Every man has his character, and every man's character has its leading characteristic, that by which his peculiar character most often shows itself. Our Lord is "one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin,"* and He too has a human nature and therefore a human character. Whether that human character of Divine perfection has any especial characteristic, that is, whether one perfection manifested itself during His Human Life more prominently than another, may well be doubted. What cannot be doubted is that if there be one feature of our Lord's life more striking than another it is His generosity; a limitless generosity which can be measured only by His immeasurable love of His Eternal Father and of the souls whom He has redeemed.
To generosity the Sacred Humanity itself and our Lord's Human Heart owe their very existence; for what but generosity moved the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity to assume our fallen nature, and give Himself "a redemption for all,” + when by the sin of our first parents we had lost our inheritance; or, what but generosity can account for the manner of that redemption, and for every action of our Lord's life on earth? The very least part of all He did and suffered, being in itself of infinite value, would have amply sufficed to satisfy the justice of His Eternal Father, and restore us to favour; but it is not His way to stop at what is merely necessary to meet the requirements of justice. To show us how to suffer; to sweeten and sanctify our sufferings by His own; to teach us how to fight and conquer our threefold enemy; to lead us on by His example to expiate our sins by penance; and, in all this and above all this, to give us what can only be called a prodigal proof of His love; His generosity overpassed all justice, and made Him embrace a life of hiddenness and poverty and suffering, which began with the humiliations of the stable-cave, and ended with the ignominy of the cross: and this, not only for mankind in general, but for every individual human soul that has ever, and shall ever, come forth from the hand of God. What more could the generosity of our Divine Redeemer find to do for us?
+ Heb. iv, 15. t 1 Tim. ii. 16.
Very much more. Our sanctuary lamps remind us of it at every moment of the day. If the Sacred Heart of our Lord owes even its existence to generosity, if generosity ruled and directed His whole mortal life, where else can we find the cause of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, and of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?
And what but generosity, in its most loving excess, can explain why Our Divine Lord is not content to remain with us only in some one favoured spot, and to be offered in sacrifice by one privileged priest? Because His generosity is limitless, He gives Himself to each one of us, at all times, and in all places; and all must confess with St. Peter: "In very deed I perceive that God is not a respecter of persons."* Alas, too often we know and see the outrages to which He is thereby exposed; we know how at this very moment, in more than one great city of the United Kingdom, His Sacred Body is passing through sacrilegious hands, that have been made His tabernacles by the crime of one of His own fallen ministers. Generosity shows itself in self-sacrifice; but was there ever such an utter annihilation and sacrifice of self as this?
And now, what must we do for our Lord? If generosity is His leading trait, if it characterized Him on earth and characterizes Him now as He dwells amongst us sacramentally, surely it should be the distinctive quality of those who are striving to make their lives perfect reflections—faint it may be, but still in their measures perfect reflections—of His own. Can we study His life without at least wishing to be generous with a twofold generosity, that is at once all for Him, and—like Him—all for the souls whom He died to save! But mere wishes and feelings will avail but little if they do not lead to generosity in every action of our service of God. How we are to attain that we are best taught in the prayer attributed to St. Ignatius: "Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous, teach me to serve Thee as Thou deservest, to give and not to count the cost , to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not seek for rest, to labour and not to desire reward save that of knowing that I do Thy Will." When we strive to do all this in the wide, loving spirit of true children of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, then we shall be generous indeed.
* Acts x. 34.
0 Jesus, through the most pure Heart of Mary, I offer the prayers, work, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of Thy Divine Heart. 1 offer them especially that we may imitate Thy generosity, and that, seeking only Thy greater glory, we may become worthy instruments of Thy grace. Amen. Apostleship of Prayer for May
The month particularly consecrated to the Heart of Jesus opens this year with the feast. It is the day chosen by our Lord Himself to receive the more fervent homage of His faithful servants in reparation for the neglect of the tepid, and the outrages of the bad. It is also the day on which His Divine Heart loves to pour out more richly upon His friends the graces of His infinite bounty. We have therefore the right to choose, amongst the gifts we hope for, that which we most need, and which will best aid us to defend His interests and fulfil His will.
To the greater number of Catholics, alas, the choice can scarcely be a doubtful one. The painful circumstances in which they are placed, and which every day intrude themselves more rudely upon their lives, makes it too clear for them to doubt. Discouragement attacks their hearts on every side. We who have not advanced as yet so far into the thick of the fight, and have not yet realized so cruelly the deadly nature of the ambush, may need to think and pray to understand the call which will be presently made upon our courage, but it will come for us as surely as it has come upon Catholics in almost every country, who are now struggling against such desperate odds in the battle for the faith.
Let us then lift our voices with our brethren throughout the world; let us ask for them, and for ourselves as well, that which amongst all the virtues of the Sacred Heart is at the same time the hardest and the most necessary to imitate, the want of which would be our most grievous ruin, the exercise of which our greatest glory—unfailing courage.
Precisely because at this moment in so many places the combat against God's enemies seems most hopeless, and the motives of discouragement most strong, the more fixedly ought we to keep our eyes upon the Divine Heart and upon the motives and example which we find there of a courage which can never fail. Not the least striking amongst the evidences of the divine life hidden under our Saviour's form is that exquisite harmony of qualities the most opposed. In other men such gifts, the more perfect they are in themselves the more difficult it is to reconcile them with others; the more distinguished the courage of a soldier the less right have we to expect him to be a model of meekness too; in Jesus Christ alone virtues the widest apart attain a height of perfection in which they mingle and become one; in the Gospel picture we behold Him perfect at the same time in sweetness and strength, His courage and His meekness are equal; the Heart of Jesus is the Heart of the Lamb of God, but it is also the Heart of the Lion of Juda; and the sweetness of the Lamb, far from diminishing the courage of the Lion, only displays its strength; it is because that courage is exercised without an effort that it is thus absolutely free from all violence; no need has He to resist fear, for fear is unknown to Him. One only thing He feared, it is true, for a while, but it was no temporal calamity; it was that dread responsibility for the infinite evil of sin which fell upon Him in His quality as our Head, and of which inexorable justice made Him feel the whole crushing weight; then, indeed, when He saw Himself compelled to drink, to receive, as it were, into His very breast, and make His own, the bitter dregs of that chalice of our sins-—then Jesus feared and prayed for grace; but of bodily torments and such evils as man can inflict, not only He knew no fear, but He longed for them, and showed His gratitude to the executioners who wrought them. Let us trace the history of the courage of the Heart of Jesus.
From the first moment of His life He knew all the pain awaiting Him; no dolorous feature of His life was hidden from His eyes; with perfect liberty and fullest resolution He embraced it, not turning away His thoughts from its contemplation, but feeding on the thought—opus ejus coram illo—“His work was before Him.”*
* Isaias lxii. II.
There are those who are very brave when the battle is yet afar off, but whose courage oozes.out as the time comes; but danger takes nothing from the calm intrepidity of the Heart of Jesus Christ. When He is told that Herod, who had slain St. John the Baptist, is preparing the same fate for Him, and He is besought to seek safety, see if His answer betokens fear: "Go, tell that fox," He says, "behold, I cast out devils, and do cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I am consummated.”+
+ St. Luke xiii. 32.
At another time, when the Chief Priests are conspiring His death, and He has retired beyond the Jordan, Lazarus falls sick and dies; He goes to raise him: "Rabbi," cry the disciples, "the Jews but now sought to stone Thee, and goest Thou thither again?" Jesus answers them: "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" To fulfil those twelve hours of His Father's will, this was His only solicitude. But the appointed hour comes, the night of the double treason of Judas and Peter, of the flight of His disciples, of the triumph of His foes. He chooses that time to prepare for those who are to abandon Him, the banquet of His love; and so little has He lost sight of His impending Passion, that He awaits not His betrayer in the supper room, but says as He closes His discourse: "But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father hath given Me commandment, so do I: arise, let us go hence."* When Judas approaches with his band, He goes straight to meet them: "Whom seek ye?" He asks; and when they answer Him, "Jesus of Nazareth," He says to them, with a firmness which makes them fall prostrate at His feet, "I am He."
The different tribunals to which He is conducted give each their testimony of the courage of His Heart; and those who in all future ages are called to suffer for His sake, have but to look upon Him there to learn how the truth should be confessed. First, it is the High Priest who summons Him to profess His claim to be the Son of God. With fullest knowledge of his motive and its consequences, Jesus answers without hesitation: "Thou hast said it, and I say to you that hereafter you shall see the Son of Man seated on the right hand of the power of God, and coming in the clouds of Heaven." + Those words brought the swift sentence of death upon Him, but before it could be carried out it was necessary that it should be ratified by the Roman Governor, and to obtain this a new accusation was needed. The title of the Son of God would cause but little anxiety to Pilate, so He is denounced as proclaiming Himself King. "Art Thou a King, then?" demanded Pilate. "Thou sayest truly,'' answered our Lord, "I am a King. For this was I born, for this I am come into the world, to give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.” % In so explaining the nature of His Kingship Jesus indeed left His interrogator no right to condemn Him; but He knew that that Kingship of His which exercises its authority over the soul of man, and over kings and potentates no less than over their subjects, is for human pride the most intolerable of all yokes, and that in declaring it, He was providing the pretext of all the persecutions which His Church should suffer till the end of time. He provided also the occasion for His enemies to force the weakness of Pilate to condemn Him: "If thou release this Man thou art not Caesar's friend."* For it was high treason then, as it is held high treason now, for Jesus Christ to dispute with the power of the State for the empire over souls.
* St. John xiv. 31. + St. Matt. xxvi. 64. % St. John xviii. 37.
Jesus knew it. Along with the crosses of all those who should testify in after times to His royal right to the obedience of men's hearts, He saw His own brought forth, and on that Cross His kingly title is fixed high; He would show us by His outstretched hands, His generous confession, His patient death, what we should be prepared to suffer when in our turn we too have to defend the right. Our turn does not seem to have come yet. While Catholics abroad are suffering insult and persecution as they see the faith of their children torn from them, we still may dream of peace. Most foolishly we should deceive ourselves if we did so. That diabolical conspiracy by which Freemasonry is robbing souls of their eternal treasure in so many countries of the world, is calmly busy in our midst; its slow insidious steps are creeping most surely year by year upon ourselves.
O Jesus, through the most pure Heart of Mary, I offer the prayers, work, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of Thy Divine Heart. 1 offer them in particular to obtain courage for those who are suffering persecution for Thee, that though all hopes seem to fail, they may still be brave, and triumphantly conquer in Thy name. Amen. * St. John xix. 12.
For the triumph of the Church and Holy See, and the Catholic regeneration of nations.
IT is no doubt natural that man should allow himself to be easily carried away into opposite extremes. The fever patient, when his malady has reached its height, despairs of recovery ; but the very same individual, having regained his health, thinks himself immortal. In the horror of a great storm at sea, the terrified mariner resolves never for the future to trust himself to the mercy of the waves ; but no sooner has the tempest abated than he pushes off again from shore with as little fear or hesitation as if he held the winds and waves in his own hands. A man who thinks that he may be ruined by some dangerous intrigue in which he has become involved at Court, withdraws from its perilous delights without a regret ; but as soon as he has freed himself from the entanglement, whatever it may be, he flings himself as recklessly as ever into the vortex, as recklessly and with as little fear of consequences as though, having given such hostages to fortune in the past, he were perfectly safe in her hands for the future. In the case of sinners, this strange dis order and inconsistency of conduct is especially to be noticed, although it displays itself in a contrary manner. The rash folly and presumption by which they buoy themselves up in their sins, ends in despair. In the full flash of their wickedness, they cannot believe that God will punish them ; then suddenly crushed under the weight of their crimes, they can no longer believe that He will pardon them : thus they go from sin to sin, ruin certain and most terrible staring them in the face ; made desperate by their very hope, as St. Augustine says. Think for a moment of a man who, although he has allowed himself to be carried away by the unrestrained violence of his passions and has broken almost every law human and divine, yet cannot bring himself to believe that a God so great and so good would tyrannize over His creature, or show His power by dashing to pieces such a poor earthen vessel. For a long time he goes on soothing himself with the thought that it would be wholly unworthy of the majesty of his Creator to take offence at the doings of a mere nonentity, or to sit in judgment upon such a one. Then veering round entirely to the opposite view of the subject, he is suddenly overwhelmed at the idea of such a despicable creature daring to set himself up against Almighty God. He asks himself then the same question as the Prophet asked of the Captain of the Assyrians asked and answered in the same breath : Against whom hast thou blasphemed ? against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high ? Against the Holy One of Israel (4 Kings xix. 22). And as the thought of the All-Holy One Whom he has offended takes possession of the sinner s mind, all his presumption and effrontery forsake him ; and he who could imagine no crime too great for the pardoning mercy of God, can now conceive no possibility of appeasing His anger. And now what think you is the cause of such surprising change of opinion, such inconsistency in the sinner s judgment ? It is this. Both these attributes of Almighty God, His Mercy and His Justice, are so infinitely great, that the contemplation of either of them so wholly occupies the mind that no room is left in it for the perception of the other. Moreover, these two attributes being apparently opposed to one another, it is not easy to understand how the two can subsist together in their supreme perfection. Thus the sinner, having grasped the idea of mercy in all its sublime beauty, cannot at the same time hold that of justice : and it is just so with regard to the latter attribute ; once it is admitted into his mind, there is no room left there for the other. And so the agony of his despair is as intense as was the mad folly and presumption of his hope.
But it must not be so with us ; we must away with those vain travesties of mercy and justice which the sinner worships in place of the true Divine attributes of Almighty God. Poor souls, hoodwinked, nay, blinded by sin, you are mistaken indeed when you persuade yourselves that these two qualities of mercy and justice are incompatible ; on the contrary, they harmonize with one another. For I would have you know that the mercy of God is neither insensible nor unreasonable ; the God Whom we adore is not the God of the Marcionites, a God Who never punishes, so enduring as to make sinners despise Him, so indulgent as to give the impression of weakness. He is not, says Tertullian, a God under Whose sway sins are at their ease, and Who may be defied and scorned with im punity. He displays His mercy, says the same writer, not by enduring evil, but by declaring Himself to be its enemy. His justice is a part of His mercy ; it is the very perfecting of that attribute ; He gives evidence of His love of goodness by His hatred of evil. Never then for an instant allow yourselves to think that justice is opposed to mercy ; on the contrary, the sterner virtue takes the gentler one under its protection , and prevents it from being exposed to contempt.
Let me, however, remind you that mercy is no more opposed to justice than is justice to mercy ; for if the latter robs the former of some of its victims, it is only to give them back again under a different form, or rather in a different manner. Instead of abasing them by vengeance, mercy does this by humiliation ; instead of crushing them by chastisement, she brings about the same result by the pains of penance ; and if nothing but the shedding of a victim s blood can satisfy the demands of justice, then mercy offers to her the Precious Blood of the Divine Victim. Thus, far from being in compatible, they really walk hand in hand. We must therefore neither presume nor despair. We must never presume, sinners as we are, because it is most true that God avenges Himself on such ; neither must we ever abandon ourselves to despair, because it is, if I may venture to say so, even more true that God pardons.
This truth being granted, I must try to make you understand, by the aid of the Holy Scriptures, the singular grace of the remission of sins. As this is the principal fruit of the Blood of the New Testament, and the very foundation of all the teaching of the Gospels, the Holy Ghost has taken especial care to impress the idea of it most deeply upon our minds, and to express it in various ways, so that it may penetrate our hearts more and more. He tells us that God forgets our sins, that He does not impute them to us, that He washes them away, that He removes them far from us, and that He blots them out. In order to understand the hidden meaning of these expressions, and of others which we find in the Sacred Scriptures, we must note very carefully what is the effect produced by sin upon the heart of man, and what is its effect upon the heart of God.
Sin in the heart of man is a poisonous canker eating into it, and a hideous stain which disfigures it. This malignant humour must be purged from our system, rooted out from our vitals : as jar as the east is from the west, so far has He set our iniquities from us (Ps. cii. 12) ; and as for that shameful stain, the sponge must be passed over it again and again until no trace is left of it :
/ have blotted out thy iniquities as a cloud, and thy sins as a mist ; return to Me, for I have redeemed thee (Isa. xliv. 22).
But let us now consider what is the effect produced by sin upon the heart not of man but of God. It is as a terrible and piercing cry in those ears which are ever attentive to listen ; it is a spectacle of horrors unspeakable to those eyes which are all-seeing and never closed.
From such a spectacle those eyes, too pure to behold iniquity, turn away with loathing ; and that cry demands vengeance. Yet in order to reassure sinners, Almighty God declares, through the medium of the Sacred Scriptures, that He covers up their offences, so that He may see them no more ; that He puts them behind His back, lest the sight of them should stir His anger ; finally, that He forgets them, that He remembers them no more. And as for that terrible cry, He stifles its clamour with another voice ; while our sins are accusing us, He brings forward an Advocate to defend us, Jesus Christ, the Just, Who is the propitiation for our sins (i John ii. 1-2) ; He declares that they shall be no more imputed to us, neither shall we ever be brought to account concerning them. Give praise, ye Heavens ; shout with joy, ye ends of the earth ; ye mountains, resound with praise, for the Lord hath shewn mercy (Isa. xliv. 23).
You see how the remission of sins is explained and authorized in every form of expression in which a grace or favour can be enunciated. We exhort you that you receive not the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. vi. i). But what then should be the effect of this grace upon us ? Again the Holy Ghost must teach us. Go, He says to His Prophet, and cry towards the north, saying, Return, rebellious Israel, saith the Lord, and I will not turn away My face from you, for I am holy, saith the Lord, and I will not be angry for ever. And then, a voice was heard in the highways, weeping and lamentation of the children of Israel, because they have made their way wicked, they have forgotten the Lord their God (Jer. iii. 12, 21) . And in another prophecy, Almighty God says : Cast away from you all your transgressions by which you have transgressed, and make to yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, House of Israel ? For 1 desire not the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God ; return ye and live (Ezech. xviii. 31-32). Why will you perish ? Why will you so obstinately hurry on to your destruction ? God desires to pardon you ; it is only you who will not pardon yourselves. God ! Thou art to me a God of mercy (Ps. Iviii. n) ! Name, says St. Augustine, in uttering which none shall despair ! Prodigal son, return then to your Father; unfaithful wife, return to your Husband ; but return confessing your wickedness ; say : / have sinned (2 Kings xii. 13). Acknowledge thy iniquity (Jer. iii. 13). Do not think of excusing yourselves ; never lay the blame of your evil deeds upon surrounding circumstances. Do not even accuse the devil ; accuse no one The devil rejoices when he is accused, says St. Augustine ; he desires vehemently that you should lay the blame of every one of your offences upon him, so that you may lose all the fruit of a good confession. Never therefore seek for excuses.
It is one thing to have to deal with a father, and quite another to have to answer for oneself before a judge ; in the one case we defend ourselves, in the other we acknowledge our fault ; the judge desires our punishment, the father our reformation. But then is this reformation possible ? Can the Ethiopian change his skin ? Can the hardened sinner give up his evil practices which seem fatal as they must be in the end a very part of himself ?
When we are speaking before a judge, we say : I did not do it ; or perhaps : I was surprised into doing it, I was drawn into the affair quite unintentionally, I never meant to go so far in the matter. Ah ! but we must not defend ourselves in that way before God ; do not let us seek vain excuses to cover our ingratitude, which is only too culpable. Before a judge indeed we employ subterfuge, and try to find a means of eluding conviction ; but think rather that you are speaking to a Father, and that the simple confession of your fault is the best defence that you can possibly offer : I have sinned, I repent of my sin, I throw myself on Thy mercy, I ask pardon for my offence. If no one has yet obtained it of Thee, I am bold enough to presume to sue for it myself ; or if Thy mercy has already granted so much grace to others in a state as deplorable as mine, oh, grant me that pardon for which Thou Thyself hast bid me hope.
The Prophet represents the Synagogue as a despaiing wife, unfaithful to her Husband, forsaking Him for strange lovers, then fearing His just wrath, unwilling to return to Him and saying : I have lost all hope ; I will not do it ; for I have loved strangers and I will walk after them (Jer. ii. 25).
There is no need to use studied words to persuade sinners that if they return to God they can easily obtain pardon ; for since this work of remission depends absolutely upon Him, there is no difficulty or uncertainty about its good issue. The work, however, of their con version, that change of heart in them, in which we ask of them their own co-operation, this it is which fills them with despair ; for though indeed it is true that in the end all things fall from our hands, and that our excessive weakness can then no longer dispose of anything, yet it is also an undoubted fact that there is nothing of which we can less easily dispose than of our selves. Strange malady of our nature ! there is nothing less within our power than the management of our own will ; in a word, nothing less possible for us to do than what our will is set upon doing ; so that it is easier for man to obtain from God what he desires than it is to desire it.
Two almost insuperable obstacles prevent us from being masters of our own will inclination and habit. Inclination makes vice lovable to us, habit makes it necessary. We have neither the beginning of inclination nor the ending of habit in our own power. Inclination first fetters us and then throws us into prison ; habit shuts the door of our cell upon us, and then walls up the entrance to the prison, so that escape is impossible. The miserable sinner, finding all attempts to free himself utterly useless, and despairing of deliverance, abandons himself at last to his passions and no longer tries to restrain them. Despairing, they have given themselves up to lasciviousness, unto the working of all uncleanness, unto covetousness (Eph. iv. 19).
When a man is held in bondage by his own temperament, he can but desire that it should be changed, renewed ; that some force outside himself should make another man of him. A passionate, choleric friend will tell us this again and again, when we remonstrate with him for his impatience, his irritability, his outbreaks of rage and violence. He tells us that it is quite impossible for him to rid himself of this tyranny of angry temper which dominates him, that he resists it some times, but that in the long run it gets the better of him ; and that if a life more self-controlled, more gentle, more patient, is required of him, there is nothing to be done but to make altogether a new man of him. Now what feeble, impotent nature demands is exactly what grace offers to that nature to enable it to effect the work of reformation ; for conversion is a new birth. The whole man is renewed, from the very seat of life, his heart ; for that heart is crushed, broken, shattered to atoms, and a new heart is given to him by Him Who hath made the hearts of every one of them (Ps. xxxii. 15). In order, says St. Augustine, to create a pure heart, the impure heart must be broken. The source of the stream being turned aside, that stream must of necessity take a new course.
Now if grace can conquer inclination, it will also overcome habit ; for what is habit but a confirmed inclination ? Yes, confirmed, strengthened with a terrible strength, but yet a strength which is weakness compared with that of the Divine Spirit urging us on to victory. If the ice of that frozen heart has to be melted, the Spirit of God breathes upon it and the ice is broken up, and the tears of repentance flow freely. His wind shall blow and the waters shall run (Ps. ciiil. 7). Or if some more violent force must be brought to bear upon the rebellious sinner, God will send His whirlwind, the blast of the Mighty, beating against a wall (Isa. xxv. 4), that Spirit of the Lord which overthrows the mountains (3 Kings xix. n). Though you may be hurrying along the downward path which leads to eternal death, more swiftly than the Jordan rushes to the sea, yet Divine grace can stop your rapid course. Though you might be half dead, and fallen into decay and corruption from your sins, that grace can raise you to life again like Lazarus. Only pay heed to the warning of the Apostle: Receive not the grace of God in vain.
Yet we must sadly own that we see but few results of the working of this grace ; looking about us in the world, we can note only here and there such reformation of life and conduct as would deserve to be called a new birth. And the explanation of this great evil is that we receive the grace of penance with too little seriousness and too little severity towards ourselves ; we weaken the effect of the grace by our own softness and self-indulgence. There is a species of repentance so feeble and so languid that it throws no energy into any of its purposes of amendment. When we do penance in that way, there is never any great change of life effected, and no splendid victory over our evil habits need be expected. Such is the condition of our nature that well-doing must of necessity cost us some thing. We must eat our bread in the sweat of our brow (Gen. iii. 19) ; penance, in order to be efficacious, must necessarily be a violence done to ourselves. And why ? Because anger and indignation express themselves in violent motions, and St. Augustine tells us that penance is nothing else than a holy indignation against ourselves.
The same great penitent says : / grieve and humble myself beyond all measure. His sighs and laments were not like the gentle mourning of a dove, but rather like the roaring of a lion ; they were the passionate groan- ings of a man stung to a sort of fury by his own vices, unable to endure his own languor, weakness, cowardice. Finding intolerable to him his continual falls, his re lapses into sins which he now abhors, the penitent only longs to free himself from the society which had been his ruin, he wants nothing but seclusion and solitude ; he is, in the words of the Psalmist, like a night-raven in the house (Ps. ci. 7). In this solitude, in this retirement from the world, he can give full vent to his indignation against himself. He shudders over what he has been and is, he makes the most strenuous efforts to acquire habits different from those which have hitherto been to him as a second nature ; in order, says St. Augustine himself, that the habit of sin may yield to the violence of penance.
Thus it is that we overcome our inclinations and habits. And if you ask me why such violence is needed, the answer is very simple. The conversion of the sinner is a new birth ; and it is the curse of our fallen nature that pain must attend on every human birth : in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children (Gen. iii. 16). This is why penance is so laborious ; it has its groans, it has its travail, because it is the bringing forth of children. A new man must be brought forth, and in doing this the old man must suffer. But in the midst of all this pain and distress, never forget the words of the Gospel : A woman, when she is in labour, hath sorrow, because her hour is come ; but when she hath brought forth the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world (John xvi. 21). Amid these labours and pains of penance, bear in mind that you are bringing forth a child and that that child is yourself. If it is so deep a consolation to have given life and the light of this world to another, that it makes all past anguish forgotten in an instant, what rapture must it not be to feel and know that we have brought our own individual selves into the glorious light that never fades, and to that new life which is immortal. Fear not then, sinners, the pains of this child-bearing which brings with it salvation ; perpetuate not your race but your own being ; preserve not your name but your very self, your whole body and spirit.
Virgins of Jesus Christ, this is the child-bearing which God ordains for you : bring forth sanctity ; renew yourselves in the Lord, amid the pangs and sorrows of penance ; let sinners see, by your example, how nature may be overcome even in her strongest inclinations ; declare a holy war against vice, especially in its most secret, plausible, hidden form, that form in which it rears itself upon the ruin of all the other vices. And as for us, let us at once put our finger upon the festering sore in ourselves. What, you are afraid ! You dare not touch the wound, or apply the knife to eradicate it ! But consider a moment. Is it not better to do a little violence to ourselves here below, to suffer the pangs of the new birth, rather than to die eternally ? Walk whilst you have the light (John xii. 35). Do not abuse the time which God accords you.
God Who desires not the death of a sinner but rather that he should be converted, is not contented with stirring and rousing His guilty children by the voice of the preacher ; He would have all nature invite them to penance ; for the continual succession of days and years are as the voice of the whole universe testifying to His patience, while they warn sinners not to abuse the time which He gives them. Knowest thou not, says the Apostle, that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance ? or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and patience (Rom. ii. 4), which give thee time to repent? It is this grace especially which the Apostle warns you not to allow to slip from you without bearing fruit, for he adds : / have heard thee in an accepted time (2 Cor. vi. 2).
In order thoroughly to comprehend the value and the merit of such a grace, we must before all things con sider that time may be regarded from two points of view : either as it measures itself, by hours, days, and years, or as it impinges upon eternity. Looking at it from the first point of view, I know that time is no thing, because it has neither form nor substance, because its whole being consists in passing away ; that is to say, its whole being consists in perishing, con sequently its whole being is nothing. My life is measured by time ; therefore it is that my substance is nothing, being bound up as it is with time which is itself nothing : Behold Thou hast made my days measurable, and my substance is as nothing before Thee (Ps. xxxviii. 6).
Ah ! how strange a thing is this ! Time is nothing, and yet when we lose time we lose everything. Who shall solve this enigma for us ? The truth is this. Time which in itself is nothing has been appointed by God to serve as a passage to eternity. Tertullian says : Time is like a great veil, a vast curtain, which is stretched before eternity and which hides it from us. To reach eternity we must pass through this curtain. It is the good use of time which gives us a right to what lies beyond it ; and I cannot wonder that the pious souls who live enclosed by holy rule, are so scrupulously careful in the disposal of every moment, seeing that these moments moments in themselves less than no thing, a shadow, a vapour are yet, in their bearing upon eternity, of infinite weight and importance, and that there is in consequence nothing more criminal than to receive such a grace in vain.
I will not dwell further on the sorrowful fact of the small esteem in which this grace is generally held, or of the ease with which men allow it to slip from them and be lost. Those who act thus justify themselves, it is true ; but when they tell us openly that they are only thinking how to pass their time, they show us plainly enough how easily they lose it. But what can be the cause that men who grasp so eagerly after wealth and all the good things of this life, and hold to them so tenaciously, yet suffer one of their most precious treasures to slip so easily from their hands ? There are, I find, two causes : one proceeding from ourselves, the other from this same time of which we are speaking.
As regards ourselves, it is not difficult to understand why time escapes from us so easily : it is because we do not wish to take note of its flight. For whether it is that in observing its progress we become aware that the end of our earthly existence draws nearer and nearer, and that we want to keep this sad prospect in the background, or that owing to a certain slothfulness we know not how to employ our time, most undoubtedly true it is that there is nothing we dread so much as to be made to realize its flight. How wearisome are these long sad days, every hour and every moment of which we count, weighed down by their intolerable heaviness, feeling as if they would never come to an end ! Thus time is to us a heavy load which we can scarcely bear when we feel it pressing on our shoulders. This is why we neglect no possible artifice which may prevent our being conscious of it ; and such precautions do we take to deceive ourselves as to its passage, that I am not at all surprised at our failing to notice our having lost it. Our one desire often is so to keep it velvet-shod in soft delights that its noiseless footfall as it passes from us is altogether unheeded.
But if we try to deceive ourselves in this matter, time does its part and also helps to strengthen the illusion. Time, says St. Augustine, is an imitation of eternity. A feeble imitation, I own ; yet fugitive as it is, time tries to simulate the stability of those never- ending years. Eternity is always the same. Now as time cannot equal it in performance, it tries to do so by swift succession ; and this is the means which it employs to deceive us. It takes away one day, it gives us in its place another ; it cannot hold back this year which is passing, but it allows another to glide into the empty space left by its predecessor, and they look so much alike that there is no reason for regret. In this way it imposes upon our feeble imagination, so easily deceived, so slow to distinguish the real from the counterfeit ; and, if I am not mistaken, this is the malice of time against which the Apostle warns us when he says : Redeeming the time because the days are evil (Eph. v. 16). Redeem the time because the days are evil, that is to say, malevolent or malicious. We scarcely notice that a year has passed away, because it seems to revive in the next. Thus we hardly observe the flight of time, because in spite of its perpetual variations it shows us almost always the same face. This is the great evil, this is the mighty obstacle to penance.
Yet in the end the truth is unmasked. Feeble limbs, grey hairs, a visible alteration in every line and feature, nay, in the whole being, constrain us to realize that a great portion of that being is breaking down, falling into decrepitude, even ceasing to exist. But do not forget that the malice of time is still on the watch to deceive you ; see how the subtle impostor tries to save appearances, how he persists in his attempted imitation of eternity. It is the property of eternity to preserve things always in the same condition ; time, in order to approximate to its great rival in some small degree, only robs us of our faculties, our advantages, our cherished possessions of mind and body, by slow degrees ; he despoils us of our goods in so subtle a manner that we are scarcely conscious of his thefts ; he leads us on so gradually step by step to the end that we arrive at it without having thought what we were doing or what was before us. Ezechias was not conscious of his swiftly passing life ; when he had reached his fortieth year he thought that life was only just beginning : While I was but beginning He cut me off (Isa. xxxviii. 12). Thus the deceitful malignity of time makes life pass on insensibly, and we give no thought to the business of our conversion. Suddenly, and when we are least thinking about it, we fall into the arms of death ; we are not conscious that our end is drawing near until we have actually reached it. And this it is again which misleads us ; as far as our sight can reach we always see time stretch ing out before us. It is quite true that it is before us, but yet perhaps we shall never be able to reach it. Amid all these illusions, we are so much deceived that we actually do not know ourselves, we cannot tell what to think as to the length of our life. Sometimes we regard it as long ; at other times, as short. It is always too short for the indulgence of our passions and our sinful pleasures ; always too long for penance. Hear what the voluptuous say : Let us not lose the flower of our age, let us crown ourselves with roses before they wither
(Wisdom ii. 7-8). Think you that they would disturb their luxury of enjoyment by the thought of death, that they would allow so gloomy an image to intrude upon them and sadden them ? They do think of it no doubt, but only as an incentive urging them to enjoy to the full pleasures so fleeting ; Let us eat and drink, they cry, for to-morrow we die (Isa. xxii. 13). Well, I am rejoiced to find that after all you recognize the shortness of life. As you do recognize it, think also at last of the penance which you have so long deferred, and do not receive the grace of God in vain. But now they suddenly change their tone ; and this life, only too short for their riotous self-indulgence, becomes all at once so long in their estimation that they think they are quite at liberty to spend a large portion of it in their unlawful pleasures. ye sons of men, how long will you be dull of heart ? (Ps. iv. 3). How long will you suffer yourselves to be deceived in this way, as to the lapse of time ? when will you honestly acknowledge to yourselves that life is short ? are you going to wait to do so, till you are drawing your last breath ? But, however it may be, whether you are in the first flower of your age or in the prime of life, the Apostle reminds us all that the time is at hand. The days crowd one behind the other, each pushing the other on : we hold back the day of penance, till at last it is lost in the throng. Oh, time which the eternal patience of God grants to sinners to be to them a haven of refuge, must it only be to them a shoal on which their vessel founders! We have time, let us be converted ! We have time, let us continue in sin ! There is the port, there too is the fatal reef. Consider, sinner, the power which you have received to make a good use of time : that is the port in which the wise find safety. Consider the madness of those who always put off the day of penance : that is the shoal on which the presumptuous founder.
But we still have time before us, such is the bold assertion of sinners, who in their temerity and assumption of knowledge stop short at nothing. I would ask them to notice this. The Son of God Himself teaches us that the knowledge of times and seasons is one of the secrets which the Father has put into His own power (Acts i. 7). In order to silence human curiosity at once and for ever, Jesus Christ when questioned upon the subject says that He Himself knows it not (Mark xiii. 32). Let us take these words in their simple and literal sense. Our Lord speaks as the Ambassador of the Eternal Father and His Interpreter for us ; what has not been imparted to Him for our instruction is unknown to Him in His capacity of Envoy and Deputy from God to man ; although, at the same time, He, being equal to the Father, sharing all His Divine attributes and being of one and the same nature with Him, knows this and all else perfectly and absolutely. For whatever way we may understand and interpret these words, we must always come to the conclusion that the knowledge of times and seasons, and especially as regards our own last moments, is one of the secret mysteries which it is God s will to keep concealed from His faithful people ; and that He hides from us that last day in order that we may be watchful and observant every day of our lives. And yet where will the boundless arrogance of human nature stop ? Man in his presumptuous audacity would philosophize about time and try to penetrate the darkness of the future ! But my words are useless ; O Lord Jesus, speak Thyself to them, and confound these hard hearts ! When we speak to them of the judgments of God, they say that this vision in Ezechiel will not be so soon accomplished, it is prophesied of times afar off (Ezech. xii. 27). When we try to scare them with the terrors of death, they flatter themselves that they have still many a year to live. But Jesus Christ brings the matter more closely home to them. Listen to His words, showing them that Divine Justice, stirred to wrath and indignation by their sins, is ready to strike : Now the axe is laid to the root of the tree (Matt. iii. 10).
But, sinners, I am ready to grant that you have still a little time left to you. Well then, if so, why do you delay your conversion ? Why do you not begin to-day? Are you afraid that your penance will be a day too long? What ! not content with being a criminal, you want to prolong the period of your crime ! you wish your life to be both evil and long ! you wish to offer this insult to God, always asking for time and always losing it ; for up to your last moment you go on refusing and rejecting the precious things which He offers to you. That last moment, says St. Chrysostom, is a time for making a last will and testament, rather than for receiving the Holy Mysteries. Do not be one of those who put off learning to know themselves till they have lost consciousness ; who wait, almost until the physician has given them up, to ask for the priest to absolve them ; who despise their soul so utterly that they never think about saving it until their body is despaired of.
Do penance before the physician is at your bedside, giving you hours which it is not in his power to give, measuring out the moments of your life by a solemn shake of the head, ready to philosophize admirably upon the nature and the course of your malady, after death. Do not wait to set about your conversion, till your ears are half closed by the dulness of approaching death, so that those who stand about you can scarcely extort from your parched lips a faintly breathed yes or no ; till the priest is struggling to prevail over your greedy heirs or your poor clamorous servants, who are pressing you to make your will or entreating you not to forget to reward their services, while he has only the one thought and care of urging you to receive the Last Sacraments. Be converted now in good time ; do not wait till sickness gives you this salutary advice ; let the thought come from God, not from the wasting fever or the racking anguish of mortal pain ; from reason and not from necessity ; from Divine authority, not from compulsion. Give yourself to God freely, not with constraint and disquietude. If penance is a gift of God, celebrate this Sacrament not in a time of mourning, but in one of joy. Since your conversion is to bring joy to the Angels, it is miserably inappropriate to begin it when your friends and relations are weeping and mourning. If your body is a victim which you must sacrifice to God, consecrate to Him a living victim ; if it is a precious talent which must bear interest in your hands, invest it wisely at once, and do not wait to give it back to Him till you have been obliged to bury it in the earth. After having been the sport of time, take care lest you be the sport of penance, lest it make a pretence of giving itself to you, when all the time it is only mocking you with counterfeit emotions ; beware lest, instead of doing penance in a Christian manner, you should in the end depart from this life after having only made to Almighty God a sort of apology, such as will not deliver you from the punishment due to your sins. Behold, now is the accepted time ;
behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. vi. 2). Avoid the rock on which impenitence will wreck you ; seek the haven into which the goodness of God invites you, and in which His mercy will for ever shelter you.
BLESSED MARY, MOTHER OF GOD AND OUR MOTHER BY BOSSUET
" Jesus saith to His mother : Woman, behold thy son. Then He saith to His disciple : Behold thy mother " (John xix. 26, 27).
WE read in ancient history how a certain philosopher, dying without leaving wherewith to maintain his wife and children, resolved to make a will, by which he bequeathed the care of his wife and family to his most intimate friend. We are told that he did this, believing (so Lucian says) that he could not better do honour to his friend s merits and show confidence in his generosity. Well, always supposing that this action was done in good faith and that the affection between the two men was mutual, it is well worthy of our admiration. Still we cannot forget that the object for which the sages and so-called great men of the pagan world lived, was rather ostentation and self-glorification than virtue, and that many of their famous sayings and doings were dictated and actuated by a love of display and an affectation of severe gravity. However, we need not dwell longer on that ; let us pass on and turn our thoughts to something more divine. What necessity suggested to that poor philosopher infinite love, we may venture to say, suggested to our Crucified
1 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
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).
Acts of Spiritual Communion
By St. Alphonsus Maria de' Ligouri
MY Jesus, I believe that Thou art present in the Blessed Sacrament. I love Thee above all things and I desire Thee in my soul. Since I cannot now receive Thee sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though Thou wert already there, I embrace Thee and unite myself wholly to Thee; permit not that I should ever be separated from Thee. Amen.
By Raphael Cardinal Merry del Val.
AT Thy feet, O my Jesus, I prostrate myself and I offer Thee repentance of my contrite heart, which is humbled in its nothingness and in Thy holy presence. I adore Thee in the Sacrament of Thy love, the ineffable Eucharist. I desire to receive Thee into the poor dwelling that my heart offers Thee. While waiting for the happiness of sacramental communion, I wish to possess Thee in spirit. Come to me, O my Jesus, since I, for my part, am coming to Thee! May Thy love embrace my whole being in life and in death. I believe in Thee, I hope in Thee, I love Thee. Amen.
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.
“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!
Undoubtedly, the publications of the “good” Catholic press will not fail to inform us that, in the last 2,000 years, the Lord’s Church has never known such a splendid pontificate! But who takes these pronouncements of the establishment’s hallelujah choir seriously? When we see what is being taught and practiced throughout the Church under today’s pontificate, or rather when we observe what has ceased to be taught and practiced, and how an apparent Church, which passes itself off as the real Church, no longer knows how to baptize children, bury the dead, worthily celebrate holy Mass, absolve sins in confession; when we apprehensively watch the spread of Protestantizing influences swelling like a contaminated tide without the holder of supreme power energetically giving the order to lock the sluice gate; in a word, when we face up to what is happening, we are obliged to say: Ah! Rome has hurt me....
from the From French of Father Monsabre, O.P.
translated by Very Reverend Stephen Byrne, O.P.
THE JOYFUL MYSTERIES.
THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE MOST BLESSED VIRGIN — THE INCARNATE WORD.
GOD is about to descend from heaven and to clothe Himself with our poor and fragile human nature in the womb of a virgin ; this is the mystery that the Archangel Gabriel announces to Mary (Luke i.) It is an incomprehensible and ineffable mystery, expected for four thousand years and prepared from all eternity. Let us contemplate this preparation even in the bosom of God Himself.
Before the birth of ages God saw all that was to be. The work conceived by Him unfolded itself before His eyes with all its wonders, with all its mighty revolutions. He saw sin enter into His work, and He decreed that sin should be punished. But the Word intervened and proposed to His Father to receive in His own adorable person the strokes of divine justice. Sin will be expiated by a Victim equal to the Majesty it offends ; it will be pardoned. To effect the reconciliation of mercy and justice, the Word, a member of the divine family, must become a member of the family of sinners and permeate with His infinite merits the guilty nature He would save. To this effect an unspotted and sanctified humanity, which God will wound and put to death on account of our iniquities, will be formed in the virginal womb of a daughter of Adam by the mysterious and chaste operation of the Holy Ghost. Such is the admirable and merciful design of the Holy Trinity. Let us adore it in the depths of our hearts.
The hour of its accomplishment has struck. Mary has pronounced the fiat (let it be done) of a new creation more glorious than that of the world; and "the Word was made flesh." The Word, the true Son of God, eternally begotten of Him, equal to His Father in all things, the resplendent mirror and living image of His original principle, the personal splendor of the divine substance — this is the Word made flesh. Flesh ! did I say ? Yes ; He has passed by the angels and has not noticed their pure and holy natures, and He has espoused our soul with its weak and corruptible companion. He takes the world at its worst, in order to associate all creatures to His divinity ; He descends to the lowest depths, for it is not the immortal and impassible flesh of innocence and justice He assumes, but the miserable flesh of sinners. If His sanctity shrinks from contracting the stain of sin, His merciful condescension assumes its entire responsibility. Thus, in the eyes of His Father, He becomes sin itself : " Him, who knew no sin, He hath made sin for us, that we might be made the justice of God in Him" (2 Cor. v. 21). How well it is expressed by the great Apostle of the Gentiles : "He has annihilated Himself" (Philip, ii.)
In this annihilation all is pure goodness ; we have done nothing to deserve it. The rare desires of holy souls were washed away in torrents of iniquity. After waiting long the world, in decay and in rottenness, appeared more deserving of destruction than at its beginning ; but the errors and crimes of man had not exhausted the indefatigable love of Him who annihilated Himself.
In presence of this great mystery the sentiments of our soul should be those of profound astonishment, of loving and grateful admiration. The principle of our greatness is to be found in this abasement of the Divinity. Having adored the Son of God annihilated, let us consider what we are by the Incarnation : Brothers of God ! Nothing is more certain than this great honor ; for the Word incarnate, which Mary calls Jesus, is clothed in our veritable human nature and carries in His sacred veins blood drawn from the same source whence ours has descended. Whilst we give to Him, by the flesh, our earthly father, He gives to us, by the hypostatic union, His heavenly Father. Children of wrath, we are made in Him children of benediction ; condemned to a double death, we receive from Him resurrection and life ; proscribed by the malediction pronounced in the beginning of the world, we are called by Him to the inheritance of glory and beatitude promised also at the moment of our creation. Our debased soul is raised to honor ; our flesh, humbled by suffering, aspires to immortality. With Jesus, and through Him, and in Him our thoughts, desires, and actions are purified, transformed, and raised to heaven. The aspiration of our nature, a prey, from the day of its origin, to the mysterious longing for the infinite, is at length satiated ; now we are indeed divine beings. Oh ! what honor, and, in consequence, what respect we owe ourselves ! "O man !" says St. Leo, "recognize your dignity; and having become a participant in the divine nature by the incarnate Word, never lower yourself by returning to the meanness of your former life."
THE VISITATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN — THE FIRST GIFT OF JESUS.
THERE is commotion in an humble home at Nazareth. They who live in it seem agitated, hurried ; they are preparing for a journey. What is its purpose ? Is Mary, till then so humble and discreet, now hastening to publish the wonders performed under Her roof and in Her womb ? No ; filled with the Holy Spirit, she carefully guards the secret of the King of Kings. But an interior voice says to Her : Go. It is Jesus who wishes to justify His name of Saviour without delay, to begin His mission of redemption, to destroy in souls the empire of sin, and to show Himself beneficent and merciful. One day the Apostle St. Peter will say of Him: " He went about doing good " (Acts x. 38). Even before He was born He merited this testimony. Hidden from human view, silent and imprisoned, He goes to manifest Himself and to give expression to His omnipotent goodness in visiting His Precursor.
Why does He not call the Precursor to Him? Is it not the duty of the servant to go to his master, of the sick man to seek his physician, of the poor man to go to the rich whose alms he begs ? But love reverses all these rules; the King of Kings, the heavenly Physician, the Author of grace anticipates the advances of His creatures. Not yet in condition to move of Himself, He wishes to be carried. "Behold," says St. Ambrose, "the inferior has need of succor, and his superior goes to his aid — Mary goes to Elizabeth, Christ to John. The wonderful meeting of the mothers is the signal for divine benefits. Elizabeth hears the voice of Mary ; John is touched by the grace of his Redeemer." At the same instant the severe laws of nature, which confine the Infant in a mysterious repose, yield to the pressure of the Author of nature. " Before he was born John speaks by his motions of joy. Before entering into the world he announces his God; before seeing the light he points out the Eternal Sun. Still a prisoner in his mother's womb, he nevertheless performs the office of precursor, and says to all: “ Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who taketh away the sins of the world" These are the words of St. John Chrysostom.
Let us admire the full and sudden correspondence of the Precursor with the grace which purifies him from sin, illumines his soul, and calls him to the service of God. Let us consider the mystery of the Visitation as a type of the sweet anticipations of the divine bounty in our own regard, and of the line of conduct we should follow when we are visited by God's grace.
After the days, too quickly passed, which our Lord spent on earth, in which men could see and feel and touch Him, in which they could contemplate His charms, hear His words, ad- mire His works, condole with Him in His sufferings, and receive His promises, He is again hidden from human view in a manner even more profound than in His Mother's womb. Hidden indeed He is, but He has not withdrawn Himself to an inaccessible distance. "His delight is to be with the children of men." He is with us in our tabernacles, more imprisoned, more immovable than He was as an infant in the living sanctuary in which He first learned to live.
Thither He calls to Him His priests, and commands them to carry Him with reverential hands to visit our souls and fill them with His presence. What do I say ? He stands night -and day at the door of our hearts, knocking and demanding an entrance. " Behold I stand at the door and knock" (Apoc. iii.) Every grace that we receive, every advance He makes to us, every light, every good counsel, encouragement, or impulse towards good, is a visit of Jesus.
O dearly-beloved Saviour ! How do we respond to so much honor and to so many benefits ? Our souls, in order to become the abode of their Spouse in His sacramental visits, ought to deck themselves out in the most tender and perfect virtues. Like docile harps they ought to sing and thrill with joy at the touch of the Saviour's hand in the same manner as the unborn Precursor leaped for joy in His presence. But, alas! we meet Him more frequently with coldness, indifference, hesitation, and even a refusal to accept His heavenly visits. Oh, how shameful !
Thou seest us, 0 Lord! penetrated with confusion and remorse at the thought of Thy many visits we have lost. Grant that they may not be lost again! Strengthen our faith, that we may be able at all times to adore Thy holy presence under the veil by which Thou concealest Thyself from our eyes. Make our souls delicately sensitive to the touch of Thy grace. Let every good impression received be at once transformed into a virtue. Let the prompt and abundant growth of Thy gifts draw from those who will see our spiritual transformation the words of the Psalmist : " Thou hast visited the earth and hast plentifully watered it ; Thou hast many ways enriched it " (Psalm lxiv.)
THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD — THE INFANT JESUS.
THE heavens resound with a joyous and sublime canticle : “Glory to God in the highest heavens, and peace on earth to men of goodwill." Angels bear the glad tidings to the world: " This day is born to you a Saviour." O heavenly spirits ! tell us where shall we find this Saviour so ardently desired, so long expected ? In Bethlehem, the city of David. In Bethlehem ! A small city indeed for so great a King ! But surely some ancient, stately palace, the last relic of the fallen fortunes of those who once ruled in Juda, has been fitted up to receive the Son of God. Ah ! no. His poverty finds no place for Him even in the public inns of the old city. The owners of human habitations refuse to receive Him ; and His Mother, all desolate, sees Herself forced to share with animals a corner of their stable. " And this shall be a sign to you," continue the angels : " you shall find the Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger."
What a change, great God, in Thy manifestations ! Formerly, when Thou didst appear to our fathers of the old law, it was always under striking, and even terrible, figures ; and often those who had been honored by Thy manifestation were heard to cry out : " We have seen the Lord ; let us die the death." Now Thou presentest Thyself to us in the form of an infant.
An infant attracts us by its charms and touches our hearts by its helplessness. Its weak cries, its sweet smile, its peaceful rest soften the heart. What is more amiable than an infant ? And behold, my Saviour is one ! He does not resemble the children of some royal house around whom servants and courtiers gather in crowds. A cradle gilt with gold, a sumptuous service, would repel the lowly and the poor ; and Jesus came that all should approach Him with confidence and love. This is why He shows Himself to us "wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger."
But at this crib how many precious lessons unfold themselves to me !
The infant Jesus teaches me to trample under foot the vain honors which human pride pursues with frantic eagerness.
The infant Jesus teaches me to despise the false and fleeting goods which my covetous heart rushes after.
The infant Jesus teaches me that privations and sufferings are intended to tame and reduce to obedience my rebellious flesh, the enemy of all virtue and of my perfection.
The infant Jesus calls me to a state of simplicity and candor, to an obscure, solitary, and hidden life.
With deepest reverence I receive these lessons in my heart, for it is love that gives them to me.
Love ! Behold what moves me most to-day. The imperial edict which tore the Holy Family from the sweets of the domestic fireside, the blindness of men who refused an asylum to the Son of God hidden in the womb of His Mother, the cold December night of His nativity, the stable of Bethlehem, the swaddling clothes, the crib — all this was prepared in His eternal councils by the love of my God.
The Splendor of eternal light, the infant Jesus clothes Himself with our poor flesh. It is for love of me. My impure eyes could never have borne the brightness of His glory ; and yet I had need of coming near my God, of seeing Him, of hearing Him, of touching and embracing Him. After the anxious waiting of humanity we had need of being delighted in the light of His sensible presence. Master of all the goods of the world, the infant Jesus condemns Himself to poverty. It is for love of me. My heart, so easily charmed with earthly things, had to learn that they are too small and too mean for my love, and that those who have the smallest portion of them ought to possess, like their Saviour, the fullest measure of spiritual goods.
Eternally and perfectly happy, the infant Jesus began to suffer at the moment of His birth into the world. It is for love of me. I will be less inclined to rebel against the hard necessity of suffering when I see my Saviour submit to it from the first moment of His mortal life.
Who will not return the love of Him who has loved so much ?
Would that I possessed the most pure heart of Thy Mother, O my Jesus, in which to love Thee as I ought !
"Would that I could unite my affections with those of Thy adopted Father, so full of humility and reverence !
Would that I had a place among the shepherds whom the angels notified of Thy birth, so as to take part in their simple and fervent adoration !
Would that I could enter into the company of the kings and lay down at Thy feet the gold of my charity, the incense of my adoration, the myrrh of my penance !
O beloved Child ! drive me not away. Allow me at least to envy the lot of the poor, dumb beasts that warmed Thee by their breath ; and, even if it is small indeed, deign to unite the humble love of my poor heart with Thy infinite love.
‘THE PURIFICATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN — THE PRESENTATION OF JESUS.
" " AND presently the Lord, whom you seek, and the angel of the testament, whom you desire, shall come to the temple. Behold He cometh, saith the Lord of hosts " (Malachy iii.) The holy souls did truly desire His coming. They anxiously waited for that event and seriously desired it. And they filled the ages with their plaintive invocations. In the mystery now under our consideration these true Israelites are represented by an old man, just and fearing God, who looked for the consolation of Israel, for the Holy Spirit had promised him in sleep that he would not die before he saw the " Christ of the Lord " ; also by a venerable and holy widow who, although old, was less burdened with years than with austerities. Simeon, taking in his arms the Child of heavenly promise, chanted his canticle of eternal farewell to the world in the beautiful words recited every day in the offices of the Church : "Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant in peace, O Lord ! for my eyes have seen Thy salvation " (St. Luke ii.) Anna, the prophetess, in an ecstasy of joy on seeing Him, whom she had invoked in her prayers day and night, "hastened to publish His glory everywhere and to tell of His coming to those who looked for the redemption of Israel."
These just souls are holding high festival, yet nothing extraordinary is seen in the temple ; to other eyes it is only a poor Infant that is brought to be presented to God according to the law of Moses. But this Infant accomplishes an admirable substitution that can only be comprehended by true Israelites. To all appearance He is redeemed before the law ; but in reality He immolates Himself instead of the insufficient victims of the law. "Holocausts for sin were not pleasing in Thy sight ; then said I : Behold I come."
Let us carefully consider this mystery. The labors, the fatigues, the sweat, the humiliations, the opprobrium, the sufferings and wounds, the blood and death of Jesus Christ are all laid at the feet of God in this presentation. All is offered and accepted ; it is a sacrifice of propitiation and salvation. Mary takes part in this sacrifice. The sword of sorrow which will one day consummate Her anguish has a prototype in the sad prophecy addressed to Her to-day : " Thy own soul a sword shall pierce." But will not all humanity, or at least the chosen people of God, profit by this offering of Jesus ? Alas, no ! The divine Child will meet with a thousand contradictions, and along with those who shall rise to glory by virtue of His sacrifice we shall see many, who shall despise it, eternally lost. " Behold this Child is set for the ruin and resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be contradicted."
Let us aspire to be of those included in the resurrection ; and, as Christ offers Himself for us, let us also offer ourselves through Him to His Father. It is only infinite perfection that can fill the void of our unworthiness and of our insufficiency. The victims of the old law, permeated with our intentions and our faults through the imposition of human and guilty hands, represented our guilty lives. Therefore God rejected them. He will reject us also if we dare present ourselves to him alone ; but in company with His well-beloved Son He can refuse us nothing.
Receive, then, O my God ! from our unworthy hands this unspotted Host that gives Himself to us ; this living religious worship which unites heaven with the earth in the union of the divine and human natures.
Thrice blessed Majesty of God ! I cannot offer anything proportionate to the greatness of Thy being out of my nothingness. The benedictions of all humanity, the universal canticle of praise taken up by all creatures, would be far too little for Thy glory ; but we adore Thee with Jesus, and through Him, and in Him.
Unbounded goodness of God ! neither our acts of thanksgiving nor the joyful transports of a world filled with Thy gifts can perfectly respond to Thy infinite benefits; but with whatever spiritual or temporal good there is in us we thank Thee with Jesus, through Jesus, and in Jesus.
Terrible justice of God ! Thou wilt not be appeased by the sacrifice of our poor, sin-stained life. A hecatomb of all nature could not restore Thee the honor that sin has taken from Thee ; but we implore pardon with Jesus, and through Him, and in Him.
Author of all good ! Thou hast anticipated us in the effusion of Thy gifts. But how can we hope to secure a continuance of these, except with Jesus, and through Him, and in Him ?
O heavenly Father ! we present to Thee Thy only-begotten and well-beloved Son, the object of Thy eternal complacency. We hide ourselves in His heart ; we present ourselves with Him in the arms of Mary to be immolated to Thy glory, if it is Thy good pleasure. Take all that we have — our mind, our heart, our body, our thoughts, affections, and desires, our life itself — and declare to us that our sacrifice is agreeable to Thee, so that we may joyfully sing with the holy old man, Simeon :
" Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine"
THE FINDING OF JESUS IN THE TEMPLE — JESUS MASTER.
THE law was fulfilled by the presentation in the temple. Jesus offered Himself to His divine Father in the name and in favor of humanity ; and now He enters into the humble and obscure dwelling of Nazareth, where He increases in years and in strength, and is filled with wisdom, " for the grace of God is in Him."
Twelve years of silence and obscurity pass quickly by, after which we find Him, when it was supposed He was lost in the excitement of a great festival, among the doctors of the law, hearing them and asking them questions.
O marvel ! These men, who have grown gray in study and in learning, who almost know the number of letters contained in the Sacred Writings, who scrutinize the mysteries and reduce to a nicety the interpretation of the law — these wise men of Israel, whose grave and learned word had the greatest weight in the land, have found their Master. They have found Him in a child of twelve years ! Their humbled pride is astonished at the profundity of His teaching and at the wisdom of His answers. It was the first wound it received, and its sting will continue to rankle in their hearts until the time of His public preaching shall have come. The people simply give way to ecstasies of admiration : " And all that heard Him were astonished at His wisdom and His answers " (Luke ii. 47).
Dear and admirable Child ! I know who Thou art. Divine Word, infinite Wisdom, Thou art come from the " mouth of the most high God." In God Thou hadst subsisted before the birth of time, and in Him Thou wilt subsist when time shall be no more. Hear His inspired word in the eighth chapter of the book of Proverbs: "When He prepared the heavens I was present ; when with a certain law and compass He enclosed the depths ; when He established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters ; when He compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits ; when He balanced the foundations of the earth, I was with Him, forming all things, and was delighted every day, playing before Him at all times : playing in the world , and my delights were to be with the children of men." Thou knowest, O Lord! all secrets, even the most profound secrets of the Divinity. What Thou hast revealed to men is no more than a drop from the ocean of Thy infinite knowledge. The Sacred Scriptures, full of Thee, have been written by Thy inspiration. Who, then, can so well explain them as Thyself ? Therefore I am not astonished that questions and answers should fall from Thy lips which confounded the learned doctors of the law. I wonder not, but rather cry out in my simple ignorance, with the prophet Isaias : "Behold I have given Him for a witness to the people, for a leader and a master to the gentiles" (chap. lv. 4).
Speak, O Master ! speak. It is Thy right and Thy function. Is it not right, and even necessary, that Thou shouldst be "engaged in the business of Thy Father," Who, by Thy teaching, hast deigned to instruct us in the mysteries of eternity? Speak, O Jesus ! to the great and powerful, too often surfeited with empty grandeur ; speak to the worldly-wise of our clay, whose proud reason too often vanishes in the delirium of folly ; speak to the worldly-prudent, who, in their presumption, pretend to have no other rule of life than common honesty. Show them that nothing is truly great which does not lead up to a participation in the divine Sonship ;, that human science must submit itself to the science of heaven ; that the wisdom of the world, from the moment it refuses to enter upon the heroic way of Christian virtue, is supremest folly.
Speak to the poor, the ignorant, the humble, to raise them from their abject state ; teach them the mysteries which no human reason can fathom ; and conduct them by humble and despised pathways to the dwelling-place of life eternal. Speak to me, O my Jesus ! I listen to Thee, and I wish to receive no other promises than Thine, no doctrine but Thine, no law but Thine. For me it is not necessary to behold Thee with the eyes of the flesh to submit to Thy teaching. It is enough for me to read Thy books in which Thy words are engraven : to hear the Church, the guardian of Thy truth and of Thy commandments ; to feel within me the mysterious attractions of Thy holy grace.
O adorable Jesus ! speak to me especially by Thy grace. Speak to my spirit and to my heart. Let my thoughts, desires, affections, discourses, and acts be regulated by Thy internal word. Speak to me, as Thou didst in the temple, with the sweetness and amiability of a child ; but if my obdurate heart refuses to be moved by Thy loving words, speak to me with authority and with the just severity of an offended Master. Press, insist, reproach, threaten, annoy, and torment me. I am prepared to submit to Thy rigors. Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.
JESUS, having been taken from the cross, is placed in a new sepulchre in which His flesh, fearfully mangled by the ordeal through which it had passed, reposed for a little while. Its rest was not the deep sleep which weighs down human beings after they breathe their last sigh, and from which only the trumpet of the angel will awaken them ; it is a tranquil slumber from which the voice of God will soon arouse Him.
Two passions — hatred and fear — watch round His tomb. It is covered with a huge stone and secured by the seal of the synagogue. The soldiers are on guard to prevent any secret approach. It is confidently believed that these precautions will stifle for ever in the tomb the voice of Him who had said of His body : "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will build it up again 79 (John ii. 19). How ridiculous and foolish men make themselves when they attempt to run counter to the designs of God or to give the lie to His promises ! On the morning of the third day there is an earthquake ; an angel descends and rolls away the stone ; and the flesh of Jesus, receiving Life again by the divine power, springs forth, glorious and immortal, from the arms of Death.
Let us adore our risen Saviour! No longer is He a prisoner whom the soldiers of the synagogue and the pretorium drag about from one tribunal to another ; no longer is He the man forsaken by His Father and His friends, and complaining most touchingly of the rigors of divine justice ; no more is He the condemned man whom all insult who dare address Him ; no longer is he the man covered with wounds and become like a leper whose aspect is fearful to look upon ; nor is He any more the dead body which His afflicted Mother enshrouded with reverent hands and saw laid in a sepulchre. Now He is free, joyous, triumphant, radiant, immortal. Let us, with the Psalmist, sing to the Lord : " Thou hast broken my bonds, and I will offer to Thee a sacrifice of praise." Thou hast not forgotten the Just One in His tomb, "nor hast Thou allowed Thy Holy One to see corruption." With St. Paul we will cry out : " O death ! where is thy victory ? O death ! where is thy sting?" (1 Cor. xv.) "Christ rising from the dead, dieth now no more, death shall have no more dominion over Him ; for in that He liveth, He liveth to God" (Rom. vi.) Let us sing these canticles of joy and then turn our thoughts upon ourselves.
This great mystery includes for us a lesson, a figure, and a promise.
The ineffable joy and glory of the Resurrection have been purchased at the price of most horrible sufferings. It was inevitable. It is our Saviour Himself who tells it to those who, like the disciples of Emmaus, might be scandalized or weakened on account of His Passion : " Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to have entered into His glory ? " (Luke xxiv.) Now, the road of soldiers must be the same as that travelled by their leader. Enlisted under the banner of Jesus Christ, we cannot hope to attain the incorruptible glory and unalloyed happiness, promised by Almighty God, through the broad pathway of pleasure and enjoyment, which is unhappily too much frequented. Jesus did not take that road. It was the rough way of sorrow and pain, in which we can easily trace His bloody foot- steps, that conducted Him to eternal honors. It was the cross He bore and on which He died that opened the gates of heaven, barred and bolted against the luxury of worldlings. The motto of every Christian ought to be : "Let me suffer, O Lord ! in this life, that I may live eternally in the next."
This is the lesson of the Resurrection.
There is in it also a symbol or figure. The mystery of the Resurrection is a lively figure of the spiritual transformation which ought to take place in each of us. Sin is death. It is the tomb in which the captive soul sleeps a fatal sleep. The enemy takes all manner of precautions to prevent its awakening. Yet he cannot prevent the voice of God from reaching even this sepulchre of the sinful soul. " Arise," says that voice, " thou who sleepest ; arise from the dead. Christ will enlighten thee " (Ephes. v.) At the first sound of that voice let us rise from sin. We may never hear it more. Death long continued will breed corruption.
But how will I rise ? How break the cords that tie me down ? How roll away the heavy stone that is laid over me ? How break the inveterate habits and the shameful laxity of the will, which is weakened so much by its many consents to sin ? Courage, Christian ! In the figure just given there is a promise. For us Christ died, and " for our justification He rose again." The divine virtue of His glorified humanity will one day bring together the scattered dust of our bodies, and will make our flesh, dissolved in death, live again eternally incorrupt ; but at present He addresses Himself to the soul especially to draw it from sin to justice, and to give it strength to " walk in the pathway of a blessed newness of life."
I count on Thee, O my adorable Master ! Have pity on me ! I am dead, or at least I feel myself dying day by day ; for it is not life that languishes in tepidity. In virtue of Thy blessed Resurrection enable me to rise from the tomb of my failings. Create, O Lord ! a new spirit within me, so that, penetrated with Thy light, disengaged from the influences of the flesh, active and alert in good works, and bent upon the perfection of my life, I may live henceforth only for Thee, as Thou livest only for God.
THE ASCENSION — JESUS IN HEAVEN.
LET us go to Mount Olivet. Thither Jesus brings His disciples for the last time. He recalls to their minds their divine mission, confirms the powers conferred upon them, again promises the Holy Spirit, gives them His blessing, bids them adieu, and rises towards heaven. The hearts of the apostles, divided between grief and wonder, follow with their eyes their adorable Master, who is leaving them, and whom they will never see again on earth. A bright cloud intercepts their view of the triumphant humanity of their Saviour, but they continue to look towards the heavens whither He had ascended. Now they understand all ; and their hearts, so recently gross and carnal, break all earthly chains.
Let us with them raise our hearts to heaven. Sursum corda ! If Jesus leaves us He does not forget us, nor does He abandon us to our exile without hope. His going is not to put an immense distance between His glory and our misery ; it is to prepare a place for us : " I go to prepare a place for you " (John xiv. 2). This is His promise ; can we suppose He will not keep it?
O Jesus, our only love! we have need of hear- ing this good word fall from Thy adorable lips to console us in Thy absence. Thou goest to prepare a place for us; is this world, therefore, not our most suitable home? Ah ! no. It is too full of troubles to give that joy to the heart to which it aspires; it is too narrow to satiate the immensity of our desires ; it is too uncertain to give us any assurance of eternal possession, the idea of which is inseparable from all our dreams of happiness. The eternal life of God, His infinite perfections, the perfect love of God, the boundless space which His immensity fills — this is the "length and breadth and depth" of which St. Paul speaks; this is the place to which we should direct our course and in which we should anchor our bark of life, the place which Jesus went to prepare for us.
He is there indeed. It is our humanity that triumphs in his person and sits at the right hand of God. Even if we were not called to a participation in His glory and beatitude we ought to be anxious to know where it is and to register His victory in our human records. If he belongs to God He belongs to us also; if He is of the divine substance He is also of our flesh and blood, and we may well declare with a holy doctor: " Where a part of me reigns, I believe I reign also; where my flesh is glorified, I am glorified; where my blood is king, I too am king."
But listen, Christian! Jesus does not wish to reduce you to the sterile honor of knowing His triumph. By His ascension He enters into the bosom of God the Father, not as a delegate, but as a precursor of humanity. This is the expression of St. Paul in his sixth chapter to the Hebrews. The precursor prepares the way for those who follow Him, and the place in which they are to rest after the fatigue of the journey. The precursor puts all things in order; He waits for His friends and calls them in. But how much more certain and efficacious His office is when, instead of being a servant merely, He is master of those for whom He prepares a place, and master of the place as well!
Christ, our precursor, is all this. Let us consider carefully the words of the apostle. He teaches us that Christ asserted our rights by His very presence in the bosom of God. For we are His property, and He has a right to enter into heaven with what belongs to Him. " He is our head; we are the body and members of that head." But where the head is, there likewise ought to be the body and the members. But Jesus would be our precursor only half-way if, by His action, He did not put us in condition to realize our lights — that is to say, if He did not prepare God to receive us and did not prepare us to take possession of God.
He is our priest "for ever"; or, in other words, He presents eternally to God the most sacred gifts that humanity has to offer, and to humanity the most sacred gifts of God. Our acts of religion would never have penetrated this sanctuary, in which they ought to mark out a place for us, if they did not pass through the hands of Jesus Christ. And if we return to God after our transgression, our repentance is only acceptable because "we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Just." If the groans of our misery or the expressions of our love are heard in heaven it is because Jesus appropriates them; for "He lives only to intercede for us/' He shows to the Father the marks of His glorious wounds, and makes His blood plead more strongly than that of Abel.
O God! Thou canst not resist this strong cry. It must be that Thou permittest us to mark our places in the sacred tabernacles which Thou fillest with Thy blessedness. This is the will of my Lord Jesus; and in preparing Thee to receive us He prepares us to take possession of Thee. The incarnate Word, humbled and annihilated in the days of His life on earth, became on the day of His ascension the inexhaustible treasury of the gifts of God. "Christ, ascending on high, led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men" (Ephes. iv. 8). Thus it is that the remedies of our faults, the succor of our weakness, the light of our darkness, the solace of our pains, the impulses towards good, all descend into our souls to make them worthy of God, whom we ought to possess. He extends His benign influence even to our corruptible flesh, which He prepares for the resurrection.
O Christian! meditate upon this glorious and consoling mystery. Never more turn to creatures as the end of your life. This world is not your resting-place. Honors, riches, pleasures, human affections are unworthy of a great and generous soul. Look to your Leader and Precursor; have confidence in His divine minis- try; abandon yourself to His holy grace; raise your heart to heaven. Sursum corda!
THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY GHOST — THE SPIRIT OF JESUS.
THE apostles were assembled together in one place, awaiting in recollection and prayer the effect of the promises of Jesus. For He had said: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself ; that where I am you also may be. . . . And I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete [comforter or advocate], that He may abide with you for ever ; the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not nor knoweth Him ; but you shall know Him, because He shall abide with you and be with you " (John xiv. 3, 16, 17). Ten days after the Ascension of our Lord a mighty event took place. It was the fulfillment of the promise, and is thus recorded in the Acts of the Apostles : And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them cloven tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon each one of them ; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak" (Acts ii.)
O wonderful prodigy ! But a moment ago these men were ignorant and could not clearly understand the doctrine of their Master; now they possess a full knowledge of the most sublime truths. At one moment they express themselves in a weak and stammering manner; the next they are filled with a marvelous eloquence. At one moment they are weak and timid even to the extent of cowardice — they hide themselves, so as not to be involved in the misfortunes of their Master ; the next they come forth boldly, and fearlessly proclaim their faith and love, and this, too, before a people who load them with injuries and drag them before, their tribunals. They seem at one moment ungrateful and almost without hope; the next they are devoted to the words of their Master, even unto death. Now they are sad and downcast ; all at once their hearts abound in hope and joy. What has happened ? The Holy Ghost, having descended from heaven, has brought to perfection in the souls of the disciples the spirit and form of the Christian life, which until now were only in a crude, inchoative state. This is His special mission. The holy Fathers have sometimes called Him the " perfective force."
Learn from this, O Christian soul ! that the effusion of the Holy Spirit is as necessary for thy salvation as is the application of the blood and merits of Jesus Christ. " The end of man, which is to see God and possess Him eternally, is beyond the powers of nature," says St. Thomas of Aquin ; " our reason cannot conduct us to it, if its natural movement does not bring to its aid the instinct and motion of the Spirit of God. 9 ' It is so necessary for us that without it we possess only the rudiments of the Christian and supernatural life.
Jesus, the divine Architect, makes of our souls His temples, having purified them with His precious blood. It is the Holy Ghost who consecrates us in marking us with His character, and conferring upon us the unction of His love and the illumination of His gifts. Pentecost is therefore, in the Church, a universal and perpetual festival. Our baptism is a pentecost; our confirmation is a pentecost. Besides this, as St. Thomas teaches, the divine Paraclete returns constantly in His secret visits, to illuminate, strengthen, and beautify with His gifts the souls of the just.
But let us hear attentively the word of God : " The Lord does not come in times of disturbance " (3 Kings xix.) We must have peace in our souls ; we must remove the agitation of vain thoughts and of vain desires, if we would receive the Spirit of God. Let us await His coming, like the apostles, in recollection and prayer.
It is not likely that God will surprise us by sudden visits of His light and grace ; in the ordinary workings of His providence He only sends His Holy Spirit to us when we say with earnest fervor : Come ! Veni Sancte Spiritus !
Let us invoke Him, then, in the dark night of temptation, in the agony of doubt. When, enveloped in the darkness of ignorance and drawn on by the glare of creatures, our uncertain spirit asks for the truth to guide it ; and when, desirous of the knowledge and light of faith, we desire to penetrate the divine mysteries, let us invoke the Holy Spirit, for he is indeed the " Spirit of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge."
When we are moved to determine and fix our vocation in life, when we are about to perform some work in which our consciences are deeply concerned, or if it is our duty to direct. souls in the ways of God, let us invoke the " Spirit of counsel."
When we feel the love of God languish in our hearts, or even when we are moved by a holy zeal and we wish to love God with good effect, let us invoke the Holy Spirit, for He is truly the " Spirit of piety ."
When the power of evil attacks us and the world persecutes us, when passion torments us, and when sorrow oppresses us, let us earnestly call Him to our assistance, for He is the " Spirit of fortitude."
When the abyss of sin is open before us and ready to engulf us, let us invoke Him with all our strength, for He is the "Spirit of the fear of the Lord,"
In all our sufferings let us invoke Him, for He is indeed the Paraclete — the Comforter.
Against the slavery of all evil habits that weigh down the will let us invoke Him, for " where the Spirit of God is, there is true liberty."
Has He come ? Then let us meet Him with attention, vigilance, and profound respect. Let us not "'grieve the Spirit of God by our faults and imperfections."
THE ASSUMPTION OF THE MOST BLESSED VIRGIN — JESUS AT THE TOMB OF HIS MOTHER.
MARY languished waiting anxiously many years for the blessed day that would reunite Her with Her Son. It came at length. Her lamp of life was peacefully extinguished in the home of the beloved disciple, St. John, surrounded by other apostles, whose messages she bore to heaven. A virgin sepulchre received the mortal remains of the spotless Virgin. It was the mysterious cradle soon to be visited by the Author of life. Sleep on, dear Blessed Mother, sleep on, whilst the infant Church mourns around thy grave !
Soon one of the disciples desired to see again His Mother's face, and to kiss the blessed hand that had caressed the Saviour of the world. The tomb was opened, but the immaculate body was not there ; instead of it were found roses and lilies of the sweetest perfume — a fitting symbol of her perfections and virtues.
Thus a miracle is performed in the silent shade of the tomb. Jesus, from the highest heavens contemplating the spotless body which was the tabernacle of His humanity, repeated the words of the prophet : " Thou wilt not give Thy Holy One to see corruption." He applies it to His holy Mother ; He will not suffer Her to feel the corruption of the grave. Mary slumbers in death, as Her Son once did, but He awakes Her with these loving words of the Canticles : "Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. The winter is now past ; the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land ; the time of pruning is come ; the voice of the turtle is heard. The fig-tree has put forth her green figs ; the vines in flower yield their sweet smell. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come. . . . Come from Libanus, where the incorruptible cedars grow. Come and be crowned." *
* Antiphon of the Assumption.
Mary can neither rise nor ascend to heaven of Her own power, but the Author of life extends to Her His omnipotent force, places His angels at Her service, and they bear Her to Her home in heaven.
To us poor mortals the privilege of incorruption in the tomb does not belong. Wretched children of Adam, defiled, from the first moment of our existence, by original sin, unfaithful to the grace of our regeneration, frequently guilty of sin after having been pardoned, we have opened to death all the avenues of life. Death entered with sin and has written on our flesh this terrible word : Corruption ! Nothing escapes its cruel tooth. The skin, gradually eaten away, soon disappears entirely, leaving only a dry skeleton ; and this, too, silently crumbling into dust, is mingled with the surrounding earth by the grave-digger's spade when he is preparing a place for other dead bodies. This is the end of all.
Let us not be terrified, however, at our nothingness. Men may seek for us in vain ; but the all-seeing eye of God follows through the mazes of nature the wanderings of the particles which once composed our bodies. When the world shall have finished its course the Author of life will visit the empire of death, and with His sovereign voice will address the elements of which human bodies were once constituted, saying : " Unite, arise, come." Then the bones of each human being shall be recomposed, and the flesh shall recover the texture and color by which it was once before known. This is a certain truth.
And it is no less certain that our resurrection will be the same as our death. It will be glorious or ignominious, it will be for eternal joy or eternal sorrow, according as our death shall have been in justice or sin.
Let us meditate seriously on these truths ; and whilst we carry about with us our bodies as vessels made by the divine hand for honor, and destined to receive from the same hand a new existence which no inimical force can destroy, let us take good care not to make of them objects of almost idolatrous attention which cannot save them from the ravages of time or the corruption of the grave. If to-day we hear the forebodings of death, if we are saddened by our infirmities, if our thoughts are gloomy and dark, if the perfection of our souls is retarded or burdened with the weight of our bodies, let us not repine. Patience ! Patience ! One day this poor companion of the soul will rise immortal, incorruptible, brighter than the stars of heaven, obedient to the commands of the soul which will impart to it a wonderful agility. If the body presses us with gross demands, and even incites to sin, we must inexorably repress it. We must preserve ourselves from all defilement by wise precautions, strong resolutions, and salutary chastisements. The more we resemble in the flesh the unsullied flesh of our Holy Mother, the more resplendent will be the glory of our resurrection.
THE CORONATION OF THE MOST BLESSED VIRGIN — JESUS THE REMUNERATOR.
HEAVEN is opened. Our Most Holy Mother, invited by Her Son, triumphantly enters in. " Come and be crowned,’ our Saviour says to Her. Let us assist in spirit at this coronation. It is the eternal consecration of all the virtues, of all the dolors of Mary. It is the recompense which confers upon Her the greatest power ever before imparted to a creature. All the kings of Judah gather round their well-beloved daughter. " David dances for joy ; the angels and archangels unite with Israel's sweet singer to chant the praises of their Queen. The virtues proclaim Her glory ; the principalities, powers, and dominations exult with joy ; the thrones felicitate Her who was the living and immaculate throne of the Most High. The cherubim salute Her in a canticle of praise, and the seraphim declare Her glory," says St. John Damascene. Finally Jesus comes, and, amid the plaudits of the whole Court of Heaven, places a crown on the brow of His Most Blessed Mother.
Jesus forgets nothing. All is crowned in Mary : Her thoughts, Her desires, Her actions, Her virtues, Her merits — even Her privileges, of which She had rendered Herself most worth by Her constant correspondence with the admirable designs of God. The feast of the Coronation is a feast of justice.
Christian soul, this feast of justice ought to rejoice your heart ! It is your Mother is honored, it is your Mother's triumph ; and Her triumph teaches us that we have a just God in heaven, who, when the day of remuneration comes, will remember all. Therefore what signify the difficulties, sorrows, languors, and tribulations of our short lives ? "For the rest there is laid up for us a crown of justice which the Lord, the just judge, will bestow upon us in that day" (2 Tim. iv.) O senseless souls who run after earthly goods, can you say this of the world you seem to adore or of the rulers of the world ? They promise riches, pleasures, celebrity, love. Your whole soul is held in a state of tension by the toys of imagination, covetous desires, or other passions ; your senses themselves are disturbed, your health is injured, your life is filled with intrigues, troubles, and meannesses. Humble yourselves, throw away earthly cares, else you will never be able to say, with the noble and fervent confidence of the true Christian : " There is laid up for me a crown." Crowns of gold or of roses, of honor or affection, often slip from your grasp just when you think you hold them most securely. And if you were able to obtain at once all the crowns of the world, you must bring them at last before the "just Judge," who will, with pitiless hand, tear them from your brow and throw them down to rot where you received them. We cannot carry with us to heaven useless or hurtful ornaments. Our crown in heaven — our true crown — will remain eternally on our brow and will never fade. "And when the Prince of pastors shall appear you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory " (1 Peter v. 4).
Feed yourself, then, O my soul ! on these deep and consoling thoughts. The all-just Rewarder of all faithful souls sees you and knows you. Despise the vain objects of worldlings and cling to the road that brings you to a crown of glory. It is a rough and difficult road. You will have to overcome obstacles, to leap over more than one abyss, to avoid ambuscades(def. attack from an ambush.), to fight the enemy, to repair reverses and even defeats. Courage ! Courage ! All your marches, all your efforts, all your labors and combats are in God's keeping : " For the rest there is laid up for you a crown." You will say: " If I could only march alone on the hard road leading to glory ! But no ; I must carry along with me this miserable body. It is a furnace of sin, and of sorrow too. It obscures my sight so that I cannot see clearly what I ought to see ; from it come doubts, scruples, dryness, disquietude, chagrin, and anguish. From time and from nature it receives many blows and wounds. How many are the evils, both external and internal, of our sad lives ! " Courage ! Courage ! All these are counted ; all will be crowned. At once a champion, a pilgrim, and a martyr, you will be able to say with the great Apostle of the Gentiles : " I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. For the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just judge, will render to me at that day ; and not to me only, but to them also who love His coming " (2 Tim. iv. 7, 8).