* Psalm ii, 4, 10. + Psalm cxx, 4.
"Now that curb and bridle no longer keep men in the paths of truth, while their nature, prone to evil, bears them headlong to ruin, we say with truth that the bottomless pit has been opened, the same from which John saw the smoke arise to darken the sun when the locusts came out upon the earth.* Thence issue forth these changes for the worse in the minds of men, the corruption of youth, the contempt of the people for religion and all sacred things and laws, and, in a word, that plague which is of all plagues that can affect the commonwealth the most pernicious, since even in ancient times experience made it clear that flourishing States, which had attained wealth and empire and renown, came to their ruin by this one sufficient cause,—unrestricted freedom of opinion, license of speech, and greed of novelty."+
The echoes of the repeated warnings of the great and holy Pope, to whom we owe the Syllabus, have scarcely died away, when another, yet the same, different in person, identical in authority to teach, takes up the word and calls once more upon kings to understand, and those who judge the earth to receive instruction.
The sovereigns and the statesmen of Europe have been playing with fire, and have found out at last that it burns. Gregory and Pius told them how it would be. The man of iron and blood sat down and made his calculations, but he counted without God. He cast in the cause of German unity with the irreligious party, because in his worldly wisdom, which is only another name for foolishness, he deemed it a safer policy to persecute pious Christians than to offend clamorous infidels. The two parties, he was able to see, could not work in harmony, if only for this reason, that with difficulty one hope, or principle, or thought, could be found common to both; but, whereas Catholics might be expected to bow their heads in meek obedience to the powers that be, he was well aware that fierce unbelievers would do nothing of the sort, if he tried to carry strong measures of which they did not approve. Therefore with many pious and edifying words, which showed his trust in Providence and his happy assurance that "God was with him" in all his undertakings for Fatherland, he said plainly enough not in words, but in deeds, let Christ be crucified, and Barabbas enlarged. But as it happens to be a truth of revelation more certain than all conclusions of diplomacy that the gates of Hell shall in no case prevail against the Church of Rome, so the choice he made was not at all a wise one even in his generation, as he himself knows now, in bitterness of soul, and as the poor deluded old man, to whom his rash counsels have brought so much danger and anxiety in the close of life, has good cause to know also. To both of them, as concerns the Fatherland, repentance comes too late. Evil has been done which cannot be undone in their little residue of life. The viper warmed into life by their fostering care has bitten deep.
* Apoc, ix. 2. + Mirari Vos, August 15, 1832.
If we turn to Italy, the son of Victor Emmanuel claims our truest pity. He has accepted his father's sin, and continued the sacrilegious usurpation, and by the judgment of God he carries about with him night and day a terror, which is not at all chimerical, the ghost of unforgiven crime. Uneasy lies the head which wears any other crown than the tiara in the Quirinal.
What shall be said of poor France with her Chamber of Deputies, under the presidency of M. Gambetta? How are the mighty fallen! Where can the children of faith turn for comfort? In England the Sunday is well observed, deliberate blasphemy and sacrilege are not national offences, and the infidelity which in some classes of the population is increasing, seems to be rather a punishment of her former apostasy than a fresh iniquity. Yet England is at this moment very guilty. Her great influence is exerted to promote evil and prevent good. She looks on and applauds all that is wrong in the ecclesiastical policy of European States, and she derides or reviles all that is right, if at least the Times enjoys her confidence and gives expression to her sentiments. This is the greatest of the crimes of England at the present time, and it is one for which it will be difficult to plead invincible ignorance as an excuse.
In this almost universal darkness the Holy Father speaks to raise our hope, " Even to-day if you shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts." The power of God is not less than in the days when the Church came out from the Catacombs with her garments red, and if He will listen to the prayers of His servants for His enemies, the words of His representative on earth will not fall upon unheeding ears this time. "And now, O ye kings, understand."
The recent Encyclical is full of instruction. It not only tells us of the danger which threatens society at large, but it lays bare the tactics of the anti-Christian confederation, and suggests the best way of bringing it mercifully to final confusion, by asserting the principles of the eternal law. All error is only a distortion of the truth. There are a liberty, a fraternity, and an equality which God approves and even demands, but they are far different from the "levelling up" of ourselves and our friends and the "levelling down" of all above us, which constitute the essential idea of the Socialistic creed.
The white man and the negro, the rich man and the poor man, are equal in the sight of Jesus Christ, but it is no more according to the intentions of our Creator and Redeemer that the rich man and the poor man should meet on the common ground of a comfortable competence, than that the black man and the white man should be toned down into a medium tint.
The king and the beggar are sons of the same Father, and in that sense most truly brothers; and, if they are not living upon terms of intimate friendship through the eternal ages which will follow this brief moment of their earthly pilgrimage, it will be the fault of either the king or the beggar, not of God their Father. But here on earth there are different relationships of life, master and servant, father and son; and the master and his servant are no more intended to speak and behave to one another on all occasions like twin brothers, than the father and his son.
All men alike, earl and churl, even when they are suffering imprisonment and bonds, are free with that highest freedom which belongs to created natures in the period of their probation, children and the insane alone excepted. As long as reason can exert its power, no terrors or fascinations can prevent free choice, no chains can bind the human will. The movements of the body may be controlled by external force, but thoughts and affections are at the absolute disposal of each man, so that his consent cannot be compelled, if he is resolute to withhold it.
Justum ac tenacem propositi virumBut there is no liberty at all conceded by the great Creator, if by liberty is to be understood immunity from the pressure of legislation. Liberty is not license. Men are born subject to the moral law, which speaks in their conscience as soon as reason dawns, commanding them to "decline from evil and do good" It is only the wilfully ignorant who do not know this first condition of man's existence upon earth. "A vain man is lifted up into pride, and thinketh himself born free like a wild ass's colt.” +
Non civium ardor prava jubentium,
Non vultus instantis tyranni,
Mente quatit solida.*
* The man who stands in virtue strong,
Nor flinches from his purpose high,
Can fearless meet the surging throng,
The tyrant's frown defy.
+ Job xi. 12.
Socialism, by promising emancipation from legitimate restraint, only deludes men with fair words to bring about their ruin; for if a man break the law of God, "he shall bear his doom, whoever he be." All men are free, all are members of one family, all are equal, but not with a liberty which is only another name for slavery, or a fraternity which is another name for civil war, or an equality which means anarchy and chaos.
Public order is founded upon domestic virtue. To destroy the sanctity of home affections is the first object of the friends of misrule, and to sustain it is the first solicitude of the Holy Father. To secure the safety of nations, it is only necessary to adhere to the teaching of the Church. The code of the new Covenant which makes Christian marriage a Sacrament raised the Roman world from its moral infamy, and is quite sufficient to prevent a relapse into heathendom. All will go well with society at large, if Jesus Christ has his place of honour in every household; if parents regard the Christian education of their children as a precious charge committed to their care by One in Whose eyes it is an almost unpardonable sin to scandalize little ones; and if children give to their parents the reverence and obedience due to those who are to them the representatives of the paternity of God; if masters are kind and servants are faithful.
Again, the principles of the Gospel are the only safe defence against the persistent attacks upon the laws of property. No one can say without conscious and deliberate falsehood that the Church does not care for the poor. Innumerable institutions has she formed for the relief of the suffering poor, and in every epoch she tries with consistent endeavour to promote among her children the spirit of Divine compassion. Yet she knows that it is by the dispensation of God that the gifts of fortune, as of nature, are bestowed in vast variety, and that the right to acquire property, and the duty of respecting that right, are necessary conditions of our present life, and independent of time, and place, and ordinary circumstances. To her wise moderation neither wealth nor want is criminal; property is not robbery, and poverty is not dishonour. To plunder the rich in order to endow the poor is the cry of men who are ready to grasp and loth to give. To make the rich man generous and the poor man contented is the mission of the Church. Socialist doctrines tend to lift every man's hand against his neighbour, and class against class, employers and employed. The Gospel has power to make the whole civil system work in harmonious subordination of the different grades according to their various functions in the State, yet without ever once doing violence to the essential equality of Christian souls, or that spiritual dignity of Baptism, which, while it is common to all the children of the Kingdom, is of far higher worth than any patent of earthly nobility.
The Encyclical of Leo the Thirteenth is a noble protest. Even those who like Papal interference least must yet be struck by this calm vindication of Gospel morality. No Christian man can fail to see on which side of the European quarrel is unfurled the banner of Jesus Christ. Not only every Catholic, but every honest Christian, at this moment surveying the armies marshalled for war, and looking from the one to the other to make comparison, ought to be able to say to Leo the Thirteenth, as St. Jerome said to Pope Damasus, "He Who does not gather with thee scatters." It is much to have dispelled illusion, "Why will you die, O house of Israel?"* If the nations will not accept the warning, at least they have received it—"Destruction is thy own, O Israel.”+
The pastors of the Church will emulate the vigour of their chief, for the Church possesses an episcopate unsurpassed in any age. Will the secular rulers "harden their hearts," or will they "listen awfully to His words, and bend their knees before His holy altars?" God holds in His hands the hearts of princes, and prayer is still allpowerful. "Holy Mary, succour the miserable, help the fainthearted, comfort the weeping, pray for the people, defend the clergy, intercede for the devout female sex: let all experience thy aid who celebrate thy memory"
Ezech. xviii. 31. + Osee xiii. 9.
The Holy Father shall tell us how to pray.
"May He, to Whom we must necessarily ascribe all good in its origin and its successful consummation, assist Our efforts, Venerable Brethren, and yours. For what remains, this season of the annual celebration of the birthday of our Lord gives us fresh hope of prompt assistance; for those glad tidings of salvation which Christ at His birth brought to the world grown old, and almost reduced to the last extremity of evil, He bids us also receive hopefully; that peace which He then proclaimed to men by His angelic messengers, He has promised to us likewise. 'Behold the hand of the Lord is not shortened that it cannot save, neither is His ear heavy that it cannot hear! *
"In these days then of blessed promise we earnestly implore the Giver of all good gifts, desiring for you, Venerable Brethren, and for all the faithful of your churches all joy and happiness in order that once more 'the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour ‘+may appear, Who has snatched us from the power of our cruel enemy, and has raised us to the exalted dignity of the children of God. And, that our desires may be more speedily and more completely accomplished, unite, Venerable Brethren, your fervent prayers to ours in supplicating God, and claim the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Immaculate from the beginning, of Joseph her spouse, and of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, in whose intercession we have the greatest confidence." The month of St. Joseph reminds us that he is specially the patron of all who labour with their hands. The example of the carpenter's house in Nazareth is the best remedy of Socialism. To holy Joseph, therefore, we appeal to avert the appalling danger which menaces society, yet not to him alone. We invoke besides, in behalf of a foolish generation, the yet more prevailing prayer of "* Thou, O Virgin, canst accomplish by thy prayer what God by His command. the Mother of fair love and of fear and of knowledge and of holy hope."X It cannot be that the Sacred Heart of Jesus will refuse to grant even that miraculous aid, which alone can wake to higher thoughts hearts hardened by long resistance to grace, steeped in sin, and vainly trying to persuade themselves that there is no God, no personal responsibility, no retribution; that the inequalities of rank and fortune are only a standing monument of past abuse of power, and have no higher sanction than the caprice or the violence of those who first established dynasties and titles and large estates. We ask for very much, but nothing less than very much will save society in Europe now.
Quod Deus imperio tu prece, Virgo, potes.*
Thou, O Virgin, canst accomplish by thy prayer what God by His command.
* Isaias lix. I. + Titus iii. 4. X Ecclus. xxiv. 24.
PRAYER. O Sacred Heart of Jesus! through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer Thee all the prayers, labours, and crosses of this day, in union with those intentions for which Thou dost unceasingly offer Thyself a Victim of love on our altars. I offer them to Thee in particular for those who labour and suffer, that they may regain, with the faith which ennobles toil, the hope also which soothes the bitterness of want. O God made Man, Who didst vouchsafe to work in Nazareth, turn aside the dangers which we have drawn down upon our heads by banishing Thee from our factories and workshops. Amen.
For the triumph of the Church and Holy See, and the Catholic regeneration of nations.
March Apostolate of Prayer
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.
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.
Love of the Cross for All Servants of the Sacred Heart
There is no pulpit more solemn than the death-bed. Every word spoken from it is a text from which many useful sermons might be preached. The dying Christian is to us as a prophet, an apostle, and martyr. In his pangs are our own foretold, in his faith we are taught how to preach Christ, in his submission an example is set us how to lay down our lives for the Lord. He who is passing away then has no need as other preachers have to conciliate his hearers, for the circumstance of his being are of themselves enough to arrest attention without the help of any of the tricks of art.
The faltering voice struggling to bid its last farewell, or to breathe a word of comfort, or to give a last advice, appeals to our hearts with an eloquence all its own. It is you know as the sun is setting that it throws its richest and most mellow tints upon the surrounding landscape, and it is as man is sinking into his grave that he utters his sweetest and most tender words to those who are met around him. And hence, brethren, it is that we cross the threshold of the dimly lighted room, to bend in stillness over the bed of him whose limbs are straightening for the grave, we strain to read in the thin white face every secret it has to tell, and, as we wipe away the dampness on his brow, we gaze intently upon the quivering lips, so only we may interpret what messages they fain would breathe, what prayer they struggle to pray.
If such be our attitude for the most part in the presence of any one whose life is passing away, more particularly is it so when he who is struggling with death is some dear friend or relative, a wife, a child, our father or mother. Then no distance is thought too long to travel, provided only we may be by in the hour of their extremity, and lend them our loving aid.
To-day, brethren, we have left our homes and occupation to meet around the death-bed of One Who is no mere kinsman, neighbour, or friend to us, but Who is nearer and dearer far to our hearts than wife or child, father or mother, for is not Jesus Christ moreover our Redeemer and our Life, our God our All? Into whose sweet face but His can we look up and say, "What have I in Heaven, and, besides Thee, what do I desire upon earth?" In less than three hours that adored face will be shrouded with the mantle of death.
And was there ever such a death-bed scene as this which we are witnessing? Instead of the comforts of home, see, He is exposed to the rude, rough blasts of curly Cavalry's hill-top; instead of a comfortable bed, He is forced to lie on the roughhewn cross; for a pillow, there is a crown of thorns, and through His sacred hands, in which we would place an image of His Blessed Mother, they have driven iron nails, transfixing them like His feet to the hard cold wood of the Cross.
Well may we wonder why the birds of the air do not hover round to make a canopy over His Head, why the beasts do not rush forth from the forests to lend their warm furs to cover His Body, stripped of its clothing, and defiled with wounds and blood and spittle.
Abandoned by His Father, betrayed by one disciple, left by the rest, yelled at by the rabble, with Priest and Scribe, and Jew and Gentile, vying with one another in their jeers and taunts at Him, Jesus is hanging between earth and Heaven with no one to comfort Him in His hour of shame. "I looked for one who would comfort Me, and I found none."
His Blessed Mother, yes, she of course is here, but her sorrow does but serve to add to His. Where then are they to whom He restored their sight, why are they not by to offer Him their tears of sympathy? And they to whom He miraculously gave the use of speech, why are not they at hand to proclaim His innocence? And the five thousand whom He fed in the desert, why have not they come with balm to stanch His wounds, and draughts to slake His thirst? Where is the Ruler and Nicodemus, Lazarus and Zacchaeus? Of all these thousands to whom He lovingly ministered in life, can only a few women, with the ardent John, be found to accompany the broken-hearted Mother to His deathbed?
Oh, my brethren, it is the same old story all the world over. Men will follow Jesus when there are loaves and fishes to be had, but not when He calls them to share His shame and to lend Him the comfort of their sympathy and love. We at least will keep by Him to the very last, and as we fix our eyes upon His bleeding face, and drink in with reverence and with love every word He has to say, we will apply them, each of them, as if they were spoken, as they will be, for our own individual hearts. For, remember this, brethren, if Jesus is our model in life, still more so is He our model in death. If each of us must learn a lesson from Him in His crib at Bethlehem, in His home at Nazareth, in the Temple at Jerusalem, under temptation in the desert, in His prayer in the garden, most of all must we learn from Him in His death on Calvary. For we all have to die, and without the example of His death, Who sanctified by the pains of His Body and the anguish of His mind which He then endured, all the trouble which will gather round our souls in the hour of our extremity, I know not how we can hope to promise ourselves a happy death.
You all want your lives to be crowned by a happy death; your very presence here to-day is itself a proof of it. Let me then ask you to put away from your hearts all distracting thoughts during these precious hours, and at the foot of the Cross now ask through the Angel of the Agony, through the sorrows of the Mother, by the merit of the five wounds, and the seven words, that we may every one of us learn from our Lord's death-bed, how to live our lives so as to die our deaths in union with Christ upon the Cross.
I.—FATHER, FORGIVE THEM, FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO.The first hour of the three begins. The noise of the nailing is over, the Cross has been raised and let down with a jolt into the place prepared for it. Between earth and heaven Jesus is hanging on the Cross, pierced in His hands and feet by iron nails. Around Him, and rending the air with their yells, stand the rabble mob, the soldiers, the scribes, and the priests. By His side His Mother takes her place, and there she will remain till the work of death is done. She has glanced up at the Bleeding Face, and thought it more beautiful and precious to her now than ever it looked as it reposed in sleep in years gone by upon her bosom, and she longs to hear the accents of His sweet familiar voice once more before He dies.
But Jesus is holding ineffable communion with the Father. He is pleading with Him for these very murderers from whom He is suffering most of all, but that Father has asked what excuse can be found for the sin of crucifixion. The Sacred Heart has invented an excuse, and now Jesus breaks the silence—not to breathe a word of comfort to the Mother, not to thank the virgin John that he at least is loyal to His Master, no not to assuage the sorrow of Magdalen sobbing at His feet. Oh, no! His prayer all along has been for those who needed most His mediation. He from the first has forgiven every sin and sinner, and now that His Sacred Heart has found an excuse which with the Father must have weight, He looks up and prays aloud, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Look up at your Elder Brother, does He not seem to say, Father, though now I cannot bend my knees before you, nor lift my outstretched arms, now bow my Head in prostrate adoration, yet here on my hard bed of the Cross I ask you, if you love your Son, to hear my dying prayer. I am He of whom it is written, " He shall call upon Me, and I will hear Him." It is not for myself I now am pleading, I will drink the chalice to the very dregs, I will stay upon My bed of pain till My work of life is done. Spare not Me, for I am laden with the sins of all, but pity those for whom I am offering up My death. No longer do I ask you if it is possible, but I claim as My right as your only Son that you will ratify in Heaven the pardon I now extend to every sinner on the earth. Oh, pardon every sin and sinner ere I breathe My last.
Oh, notice, brethren, the loving tenderness of the excuse accompanying this—"They know not what they do."
Jesus has clearly before His failing sight the hearts of each one of us, He has looked it through and through if perchance some spark of love Divine might therein be found, and He has found so little, that He has been forced to frame an excuse for our sins which none but His love could dare to offer to the outraged majesty of His Father. It is the only excuse left.
Oh, beautiful unending prayer, true of every sinner! No one knows what he does when he gives way to sin. Oh, eloquent appeal, pleading with force as strong upon the love of our poor wayward hearts, as it does efficaciously upon the mercy of His Father.
But, brethren, can it really be said that we know not what we do when we sin? Has God condemned the rebel host, and opened up the deep pit, and visited upon His the chastisement our sins deserve, and yet can it be said we know not what we do? Did not Cain know what he did when he murdered his elder brother? Did not Solomon know what he did when he abandoned himself to his vices? Did not Peter, and Judas, and Pilate, and Herod, and Priests and Scribes, and Jews and Gentiles, know what they did in the hour of the power of darkness? Do not you know what you do when you deliberately sit down to sin —plan your sins—rush into the occasions of sin, and are greedy to find out new methods of sinning? Can young men feel their life wasting away under the ravages brought on by their long continued habits of sin, and it be said they know not what they do?
No, my brethren, truely none of us know what we do. Surely if it were given us to understand the frightful enormity, the hideous malice of a single mortal sin, if we could see but for one moment what a revolting object a soul is that is steeped in one mortal sin, no power in the world would be ever strong enough to induce us to give way again. But now we have heard the loving excuse made for us from the dying lips of our agonizing Brother, we ought to be persuaded that this very knowledge, that the malice of sin is past our comprehension, will make up a great part of the enormity of our sin if ever we come to fall again. But for you, brethren, it is enough to look upon the work of sin as you see it in the condition to which it has brought the Son of sinless Mary, to fill your souls with a horror of the past and resolutions of amendment for the future. This, then, remember. The day is not far distant when you too will be face to face with death. It will then be all-important for you to bear in your hearts no malice, grudge, or bitterness towards friend or foe. For what at that hour would profit you, your protests of love for God, if you will not forgive those He forgives and loves, if you will not find some excuse for what may have been their cruelty towards you. In the measure we forgive those that trespass against us, we ourselves will be forgiven our trespasses against our Father.
But some of you may say, How can I forgive such an one who has robbed me of my good name, injured my reputation, or kept from me what was my due? If there be any one here present so minded, any one who still bears rancour in his heart, let him argue with himself as he might with some dear friend whom he knew to be about to appear before his Judge in these dispositions. Take up your crucifix, and fixing your eyes upon the mangled Body of your Saviour, ask yourself what was the first word of the seven uttered by those dying lips upon the Cross. And then turn to your own black heart. Say, Have my enemies treated me as cruelly, as savagely, as I myself have treated Jesus my Saviour? Where are the nails piercing my hands, digging my feet? Does a thorny crown press upon my head? Where are the wounds and scars upon my body, inflicted by the thongs and the scourge?—and you will exclaim, Not a hair of my head have they touched, not one drop of my blood have they shed. No, but they have spoken evil against me. And was it before impious judges in open court that they bore false witness? Have they dragged me through the streets, to be hissed and hooted at by the rabble? Was it on my death-bed that they gathered round in throngs to assail me with their foul-mouthed villainies.
Oh, dear brethren, if instead of hugging our grievances, of pondering over our real and imaginary wrongs till we magnify them beyond all measurement, we would but learn quietly and patiently to compare them with what our dear Lord has had to put up with from our own selves, they would dwindle into insignificance, and we should rejoice that we had something to suffer which made us more Christ-like.
Besides, we may always ask ourselves, What good have I done to men that they should treat me better than our Lord was treated? Have I spent my life in setting good example, in being a model of every virtue? On the contrary, have I not gone about spreading discord, doing evil myself, and setting others an example of sin?
For if men could read on our foreheads the true story of our life, as Jesus Christ reads it written in our hearts, how many friends should we have remaining to us? Would there be one besides Him and His Mother?
Oh, make your dying Brother this promise, before we pass on to consider the second word, that never will you lie down to rest at night with rancour gnawing at your heart, that if you can find no excuse for the evil done you, you will offer up His first word, and say it in His dispositions: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Then, brethren, when your turn shall come to lie down to rise no more, this same disposition will reign in your heart. And then in your extremity Jesus Christ will offer up this same kind prayer for you, and all your sins will be wiped away, and you will die with Christ upon the Cross.
2.—THIS DAY THOU SHALT BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.
On Calvary there are three crosses. On the middle one hangs the mangled body of the King of the Jews, on the other two are writhing two thieves, one on the right hand of Jesus, and one on the left. These two men are known to us by the names of the good thief and the bad thief. As we look upon this strange and awful sight of Jesus on His Cross between these two outcasts of society, we are natality led to think of another day when the Son of Man will appear with this same sign of the Cross in the clouds of heaven, and shall summon to His right hand and on His left all those who to-day are represented by the good and by the wicked thief. Then Jesus will appear on His throne of justice as now on His throne of mercy. Now His one long-continued prayer is for mercy upon His enemies, and if we could enter into the hearts of these two culprits who are undergoing their deserved chastisement, we might then learn how Divine Pity is busy at its work. Grace, like flights of angels, has come down from the mercy-seat, and now hovers over these two human hearts, wooing them to repent and apply the merits of Christ's prayer to their sin-stained souls. Even grace may do no more than this. Though with its ineffable beauty it may lure men to repent, though by the whisperings of its sweet voice it may plead with strangely beautiful eloquence, it may put no constraint upon the freedom of man's will, it may not catch us by main force from the bondage of sin into love's pure liberty. Though God made us without our cooperation, He will not save us unless we will it. What new triumph of grace can the angels record this day? Will these two criminals, whose singular privilege it is to die in the very presence of Jesus and His Blessed Mother, accept the grace offered to them, sweetly urged upon them by the words of the Son and the tears of the Mother? Listen, brethren, for from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. What say the robbers? He who is on the left of the Holy One of Israel speaks first. And oh, must I say it—to utter blasphemies against his Lord. "If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us "—is the only answer he has to make to grace. But, blessed be God, he on the right rebukes his fellow-criminal, saying to him, " Neither dost thou fear God, seeing that thou art under the same condemnation, and we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds, but this Man hath done no evil" Thus speaks, in his last agony, a robber, one who by profession is a highwayman, a man with seared conscience, without instruction, now delivered over by Divine Justice into the hands of human justice. In a moment, quicker than I can tell you, his mind is given to see that to revile our Lord in His shame is to be void of the fear of God, that to bear his own in union with Christ is to atone for his past sins. He confesses his own guilt, preaches the Divine innocence of Jesus, and of an unbeliever becomes a confessor of the faith, of a criminal becomes a glorious martyr. Oh, the unction of his contrition, the wonders of his confidence!
"Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy Kingdom." And Jesus lifts His drooping head, and turning His gracious eyes upon His own repentant sinner, says to him with melting tenderness, " This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise." If the humble request of the contrite Dymas is full of confidence, the promise made by his dying Lord is the answer of One Who had come to call not the just but sinners. Poor Dymas, the picture of his past sinful life stood out before him in all its frightful hideousness, and he saw no means of making reparation. He had but a few more hours of life, and then he must appear before another tribunal more searching far than any judgment-seat on earth, and even were his sins to be blotted out in the Blood of his Saviour, he felt his past life had been barren of all good, and he therefore throws himself on his Lord's goodness, pleading " Lord, remember me." Repentant, stricken sinner ! never, Dymas, didst thou know before how loving is that Heart thou hadst pierced so often, or surely thou wouldst have offended less. The three hours' companionship of Christ upon the Cross taught thee more theology than we learn in our lives.
Brethren, the whole Gospel narrative bristles with the wondrous deeds wrought by Jesus Christ, but this sweet incident told of the triumph of Jesus in His death over a criminal undergoing the sentence of death is without its parallel. So long as there is life there is hope for the worst of us.
But if this beautiful death-bed conversion teaches us never to despair, the equally dreadful obstinacy in sin of the other thief may well make us tremble with fear. Oh, the frightful evil consequences of resistance to the voice of grace, of putting off repentance till the hour of death; for we are not likely to have such wondrous supernatural helps then as the wicked thief had offered him. We shall not have the example of Dymas; not the presence of Jesus seen with our bodily eyes; not the audible accents of His sweet voice urging us to repent; not the quick-falling tears of His gentle disconsolate Mother.
Remember this every day of your lives: grace is waiting to find admittance into your heart. If you resist it in life, what reason have you to believe you will cooperate with it in death? Let me beg of you, as you love your souls, never to lie down to rest with grace still knocking at your heart; let in the angel messenger and chase away the evil one before you fall to sleep, lest some night you wake up as others have, to find yourself hopelessly lost and for ever. Do not flatter yourselves that you may live without Jesus and then find His mercy in death. May we all remember we too are thieves; we have robbed God of His glory; we have stolen from Him and given to others the praise, the reverence, and the service which He alone had the right to claim. And death is already upon our track. And as the detective will lay hold of the thief when he thinks himself most secure, so death will find us out when we least expect, and there is no time to put ourselves right with the outraged justice of God. Let us then, one and all, like the repentant thief, confess our sins before our crucified Lord, and ask Him to remember us; to remember us now, and each hour of our lives, not in justice but in mercy, and give us grace so to live, that when we too come at last to be stretched upon our cross—for to whom is not his death-bed a cross—we may look to hear on our severance from the body the blessed words, "Thou shalt be with me in Paradise!”
3. WOMAN, BEHOLD THY SON: BEHOLD THY MOTHER.
Twice has Jesus raised His drooping Head to speak. He lias prayed for His enemies, His persecutors, His murderers, and He has absolved poor Dymas dying by His side. And now He is about to break the stillness of the air to do a further kindness to prove the love He bears to His Holy Church and all its children.
It is to her whose eyes never wander from His sacred face that this word of grace is spoken. She stands a little way aside from the Cross, in her obedience to the Divine decree surpassing the holy Patriarch Abraham, for while he was prepared to sacrifice by God's command His son Isaac, Mary has offered up her only Son to appease the wrath of the Father. In union with the great High Priest, in union with the Church which He represented, she stood at the Altar of the Cross, assisting there and offering the Victim of sin, even as she assists at every Mass that is being offered up day and night in all parts of the earth.
Mary's place beside the Cross is rather that of the second Eve than of Mother. As Mother she can offer her Son no relief, She may not reach His sacred face to wipe away the tears and blood that are blinding His aching eyes. She may not untie the cruel crown which penetrates His throbbing brow. No word of sweet comfort may she utter, but in silence ponder in her heart all the wonders that are wrought, that so she may hereafter relate them to His Spouse the Church. As Eve beneath the tree of the forbidden fruit became the mother of the dead, and Adam brought sin into the world and with sin death, so Jesus the second Adam on the tree brought grace into the world and with grace life; and Mary the second Eve beneath the tree upon which the fruit of her womb is hanging becomes Mother of all the living. She stands before the world now fulfilling the prophecy of her that she should crush the serpent's head. Jesus looks upon her, that woman who was more to Him than ever woman has been to any other son, the woman who alone of all His creatures was singled out to be His Mother, and now He was going to install her in her office of second Eve. The beloved disciple was by her side, and Jesus speaks to her, "Woman, behold thy Son: Son, behold thy Mother."
Mary heard the word, effectual and more piercing than any two-edged sword, reaching unto the division of her soul and of her spirit, and it was given her to understand the meaning of the mystery. She knew by that word she was made the Mother of all those represented by the newly-ordained disciple. It was a creative word creating in the heart of Mary a passionate love for the children brought forth in sorrow. Her thoughts went forth to that other Annunciation when, in her silent chamber at midnight, the angel broke in upon her extatic (ecstatic) prayer to proclaim her Mother of God. And now, in the dim light of the eclipse, her silent prayer is interrupted by the very Angel of the Lord making her Mother of all mankind. Oh! the thrill of joy that went with the first Motherhood, and what a pang of grief with the second; John instead of Jesus, the servant instead of her Lord, the disciple instead of the Master, the son of Zebedee for the Son of God!
Children of her sorrow are to replace the Child of her joy. But the supreme calm of Mary's soul remains unruffled, and her whole nature rises up to meet the word, her lips still murmuring low, "Be it done unto me according to thy word." From that moment Mary entered upon her great, anxious charge, the charge of the Mother of all the brethren of Jesus. And the disciple took her as his own.
Oh, wondrous mystery of surpassing love, that Jesus should have made over to us, should have trusted to our poor keeping her, the only one who always loved Him with all the vehemence of her soul, and the only one for whom He had the love of a son for a mother.
But Jesus knew His Church would be no real home for his children, unless they too were nurtured and nursed and taught by the tender love and care of a Mother. What is it, brethren, to have a mother? Ask those who have lost a mother—for they best can tell. It is to have one whose love nobody can replace in our heart. It is to have one who can never do enough for us, one of whose sympathy we always may be sure, into whose ear we may pour the story of all our woes, our wrongs, our sins, and who will support and bear us up no matter how dark our life may look, no matter what evils may befall us, and who will be our sure comfort in the evil hour. This it is what Mary is to us. If she is not all this to each one of us the fault is our own, for we are her children, the children of her sorrow, filling her heart, for a little sorrow fills the heart even if it takes a joy that is infinite to replenish it Brethren, honour your Mother, for she is the Mother of Jesus; pity your Mother, for she is the Mother of the seven-fold sorrows; love your Mother, for she is always proving hers for you; cling to your Mother, for then you will cling to Jesus; leave her not lest you leave your Elder Brother. Take warning from Peter and the other disciples. Had they been by their Mother like blessed John, they would have been nearer Jesus.
Young men, behold your Mother, look on her when the Evil One would lead you off into sin. Behold her beauty and grow disenchanted with the charms of the sinner Behold her spotless virginity, and refrain from your deeds of shame. Let none be afraid of loving her too much, the more you love her the more she will make you love her Son. Look into the lives of those who have loved her most and be satisfied.
And now Jesus is stretched on his death-bed to teach us how to die. How does He die? With His Mother by His side. His last bequest to us is the gift of her that she may be by our side too when our hour shall come.
We are always asking her to pray for us now and at the hour of our death. May we not hope and pray that no matter when or how death may come she at last may be near to help us in the evil hour? Whether visibly or invisibly let that be as God wills. Whether we hear the accents of her sweet voice, or only feel its effects, at least she must promise this, not to let us die without her. Fear not, brethren, she will surely be by the death of every one of us if only we are devout to her. Bear her image about you, recite her Litany and her Rosary, often tell her you love her, and prove it to her by greater purity of life, deeper reverence for the Divine commands, by more frequent confessions and communions. Then when we fall asleep it will be in her arms, and we shall wake to behold our Mother enthroned in glory beside her own sweet son Jesus.
4.—MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU ABANDONED ME?
Many touching lessons we have already learnt from the dying lips of our crucified Brother, wonderful examples He has set us how rightly we are to die. Every word uttered from the Tree of Shame midst pains indescribable has sunk deep into our sorrowing hearts, and we have been taught that the first disposition for a happy death is to be at peace with all the world, and like Him to find out some loving excuse for the wanton malice of our foes, no matter what cruel wrongs they have done us, perchance—let us forgive: "They knew not what they did,"' that so our own transgressions may be forgiven without the need of cleansing fires to keep us back a day from Paradise. Our souls thus reconciled with God and all mankind, holy Mary will minister to us, be sure, through all that agony to which the mind and body falls a prey when the soul is struggling to free itself from the ligaments of the flesh. For such is our nature, brethren, such the penalty of its first revolt, that death is usually the hour of the powers of darkness, of darkness not such as Christ our Elder Brother went through, but yet of darkness worse than any of Egypt—a darkness of the mind. Oh, the terrible dereliction which Christ endured that we might be strengthened in the valley of the shadow of death!
The pain of loss is pain in its most searching form. It is the keenest torture of the damned, and it is the most poignant known on earth. Ask the young wife if words can tell the anguish of her mind when news had reached her from the field of battle that he for whom she lived has fallen—is no more. Ask the mother what grief shot through her soul like a flame when her little one has died before its time. Ask the Queen of Martyrs what the seventh sword of sorrow did in her heart when He who drew His Blood from her was laid in her lap with all His beauty faded, silent and lifeless. But what are all these forms of unutterable woe to compare with that to which our Elder Brother willed to yield Himself when in the supreme moment of His mental anguish He cried out upon the Cross, "My God, My God, why hast Thou abandoned Me?" 0, my Mother, how the words transfixed thee to the Cross! Was He then abandoned on His bed of death by His Heavenly Father at the very moment when the gathering horror of His loneliness seemed to ask more aid? Was it possible that He who is very God of very God should have been left without succour of His own Divine personality, left by His Father, abandoned by the Spirit of Comfort? No, though His sinless soul might part from His adorable Body, the Divinity remained unseparable from each. That awful cry breaking like thunder through the preternatural darkness on Calvary is to tell to all the world that the tide of suffering possible for human nature to endure has reached its fullest height. It was the human cry of the Sacred Heart choosing for our sake to endure anguish of soul with no Divine support sensibly lent from on high. Jesus will not use His Divine power to screen Himself, He puts away the defences of His Divine Nature that as man He might experience what depth of woe the human mind may sound.
Till He looked up into the darkness of the heavens and the cry of bitterest anguish vibrated through the air, no word had He spoken of His own keen torments. But now He willed to prove to all the redeemed what price the redemption cost Him, what were the pangs and woes which filled His Soul in death that their passage might be through smooth waters to the haven of rest . What lesson, then, are we to take home to our hearts from the fourth word spoken from the Cross? It must be this, to remember that the keenest form of suffering—dereliction by God—is spared us on our death-bed by the merit which our Elder Brother reaped for us by His dereliction on the death-bed of the Cross; and not to forget that if only we live our life hidden with Christ in God, God our Father too will despatch Divine succours to uphold us at its close. Then Mary's care will cherish us and our heavenly Father's smile will bathe our souls in light and peace and love, as the shades of evil are chased and fade away for ever.
Jesus cried from the Cross to merit for us the grace and strength to bear through life whatever loss we may sustain in the absence of those in whom we trust, in whose love we live, who are our comfort and support; to merit for us the grace to bear God's will from day to day, in aridity in prayer, in the sense of loneliness, and want of Divine help. Brethren, never abandon God in life,"and He will not abandon you in death. Cling to Him in joy and in sorrow, and in trial, by day and by night, in the sacraments of the Church, in the word of His command. Whatever you lose, lose not Him, or if you lose, seek Him straight, knock till He opens, and then hold Him fast and never let Him go, till in death you fall asleep on His breast, where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.
5.—“SITIO" —I THIRST.We have dwelt upon the fourth word spoken by our Lord when the agony of His soul had reached its highest point. We will now pause to meditate on that fifth word, "I thirst," which reveals us the pangs brought on by the physical pains of His Body. He had cause for thirst. Since He had drunk the chalice with His disciples the night before nothing had moistened His fever-scorched lips but the wine mingled with gall. He had passed three terrible hours in the garden which had well nigh drained Him of His Precious Blood as well as strength. Then add to this the frightful strain undergone during those long hours of the night when He was delivered up to be the sport of soldiers whose brutality need fear no blame. And the morning brought with it no relief. From early dawn till the sun was full in the heavens he was dragged from one tribunal to another, jostled by the mob, flouted by the priests, hooted and hissed at by the very children whom He had greeted with blessings and a smile. Next followed the scourging which stripped Him of His flesh so that His bones could be numbered. They had not spared even His Sacred Head. He must be made to wear a crown of thorns piercing to the very bone till the whole Head throbs with fierce fever. Then forget not the burden of the Cross under whose weight He staggered and fell almost to swoon away. The nails were burning in His hands and feet, and unutterable pain is searching out every part of that most sensitive Body. Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins. Surely he has reserved for Himself a death in which is summed up every crudest form of physical pain and sleeplessness, long continuance of torments, publicity of shame, exposure to the chilling blasts, all intensified to the point in which endurance was possible, and stopping short just of that point which brings the relief of unconsciousness. Oh, cast an eye of pity on Him as He hangs between earth and Heaven, His most sensitive and delicate Body supported entirely on four gaping wounds, so that it is not possible for Him even to move His Sacred Head to look upon His Mother without increasing their thrilling pain. And yet how can He long be still, stretched on such a rack as this, a fierce thirst parching all the juices of life, His lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbing with burning fever. The arteries are swollen and surcharged with blood, His whole frame craving for water, but one drop must not moisten His lips; He must bear the torment as He best can, till He suffers death to bring Him release from His pain.
Oh, the agony of the thirst brought on by physical pain which broke the silence of our Brother on the Cross by the piteous cry, "I thirst."
Was there ever thirst like His? Did ever shipwrecked mariner burn with more agonizing thirst? Was wounded soldier on the field of battle ever tormented with such intolerable agony? Did Dives himself plead for one drop of water to cool his parched tongue with more piteous cry than Christ upon the Cross? Yet we know this pain has been enough in the case of strong men to sweep reason from its throne, so that there is no departure from life we can imagine more horrible than death from thirst.
Oh, poor forlorn Mother, to have to stand by and be unable to allay the agony of thy Son!
And now, brethren, ask yourselves why has the sinless Son of Man endured all this?
Was it not to prove in deed that He has loved us to the end? Was it not that the martyrs on racks, under the fangs of wild beasts, that confessors laden in prison with their chains, might be able to look up to the Cross and say, "Thy love, sweet Jesus, is deeper than mine?" Was it not that we might live to endure our small pains in union with Him? That instead of shirking our little troubles and ridding ourselves of the pangs and ills that flesh is heir to, we might press them to our hearts and wear them as a precious relic of the Saviour's Cross; that we might press the chalice to our lips to taste what He has drank to the very dregs for us; that we might prove that while we love Him at the table, most of all we love Him on the Cross? And so when death comes we will thirst to suffer all its pangs for Him and thirst for more, and He will come to pour the balm of holy oils, and not great nails into our wounded hands and feet, and upon our tongues place the Bread of the strong, and from the tree of the Cross press the juice, not of gall, but of his Precious Blood, into our lips, and turn all our thirst into craving for the strong living God, to see His beauty and His glory, to slake our thirst at the gushing streams of His love. Then shall be heard the accents of His voice whispering, "Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow. Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here, and I will come and wake thee on the morrow."
6.—IT IS FINISHED.
Most of us, I dare say, can recall that strangely awful feeling of relief, mingled with regret, that has come over us when we were told by the death-bed of one, over whom we had lovingly watched during a lingering painful illness, " It is all over: it is finished."
We drew a sigh of relief to think at last the suffering was ended, the crown deserved and won, and then like summer tempest came our tears; we sobbed because the loved one was gone and we were lonely and desolate. From what our feelings have been we imagine something of our Blessed Mother's feelings as she heard this sixth word from her agonizing Son, "It is finished." She will help us, if only we ask her, to penetrate the meaning of this wondrous word, " It is finished." What is finished? all is finished. All the prophecies are fulfilled, atonement for every sin is made. The cup of suffering which our sins had filled to overflowing has been drank to the dregs. Sinners have done their worst, and Jesus has loved us to the end, to the end of love, to the end of life. He may now die and we can live, live His life over again, for He has taught us how to do it, and made ready the means. By his birth at Bethlehem Jesus has sanctified the beginning of life, by His thirty years at Nazareth he has taught us how to live in domestic peace, by His public ministry how to deal with men doing good, by His prayer in the garden how to pray even in sadness unto death, by His Passion how to bear calumny, reproach and pain, by His death upon the Cross how to die and be obedient unto death. His life of example then is finished. But more than this, He has provided for the wants of each of us. He has set up His Church, the treasure-house in which each one of us may find the graces necessary to live His life, and die His death over again. He had each one of us before Him in all the actions of His life, and He lived His thirty-three years for each separate soul as though there had been no other for whom to live and die, so that each one of us may say, In His life He had my life before Him, in His agony my agony, in His death my death. And because He knew so well that in the sorrows of death it would be difficult for me to possess my soul in that patience, resignation, and contrition which I could wish, He has anticipated all this for me in His own patience, resignation, and contrition for all sin, so that all I shall have to do in that dread moment will be to unite myself with Him upon the Cross, and if I be in grace all His Divinely holy acts my Father will take as mine. What more could our Elder Brother have done for those He loved to the end?
Let us now draw closer round His bed of death to receive His blessing ere His eyes are closed in death, and we will ask Him to grant us this one grace, that when we come to die we too may be able to say, "It is finished "—not only our term of life in this world of woe, but the work set us to do. For we each of us, like Him, are sent into this world to do a definite and distinct work, and till it, or expiation for its incompleteness, be done, we cannot be admitted to see our Father's face at home. This then is the advice I give you met around the Cross. Bear and do God's will from day to day. The past is gone, the future is not yet, the present day alone is ours. What can be worse than for us to be harping on the past? You will say to me, "but the past is laden with sin!" repair it then by the wellspent present, by acts of sorrow for the past, not that past sins are not already forgiven, but because we can never be too sorry for having offended God. Live in the present, the future is not yet, and how do you know that you will ever see the rising of tomorrow's sun? Leave the future to the future; what God wants of us is to live from hour to hour, bearing His holy will, bearing the trials, the sorrows, and the troubles which are fitted to the graces and the blessings of the hour. This we all can do, and this is all He asks us when doing His holy will from day to day, doing it perfectly, doing finished work, so that at the end of our prayer we may be able to say, "It is finished;" at the end of our domestic duties to say, "It is finished; at the end of our hours of business and of work to say, "It is finished;" at the end of confession, and of pious reading, and holy Mass, and Benediction, and examination of conscience, to be able to say, "It is finished." And at the end of the day as we lie down to rest with out beads around our necks, kissing the crucifix, and image of our Mother in our hands, we may be able to offer up the whole day to God, and take our rest in peaceful consciousness that the day is past and finished, finished perfectly, for it has all been for God, offered through the hands of Jesus and Of Mary.
Is there any one here present who can dare to look up into the dying face of Christ and say he cannot do this? If there is, let him know with that word he is gainsaying the word of Christ. He is saying Christ is dying before His time, that His work is not finished. For His work was this, to provide us graces to live our lives from day to day, bearing and doing the will of God. Oh, my brethren, you know our Elder Brother has done His work, and done it perfectly.
Make then the resolution of living thus from day to day, that so at whatever hour your summons may come you may be ready, like children glad to show your work, in good hope that to you will be granted the high reward which shall never fail—your Father's priceless smile all the days of eternity.
7.—FATHER, INTO THY HANDS I COMMEND MY SPIRIT.
The grandest life and the simplest, the noblest life and the lowliest, the holiest and the humblest, that ever was led upon earth was the life of thirty-three years led by Jesus of Nazareth. And of all the actions which went to make up that life the most pleasing to His Father and the most meritorious for us was the sacrifice He made of it upon the Cross. It was the act to which all the others converged and led up, the act which has the motive of all the rest. The shadow of the Cross flung itself over all His life, the Cross was always before Him. At Bethlehem that sacrifice commenced which terminated only when He bowed His Sacred Head and gave up the ghost. From Bethlehem to Calvary we may trace the Via Crucis, for all His life long that Cross pressed upon His sacred shoulder, and His life was a life of sacrifice. He came into the world in the double character of High Priest and Victim, and He—always exercising His priestly office and offering in atonement for sin the sacrifice of praise, of mortification, of self-denial, of self-abnegation, self-abasement— pressed forward day by day nearer to the final goal.
And now, brethren, we are about to witness the consummation of the life-long sacrifice, for the High Priest will bow His Sacred Head and permit death to separate the Soul from the Body of the Victim of sin. Then will be fully restored to God the honour robbed from Him by man's offences, and due thanksgiving will be made for all His heaped benefits to us, and pardon will be extended to every sin, and graces and blessings will flow in upon our souls instead of condemnation and anger. Over Calvary hangs a mantle of thick darkness lifted by no gusts of wind. The thunder is rolling, fitful flashes of lightning have split the rocks, and men are stealthily moving to and fro as though they feared at every step the earth would open beneath their feet. Even the reckless Roman soldiers are struck with alarm. Then all is silent, and Jesus, with a loud voice, calls out, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." Then, bowing down His Head, He gives up the ghost. The life of sacrifice is past, the life of suffering is over. The Soul has fled down to Limbo's dungeon, and to Mary is left that tenantless Body which was bone of her bone, flesh of her flesh. Under her direction the adorable Relic will be placed in a snow-white tomb, whence, like the sunbeam piercing through a crystal casket, It will issue forth once again radiant and beautiful, never to suffer change more.
Who, after such a death of atonement as this, will be afraid to die? Is there any one here who would escape death even if he could? To be deprived of the privilege of dying would be to be deprived of the grandest, the humblest, the holiest, the most meritorious act of our lives. For by uniting the last act of our lives with Jesus Christ we become both priest and victim, offering to our Father a sacrifice which we alone can then make, a sacrifice which sums up all the merit and crowns all the acts of our whole lives. "O death, where is thy victory, where is thy sting!" Thou art shorn of thy strength, robbed of thy bitterness in the very hour of thy seeming triumph. For it is then that the veil of this temple of the Holy Ghost is rent in twain, and the Holy of Holies is given to our sight. Over the sombre gates of death, see, there rises a triumphal arch, through which the soul is borne on wings of angels to its home.
Oh, my brethren, learn from the death we have been witnessing to take a Christian view of life and death. And remember that if to those we leave behind it looks sad and full of bitterness, and the tears come, and friends weep as Jesus did over His friend, as Mary did over her Child, as Augustine did over his mother, as Bernard mourned his brother, Elizabeth her sister, and all of us over dear departed ones, yet for him who dies in the grace of God it is gain, for he goes from exile to home, from earth to Heaven, from conflict to triumph, from a very sea of trouble to the haven of rest. So should death be for each of us, and so will it be if only now we die every day we live, if we will now begin the sacrifice which must be consummated on our death-bed. Now we must begin to take up our cross and follow Christ, that we may be near Him when we come to die. We must now begin the sacrifice which He will then claim from us.
Begin it by sacrificing now your own wills, by sacrificing for His sake the dangerous occasions of sin, those objects upon which you would feast your eyes, those cruel words which rise to your lips, that forbidden fruit which you fain would handle, that poisonous drink which you are thirsting to taste. Oh, my brethren, how can we ever hope to lay down our life for our Friend, our Brother, our God, in rightly-felt dispositions if now we are ever fanning into flame those fires which are enkindled with our birth? How can we be so foolish as to expect that we shall see but Jesus, Mary, and Joseph by our death-beds, if during life there are floating before our imaginations nothing but objects whose very names are incitements to sin? Oh, no. Believe the word of your Elder Brother; we must now take up our cross, we must now renounce all we possess, if on our death-bed we would deny ourselves, sacrifice our lives for Him Who sacrificed His for us.
May God our Father grant to each one here present through the merits of the five wounds and the riven Heart, through the sorrows and the compassion of the Mother, this great grace that our lives may be so pleasing in His holy sight that when we cry to Him, "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit," He will receive it into everlasting dwellings.
Seven Words (Part I)
Seven Words (Part II)
Confraternity of Bona Mors
Sermon preached at Navarre to the Confraternity of the Rosary
Saviour. Looking down from His Cross upon Mary and the beloved Disciple, that is, upon all that was dearest to Him in this world, and desiring to leave them some last dying proof of His tenderness, He first gives St. John to His Mother, then His Mother to the beloved Disciple, and by this legacy He establishes on the firm basis of His own Divine authority the devotion to the Blessed Virgin. I hope to show you that by those Divine words, spoken in the darkening gloom of Calvary but destined to echo down through all the ages and illumine the deeper darkness of ignorance and unbelief, Mary, the Mother of an Incarnate God, is proclaimed to be our Mother too, the Mother of all the faithful.
Oh Mary, second Eve, sinless and beautiful, you are indeed our Mother, both by maternal love, and also by the anguish and pains that tore your soul on Calvary ! Let me proceed to show from the Sacred Scriptures how this mystery is to be explained.
There was nothing so near to the Sacred Heart of our Divine Redeemer as the union of Himself with our nature and the establishment of an intimate relationship with us. It was to effect this that He was born into the great human family, so that we by grace might become members of a divine and spiritual family. He united Himself to us by a double tie : by becoming a Child of Adam He at the same time made us children of God, and by this twofold alliance our common father became His and He desires that His own Eternal Father should become ours. This makes Him say in His Gospel : (I ascend to My Father and to your Father (John xx. 17) ; so that we may understand from these words that He wishes to have all things in common with us, not even grudging us the privilege of being the children of His Divine Father.
Now that same generous love which induces Him to give us His Heavenly Father makes Him also give us His most Holy Mother. He desires that she should be our Mother spiritually as she was His according to the flesh, so that He might be indeed our Brother. And now I am seeking to show you, from passages in the Holy Scriptures, in what manner Mary is united to the Eternal Father so as to be the Mother of all the faithful. As, however, this task is a weighty one, I will summon to my assistance St. Augustine, who puts this great truth very clearly before us. " Mary," he says, " is, according to the flesh, the Mother of Jesus Christ, and also, according to the spirit, the Mother of all His members, because by her love she co-operated in giving birth in the Church to the children of God." According to St. Augustine s words, then, Mary is the Mother of all the faithful because she begets them by charity. Let us follow along the lines marked out for us by St. Augustine, and explain from the Holy Scriptures this blessed fertility by which we are born of the charity of Mary.
In order to do this we must remember that there are two kinds of fruitfulness : the first in nature ; the second in charity. It is needless to explain to you what is that natural fecundity which goes on incessantly in the world, perpetuating the species by the blessing of the Creator. Taking this natural fecundity then for granted, let us pass on to show that not only nature but also charity is fertile. St. Paul teaches us this truth when he says : My little children, of whom I am in labour again until Christ be formed in you (Gal. iv. 19). The marvelous fruitfulness of St. Paul's charity is here very evident ; for who are those little children whom he acknowledges for his own, if not those given to him by charity, and what is meant by the birth-pangs of St. Paul, if not the anxious travail and strivings of his charity as he labours to bring forth the faithful in Jesus Christ ? Yes, this is sufficient proof of the fertility of love.
But more than this. We learn from the Bible that this maternal charity not only begets children, but that she also tends and nourishes them with all a mother’s unspeakable tenderness ; that she carries them in her bosom and is to them indeed all that the most loving mother can be to her little ones vigilant, fostering, sustaining, as none but such a mother knows how to be. That truth being established, it will be easy to show you how the Blessed Virgin is united to the Eternal Father in bringing forth the children of the New Covenant.
First, I would have you observe that those two different kinds of fruitfulness which, as we have seen, exist among creatures, also find their place in God, Who is their source. The nature of God is fruitful, so also are His love and charity. This fruitfulness inherent in His nature gives Him His Eternal Son, Who is the express image of His substance. But if His natural fertility gave birth to this Divine Son in eternity, His love continually through all time gives life to other sons whom He adopts into His family on earth. It is of this love that we ourselves are born, it is because of this love that we call Him our Father. Seeing and understanding that twofold fertility of God, as far as our poor human intellect can grasp such sublime truths, let us now try to discover how this twofold fertility (which has its source in God alone) was communicated to Mary.
Already it appears that she participates, in a manner, in that natural fertility which gave to the Eternal Father His only-begotten Son. How is this, O Blessed Virgin, how is it that thou art Mother of the Son of God Himself ? Is it thine own fruitfulness that gives thee this potency ? No, she answers, it is God that has done it, He that is mighty hath done to me great things (Luke i. 49). Mary then is not the mother of this Divine Son by her own fruitfulness. Listen to the words of the Angel : The power of the Most High shall overshadow thee (Luke i. 35). Let us try to grasp the full meaning of those words. Doubtless the Holy Ghost would have us understand from them that, the fruit- fulness of the Eternal Father communicating itself to Mary, she will be the Mother of the Son of God Himself ; and this is why the Angel, after having said that the power of the Most High will overshadow her, adds immediately the beautiful words : Therefore the Holy One that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
How great, how admirable, then, is this dignity of Mary ! Yet it is not enough that she should be associated with the Eternal Father as Mother of His only-begotten Son ; think you that He will refuse to share with her the children whom He adopts by His charity ? Think you that if He is willing to communicate to her His natural fruitfulness in order that she may be the Mother of Jesus Christ, He will not complete His work by bestowing on her liberally the fertility of His love so that she may be also the Mother of all His members ? It is for this that my Gospel calls me to Calvary ; for it is there, at the foot of the Cross, that I see the most blessed Virgin uniting herself, in the presence of her beloved Son, to the fertile love of the Eternal Father. Ah ! what a spectacle of love and sorrow, heart-stirring in its solemn beauty and divine pathos!
Can we ever be grateful enough for this boundless charity by which Almighty God condescended to choose us for His children ? Can we ever admire sufficiently this Divine condescension ? For (as St. Augustine reminds us) in the world men do not adopt children until they have given up the hope of having any of their own. The love that they give to those adopted members of their family, is a love which they thrust as it were into a place left vacant by nature, hoping thereby to supply that nature's deficiencies. Not so is it with our great, our all-merciful God. He indeed has through all eternity begotten a Son, Who is equal with Himself, Who is the delight of His heart, Who perfectly satisfies His love and therefore, so to speak, drains its fertility. Whence comes it then that He deigns to adopt us as His children ? It is not indigence, not want, that impels Him to do this, but rather the boundless riches of His charity. It is the infinite fecundity of a superabundant, overflowing love that makes Him give brethren to this first-born Son, companions to this only-begotten Son, and co-heirs to this Beloved of His heart. Oh, generous, untiring love ! Oh, infinite, incomprehensible mercy ! Yet He has done even more than this.
Not only does He in His love adopt us as His children, making us sharers in His Fatherhood with His only-begotten Son, but He delivers up to death that only and beloved Son, in order thereby to give life to His adopted children. Truly a strange and novel kind of fecundity ! In order to produce, it is necessary to destroy ; in order to bring into existence the adopted sons, the true Son must be sacrificed ! It is Jesus Christ Himself Who teaches me this marvellous truth : God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish but may have life everlasting (John iii. 16). This is the charity of the Eternal Father ; He delivers up, He abandons, He sacrifices His only-begotten Son, that He may thereby adopt, vivify, regenerate us.
And now let us look upon Mary, and see what part she plays in this wonderful drama. Why, think you, has her Divine Son called her to the foot of the Cross to be an eye-witness of this appalling spectacle ? Is it in order to pierce her heart, to rend her very soul ? Must her maternal love be so wounded by His deep and cruel wounds ? Must she see that blood, which is so precious to her, flow slowly but unceasingly, drop by drop ? Was it any want of compassion, any severity or coldness, which, instead of sparing her such anguish, condemned her to endure it on Calvary ? No. Let us try to fathom this great mystery. It was necessary that Mary should unite herself with the love of the Eternal Father, and that, in order to save sinners, they should in common accord deliver up to death that Son Whom they owned in common. It even seems to me as if I could hear Mary speaking to that Eternal Father out of the fulness of a heart at once open and straitened; straitened by an intensity of grief, but open through the expansion of a charity which hungered for the salvation of men. Listen to her ; she seems to say : " O my God, since it is Thy Will, I consent to this shameful death to which Thou dost abandon the Saviour of the world. It is Thy Will to save sinners by the death of our innocent, our Divine Son ; let Him then die that men may live." Thus Mary unites herself to the fertile love of the Eternal Father ; but let us observe with wonder and admiration that at the very moment of this act she receives the gift of her own fecundity : Woman, says Jesus, behold thy son. Her love deprives her of one beloved Son, her love bestows on her another in His place ; and in the person of this one Disciple she becomes by charity the Eve of the New Covenant, the fruitful Mother of all the faithful. For who does not see in that act of renunciation a mother’s love ? Would she give up her most dear Son for us if she did not love us as her children ? What then remains for us to do but to give back love for love, so that in place of the Son Whom she loses she may find a son in each of us ? *
‘I am persuaded that the worship of the Madonna has been one of the noblest and most vital graces, and has never been otherwise than productive of true holiness of life and purity of character. . . . There has probably not been an innocent cottage throughout the length and breadth of Europe during the whole period of vital Christianity in which the imagined presence of the Madonna has not given sanctity to the humblest duties and comfort to the sorest trials of the lives of women ; and every brightest and loftiest achievement of the arts and strength of manhood has been the fulfillment of the assured prophecy of the poor Israelite maiden : He that is mighty hath magnified me, and holy is His name." JOHN RUSKIN.
" The world is governed by its ideals, and seldom or never has there been one which has exercised a more profound and, on the whole, a more salutary influence than the mediaeval conception of the Virgin. For the first time woman was elevated to her rightful position, and the sanctity of weakness was recognized as well as the sanctity of sorrow. No longer the slave or toy of man, no longer associated only with ideas of degradation and sensuality, woman rose, in the person of the Virgin Mother, into a new sphere, and became the object of a reverential homage of which antiquity had had no conception. Love was idealized. The moral charm and beauty of female excellence was, for the first time, felt. A new type of character was called into being, a new kind of admiration was fostered. Into a harsh and ignorant and benighted age this ideal type infused a conception of gentleness and of purity unknown to the proudest civilization of the past. In the pages of living tenderness, which many a monkish writer has left in honour of his celestial patron ; in the millions who in many lands and in many ages have.
But I seem to hear you say : What exchange is this you are advising us to make? what have we that we can give to Mary as a substitute for her stupendous loss ? would you have us offer her poor mortals in the place of a God, sinners in place of the all-holy Jesus ? What I desire that we should all do is this : it is Jesus Christ Whom she gives, let us give her back Jesus Christ in ourselves ; and let us bring to life again in our souls this Son Whom for love of us she has lost. I know indeed that God restored Him to her, risen from the dead, glorious, immortal ; but although she possesses Him thus in glory, she nevertheless seeks Him still in the hearts of all the faithful. Let us, then, be pure and modest, and Mary will recognize Jesus Christ in us. Let us be humble and obedient as Jesus was even unto death ; let our hearts be tender and pitiful, and our hands open to the poor and miserable ; let us forgive all injuries as Jesus forgave them. Think what Mary's joy will be when she sees Jesus Christ living in us ; in our souls by charity, in our bodies by chastity ; yes, even in our eyes and on our faces by self-restraint, modesty, and Christian simplicity ! Then indeed it is that, beholding in us so wonderful a conformity to her Beloved and such a living representation of His beauty, she will love Him in us and pour forth upon us all the wealth of a mother's love. And if that is not enough, if our hearts are not softened by sought with no barren desire to mould their characters into her image ; in those holy maidens who, for the love of Mary, have separated themselves from all the glories and pleasures of the world, to seek in fastings and vigils and humble charity to render themselves worthy of her benediction ; in the new sense of honour, in the chivalrous respect, in the softness of manners, in the refinement of tastes displayed in all the walks of society ; in those and in many other ways we detect its influence. All that was best in Europe clustered around it, and it is the origin of the purest elements of our civilization."
W. E. H. LECKY.
such tenderness, if their hardness needs the discipline of blood and tears to crush them, this is not wanting, as I am going to show you.
St. John, in the Apocalypse, represents the Blessed Virgin under a most striking and admirable figure. He says : A great sign appeared in heaven : a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars ; and being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered (Apoc. xii.). St. Augustine assures us that this woman is Blessed Mary ; and several convincing reasons could be given for his assertion. There is, however, one portion of the sacred text which seems to oppose that theory. This mysterious woman is represented by St. John as crying out in the pangs of childbirth. How is this ? Shall we concede that Mary was subject to the curse common to all mothers who bring their children into the world with pain and anguish ? No ; we know that she brought forth her Divine Son without suffering, just as she conceived Him without concupiscence. Yet what can be the meaning of St. John when he attributes to her the pangs of childbirth ?
This is the mystery I am preaching to you ; this is the great truth which I am going to proclaim. We must understand that Mary is in a twofold sense a mother begetting children. She brought forth her Divine Son, the Sinless One, without travail, without prejudice to her virginity ; she brings forth the faithful, who are sinners, with pain and anguish, yes, at the foot of the Cross, with bitter tears and a broken heart. This is the mystery of which I spoke.
Since, as we have said, it was decreed that the faithful should be born again through the love of the Eternal Father and the sufferings of His Divine Son, it was necessary in order that Blessed Mary should be the Mother of this new family that she should be a sharer not only of the fecund love by which the Father has adopted us, but also of the agonies by which the Son gives us life. For must not the Eve of the New Covenant be associated with the New Adam ? Hence it is that you see her sorrowful and suffering at the foot of the Cross ; so that just as the first Eve beneath the tree once tasted with her disobedient husband the poisonous sweetness of the forbidden fruit, so the Eve of the Gospel might draw near to the Cross of Jesus to taste with Him the bitterness of that mysterious Tree. But let us put this reasoning in a stronger light, and lay it down as a first principle that it was the will of the Saviour of the world that all His fruitfulness should be in His sufferings. We know this from His own teach ing ; for, speaking by a figure of His death, He says : Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone ; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit (John xii. 24).
In truth, all the mysteries concerning our Divine Saviour are but one continual fall. He fell from Heaven to Earth, from His Throne to a Crib ; from the lowliness of His Birth, by various downward steps, into all the miseries by which His mortal life was encomppassed, till they culminated in the ignominy of the Cross and Sepulchre then He could descend no lower. Yet no sooner had He reached this deepest depth of self-annihilation than He began to display His Divine power ; and that germ of immortality (which He kept hidden within Himself beneath the weakness of His flesh) being developed by His death, this grain of wheat was seen to multiply abundantly and to spring up into life and vigour as the children of God. Such was the blessed fertility generated by His sufferings and death, to which we owe our existence as the adopted sons of His Father. Come then, Mary, Mother of God, to the foot of that Cross on which your Son hangs, come that your maternal love may unite you to those sufferings by which He gives us the new life of regeneration.
And what words of ours can even faintly shadow forth Mary s share in the sufferings of her adorable Son ? She beheld Him, the Beloved of her soul, nailed to the shameful tree, His pierced and bleeding hands outstretched to an unbelieving, pitiless people ; His face so marred and disfigured that there was no beauty remaining in it ; the Precious Blood meanwhile falling drop by drop from that mangled, agonized Body ! As the Divine Jesus infinitely surpasses all other sons, so too the grief of ordinary mothers is but a most imperfect image of that which pierces the heart of Mary. Her affliction is truly boundless and measureless as an ocean. Thus we see how she shares the sufferings of her beloved Son wounded with His very wounds, transfixed with the nails that fastened Him to the Cross.
But now let us contemplate with admiring love the sequel to this mystery. It is in the midst of all this anguish and desolation of spirit, which unites her intimately with the Passion of Jesus, that He makes her a sharer in His fruitfulness. " Woman," He says, " behold thy son ; woman, who art suffering with Me, be also fruitful with Me, be the Mother of those who owe their life to My Passion." Like an earthly mother who dies in bringing her child into the world, Mary in this moment of supreme anguish begets the faithful.
Let us never then forget that we are the children of Mary, and that she gave birth to us at the foot of the Cross. Let us lay to heart the beautiful words of Ecclesiasticus : Forget not the groanings of thy mother (Ecclus. vii. 29). When the world attracts you by its deceitful allurements, let the thought of Mary's tears, and of the pangs of that loving mother, so occupy your imagination that it may have no room left for the poisonous delights of sin. When temptation assails you, when your strength almost fails you under its powerful assaults, when your steps are feeble and tottering in the way of righteousness, when bad example or the fierce fire of youthful passion almost gets the better of you, remember your mother's anguish, her bitter tears, the unspeakable pangs that rent her soul on Calvary. What ! would you by your weak yielding to sin set up again a cross that Jesus Christ may once more be nailed to it ? Would you, before the very eyes of Mary, thus crucify afresh her Divine Son, crown His Sacred Head with thorns, and trample under foot His Precious Blood, thus reopening every wound in that dear mother s heart ? Ah, no ! we will not act thus ; Mary has already suffered once in begetting us, do not let us renew her pangs. Rather let us expiate our faults by penance ; let us remember that we are the children of sorrows, and that sinful pleasures are not for us. O Mary, Mother of God and of us, intercede with your Divine Son for us that we may always love His Cross and that we may be indeed your children ; so that one day you may show us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Blessed Mother of God and Our Mother
Legends of the Blessed Virgin
Crypt of Saint Louis de Monfort
in the Basilica of Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre
|Miraculous Medal Prayer|
|O MARIA sine labe concepta, ora pro nobis, qui confugimus ad te; O Refugium peccatorum, Mater agonizantium, noli nos derelinquere in hora exitus nostri, sed impetra nobis dolorem perfectum, sinceram contritionem, remissionem peccatorum nostrorum, sanctissimi Viatici dignam receptionem, Extremae Unctionis Sacramenti corroborationem, ut magis securi praesentari valeamus ante thronum iusti sed et misericordis Iudicis, Dei et Redemptoris nostri. Amen.||O MARY, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee; O refuge of sinners, Mother of the dying; forsake us not at the hour of our death; obtain for us the grace of perfect sorrow, sincere contrition, the pardon and remission of our sins, a worthy receiving of the holy Viaticum, and the comfort of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, in order that we may appear with greater security before the throne of the just but merciful Judge, our God and Redeemer. Amen.|
|From the Raccolta #643, (Secretariat of Briefs, March 11, 1856; S. P. Ap., March 7, 1932).
THE Rev. Father Ramiere, S.J., preached a sermon at Farm Street on Sunday, the 17th of October, inviting attention to that great apostolic work with which the readers of the MESSENGER are so familiarly acquainted. He took his very apposite text from the last chapter of the Second Book of Machabees.
So Nicanor being puffed up with exceeding great pride, thought to set up a public monument of his victory over Judas. But Machabeus ever trusted with all hope that God would help them. And he exhorted his people not to fear the coming of the nations, but to remember the help they had before received from Heaven, and now to hope for victory from the Almighty. And speaking to them out of the law, and the prophets, and withal putting them in mind of the battles they had fought before, he made them more cheerful. Then after he had encouraged them, he showed withal the falsehood of the Gentiles and their breach of oaths. So he armed every one of them, not with defence of shield and spear, but with very good speeches and exhortations, and told them a dream worthy to be believed, whereby he rejoiced them all. Now the vision was in this manner: Onias who had been high priest, a good and virtuous man, modest in his looks, gentle in his manner, and graceful in his speech, and who from a child was exercised in virtues, holding up his hands, prayed for all the people of the Jews. After this there appeared also another man, admirable for age and glory, and environed with great beauty and majesty. Then Onias answering said: This is a lover of his brethren and of the people of Israel: this is he that prayeth much for the people, and for all the holy city, Jeremias the Prophet of God. Whereupon Jeremias stretched forth his right hand, and gave to Judas a sword of gold, saying: Take this holy sword a gift from God, wherewith thou shalt overthrow the adversaries of my people Israel. Thus being exhorted with the words of Judas, which were very good and proper to stir up the courage and strengthen the hearts of the young men, they resolved to fight, and to set upon them manfully, that valour might decide the matter, because the holy city and the temple were in danger.
There we find, my dear brethren, an instance of the general truth which St. Paul expressed when he said: Omnia in figura contingebant illis. (All these things happened to them.) The history of the ancient people is a symbol of the destinies of the true people of God, of the new Israel. Who does not see in the present situation of the Church of God the realization of that which we have been reading just now—of the abandonment to which the Synagogue was reduced in the time of the Machabees? All the earthly glories with which the Church of God was once surrounded have faded away: the holy city is in the hands of her fiercest enemies, her streets are profaned with all kinds of abominations, her treasures are dispersed, her most devoted ministers expelled, her children torn violently from her bosom and delivered up to the worst of all captivities, to the impious education which enslaves the minds and souls of men under the shameful yoke of error and of vice.
And who in this extremity comes to the help of the Church of God? We look to the north and to the south, to the east and to the west, and nowhere appears any human hope of salvation. All the earthly powers that once supported the Church have now turned against her, all, all! Those which are not openly hostile, at least deny her Divine rights. An immense league, embracing all the civilized nations of the world, was formed more than a century ago, to distress the Kingdom of God upon earth, and after having expelled Jesus Christ from public institutions by the so-called Liberal system, they are preparing to expel Him from families and even from the conscience of individual men by godless education.
What remains to the Church? A handful of pious Christians who in all nations form a small minority, and who compared with the numbers of their enemies, and the multitude much greater still of the indifferent and the cowardly, are less capable of fighting successfully than the Machabees were to resist the armies of Demetrius. Shall we then despair of the victory? No, my dear brethren, we shall not despair. And why not? Because Almighty God shows to us as a living and certain reality a spectacle much more consoling than that which was shown to Judas Machabeus in a dream. Do you not see those thousands of pious souls who like Onias hold up their hands and pray for the people of Israel? And above them, do you not see that other intercessor infinitely more powerful than Jeremias, the Very Son of the Almighty, Who, continually present in the midst of us at the same time that He is sitting at the right hand of His Father, is occupied in making intercession for us: Semper vivens ad interpellandum pro nobis? (He always lives to intercede for us )This is He that prayeth much for the people and for all the holy city, and by His prayer, to which He invites us to join our prayers, He renders us invincible and assures our triumph.
I have, therefore, a right to present to you the Apostleship of Prayer, exercised first by our Saviour and practised by Christians in union with the Heart of Jesus, as the last but all-powerful resource of the Church in the extreme danger with which she is threatened.
The Apostleship of Prayer thus understood is not a special association. We must distinguish two aspects of one and the same idea. The Apostleship of Prayer as a power and a duty is as old as Christianity itself, a power conferred and a duty imposed on all Christians to contribute by their prayers and good works to the edification of the Body of Christ. Under this point of view it is as old as the Church. What is new in it is a peculiarity of organization belonging to these later times by which the faithful are induced to unite together in order to exercise that power and to fulfil that duty. In order to organize this Holy League in England, and enable it to produce there the great fruits which it has produced in the other parts of the world, we need the assistance of your pious pastors.
It is not precisely under that respect that I wish to present the Apostleship of Prayer to your consideration to-day. I propose to set before you the idea of the work, to prove the immensity of the power which it puts into your hands and the stringent nature of the duty which it imposes upon you. To attain this end we must examine the Apostleship, first as it is in the Heart of Jesus, and secondly as it is in the heart of Christians.
I. Considered as it is in the Heart of Jesus, the Apostleship of Prayer appears to us as the proper apostolate of the Sacred Heart, the first apostolate which our Saviour exercised, the one which He exercised without interruption, the one which He kept for Himself when He was obliged to divest Himself of all other apostolates. Before briefly developing these three considerations, it is well to determine what is meant by the words Apostleship of Prayer. Preaching and administering the sacraments are not the only apostolate. If they were, you would not be able to give to our Blessed Lady in her own right the title of Queen of Apostles. Mary never preached : she remained silent in the assemblies of the primitive Church, although she could have spoken with more eloquence and efficacy than St. Paul or any other preacher of the Word. And nevertheless she was an apostle, nay, the Queen of Apostles, because by her prayers, her actions, her sufferings, united with those of her Divine Son, she contributed more efficaciously than all the Apostles together to the work of the apostleship, the conversion of souls, the propagation of the Kingdom of Christ. The apostleship includes every work which tends efficaciously to promote the salvation of souls, to convert the sinner, to sanctify the just, to assist the triumph of the Church. Preaching and the administration of sacraments contribute to these results, but the only indispensable means is the grace of God. Every work, therefore, which helps to impart grace to souls is included in the idea of an apostolate.
This explains the mystery of the Life of our Saviour Himself. He had come down from Heaven for one purpose—the salvation of mankind, to enlighten minds immersed in darkness, and bring back into the path of justice souls which had been led astray into the tortuous ways of sin. Having thirty-three years to spend among men, how is it that He waited till the age of thirty to show Himself and to speak? Were those long years of His Hidden Life lost? No, they were as usefully spent as the years of His Public Life. From the very beginning of His Life He had begun to suffer and to pray. He had not yet exercised the apostolate of His preaching, but He had already exercised the apostolate of His Heart, the apostolate of prayer. The first palpitation of His Heart, the first aspiration of His Soul, was the first act of that apostolate, and by that first act He had already done enough for our salvation. Why so? Because He had already obtained the grace necessary and sufficient to save the souls of all men.
I am, therefore, right in saying that the Apostolate of Prayer is the proper apostolate of the Heart of Jesus. For all other apostolates the Heart of Jesus needs cooperation. The apostolate of the word will require the movement of His sacred lips, the apostolate of charity will employ His sacred feet to run after the lost sheep, His sacred hands to bind their wounds; but before the Sacred Heart can have this cooperation of lips and feet and hands, It has already undertaken Its own proper apostolate of prayer. That apostolate was the first which our Saviour exercised. It is true that long before He began to teach men by word of mouth He had taught them by His example: coepit Jesus facere et docere.(Jesus began to do and to teach) At Bethlehem He had preached, by the mute eloquence of His poverty, the same lesson which was to be the first subject of His public exhortation; but even that apostolate of example which began with His visible Life had been forestalled by the invisible apostolate of prayer.
And that apostolate begun at the first moment will thenceforward be continued without interruption. The apostolate of the Word, even when it is undertaken after thirty years, is not exercised without intermission. However indefatigable Jesus may be in announcing the doctrine of salvation, He will only be able to speak according as men shall be disposed to listen to Him. However assiduous He may be in hunting after souls, the night will necessarily interrupt that work of mercy. But the night itself will not interrupt His prayer. When He can no longer proclaim to men the merciful designs of His Heavenly Father, He will continue to treat with that Heavenly Father about the eternal interests of men: Erat pernoctans in oratione Dei.(he spent the night in prayer )
There is only one other apostolate which shares with the Apostolate of Prayer the privilege of being uninterrupted. It is the apostolate of suffering. As the Heart of Jesus never ceased to pray for our salvation during His whole earthly Life, so He never ceased to suffer physically or morally for the expiation of our sins: Tota vita Christi crux fuit et martyrium.(The whole life of Christ was a cross and a martyrdom) But a moment will come when it will be necessary to interrupt that apostolate of suffering as well as the others. The work of Christ is consummated, His earthly Life comes to an end, His Father recalls Him to Heaven, in order to reward Him by unmixed joy for all His bitter trials. He must therefore divest Himself of His apostolic functions, and bequeath them to His ministers. He will henceforward preach by their lips, administer the sacraments, and perform works of mercy by their hands; He will fulfill in the sufferings of His devoted servants what is wanting to His own. But there is an apostolate which He will keep to Himself —the Apostolate of Prayer: semper vivens ad interpellandum pro nobis.(He always lives to intercede for us) In order to exert it more suitably He will create to Himself a second existence upon earth parallel to His existence in Heaven, as humble and obscure as His heavenly Life is glorious—a life of sacrifice and prayer. We see the Lamb Whom in Heaven the angels and the saints adore, "standing as it were slain," in a state of perpetual immolation, and perpetually praying for us.
And how long will that intercession last? As long as the duration of the world. As long as the Bride of Christ is exposed to the attack of her enemies and apparently suffering defeat at their hands, so long will her Divine Spouse help her by His prayers to bear those assaults and to change, as He Himself did before, apparent defeat into glorious victory. As long as one soul on the road to Heaven is exposed to the danger of falling into Hell, so long He Who gave His life for all men without exception will strive by His prayers to apply to that soul the merits of His death. The Apostolate of Prayer is therefore the last apostolate of our Redeemer as it was the first: it is the last mystery of His Life on earth, the one which crowns and makes perfect all the rest, the one by which are applied to our souls the fruits which come from all His actions and sufferings.
Is it not becoming then that there should be an association specially dedicated to the manifestation, the meditation, the glorification of that mystery? Is it not just that sanctuaries should be erected to honour that last and permanent proof of the love of our Saviour, as there are so many dedicated to the transient mysteries of His earthly Life? There is as yet only one sanctuary erected for that purpose, close to the Seminary of Vals, where the Association of the Apostleship of Prayer had its birth. There forty lamps, burning night and day, symbolize the union of our prayer with that perpetual intercession of the Heart of Jesus. But now that sanctuary is closed by those who have undertaken to destroy Christianity in France. They have put their seals upon it as the murderers of Christ once put their seals upon His sepulchre. Let us hope the heirs of the Pharisees will not succeed better than their less guilty forefathers. In the meantime we will only honour the more diligently that mystery of the love of our Saviour the more it is outraged by His enemies.
We do not meditate sufficiently upon His life of prayer. What comfort we should find in our sorrows, what light in our anxieties, what strength in our struggles, what confidence after our falls, if we did but realize that truth? There is now One Who prays for me, Who interests Himself in my difficulties, Who ardently desires my happiness, Who is ready to give me His help; and He is not only the holiest man that ever lived upon earth, He is not only more powerful in His intercession than Moses and Elias, but He is the Almighty Himself, the Son of God, Who has atoned already long ago for the sins which discourage me, and Who has no other desire than to apply to me the immense merits of His atonement.
And again, what confidence should we feel in the destinies of the Church, how easy would it be.to despise her enemies and to laugh at the dangers which surround her, if we kept ever present to our minds the thought of the protection which is given to her by the uninterrupted intercession of the Son of God? Should we not say with St. John: Fortior est qui in nobis est quam qui in mundo est (This stronger man is who is in us , than he that is in the world). Our enemies are strong. They have at their disposal the powers of hell and of earth. But there is in the midst of us One, of Whom it has been said that every knee shall bend at the very sound of His Name, on earth and in hell as well as in Heaven. He is here offering for us those prayers which cannot but be heard by His Father: Ego autem sciebam quia semper me audis (And I knew that thou hearest me always). He is here fulfilling the only condition put by His Father for gaining the triumph over all the world: Postula a me et dabo tibi gentes hereditatem tuam;(Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thy inheritance) and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession.
Not only will the meditation of this great mystery produce in us fruits of consolation and confidence, but it must moreover lead us to unite our prayers to the perpetual intercession of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the salvation of souls in the exercise of that power imparted to us, of which I shall now briefly demonstrate the reality.
II. Few words are needed to place in the clearest light the second aspect of the Apostleship of Prayer, and when I have convinced your understanding I may leave it to your piety to feed your hearts with the practical consequences which follow from the principles explained. I am not afraid of being accused of exaggeration when I say that by exercising the Apostleship of Prayer in union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus we acquire an unlimited power in cooperating with Him to the success of His great work of saving and sanctifying souls and leading His Church to a triumphant victory:—yes an unlimited power, and unlimited in every way.
That power is unlimited, first as regards the graces which we may obtain for souls. Whatever limit there may be to the results obtained is put by us and not by the promise or the action of Christ, for He says: Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in My Name, that will I do. The same expression is repeated with the same universality in several passages, and as we cannot accuse our Lord of exaggeration or inaccuracy, we must believe that He has really set no bounds to the efficacy of prayer. The promise, therefore, does not apply to those prayers alone which are inspired by the legitimate desire of our own advantage. That is a kind of spiritual selfishness which, although it is not wrong, is less conformable to the example set before us. The promise of Christ applies still more, I will venture to say, to the prayers which are prompted by fraternal charity, for the prayer which most resembles the prayer of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is necessarily most acceptable to His Father. The prayers offered for our neighbour's good are more than any others made in the Name of Jesus. An evident proof that the promise of infallible efficacy applies by preference to them, is that our Lord, wishing to give us the pattern to which we must conform all our prayers that they may deserve to be heard, teaches us a form of words, according to which we are to put the interests of God and of all mankind before our own: Thus shall you pray: Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. We must first think of His Divine interests, and after that we are allowed to think also of our own interests, but even then no one can be permitted to think of himself alone. What we ask for ourselves we must ask for others also. It is true that we can never be absolutely certain to obtain the conversion of the sinners for whom we pray, because the cooperation of each soul is free; but what is certain is that we shall obtain a grace proportioned to the fervour and confidence of our prayer, and as it depends upon us to enlarge more and more that measure, it depends upon us also to increase indefinitely the chances of salvation of those for whom we pray.
That power is unlimited also as regards the persons to whom it is imparted. The other apostolates require a special vocation and faculties of some particular kind. Not all men have a vocation to the priesthood, and among those who have received the vocation not all are fitted in mental acquirements and physical strength for the active ministry. But the Apostolate of Prayer can be exercised by every Christian. We all in fact have exercised it from the day in which our mother taught us to bend our knees, and join our hands, and say our prayers under the unconscious impulse of the Holy Spirit. And who is he who can exercise that apostolate with most success? Is it the most learned, the most exalted in society, the most influential, the most esteemed? No, it is the most humble, the most pious, the most united with our Lord, the most generous in fulfilling His commandments, and accepting with love all the dispositions of His Providence. A poor beggar like Benedict Joseph Labre, who says his beads at. the door of the church, while an eloquent preacher enraptures from the pulpit a distinguished audience, may contribute more efficaciously than the preacher himself to the serious results of the preaching.
That power is unlimited as to the persons in whose behalf it may be exercised. To convert a sinner by preaching, you must be heard by him; to sanctify souls by your good example, you must be seen; to extend by the press the influence of your spoken word, you must be read; but to contribute by your prayers to the conversion of sinners and to the sanctification of souls it is not necessary to be heard or seen, to know the persons whom you lead into the way of salvation, or to be known by them. By a prayer made here in union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the conversion of heathens, you may cause a grace to fall upon a dying Chinese or American savage, and open the gates of Heaven to him.
That power is unlimited finally as to the time and manner in which it may be exercised. We must not imagine that it belongs only to formal prayers, to particular words recited at stated times, or to lonely meditations made in the church or in some domestic sanctuary. No, we may exercise it as Jesus, Mary, and Joseph did at Nazareth, by intentions which change all our works into prayers. It is in that sense that our Lord has ordered us to pray always, and not to faint. The intention is the soul of our works, and whatever be their body, their outward shape, provided they are conformable to the law of God, the intention which animates them gives them merit according to its purity. But of all intentions the purest, the most perfect, the most meritorious, is certainly the intention of Divine charity which animates the Heart of Jesus. If therefore at the beginning of each day, and, if possible, sometimes during the day, we unite our intentions with the intentions of the Heart of Jesus, if we offer our prayers, our actions, our sufferings for the conversion of sinners, for the sanctification of the clergy and of pious souls, for the defence and triumph of the Church, that is enough to render all those actions apostolic, and to give them, together with a much greater merit for ourselves, a much greater efficacy in assisting the work of God.
Such is in its nature and in its essential practice the Apostleship of Prayer. There still remains much to be said about its necessity, its advantages, and the method of its practice, but time does not permit. I will conclude with the words of Jeremias to Judas Machabeus which I quoted at the beginning of my discourse. It is our Divine Lord Who addresses these words to every one of you, while He offers you that all-powerful weapon of prayer by which He Himself has wrought our salvation. "Take this holy sword a gift from God, wherewith thou shalt overthrow the adversaries of my people, Israel."
Yes, my dear brethren, it is my firm persuasion that by divesting His Church of all earthly advantages and depriving her of all human help our Lord wishes to show that He alone is her Saviour. And what He requires from us is to unite in an immense effort of prayer to obtain from Heaven the assistance which earth refuses. We must not remain idle. Every one of us must fight as did the Machabees, even though there is no human hope. But while we do on our part all that is in our power to move our fellow-men, we must display our energy in procuring help from on high. More than ever we must cry from the bottom of our hearts, Adveniat regnum tuum—“ Thy Kingdom come!" That is the war-cry which we must oppose to the cry of rebellion of the anti-Christian sect which has sworn to destroy the Kingdom of Christ upon earth. That is in fact the device of the Association of the Apostleship of Prayer; and in order to encourage us to repeat that motto, and to make it the rule of all our desires and ambitions, the Holy Father has granted an indulgence of one hundred days to all the Associates of the Apostleship who, wearing an image of the Sacred Heart upon their breasts make that aspiration either orally or mentally. Let us therefore repeat it often by the movement of our lips, and oftener still and more continually by the wishes of our heart, that the reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus may be fully established in our hearts and in the hearts of all men. Nothing more is wanted to change earth into a paradise and the vestibule of the Heavenly Paradise. Amen.
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Sermon on the Apostleship of Prayerby Rev. Father Ramiere, S.J.
Book on the Apostleship of Prayerby Rev. Father Ramiere, S.J.
“My country has hurt me,”wrote a young poet in 1944 during the purge1when the head of state [Charles De Gaulle] implacably pursued the sinister job that had been in the works for more than four years. My country hurt me: this is not a truth that one shouts from the rooftop. It is rather a secret one whispers to oneself, with great sorrow, while trying nonetheless to keep hope. When I was in Spain during the 1950’s, I remember the extreme reserve with which friends, regardless of their political allegiance, would let escape certain details about “our war.” Their country was still hurting them. But when it is no longer a question of one's temporal motherland, when it is a question, not of the Church considered in herself, for from this perspective she is holy and indefectible, but of the visible head of the Church; when it is question of the current holder of the Roman primacy, how shall we come to grips with it, and what is the right tone to adopt as we acknowledge to ourselves in a low voice: Ah! Rome has hurt me!more from the SSPX Asia site.
Meditations on the Mysteries of the Rosaryfrom the From French of Father Monsabre, O.P.
translated by Very Reverend Stephen Byrne, O.P.
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