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 disorder 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 impunity. 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 incompatible, 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 conversion, 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 ourselves. 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 sometimes, 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 something. 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 groanings 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 relapses 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 consider 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 nothing, 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, consequently 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 nothing, 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 neverending 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 stretching 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.
' Dabo eis Cor, ut sciant me, et erunt mihi in populum, et ego ero eis in Deum: quia revertentur ad me in toto corde suo.'
' I will give them a Heart to know Me, and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, because they shall return to Me with their whole heart' (Jer. xxiv. 7).
NOTE TO THE ILLUSTRATION FOR JULY.
THE APOSTLES OF PROVENCE.The Roman Breviary tells us in the lesson for the feast of St. Martha, which occurs on July 29th, just a week after that of her more famous sister, St. Mary Magdalene, that, after the Ascension of our Lord, the Jews seized on the persons of the sisters, of their brother Lazarus, of Marcella their servant, of Maximin, one of the seventy-two disciples, who had baptized the whole family, and of many other Christians, and sent them to sea on board a vessel which had neither sails nor oars, intending them to drift about till they were either lost in a tempest or starved to death. But, by the Divine Providence, which intended these great servants of His to have a share in the work of the Church in far distant regions, the ship was guided over the whole of the intervening Mediterranean Sea to the famous port of Marseilles in Provence, where they all safely landed. Lazarus became the Apostle and Bishop of Marseilles itself, Maximin of Aix, while Martha was the foundress of a community of holy women, and Magdalene spent her days in retirement and Divine contemplation. This is all in accordance with the traditions of the country, than which we can have no better authority in matters of this kind. The illustration which we here present to our readers represents the holy company, just as the distant coast appears on the horizon, after many days of weary and anxious drifting.
INTENTION OF THE APOSTOLATE OF PRAYER FOR JULY.A Life of faith—we all understand what that means. Every Catholic has faith, yet of many no one would dream of saying their lives were lives of faith. A life of faith is one of which the virtue of faith is the animating spirit and characteristic, the thoughts, words, and deeds of which are redolent of faith; it differs from the mere virtue as reason in a man differs from reason in a child.
A LIFE OF FAITH.
So many men are honoured now-a-days for denying and deriding faith, and are vaunted as the great high-priests of reason, mainly because they do so, that it is possible perhaps for some sneaking suspicion to lodge itself in the minds even of the faithful, that faith must be in some way or other hostile to reason, and that to be rid of it is in some sense reason's emancipation —and so it is, if a short-sighted man is more free when emancipated from his spectacles, or the blind man if delivered from the tyranny of dog Tray.
A little reflection will convince us that the Catholic, the liveliness of whose faith makes him see God everywhere and in every event which happens in the world, and who governs his life by that conviction, is he precisely who of all men most uses and best uses his reason. What is reason's best function? is it not to enable us to see things in their reality, and not to be deceived by appearances? A man is speaking to me, I hear his voice, and in its tones, his looks, in the expression of his face and gestures I read the expression of the sentiment his words convey. Yet in all this nothing but what is material has struck my senses; the horse beside me who sees, hears all that I have seen and heard, has learnt nothing from it. What distinguishes me from the beast is that I discern in the speaker by these mere signs a reality which is invisible: the ideas of his intelligence, the sentiment of his heart, the purposes of his will; and I know that these are the movements of a living soul, and it is by my reason, which distinguishes me from the animal, that I know it.
Yet I cannot prove this truth of reason mathematically. If one should please to suggest that all these expressive movements were but the mechanical movements of a piece of nature's clockwork, his folly could not be demonstrated as could the error of one who maintained that two and two made five; but for all that, in thus doubting, a man would be supremely unreasonable, and his fellow-men would reasonably take him for a fool. And this folly is precisely the wisdom of those whom faith has abandoned. When they lose the belief in God, they lose the power to see the reality of things—-they see but appearances, the highest function of their reason is paralyzed. And the man, destitute of the spirit of faith, acts with regard to God as an animal acts with regard to man—nay, less reasonably, for "the sheep follow him, for they know his voice,"* while the voice with which nature speaks to us so eloquently of God, the testimony she renders to His wisdom and His sleepless love for us—this is to the man in whom the spirit of faith is dead, but incoherent sound. In the touching revelation of the Creator, which is written on every page of the great book of nature, he can indeed recognize the beauty of the letters, but he cannot understand the sense. And what is this but the veriest abdication of reason's grandest and most perfect exercise? On the contrary, where the spirit of faith animates the heart it makes clear to our vision through the passing shadows of life, a truth which cannot change. There is no truth but God. He is truth substantial—truth essential, and faith makes visible to us that light of which all * other light is but the pale and inconstant reflection: it makes us see God, and establishes communication between Him and the soul He has made. Behind all creatures, good or bad, that spirit of faith shows us Him by Whom they all subsist, and Whose designs, will they or will they not, they ever execute. He is there, as intimately present throughout His creation as the soul is in the living body; nor is there one least movement which makes itself felt in the world of which He is not the principle, and while men's malice abuses the liberty He has given them, His bounty knows how to make use even of that bad will of theirs to render His holy ones more holy.
Well now, if this spirit of faith be wanting to us, who does not see that our Apostolate will prove but a feeble prayer? for it is thence alone come the constancy and peace which make prayer powerful. Read by material eyes, the things which are happening every day around us must indeed sadden and discourage one who loves God; but if we see them with God's omnipotence behind them all in their ultimate results, when they shall all have cooperated to accomplish His inscrutable designs, why then we shall be no more troubled in spirit at the triumph of evil to-day than was the Divine Heart before Pilate when all Its friends were scattered and trembling, and Its worst enemies could freely work their will. So too, animated by the spirit of faith, we cannot fear, for we know our prayers prevail; and our constancy will be as free from presumption as from cowardice, for while we know that God demands our prayers and best efforts in His cause, and do not foolishly stand by expecting miracles with folded arms; yet while we pray, and while we labour, we none the less know well that the result can come from His omnipotence alone: Hac est victoria quae vincit mundum fides nostra.*
* St. John x. 4 ‘ This is the victory that overcometh the world, our faith’
Sacred Heart of Jesus! through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer Thee the prayers, labours, and crosses of this day, in expiation of our offences, and for all Thy other intentions.
I offer them especially that the hearts of our Associates may be filled with the spirit of faith. Arm them, O Jesus, with that faith which gave the victory to Thy first Apostles, to subdue for Thee the world anew. Amen.
APOSTOLATE OF PRAYER.—INTENTION FOR JULY.
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 NECESSITY OF SUFFERING
BY FR. BOSSUET
" Let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us ; looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith " (Heb. xii. i, 2).
IT was the will of our Heavenly Father that the laws imposed upon Christians should in the first place be written in Jesus Christ. We must indeed be formed according to the model set forth in the Gospel, but then that Gospel itself was formed upon Jesus Christ. He began (says Holy Scripture) to do before He began to teach (Acts i. i) ; He practised first what He prescribed, so much so that though His teaching is indeed our law, yet the primal law is His most holy life. He is truly our Master and our Teacher, but before all things He is our Model.
In order thoroughly and effectively to comprehend this fundamental truth, we must keep our minds firmly fixed upon the one supremely important fact that the great mystery of Christianity is that a God willed to take upon Himself the likeness of man, so that He might impose upon man the law of conforming himself more and more to the Divine likeness. He willed to imitate us truly and actually in our human nature, in order that we might imitate Him in the sanctity of His conduct ; He took our flesh, that we might take His spirit ; in the mystery of the Incarnation He deigned to take our poor humanity for His model, that He might be ours in all the succeeding details of His earthly life : Let us, says St. Gregory of Nazianzen, be like Jesus Christ, because of His own will He became like us ; let us for the love of Him become gods, because He for love of us willed to become man. Ah ! here indeed a wonderful light, clear as noonday, is thrown upon the great truth which I am preaching to you, that of the necessity of suffering ! Yet let me warn you that we must assure ourselves of the firm, the unshakeable foundations of this so brightly illuminated truth, and those foundations are only to be found in the Sacred Scriptures.
The truth that in the mystery of the Incarnation the Son of God considered us as His model, we learn from St. Paul's inspired teaching in his Epistle to the Hebrews : It behoved Him, says the Apostle of the Gentiles, in all things to be made like unto His brethren (Heb. ii. 17) ; and again, in still more explicit language, he says to us : Because the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself in like manner hath been partaker of the same (Heb. ii. 14).
It is then very plainly shown that the Son of God at His coming into the world desired in His most holy Incarnation to regard us as His model. But why ? unless that He might, on His part, become our Pattern and Example. For as it is natural for men to receive some impression from what they behold, so, having found in the midst of us a God Who willed to resemble us, we from henceforth were firmly persuaded that there was no need to look any further afield in choosing a model for ourselves. He did not take hold of the Angels (Heb. ii.), because He had no desire to give a Model to the Angels ; but He took hold of the seed of Abraham, because He willed to serve as a Pattern to the race of that Patriarch ; not to his seed according to the flesh, but to that spiritual seed which was to follow in the footprints of His Faith, that is, to the children of the New Covenant.
Thus we have in Jesus Christ a living Law, an inspired Rule of life and conduct. He who does not desire to live as Jesus Christ lived does not desire to be a Christian. This is why the Holy Scriptures with one unvarying voice preach to us that His life and actions are our example ; so that we are not even permitted to imitate the Saints except in as far as they imitated their Divine Master ; and St. Paul would never have dared to say with all the boldness and liberty of an Apostle, Be ye followers of me, had he not immediately added, as I also am of Christ (i Cor. xi. i). And again, the same Apostle, writing to the Thessalonians, says : You became followers of us, and, he adds, of the Lord (i Thess. i. 6) ; in order to make us understand that however great an example may be offered to us by the Christian life, it is not worthy of the name unless it be formed upon Jesus Christ Himself.
And yet, accepting this truth, do not for one moment imagine that I am setting before you an undertaking of impossible magnitude. Let me prove the contrary by a very simple illustration. In a painting, any famous work of a great master which we are wishing and preparing to copy, two points have to be considered: the perfection and the details of the original. The copy, if it is to be a faithful one, must reproduce all the details of the great master's work ; but as to attaining to its perfection, that would be more than one could dare to hope. So too it is with the perfection of our Divine Master. I do not tell you that you can ever reach it, ever arrive at that supreme height of excellence which is always reserved for the great original, but I do tell you that you ought to copy Him in the minutest details of His most holy life, following out as far as is possible His own guiding rule and principle, striving to grow like Him, because He deigned to become like us. He took, says the Apostle, all our weaknesses, sin only excepted (Heb. iv. 15) ; therefore we ought to take to ourselves all His virtues. He clothed Himself really and truly and wholly with our flesh ; and we ought also really and truly and wholly, as far as is permitted to man, to clothe ourselves with the fulness of His spirit ; because, as the Apostle tells us, if any man has not the Spirit of Jesus Christ he is none of His (Rom. viii. 9).
And now it remains for us to consider what is this spirit of Jesus, what we really mean by it. Well, even the most superficial study of Holy Scripture will suffice to convince us that it is a vigorous spirit, nourished by suffering, delighting in pains and afflictions. This is why the Prophet calls Him the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with infirmity (Isa. liii. 3). Does not this very phrase seem to tell us that the Eternal Wisdom from the first moment of His entrance into the world resolved to know nothing but affliction ? To me it speaks of that knowledge which the Schools call experimental ; and if we rightly understand its meaning, we shall realize that Jesus Christ, in the midst of those varied objects which on all sides appeal to our senses, never Himself tasted of any sweetness ; that He never desired to know by experience anything but what was bitter and painful, nothing but sorrows and sufferings : truly and actually a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with infirmities. Not a single portion of His being failed to pass through the crucible of some keen and exquisite agony, because He desired to know by fullest experience every detail of that wonderful science which He came into the world to teach the mystery of pain, the science of suffering.
And most certain it is that our Divine Lord was so absolutely born only to endure, and that to do this was so truly His sole employment, His daily practice, that when He saw the end of His sufferings at hand He no longer desired to prolong His life on earth. This fact we know from an incident recorded by St. John, himself an eye-witness of the Saviour s death upon the Cross. Hanging there, exhausted, dying, the Man of Sorrows, knowing that He has endured all that had been foretold by prophecy, excepting the tasting of that bitter drink which was to be brought to Him in His agonizing thirst, calls aloud for this with a piercing cry, not willing to lose one single drop in the chalice of His Passion : / thirst. And when His parched tongue has been touched by that unquenching bitter drink, when this last outrage has satisfied the undying hatred of His enemies, then the Crucified Redeemer, seeing that in the Eternal Decrees nothing more remained for Him to suffer, speaks again from the Cross : It is consummated (John xix. 30) ; there is nothing more for Me to do in this world. Nothing more, O Man of Sorrows, Thou Who hast come among us to learn what are our infirmities ; there are now no further sufferings left for Thee to experience ; Thy knowledge is perfected, its measure is filled up to the brim, the whole catalogue of human woes and agonies has been run through, now death may come as soon as it pleases Thee ; yes, death may come to close Thy mortal life.
And indeed so it was : Bowing His head, He gave up the ghost (John xix. 30).
This picture stirs your emotions, but we must add to it yet another detail, to make you understand the full extent of our Divine Lord s thirst for suffering. He willed to endure much more than the redemption of our nature demanded ; and for this reason. If He had confined Himself to the endurance of those sufferings only which the necessity of expiating our sins required, we should not have formed a just estimate of His attitude towards suffering ; we might have been inclined to suspect that He regarded it rather as a necessary evil than as a desirable good. Therefore it was that it was not sufficient for Him to die for us, thus paying back to His Eternal Father by the sacrifice of Himself what the just vengeance of that Father demanded of the public Victim of all sinners. No, this was not enough. Beyond and above this mere discharge of debt, His mind projected itself into that region of strange mystic delight which we call suffer ing. In the words of Tertullian : He desires, before dying, to satiate Himself with the pleasures of enduring Following out the idea of this great writer, may we not say that the life of the Saviour was a banquet, at which the Divine Guest drank only of the waters of affliction, and ate only of the bitter herbs of sorrow and suffering ? Truly a strange banquet as the world reckons these things ! Yet Jesus found it sweet to His taste. His Death would have availed for our salvation, but would not have appeased His eager, ardent thirst for suffering ; therefore we see not only the Cross as it was reared aloft on Mount Calvary, but also grouped around it all the instruments of the Passion : the scourge, the lance, the nails, the crown of thorns terrible indeed to look upon, but chosen by Himself to satisfy that fervent, that unmeasurable longing.
Well, do you now understand a little better what I am trying to bring home to you as regards this law of suffering ? Can you see it written in sufficiently plain characters upon our Model ? Look upon Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith ; look upon Him in His Passion, in the throes of this supremest agony ; they are the birth-pangs of your own new life ; the grace which sanctifies you, the spirit which regenerates you flows down upon you, with His Precious Blood, from those torn and lacerated veins. Children of sorrow and anguish, do you think to save your souls in the midst of luxury and softness ? It is the fashion nowadays to make a sort of study of refinement, to affect perhaps even more fastidiousness than we actually feel. It is considered the right thing to draw the line of separation between ourselves and the vulgar crowd by avoiding the very smallest discomfort and inconvenience ; this (we think) proves that we have been brought up in an atmosphere of refinement and grandeur. Ah, what a miserable falling off in the standard of a Christian s life ! Is it possible that you think you can save your souls without bearing upon those souls the impress of the Saviour's character ? Do you not hear St. Peter telling you that Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps (i Peter ii. 21) ; and St. Paul preaching to us that we must be conformed to His death, that we may be sharers in His glorious Resurrection (Phil, iii. 10-11) ? Nay, do you not hear Jesus Christ Himself telling you that if you would march under His banner, you must make up your minds to carry your cross as He carried His (Luke xiv. 27) ? This bearing of the cross is the badge and token of our membership, our fellowship with Jesus Christ. His thirst for suffeing cannot be quenched unless He suffers in His whole Body and in all its members. Now we, says St. Paul, are members of His Body, of His Flesh and of His Bone (Ephes. v. 31). This is why the same Apostle even ventures to say that something is wanting in the Passion of Jesus Christ if He does not suffer in all the members of His Mystical Body, as by His own will He did in those of His natural Body (Col. i. 24). x
Ah ! how great a mystery this is ! Only by contemplation of Jesus in the Garden of the Agony and on the Hill of Crucifixion can we penetrate its depths. For as the Precious Blood then flowed so freely that every member, every part of the Sacred Body, was dyed with it, so, we learn, must the Church, His Mystical Body, and the faithful who are His members, be plunged into that crimson sea and marked with the impression of His Cross and Passion.
What then, you say ; if we are to give our blood to Jesus, must the Neros and Domitians and all the other persecutors of the Christian faith be revived ? and their cruel edicts be once again promulgated, delivering up innocent believers to public vengeance ? No, no, God forbid that the world to-day should be so hostile to the truth as it was in the days of our forefathers. There is another way in which we can give our very heart's blood to the Saviour ; and that is by suffering humbly all the afflictions that God may send us ; our cheerful resignation takes the place of martyrdom. And never fear lest material for the exercising of our patience should be wanting. Nature can supply us with infirmities enough to do the work of the racks and gyves of our forefathers. When God lays His hand upon us, trying us, either by sickness or bereavement or any other keen affliction, if we offer to Him in humble submission a heart wounded and bleeding, we are giving our blood to our Saviour ; and since we are told in the holy Epistles that the love of earth's perishable delights is as much a part of us as our very flesh and blood, then the curbing and restraining of that love which can only be rooted out by sheer force is the giving of our blood to Jesus.
Again, it is certain that all the work done truly for our Lord is a giving of our blood to Him. Let us work then for His glory ; not half-heartedly, but with great zeal, with a pure intention, with one aim only, with unwearying diligence. Again, what can be more pleasing to Jesus than our penitence ? The bitter tears which we shed for our sins, St. Augustine calls " the blood of our souls " ; and when we pour them forth before God, bewailing our ingratitude, are we not indeed giving Him blood ? I said too that nature never failed to supply us with food for patience. The perplexities of business, the injustice of the world, the inconstancy of friends, the unfair judgment of our neighbours, their contradicting tempers, our own infirmities of mind and body ah ! it is not the Gospel only, but the world and nature which will always impose upon us the law of suffering. It only remains for us to draw from that suffering the fruits which must be expected from every good Christian. Let us consider what those fruits are.
1 See the late Mgr. R. H. Benson s book Christ in the Church Part IV) for a development of this consideration.
THE PENITENT SUFFERER
Think for one moment of the Resurrection, of Jesus Christ coming forth from the Tomb crowned with glory and honour. Think of the dazzling radiance, the light of immortality shining from His Sacred Wounds and clothing His Divine Body in a robe brighter than the sun at noonday. Think of this ; it would be enough to convince you of the marvellous result produced by the right use of suffering. Yet our Divine Lord did not wait for that first Easter morning to teach us this. Without leaving His Cross, He taught us by a great example what are the consolations of those who suffer patiently. Not in His own Sacred Person that could not be, because to the very end He must be an example of absolute desolation and abandonment but in the Penitent Thief at His side, whom He inspired with such Christian piety, contrition, resignation in the midst of suffering, that He could with His own sacred lips promise him an eternal reward, the crown of a conqueror bestowed upon the spot. This day thou shalt be with Me (Luke xxiii. 43).
There is no need to enlarge upon the fact, so well known to every Christian, that God has a special love for all suffering souls. What I shall try to impress upon you is the cause of this love ; I should rather say the causes, for there are several. And the first that occurs to me is the contrition of a penitent heart. We know that a heart contrite and humbled by the remembrance of past sin is a sacrifice of great price in God s eyes and an oblation sweeter than all the perfumes of Arabia. But never is this sacrifice of humiliation more acceptable than when offered in the midst of suffering ; for we know by experience that many who are hardened and impenitent in the time of prosperity, never perhaps giving a thought to their crimes, yet, when pain and sorrow overtake them, often wake up suddenly to the consciousness of those sins and are ready to confess them. And this because deep down in our inmost soul there lurks a secret conviction of the justice of Almighty God, and at the same time of His infinite goodness towards His creatures ; so that even the obstinate sinner who in the whirl of pleasure has forgotten his sins and said in his heart that God has forgotten them (Ps. ix. 34), when struck by the thunderbolt of suffering, begins to fear His judgments and confesses with bitterness the disorders of his past life.
So it was with the Penitent Thief upon the Cross. He hears his comrade blaspheming, and wonders (with reason) that the vengeance which has overtaken him has not humbled him before Divine Justice. What I he cries, dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation ? You see how his terrible suffering recalls to his mind the fear of God and a vision of His judgments ; this brings him to a humble confession of his sins. As for us, he continues, we receive the due reward of our deeds (Luke xxiii. 41). See how he humbles himself, how he kisses the hand that strikes him, how he acknowledges and adores the justice that chastises him. This is the only means of changing that justice into mercy ; for God, Who desires not the ever lasting death of a sinner but only his conversion and salvation, never strikes in this life except to humble us and deliver us from eternal vengeance. Let us, then, at the first blow dealt by Divine Justice, humble ourselves in the dust, crying with our whole heart : We receive the punishment due to our sins (Luke xxiii. 41) ;
Thou art just, Lord, and Thy judgment is right (Ps. cxviii. 137). But more than this. Let us look upon Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith ; let us imitate the happy Thief who, having acknowledged himself to be a malefactor, turns a glance full of love and devotion upon the innocent Divine Sufferer at his side, crying aloud : But this Man hath done no evil ! (Luke xxiii. 41). This thought soothes his agony, for if the just endures ought the guilty to complain ? When we suffer, let us always console ourselves with this consideration. Jesus Christ the Guiltless suffered as we suffer, but He submitted to suffering in mercy to us ; we sinners have no choice, the inevitable law of justice imposes suffering upon us. Then, sinners as we are, let us suffer for the love of the Just, for love of the infinite Mercy which saves us, which exposes spotless Innocence to such ignominy ; let us suffer the salutary corrections of that Justice which indeed chastises, but which also protects and spares us. This is the sacrifice well-pleasing to God, this is the sweet-smelling holocaust ; with such feelings as those we shall take Heaven by storm, and the gates of Paradise will be opened to us : This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.
But afflictions do not only serve to make us conscious of our sins ; they are a spiritual furnace in which Christian virtue is tested and rendered worthy of the eyes of God Himself and of the perfection of the future state. That virtue must be tried as gold in the fire, is a well-known truth and constantly impressed upon us in the Holy Scriptures ; but we should remember that the fire not only tries gold, but it also makes its reality or its spuriousness known. If it is true metal, the fire purifies and refines it ; and this is exactly what afflictions do with regard to Christian virtue. Until it has been tried in the furnace of affliction, it is never assured. Just as we do not know what a soldier really is until he has been in battle, so it is with Christian virtue. It is not meant for show or display, but for use and for conflict ; it does not know itself till it has struggled and fought. This is why St. Paul will not give it leave to hope till it has been tried. He says : Patience worketh trial, and trial worketh hope (Rom. v. 4).
Ah ! what mistakes are made in this matter ! Men talk of the future life, they aspire to the crown of immortality ; and yet they live careless, self-indulgent lives, and when the trials come which God has planned for His servants, how does their faith, their apparent piety stand the test of affliction ? Loss of fortune, sickness, no matter what the trial may be alas, these souls are proved to be false metal ; it shone brightly enough in the sunlight, but it melts in the crucible ; it could deceive men by a vain show of virtue, but is not worthy of God or fit for life eternal.
No Christian worthy of the name should complain of losses, disappointments, bereavements, because he must know that even in our purest affections, in our most legitimate earthly interests, there mingles a something born of our love of the world, a dross which debases our fine gold, taints the perfection of our virtue. Ah, if you only realized, poor human heart, how easily that world gets hold of you, yes, and how easily yet insensibly you bend yourself to it, you would bless the loving Hand which violently snaps these cords by disturbing the even tenor of your life, and taking away these temporal goods to which your heart clung too fondly ! St. Augustine says : This man must learn by losing his possessions how much he sinned in loving them. Yes, and nothing but loss will convince us how frail and fleeting are all earthly joys, how imperishable and how incorruptible those eternal joys which we had perhaps almost forgotten. Thus a small evil will cure great ones, and the furnace of affliction will purify our virtue by separating it from its dross.
If we wish to realize the love of God for virtue thus perfected by suffering, we need only turn our eyes again upon that happy penitent, the dying Thief of whom I have already reminded you. Yes, we have looked upon him as a penitent perfected in that penitence by suffering, we have heard him acknowledging the justice of his condemnation ; but now regard him in another light. A saint, in all the grandeur of an ardent faith and a passionate devotion, speaks to the Divine Sufferer to Whose innocence he has just so boldly borne witness in the face of a raging multitude ; Lord, he cries, remember me when Thou earnest into Thy Kingdom (Luke xxiii. 42). Oh, boundless faith ! could anything surpass it ? A dying man sees Jesus dying and asks of Him life ! a crucified man sees Jesus crucified and asks of Him a Kingdom ; his eyes behold only Crosses, yet his faith only represents to him a Throne ! What faith ! what hope ! When we die we know that Jesus Christ lives, yet our wavering faith can scarcely trust in Him. This man sees Jesus dying with him, and places all his hope in Him ; and at what a time ! in the midst of what surroundings ! At a time when the whole world is condemning Jesus, when even His own are forsaking Him, it is reserved for him alone (says St. Augustine) to glorify Him on the Cross ; his faith began to blossom when that of even the Apostles had withered. The Disciples had forsaken Him Whom they knew to be the Author of life, and this man acknowledges as his Master the companion of his torture and death. Surely, says St. Augustine, he deserves to hold a high rank in the triumphant army of martyrs, since he, almost alone, remained close to Jesus, doing what they who should have been its leaders and captains would have done. Ah, happy thief ! now we know to what a height faith and piety can raise those who in the school of affliction learn to suffer with Jesus Christ. Happy thief ! this it was which drew for him those wonderful words of consolation from the lips of the Son of God : Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise (Luke xxiii. 43). This day ; how soon ! With Me ; what companionship ! In Paradise ; what rest !
But there are souls so callous that the gentler aspect of piety cannot soften them, and for such as these I must for a while dwell upon the terrible example of that other thief to whom the bitter suffering of the cross brought no repentance, and I must remind you of the consequent vengeance which descended upon him.
His example is sufficient to establish my position when I affirm that the cross, which is, if we will have it so, a certain pledge of mercy, may be turned by our own malice into an instrument of vengeance. So true is it, as says St. Augustine, that the point is not what we suffer, but in what spirit we suffer ; that the afflictions which God sends us may easily change their nature, according to the spirit in which we receive them.
The hardened and impenitent who suffer without being converted begin their hell even in this life. No need to try and call up before our shuddering imagination the terrible picture of that region of the lost where the fires that burn on to all eternity only make the blackness of darkness more visible, and where there is no silence but only the discordant clamour of wailing and moaning and despairing weeping. If you want a vivid picture of Hell and of a lost soul, look upon a man who suffers and has no thought of turning away from sin and being converted to God.
In fact, the distinguishing characteristic of Hell is not so much pain, but pain without repentance. Holy Scripture speaks of two sorts of fire that which purges, and that which consumes and devours. The fire shall try every mans work (i Cor. iii. 13). With devouring fire (Isa. xxiii. 14). The Gospel calls the latter a fire which is not extingiiished (Mark ix. 47), to distinguish it from that fire which is kindled only to purify us, and which never fails to die out when it has done its work.
Nothing on earth, then, can be more terrible than the condition of a man whom the chastening hand of God has not brought to repentance, because that condition is a foretaste of eternal damnation ; the man already bears its awful impress on his brow. It is of such as those that the Apocalypse says that God having afflicted them with horrible wounds, they blasphemed Him and did not penance (Apoc. xvi. 9). Truly their example should be a warning to us, teaching all sinners that it is not enough to suffer much, and that they must not persuade themselves that because this life has been full of pains and miseries the next will be one of peace and rest. Many are on the cross, yet far from the Crucified ; to some the cross is a grace, to others a vengeance. Was it not so with the two thieves ? Both were crucified with Jesus Christ one in that crucifixion found mercy, the other the utmost rigour of justice ; one by means of it worked out his salvation, the other by it began his damnation. The cross raised the patience of one to Paradise, it dashed the impenitence of the other down to Hell. Tremble then, sinners, in the midst of your sufferings ; fear lest instead of experiencing now a fire which shall in time purge you, you should kindle by your sins a flame which shall devour you through all eternity.
But as for you, loving and obedient children of Jesus Christ, whatever scourge may descend upon you, never for one moment believe that God forgets you. Never persuade yourselves that you are confounded with the wicked, although you are tried by the same afflictions as befall them, by the same wars and pestilences, bereavements and losses. The Lord knoweih who are His (2 Tim. ii. 19) ; He can separate His own from the confused ranks of suffering mortality. The same fire makes the gold glitter and the straw smoke. The same action of stirring, says St. Augustine, brings out the ill savour of mud and the sweet odour of perfumes. Good wine is not mistaken for the lees, though both are trodden in the same wine-press. Thus the same afflictions which reduce the wicked to despair, purify the just ; and though you may have to endure reproach, you will never be confounded if only you have courage and strength sufficient to know yourselves.
The hand of God, invisible to you but most assuredly there behind the things of sense, offers you this bitter potion of suffering, the true medicine of your souls. Take the cup calmly, nay, joyfully ; drink it to the very dregs, and thank the good Physician Whose love has mixed the draught for you. St. James bids us rejoice in every affliction that befalls us, knowing that the trial of our faith works patience, and that our patience must be perfect if we too would be perfect, wanting nothing. Blessed, he says, is the man who endures the temptations and miseries of this life, for when his virtue has been sufficiently tried he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him (Jas. i.). Remember that temptation will not last for ever ; yet a little while and this brief span of our earthly life will have passed like a winter's day in which morning and evening touch each other so closely. When a sick man parched with fever s thirst calls for drink, his nurses hurry to bring it ; yet to him it seems long before the longed-for draught moistens his lips. So it is with us. This day, says the Son of God. Fear not, it will be very soon. We call this life a day ; nay, it is but a moment ; only our weariness and infirmity make it seem long. When it is past, you will under stand how short it really was. Ah, when that future life opens upon you, then you will see and know indeed ! What ! are you still groaning under the weight of these present sufferings ? Why, you are but adding another woe to all the rest. Impatience, murmuring, will rob you of all the merit of your sufferings. You will add sin to misery. Be patient, suffer gladly ; then like the Penitent Thief you shall hear these blessed words : With Me in Paradise.
Necessity of Suffering by Fr Bousset
CONSOLING THOUGHTS ON SICKNESS AND DEATH.
by St Francis deSales
THE TIME OF SICKNESS.
When sick, offer all your sorrows, your languors, and your pains to the Lord, and beg of Him to unite them with the torments which He endured for you. Obey the doctor; take medicine, food, and other remedies, for the love of God, remembering the gall which He took for the love of you I desire to be cured in order to serve Him; do not refuse to languish in order to obey Him ; and dispose yourself to die, if He wishes it to be so, in order to praise and enjoy Him. Remember that bees, during the time in which they make honey, live on a very bitter kind of nourishment, and that in like manner we can never more properly elicit the great acts of meekness and patience, or better compose the honey of excellent virtues, than when we eat the bitter bread of tribulation and live in the midst of anguish. And as that honey which is made from the flowers of thyme, a small but bitter herb, is the best of all, so that virtue which is formed in the bitterness of pain and humiliation is the most excellent of all. Tribulation and sickness are well calculated to advance us in virtue, on account of the many resignations which they oblige us to make into the hands of Our Lord.'
Your body is weak; but charity, which is the nuptial robe, covers it.' A weak person excites all those who know him to a holy support, and gives them even a particular tenderness for him, provided he shows that he carries his cross lovingly and devoutly.
We must be equally free to take and ask for remedies, as sweet and courageous to support our illness. He who can preserve meekness in the midst of sorrows and sufferings, and peace in the midst of bustle and business, is almost perfect; and though there are few persons found, even in religion, who have attained to this degree of happiness, yet there are some, and there have been some in all times, and it is to this highest point we should aspire.
The life of a person in good health is almost entirely barren, and that of one in sickness may be a continual harvest: we must accommodate ourselves to necessity, and turn all to our eternal happiness. Ah! how little it matters if every thing dies in us, provided that God reigns and lives there! Evils often happen to us in order that, not having done much penance voluntarily for our sins, we may do some unavoidably. Let us, nevertheless, use suitable remedies,
* Sickness separates the Christian from the world and from all inebriation of the senses; it causes silence around him ; it changes his body, which is the usual instrument of his illusions and vain desires, into an altar of sacrifice and expiation ; the conversation of men is no longer sought for; every thing tells him to look inwards, and the Christian sufferer naturally finds himself alone with God but with such resignation that if the divine hand render them unavailing, we may acquiesce in its arrangement, and if it render them efficacious, we may bless it for its mercy. Oh! how little it were, though all the hours of our life were sad and full of affliction, provided that the hour of our death shall be happy and bring us true consolation I ought we not wish as much to live on Mount Calvary as on Mount Thabor? It is good to be with Our Lord, wherever He is, on the cross as well as in glory. The hand of God is equally amiable, when it dispenses afflictions and when it distributes consolations. We must not say a word against the decrees of the celestial will, which disposes of its own in accordance with its greater glory. It is not in our power to retain the consolations which God bestows upon us, unless the one of loving Him above all things, which is a favour supremely desirable. O God! how good a thing it is to live only in God, to labour only in God, and to rejoice only in God!
It is on this account that we must have patience not only to be sick, but to have the sickness God wishes, in the place where He wishes, among the persons whom He wishes, and with the inconveniences He wishes, obeying the physician in each and every thing (except as regards ejaculatory prayers, which he cannot and should not prohibit, if they be not too frequent), taking medicines, meats, and other remedies, for the love of God, remembering the gall which Our Lord took for the love of us, desiring to be cured in order to serve Him, not refusing to suffer in order to obey Him, and disposing ourselves to die, if He should so will it, in order to praise and enjoy Him.
Lord Jesus! what true happiness has a soul dedicated to God, in being well exercised in tribulations, before quitting this life!
How can we know a sincere and fervent love, unless we see it in the midst of thorns and crosses, and particularly when it is left among them for a long time?
Thus our dear Saviour testified His immeasurable love, by the measure of His labours and His Passion.
Manifest your love for the spouse of your heart on the bed of sorrow; it was on the bed of sorrow that He formed your heart, even before it was formed in the world, beholding it as yet only in His divine designs.
Alas! Our Saviour counted all your sorrows, all your sufferings, and purchased, at the price of His blood, the patience and the love that were necessary for you, in order to worthily refer your pains to His glory and your own salvation.
Be consoled in the thought that God sends you these crosses; for nothing comes from His divine hand but what is for the benefit of souls that fear Him, either to purify them or to confirm them in His holy love.
* " The remembrance which the saints in heaven have of their sufferings and humiliations, delights them; they celebrate them in their songs of gladness, and if they could have any regret, it would be that they had not suffered more. The saints who reign in heaven have taught these things to persons who are not there yet. Let us endeavour to remember this holy doctrine; it is understood by the saints.
"The great characteristic of sanctity is love of suffering, as its peculiar seal is spiritual joy; one produces the other.
Pains considered in themselves cannot be loved, but considered in their source, that is to say, in the divine will which appoints them, they are infinitely amiable. Behold the rod of Moses on the ground, it is a frightful serpent; see it in the hand of Moses, it is a wand of wonders. Behold tribulations in themselves, they are terrors; regard them in the will of God, they are delights You will be truly happy, if, with a heart filially loving, you receive that which Our Lord sends you from a heart paternally careful of your perfection.
Look often to the length of eternity, and you will not be troubled at the accidents of this mortal life.
If you have scarcely any gold or frankincense to offer to Our Lord, you have at least some myrrh, and I am sure He will accept it most willingly, for this fruit of life wished to be committed to the myrrh of bitterness, both at His birth and at His death.
Jesus glorified is beautiful; but although He is always infinitely good, He seems to be yet more beautiful, when crucified. Thus He wishes to be your spouse at present; in the future you will have Him glorified.
On what occasions can we make great acts of the union of our heart with the will of God, of the mortification of our self-love, and of the love of our own abjection, if not on these?
This is a mystery; but strive sincerely to enter into it, and you will find that I have reason for what I say.
"Let us not speak ill of the cross; it has been sent to us to warn us, to detach us from the earth, to conduct us to our end. Let us leave it only to cast ourselves into God. We have much need of suffering ... let us suffer well!"—-E -,De Savignan.
God wishes thus to exercise our heart. It is not severity, it is clemency. Let not our will, but His most holy will, be done.
Let us have good courage, for, provided that our heart is faithful to Him, He will not load us above our strength, and He will carry our burden with us, when He sees that with a good affection we bow down our shoulders beneath it.
I desire your advancement in solid piety, and this advancement has its difficulties, given to train you in the school of the cross, in which alone our souls can be perfected.
Be assured that my heart expects the day of your consolation with as much ardour as your own; but wait, wait, I say, while waiting, to use the words of the Holy Scripture. Now, to wait while waiting means not to be disquieted while waiting; for there are many who, while waiting, do not wait, but are troubled and uneasy.
It is not with spiritual rose-bushes as with material ones; on the latter the thorns remain and the roses pass away, on the former the thorns pass away and the roses remain.
It is a great error to imagine that the services we render to God, without relish, without tenderness of heart, are little agreeable to Him, since, on the contrary, our actions are just like roses, which, while fresh, have more beauty; being, nevertheless, dry, they have more perfume and strength. In the very same manner, while our works performed with tenderness of heart are more agreeable to us, to us, I say, who desire only our own pleasure; yet, being done in aridity, they have more excellence and merit before God.
For to love God in sugar, little children could nearly do as much; but to love Him in senna, that is the proof of a loving fidelity.
To say: Live Jesus on Thabor! St. Peter, rough as he was, had enough courage; but to say: Live Jesus on Calvary! that belonged only to the Mother, and the beloved disciple who was left to her as a child.
Oh! how blessed, my dear souls, will all those be who will not be scandalized at the opprobriums and ignominies of Our Lord, and who, during this life, will be crucified with Him, meditating on His Passion, carrying His mortification about with them, and not being ashamed to see that He was the scorn, the refuse, and the outcast of the world !*
Beyond a doubt, if we wish to be saved, we must attach ourselves to the cross of Our Saviour, meditate on it, and carry about His mortification in our bodies: * " The same God sanctified both Thabor and Calvary, to make us understand the mysterious union that exists between ignominy and glory: they ought to be the same to us. We should remember that in consolation or in temptation, God is ever the same Being in our regard; He is always a Saviour, always great, always powerful, always turned towards us with infinite love. Let us then say on every occasion: God is always the same, this thought suffices for me, I wait for Him, ... If Jesus shows His glory and splendour to His apostles, it is to lead them afterwards to the cross, it is to prepare them for sacrifice and immolation. In undertaking the labour of sanctification, we must always say: The joy of Thabor may be given sometimes on earth, but only for a very short and almost indiscernible time. Pain is what is regularly given us, to establish us in devotedness and zeal."—P. Ravignan.
there is no other way to heaven; Our Lord passed by it first. As many ecstacies, elevations of soul, and raptures as you please; ascend, if you can, even to the third heaven with St. Paul; but still, if you do not remain on the cross of Our Lord and exercise yourself in mortification, I tell you that all the rest is vanity, and that you will remain void of every good, without virtue, and liable to be scandalized with the Jews at the Passion of our Divine Saviour. In fine, there is no other gate by which to enter into heaven than by that of humiliation and mortification.
CHAPTER II. SPIRITUAL ADVANCEMENT IN SICKNE8S.*" When every thing in the world smiles on us, we easily attach ourselves to it: the enchantment is too powerful and the attraction too strong. If God loves us, be assured that He will not allow us to repose at our ease in this land of exile. He disturbs us in our vain amusements, He interrupts the course of our imaginary felicity, lest we should be carried away by the rivers of Babylon, that is to say, by the current of transitory pleasures. Believe, then, O children of the new alliance! that when God sends you afflictions, He wishes to break the bonds which attach you to the world and to recall you to your true country.”—Bossuet.
But, you say, you can scarcely fix your mind on the fatigues which Our Lord endured for you, so long as your sorrows press upon you. Very well! it is not necessary that you should do so, but only that, as frequently as you can, you should lift up your heart to Our Saviour, making some acts like the following:—
1. Accepting this sorrow from His hand, as if you saw Him actually laying it upon your head.
2. Offering yourself to suffer still more.
3. Conjuring Him, by the merit of His torments, to accept these little inconveniences which you endure in union with the pains which he suffered on the cross.
4. Declaring that you wish not only to suffer, but to love and caress these evils, being sent from so good and so kind a father.
5. Invoking the martyrs and the many holy men and women who now enjoy heaven for having been afflicted on earth.
There are many persons who, when sick or afflicted in any manner whatever, take care not to complain, or to act delicately, because they think with reason that this would be a weakness and an immortification; yet at the same time they earnestly desire and act in such a manner that every one should pity them, that every one should compassionate their lot, that every one should look upon them as not only afflicted, but also patient and courageous. Now, I acknowledge there is patience in this, but it is a false patience, which, in fact, is no other thing than a most refined pretence and subtle vanity. They have glory, says the Apostle, but not in the eyes of God. The true patient does not complain of his sickness, or desire to be pitied; he speaks of it sincerely, truthfully, and simply, without bewailing himself, without being angry, without making his malady appear worse than it is. And if he is pitied, he suffers patiently to be pitied, unless that he is . pitied for something which he does not suffer; for then he modestly declares he does not suffer that, and remains thus peacefully between truth and patience, telling his sickness and not complaining of it.
There is no harm in desiring a remedy; on the contrary, we should carefully endeavour to procure it; for God, who sends you sickness, is also the author of remedies.
Nevertheless, you must employ those remedies with such resignation that if His Divine Majesty wishes the sickness to overcome them, you may acquiesce therein, and if He wishes the remedies to overcome the disease, you may bless Him.*
My God! how happy you are, if you continue thus under the hand of God, humbly, sweetly, and unaffectedly!
Ah! I hope that this pain in your head will much benefit your heart. It is now more than ever, and on the best assurance, you can show to our sweet Saviour that with all your affliction you said and say: Live Jesus!
* " As to the motives you may take for the preservation of your health, besides that of obedience, which delivers you from all self-seeking, you ought to consider your body as the temple of the Holy Ghost, who has made you its guardian, and that, as it is not your own, you must render an account of it to its Master. You ought to do the same for it, as if you were responsible for a chapel which was falling to ruin, and which you were obliged to repair. Moreover, your body is a member of Jesus Christ; be careful then of it, as if Our Lord would complain of the ill treatment He had received from you. Treat it, again, like that of a third person, to whom you would render a charity. And, in fine, remember that, as a child of God the Father, you belong to His family, and He wishes your body to be taken care of, and to be kept up. It belongs to Him, He has purchased it with the blood of His Son, He has a right over it, and He wishes us to preserve it, that we may employ it in His service."—M. Olier.
Live Jesus! and may He reign in the midst of our sorrows, since we cannot reign or live but by those of His death!
Hope then always in Him; and to hope in Him, belong always to Him. Often immolate your heart to His love, even on the altar of the cross, on which He immolated His for the love of you. The cross is the royal gate by which we enter into the temple of sanctity.
If envy could reign in the kingdom of eternal love, the angels would envy two prerogatives in man: one is that our Lord endured the cross for us, and not for them, at least not so entirely; the other, that men endure something for Our Lord: the suffering of God for man, and the suffering of man for God.*
Remembering the cross you carry, I say to you: Love your cross well, for it is all of gold if you regard it with eyes of love; and while, on the one side, you behold the love of your heart dead and crucified amid nails and thorns, you will find, on the other, an assemblage of precious pearls to com * Perfection does not consist in consolation, but in the submission of oar will to God, especially in times of bitterness. Let us bear in mind that the obedience of Jesus Christ became perfect when His tongue and His mouth were burning, and when His cruel thirst was increased by vinegar and gall: we ought to value more the aridity and desolation of a submissive soul than the loving languor and delicious sweetness of an overflowing devotion.
pose the crown of glory which awaits you, if, while awaiting it, you lovingly carry the crown of thorns with your King, who so much desired to suffer before entering into His felicity.'
Let our dear Jesus crucified then rest for ever as a bouquet on your bosom; yes, for His nails are more desirable than carnations, and His thorns than roses. My God! how I desire that you should be holy, and all odoriferous with the perfumes of the Saviour!
The Our Father which you say for the head-ache is not forbidden; but, my God! no, I would not have courage to ask Our Lord, by the pain He had in His head, that I might not have any pains in mine. Ah! did He suffer, that we might not suffer? * St. John Damascene teaches us that the Son of God deified all the goods of this life by His incarnation, and all its evils by His passion; that, in a manner, He united them hypostatically to His Divinity; so that, as we adore what touched the body of Jesus Christ, we should adore evils of every kind, because they have entered into His heart; there is not one of them which did not touch His sacred body, or was not embraced by the desires of His holy soul. This was St. Anselm's thought when he said that he adored all the evils of this life as so many sacraments. The sacraments produce grace in those who receive them worthily; so the cross sanctifies those who touch it; and as the Son of God is always present in the sacrament of the Eucharist, so we can say with truth that He is found present in our afflictions. Hence that burning expression of faith and love in the mouth of a holy religious, prostrate at the feet of a sick man: I adore Jesus Christ in this suffering body; my faith shows Sim to me in a manner less real, but more sensible than in the consecrated host. I see Sim present, not only as a physician is with his patient, a father with his son, a friend with his friend, but as the soul is with the body, the head with its members.
St. Catherine of Sienna seeing that her Saviour presented her with two crowns, one of gold, the other of thorns: "Oh, I wish for the crown of sorrow," said she, "in this world; the other will do for heaven!" I would desire to employ the crowning of Our Lord to obtain a crown of patience around my head-ache.
Live entirely among the thorns of the Saviour's crown, and say continually: Live Jesus! Our flesh is very delicate in not desiring anything unpleasant, but still the repugnance which you feel do not show a want of love. For, as I think, if we believed that by being flayed alive, He would love us more, we would have ourselves flayed alive, not indeed without repugnance, but in spite of repugnance.
Do not say that you would wish to recover your health in order the better to love and serve God; for, on the contrary, it would be only the better to serve your own contentment, which you would prefer to the contentment of God. The will of God is as good in sickness as it is in health, and is usually better. And if we love health better, let us not say it is the better to serve God; for who does not see that it is health we seek in the will of God, and not the will of God in health?
Poor and contemptible creatures that we are, we can hardly do anything good in this miserable life, except to endure some adversity. We seldom do God a service on one side, but we undo it on another. If by an action we desire to unite ourselves to Him, we often separate ourselves from Him by the evil circumstances which accompany it. On this account, it is good to quit him in sweetness to serve Him humbly in bitterness.
We must act with Our Lord by serving Him faithfully so long as health is good, and suffer with Him by patient endurance, when He sends us sorrows and afflictions.
Judge now, Theotime, whether you should regret the time you spend under the pressure of suffering, since in each one of those moments you may earn an eternal crown. How many crowns in an hour! how many in a day! how many in a year! Oh, what treasures! what glory for heaven I "I would prefer one of those days," says a holy religious, "to all the exploits of conquerors." When we think on eternity, where there will be nothing more to suffer, where we can give nothing more to God, and where God will have nothing more to do but to load us with His gifts, all the miseries of this life appear infinitely amiable, and there is not a moment which ought not to be a moment of the cross or of humiliation. How precious then is the time of this life, and how holy is its use, when joined with pain and bitterness!
The heart united to the heart of God cannot refrain from loving Him, or from accepting willingly the arrows which the hand of God shoots at it. St. Blandina found no greater relief amid the wounds of her martyrdom than the sacred thought which she expressed in these few words : l am a Christian. Blessed is the heart that knows how to breathe this sigh!
The only cure for the most of our maladies and infirmities, whether corporal or spiritual, is patience and conformity to the divine will, resigning ourselves to the good-pleasure of God, without reserve or exception, in health, in sickness, in contempt, in honour, in consolation, in desolation, in time, and in eternity; willingly accepting pains of mind and body from His most amiable hand, as if we saw it present; offering ourselves to endure even more, should it appear good to Him. No one can tell how pure and meritorious such an acceptance of the will of God renders our sufferings, when, with meekness, patience, and love, we receive the afflictions which we must endure, in consideration of the eternity during which God has willed them, and because they are now conformable to His providence. As soon as the divine good-pleasure appears, we should immediately range ourselves on its side.
You are aware that the fire which Moses saw in the desert was a figure of holy love, and that, as its flames were nourished in the midst of thorns, so the exercises of sacred love are performed much better in the midst of tribulation than in the midst of comfort.*
* "What can the soldier hope for, whose captain disdains to prove him? But, on the other hand, if the soldier is exercised in a variety of laborious undertakings, he has reason to expect promotion. O delicate piety, which never tasted afflictions, piety nurtured in the shade and in repose! I hear thee discourse of the future life; thou pretendest to the crown of immortality, but thou shouldst not reverse the order of the Apostle: "Patience produces trial, and trial, hope." If that thou expectest the glory of God, come, that I may put thee to the test which God has proposed for His servants. Here is a disaster, a loss of goods, a contradiction, a sickness; what! thou beginnest to murmur, O poor disconcerted piety! thou canst not endure it, 0 piety without strength or foundation! Ah, thou didst never deserve the name of Christian piety, thou wast only a vain phantom; thou didst glitter like gold in the sun, but thou couldst not bear the fire of the crucible; thou mayest deceive men by a false appearance, but thou art not worthy of God, or of the purity of the future kingdom.”—Bossuet.
You have then good reason to know that Our Lord desires you to profit by His love, since He sends you such health as is always uncertain, and many other trials. My God! how sweet a thing it is to see Our Lord crowned with thorns on the cross and with glory in heaven! For this encourages us to receive contradictions lovingly, knowing well that by the crown of thorns we shall arrive at the crown of felicity. Keep yourself ever closely attached to Our Lord, and you will meet with no evil that will not be converted into good.
Often look with the interior eyes of your soul on Jesus Christ crucified, naked, blasphemed, calumniated, abandoned, overwhelmed with every kind of weariness, disgust, and sadness; and consider that all your sorrows are not at all comparable to His, either in kind or in degree, and that you will never suffer anything approaching to that which He has suffered for you.
Consider the pains which the martyrs endured formerly, and those which so many persons endure even at this day, greater beyond all proportion than any which afflict you, and say: "Alas! my labours are consolations, and my pains are roses, if I compare myself with those who, without resources, without sympathy, without any alleviation, live in a continual death, overwhelmed with afflictions, a thousand times greater than mine."
We do not think of death; and you, being in health, are obliged to think no longer of life. We avoid the cross of Jesus Christ; and He Himself nails you to it. We do not wish to feel the efficacy of sufferings, for we desire to be virtuous without patience; and Our Lord, who loves you more than you can love yourself, applies Himself till He is tired to purify you, while perhaps He leaves others to themselves.
Oh, how happy you are to have something to suffer for Our Lord, who, having founded the Church militant and triumphant on the cross, always favours those who carry the cross! Since you cannot remain very long in this world, it is well that the little time you do spend in it should be employed in suffering.
If I had anything to desire, it would be that my death should be preceded by a long illness; for, by this means, the affection of my friends would relent, and they would no longer have so much care of visiting me. The diligence, in like manner, of my servants would gradually diminish, and every one would receive comfort by my death.
Consoling Thoughts St Francis de Sales
Te DeumTHE 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.
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A Sermon on the Apostleship of Prayer
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.
******** - Latin Translations added by webmaster
Sermon on the Apostleship of Prayer by Rev. Father Ramiere, S.J.
Book on the Apostleship of Prayer by Rev. Father Ramiere, S.J.
from the SSPX Asia site.
This essay by Fr. Roger Calmel, O.P. (1914-75) helps us in these difficult times to preserve our love of the Church. More than 30 years after its first publication, this article retains all its relevance, so much so that it even seems to have been written for our time, in which the crisis in the Church deepens at an unprecedented pace.
This essay will help the reader to think clearly, keep the Faith, and maintain serenity in the troubled times we are navigating.
“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 holder2of 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.
And we all know that it involves something other than the iniquities, in a sense private, which the holders of the Roman primacy were too often wont to commit during the course of history. In those cases the victims, more or less maltreated, could recover from it relatively easily by being more vigilant over their personal sanctification. We must always watch over our sanctification. Only, and this is what was never seen in the past to such a degree, the iniquity allowed to happen by the one who today occupies the throne of Peter consists in his abandoning the very means of sanctification to the maneuvers of the innovators and the negators. He allows sound doctrine, the sacraments, the Mass, to be systematically undermined. This throws us into a great danger. If sanctification has not been rendered all together impossible, it is much more difficult. It is also much more urgent.
At such a perilous juncture, is it still possible for the simple faithful, the little sheep of the immense flock of Jesus Christ and His vicar not to lose heart, not to become the prey of an immense apparatus which progressively reduces them to changing their faith, worship, religious habit, and religious life-in a word, to changing their religion?
Ah! Rome has hurt me! It would be truly meet and just to repeat gently to oneself the words of truth, the simple words of supernatural doctrine learned in catechism, so as not to add to the harm, but rather to let oneself be profoundly persuaded by the teaching of Revelation, that one day Rome will be healed; that the impostor Church will soon be officially unmasked. Suddenly it will crumple into dust, because its principal strength comes from the fact that its intrinsic lie passes for truth, since it has never been effectively disavowed from above. In the midst of such great distress, one would like to speak in words that are not out of phase with the mysterious, wordless discourse that the Holy Ghost murmurs to the heart of the Church.
But where shall I begin? Doubtlessly, by recalling the first truth touching the dominion of Jesus Christ over His Church. He wanted a Church having at its head the Bishop of Rome, who is His visible vicar and at the same time the Bishop of the bishops and of the entire flock. He conferred upon him the prerogative of the rock so that the edifice might never collapse. He prayed that he at least, among all the bishops, not make shipwreck of the faith, so that, having converted after the failures from which he would not necessarily be preserved, he confirm his brethren in the faith; or, if it is not himself in person who confirms his brethren, that it be one of his closest successors.
Such is undoubtedly the first consoling thought that the Holy Ghost suggests to our hearts in these desolate days in which Rome has been at least partially invaded by darkness: there is no Church without the infallible vicar of Christ endowed with the primacy. Moreover, whatever the miseries, even in the religious domain, of this visible and temporary vicar of Jesus Christ, it is still Jesus Himself who governs His Church, and who governs His vicar in the government of the Church; who governs in such wise that His vicar cannot engage his supreme authority in the upheavals or betrayals that would change the religion. For, by virtue of His sovereignly efficacious Passion, the divine power of Christ’s regency in heaven reaches that far. He conducts His Church both from within and from without, and He has dominion over the antagonistic world.
The strategy of modernism has been elaborated in two stages: firstly, to get heretical parallel authorities whose strings they pull to be mixed with the regular hierarchy; then, engage in a self-styled pastoral activity for universal renewal which either omits or systematically falsifies doctrinal truth, which refuses the sacraments, or which makes the rites doubtful. The great cunning of the modernists is to use this pastoral approach from Hell, both to transmute the holy doctrine confided by the Word of God to His hierarchical Church, and then to alter or even annul the sacred signs, givers of grace, of which the Church is the faithful dispenser.
Indeed, there is a head of the Church who is always infallible, always impeccable, always holy, with no interruption or halt in his work of sanctification. And that head is the one head, for all the others, even the highest, merely hold their authority by him and for him. Now, this head, holy and without stain, absolutely separated from sinners and elevated above the heavens, is not the Pope; it is he of whom the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks so magnificently; it is the Sovereign High Priest, Jesus Christ.
Before ascending into heaven and becoming invisible to our eyes, Jesus, our Redeemer by the Cross, wanted to establish for His Church, above and beyond numerous particular ministers, a unique universal minister, a visible vicar, who alone holds supreme jurisdiction. He heaped him with prerogatives:
Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Mt. 16:18-19).
Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs....Feed my sheep (Jn. 21:16-18).
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren (Lk.22:32).
Now, if the Pope is the visible vicar of Jesus, who has ascended into the invisible heavens, he is nothing more than vicar: vices gerens, he holds the place but he remains another. The grace that gives life to the mystical Body does not derive from the Pope. Grace, for the Pope as for us, derives from the one Lord Jesus Christ. The same holds for the light of Revelation. He has a singular role as the guardian of the means of grace, of the seven sacraments as well as of revealed truth. He is specially assisted to be the guardian and faithful servant. Yet, for his authority to receive a privileged assistance in its exercise, it must not fail to be exerted. Besides, if he is preserved from error when he engages his authority in such a way that it is infallible, he can err in other cases. But should he do wrong in matters that do not engage papal infallibility, that does not prevent the unique head of the Church, the invisible High Priest, from continuing the governance of His Church; it changes neither the efficacy of His grace nor the truth of His law. It cannot make Him powerless to limit the failings of His visible vicar nor to procure, without too much delay, a new and worthy Pope, to repair what his predecessor allowed to be spoiled or destroyed, for the duration of the insufficiencies, weaknesses, and even partial betrayals of a Pope do not exceed the duration of his mortal existence.
Since He has returned to heaven, Jesus has chosen and procured 263 Popes. Some, just a small number, have been such faithful vicars that we invoke them as friends of God and holy intercessors. A still smaller number have fallen into very serious breaches. Yet the great number have been suitable. None of them, while still Pope, has betrayed nor could betray to the point of explicitly teaching heresy with the fullness of his authority. This being the situation of each Pope and of the succession of Popes in relation to the head of the Church who reigns in heaven, the weaknesses of one Pope must not make us forget in the least the solidity and the sanctity of our Savior’s dominion, nor prevent us from seeing the power of Jesus and His wisdom, who holds in His hand even the inadequate Popes, and who contains their inadequacy within strict bounds.
But to have this confidence in the sovereign, invisible head of the Church without straining to deny the serious failings from which, despite his prerogatives, the visible vicar, the Bishop of Rome, the key-bearer of the kingdom of heaven, is not necessarily exempt; in order to place in Jesus this realistic trust which does not evade the mystery of the successor of Peter with his heaven-guaranteed privileges and his human fallibility; so that this overwhelming distress caused by the occupant of the papacy might be subsumed in the theological virtue of hope we place in the Sovereign Priest, obviously our interior life must be centered on Jesus Christ, and not the Pope. It goes without saying that our interior life, while taking into account the Pope and the hierarchy, must be established, not in the hierarchy and in the Pope, but in the Divine Pontiff, in the priest which is the Word Incarnate, Redeemer, on whom the visible, supreme vicar depends even more than the other priests: More than the others, for he is in the hand of Jesus Christ in view of a function without equivalent among the others. More than any other, and in a more eminent and unique way, he cannot leave off confirming his brethren in the faith-he or his successor.
The Church is not the mystical body of the Pope; the Church with the Pope is the mystical Body of Christ. When the interior life of Christians is more and more focused on Jesus Christ, they do not despair, even when they suffer an agony over the failings of a Pope, be it an Honorius I or the rival Popes of the Middle Ages, or be it, at the extreme limit, a Pope who fails according to the new possibilities of failing offered by modernism. When Jesus Christ is the principle and soul of the interior life of Christians, they do not feel the need to lie to themselves about the failures of a Pope in order to remain assured of his prerogatives; they know that these failures will never reach such a degree that Jesus would cease to govern His Church because He would have been effectively prevented by His vicar. He would yet hold such an erring Pope in His hand, preventing him from ever engaging his authority for the perversion of the faith which he received from above.
An interior life centered as it should be on Jesus Christ and not on the Pope would not exclude the Pope, or else it would cease to be a Christian interior life. An interior life focused as it should be on the Lord Jesus thus includes the vicar of Jesus Christ and obedience to this vicar, but God served first; that is to say, that this obedience, far from being unconditional, is always practiced in the light of theological faith and the natural law.
We live by and for Jesus Christ, thanks to His Church, which is governed by the Pope, whom we obey in all that is of his purview. We do not live by and for the Pope as if he had acquired for us eternal redemption; that is why Christian obedience can not always nor in everything identify the Pope with Jesus Christ. What ordinarily happens is that the vicar of Christ governs sufficiently in conformity with the Apostolic tradition so as not to provoke major conflicts in the consciences of docile Catholics. But occasionally it can be otherwise. And exceptionally things can be such as to cause the faithful to legitimately wonder how they can hold fast to tradition if they follow the directives of this Pope?
The interior life of a son of the Church who would set aside the articles of Faith concerning the Pope, obedience to his legitimate orders, and prayer for him would have ceased to be Catholic. On the other hand, an interior life which includes yielding to the Pope unconditionally, that is to say, blindly in everything and always, is an interior life which is necessarily subject to human respect, which is not free with regard to creatures, which is exposed to many occasions of compromise. In his interior life, the true son of the Church having received with his whole heart the articles of the faith with regard to the vicar of Christ prays for him faithfully and obeys him willingly, but only in the light, that is to say, only while the Apostolic tradition and, of course, the natural law are preserved whole and entire.
Holy Church, Sinful Churchmen
Let us remember the great prayer at the beginning of the Roman Canon, in which the priest, having earnestly implored the most clement Father by His Son Jesus Christ, to sanctify the spotless sacrifice offered in first place for Ecclesia tua sancta catholica, continues thus: “...una cumfamulo tuo Papa nostro...et Antistite nostro....” The Church has never envisaged him saying: “una cum SANCTO famulo tu Papa nostro et SANCTO Antistite nostro,’“ while she does have him say, “for Thy HOLY Church.” The Pope, unlike the Church, is not necessarily holy. The Church is holy with sinful members, among whom are we ourselves; sinful members who, alas! do not pursue or no longer pursue holiness. It can even happen that the Pope himself figures in this category. God knows. In any case, the condition of the head of the holy Church being what it is, that is to say not necessarily that of a saint, we should not let ourselves be scandalized if trials, sometimes very cruel trials, befall the Church because of her visible head in person. We must not let ourselves be scandalized from the fact that, subjects of the Pope, we cannot, after all, follow him blindly, unconditionally, always and in all.
The Lord, by the Pope and the hierarchy-by the hierarchy subject to the Pope-governs His Church in such a way that it is always secure in the possession and understanding of its tradition. On the truths of the catechism, on the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice and on the sacraments, on the fundamental structure of the hierarchy, on the states of life and the call to perfect love, let us say on all the major points of tradition, the Church is assisted in such way that any baptized Catholic having the faith clearly knows what he must hold. Thus the simple Christian who, consulting tradition on a major point known to all, would refuse to follow a priest, a bishop, an episcopal conference, or even a Pope who would ruin tradition on this point, would not, as some charge, be showing signs characteristic of private judgment or pride; for it is not pride or insubordination to discern what the tradition is on major points, or to refuse to betray them. Whatever may be the collegiality of bishops, for example, or the secretary of the Roman Congregation who uses subterfuge to arrange things so that Catholic priests end up celebrating the Mass without giving any mark of adoration, no exterior sign of faith in the sacred mysteries, every faithful Catholic knows that it is inadmissible to celebrate Mass making this display of non-faith. One who would refuse to go to such a Mass is not exercising private judgment; he is not a rebel. He is a faithful Catholic established in a tradition that comes from the Apostles and which no one in the Church can change. For no one in the Church, whatever his hierarchical rank, be it ever so high, no one has the power to change the Church or the Apostolic tradition.
On all the major points, the Apostolic tradition is quite clear. There is no need to scrutinize it through a magnifying glass, nor to be a cardinal or a prefect of some Roman dicastery to know what is against it. It is enough to have been instructed by the catechism and the liturgy prior to the modernist corruption.
Too often, when it is a question of not cutting oneself off from Rome, the faithful and priests have been formed in the sense of a partly worldly fear in such a way that they feel panic-stricken, that they are shaken in their consciences and they no longer examine anything once the first passer-by accuses them of not being with Rome. A truly Christian formation, on the contrary, teaches us to be careful to be in union with Rome not in fear or without discernment, but in light and peace according to a filial fear in the Faith.
For it must be said, first of all, that on the major points the tradition of the Church is established, certain, irreformable; then, that every Christian instructed in the rudiments of the Faith, knows them without hesitation; thirdly, that it is faith and not private interpretation which makes us discern them, just as it is obedience, piety and love, and not insubordination, which make us uphold this tradition; fourthly, that the attempts of the hierarchy or the weaknesses of the Pope which would tend to upset this tradition or let this tradition be upset will one day be overturned, while Tradition will triumph.
Tradition Will Triumph
We are at peace on this point. Whatever may be the hypocritical arms placed by modernism in the hands of the episcopal collegialities and even of the vicar of Christ, tradition will indeed triumph: solemn baptism, for example, which includes the anathemas against the accursed devil will not be excluded for long; the tradition of not absolving sins except after individual confession will not be excluded for long; the tradition of the traditional Catholic Mass, Latin and Gregorian, with the language, Canon, and gestures in conformity with the Roman Missal of St. Pius V, will soon be restored to honor; the tradition of the Catechism of Trent, or of a manual exactly in conformity with it, will be restored without delay.
On the major points of dogma, morals, the sacraments, the states of life, the perfection to which we are called, the tradition of the Church is known by the members of the Church whatever their rank. They hold fast to it without a bad conscience, even if the hierarchical guardians of this tradition try to intimidate them or throw them into confusion; even if they persecute them with the bitter refinements of modernist inquisitors. They are very assured that by keeping the tradition they do not cut themselves off from the visible vicar of Christ. For the visible vicar of Christ is governed by Christ in such wise that he cannot transmute the tradition of the Church, nor make it fall into oblivion. If by misfortune he should try to do it, either he or his immediate successors will be obliged to proclaim from on high what remains forever living in the Church’s memory: the Apostolic tradition. The Spouse of Christ stands no chance of losing her memory.
“Quod Ubique, Quod Semper...”
As for those who say that tradition is a synonym of sclerosis, or that progress occurs by opposing tradition, in short, those who conjure up the mirages of an absurd philosophy of becoming, I recommend the reading of St. Vincent of Lerins3 in his Commonitorium and the careful studying of Church history: dogma, sacraments, fundamental constitution, spiritual life, in order to descry the essential difference which exists between “going forward” and “going astray”; between having “advanced ideas” and “advancing according to right ideas”; in short, distinguishing between profectus (development) and permutatio (change).
Even more so than in times of peace, it has become useful and salutary to us to meditate on the Church’s trials by the light of faith. We might be tempted to reduce these trials to persecutions and attacks coming from the outside. But enemies from within are, after all, even more to be feared: they know better the weak points; they can wound or poison where or when it is least expected; the scandal they provoke is much more difficult to overcome. Thus, in a parish, an anti-religious institution will never succeed, whatever it does, in ruining the faithful as much as a high-living, modernist priest. Equally, the defrocking of a simple priest, though more sensational, has consequences far less baneful than the negligence or treason of the bishop.
Be that as it may, it is certain that if the bishop betrays the Catholic faith, even without abandoning it, he imposes on the Church a much heavier trial than the simple priest who takes a wife and ceases to offer holy Mass. What then can be said of the kind of trials that the Church of Jesus Christ would suffer were it to come by the Pope, by the vicar of Jesus Christ in person? Merely raising this question is enough to make some hide their faces in their hands and push them to the brink of crying blasphemy. The mere thought torments them. They refuse to face up to a trial of this gravity.
I understand their feeling. I am not unaware that a sort of vertigo can grip the soul when it is placed in the presence of some iniquities. “Sinite usque hue-Suffer ye thus far,”3 Jesus in agony said to the three Apostles when the rabble of the high priest came to arrest Him, drag Him before the tribunal and to death, Him who is the eternal High Priest. Sinite usque hue. It is as if the Lord were saying: “The scandal can indeed go that far, but let it go, and follow my recommendation: Watch and pray, for the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Sinite ad hue: “By my consent to drink the chalice, I have merited for you every grace while you were sleeping and left me all alone. I obtained for you in particular the grace of a supernatural strength that is up to every trial, even the trial that can come upon the Church by the Pope’s own doing. I have made you able to escape even that vertigo.”
On the subject of this extraordinary trial there is what Church history says and what Revelation about the Church does not say. For nowhere does Revelation about the Church say that the Popes will never sin by negligence, cowardice, or worldliness in the keeping and defense of the Apostolic tradition. We know that they will never sin by making the faithful believe in another religion: that is the sin from which they are preserved by the nature of their mandate. And when they engage their authority in such a way as to invoke their infallibility, it is Christ Himself who speaks to us and instructs us: that is the privilege with which they are robed as soon as they become successors of Peter. But if Revelation instructs us in the prerogatives of the papacy, nowhere does it say that when he exercises his authority below the threshold of infallibility, a Pope will never become Satan’s pawn and favor heresy up to a certain point. Likewise, it is not written in sacred Scripture that, though he cannot formally teach another religion, a Pope will never go so far as to sabotage the conditions indispensable to the defense of the true religion. The possibility of such a defection is even considerably favored by modernism.
Thus, Revelation about the Pope nowhere guarantees that the vicar of Christ will never inflict on the Church the trial of some major scandals; I speak of serious scandals, not just in the domain of private morals, but rather in the religious sphere properly so-called, and, so to speak, in the ecclesiastical domain of faith and morals. In fact, the Church’s history teaches us that this sort of trial inflicted by the Pope has not been spared the Church, although it has been rare and not prolonged to an acute stage. It is the contrary that would be astonishing, when we consider the small number of canonized Popes since the time of Gregory VII who are invoked and venerated as the friends and saints of God. And it is more astonishing still that the Popes who suffered very cruel torments, like Pius VI or Pius VII, were never prayed to as saints, neither by the Vox Ecclesiae, nor by the Vox populi. If these Pontiffs, who nonetheless had to suffer so much as Popes, did not bear their pain with such a degree of charity as to be canonized saints, how can we be astonished that other Popes, who looked upon their position from a worldly point of view, would commit serious breaches or inflict on the Church of Christ an especially fearful and harrowing trial. When they are reduced to the extremity of having such Popes, the faithful, priests and bishops who want to live the life of the Church take great care not only to pray for the Supreme Pontiff who is the subject of great affliction for the Church, but first and foremost they cleave to the Apostolic tradition, the tradition concerning dogma, the missal and the ritual, the tradition on the interior life and on the universal call to perfect charity in Christ.
St. Vincent Ferrer
In such a juncture, the mission of the Friar Preacher who, undoubtedly among all the saints worked the most directly for the papacy, that son of St. Dominic, Vincent Ferrer (1350?-1419), is particularly enlightening. Angel of Judgment, Legate a latere Christi (from the side of Christ), causing the deposition of a Pope after exercising towards him infinite patience, Vincent Ferrer is also, and from the same inspiration, the intrepid missionary full of benignity, abounding in prodigies and miracles, who announces the Gospel to the immense multitude of the Christian people. He carries in his heart of an apostle not only the Supreme Pontiff, so enigmatic, obstinate and hard, but also the whole flock of Christ, the multitude of the hapless, humble folk, the “turba magna ex omnibus tribubus et populis et linguis-ihe great multitude...of all...tribes, and peoples, and tongues” (Apoc. 7:9). Vincent understood that the major concern of the vicar of Christ was not, indeed was far from, faithfully serving the holy Church. The Pope was placing the satisfaction of his own obscure will to power ahead of everything. But if, at least among the faithful, the sense of the life of the Church could be reawakened, the concern to live in conformity with the dogmas and the sacraments received in the Apostolic tradition, if a pure and mighty wind of prayer and conversion were to unfurl upon this languishing and desolate Christendom, then doubtlessly there would come a vicar of Christ who would be truly humble, who would have a Christian conscience about his super-eminent charge, who would preoccupy himself with exercising it to the best of his ability in the spirit of the Sovereign High Priest. If the Christian people could rediscover a life in accord with the Apostolic tradition, then it would become impossible for the vicar of Jesus Christ, when it comes to upholding and defending this tradition, to fall into certain derelictions, to abandon himself to lying compromises. It would be necessary that, without delay, a good Pope, and even a holy Pope, succeed the bad or misguided one.
Worthy Flock, Worthy Shepherd
But too many of the laity, priests and bishops in these days of great evil, when trial overtakes the Church by the Pope, would like order to be restored with their having to do nothing, or almost nothing. At most will they agree to mutter a few prayers. They even balk at the daily Rosary: five decades offered daily to our Lady in honor of the hidden life, the Passion, and the glory of Jesus. In this vein, they have very little interest in deepening their understanding of that part of the Apostolic tradition that applies directly to them in a spirit of fidelity to that tradition: dogmas, missal and ritual, interior life (for progress in the interior life obviously is a part of the Apostolic tradition). Each in his station of life having consented to lukewarmness, they take scandal at the fact that neither is the Pope, in his place as Pope, very fervent when it comes to upholding for the entire Church the Apostolic tradition, that is to say, to faithfully fulfilling the unique mission confided to him. This view of things is unjust. The more we need a holy Pope, the more we ourselves must begin by putting our own lives, by the grace of God and holding fast to tradition, in the path of the saints. Then the Lord Jesus will finally give to His flock the visible shepherd of whom it will have striven to make itself worthy.
This was the lesson of St. Vincent Ferrer at an apocalyptic time of major failings by the Roman Pontiff. But with modernism we are in the midst of experiencing even greater trials, reasons all the more compelling for us to live even more purely, and on all points, the Apostolic tradition; on all points, including a real tending towards perfect charity. And yet, in the moral doctrine revealed by the Lord and handed down by the Apostles, it is said that we must tend to perfect love, since the law of growth in Christ is part and parcel of the grace and charity which unite us in Christ.
A Fundamental Mystery
There is indeed both transcendence and obscurity in the Church’s dogma relative to the Pope: a supreme pontiff who is the universal vicar of Jesus Christ, yet who nonetheless is not sheltered from failings, even serious ones, which can be quite dangerous for his subjects. But the dogma of the Roman Pontiff is but one of the aspects of the fundamental mystery of the Church. Two great propositions introduce us to this mystery: firstly, that the Church, whose members are recruited from among sinners, which we all are, is nonetheless the infallible dispenser of light and grace, dispenser by means of a hierarchical organization, dispenser governed from heaven above by its head and Savior, Jesus Christ, and assisted by the Spirit of Jesus. On the other hand, on earth, the Savior offers by His Church the perfect sacrifice and nourishes it by His own substance. Secondly, the Church, holy Spouse of the Lord Jesus, must have a share in the Cross, including the cross of betrayal by her own; but for all that she does not cease to be sufficiently assisted in her hierarchical structure, beginning with the Pope, and to be on fire enough with charity; in a word, she remains at all times holy and pure enough to be able to share in the trials of her Spouse, including betrayal by certain members of the hierarchy, while keeping intact her self-mastery and supernatural strength. Never will the Church be subject to vertigo.
If, in our spiritual life, the Christian truth concerning the Pope is rightly situated within the Christian truth about the Church, by that light shall we overcome the scandal of all the lies, not excluding those that can befall the Church by the vicar of Christ or by the successors of the Apostles.
When we think of the Pope now and of the prevailing modernism, of the Apostolic tradition and perseverance in this tradition, we are more and more reduced to considering these questions only in prayer, only in an unceasing petition for the entire Church and for him who, in our days, holds in his hands the keys of the kingdom of heaven. He holds them in his hands, but he does not use them, so to speak. He leaves the gate of the sheepfold open at the approach of thieves; he does not close these protective doors which his predecessors had invariably kept shut with unbreakable locks and bolts. Sometimes, as is the case with post-conciliar ecumenism, he even pretends to open what will forever be kept shut. We are reduced to the necessity of never thinking of the Church except to pray for her and for the Pope. It is a blessing. Nevertheless, thinking of our Mother, the Spouse of Christ, in this piteous condition does not diminish in the least our resolve to think clearly. At least, let this indispensable lucidity, lucidity without which all courage would flag, be penetrated with as much humility and gentleness as the vehemence with which we assail the Sovereign Priest, that He make haste to help us. Deus in adjutorium meum intende. Domine, ad adjuvandum mefestina. May it please Him to charge His most holy Mother, Mary Immaculate, with bringing us as soon as possible the effective remedy.
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."
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 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.
" " 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 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."Joyful Mysteries by Bishop Monsabre, O.P.
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.
THE GLORIOUS MYSTERIES.
THE RESURRECTION — THE TRIUMPH OE JESUS.
JESUS, having been taken from the cross, is placed in a new sepulchre in which His flesh, fearfully mangled by the ordeal through which it had passed, reposed for a little while. Its rest was not the deep sleep which weighs down human beings after they breathe their last sigh, and from which only the trumpet of the angel will awaken them ; it is a tranquil slumber from which the voice of God will soon arouse Him.
Two passions — hatred and fear — watch round His tomb. It is covered with a huge stone and secured by the seal of the synagogue. The soldiers are on guard to prevent any secret approach. It is confidently believed that these precautions will stifle for ever in the tomb the voice of Him who had said of His body : "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will build it up again (John ii. 19). How ridiculous and foolish men make themselves when they attempt to run counter to the designs of God or to give the lie to His promises ! On the morning of the third day there is an earthquake ; an angel descends and rolls away the stone ; and the flesh of Jesus, receiving Life again by the divine power, springs forth, glorious and immortal, from the arms of Death.
Let us adore our risen Saviour! No longer is He a prisoner whom the soldiers of the synagogue and the pretorium drag about from one tribunal to another ; no longer is He the man forsaken by His Father and His friends, and complaining most touchingly of the rigors of divine justice ; no more is He the condemned man whom all insult who dare address Him ; no longer is he the man covered with wounds and become like a leper whose aspect is fearful to look upon ; nor is He any more the dead body which His afflicted Mother enshrouded with reverent hands and saw laid in a sepulchre. Now He is free, joyous, triumphant, radiant, immortal. Let us, with the Psalmist, sing to the Lord : " Thou hast broken my bonds, and I will offer to Thee a sacrifice of praise." Thou hast not forgotten the Just One in His tomb, "nor hast Thou allowed Thy Holy One to see corruption." With St. Paul we will cry out : " O death ! where is thy victory ? O death ! where is thy sting?" (1 Cor. xv.) "Christ rising from the dead, dieth now no more, death shall have no more dominion over Him ; for in that He liveth, He liveth to God" (Rom. vi.) Let us sing these canticles of joy and then turn our thoughts upon ourselves.
This great mystery includes for us a lesson, a figure, and a promise.
The ineffable joy and glory of the Resurrection have been purchased at the price of most horrible sufferings. It was inevitable. It is our Saviour Himself who tells it to those who, like the disciples of Emmaus, might be scandalized or weakened on account of His Passion : " Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to have entered into His glory ? " (Luke xxiv.) Now, the road of soldiers must be the same as that travelled by their leader. Enlisted under the banner of Jesus Christ, we cannot hope to attain the incorruptible glory and unalloyed happiness, promised by Almighty God, through the broad pathway of pleasure and enjoyment, which is unhappily too much frequented. Jesus did not take that road. It was the rough way of sorrow and pain, in which we can easily trace His bloody foot- steps, that conducted Him to eternal honors. It was the cross He bore and on which He died that opened the gates of heaven, barred and bolted against the luxury of worldlings. The motto of every Christian ought to be : "Let me suffer, O Lord ! in this life, that I may live eternally in the next."
This is the lesson of the Resurrection.
There is in it also a symbol or figure. The mystery of the Resurrection is a lively figure of the spiritual transformation which ought to take place in each of us. Sin is death. It is the tomb in which the captive soul sleeps a fatal sleep. The enemy takes all manner of precautions to prevent its awakening. Yet he cannot prevent the voice of God from reaching even this sepulchre of the sinful soul. " Arise," says that voice, " thou who sleepest ; arise from the dead. Christ will enlighten thee " (Ephes. v.) At the first sound of that voice let us rise from sin. We may never hear it more. Death long continued will breed corruption.
But how will I rise ? How break the cords that tie me down ? How roll away the heavy stone that is laid over me ? How break the inveterate habits and the shameful laxity of the will, which is weakened so much by its many consents to sin ? Courage, Christian ! In the figure just given there is a promise. For us Christ died, and " for our justification He rose again." The divine virtue of His glorified humanity will one day bring together the scattered dust of our bodies, and will make our flesh, dissolved in death, live again eternally incorrupt ; but at present He addresses Himself to the soul especially to draw it from sin to justice, and to give it strength to " walk in the pathway of a blessed newness of life."
I count on Thee, O my adorable Master ! Have pity on me ! I am dead, or at least I feel myself dying day by day ; for it is not life that languishes in tepidity. In virtue of Thy blessed Resurrection enable me to rise from the tomb of my failings. Create, O Lord ! a new spirit within me, so that, penetrated with Thy light, disengaged from the influences of the flesh, active and alert in good works, and bent upon the perfection of my life, I may live henceforth only for Thee, as Thou livest only for God.
THE ASCENSION — JESUS IN HEAVEN.LET us go to Mount Olivet. Thither Jesus brings His disciples for the last time. He recalls to their minds their divine mission, confirms the powers conferred upon them, again promises the Holy Spirit, gives them His blessing, bids them adieu, and rises towards heaven. The hearts of the apostles, divided between grief and wonder, follow with their eyes their adorable Master, who is leaving them, and whom they will never see again on earth. A bright cloud intercepts their view of the triumphant humanity of their Saviour, but they continue to look towards the heavens whither He had ascended. Now they understand all ; and their hearts, so recently gross and carnal, break all earthly chains.
Let us with them raise our hearts to heaven. Sursum corda ! If Jesus leaves us He does not forget us, nor does He abandon us to our exile without hope. His going is not to put an immense distance between His glory and our misery ; it is to prepare a place for us : " I go to prepare a place for you " (John xiv. 2). This is His promise ; can we suppose He will not keep it?
O Jesus, our only love! we have need of hearing this good word fall from Thy adorable lips to console us in Thy absence. Thou goest to prepare a place for us; is this world, therefore, not our most suitable home? Ah ! no. It is too full of troubles to give that joy to the heart to which it aspires; it is too narrow to satiate the immensity of our desires ; it is too uncertain to give us any assurance of eternal possession, the idea of which is inseparable from all our dreams of happiness. The eternal life of God, His infinite perfections, the perfect love of God, the boundless space which His immensity fills — this is the "length and breadth and depth" of which St. Paul speaks; this is the place to which we should direct our course and in which we should anchor our bark of life, the place which Jesus went to prepare for us.
He is there indeed. It is our humanity that triumphs in his person and sits at the right hand of God. Even if we were not called to a participation in His glory and beatitude we ought to be anxious to know where it is and to register His victory in our human records. If he belongs to God He belongs to us also; if He is of the divine substance He is also of our flesh and blood, and we may well declare with a holy doctor: " Where a part of me reigns, I believe I reign also; where my flesh is glorified, I am glorified; where my blood is king, I too am king."
But listen, Christian! Jesus does not wish to reduce you to the sterile honor of knowing His triumph. By His ascension He enters into the bosom of God the Father, not as a delegate, but as a precursor of humanity. This is the expression of St. Paul in his sixth chapter to the Hebrews. The precursor prepares the way for those who follow Him, and the place in which they are to rest after the fatigue of the journey. The precursor puts all things in order; He waits for His friends and calls them in. But how much more certain and efficacious His office is when, instead of being a servant merely, He is master of those for whom He prepares a place, and master of the place as well!
Christ, our precursor, is all this. Let us consider carefully the words of the apostle. He teaches us that Christ asserted our rights by His very presence in the bosom of God. For we are His property, and He has a right to enter into heaven with what belongs to Him. " He is our head; we are the body and members of that head." But where the head is, there likewise ought to be the body and the members. But Jesus would be our precursor only half-way if, by His action, He did not put us in condition to realize our lights — that is to say, if He did not prepare God to receive us and did not prepare us to take possession of God.
He is our priest "for ever"; or, in other words, He presents eternally to God the most sacred gifts that humanity has to offer, and to humanity the most sacred gifts of God. Our acts of religion would never have penetrated this sanctuary, in which they ought to mark out a place for us, if they did not pass through the hands of Jesus Christ. And if we return to God after our transgression, our repentance is only acceptable because "we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Just." If the groans of our misery or the expressions of our love are heard in heaven it is because Jesus appropriates them; for "He lives only to intercede for us.' He shows to the Father the marks of His glorious wounds, and makes His blood plead more strongly than that of Abel.
O God! Thou canst not resist this strong cry. It must be that Thou permittest us to mark our places in the sacred tabernacles which Thou fillest with Thy blessedness. This is the will of my Lord Jesus; and in preparing Thee to receive us He prepares us to take possession of Thee. The incarnate Word, humbled and annihilated in the days of His life on earth, became on the day of His ascension the inexhaustible treasury of the gifts of God. "Christ, ascending on high, led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men" (Ephes. iv. 8). Thus it is that the remedies of our faults, the succor of our weakness, the light of our darkness, the solace of our pains, the impulses towards good, all descend into our souls to make them worthy of God, whom we ought to possess. He extends His benign influence even to our corruptible flesh, which He prepares for the resurrection.
O Christian! meditate upon this glorious and consoling mystery. Never more turn to creatures as the end of your life. This world is not your resting-place. Honors, riches, pleasures, human affections are unworthy of a great and generous soul. Look to your Leader and Precursor; have confidence in His divine ministry; abandon yourself to His holy grace; raise your heart to heaven. Sursum corda!
THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY GHOST — THE SPIRIT OF JESUS.
THE apostles were assembled together in one place, awaiting in recollection and prayer the effect of the promises of Jesus. For He had said: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself ; that where I am you also may be. . . . And I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete [comforter or advocate], that He may abide with you for ever ; the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not nor knoweth Him ; but you shall know Him, because He shall abide with you and be with you " (John xiv. 3, 16, 17). Ten days after the Ascension of our Lord a mighty event took place. It was the fulfillment of the promise, and is thus recorded in the Acts of the Apostles : And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them cloven tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon each one of them ; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak" (Acts ii.)
O wonderful prodigy ! But a moment ago these men were ignorant and could not clearly understand the doctrine of their Master; now they possess a full knowledge of the most sublime truths. At one moment they express themselves in a weak and stammering manner; the next they are filled with a marvelous eloquence. At one moment they are weak and timid even to the extent of cowardice — they hide themselves, so as not to be involved in the misfortunes of their Master ; the next they come forth boldly, and fearlessly proclaim their faith and love, and this, too, before a people who load them with injuries and drag them before, their tribunals. They seem at one moment ungrateful and almost without hope; the next they are devoted to the words of their Master, even unto death. Now they are sad and downcast ; all at once their hearts abound in hope and joy. What has happened ? The Holy Ghost, having descended from heaven, has brought to perfection in the souls of the disciples the spirit and form of the Christian life, which until now were only in a crude, inchoative state. This is His special mission. The holy Fathers have sometimes called Him the " perfective force."
Learn from this, O Christian soul ! that the effusion of the Holy Spirit is as necessary for thy salvation as is the application of the blood and merits of Jesus Christ. " The end of man, which is to see God and possess Him eternally, is beyond the powers of nature," says St. Thomas of Aquin ; " our reason cannot conduct us to it, if its natural movement does not bring to its aid the instinct and motion of the Spirit of God. 9 ' It is so necessary for us that without it we possess only the rudiments of the Christian and supernatural life.
Jesus, the divine Architect, makes of our souls His temples, having purified them with His precious blood. It is the Holy Ghost who consecrates us in marking us with His character, and conferring upon us the unction of His love and the illumination of His gifts. Pentecost is therefore, in the Church, a universal and perpetual festival. Our baptism is a pentecost; our confirmation is a pentecost. Besides this, as St. Thomas teaches, the divine Paraclete returns constantly in His secret visits, to illuminate, strengthen, and beautify with His gifts the souls of the just.
But let us hear attentively the word of God : " The Lord does not come in times of disturbance " (3 Kings xix.) We must have peace in our souls ; we must remove the agitation of vain thoughts and of vain desires, if we would receive the Spirit of God. Let us await His coming, like the apostles, in recollection and prayer.
It is not likely that God will surprise us by sudden visits of His light and grace ; in the ordinary workings of His providence He only sends His Holy Spirit to us when we say with earnest fervor : Come ! Veni Sancte Spiritus !
Let us invoke Him, then, in the dark night of temptation, in the agony of doubt. When, enveloped in the darkness of ignorance and drawn on by the glare of creatures, our uncertain spirit asks for the truth to guide it ; and when, desirous of the knowledge and light of faith, we desire to penetrate the divine mysteries, let us invoke the Holy Spirit, for he is indeed the " Spirit of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge."
When we are moved to determine and fix our vocation in life, when we are about to perform some work in which our consciences are deeply concerned, or if it is our duty to direct. souls in the ways of God, let us invoke the " Spirit of counsel."
When we feel the love of God languish in our hearts, or even when we are moved by a holy zeal and we wish to love God with good effect, let us invoke the Holy Spirit, for He is truly the " Spirit of piety ."
When the power of evil attacks us and the world persecutes us, when passion torments us, and when sorrow oppresses us, let us earnestly call Him to our assistance, for He is the " Spirit of fortitude."
When the abyss of sin is open before us and ready to engulf us, let us invoke Him with all our strength, for He is the "Spirit of the fear of the Lord,"
In all our sufferings let us invoke Him, for He is indeed the Paraclete — the Comforter.
Against the slavery of all evil habits that weigh down the will let us invoke Him, for " where the Spirit of God is, there is true liberty."
Has He come ? Then let us meet Him with attention, vigilance, and profound respect. Let us not "'grieve the Spirit of God by our faults and imperfections."
THE ASSUMPTION OF THE MOST BLESSED VIRGIN — JESUS AT THE TOMB OF HIS MOTHER.MARY languished waiting anxiously many years for the blessed day that would reunite Her with Her Son. It came at length. Her lamp of life was peacefully extinguished in the home of the beloved disciple, St. John, surrounded by other apostles, whose messages she bore to heaven. A virgin sepulchre received the mortal remains of the spotless Virgin. It was the mysterious cradle soon to be visited by the Author of life. Sleep on, dear Blessed Mother, sleep on, whilst the infant Church mourns around thy grave !
Soon one of the disciples desired to see again His Mother's face, and to kiss the blessed hand that had caressed the Saviour of the world. The tomb was opened, but the immaculate body was not there ; instead of it were found roses and lilies of the sweetest perfume — a fitting symbol of her perfections and virtues.
Thus a miracle is performed in the silent shade of the tomb. Jesus, from the highest heavens contemplating the spotless body which was the tabernacle of His humanity, repeated the words of the prophet : " Thou wilt not give Thy Holy One to see corruption." He applies it to His holy Mother ; He will not suffer Her to feel the corruption of the grave. Mary slumbers in death, as Her Son once did, but He awakes Her with these loving words of the Canticles : "Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. The winter is now past ; the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land ; the time of pruning is come ; the voice of the turtle is heard. The fig-tree has put forth her green figs ; the vines in flower yield their sweet smell. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come. . . . Come from Libanus, where the incorruptible cedars grow. Come and be crowned." *
* Antiphon of the Assumption.
Mary can neither rise nor ascend to heaven of Her own power, but the Author of life extends to Her His omnipotent force, places His angels at Her service, and they bear Her to Her home in heaven.
To us poor mortals the privilege of incorruption in the tomb does not belong. Wretched children of Adam, defiled, from the first moment of our existence, by original sin, unfaithful to the grace of our regeneration, frequently guilty of sin after having been pardoned, we have opened to death all the avenues of life. Death entered with sin and has written on our flesh this terrible word : Corruption ! Nothing escapes its cruel tooth. The skin, gradually eaten away, soon disappears entirely, leaving only a dry skeleton ; and this, too, silently crumbling into dust, is mingled with the surrounding earth by the grave-digger's spade when he is preparing a place for other dead bodies. This is the end of all.
Let us not be terrified, however, at our nothingness. Men may seek for us in vain ; but the all-seeing eye of God follows through the mazes of nature the wanderings of the particles which once composed our bodies. When the world shall have finished its course the Author of life will visit the empire of death, and with His sovereign voice will address the elements of which human bodies were once constituted, saying : " Unite, arise, come." Then the bones of each human being shall be recomposed, and the flesh shall recover the texture and color by which it was once before known. This is a certain truth.
And it is no less certain that our resurrection will be the same as our death. It will be glorious or ignominious, it will be for eternal joy or eternal sorrow, according as our death shall have been in justice or sin.
Let us meditate seriously on these truths ; and whilst we carry about with us our bodies as vessels made by the divine hand for honor, and destined to receive from the same hand a new existence which no inimical force can destroy, let us take good care not to make of them objects of almost idolatrous attention which cannot save them from the ravages of time or the corruption of the grave. If to-day we hear the forebodings of death, if we are saddened by our infirmities, if our thoughts are gloomy and dark, if the perfection of our souls is retarded or burdened with the weight of our bodies, let us not repine. Patience ! Patience ! One day this poor companion of the soul will rise immortal, incorruptible, brighter than the stars of heaven, obedient to the commands of the soul which will impart to it a wonderful agility. If the body presses us with gross demands, and even incites to sin, we must inexorably repress it. We must preserve ourselves from all defilement by wise precautions, strong resolutions, and salutary chastisements. The more we resemble in the flesh the unsullied flesh of our Holy Mother, the more resplendent will be the glory of our resurrection.
THE CORONATION OF THE MOST BLESSED VIRGIN — JESUS THE REMUNERATOR.
HEAVEN is opened. Our Most Holy Mother, invited by Her Son, triumphantly enters in. " Come and be crowned,’ our Saviour says to Her. Let us assist in spirit at this coronation. It is the eternal consecration of all the virtues, of all the dolors of Mary. It is the recompense which confers upon Her the greatest power ever before imparted to a creature. All the kings of Judah gather round their well-beloved daughter. " David dances for joy ; the angels and archangels unite with Israel's sweet singer to chant the praises of their Queen. The virtues proclaim Her glory ; the principalities, powers, and dominations exult with joy ; the thrones felicitate Her who was the living and immaculate throne of the Most High. The cherubim salute Her in a canticle of praise, and the seraphim declare Her glory," says St. John Damascene. Finally Jesus comes, and, amid the plaudits of the whole Court of Heaven, places a crown on the brow of His Most Blessed Mother.
Jesus forgets nothing. All is crowned in Mary : Her thoughts, Her desires, Her actions, Her virtues, Her merits — even Her privileges, of which She had rendered Herself most worth by Her constant correspondence with the admirable designs of God. The feast of the Coronation is a feast of justice.
Christian soul, this feast of justice ought to rejoice your heart ! It is your Mother is honored, it is your Mother's triumph ; and Her triumph teaches us that we have a just God in heaven, who, when the day of remuneration comes, will remember all. Therefore what signify the difficulties, sorrows, languors, and tribulations of our short lives ? "For the rest there is laid up for us a crown of justice which the Lord, the just judge, will bestow upon us in that day" (2 Tim. iv.) O senseless souls who run after earthly goods, can you say this of the world you seem to adore or of the rulers of the world ? They promise riches, pleasures, celebrity, love. Your whole soul is held in a state of tension by the toys of imagination, covetous desires, or other passions ; your senses themselves are disturbed, your health is injured, your life is filled with intrigues, troubles, and meannesses. Humble yourselves, throw away earthly cares, else you will never be able to say, with the noble and fervent confidence of the true Christian : " There is laid up for me a crown." Crowns of gold or of roses, of honor or affection, often slip from your grasp just when you think you hold them most securely. And if you were able to obtain at once all the crowns of the world, you must bring them at last before the "just Judge," who will, with pitiless hand, tear them from your brow and throw them down to rot where you received them. We cannot carry with us to heaven useless or hurtful ornaments. Our crown in heaven — our true crown — will remain eternally on our brow and will never fade. "And when the Prince of pastors shall appear you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory " (1 Peter v. 4).
Feed yourself, then, O my soul ! on these deep and consoling thoughts. The all-just Rewarder of all faithful souls sees you and knows you. Despise the vain objects of worldlings and cling to the road that brings you to a crown of glory. It is a rough and difficult road. You will have to overcome obstacles, to leap over more than one abyss, to avoid ambuscades(def. attack from an ambush.), to fight the enemy, to repair reverses and even defeats. Courage ! Courage ! All your marches, all your efforts, all your labors and combats are in God's keeping : " For the rest there is laid up for you a crown." You will say: " If I could only march alone on the hard road leading to glory ! But no ; I must carry along with me this miserable body. It is a furnace of sin, and of sorrow too. It obscures my sight so that I cannot see clearly what I ought to see ; from it come doubts, scruples, dryness, disquietude, chagrin, and anguish. From time and from nature it receives many blows and wounds. How many are the evils, both external and internal, of our sad lives ! " Courage ! Courage ! All these are counted ; all will be crowned. At once a champion, a pilgrim, and a martyr, you will be able to say with the great Apostle of the Gentiles : " I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. For the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just judge, will render to me at that day ; and not to me only, but to them also who love His coming " (2 Tim. iv. 7, 8).
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