Author Archives: Patrick

Christmastide

Christmastide:
O Marvelous Exchange!
O Admirable Exchange!
By Abbot Marmion, O.S.B.

[Obviously, Abbot Marmion refers to the prayers and rubrics as laid down for the liturgy by Pope Saint Pius V.]

Summary.

The mystery of the Incarnation is a wonderful exchange between divinity and humanity.

I. The Eternal Word asks of us a human nature in order to unite it to Himself by a
personal union: Creator . . . animatum corpus sumens. (The Creator . . . has deigned
to become an inspirited (living) body.)

II. In becoming Incarnate, the Word brings us, in return, a share in His Divinity:
Largitus est nobis suam deitatem. (He bestowed upon us His Godhead.)

III. This exchange appears still more wonderful when we consider the manner in
which it is wrought. The Incarnation renders God visible so that we may hear and
imitate Him.

IV. It renders God passible, capable of expiating our sins by His sufferings and of
healing us by His humiliations.

V. We are to take our part in this exchange by faith: those who receive the Word
made-flesh by believing in Him have “power to be made the sons of God.”
The coming of the Son of God upon earth is so great an event that God willed to prepare the way for it during centuries. He made rites and sacrifices, figures and symbols, all converge towards Christ; He foretold Him, announced Him by the mouth of the prophets who succeeded one another from generation to generation.
And now it is the very Son of God Who comes to instruct us:
Multifariam multisque modis olim Deus loquens patribus . . . novissime locutus est nobis in Filio (Heb 1:1-2). “At sundry times and in divers manners, God spoke in times past to our fathers . . . last of all, in these days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

For Christ is not only born for the Jews of Judea who lived in His time. It is for us all, for all mankind, that He came down from Heaven:

Propter nos et propter nostram salutem descendit de caelis. (For our sakes and for our salvation He descended from heaven.) He wills to distribute to every soul the grace that He merited by His Nativity.

This is why the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, appropriates to herself, in order to place them upon our lips and with them to fill our hearts, the longings of the patriarchs, the aspirations of the just of ancient times, and the desires of the Chosen People. She wills to prepare us for Christ’s coming, as if this Nativity was about to be renewed before our eyes.

See how when she commemorates the coming of her Divine Bridegroom upon earth, she displays the splendor of her solemnities, and makes her altars brilliant with lights to celebrate the Birth of the “Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6), the “Sun of Justice” (Mal 4:2), Who rises in the midst of our darkness to enlighten “every man that comes into this world” (John 1:5 and 9). She grants her priests the privilege, almost unique in the year, of thrice offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

These feasts are magnificent; they are likewise full of charm. The Church evokes the remembrance of the Angels singing in the sky the glory of the new-born Babe; of the Shepherds who come to adore at the manger; of the Magi who hasten from the East to offer Him their adorations and rich presents.

And yet, like every feast here below, this solemnity, even with the prolongation of its octave, is ephemeral: it passes by. Is it for the feast of a day, howsoever splendid it may be, that the Church requires such a long preparation from us? Certainly not! Why then? Because she knows that the contemplation of this mystery contains a special and choice grace for our souls.

I said at the beginning of these conferences that each one of Christ’s mysteries constitutes not only a historical fact which takes place in time, but contains a grace proper to itself wherewith our souls are to be nourished so as to live thereby.
Now what is the intimate grace of the mystery of the Nativity? What is the grace for the reception of which the Church takes so much care to dispose us? What is the fruit that we ought to gather from the contemplation of the Christ Child?

The Church herself indicates this at the first Mass, that of midnight. After having offered the bread and wine which, in a few moments, are to be changed, by the consecration, into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, she sums up her desires in this prayer:

“Grant, O Lord, that the oblation which in we offer today’s festival may be
acceptable unto You, and, by Your grace, through this most sacred and holy
intercourse, may we be found like unto Him (in form) in Whom is our substance
united to You.”

(Accepta tibi sit, Domine, quaesumus, hodiernae festivitatis oblatio: ut tua gratia largiente, per haec sacrosancta commercia, in illiusi inveniamur forma, in quo tecum est nostra substantia. Secret prayer {after the Offertory} of the Midnight Mass.)

The word ‘forma’ is here taken in the sense of “nature,” “condition,” natura, as in the text of St Paul: Christus cum in forma Dei esset . . . exinanivit semet ipsum formam servi accipiens et habitu inventus ut homo.) ‘Christ Who being in the form of God . . . emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.’ (Phil 2:6-7)

We ask to be partakers of that divinity to which our humanity is united. It is like an exchange. God, in becoming incarnate, takes our human nature and gives us, in return, a participation in His Divine nature.
This thought, so concise in its form, is more explicitly expressed in the secret prayer of the second Mass: “Grant, O Lord, that our offerings may be conformed to the mysteries of this day’s Nativity, that as He Who is born as man is also God made manifest, so this earthly substance (which He unites to Himself) may confer upon us that which is divine.” (Munera nostra, quaesumus, Domine, nativitatis hodiernae mysteriis apta proveniant, ut sicut homo genitus idem refulsit et Deus, sic nobis haec terrena substantia conferat quod divinum est. (Secret prayer of the Mass at Break of Day.)

To be made partakers of the Divinity to which our humanity was united in the Person of Christ, and to receive this Divine gift through this humanity itself, — such is the grace attached to the celebration of today’s mystery.
Our offerings will be “conformed to the mysteries of this day’s Nativity,” according to the words of the above quoted secret, if — by the contemplation of the Divine work at Bethlehem and the reception of the Eucharistic Sacrament, — we participate in the eternal life that Christ wills to communicate to us by His Humanity.

“O admirable exchange,” we shall sing on the octave day, “the Creator of the human race, taking upon Himself a body and a soul, has vouchsafed to be born of a Virgin, and, appearing here below as man, has made us partakers of His Divinity”: O admirabile commercium! CREATOR generis humani, ANIMATUM CORPUS SUMENS, de virgine nasci dignatus est; et procedens homo sine semine, LARGITUS EST NOBIS SUAM DEITATEM (Antiphon of the Octave of Christmas). [Another translation: ‘O marvelous exchange! The CREATOR of the human race HAS DEIGNED TO BECOME AN INSPIRITED (living) BODY of a man, born of a virgin without admixture of seed. HE BESTOWED UPON US HIS GODHEAD. (We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity).’]

Let us, therefore, stay for a few moments to admire, with the Church, this exchange between the creature and the Creator between heaven and earth, an exchange upon which all the mystery of the Nativity is based. Let us consider what are the acts and the matter of it;-under what form it is wrought; — we will afterwards see what fruits are to be derived from it for us; — and to what it engages us.

I.

Let us transport ourselves to the stable-cave at Bethlehem; let us behold the Child lying upon the straw. What is He in the sight of the profane, in the sight of an inhabitant of the little city who might happen to come there after the Birth of Jesus?

Only a new-born Babe to Whom a woman of Nazareth had given birth; only a son of Adam like unto us, for His parents have Him inscribed upon the register of enrolment; the details of His genealogy can be followed. There He lies upon the straw, a weak Babe Whose life is sustained by a little milk. Many Jews saw nothing more in Him than this. Later on you will hear His compatriots, astonished at His wisdom, ask themselves where He could have learnt it, for, in their eyes, He had never been anything but “the son of a carpenter”: Nonne hic est fabri filius? . . . (‘Is not this the carpenter’s son?’) (Mt 13:55; and see Mark 6:3; Luke 4:22).

But to the eyes of faith, a life higher than the human life animates this Child: He possesses Divine life. What does faith, indeed, tell us on this subject? What revelation does it give us?

Faith tells us that this Child is God’s own Son. He is the Word, the Second Person of the Adorable Trinity; He is the Son Who receives Divine life from His Father, by an ineffable communication: Sicut Pater habet vitam in semet ipso, sic dedit et Filio habere vitam in semet ipso (‘For as the Father has life in himself, so he has given the Son also to have life in himself.’) (John 5:26). He possesses the Divine nature, with all its infinite perfections, ‘In the heavenly splendors’, in splendoribus sanctorum (Ps 109:3 in the Vulgate or Psalm 110:3 in the Hebrew). God begets this Son by an eternal generation.

It is to this Divine Sonship in the bosom of the Father that our adoration turns first of all; it is this Sonship that we extol in the midnight Mass. At day-break, the Holy Sacrifice will celebrate the Nativity of Christ according to the flesh, His Birth, at Bethlehem, of the Virgin Mary; finally, the third Mass will be in honor of Christ’s coming into our souls.

The Mass of the night, all enveloped with mystery, begins with these solemn words: Dominus dixit ad me: Filius meus es tu, ego hodie genui te (Introit or entrance antiphon of the Mass of Midnight), ‘The Lord has said to me: You are my son, this day have I begotten You’. (See Psalm 2:7.) This cry that escapes from the soul of Christ united to the Person of the Word, reveals to earth for the first time that which the heavens hear from all eternity. “The Lord has said to Me: You are My Son: this day have I begotten You.” “This day” is first of all the day of eternity, a day without dawn or decline.

The Heavenly Father now contemplates His Incarnate Son. The Word, although made man, nevertheless remains God. Become the Son of man, He is still the Son of God. The first glance that falls upon Christ, the first love wherewith He is surrounded, is the glance, the love of His Father. Dilixet me Pater (John 15:9) ‘the Father has loved me’. What contemplation and what love! Christ is the Only-begotten Son of the Father; therein lies His essential glory. He is equal to and “consubstantial with the Father, God of God, Light of Light . . . by Whom all things were made,” “and without Him was made nothing that was made.” It is of this Son that these words were spoken: “You in the beginning, O Lord, did found the earth, and the works of Your hands are the heavens. They shall perish, but You shall continue; and they shall all grow old as a garment; and as a vesture shall You change them, and they shall be changed; but You are the self-same, and Your years shall not fail!” (Epistle for the Mass of Christmas Day. Hebrews 1:10-12.)
And this “Word was made Flesh”: Et Verbum caro factum est.

Let us adore this Word become Incarnate for us: Christus natus est nobis, venite adoremus (Invitatory antiphon for Christmas Matins – Early Morning Prayer or ‘Office of Readings’.) ‘Christ has been born for us, come let us adore.’ . . . A God takes our humanity: conceived by the mysterious operation of the Holy Ghost in Mary’s womb, Christ is born of the most pure substance of the blood of the Virgin, and the life that He has from her makes Him like unto us! Creator generis humani de virgine nasci dignatus est, et procedens homo sine semine. ‘The Creator of the human race has deigned to become a living body of a man, born of a virgin without admixture of seed.’

This is what faith tells us: this Child is the Incarnate Word of God; He is the ‘Creator of the human race’ become man. Creator generis humani; if He needs a little milk to nourish Him, it is by His hand that the birds of heaven are fed. Parvoque lacte pastus est Per quem nec ales esurit (Hymn of Christmas Lauds – Morning Prayer.) 
‘and with little milk he was fed, Who does not allow even the birds to hunger.’

Let us contemplate this Infant lying in the manger. His eyes are closed. He sleeps. He does not manifest outwardly what He is. In appearance, He is only like all other infants, and yet, being God, being the Eternal Word, He, at this moment, is judging the souls that appear before Him. “He lies upon straw, and as God, He sustains the universe and reigns in heaven”: “Jacet in praesepio et in caelis regnat” (12th response at Matins on the Sunday of the Octave of Christmas). This Child is just beginning to grow, ‘Puer crescebat . . . et proficiebat aetate’ (Luke 2:40, 52). ‘The boy grew . . . and he advanced in age.’ 
Yet He is the Eternal Whose divine nature knows no change: ‘Tu idem ipse es, et anni tui non deficient.’ ‘You are always the selfsame, and your years shall not fail’. (Psalm 101:28 in the Vulgate, or Psalm 102:27 in the Hebrew.) 
He Who is born in time is likewise He Who is before all time; He Who manifests Himself to the shepherds of Bethlehem is He Who, out of nothing, created the nations that, “are before Him as if they had no being at all” (Is 40:17).

‘Palamque fit pastoribus, Pastor creator omnium’. (Hymn of Christmas Lauds – Morning Prayer.) 
‘And to the shepherds is now made known, The Shepherd who is the creator of all.

To the eyes of faith, there are two lives in this Babe; two lives indissolubly united in an ineffable manner, for the Human Nature belongs to the Word in such wise that there is but a single Person, that of the Word, Who sustains the Human Nature by His own Divine existence.

Undoubtedly, this human nature is perfect: perfectus homo (Creed attributed to St. Athanasius) “the perfect human man”: nothing of that which belongs to its essence is lacking to Him. This Babe has a soul like to ours; He has faculties: — intelligence, will, imagination, sensibility — like ours. He is truly one of our own race, Whose existence will be revealed, during thirty three years, as authentically human. Sin, alone, will be unknown to Him. ‘Debuit per omnia fratribus similare’ (Heb 2:17) ‘it behooved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren . . . absque peccato (Heb 4:15) ‘without sin’. Perfect in itself, this human nature will keep its own activity, its native splendor. Between these two lives of Christ — the Divine, which He ever possesses by His eternal birth in the bosom of the Father; the human which He has begun to possess by His Incarnation in the bosom of a Virgin — there is neither mingling nor confusion.

The Word, in becoming man, remains what He was; that which He was not, He has taken from our race; but the divine in Him does not absorb the human, the human does not lessen the divine. The union is such, as I have often said, that there is however but a single Person — the Divine Person, — and that the human nature belongs to the Word, is the Word’s own humanity: Mirabile mysterium declaratur hodie: innovantur naturae, Deus homo factus est; id quod fuit permansit et quod non erat assumpsit, non commixtionem passus neque divisionem (Antiphon of Lauds in the Octave of Christmas.) ‘A wondrous mystery is declared today, an innovation is made upon nature, God is made man; that which he was, he remains, and that which he was not, he takes on and assumes, suffering neither commixture nor division.’

II.

This then, if I may so express myself, is one of the acts of the contract. God takes our nature so as to unite it to Himself in a personal union.
What is the other act? What is God going to give us in return? Not that He owes us anything: Bonorum meorum non eges (Psalm 15:2 in the Vulgate or Psalm 16:2 in the Hebrew). ‘For you have no need of my goods’. But as He does all things with wisdom, He could not take upon Himself our nature without a motive worthy of Him.

What the Word Incarnate gives in return to humanity is an incomprehensible gift; it is a participation, real and intimate, in His Divine nature: Largitus est nobis suam deitatem. (‘He bestowed upon us His Godhead’.) In exchange for the humanity which He takes, the Incarnate Word gives us a share in His Divinity; He makes us partakers of His Divine Nature. And thus is accomplished the most wonderful exchange which could be made.

Doubtless, as you know, this participation had already been offered and given, from the creation, to Adam, the first man. The gift of grace, with all its splendid train of privileges, made Adam like to God. But the sin of the first man, the head of the human race, destroyed and rendered this ineffable participation impossible on the part of the creature.

It is to restore this participation that the Word becomes Incarnate; it is to reopen to us the way to heaven that God is made man. For this Child, being God’s own Son, has Divine life, like His Father, with His Father. In this Child “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead corporeally” (Col. 2:9); in Him are laid up all the treasures of the divinity (Col 2:3). But He does not possess them for Himself alone. He infinitely desires to communicate to us the Divine life that He Himself is: Ego sum vita (John 14:6). ‘I am the life.’ It is for this that He comes: Ego veni UT vitam habeant (John 10:10). “I am come THAT they may have life.” ‘It is for us that a Child is born; it is to us that a Son is given’: Puer natus est NOBIS et Filius datus est nobis (Introit antiphon of the Mass of the day).

In making us share in His condition of Son, He will make us children of God. “When the fullness of time was come, God sent His Son, made of a woman, . . . that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal 4:4-5). What Christ is by nature, that is to say the Son of God, we are to be by grace; the Incarnate Word, the Son of God made man is to become the author of our divine generation: Natus hodie Salvator mundi DIVINAE NOBIS GENERATIONIS est auctor (Post-communion prayer of the Mass of Christmas Day). ‘Today the Savior of the world is born; He is the author of the Divine generation to us.’ So that, although He be the Only-begotten Son, He (Himself) will become the First-born of many brethren: UT sit IPSE PRIMOGENITUS in multis fratribus (Rom 8:29).

Such are the two acts of the wonderful “bargain” that God makes with us: He takes our nature in order to communicate to us His divinity; He takes a human life so as to make us partakers of His divine life: ‘He (God) is made man so as to make us gods’: Factus est Deus homo, ut homo fieret Deus (Sermon attributed to St. Augustine, number 128 in the appendix to his works). And His human Birth becomes the means of our birth to the divine life.

In us, likewise there will be henceforth two lives. The one, natural, which we have by our birth according to the flesh, but which, in God’s sight, is not only without merit but, before baptism, is stained in consequence of original sin; which makes us enemies of God, worthy of His wrath: we are born filii irae (Eph 2:3) ‘children of wrath’. The other life, supernatural, is infinitely above the rights and exigencies of our nature. It is this life that God communicates to us by His grace, since the Incarnate Word merited it for us.

God begets us to this life by His Word and the infusion of His Spirit, in the baptismal font: Genuit nos Verbo veritatis (James 1:18) ‘He has begotten us by the Word of truth’ . . . Per lavacrum regenerationis et renovationis Spiritus Sancti. (‘He saved us, by the laver of regeneration, and renovation of the Holy Ghost.’) (Titus 3:5) It is a new life that is superadded to our natural life, surpassing and crowning it; In Christo nova creatura. (‘If then any be in Christ he is a new creature.’) (2 Corinth 5:17; Gal 6:15). It makes us children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, worthy of one day partaking of His beatitude and glory.

Of these two lives, in us as in Christ, it is the divine that ought to dominate, although in the Child Christ, it is not as yet manifested, and in us, it remains ever veiled under the outward appearance of our ordinary existence. It is the divine life of grace that ought to rule and govern, and make agreeable to our Lord, all our natural activity, thus deified in its root.

Oh! if the contemplation of the Birth of Jesus and participation in this mystery by the reception of the Bread of Life would bring us to free ourselves, once and for all, from everything that destroys and lessens the divine life within us; from sin, wherefrom Christ comes to deliver us: Cujus nativitas humanam repulit vetustatem ‘Whose birth caste away all the old things of human nature’(Post-communion prayer for the Mass of Day-break); from all infidelity and all attachment to creatures; from the irregulated care for passing things: Abnegantes saecularia desideria (‘that we should be denying ungodliness and worldly desires,’) (Tit 2:12; Epistle for the midnight Mass); from the trying preoccupations of our vain self love!

If we could thus be brought to give ourselves entirely to God, according to the promises of our baptism when we were born to the divine life; to yield ourselves up to the accomplishment of His will and good pleasure, as did the Incarnate Word in entering into this world: Ecce venio . . . ut faciam Deus voluntatem tuam (Heb 10:7) ‘Behold I come . . . that I should do your will, O God.’ Oh that we to abound in those good works which make us pleasing to God: Populum acceptabilem, sectatorem bonorum operum (Tit 2:14. Epistle for the midnight Mass.)!

‘Christ gave himself for us that he might cleanse to himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works’.

Then the divine life brought to us by Jesus would meet with no more obstacles and would freely expand for the glory of our Heavenly Father; then “we who are bathed in the new light of the Incarnate Word should show forth in our deeds what by faith shines in our minds” (Da nobis quaesumus omnipotens Deus; ut qui nova incarnati Verbi tui luce perfundimur, hoc in nostro resplendeat opere, quod per fidem fulget in mente. ‘Grant to us, we beseech you, almighty God: that, as we are bathed in the new radiance of your incarnate Word, the light of faith, which illumines our minds, may also shine through in our deeds.’ Collect prayer for the Mass at Daybreak).

Then, “our offerings would befit the mysteries of this day’s Nativity”. Munera nostra nativitatis hodiernae mysteriis apta proveniant (Secret prayer for the Mass at Day-break). “Grant, O Lord, that our offerings may be conformed to the mysteries of this day’s Nativity, that as He Who is born as man is also God made manifest, so this earthly substance (which He unites to Himself) may confer upon us that which is divine.”

III.

What further renders this exchange “admirable” is the manner in which it is effected, the form wherein it is accomplished. How is it accomplished? How does this Child, Who is the Incarnate Word, make us partakers of His divine life? By His Humanity. The humanity that the Word takes from us is to serve Him as the instrument for communicating His divine life to us; and this for two reasons wherein eternal wisdom infinitely shines out; the humanity renders God visible; it renders God passible.

It renders Him visible.

The Church, using the words of St. Paul, celebrates with delight this “appearing” of God amongst us: Apparuit gratia Dei Salvatoris nostri omnibus hominibus (Tit 2:11. Epistle for the midnight Mass): “The grace of God our Savior has appeared to all men.” Apparuit benignitas et humanitas Salvatoris nostri Dei (Tit 3:4, Epistle for the Mass at Day-break). “The goodness and kindness of God our Savior has appeared.”
Lux fulgebit hodie super nos, quia natus est nobis Dominus (Introit antiphon of the Mass at Day-break): “a light shall shine upon us this day: for our Lord is born to us”; Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14.)

The Incarnate Word brings about this marvel: men have seen God Himself abiding in the midst of them.

St. John loves to dwell upon this side of the mystery. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life: For the life was manifested; and we have seen and do bear witness and declare unto you the Life Eternal which was with the Father, and has appeared in us. That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you that . . . your joy may be full” (1 John 1:1-4).

What joy indeed, to see God manifesting Himself to us; not in the dazzling splendor of His omnipotence, nor in the unspeakable glory of His sovereignty, but under the veil of humble, poor, weak humanity, which we can see and touch!

We might have been afraid of the dreadful majesty of God: the Israelites fell on their faces to the ground, full of terror and fear, when God spoke to Moses upon Sinai, in the midst of lightnings. We are drawn by the charms of a God become a Babe. The Babe in the Crib seems to say to us: “You are afraid of God? You are wrong: Qui vidit me, vidit et Patrem (John 14:9). ‘He that sees me, sees the Father also’. Do not heed your imagination, do not form yourselves a God from the deductions of philosophy, nor ask of science to make My perfections known to you. The true Almighty God is the God that I am and reveal; the true God is I Who come to you in poverty, humility and infancy, but Who will one day give My life for you. I am ‘the brightness of {the Father’s} glory, and the figure of His substance’ (Heb 1:3). I am His Only-begotten Son, God as He is; in Me you shall learn to know His perfections, His wisdom and His goodness, His love towards men and His mercy in regard to sinners: Illuxit in cordibus nostris . . . in facie Christi Jesu (2 Corinth 4:6) ‘For God has shined in our hearts . . . in the face of Christ Jesus’. Come unto Me, for, God as I am, I have willed to be a man like you, and I do not reject those who draw near to Me with confidence: One of your Christmas prayers says: ‘He who was born as man, shone forth also as God,’ Sicut homo genitus IDEM refulsit et Deus.”

Why did God thus deign to render Himself visible?

First of all so as to instruct us: Apparuit erudiens nos. ‘(God) has appeared, instructing us’ (Titus 2:11-12). It is indeed God Who will henceforth speak to us by His own Son: Locutus est nobis in Filio (Heb 1:2 ‘(God) has spoken to us by his Son); we have but to listen to this beloved Son in order to know what God wills of us. The Heavenly Father Himself tells us so: Hic est Filius meus dilectus: ipsum audite (Mt 17:5 ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear him, all of you’); and Jesus delights in repeating to us that His doctrine is that of His Father: Mea doctrina non est mea, sed ejus qui misit me (John 7:16 ‘My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me’).

Next, the Word renders Himself visible to our sight so as to become the Example that we are to follow.

We have only to watch this Child grow, only to contemplate Him living in the midst of us, living like us as man, in order to know how we ought to live in the sight of God, as children of God: for all that He does will be pleasing to His Father: Quae placita sunt ei, facio semper (John 8:29 ‘for I do always, the things that please him.’).
Being the Truth Who has come to teach us, He will point out the way by His example; if we live in His light, if we follow this way, we shall have life: Ego sum via, et veritas et vita (John 14:6 ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’).

Thus, in knowing God manifested in the midst of us, we shall be drawn by Him to the love of invisible things: Ut dum VISIBILITER Deum cognoscimus, PER HUNC in invisibilium amorem rapiamur (Preface for Christmas “So that while we acknowledge God in VISIBLE FORM, we may THROUGH HIM be drawn to the love things invisible.”).

IV.

The humanity of Christ renders God visible, and above all — and it is in this that Divine Wisdom is shown to be “admirable” — it renders God passible.

Sin which destroyed the divine life within us demands a satisfaction, an expiation without which it would be impossible for divine life to be restored to us. Being a mere creature, man cannot give this satisfaction for an offence of infinite malice, and, on the other hand, the Divinity can neither suffer nor expiate. God cannot communicate His life to us unless sin be blotted out; by an immutable decree of Divine Wisdom, sin can only be blotted out if it be expiated in an adequate manner. How is this problem to be solved?

The Incarnation gives us the answer. Consider the Babe of Bethlehem. He is the Word made flesh. The humanity that the Word makes His own is passible; it is this humanity which will suffer, will expiate. These sufferings, these expiations will belong, however, to the Word, as this humanity itself does; they will take from the Divine Person an infinite value which will suffice to redeem the world, to destroy sin, to make grace super-abound in souls like an impetuous and fructifying river: Fluminis impetus laetificat civitatem Dei. (Psalm 45:5 in the Vulgate ‘The stream of the river makes the city of God joyful.’ It is Psalm 46:4 in the Hebrew.)

O admirable exchange! Do not let us stay to wonder by what other means God might have brought it about, but let us contemplate the way wherein He has done so. The word asks of us a human nature to find in it wherewith to suffer, to expiate, to merit, to heap graces upon us. It is through the flesh that man turns away from God: it is in becoming flesh that God delivers man:

Beatus auctor saeculi, Servile corpus induit, Ut carne carnem liberans, Non perderet quod condidit (Hymn for Lauds – Morning Prayer – at Christmas. ‘Blest Author of this earthly frame, To take a Servant’s form (body) he came, That liberating flesh by flesh, Whom he had made might live afresh and Not perish’.)

The flesh that the Word of God takes upon Himself, is to become the instrument of salvation for all flesh. O admirabile commercium! ‘O admirable Exchange!’

Doubtless, as you know, it was necessary to await the immolation of Calvary for the expiation to be complete; but, as St. Paul teaches us, it was from the first moment of His Incarnation that Christ accepted to accomplish His Father’s will and to offer Himself as Victim for the human race: Ideo ingrediens mundum dicit: Hostiam et oblationem noluisti: CORPUS autem aptasti mihi . . . Et tune dixit: Ecce venio . . . ut faciam Deus voluntatem tuam (Heb 10:5, 7. ‘Wherefore when he comes into the world, he says: Sacrifice and oblation you would not: but a BODY you have fitted to me. . . . Then said he: Behold I come . . . that I should do your will, O God’. See Psalm 39:8 in the Vulgate or Psalm 40: 6-8 in the Hebrew). It is by this oblation that Christ begins to sanctify us: In qua voluntate sanctificati sumus (Heb 10:10 ‘In the which ‘will’ we are sanctified’). It is from the Crib that He inaugurates this life of suffering such as He willed to live for our salvation, this life of which the term is at Golgotha, and that, in destroying sin, is to restore to us the friendship of His Father. The Crib is certainly only the first stage, but it radically contains all the others.

This is why, in the Christmas solemnities, the Church attributes our salvation to the temporal Birth itself of the Son of God. “Grant, we beseech You, Almighty God, that the new Birth of Your Only-begotten Son in the flesh may deliver us who are held captive by the old bondage under the yoke of sin” (Concede quaesumus, omnipotens Deus, ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem nativitas liberet, quos sub peccati jugo vetuita servitus tenet. Collect prayer for the Mass of Christmas Day.). This is why, from that moment, “deliverance, redemption, salvation, eternal life,” will be spoken of constantly. It is by His Humanity that Christ, High Priest and Mediator, binds us to God; but it is at Bethlehem that He appears to us in this Humanity.
See, too, how from the moment of His Birth, He fulfils His mission.

What is it that causes us to lose divine life?

It is pride. Because they believed that they would be like unto God, having the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve lost, for themselves and for their race, the friendship of God. Christ, the new Adam, redeems us, brings us back to God, by the humility of His Incarnation. Although He was God, He annihilated in taking the condition of the creature, in making Himself like unto men; He manifested Himself as man according to all appearances (Phil 2:6-7). What a humiliation was that! Later, it is true, the Church will exalt to the highest heavens His dazzling glory as the conqueror over sin and death; but now, Christ knows only self-abasement and weakness. When our gaze rests upon this little Child, Who is in no way distinguished from others, when we think that He is God, and that in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge, we feel our souls deeply moved, and our vain pride is confounded in the face of such abasement.

And what besides pride? Our refusal to obey. See what an example of wonderful obedience the Son of God gives. With the simplicity of little children, He yields Himself up into the hands of His parents; He allows Himself to be touched, taken up and carried about; and all His Childhood, all His Boyhood and Youth are summed up in the Gospel in these few words which tell how He was subject to Mary and Joseph: Et erat subditus illis. (See Luke 2:51 ‘And he was subject to them.’)

And next, there is our covetousness “the concupiscence of the eyes” (1 John 2:16), all that appears, glitters, fascinates and seduces; the essential inanity of the passing trifles that we prefer to God. The Word is made flesh; but He is born in poverty and abjection. Propter vos egenus factus est cum esset dives (2 Corinth 8:9 ‘Being rich he became poor, for your sakes; that through his poverty you might be rich.’). “Being rich, He became poor.” Although He is “the King of ages” (1 Tim 1:17), although He is the One Who drew all creation out of nothing by a word, and has only to open His hand to fill “with blessing every living creature” (Psalm 144:16 in the Vulgate and Psalm 145: 16 in the Hebrew), He is not born in a palace; His Mother, finding no room in the inn, had to take refuge in a stable cave: the Son of God, Eternal Wisdom, willed to be born in destitution and laid upon straw.

If with faith and love we contemplate the Child Jesus in His Crib, we shall find in Him the Divine Example of many virtues; if we know how to lend the ear of our hearts to what He says to us, we shall learn many things; if we reflect upon the circumstances of His Birth, we shall see how the Humanity serves the Word as the instrument to instruct us, but likewise to raise us, to quicken us, to make us pleasing to His Father, to detach us from passing things, to lift us up even to Himself.

“Divinity is clad in our mortal flesh . . . and because God humbles Himself to live a human life, man is raised towards divine things”: Dum divinitas defectum nostrae carnes suscepit, humanum genus lumen, quod amiserat, recepit. Unde enim Deus humana patitur, inde homo ad divina sublevatus. (Saint Gregory, Homily I, on the Evangelical Gospels.) ‘While divinity received (is clad) in the defects of our (mortal) flesh, the human race is given back the light that was lost. Because hence, God is acted upon (humbles himself) as a human (a man), consequently the human (man) is raised up to the divine things.’

V.

Thus from whatever side our faith contemplates this exchange, and whatever be the details of it that we examine, it appears admirable to us.
Is not this child-bearing of a virgin indeed admirable: Natus ineffabiliter ex virgine? (Antiphon for the Octave of Christmas: ‘Born from a virgin in a way that cannot be described’.)

“A young Maiden has Brought forth the King Whose name is Eternal: to the honor of virginity she unites the joys of motherhood; before her, the like was never seen, nor shall it ever be so again” (Genuit puerperal Regem, Cui nomen Aeternum, et gaudia matris habens cum virginitatis honore, nec priman similem visa est, nec habere sequentem. Antiphon for Lauds – Morning Prayer – at Christmas.) “Daughters of Jerusalem, why do you admire me? This mystery that you behold in me is truly Divine” (Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis. Antiphon for the Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the coming Birth – ‘Expectatio partus virginis’, on December 18 – a feast emerging from Spain which originally recalled the Annunciation).

Admirable is this indissoluble union, that is yet without confusion, of the divinity with the humanity in the one Person of the Word: Mirabile mysterium: innovantur naturae. ‘A Wonderful mystery: It is the restoration of nature’. Admirable is this exchange, by the contrasts of its realization: God gives us a share in His divinity, but the humanity that He takes from us in order to communicate His divine life to us is a suffering humanity, “acquainted with infirmity,” homo sciens infirmitatem (Is 53:3 ‘A man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity’), that will undergo death and, by death, will restore life to us.

Admirable is this exchange in its source which is none other than God’s infinite love for us. Sic Deus dilexit mundum, ut Filium suum Unigenitum daret (John 3:16). “God so loved the world as to give His Only-begotten Son.” Let us, then, yield up our souls to joy and sing with the Church: Parvulus natus est nobis et filius DATUS est NOBIS. ‘A Child is born to us, and a Son is GIVEN, yes, TO US.’ – Isaiah 11:6. And how is He given? “In the likeness of sinful flesh.” This is why the love that thus gives Him to us in our passible humanity, in order to expiate sin, is a measureless love:

Propter NIMIAM caritatem suam, qua dilexit nos Deus, misit Filium suum in similitudinem carnis peccati. (Antiphon for the Octave of Christmas ‘By reason of his GREAT love, wherewith he has loved us, God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,’).

Admirable, finally, in its fruits and effects. By this exchange, God again gives us His friendship, He restores to us the right of entering into possession of the eternal inheritance; He looks anew upon humanity with love and complacency.

Therefore, joy is one of the most marked characteristics of the celebration of this mystery. The Church constantly invites us to it, remembering the words of the angel to the shepherds: “Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy . . . for this day is born to you a Savior” (Luke 2:10-11). It is the joy of deliverance, of the inheritance regained, of peace found once again, and, above all, of the vision of God Himself given to men: Et vocabitur nomen ejus Emmanuel (Is 7:14 ‘And his name shall be called Emmanuel.’; and see Mt 1:23).

But this joy will only be assured if we remain firm in the grace that comes to us from the Savior and makes us His brethren. “O Christian”, exclaims St. Leo, in a sermon that the Church reads during this holy night, “recognize your dignity”: ‘Agnosce, O Christiane, dignitatem tuam’. “And made a partaker of the divinity, take care not to fall back from so sublime a state.” (Sermon I de Nativitate – ‘About the Birth of Christ’.)

“If you did know the gift of God” (John 4:10), said our Lord Himself. If you did know all that this Son is Who is given to you! If, above all, we were to receive Him as we ought to receive Him! Let it not be said of us: In propria venit, et sui eum non receperunt (Gospel for the Mass on Christmas Day: John 1:11). “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” By our creation, all of us are “His own”; we belong to God; but there are some who have not received Him upon this earth. How many Jews, how many pagans have rejected Christ, because He has appeared in the humility of passible flesh! Souls sunk in the darkness of pride and sensuality: Lux in tenebris lucet, et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt. ‘The light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.’ (John 1:5.)

And how ought we to receive Him? By faith: His qui credunt in nomine ejus, ‘to them that believe in his name’ (John 1:12). It is to those who — believing in His Person, in His word, in His works, — have received this Child as God, that it has been given, in return, to become themselves children of God: Ex Deo nati sunt. ‘Who are born out of God’. (John 1:13.)

Such is, in fact, the fundamental disposition that we must have so that this “admirable exchange” may produce in us all its fruits. Faith alone teaches us how it is brought about; wherein it is realized; faith alone gives us a true knowledge of it and one worthy of God.

For there are many modes and degrees of knowledge.

“The ox knows his owner, and the ass his Master’s Crib,” wrote Isaiah, in speaking of this mystery (Is 1:3). They saw the Child lying in the crib. But what could they see? As much as an animal could see: the form, the size, the color, the movement, — an entirely rudimentary knowledge that does not pass the boundary line of sensation. Nothing more.

The passers-by, the curious, who approached the stable-cave saw the Child; but for them He was like all others. They did not go beyond this purely natural knowledge. Perhaps they were struck by the Child’s loveliness. Perhaps they pitied His destitution. But this feeling did not last and was soon replaced by indifference.

There were the Shepherds, simple-hearted men, enlightened by a ray from on high: Claritas Dei circumfulsit illos (Luke 2:9 ‘the brightness of God shone round about them’). They certainly understood more; they recognized in this Child the promised Messiah, long awaited, the Exicctatio gentium (Gen 49:10 ‘the expectation of nations.’); they paid Him their homage, and their souls were for a long time full of joy and peace.

The Angels likewise contemplated the New-born Babe, the Word made Flesh. They saw in Him their God; this knowledge threw these pure spirits into awe and wonderment at such incomprehensible self-abasement: for it was not to their nature that He willed to unite Himself: Nusquam angelos, but to human nature, sed semen Abrahae apprehendit (Heb 2:16 ‘For no where does he take hold of the angels: but of the seed of Abraham he takes hold.’ He never took upon him the nature of angels, but that of the seed of Abraham.).

What shall we say of the Blessed Virgin when she looked upon Jesus? Into what depths of the mystery did her gaze penetrate — that gaze so pure, so humble, so tender, so full of bliss? Who shall be able to express with what lights the soul of Jesus inundated His Mother, and what perfect homage Mary rendered to her Son, to her God, to all the states and all the mysteries whereof the Incarnation is the substance and the root.

There is finally — but this is beyond description — the gaze of the Father contemplating His Son made flesh for mankind. The Heavenly Father saw that which never man, nor angel, nor Mary herself could comprehend: the infinite perfections of the Divinity hidden in a Babe. . . . And this contemplation was the source of unspeakable rapture: ‘You are My Son, My beloved Son, the Son of My delight in Whom I have placed all My pride and delights’ (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). The Son of His delectation.

When we contemplate the Incarnate Word at Bethlehem, let us rise above the things of sense so as to gaze upon Him with the eyes of faith alone. Faith makes us share here below in the knowledge that the Divine Persons have of One Another. There is no exaggeration in this. Sanctifying grace makes us indeed partakers of the divine nature. Now, the activity of the divine nature consists in the knowledge that the Divine Persons have the One of the Other, and the love that they have One for the Other. We participate therefore in this knowledge and in this love. And in the same way as sanctifying grace, having its fruition in glory will give us the right of seeing God as He sees Himself, so, upon earth, in the shadows of faith, grace enables us to behold deep down into these mysteries through the eyes of God: Lux tuae claritatis infulsit. (Preface for Christmas ‘The new Light of Your glory has shone upon the eyes of our mind,’).

When our faith is intense and perfect, we do not stay to look only at the outside of the mystery, but we go deeply into it; we pass through the Humanity to penetrate as far as the Godhead which the Humanity at the same time hides and reveals; we behold divine mysteries in the divine light.

And ravished, astounded at such prodigious abasement, the soul, vivified by this faith, falls prostrate in adoration and yields herself up entirely to procure the glory of a God Who, from love for His creature, thus veils the native splendor of His unfathomable perfections. She can never rest until she has given all, in return, to fill up her part in the exchange that He desires to contract with her, until she has brought herself wholly into subjection to this “King of Peace Who comes with so much magnificence” (Antiphon at Vespers – Evening Prayer – on Christmas Day) to save, sanctify and, as it were, to deify her.

Let us then draw near to the Child God with great faith. We may wish to have been at Bethlehem to receive Him. Yet He is here giving Himself to us in Holy Communion with as much reality although our senses are less able to find Him. In the Tabernacle, as in the Crib, it is the same God full of power, the same Savior full of tender mercy.

If we will have it so, the admirable exchange still continues. For it is likewise through His Humanity that Christ infuses divine life into us at the Holy Table. It is in eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood, in uniting ourselves to His Humanity, that we draw at the very wellspring of everlasting life: Qui manducat meam carnem, et bibit meum sanguinem, habet vitam aeternam (John 6:55 ‘He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has everlasting life.’)

Thus, each day, the union established between man and God in the Incarnation, is continued and made closer. In giving Himself in Communion, Christ increases the life of grace in the generous and faithful soul, making this life develop more freely and expand with more strength; He even bestows upon such a soul the pledge of that blessed immortality of which grace is the germ and whereby God will communicate Himself to us fully and unveiled: Ut natus hodie Salvator mundi, sicut divinae nobis generationis est auctor, ita et immortalitatis sit IPSE largitor. (Post-communion prayer of Christmas Day ‘Grant, O merciful God, that just as the Savior of the world born today is for us the author of divine generation, so too may He, HIMSELF be the bestower of immortality.’)

This will be the consummation, magnificent and glorious, of the exchange inaugurated at Bethlehem in the poverty and humiliations of the Crib.

The Divine Coming

The Divine Coming
Frank Duff

The time of Christmas and Epiphany is one of unmixed happiness. It is one of the few seasons of the Church year which have that purely blissful note. The sorrowful sequel to the events of this time is still far ahead; we are able to put the thought of it out of our mind and to immerse ourselves in the sheer joy of this period. It is a grace, I think, to be able to feel that joy, because it is an indication that, whatever our defects may be, we are attuned to the Church and its life.

The very thought of the coming of Our Lord should have the effect of stirring us to our depths. Of all events it is really the central one—that divine coming among us promised from the very beginning. How many years before was it that those words were uttered which promised the Redeemer: “I will set enmities between Thee and the Woman!” What hopes rested on that prophecy!

Those words spoken by Almighty God to the Serpent resounded down the ages and through all peoples. As the races dispersed over the world, they brought with them that promise. North, east, south or west, it went with them, and it became the heart of their religious systems. Every pagan mythology had that idea of a Redeemer who was to be born of a Virgin. In most of them it became much disfigured with the passage of time, but still we are able to trace the outline of it clearly enough.

But the theme was distinct, and remained so, in the Jewish books. In fact, as time went on and each new prophet arose, it was given greater clarity. “A Virgin shall conceive and bring forth a Son and they shall call his name Emmanuel”, that is, “God with us.‟ Then in the Book of Daniel the very time of the Birth is foretold in terms which are obscure to us but precise to the experts. And the place in which the paramount event is to take place is foretold by the Prophet Micheas in these words: “And thou, Bethlehem, art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel.”

And now at the time that we are commemorating the long-foretold event is about to take place. We would expect that around such a portentous happening there would be a setting that could be regarded as appropriate, something impressive. Should not that Woman and her Child of intertwined destiny appear in the heavens, clad in light, an astounding, even terrifying spectacle, overpowering the emotions of men? But as we are aware, things worked out in very different fashion. The reality strikes the opposite pole. It is not tremendous, but painfully simple; not divine-looking but abjectly human; not royal or rich, but poor—penniless. No palace, not even a habitation. Truly God‟s ways are not our ways.

Beautiful Thoughts and Memories

It is not about the doctrine of this wonderful Nativity that I am going to talk, but about its picturesque side, the one that stirs us, that rejoices us at this time of beautiful thoughts and memories.

I am going to pick some little of the symbolism, the legend, the literature, and perhaps even the fable, which love has woven around that eternal event. We must not decry those things just because they do not appear in the inspired narrative. Sometimes one hears people speaking lightly about that picturesque side. What is in the New Testament is very brief, a skeleton. We have to clothe that skeleton with flesh. Bear in mind that on that skeleton there really was a tissue. We do but piously try to restore it. The Nativity had its retinue of facts and circumstances, just as every item of history is so surrounded. But more than any other, this one was linked to men‟s lives. It determined the fate of all generations. Everything about it had a profound meaning. Everything down to the smallest detail had the purpose of fulfilling some prophecy, teaching some lesson, or making some eloquent pointing to the future. Recall the Scripture which tells us that not a sparrow falls without the Father‟s will; nor is there a hair of your head that is not numbered. That is the manner in which God descends into detail. The detail is infinite. We see too little of it and not too much. Especially this is the case in regard to anything which bore on the Messiah. Everything in the Old Law was symbolic of Him and of the Woman who was to bear Him. We see but a fraction, and it will be one of the sweet occupations of heaven to see all.

Every flower and stone and living thing, the water and the air, all are for Him and tell of Him and somehow reflect Him. It is not rash but a reasonable process to try to fill in what is not told, to endeavor to glimpse the divine pattern. Christmas is drawing nigh. The days of the expectation of the Child have arrived. Our Lady‟s preparations are advanced. Her sewing is done. The hearts of St. Joseph and herself are full of rapture. The long-awaited One, the Hope of Nations, the Salvation of the World, He that is Wonderful, the Counsellor, God the Mighty, Father of the World to come, the Prince of Peace (all these are epithets from the Prophet Isaias, among others), is shortly to appear to eyes.

The Road To Bethlehem

But at this point something asserts itself, something which appears to be purely human but which was foreseen by the prophets seven hundred years before. The merciless power of Rome steps in and takes a hand in the game. The Emperor Augustus decreed a census of his Empire. Of that dominion, the Holy Land had become part; because the scepter, that is sovereignty, had departed from Judea. This was one of the signs specified by the prophets of the coming of the time of Our Lord: that Judea would have ceased to be independent.

The imperial decree proclaimed that all must register without exception and that each one should do so in the city of his tribe. Mary and Joseph were of the tribe of David. The central city of the tribe was that place, the name of which is now so wonderful, Bethlehem. And so to Bethlehem they prepared to go.

The distance to Bethlehem is 86 miles. The road goes through Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is six miles from Bethlehem. It was winter time. Contrary to what we might imagine, winter there is cold and that cold could be severe. Probably there will be snow, and tradition clothes Bethlehem with snow on that great night. Here I remind you of the foretelling by Our Lord of the destruction of Jerusalem when He said: “Pray that your flight may not be in the winter time.” But He reserved that very fate for His most beloved, His Mother. He did not spare her. Her destiny was part of His; it came out of His just as His Body came out of hers.

That journey could have dangers as well as discomforts. The Bible is full of references to lions in Palestine. Leopards and bears and wolves lurked at that time in the caves and in the forests, particularly in the Valley of the Jordan. Night, of course, was their prowling time and the Holy Family would probably not then be abroad. In addition to the savage wild animals, there was a greater danger from the savage wild men, the brigands who then abounded.

While the Holy Family was not then unduly exposed to those kind of dangers, especially as there were crowds journeying by reason of the census, I point forward to the Flight into Egypt when they will have to face those perils in their grimmest form. Then they will be by themselves, moving by night, keeping away from the tracks that other travelers would follow. Because they will be flying from the pursuing power of Herod.

The Search For Room

It is reckoned that on the fourth or fifth day from Nazareth they would reach Jerusalem. Then they would of course hurry on to Bethlehem, which is the final short leg of the journey. They were days of immense fatigue, because Our Lady was not fit to travel. One old painting shows the scene. The little donkey bears that beloved woman. She is drooping. One arm is round St. Joseph‟s neck as he walks beside her, supporting her. An angel is holding the bridle of the donkey and steering it on its way. The saddle is just a folded cloth. Contrary to the common custom of portraying him as older, St. Joseph would probably have been about thirty years old.

One old legend said Our Lord was born a little prematurely, so anxious was Our Lady to see His face. This might have a bearing upon the seeming catastrophe of the refusal of Bethlehem to accommodate the wayfarers. More than other women do, Mary knew when her Babe should be born. She would not have deliberately placed that event in Bethlehem at the moment of great crowding. So it could be that Our Lord arrived a little sooner than expected.

We can imagine the anguished search through Bethlehem for accommodation. The position at the moment was that every member of the House of David was concentrated on that comparatively small town. Though they did not realize it, they were the playthings of a divine maneuver in being thus brought together. They were fulfilling their significant part in redemption. They were being assembled to be present at the birth of their greatest Child. The crowding of course was extreme. Imagine, for instance, what Cork would be like if every Cork man and woman had to return there for a day! We can see, too, that the exodus from the countryside, which we are so much deploring today, was a feature then as it is now. As Solomon declared, there is nothing new under the sun.

Bethlehem was—and I think continues to be—a place of about three thousand persons. It consisted of an amphitheater in a valley surrounded by hills, the town nestling into the bosom of those hills. It is an extraordinary thing that although Bethlehem had innumerable advantages of a type that we would call tactical or strategic for warfare, it possesses no title to fame other than the fact that it brought forth King David who was born there, and later, Him of Whom King David was the progenitor, the Prophet and the type, that is Our Lord. One thing which all travelers talk about and have talked about since that day has been the beauty of the women of Bethlehem. Some of the writers have not hesitated, probably with reason, to ascribe this to the blessing imparted to the place by her who was the most beautiful of them all.

There was no room for them in the inn at Bethlehem! Awful words, showing a shocking situation! “He came unto His own and His own received Him not.” First, they were seeking for ordinary accommodation, and in a little while they were seeking for any accommodation. Then they had to strike out further afield, and finally the celebrated stable was their sanctuary.

The Stable

Let us beware of thinking that this stable was a wooden structure of the crib type. It was a dugout or cave. It was a shelter for sheep or oxen in bad weather. In that least of places, which Papini in his well-known Life of Our Lord refers to as the dirtiest spot on earth, was born the Lord of the World. This series of frustrations and humiliations looks fantastic, but it is not quite as bad as we are inclined to think it. There is no question whatever, I would say, of Our Lady being just ruthlessly turned away from doors.

Living was a simpler matter in those days. The traveller brought along a rug or blanket; found a little spot between two other people in any shelter or under some sort of roof; squeezed in and slept. It is most certain that Our Lady could have been provided for in that manner. But in her case, privacy was necessary, and Bethlehem was like a tin of sardines that night.

But the amazing, the providential fact is that alone in all that land were the Holy Family unable to find a corner. Even on that night of over-crowding not one other person was relegated to that stable. However, they had in it the privacy that they needed, a privacy of the selects character, reserved to themselves alone.
It was not the picturesque haven shown by the cribs, with fragrant straw and nice cradle-like manger. The reality was very different. It is described by St. Jerome as being little better than a hole in the ground, and he should know because he lived in it for thirty years when he was translating the Bible into Latin. The place was the refuge of animals. We can imagine the rest. It was piercingly cold that night and miserably dark. How did they give themselves a light? We must assume that St. Joseph had a lantern.

One author tells us something that we would not have thought out for ourselves but which must have been the case. It is that in that abode were swarms of vermin and that these would at once rush to welcome anything warm and offering nourishment. Thus the new-born Child was destined to shed His blood the moment He was born. Contemplate the distress of the mother, helpless to save Him from this terrible affliction! Thus did Mary bring forth her Son and by the instruction of Gabriel call His name “Jesus”, because He would save the people from their sins.

Symbols And Legend

This happening is brimful of symbolism. As we have said, we cannot see too much symbolism in it. In fact we are only just scraping at the surface of it. The very name of Bethlehem is full of symbolism. It means “the House of Bread,” and its older name was “Ephrata,” which means “ the House of Flesh.” Here are two overwhelming prophetic paintings. Truly was Our Lord the House of Flesh in which the Divinity dwelt. Likewise you will recall that quotation in the Hand-book which points to the fact that Our Lord was laid in a manger because He was destined to be the Food of the world, and on straw which typified that He was the Divine Wheat later to be made into the Eucharistic Bread.

Present with the supreme personages in the cave were members of the animal order. They were there in a representative capacity. They were the faithful ass and an ox which was sheltering there. The ass was a biblical symbol of the Israelites, the chosen people, and the ox was a biblical symbol of the Gentiles. Here you have again this meaningful pointing to the mission of Our Lord to the chosen people and then to the whole wide world.

The legends go on to say that the cave was the ruin, or part of the ruins of an old palace of King David himself, who had been born there. Imagine if this should be true: that the excluding of Jesus from Bethlehem itself should bring about His being born in the palace of King David whose great Successor He would be.
Yet what meets the eye is degradation and rejection. Not only that, but one really could say, having regard to the defects of that habitation, that it was not a habitation at all; that He was born publicly.

Then the thought jumps to mind that He was likewise destined to die publicly. At that moment He will be even more deprived. Instead of the straw-filled manger, He will lie on the bare wood of the Cross. Instead of the rocky roof, He will only have the canopy of heaven. Instead of His Mother‟s soft fingers, the cruel nails will hold Him. As He was born publicly and rejected, He would die in the same way.

Shepherds Worship The Lamb

But on neither occasion would He be absolutely rejected. There would be a faithful few around the Cross, as there were around the manger. Scripture in its beautiful accents says to us: “ There were in the same country (actually it refers to the poor place called Beit-Sahur some little distance off) shepherds watching and keeping the night-watches over their flock. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them, and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said to them: Fear not; for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all people. For this day is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest. and on earth peace to men of goodwill. (St. Luke ii. 8-14.)

Tradition says that there were three shepherds. I wonder what proportion of the cribs give effect to that tradition? The shepherds hastened and found Mary and Joseph and the Infant lying in the manger, and they paid homage. This was of an importance that they did not remotely glimpse. Unconsciously they were the representatives of the chosen people: and very appropriately shepherds—for the Jews had been a pastoral race throughout their earliest history. Again the note of significant imagery is struck. Is it not shepherds who fittingly should be the first to honor the Lamb of God? The breathtaking detail of the whole thing!

And there is more. We are told that the Lord came to those who were least. Into that category entered the shepherds of Judea. These were a despised and rejected caste. The Courts of Justice were forbidden to receive their testimony and they were placed almost on the same level as the heathen. Yet, out of all mankind, it is to those that the Babe stretches out His arms first, and it is they of all mankind who yield the first tribute of homage to Him who has been the expectation of all nations. This is a fortifying thought to us Legionaries whose attention turns so instinctively towards the lesser elements in the population.
Still afar at that moment. but journeying ever nearer and nearer led by their star, were the Magi, the representatives of the Gentile races. They too were coming to salute the new-born King, second in time to the chosen people, but discharging their role better, more worthily, nobly, and meriting for the Gentiles the higher destiny which would descend upon them later.

His Mother

Jesus in His birth did his young Mother no hurt, no harm. In most other ways He implicated her in His own desperate fate. It was not His plan to spare her in any way, as was evident from the subsequent course of her life. His life was a privilege and in that privilege she was to share most fully.

But on this occasion He did spare her for some reason deeply connected with His plan, and when those eager shepherds came they found a radiant young woman in no way exhausted, but blissfully happy in possession of her Treasure, which she offered for their inspection and adoration. But she did not speak to them, because she was at the height of the time of ritual uncleanness prescribed by the Old Law. She was unclean according to the Law and she must not speak.

May we not suppose that she gave the shepherds the first Benediction ever given before they departed praising and glorifying God! St. Francis of Sales says that Mary and Joseph did not hear the angelic chanting that the shepherds had heard, but were left to the operation of pure faith.

Why did the shepherds‟ story, when they went forth proclaiming those things, not cause a greater excitement than apparently was the case? People seem not to have bothered. The Holy Family was not besieged, and later they went to Jerusalem for the Presentation without any fuss or even interest. It was left to a couple of people who were animated from within by the Holy Spirit to notice the Child and to take an interest in Him. Herod did not then take any action. Some of the old accounts say that rumors did circulate and that investigators were sent to Bethlehem to see what they could pick up. Noting the simplicity of the persons and the commonness of the whole business, he went away in absolute contempt. And that, no doubt, would represent the general attitude. Also remember what I have said on the subject of the alleged unreliability of the shepherds. When they talked, probably people believed that it was not the Divine Spirit, but a very much more ordinary type of spirit which was moving them. We must also take count of the normal human incredulity. It is difficult to make mankind believe anything that is supernaturally marvelous. Witness our own coldness towards the Eucharist and the scoffing attitude of the remainder of the world.

The apocryphal Gospels place on St. Joseph‟s lips a statement that at the birth, time itself stopped short for a moment: that everything in nature went into suspended animation; even the birds remained stationary in the air! That is one of the details which is more than an exaggeration and which we need not accept.
In the same line of thought is the captivating theme, dear to the poets, that on this unique day peace brooded over the world; no war-trumpet profaned the air; no sound was heard of clashing arms: no bloody streamlets stained the clay.

We are told pointedly by the Gospel that Mary kept all those things, pondering them in her heart. Why is this so significantly stated? Obviously in everything that was happening she was seeing, to a depth that we cannot probe, the realization of every prophecy and every symbol, and the total fulfillment of the Old Law. In particular she was remember- ing for St. Luke, because she was the main human source of the happenings concerning the Annunciation, the Birth, and all those earlier details of Our Lord‟s life that St. Luke sets down. It was from Mary, the Mother of God, that St. Luke learned all those things.

How To Have Confidence In God

How To Have Confidence In God
Fr. M. J. Huber, C.SS.R.

I.

Early in our childhood, in catechism class, we learned that there are three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity. The second of this set of three virtues has been selected as the subject of this pamphlet, namely, the theological virtue of hope.

When we were children in catechism class, we could snap off the names of the three theological virtues quite briskly and expertly, but perhaps we had only a hazy idea or picture of what was meant by a theological virtue, or even of what was meant by the name of each of the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity.

Now that we are grown up, we should like to tell ourselves: “Surely, I must have some definite idea of what is meant by faith and hope and charity. I must have some idea of what is meant by a theological virtue. Above all, I am sure that, as a Catholic, I must be practicing the virtues of faith, hope and charity in some way or other.”

That is true. It is impossible to live a good, genuine Catholic life without faith, without hope, without charity. We practice the virtue of faith when we believe what God has told us and tells us through His Church and live according to our belief, because we rely on the truthfulness of God, Who cannot deceive us.

We practice the love of God or charity when we live in His friendship and prove our friendship by keeping His commandments.

But where does the theological virtue of hope fit into our life?

I remember that, when I was a boy, it was customary to give the boys who were receiving their first Holy Communion a little cluster of emblems, to be worn on the coat lapel, a cross, an anchor and a heart: the cross for faith, the anchor for hope and the heart for charity or love of God.

It may help us in our effort to discover what part hope plays in our life to remember that hope was represented in this group of emblems by the anchor, which the sailor drops into the water, so that it may go down deep into the bottom of the sea and fix itself there firmly to steady the ship against the winds and waves of any storm.

But our hope is an anchor which we throw upward, into the skies of heaven, so that it can settle firmly in the faithfulness of God, Who will never abandon us…God, Who will give us the help and strength and security we need against the winds and waves and storms and trials that we meet on our voyage to heaven, God, Who will, at last, guide us safely into the harbor of salvation and into His arms in heaven.
We use the word “hope” often and freely in our daily speech. We say, “I hope we’ll have good weather tomorrow.” At the end of a letter we say, “Hoping you are well… .

Do we really know what hope is?

A mother hopes her bright little boy will some day be, if not president, at least a great man. We hope sometimes, when we are very tired, to be able to sleep for three days without interruption. We hope there will be onions on the hamburgers the hostess is passing around to the crowd for a snack.

None of these things has anything to do with hope; they are only desires not hope. Desires reach out for the little things which are not so hard to get. Hope reaches out for the great things which are hard to get.

But even this kind of hope that reaches out seriously for some great good, away out in the future, is not a virtue; it is an appetite or inclination of human nature—a natural inclination. This inclination, if nourished, this human hope gives us strength and courage and enthusiasm and makes us capable of almost any effort if we believe that our work, our trying, will be rewarded with success.

The hope of once more seeing home and loved ones bears up the soldier in time of war. The hope of a bountiful harvest gives strength to the farmer in his heavy labors. The hope of being well again encourages the sick man to swallow bitter medicines or to undergo a serious operation.

In all these things we see the natural hope of man, the human inclination to reach out into the future to get possession of some great good and to be willing to face and overcome great difficulties to get the good for which he is reaching.

This natural hope inspires strength; it converts a wish into expectation; it rallies our listless energies with the warm breath of courage and enthusiasm and makes us capable of the greatest efforts.

But the kind of hope we are discussing is something more than this natural inclination, more than this natural hope.

The theological virtue of hope is something supernatural, which, according to the word, means that it is something which is above our human nature to have as its own. It does not belong to us as human beings; it is not something which we can do as human beings, like talking, or seeing, or hearing.

This kind of hope is called an infused virtue, because it is communicated or poured into us by God and resides in us as a habit and not merely as a momentary act.

This kind of hope is called a theological virtue to signify that it turns us habitually toward God.

This virtue of hope enables us to trust firmly that God, Who is all-powerful and faithful to His promises will in His mercy give us the things He has promised us, namely, eternal happiness and all the helps we need to reach eternal happiness.

This supernatural gift of hope enables us to have absolute confidence that heaven and the perfect joy of seeing God face to face are within our reach, and that while we are here on earth, God will give us the help we need to get to heaven; that He will grant us the forgiveness of our sins, the grace to resist temptations and to perform good actions deserving a reward in heaven; that He will grant all these things to us if we do what He asks of us if we pray, keep His law and avoid the dangers of sin.

And all this hope and confidence rests on the faithfulness of God, Who has promised us all these things, Who never breaks a promise and Who never can or will deceive us.

Yes, hope is the anchor which we throw up into the skies of heaven so that it can settle firmly in the faithfulness of God, Who will never abandon us, so that we may find strength and security against the winds and waves and storm and trials of life that we meet on our voyage to eternity.

II.

So far we have been trying to get some kind of understanding of what we mean when we talk about the theological virtue of hope of what we mean when we talk about hoping in God.

It is good to have some clear, fundamental ideas about the virtue of hope, but it is much more important really to understand how to make use of this virtue of hope in a practical way.

We can learn our first lesson from the man we meet in the fifth chapter of the Gospel written by St. John. This man was lying beside a wonderful pool of water. From time to time, an angel of the Lord came down and stirred the water, and the first sick person who stepped into the pool after the stirring of the water was cured. This man had been lying there for thirty-eight years without being cured, because he had no one to help him and could not move quickly enough by himself; and someone always got to the pool ahead of him.

In all those years many came and were healed at the stirring of the waters. They went away joyfully with their friends, and laughter sounded in his ears from a distance. What years and years of waiting!

But one day a stranger stood beside him, looked at him and asked: “Do you want to be cured?”

The sick man looked up. He did not know Jesus.

“I have nobody to help me. I have no one to let me down into the pool when the water is stirred,” he answered. And there was that stranger, his Lord and God, standing at his side, ready to help him!
What happened? Our Lord, even without being asked, made the sick man well again.

It does not take many years of life to realize how weak and sick in soul we can become. How often we feel the reproach of our conscience for the past and tremble when we merely think vaguely about the future! Word comes of the death of a relative or friend, and we cannot help wondering, “How will it be with me when my turn comes?” Oh, if there were only someone who could assure us, help us, steady us how happy we would be!

How blind we are! How foolish!

Where is that anchor of hope that we are supposed to throw up into the clouds to fix itself firmly in the faithfulness of God? That anchor of hope which helps us firmly to trust that God, Who is all-powerful and good and faithful to His promises, will in His mercy give us eternal happiness and the helps we need to get eternal happiness in heaven? Where is that anchor? All kinds of baggage piled on top of it? Chain on the anchor all rusty and weak-looking? Too heavy to throw up into the clouds?

But look! You don’t have to go around throwing actual heavy anchors into the clouds. Look, I said. Look! Look with faith! There is God standing besides you all the while. He is not only far away in heaven. He is not only up in the clouds. He is right there beside you. He is within you! “After all,” says St. Paul, “He is not far from any one of us; it is in Him that we live and move and have our being. For, indeed, we are His children.”

All we need do is lift our trembling, tired hand, and He will grasp it as he clasped the hand of St. Peter, when he grew afraid and was being swallowed by the waves.

And He asks us: “Do you want to be helped? Do you want to feel secure? Do you want someone to comfort you? See, I am willing to help. Trust in Me. Keep your hand in mine, and we shall go safely on together.”

“I believe. I do believe!” we say. “I do hope. I want to hope. I want to have confidence. But I still feel as though I am looking at God as I would look at a stranger, with unrecognizing eyes. I still feel myself just shrinking together in my loneliness, and I am afraid that I am just wasting my time in being afraid.”
Well, I won’t tell you, “Don’t worry about that. It’s all right. Forget it.” No. But I will say this: if that is the way you feel about hope and confidence and trusting in God and worrying about the future and eternity, then you have a lot of company, you are not alone.

Even the great Doctor of the Church, St. Alphonsus Liguori, was tortured by discouragement and anxieties and scruples. When these fears came upon him, he would make a fervent act of faith and say: “God is all-powerful; He can help. God is good; He wishes to help. God has pledged His word, and He is faithful to His word; therefore He will help.”

But how often he had to renew this act of faith and hope!

St. Alphonsus, without doubt, made use of every means to make sure of his eternal salvation, as though the success of this great affair depended entirely upon himself. His life was a continual prayer, a constant effort to advance in the path of perfection, a constant devotedness to the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

Nevertheless his confidence was built not on his good actions but upon the goodness of God, the merits of Jesus Christ and the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Over and over again he would repeat, “My Jesus, You are my hope! Mary, my Mother, all my confidence rests in you!” And then he adds as a lesson to us, “When temptations attack us, we have no other recourse than to abandon ourselves into the hands of God. All other means are deceitful.”

One of the members of his congregation tried to quiet St. Alphonsus one day by reminding him of the multitude of the good works he had accomplished during his life. “What good works?” the saint said, interrupting him. “What good works, I ask you? Oh, no! Jesus Christ is all my hope and after Him, my good Mother Mary.”

Two years before he died, St. Alphonsus called the lay brother, who took care of him, and told him to write: “I, Alphonsus Liguori, profess that I am certain to die in the grace of God.” He had the paper taken to his director for approval. Then he signed it and kept it on the table near him, and in his anxieties and doubts he read and re-read these words until his fears were calmed.

Well! Alphonsus was a saint, and still he had his troubles—and plenty of them! See how he had to struggle against them and how he had to repeat his acts of hope and confidence over and over again.

And we—such weak and toddling children on the rough road to heaven! Shouldn’t we expect trials and troubles, too? Then don’t forget that anchor of hope that we must throw up into the skies to rest securely in the faithfulness of God. Don’t forget that Stranger, Who is our God, standing at our side, asking, “Do you want to be helped? Place your hand in Mine, and we shall go safely on together.”

We need courage in our life and work, and for courage we need hope. We must persevere to the end, and for perseverance we need prayer but there will be prayer only if there is hope, only if there is confidence in the power of God to help us.

III.

What is the foundation, the solid rock upon which all our hope and confidence must rest? We don’t have to guess.

The rock on which confidence rests is love not the love which we have shown toward God in the past, but the love which He has shown toward us.

Open the Scriptures, and on the pages of the Old Testament we see how God loves us and asks for our confidence. He tells us that as a father he would take us upon His knee. As a mother and if she should forget her child, yet He will not forget us. As a bride and bridegroom, so the soul and He.

In the pages of the New Testament we learn how our divine Savior used all His wisdom in explaining and assuring us of the truth of the doctrine which He taught. But His love for His sheep His love for the one sheep which has not been an especially good sheep is repeated over and over again.

The shepherd brings the flock of sheep home to the fold in the evening. He counts them one by one as they enter the gate. 97-98-99……..One is missing! He does not say: “All right, Number 100! You bad little sheep, you can stay where you are. I’m too tired to go out looking for you. Besides, you had no business separating yourself from the flock. You knew better. You can look out for yourself now.”

No!

The shepherd locks up the ninety-nine good sheep and goes out to seek the straying one. No matter how long the search; no matter if his feet are torn by thorns! His heart is torn with love for the one that is lost. And when he finds it, does he drive it back before him with bitter words of blame and reproach? No, He takes the lost sheep in his arms lovingly and carries it back with him. And what joy does our Lord speak of them: more joy for the one that was found than for the ninety-nine who were safe and sound in the fold!

Do you remember the story of the Prodigal Son? He comes back to his father after squandering his inheritance; but he comes back repentant and seeking forgiveness. That was all that mattered to the heart of the good father. And the prodigal is embraced by the loving arms of the father and welcomed home with joy and high festivity.

Do you remember the story of the good shepherd and the hireling? The wolf comes, and he is hunting, not for the whole flock, but for the one sheep that is lagging behind the rest. That is the sheep which the good shepherd guards and loves. For that one silly sheep the good shepherd is willing to die.

Now our Lord was not just telling beautiful stories when He told us about these things. He was trying to tell us how much He loves us and how much He will do for us, and how much He wants us to expect of Him.

But that is not enough. Our Lord is not satisfied with telling us of His love for us. He leaves His heaven; He comes to earth to take human form so that we may see love in human eyes and hear it from human lips and feel it in the throbbing of His heart. He puts Himself in pain, on the cross, scourged and crowned with thorns and lets His heart be broken open to prove that He loves us and how much He loves us, to show us how much He wants us to trust in Him. How can anyone refuse?

Even in our own day He comes back into the world, showing Himself to us, letting His heart be seen on fire with the flames of love and marked with the cross and crown of thorns, gently complaining that this is the heart which has loved men so much and which is not loved in return.

We are children of God. He holds His arms stretched out to us. Can we refuse to find strength in the strong arms of the Sacred Heart Who is begging for the alms of our love and confidence?

And even now, even after all this, we may still be inclined to think: “When I look at the crucifix, I find it easy to see how He died for all men in general. But for ME? I am like a drop in the ocean; like a leaf in the forest; like a grain of sand in the desert. And He died for ME?”

And so we stand and look at the crucifix just as one of the crowd and say, “Yes, He died for us. We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee, because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.”

But let us suppose that we say the words of the little girl, who always looked at the crucifix during holy Mass and said over and over ungrammatically but very correctly theologically: “It was me that did it!” If we can say that and we do find it easy to say that then why can’t we say, “It was for ME that He died?”

We know that our divine Savior loved little children; that He loved the sick; that He loved the poor; that He loved sinners. Yes, we can understand His love for all. But look at that crowd of children around Him. Could you point to any ONE of those little children and say, “He did not love that child.” Of all the sick who were brought to Him and cured, of all the sick in the land who never saw Him, could you point to ONE and say, “The Savior did not love that sick man or that sick woman?” Of all the poor in the land, of all the sinners of city and countryside, would you dare to point to ONE and say: “Christ did not love him?”

Then why do we fail to apply this lesson to ourselves? Think of all the children in the world today; all the sick; all the poor. Can I point to any one of them and say, “Christ does not love him, Christ does not love her?”

And when we begin counting off the great crowd of sinners that He loves even today, and my own turn comes to be counted, and I see my finger pointing to myself, dare I even think of saying, “Christ does not love me?” Ah, no! I forget that I am one of millions of sinners. I remember only this: that I am a sinner and that Christ loves ME!

And then I can say, “Now at last I know, at least in some small way, that He suffered for me and for my sins; that He was scourged and crowned with thorns and fell on the way of the cross and was nailed to a cross and died on it for ME and for MY sins. It was me that did it to Him! And it was me for whom He died. I adore Thee, O Christ, and I bless Thee, because by Thy holy cross Thou has redeemed me. O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put my trust in Thee!”

IV.

When Jesus loves, He loves eternally. He does not stop giving proofs of His love.

During the lifetime of Christ not many persons were granted the privilege of receiving Him into their home; only a chosen few had that privilege. But who is there today who cannot receive a much greater proof of His love in Holy Communion? For in Holy Communion we receive Him not into our homes but into our souls; and when He comes to ME, I need not share Him with anyone else. He gives Himself completely to me. His love found this way to prove that He loves ME.

And will He wait for me as He did for the Samaritan woman at the well? Will He grant me the opportunity even hours, if I want them for conversation with Him, as He did to Mary and Joseph and to His friends? Oh, yes! His heart still calls to me from the tabernacle, “Come to Me….and I will refresh you!” And there I find Him at any time of the day or night, waiting with a big welcome for ME.

Will He die again for me? Will He offer Himself again for me as once He offered Himself upon the cross? Yes— His love has found a way. When was that Sacred Host consecrated, under the appearance of which He gave Himself to you the last time you received Holy Communion? It was consecrated during the holy sacrifice of the Mass, in which He offered Himself for you in a deathless manner as He once gave Himself in death upon the cross. In this way He will offer Himself for you as often as the holy sacrifice is offered throughout the world.

Jesus loves me! What a mighty truth to give strength to my living; to give beauty to my loving; to give courage to my doing! He loves me whether I am alone or with others; at work or at prayer; tried by temptation and discouragement or happy and at peace. Then how much I can love Him in return not merely loving Him from the midst of the crowd, not only giving myself with the crowd; but forgetting all else except Him, I can look at Him face to face and trust in Him and give myself to Him because He loves ME!

Thoughts On The Passion

Thoughts On The Passion 

“JESUS IS STRUCK BY THE HIGH-PRIEST’S SERVANT” 
Translated Of A Sermon By Bourdaloue 

“And when He had said these things, one of the servants standing by gave Jesus a blow, saying: ‘Answerest Thou the High Priest so?’ (Jn. 18, 22).

What, pray, had Our Savior answered when questioned by the High Priest? What did He do to deserve such prompt chastisement? What was there in His reply to call for such an outrage?

Annas had asked Him for an account of His teaching, and in reply Jesus had referred him to His disciples whose testimony should be sought on this point. Does this constitute an offense? Is this sufficient cause for insulting Him, for striking Him on the face? But we cannot argue here according to the laws of equity, they are all transgressed; we cannot expect justice in a trial where passion dominates, and that one of the most violent of passions—envy. The only object of our consideration, of our admiration, of our imitation, must be the imperturbable calm of the Son of God under circumstances which would upset any man no matter how strong, no matter how much master of himself. Long ago had the Lord said by the mouth of His Prophet: “I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked Me, and spit upon Me.” (Isaias 50, 6). It is in this way that He would teach us to receive injuries, a lesson which is of practical importance in daily life—to receive injuries as Jesus did, that is, to bear and even to welcome them: to bear them by accepting them patiently, and even to welcome them by accepting them with joy: far from breaking forth into anger or seeking revenge, to go so far as to expose ourselves to them and even to love them.

Forgiveness Of Injuries 

What a test it must have been for Our Lord’s patience to receive a blow in the presence of a large assembly; to receive a blow as a punishment, as a correction; to receive a blow from a common servant. This is an unpardonable insult if offered to an ordinary man, but what an enormous crime it must be when we consider that it is offered, not to an ordinary man, but to the Son of God, to God-made-Man? Our Savior could have exacted terrible vengeance for this insult: He had only to say the word and fire would have come dawn from heaven to destroy the insolent aggressor: He had only to ask His Father for legions of angels to assist Him: He had but to make use of His own miraculous power in His defense. Not only had He the power to avenge Himself for the insult, but it would even seem to have been incumbent on Him to do so. For there is here a question of scandal. He is struck on the ground that he had shown disrespect to the High Priest. If He accepts it, He would seem to admit the charge of disrespect of authority, it would leave a stain on His character whose purity they had sought in vain to tarnish. Nevertheless, He would not exact the justice, because His action would be capable of being interpreted as springing from a spirit of resentment or a desire for revenge, and this is just what He desires to banish from men’s hearts, namely, all trace of that spirit of resentment and that desire for revenge.

It is not as if vengeance does not belong to Him since He is God: “Revenge is Mine” (Rom. 12. 19). Rut if it belongs to Him as God, it does not belong to Him as man; and since He is man as well as God, and what He did as God might be attributed to Him as man, He would not avenge Himself, in order to teach men not to seek revenge, and in order not to provide them with even an apparent precedent to which to appeal.

He had indeed worked a miracle in the garden, when, at His single word, the soldiers, sent to seize Him, had fallen backwards on the ground. But that was before they had attacked and laid hands on Him, when such a miracle could not be regarded as an act of revenge. But now that He has been outraged He does nothing. If He worked a new miracle His enemies would fear Him; but He prefers to appear helpless, rather than appear to act under the influence of passion, Therefore He answers, not haughtily, not insisting on His rights, but with unutterable gentleness: “If I have spoken evil, give testimony of the evil; but if well, why strikest thou Me?” (Jn. 18, 23). This is His only answer. He does not vindicate His rights: He does not punish the evil-doer with a punishment that would be an example for all time. For no matter how well-merited this chastisement might be, it could not but be taken for an act of revenge springing from natural resentment.

Our divine Lord avoids even appearing to take vengeance, for He has come to destroy among men the spirit of revenge. And since in this matter the appearance and the reality are hardly distinguishable, in order to destroy the reality, which is sinful, the slightest appearance must be avoided. As the giver of the New Law, He

had already given His commandment, and had taught forgiveness of injuries to His disciples; but, St. John Chrysostom says, that was not enough. He must safeguard this precept and put it outside the reach of all the stratagems and subtleties to which men descend, when under the influence of passion, in order to avoid its obligation and practice. For, the holy Doctor adds, how inventive we become when our self-love is aroused: we persuade ourselves that we are insulted when the injury is only imaginary; or if we have indeed received some slight injury, we magnify it out of all proportion. In order to justify ourselves, we put on a mask of righteousness, of zeal for the laws of equity: we draw up arguments and call in authorities to prove that we are doing only what is reasonable, what is expected of us, and seek a thousand and one reasons for justifying our action. It was necessary to put an end to all this; and in order to achieve this purpose, man could be left no room for argument; because there is nothing so subtle and so full of guile as the reasoning of a mind under the influence of passion, for then it is really the heart that reasons. So our Divine Savior had to strengthen this precept by putting it outside reason; and this He did by His example—by example in allowing this outrage to go unpunished, with even demanding reparation. For even if He did not wish to punish this insult offered so publicly, even if He did not wish to make use of His divine power by which He could overwhelm evil-doers and make them feel the severity of His chastisements, could He not appeal to the judge, could He not appeal to His own outraged innocence and to the High Priest’s dignity which was injured by this act of violence committed before his tribunal, before his very eyes? Instead, He renounces all His rights, He forgets all His interests, He sacrifices all His glory, and is concerned only in giving us an example of the most heroic patience.

This is an example so striking that it leases us no room for hedging. Now you will have difficulty in arguing, in justifying your action. After this example of our divine Savior you can only remain silent and give in. There is now no other rule to be followed, no other principle on which to act. It is a principle that is clear-cut and compromising; we cannot escape from it, inasmuch as it is so well within our powers of grasping. It is according to this principle that we must judge all others. It as the only principle that can repress the outbursts of a heart carried away by passion, be it ever so little Christian in outlook. In a word, from this principle there follows this great counsel put by our Divine Savior among the most important articles of that heavenly doctrine He came to teach us: “But I say to you not to resist evil, but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other.” (Mt. 5, 39).

If our divine Lord had merely spoken as Master and Teacher, we should always have received His word with reverence as coming from the source of all holiness and wisdom, but we could still say that it was too severe, that its practice was too difficult: “This word is hard,” using the words spoken by the people of Capharnaum in another context. The Son of God foresaw this possibility, and see the measures He took to prevent it. “Well,” He says to us, “if I must temper the apparent rigor of My teaching, I shall do so, I shall make it easy, and how shall I do so? By My example, for I do not want it to become a stumbling-block for you; I do not want My word, which is the word of life, to be the occasion of your leaving Me, to be the occasion of your loss by estranging you from Me. Is there anything more insulting than a blow on the face? Well, I shall expose Myself to this outrage, and My patience will temper the harshness of My precept which you find so difficult, and so impracticable.”

Indeed, it is impossible not to relish this teaching of our divine Savior, bitter though it may seem, when we see Him putting it into practice Himself. We cannot say that He demands too much of us in wishing us to follow His example. Should we not regulate our lives according to His? Does He not wish to reform the world as much by His example as by His preaching? It was for this very reason that He became like unto us, that He assumed our human nature, that we might become like unto Him, that we might follow His example. It is just this example of God bearing patiently a most grievous insult that is the greatest condemnation of our countless susceptibilities and extreme sensitiveness in all that concerns the false honor of the world, of our impatience and irritation so difficult to moderate or satisfy.

This is a vice that is very prevalent in our time, and is always on the increase. This is a vice which preachers of the Gospel with all their zeal and eloquence have not been able to correct. This is the last of all the vices of which we strive to rid ourselves, of which we believe we ought to rid ourselves. There are good people in the world who lead a fairly orderly life: their lives are characterized by nothing underhand, by no vicious habits or scandalous excesses; they are rather the soul of uprightness and honor in all things. There are pious and devout souls who give themselves to pious practices, who visit churches, listen to the word of God, practise mental prayer, frequent the sacraments, exercise charity towards the poor. There are religious souls who go yet further: with a view to arriving at the most sublime perfection, they give up all this world’s goods, renounce pleasures of sense, shut themselves up in a cloister, and there pass their days in poverty and

obscurity, in a state of subjection and dependence, in works of penance and mortification. All these things are due to the Grace of God, and for them we cannot thank Him too much. But,—can I venture to say it? among all these good Christians, among all those souls who are virtuous, or who at least strive after virtue, among all these souls who are perfect, or who at least wish to be perfect, and for that reason have retired from the world, among all these there is perhaps hardly a single one who can overlook an insult, who can forgive and forget. We learn all other things, we train ourselves in all other accomplishments, we practice all other virtues: we discipline ourselves to fasting, to watching, to prayer; we learn to chastise the flesh and to mortify it. But silence, patience, charity, moderation, self-control, especially when we believe ourselves to be offended, this is what we hardly ever leant, this is what we do not even want to learn. We make a point not to be so good, not to be so forbearing; we do not want to pass for a person who can be attacked with impunity, who cannot defend himself: we rather pride ourselves on the fact that we have rendered ourselves invulnerable, that we have taught others to respect us, not to take liberties with us. And for all this we have a thousand and one reasons of prudence, of dignity, of justice: but reasons which, when examined and sifted, reduce to this sole reason, that we do not want to suffer.

Nevertheless, we claim to live in accordance with the highest standards of morality, we spend long hours before the Tabernacle; we belong to a circle that sets itself up as a model of virtue; we experience raptures and ecstasies: of a truth, we are like those mountains mentioned in Scripture, which a single touch causes to emit thick clouds of smoke and blazing names: “Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke” (Ps. 143, 5). Such mountains are those souls so pure and holy, or at least that pass for such. They are high mountains, mountains that reach almost to the third heaven by the sublimity of their views and aspirations. But just cross them even in the slightest way; just let slip one word, one gesture of disparagement; just contradict them in any way, ah! then they become volcanoes in eruption, belching forth smoke and fiery lava: or if, perchance, they restrain themselves and show no signs of annoyance, it is only to nourish a secret grudge, which, like a hidden poison, acts slowly indeed, but only to produce its effects the more surely and the more malignantly at the opportune moment. This is a fatal obstacle to the virtue of so many souls that are otherwise irreproachable. It is an obstacle that can cause their ruin, from which they can never escape because it follows them everywhere; and besides, it is often in the most regular communities that it is most to be feared.

Whatever be your position in life, the example of Jesus Christ is meant for you. For the words of the Prophet addressed to Almighty God can easily he applied to you, you can say to yourself: “Look on the face of Thy Christ” (Ps. 83, 10). Have you been offended by word or deed? Have you difficulty in holding yourself in check and putting up with the offense? There are many considerations which would help to control your anger and to sweeten the bitterness of your heart, but the most potent of all is to look upon the face of your Christ. See this face before which the angels prostrate themselves in adoration, this adorable face struck by a servant: “Look on the face of Thy Christ.” your Christ, because for you He has been anointed: your Christ, because for you He has delivered Himself into the hands of His enemies, for you He was immolated Himself on Calvary: your Christ, He is more than that, He is your God. Now compare person with person, insult with insult; the sacred person of the God-Man, and your miserable little self; a blow on the face, and an offense, perhaps in itself altogether insignificant, which you nevertheless make such a fuss about. It is a stain on your honor, do you say? Is your honor more precious than that of the Son of God? It is against your interests? Is your interest more important than that of our holy religion which is attacked in the person of its head and author? You have been insulted, your person, your name, your rank, your birth, have all been disregarded? Is the insult offered to you greater than the insult offered to the sovereign majesty of God? No matter what you say, the answer is always the same: Look on the face of Thy Christ. Look on your Christ and learn of Him, not only to accept injuries patiently, but even joyfully, and, if needs be, to expose yourself to them, to love them. This is the point to be treated next.

Bearing Injuries Joyfully 

It is not enough for the example of the Son of God to extinguish in our hearts all desire for revenge. It should effect something more. It should make us ready to receive insult and contempt, and any attack on our honor, about which we are so very sensitive. What does this mean? Does it mean that we must be ready to accept generously any aspersions on our honor? No, that is too little to expect. Does it mean accepting it all willingly as coming from the hand of God? Even this is not enough. Does it mean that we must welcome it, love it, glory in it and seek after it? Yes, that is what we must strive after, and this, I venture to say, is something essential and often indispensable. Perfection, it would seem, cannot be raised to a higher degree; and yet this perfection, which appears to be so elevated, becomes, on many occasions in our daily lives, a precept which obliges us strictly in conscience. Let us develop this important point and make it as clear as possible.

For instance, what means must I take if I am to forgive injuries generously, as I ought, and not to desire revenge? What must I do if I am to be prepared on every occasion to uphold the cause of God, and to defend it; to oppose scandals which I see arising at every instant in the world about me, scandals which, in virtue of my office, it is my duty to suppress as far as I can; to disregard all those considerations which might deter me when the honor of religion and its interests are at stake? In a word, what must I do if I am to have an unshakeable resolution to behave as a Christian, and not bring dishonor on this glorious name, regardless of the cost, regardless of what may be said about me? In all these eases, and in countless others, what contradiction, what false judgments, what sharp words, reproaches, and calumnious talk, and even insults must be faced? How can we undergo all these evils with resolute firmness unless we are ready to love them for God’s sake, to welcome them for God’s sake, to honor them and even to glory in them for God’s sake? The faith which we profess demands of us the same sentiments which the Apostles expressed when they were calumniated and ill-treated by the Sanhedrin. They considered themselves happy to suffer all kinds of opprobrium for the name of Jesus Christ. “They were rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus.” (Acts 5, 41).

It is quite true, and beyond any possible doubt, that this requires great purity and generosity of heart; but it is a necessary virtue. And if our holy religion imposes on us a law that is so difficult and contrary to the tendencies of our nature, it also gives us the aids we need to practice it, and of these is there any more potent and more capable of consoling and strengthening us in the humiliations of this life than the contemplation of Our Divine Savior, God-made-Man receiving a blow on the face, and not merely receiving it, but even desiring and seeking it? Be quite sure of this, He received it only because He willed to receive it, for He could have prevented it. But not only did He not wish to prevent it, He desired it, He exposed Himself to it: He made it the object of His most ardent desires and, as it were, the object of His delight. The Prophet Jeremiah, when speaking of the sufferings of Our Divine Savior, used an expression which is very apt and very forceful, namely, that He would be sated with opprobrium: “Saturabitur opprobriis.” We do not partake of a dish which is distasteful to us; or if we must, only the bare minimum. But if it is a dish we like, we eat of it with relish, even with avidity; we eat our fill of it, even to satiety. Our divine Master made humiliation His food. He took His fill of it. If the Son of God made humiliation His food and the object of His desires, in order to procure the Glory of His Father and the salvation of men, should it not become for us an object of respect, of veneration, even of love, especially since by it the same Glory of God and the salvation of men are obtained?

This explains why the saints have rejoiced at being the objects of persecution and the contempt of the world. It is for this reason that St. Paul, who was as proud as any man and knew what real honor was, since he was of noble blood and enjoyed the privileges of Roman citizenship, nevertheless found pleasure in even the most humiliating outrages, as he so emphatically declared on several occasions: “I place myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ.” (II Cor. 12, 10). He did not say merely: “I console myself”, “I am resigned”, “I strengthen myself to face these outrages,” but. “I take pleasure in them” And why does he say this? “Because my Savior has made them holy, and they have become precious in my estimation” It is for this reason that David, though he was King, seeing this mystery of God being violently outraged, instead of fleeing from insults, awaited them, asked for them, received them with thanks as if he received favors. “My heart hath expected reproach.” (Ps. 68, 21). Semei, one of his subjects, poured out maledictions and reproaches upon him, but .the King blessed God for them. His whole court, righteously indignant, wished to punish the audacity and presumption of the insolent fellow, but the King forbade them. “Let him be,” he said, ”God has sent me this humiliation: it is a gift from God. Do net take it way from me.” Who could have inspired David with a sentiment so unusual .in a King, and even so much opposed to all principles of policy? It could be nothing else than the consideration of His God and Savior, undergoing the ignominious sufferings of His Passion, revealed to him in vision. He saw the God of all glory, the sovereign majesty, insulted by a blow on the face, and filled with a holy indignation at this spectacle, he cried out: “Ah, Lord, who fear after this all the outrages in the world; who would not long for them, since You take them for yourself and make them ornaments of Your Sacred Humanity? Therefore, My Lord, I accept them, no longer simply as a proof of my patience, for I have no longer any need of this virtue, but as the fulfillment of the desires of my soul which waits for them and longs for them. My heart hath expected reproaches.” Note well the reason he gives, for it contains a short formula for the whole of the gospel teaching: “For the reproaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon me.” (Ps. 68, 10). Because, My God, all the outrages heaped upon You in Your dolorous Passion, have fallen in anticipation on me: because,

having considered them carefully and in thinking upon them, I have had most lively experience of them myself: because they have filled my heart with a supernatural desire, with a supernatural love of them, with a love of them not in You, Lord, but in myself. For even though I am attacked personally and these outrages are offered to me, I regard them as Yours, and considering them in that light, how can I not love them? Yes, Lord, they are Yours, since You have made them pass from Yourself to me, and after first experiencing them You have made them fall back on me. ‘Because the reproaches of them that attacked Thee, have fallen upon me.” (Cf. St. Augustine: Commentary on Ps. 60).

Only the Grace of God can establish a soul in this disposition and this is not surprising, for only by the Grace of God can we do homage to the humiliations of the God-Man. Flesh and blood cannot teach us these grand maxims or those exalted moral principles; only the Father Who is in heaven can reveal them to us, only the Son Who came down an earth, only the Holy Ghost Who abides in our soul. And this work is, as it were, the masterpiece of God’s all-powerful Grace. But let us be fully convinced of this fundamental truth, that without it we cannot be Christian at all. This is what Scripture teaches, and this is what we must take to heart. For this is a point that must be insisted on, a point that we cannot meditate on too much: that it is impossible to be a Christian, even a simple Christian, if we are not prepared for insults of all kinds; for there are countless occasions in our lives on which we are bound, under pain of damnation, to expose ourselves to humiliations in order to satisfy our conscience and for the salvation of our soul. Furthermore, it is impossible to be really prepared for humiliations as long as we retain a voluntary aversion for them; and finally, we must inevitably have the same horror of them, unless we have a just estimation for them and love them for God’s sake. These propositions follow necessarily one from the other, because we cannot love what we do not value, and we must value what we consider wretched and contemptible. We must therefore begin with the intellect in order to form in our hearts those real tendencies which God requires of us. In proportion as we learn to value insults and outrages, as the world calls them, we shall reverence and welcome them.

But how can we value and love what lowers us in the eyes of men, what humiliates us and takes away from us our honor? As long as we regard them in themselves, and do not look beyond them, we cannot value them; but we must not consider them in themselves, we must view them in Jesus Christ, in relation to Jesus Christ. That is, we must look upon them as a portion of the reproaches offered to Our Lord, as making us like Our Lord; as something to offer to Our Lord, as an opportunity of showing our love for Him. When viewed in this light there is nothing so humiliating, nothing so degrading in the eyes of the world, which does not become glorious to the eye of Faith, which we do not embrace as a benefit, as a favor.

This lesson is so much beyond ordinary human views, that it is impossible to make it too clear, and to point out exactly what is expected of us in practice. Such expressions as to esteem insults, to love insults and rejoice in them, to receive insults willingly and even with pleasure, are so strange and so much above our feeble nature, that we wonder what it all means. It does not mean that we must stifle all feelings of repugnance. It does not mean that we most become so entirely callous that we do not experience those movements of self – love or displeasure which are really inseparable from our human nature. It does not mean that we must feel pleasure in them or that they should appeal to our sensitive nature. It is true that some saints have reached the stage where they had so far repressed their lower nature that no insult or outrage could disturb in any way their peace of soul; they sought them as eagerly as ambitious men seek vain distinctions and worldly honors. Numerous examples can be given, but they are all extraordinary graces, miracles of Christian humility which are in no way indispensable to the practice of this virtue. It means that in spite of what worldly prudence tells us, in spite of even the most violent revolt of our sensitive nature, we consider ourselves happy to share the ignominy of the Son of God, especially when it is for the Glory of God or in defense of the Faith. It means that we must prefer to be despised, to be ridiculed, to be condemned and even persecuted for justice’ sake, rather than by compromising, to be applauded and praised and honored. It means that we must have an inviolable resolution never to deviate from the path of virtue, whether in the hope of worldly distinction or through disgust for a hidden and a lowly condition.

Sometimes we may be greatly agitated, we may be moved to the very depths of our being, we may be tempted to burst out in reproaches and angry recriminations. At critical moments we may feel helpless, unable to bear any more. But amid this storm of our senses from which our reason and our will stand aloof, we remain immovably fixed in our adherence to the same principles, which are the principles of the Gospel. We hold firmly that it is a good, the greatest good in this life, to be able to prove our fidelity to God when we feel most desperate. We find strength in Our Lord’s words to the Apostles: “They will accuse you, they will calumniate you, they will speak all kind of evil against you. But do not you relax in the exercise of your ministry, do not worry. On the contrary, you ought to glorify it, and rejoice. Be glad and rejoice.” (Mt. 5;12). We are sustained by these consoling thoughts: that the greatest glory of a Christian is to make to God the sacrifice of his own glory; that if it is the most difficult sacrifice, it is also the most meritorious of eternal life; that a humiliation received in such a good cause is a deposit which receives hundredfold profit; that there is no better way of showing Him our inviolable devotedness; that if at first it is bitter to the taste, this bitterness soon changes into a sweetness that is real and sometimes even overflows into the senses, if we use the eye of Faith in judging an insult which is offered to us. All such considerations give the soul, not the blind prudence of this world, but a truly divine wisdom; they strengthen it; they restore its calm, and give it peace in the midst of circumstances which give rise to so many disturbances and wars among men.

Almighty God on His part, is never outdone in generosity; He never abandons a faithful soul; but pours out His Grace in abundance, so that there is nothing, no matter how distasteful, no matter how repellent, which His Grace cannot make sweet. With the help of His Grace we are in a position, if I may so speak, to face for the honor of God, for the defense of Holy Church, for the good of religion, for the fulfillment of our duty, any insult and outrage. In fact, the more we are loaded with insult, the more do we cry out with the Royal Prophet: “It is good for me that Thou hast humiliated me. (Ps. 118,. 71). Blessed art Thou, O Lord, for allowing me to be thus humiliated, since it is all for You.” We repeat the words of the Apostle: “Maledictions are heaped upon us, but we cannot answer but in benediction and thanksgiving. Blasphemies are hurled against us, but we reply by praying for those who speak evil of us. We are regarded as the least among men, +and far from being grieved, we rejoice in it” (I, Cor. 4,12). For we know why we are treated in this manner. It is because we belong to God and wish to belong to Him always; it is because we never wish to depart from the obedience due to the commandments of God nor to turn away from His Law; it. is because we use the authority which we have received from God to maintain order, to uphold the law of equity, and know no compromise in these matters; it is because we use the gifts God has given us and the zeal with which His Grace has inspired us to attack vice, to combat error, to unmask falsehood. If for these reasons we are decried, if our characters are painted in the blackest colors, if we are the object of hatred and spite, it ought to be a source of consolation for us, it is a sign of our triumph, it is something for which we cannot sufficiently thank the Lord, Who is testing us, and we cannot repeat often enough the words of the Psalmist: “We have rejoiced for the days in which Thou hast humbled us, for the years in which we have seen evils.’ (Ps. 8. 151.)”

May it please God to animate you with this spirit. If He does not raise you to the point of rejoicing in insult, He will at least strengthen you against one failing which is very common among Christians—namely, human respect, which is an obstacle to so many good works, and is the cause of many disorders and evils. Because we are afraid of ridicule or mockery we often neglect most important obligations and even allow ourselves to be led on to excesses and crimes which are abhorrent to us; because we have not the strength to overcome a false sense of shame, how often do we experience its disastrous results. If we wish to free ourselves from this slavery, let us follow the advice of the Apostle, and keep before our minds the example of Our Blessed Lord: “Looking on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of Faith.” (Heb. 12, 2). He is its Author by His wisdom, and its Finisher by His love: He is its Author by His all-holy doctrine, and its Finisher by His divine example. He did not wish to be the Author of our Faith without also perfecting it; not only lest we should think that it was quite easy for Him to order things thus without having to observe them Himself, but above all because its perfection seemed to Him as glorious and as worthy of Him as its authorship. While wishing us to be faithful observers of His Law, He reserved to Himself the glory of being the perfect model of its observance, the Finisher of our Faith. St. Paul tells in very explicit terms how He did this: “Who having joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame.” (Heb. 12, 2).. It was by despising the shame, by rising above it and bearing it with courage and constancy. But I venture to add something to these words of the great Apostle without altering their meaning; it was not only by despising the shame but by loving it. Hence I can never hope to have a really strong faith nor a truly solid piety, as long as I am dominated by human respect, by the fear of not being the subject of conversation, by the fear that man will turn against me, that they will attack me. But as soon as I am freed from this slavery, as soon as I am no longer ashamed of my God and of my duty, then I begin to be a Christian. Going, if necessary along the way of humiliation, which is so contrary to the false ideas of this world, I shall arrive at that true glory, which is the eternal glory.

A More Excellent Way

A More Excellent Way
Archbishop Goodier, S.J.

I

It is important for us to bear always in mind that we learn Our Lord as He was, and therefore as He is, wholly from the Gospels. Other Lives of Him, other writings, books of meditation and the like, may help us to interpret Him; they may give us the fruit of the discoveries of others; but in the end even the most inspired and the most living of these must be referred back to the Gospels; if their picture differs from that given by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, then, however beautiful and fascinating and elevating it may be, it is not Jesus Christ, but some fine fancy of an artist’s imagination. On this account, whatever else one may read and study—Lives of Christ, works on the spiritual life, mystical books, the letters and other writings of saints, great biographies, inspiriting histories, records of martyrs, subtlest theology, annals of the Church, poetry the most sublime — all, it may be, written to enlarge and deepen our concept of Our Lord—still one can never lay aside the constant reading of the Gospel; the constant following of Him through their pages who alone, and in them alone, is set before us infallibly as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

And, in fact, in them we have enough; not, it is true, enough to satisfy our human curiosity, for we are keen, almost beyond endurance, to know everything that can be known, even to the most trivial detail, about this “most beautiful among the sons of men”; but enough to form a perfect picture, nay more, enough to bring up before us a living reality, the study of which will occupy us all our lives, will occupy all men all their lives, and even at the end the mine will not be exhausted.

Let us but look for Him there, allowing other books to help us as they may, but not making them our final source, and we shall find Him for ourselves. We shall find this Man, Jesus, stamped from the beginning with a strange directness and clarity of vision, which nothing can ever divert, or draw aside, or make to falter; He could meet His mother’s tears with a direct reply: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” the remonstrance of John the Baptist, the first of saints, with the check:

“Suffer it to be so; for so it becometh us to fulfill all justice”; to the end there is never any confusion, any doubtful understanding; He walks through life and death knowing always what would be.

We shall find Him next, as a natural concomitant to this, always clear, and firm, and decisive in His judgements, speaking always “as one having authority,” always so that His enemies were forced to exclaim: “Never has any man spoken as this man speaks”; unhesitating, true, no matter what the circumstances against Him, no matter how men heckled Him, how they tried “to catch him in his speech,” no matter what tact He was at times compelled to employ.

We shall find Him unerring in His estimates of men. He is never deceived or drawn away by a surface impression, never yields unduly, or against His better judgement, to occasion, never confounds evil with misfortune; but distinguishes truth from falsehood, real evil from real good, the canker at the root of human life from the mere withered branches, the “ things that are for the real peace” of men as opposed to make-believe forms; He discriminates between reality and truth in all alike, whether in the heart of a disciple or in that of an enemy, in the saint or in the sinner, in the believer or the pagan, the conventionally good, those who pass muster among men, or the outcast criminal.

This stamp of utter, unerring certainty and of absolute trustworthiness because of certainty, is the first trait we discover. Alongside of this we shall find Him the tenderest of hearts, a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a true and not a patronizing or condescending friend, the exact equal of each and all, with an individual understanding and sympathy for every heart that opens out before him, yet never does He confuse one with another, never does He weary of one in preference for another, much less exclude one for the sake of another, never is the love or interest of anyone diminished because He has love for so many. On the other hand, never is He weak, or overindulgent, or soft, or too blinded by affection to see the evil or the limitations of His beloved. He gives love lavishly and to all who will have it, even the most debarred from human love, yet none would call Him languid or sentimental; He wins love from those who are conquered by His presence, because He is so true, so strong, so selfless in purpose, so single-minded, so unable to deceive. Men might call Him by bad names; they might accuse Him of other evil deeds; they might say that He worked by Beelzebub, that He was possessed, that He was an impostor, that He blasphemed; they could never say, though He loved so much and showed it, though His love went out to the most loathsome and abhorred so that some took scandal, that this His love was ever other than understanding, and true, and generous, and enduring, and uplifting, and in itself perfect.

Again, we shall find Him ever constant. He has a definite work to do, a definite life to live and death to die—that is written on every page of the record, in His journeys, in His teaching, in His attitude to men, as much as it is constantly and repeatedly expressed in his words—and never for a moment does He swerve in its accomplishment. Failure may depress Him, but He does not despond; opposition may alter His plan, but it does not slacken His effort; malice does not embitter Him; deceit, false-hood, trickery, deliberate misconstruction of His words or actions, desertion, treacherous friends, faithless or weak-kneed companions, fruitlessness of all He may do, even deliberate rejection—none of these things can lessen His endeavor, make His hand tremble, or the feet on the mountains falter. None of these things can alter Him; always and everywhere, from beginning to end, He is the same; He seems to give no thought to consequences, or fruits, or reward; whatever the results, He has a work to do, and the doing of the work is all that He considers; He tabours, not looking for reward; toils, not demanding rest; steadily He walks through life to His goal, “giving testimony of the truth,” speaking as one having authority,’’ always “going about doing good,” to all alike, deserving and undeserving, friend and enemy, alien and ally, who will deign to accept from Him the blessing He strews along His path as He goes.

With these three, His absolute truth of understanding, His boundless, tender heart, His constancy in action, we shall find Him, as a necessary consequence, looking out on men with infinitely tender eyes. Never a human being comes within His horizon, but He looks through it with the eyes, of accurate judgement it may be, but indefinitely tempered by love; with intimate understanding He interprets it, with the welcome of friendship He receives it; there is not a good thought thinkable about it, not a good interpretation possible to put upon its wayward deeds, but that thought and that interpretation will have found a place in His mind. While others find reason justly to condemn, He will find reason to save; while justice puts a limit to the time of repentance, and permits the law to run its course, He will wait till the very last moment, and in the end will rescue. He does not compel men; He has too much regard for them to drive. He offers them Himself and awaits the issue; when they look wistfully He invites them to draw near; once or twice only does He make the first step, usually He leaves that to them; but when they do come near, when they do let Him see that they want Him, then His eyes glisten, and His heart expands, and His hand opens, and there is interest, and sympathy and longing in every look and gesture; He was never so near seeming foolish, as when some pleading soul showed that it believed and responded, and the key was thus applied to the flood-gates of His bursting affection.

These are four main lines that go behind the portrait of him “that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bosra, this beautiful one in his robe, walking in the greatness of his strength,” as the four Gospels consistently describe Him. This is He who, when the Evangelist himself endeavors to depict Him in the abstract, can only be summed up in the words of the Prophet:

“The bruised reed he shall not break, and smoking flax he shall not extinguish”; yet whom that same Prophet also called “Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace.” We see Him clearly enough before us, and we know we are not mistaken; this Man of firm, unflinching manner, yet with not a shadow of hardness; grave in His looks, inspiring silence, yet with it something that attracts; an eye that looks out to long distances, yet not a soul feels itself passed over; glistening as through tears, yet strong as the eye of an eagle; a lip that trembles as the lip of a quivering maiden, yet so firm set that the weakest has courage from its strength. We see Him wrapt in deep thought, speaking words that set the wisest pondering, yet withal in such simplicity that the children understand Him; looking out beyond the limit of life, yet not a flower in the field, or a bird of the air, or an outcast cripple on the roadside is forgotten; with a toiler’s hand, and brain, and heart, and ambition consumed with eagerness for labour, yet ever ready to yield up His task when His Companionship is needed; consumed with zeal for His Father’s house, with zeal for truth and justice, yet patient and pitiful even as He smites, gentle as the gentlest mother.

All this we see and much more: the love of loneliness, though “his delights are to be with the children of men”; the love of prayer, though He cannot tear Himself from the crowd, not even to take food; the love of peace, though His days are one long warfare; the love, seen in His every outside behaviour, to be one with all men, though He could not keep from them that which prompted them to make Him their king. But it is useless to carry on the portrayal; we go on and on, the fascination grows, at each new step we see more and more, for He is utterly transparent; and yet at every point at which we stop we feel that we have said nothing. The Evangelists knew him better than we, and they did not venture to describe Him. They were content to let Him walk through their narrative, preaching the Kingdom, healing the sick, having compassion on the multitude, or retiring into the mountain to pray, knowing well that in so doing He would not be lost amid the details; His personality would be too great for that; they knew they would, in their simple story of simple fact, leave behind them that on which all generations would ponder, yet which they would never exhaust.

And indeed it is so. The more we contemplate it, look at it with believing eyes, warmed by love, stirred by hope and trust, the more vivid does the portrait grow, the more living are the features. They are, we know them; “we have found him whom our soul loveth, we have held him and will not let him go.” Other portraits help, copies, facsimiles, drawn by more recent artists; but all these have their limitations, some have their exaggerations, none are exactly accurate; all have what life they possess from the great original, and only in so far as they reproduce its fire have they any inspiration in themselves.

II

This is some little shadow of Jesus as the Gospels show Him to us; more if we like, and, above all, more of the details, we can gather for ourselves. These are four guiding lines; we can easily cluster much else around them. For He is not difficult to discover; He needs no great effort of psychology or analysis; He is Himself just simple and true, just meek and humble of heart, and by truth and simplicity, by humility and meekness, He is best to be found; let us not forget His own prayer of thanksgiving wrung from Him at a moment when the learned turned away in scorn: “Heavenly Father, I give thee thanks that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones.” Nor again His other words of warning: “Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of God.”

It is worth our while to weigh the meaning of these words. We complain of our want of fruit in prayer; of its dryness, its emptiness; often we only mean, but we do not know it, that we are looking for fruit, not of prayer, but of study; we are watching for that reflex knowledge that comes of thought and study, not for that deeper insight, that fuller under-standing, that realization which is found in faith and love and hope, which is the real fruit of prayer, and which can no more be weighed and measured than life itself can be weighed in pounds or measured by yards. In other words, we judge by the standards of poor grown-up people, and not by the unerring standard of a child. A child needs but its mother’s company to know her, to love her, and to trust her, yet its knowledge, and love, and trust are not less true, or less complete, or less admirable on that account.

And in precisely the same way there is a knowledge of Our Lord which no books or pondering can give us; which can be gained only by living in His company; by living in His company as He glides through the pages of the Gospels; as he plies His daily trade at Nazareth, quiet, monotonous, till we become almost forgetful of His presence; or creeps away in silence up the mountain-side, till that, too, becomes a habit with us; or walks by the riverside, unnoticed in the crowd, except by one who alone has eyes to see.—how strange that those who fail to see Him claim this as proof of their superior knowledge! —or stands firm and frank before the people, now appealing, now commanding, now consoling, now rebuking, but always the same strong pillar on which all may lean; or sits at table, now with friends, now with enemies, familiarly treated, yet always reverenced, contemned by some, yet feared by others, held in awe, yet never losing that which is expressed in the phrase “only Jesus”; or sleeps in the boat, feeble, yet almighty; or compassionates by lowering Himself to the lowest, yet in such a way that because of it men would hail Him as their king; or denounces evil with a thunder that cows the most violent, yet all the while infants clamber on His knee—living with Him in the midst of all this, in busy streets or along lonely byways, in public Jerusalem or in the privacy of Bethany, we come to know Him as He is for ourselves, and we know that we know Him, whatever those who know Him not may say, and even though we have not, nor care to have, a single word with which to express it. “ It is the Lord!,’ “ I to my beloved and my beloved to me.” “I know in whom I have believed.” That is enough.

My Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Wonder of the world, most beautiful among the sons of men, before whom Thy very enemies bow down, acknowledging the marvel of Thy countenance, the perfection of Thy character, the invincible attraction of Thy whole self, how strange a thing it is that there can be those who pass Thee by unnoticed, how stranger still that even we can pass Thee by! Yet is it even so. We believe, we are certain, we know; we build our life here, and our hope hereafter, on Thee and Thy claim; we own Thee, not only to be perfect Man, but to be very God of very God; we see in Thee alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, the climax of all for which this world was made, the source from which flows whatever of good this world contains; we can see all this, and know it to be true, and in our moments of emotion can think we would gladly give our lives to witness to its truth; and yet the next minute we can ignore Thee; we can go counter to Thee; we can go our way through life as if Thou hadst never been.

More than this. We who have the light can reach behind the simple story of the Gospels; with Thy Apostle St. Paul to guide us we can understand in part what Thy Resurrection signified; that “having once risen thou diest now no more, death can no more have dominion over thee”; that therefore Thou art living now as Thou wast living then, the same Jesus now as then, the same utter truth, the same fascination, the same understanding sympathy, the same beating heart: “Jesus Christ yesterday, today, and the same for ever.” We can realize all this, understand it sufficiently to know that it is true; we can accept the fact of Thy being, and of Thy nearness to us here and now; and yet we can think, and act, and build up our lives as if it were not or as if to us it meant nothing. We can, with eyes of faith, see Thy face glowing in the darkness; with consciousness of hope we can feel Thy hands stretched out to us to seize our own; with the instinct of love we can distinguish the very accent of Thy voice, even as did Thy fellow-countrymen of Galilee, calling to us, whispering our very names, telling us of love that human words cannot express—all this is ours, and by its very clearness we know it to be true; it is no fancy, it is the offshoot of no mere sentiment; and yet withal we can turn away, our vision obscured by the fascination of a trifle; and we can act as if we preferred to walk with Thee no more, as if we bad never learnt to “taste and see how sweet is the Lord!”

Nay, there is something more. We can hear Thee, in words that true hearing cannot misunderstand, giving Thyself to us to be our slave, to be our food, our life, our abiding companion; yet we can still remain unmoved. One or two among men in the ages past we can see who have learnt Thee, and, once they have learnt, have counted all else but refuse in comparison; who have loved Thee, and, once they have begun to love, have known for certain that no other love could draw them away, with this no other love could compare; who have given themselves to Thee, and, once they have made the surrender, have then proved what heroism, what a true man’s strength can accomplish—the strength that conquers torture, that makes a toy of death; the strength that magically turns everything to gladness. We can all see this; we can admire and approve; we can say that here is a man at his best, because he has found the true goal of his being, has become infused with the very life of life, has attained to that likeness to Jesus which is man’s ideal—all this we can see, and can say, and then can turn about upon our heel and go our way, as if for us these things had no meaning.

Truly, what a strange thing is man! Whether it be the man who believes, yet is not subdued, or the man who will not believe, as if to believe so grand and great a truth were in some way demeaning to himself. Demeaning to acknowledge Jesus Christ! Demeaning to own Him for my Brother, whose kinship makes me royal! To call Him my friend, whose great heart expands mine beyond the limits of the world! To take Him for my companion, whose comradeship gives life a new meaning! To accept Him for my Leader, whose service is a hallmark of nobility! To set Him up for my ideal than which neither God nor man could make anything more grand! Demeaning to be won by Jesus Christ! If man thinks so, or if in his meanness he acts so, can he be worth so great a gift? Can he be worth the offering of the life, the outpouring of the blood, of Jesus?

Yes; even to this Christ says, “ Yes”; and it is a last disclosure of His character, the crowning feature of all, a revelation which breaks down the heart of St. Paul, and would break down the heart of every man who would let himself be penetrated by it. “Christ loved me, even me, and gave himself for me, even for me.”

III

When I was younger, a novice in religion, and knew myself less, and knew others less, and was full of high ambitions in the spiritual life, and sought in books and in study, in thought-out plans and schemes on paper for guides to the summit of perfection, I set virtues before me, and meditated on their beauty, and proposed to myself to acquire them, sub-dividing them, analyzing them, arranging their degrees as the steps of a ladder. This week, as the good spiritual writers bade me, I would acquire the virtue of patience; next week it should be a carefully guarded tongue; the week after should be given to charity; then should come the spirit of prayer; and in a month or two, perhaps, I might have an ecstasy and “see the Lord.” But now, when I have grown older, and find myself still struggling for the first of these virtues, and that in a very elementary degree, and have been taught quite other lessons than I dreamt of, in part by the sorry disappointments in my own soul, in part by the progress seen in the souls of others, I am convinced that there is one road to perfection better than all else—in fact, that if we neglect this one no other will be of much avail. After all, it is possible to acquire perfection in virtues, and yet to be far from a saint; few men have made better use of the particular examination of conscience, for the acquiring of natural virtues, than a certain well-known atheist, and yet to the end he remained without a spark of religion in him.

On the other hand, it is possible to be a great saint, and yet to be imperfect in many respects: ask the saints themselves and they will all tell you of their many failures and shortcomings. But one thing is not possible; it is not possible to grow in the knowledge, and love, and imitation of Jesus Christ, without at the same time growing in the perfection of every virtue and becoming more a saint every day.
This, then, if I were allowed to begin my spiritual life over again, is the line along which I would try to live it; and is the line along which I would try to lead the lives of any whom God gave into my care. Particular virtues are good things— of course they are; it is much to be always patient, to be diligent in the use of our time, to be considerate with those who try us, to keep our tongue in control; nevertheless, “Do not the heathens this?” And is it not possible to possess all these, and yet, on their very account, to remain as proud as Lucifer? I would go further and say that the devil himself must possess many of these virtues; he can certainly bide his time, he can be very busy, he can speak honeyed words, he can accommodate himself to everybody’s needs, he can be the most attractive of companions. But these things are not the main issue; they are often no more than the paint on the surface; and truth, sanctity, only begins when the core of the creature is affected. And this is done, almost alone, by love; when the creature loves, then it is changed, and till then scarcely at all.

Thus it is that the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ goes deeper down than any Stoic striving after virtue; it is flesh and blood where the other is but bleached bones; it gives life and substance where the other is only dead perfection; the imitation of Jesus Christ includes every virtue, makes them unconsciously our own, produces them from itself, and does not merely put them on from without, even as the brown earth gives forth the beauty of spring flowers and does not know it.

Hence, in practice, were I to be asked for an application of all that I have been here pleading for, I would say:

1. Read spiritual books, yes, as much of them and as many as may be convenient; but do not measure growth in the spiritual life by the number of books you have read; do not even measure it by the amount of learning they give us. Remember the warning of St. Ignatius: “It is not abundance of knowledge that satisfies the soul, but to feel and to relish things with the inner man.” Read to provide material for this inward perception and relish; but do not count it necessarily loss that there are books we have not read, or authors of whom we know nothing. And, above all, read the Scriptures, especially the Gospels, with an eye less upon ourselves, and more upon Him whom they describe; in that, more than in any other reading, shall we find that knowledge and true spirituality grow together.

2. Hold spiritual conferences, yes, but less about ourselves and our own despicable faults, or even our little virtues and ideals; more, far more, about Him and His superb perfection, forgetting ourselves in the glory of His sunshine. By so doing it is true we may lose the satisfaction of watching ourselves grow in holiness—that is dangerous satisfaction at the best—but instead we shall grow the more naturally and fully, and He will know it, and that is enough.

3. Make meditation, yes; pray, yes; give the thirsting soul as much of this as it can take. But do not spend all the time lamenting our own littleness and our own shortcomings, patching up our petty, threadbare resolutions and will-o’-the-wisp ideals which, experience has taught us, are only set up that they may topple down again each day. Instead fill the hours of prayer with His absorbing presence, with His invigorating company, the loving admiration of this Beautiful of the sons of men, the joy of His friendship, the interpretation of His mind, sympathy with the gladness and sorrows of His heart. Fill our prayer with these things, creep through His wounds into His very soul, thence look out through His eyes upon heaven and earth, and our little selves prone at His feet, and though by the process we may forget our own spiritual ambitions, we shall instead unconsciously become what He was.

4. Examine our consciences, yes; but do not turn it into an everlasting pecking at the soul, ceaseless beating of this poor creature, which time has long since shown us comes to little good. Instead, let the eyes of Jesus look at us, let us see ourselves through those eyes, the joy we are to Him for our encouragement, the sorrow for our trusting contrition, the smile on His face or the wistful look of disappointment at the sight of us; and it will be strange if the constant sight of Him does not produce its lasting effect.

IV

There remains one more point on which human nature will ask to be assured. We may accept that growth in the knowledge, and love, and imitation of Jesus Christ is the all-important matter in our spiritual lives; we may also have grasped in some way how it may best be obtained; but human nature is tempted to ask a further question, and that is: Can we know, for certain, and if so, how can we know, that we have attained it? There are many tests of love, some true, many false; some good as far as they go, but inadequate; others indications only of temporary feeling; the signs of perfect love are usually far removed from these, usually devoid of all sentiment.

We may see this in ordinary life. A sign of understanding and love between two friends is a certain agreement, a sympathy of mind. They see things the same way, they look to the same ends, they share each other’s knowledge and views in order that they may think together; almost unconsciously their minds harmonise, become alike, and this is the best sign of all. So it is between the lover of Christ and His beloved. They see more and more alike as they come into communion, along the same perspective, towards the same goal; the interpretation of life given by the one becomes that accepted by the other. The sinner first sees his own sinfulness in all its hideous degradation; gradually he sees it with the eyes of Jesus Christ, and in that light it shows itself infinitely worse; soon those very eyes tone the horrid picture, for there come the tears of pity and mercy; self-hate softens to self- humiliation, self-humiliation to appeal—and the soul that before only knew itself unfit for any consideration, seeing itself as its Lover sees it, finds in its very unfitness a reason to cling, and to hope, and to love, and even to rejoice all the more.

Then with those same eyes it looks down the lane of life, and finds new ideals for which to live. What are those ideals? They are not far to seek, for He has fixed them as He walked before us. “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” “He that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” “My food is to do the will of him that sent me.” “I seek not my own will, but the will of him that sent me.” “I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me.” “I have done the work thou gavest me to do.” “Father, not my will, but thine be done.” So in many places does the mighty Lover of mankind give to His beloved men the key to the problem of life. “In the head of the book it is written of me, that I should do thy will, 0 my God.”

In like manner the true lover of Our Lord finds himself, without any conscious effort, without even making of this a special virtue, simply, instinctively, because his heart beats in harmony with the heart of his Beloved, seeing ever more and more the will of God in all the circumstances of life, making this his one aim, longing for this as the cure of the ills of men, finding in its fulfillment his chief satisfaction. The man in whom the will of God becomes ever more his dominant ideal, the thing that is above all for his peace, may assure himself, whatever he may feel, however little display of love he may show, that his love of Jesus Christ, nevertheless, is real and fruitful and growing.

Again, we notice in those who truly love one another a tendency to become, not only of one mind, but also of one heart. Not only do they think and interpret alike, work towards the same ideals, and use the same means, but where the heart of one goes out, there the other’s heart will tend to follow. Love loves what its beloved loves, and because its beloved loves it; once it knows, it asks no further questions, or, if it does, they are only to discover ever more motives for love.

If, then, our knowledge and love of Jesus Christ our Lord are true, we shall find ourselves feeling what He feels, and as He feels it, suffering as He suffers, and for the same reasons bright when He is bright, and because we know there is gladness sparkling in His eyes, pouring out our love where He pours it out, and in the way that He bestows it. And, indeed, this is the one and only test that He Himself gives of true knowledge and love of Himself. “If you love me,” He says, “keep my commandments.” “If any man love me, he will keep my word.” And what is His commandment? What is His word? He leaves not a shadow of doubt. “This is my commandment, that you love one another.” “A new commandment I give to you, that you have love one for another.” “In this shall men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”

Here, then, is our second test, utterly infallible; if we are really growing in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, we shall inevitably be growing in the understanding and love of others. “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” It is good to aim at charity, for its own sake, to practice it as a discipline upon ourselves, to set it as our standard of good breeding and behavior, to take it as a hall-mark of education, a proof of a broad mind, a test of a kindly nature, even a definite spiritual ideal in itself. But there is a “yet more excellent way” than any of these, and that is growth in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. Nay, more; in comparison with this, the virtue acquired by this discipline and training and conscious effort scarcely deserves the name of charity. For charity is love, and love abides and comes from within; it is founded in the heart and expands itself outward; it is not put on as a garment; it is therefore an effect more of the training of the heart than of any external discipline. The man who really learns to love will do acts of love; it is not always true that the man who learns to do acts of love really cares, and therein lies the danger of acquiring charity by practice. But charity acquired through love of Jesus Christ is free from all such falsehood; it begins from within; usually at first, like a spring blade breaking through the ground, it gives little sign of its true nature; it lives in lowliness, bides its time, shows its charity chiefly by patience and endurance, by humble submission and service; meanwhile it attunes itself to Him, learns to love as He loves, for the reasons that He loves, in the way that He loves; and when the day comes for sacrifice such love will not be found wanting.

There is yet a third test, which includes and goes beyond the two just given, and which in regard to our study of ourselves may be of less concern, though it matters very much in reality. “Love makes like.” Those who love one another unconsciously grow in likeness to one another; in manner, in habit, in expression, in the turn of the foot or the play of the hand, even it may be in features the resemblance tends to develop. I know a religious Order whose nuns have, almost all of them, a little mannerism in their walk; were I taken into one of their convents blindfold, and one or two of the sisters were to pass by. I am sure I should be able to detect where I was. I believe these nuns have got their little manner from their sainted Mother Foundress; she has built her Order on love, and therefore the resemblance.
So, then, will it be between the lover of Christ and the Beloved. The mere intercourse has its silent effect; the manner of Christ is instinctively caught, the portrait is reproduced, the character is expressed; there is the same intentness of gaze, the same gentleness of hand, the same ease combined with energy in the whole bearing of the body; the thoughts, words, actions of Christ find an echo in him who loves; gradually he lives—no, not he, but Christ lives in him.

Thus does he “put on Jesus Christ”; and when he has done that it is everything. He will need no other teacher; he will possess the virtues he lacked; prayer will be spontaneous, and will solve its problem for itself; he will speak, when the time calls for it, “as one having power”, he will “go about doing good”; he will suffer, perhaps, “even unto death,” but his “sorrow will be turned into joy”; for in him will be accomplished the wish of his Beloved: “that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be filled.”

Practice of Union with Our Lord Jesus Christ for the Season of Advent

Practice of Union with Our Lord Jesus Christ for the Season of Advent
Fr. J. B. Saint-Jure, S.J.

[From the book, Union with Our Lord Jesus Christ in His Principle Mysteries: For All Seasons of the Year. By Rev. John Baptist Saint-Jure, S.J.Translation revised by a Father of the same society. New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co., 1876. Imprimatur: John C. McCloskey, Archbishop of New York.]

I. The Subject

The practice of union with our Lord for the season of Advent, has for its subject the adorable mystery of the incarnation, and his dwelling during the space of nine months in the most pure womb of his holy Mother. The mystery of the incarnation is a mystery of union, a mystery of love, a mystery of glorification, and a mystery of annihilation.

It is a mystery of union, because the divine nature was in it united intimately, substantially, personally, and forever, with the human nature, and the Son of God became the Son of man. “The word was made flesh,” (John. i. 14,) and the one formed with the other so close a union “that,” St. Bernard says, “God and slime, that is to say, man made from the slime of the earth, were joined together in the inseparable unity of one person, and all that God did appeared to be done by the slime, and all that the slime suffered seemed to be suffered by God in it, though a mystery as incomprehensible as it is inexplicable.” (Serm. 2 in Vigil. Nativ.) And earlier than St. Bernard, St. Leo had said: “There is such a communication and so close a union between the two natures, while each retains inviolable its own qualities, that there is no division of goods nor of evils between them, but what belongs to one belongs also to the other.” (Serm. 8 in Nativ. Dom.) So the Son of God by this union made himself, as St. Paul says, “in all things such as we are, without sin.” (Heb. iv. 15.)

The incarnation is a mystery of love, because, as the principal and strongest inclination of the person who loves is to desire and procure by all the means he can devise, union with the person beloved, the love that God bore to man caused him to desire, to seek, and to bring about this admirable union. And this shows evidently and clearer than the sun the infinite greatness of that love which St. Paul so often describes to the faithful, and which he says surpasses all thought and language.

The incarnation is a mystery of glorification, inasmuch as human nature was in it raised to such a height of glory that there is no science nor power that can raise it higher. Speaking on this subject St. Augustine says “that this elevation of human nature is so high and eminent that it cannot be more so.” (L. I, de Praed., Sanct. c. I.) The reason is manifest, because human nature is raised in this mystery to the throne of the Divinity, and a true man is become true God. St. Augustine in another place says: “God desired to show in what esteem he held human nature, and what degree of honor he gave it among all creatures, when he was pleased to appear to the eyes of men as a true man.” (L. de vera Relig. c. 16.)

The incarnation is also a mystery of glorification of the Divinity; because God, wishing to be infinitely glorified according to his merit, not only in himself, but also outside of himself, as he obtains the first by his Word which is the knowledge infinitely excellent and the sovereign esteem he has of himself, so for the latter purpose he has employed the only means possible, namely, the production of a creature capable of rendering him a glory absolutely infinite.

This he has done in the adorable mystery of the incarnation wherein that same Word is personally united to our nature in an individual humanity, to which, besides the created gifts bestowed upon it that incomparably surpass all those he has granted to all other creatures, he has communicated substantially all his infinite perfections, making it infinitely holy, perfect, and capable of glorifying God infinitely; and this in two manners:

The first, by the simple manifestation of those perfections; for, as St. Augustine says, “the beauty of creatures is the glorious testimony and the praise they render to him who created them.” (Serm. 143, de temp.)

The second, interiorly, by his own acts, which the Incarnate Word always referred to the honor of God, and which, being all infinitely excellent on account of the infinite dignity of his person, all honored God infinitely. This second manner is also exterior; for our Lord by his example and teachings induced men to honor God, and he is, moreover, the cause of all the honor and praise that are offered to God and that will be offered throughout all eternity, and the principle of all the good works that will ever be done in the world, since they are due to his merits.

This is the reason why the Sacred Scriptures frequently call the Incarnate Word the especial glory of God; (Ps. lvi. 9; lxxxiv. 10; Is. lx. I; Rom, iii. 23) and the celebrated words of St. John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John i, I.) The Word that is God is the eternal and infinite glory of God, because it is the thought of infinite esteem which he has of himself and which is justly proportionate to its object. “And the Word was made flesh,” and we saw the glory of God that is that same Incarnate Word, the Son of God, the honor and glory of his Father, even as the wise son, as Solomon says, is the ornament and glory of an earthly father. (Prov. x. I.) “The Word was made flesh;” therefore, at the moment of his birth, the angels sang “Gloria in altissimis Deo,” as though they meant to say: We can now give to God in this Child all the glory he is worthy of; and it is this Child that gives it to him, and all creatures likewise can give it in and by this Child.

Thus it is that our Lord Jesus Christ in his quality of the uncreated Word, is the infinite glory of God in himself from all eternity; and as the Incarnate Word, he is still the infinite glory of God in himself and outside of himself for all eternity to come. This shows us that the incarnation is, as we have said, a mystery of glorification of the Divinity.

It is, finally, a mystery of annihilation, in the person of God, because, in order to unite himself to us in that manner and to testify his love for us by so indisputable a proof, and to elevate us to the height of infinite glory, it was necessary for him to humble, abase, and annihilate himself, making himself man, a son of Adam the sinner, a poor man and a miserable creature, and consequently a mere nothing, as the creature is of itself. St. Paul teaches us this great truth in these remarkable words: “Being in the form of God, he thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but debased himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.” (Philipp, ii. 6.) The Son being God by essence, and not deeming it an injury to his Father to esteem and call himself God, nevertheless annihilated himself, taking the nature of a servant when he took man’s nature, and when he appeared both in body and soul in all things like us.

The incarnation is a mystery of annihilation in the humanity of our Lord, because that humanity was despoiled of its natural personality, annihilated to itself and to all that distinguishes the person of a man; and still further, it was annihilated in all the inclinations of man for honors, comforts, and pleasures, the Word to whom it was united, leading it in the very opposite ways of opprobrium, poverty, and suffering.

The incarnation is a mystery of annihilation in our Lady, who, to be capable of assuming the character of Mother to the Man-God, had to be humbled and annihilated in her own estimation below all creatures.

Our Lord, during the nine months that he dwelt in the most pure womb of the Blessed Virgin, as in the purest and holiest place on earth, was ceaselessly occupied in praising, blessing, adoring, thanking, and loving his Father, and in offering to him his soul and body, his being, his faculties and their operations, for that Father’s glory and the salvation of men. He addressed him at the instant of his incarnation these words of the Royal Prophet which the Apostle repeats: “Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldst not, but a body thou has fitted to me. Holocausts for sin did not please thee. Then said I: Behold I come, that I should do thy will, O God.” (Heb. x. 5, 6, 7; Ps. xxxix. 7.) I know that neither peace offerings, nor holocausts, nor victims slain for the expiation of sin, please thee; but that thou hast given me a body to be sacrificed in their stead. Thou hast thus decreed; I submit. I offer myself cheerfully for the execution of the sentence, and I give myself to thee to do with me all that shall please thee. Our Lord also occupied himself in justifying and sanctifying his holy Mother, and in enriching her with gifts and graces; he likewise thought graciously of all men, and of you in particular, and he yielded himself in spirit to suffering, infamy, and death, for your salvation.

Now, although the womb of the Blessed Virgin was the holiest place in all the universe and the one most worthy of receiving our Lord, still, in view of his infinite majesty as God, and of the perfect use he had of his reason as man, and of all the graces and wonderful gifts he possessed, the obscurity and lowliness of that dwelling where he was shut up in general privation of all the objects of the senses, causes the Church to say to him with St. Ambrose and St. Augustine: “ Non horruisti Virginis uterum.” Thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb, thou hadst no horror to enter it in order to accomplish our salvation.

II. The Affections.

I. Admiration

The first affection will be admiration and astonishment founded upon the grandeur of the mystery, and upon the grandeur of the benefits of which it is to us the source.

Regarding the grandeur of the mystery it is enough to say: The Word was made flesh—because these words contain in a few syllables the novelty of novelties, the wonder of wonders, the miracle of miracles, that join in the same person greatness with littleness, dignity with lowliness, beatitude with misery, immortality with death, eternity with time, all with nothing, the Creator with the creature, and God with man.

That God should become true man, and man true God, is something so strange and so above finite comprehension, that no created reason with all its power can understand how it was possible. The most magnificent and most perfect of all God’s works and his incomparable masterpiece, is, says St. Denis the Areopagite, the incarnation of his Son which so far surpasses our intelligence that the most enlightened of the angels with all his natural intellect understands nothing in it. (St. Dionys. de div. nomin. c. 2.)

When we see a machine worked by some excellent engineer producing extraordinary and unexpected effects, we are astonished and look on in admiration. The change of King Nebuchodonosor into a beast, which, however, was not a change of substance and nature, but only of exterior appearance and of certain operations, impressed and terrified all the people of the time and all posterity. What admiration and delight then should we not experience at beholding the union of two natures infinitely diverse by which God became true man and man true God; by which the infinite was changed to the finite, the immense received limits, the omnipotent became weak, the most happy miserable, the immortal subject to death; by which God led the life and performed the actions of man, and man those of God? Isaiah cries out, “Who ever saw or heard the like?” The same prophet remarks that for this reason the first name given to the Incarnate Word will be Admirable: “His name shall be called (Admirable) Wonderful.” (Is. ix. 6.)

Our admiration and astonishment ought to have also for their object the grandeur of the benefits we receive from this mystery, and which are comprehended in these words: The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us! By this dwelling he has delivered us from all our evils and has loaded us with his blessings; he has united our nature to his divine person, and consequently, by the bond of relationship that we have with him in his human nature, has raised us to the sovereign honor of an alliance with God; he has dissipated the darkness in which we were plunged and were wandering miserably and blindly to our damnation, sending us the clear daylight of truth and enabling us to see the sure road of our salvation; he has destroyed the power of the devil and the tyranny of sin; he has closed the gates of hell and opened to us those of paradise, that we may there live forever in happiness, with him.

The Church in admiration calls this mystery a commerce and a wonderful traffic: “O admirabile commercium!” And she has great reason, because therein our Lord has given us his divinity and taken our humanity; he has conferred upon us his riches and his glory and has taken upon himself our poverty and infamy. What a traffic! What graces! What inexplicable favors! If a king should send to a poor villager overwhelmed with misery in his little cabin, ten millions of dollars, the poor man would undoubtedly be extremely astonished and surprised at such an unexpected gift from a prince, and without any merit on his part. This is what happens in the mystery of the incarnation, and in a far higher degree, both as regards the infinite greatness of the gift that is made and the infinite greatness of the giver, as well as the infinite littleness of man who receives it.

2. Gratitude

For this reason man, moved by this inestimable benefit, should break forth with all the fullness of his affections into praises, benedictions, and thanksgivings to God, saying with David: “The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever.” (Ps. lxxxviii. 2.) I will bless and thank him for them eternally; and with Isaiah: “O Lord, thou art my God, I will exalt thee and give glory to thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things, thy designs of old faithful. Amen.” (Is. xxv. I.) O my Lord! I gladly tell thee that thou art my God; I will praise thee and will glorify thy holy name with all my power, because thou hast done admirable things in the incarnation of thy Son which was the effect of thy love, and of those eternal thoughts thou hadst of my salvation, and the inviolable promises thou didst make of it, which thou hast executed in good time. Then he should exclaim in the words of the apostle: “Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gifts!” (2 Cor. ix. 15.) Praise, adoration, and infinite thanks be offered to God for his unspeakable gift, which is his Son incarnate.

Certainly St. Bernard is right in telling us: “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and therefore be not proud; and also remember that, even dust as thou art, thou art united to God, and therefore be not ungrateful.” (Serm. 2 in Cant.) And when he says in another place: “This benefit ought never to be forgotten by those who have received it, and there are in it two things upon which they ought to deeply reflect: one is the manner in which God conferred it—he emptied himself for us; and the other is the profit we have received from it, which was to fill us with him.” Ingratitude for so great a benefit would be something fearful, and would deserve a terrible punishment.

3. Love

As the love that God bears us was the true cause of the personal union he was pleased to contract with our nature, and the source of all the blessings we receive from it, we ought to accept that sovereign honor and the treasures of those immense blessings with sincere and ardent love. As God comes to us through love we ought to go to him in the same way, and with much greater reason, since he is of himself worthy of infinite love, and we of ourselves are only worthy of hate. The gift he has made us of his Son, and that which the Son has made us of himself, obliges us all to this love, and should force the most obstinate hearts. Love attains the highest degree of its perfection and exerts its last effort when it confers a gift commensurate with the power of the giver; when this gift is something most precious and which the giver cherishes above all things; when it is made without constraint or obligation and in a disinterested spirit; and when, moreover, it is very necessary and very useful to the one who receives it; if you add to all these conditions the fact of the giver bestowing it with great difficulty and extreme pain, you can say nothing more. Now, all these qualities are combined in excess in our Lord who was given to us in the incarnation, and who therefore exacts from us with perfect right a most ardent reciprocal love.

4. Desires and Petitions

We should conceive burning desires and should ask most earnestly that our Lord would deign to come to us in this mystery. The just men of the Old Law earnestly prayed for the coming of the Messiah; they greatly desired and sighed for it, and offered many petitions, and supplications, and vows, and tears, to draw him from heaven. Each one of them was, as well as Daniel, a man of desires. Send, O Lord, they said, send him whom thou hast resolved to send. “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just; let the earth be opened and bud forth a Saviour, and let justice spring up together. O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and wouldst come down.” (Is. xlv. 8; lxiv. 1.) Thou, O Saviour, so greatly desired, burst the heavens and come quickly. We cannot wait for thee to come by ordinary ways, we are so anxious for thee, so eager to behold thee.

The first sentiment of her love that the Spouse revealed, and the first word from her lips in the Canticle was, according to the usual interpretation of the Fathers, an expression of the desire that filled all humanity, and especially the synagogue, the desire of the coming of the Messiah, and the prayer she offered to obtain it. Let the Divine Word, she cried, uniting his nature to mine, give me the kiss of peace, reconciling me with God his Father, and teaching me not only by his angels and prophets, but by himself and with his own words, the doctrine of my salvation.

In the eighth chapter of the same book, as the Fathers explain the passage, this transport of desire escapes from her heart and lips: “Who shall give thee to me for my brother, sucking the breasts of my mother, that I may find thee without and kiss thee; and now no man may despise me?” Who will do me this favor, O Divine Word and only Son of God! that I may see thee clothed with my nature and shrouded with my flesh, and thus become my brother and the son of my mother? Who will help me so that I will not be obliged to seek thee in the bosom of thy Father where thou art hidden from all eternity and enveloped with inaccessible light, but may find thee in the womb of thy Mother, or clinging to her breast? Who will give me to see thee with my eyes, to hear thee with my ears, to touch thee with my hands, and, holding thee fast, to attach myself to thee by sentiments of faith, love, joy, gratitude, respect, adoration, obedience, and homage, so that none may dare to contemn me, since by this mystery thou art become my brother and my spouse, and I thy sister and thy beloved?

In other passages the Spouse declares that he whom she sought was Totus desiderabilis, the All Desirable; and she calls him the end of all her desires and the object of all her longings.

Our Lord in the Apocalypse calls himself Amen, which is a Hebrew word meaning, in its primitive signification, “it is so, it is true,” because he is true and truth itself. “These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness.” (Apoc. iii. 14.) In its secondary signification the word Amen is a prayer, or an expression of desire, “God grant that it may be so.” Thus our Lord, the Amen, is the term of all our wishes, and his incarnation is the accomplishment of all our desires. The Mosarebs called our Lady when she was in the ardor of her desires for the incarnation, and especially on the day of the incarnation when the great mystery was accomplished in her, our Lady of O, because the first word that escapes our heart and lips when we greatly desire a thing is, O utinam—Oh! would to God. The seven anthems of the Magnificat which the Church sings during the seven days before Christmas and which all begin with O, refer to this; they are all desires and prayers urging the Eternal Word to come and accomplish the mystery of the incarnation.

Let us, then, desire with all the earnestness we are capable of, and ask with all our strength, our Lord to come to us, to effect in our souls and bodies his incarnation, to impress its features upon us and communicate to us its grace and spirit. Let us continually inhale and draw the incarnate Word into us by acts of faith, by desires, by supplications, and by the burning words of the patriarchs, so that he may do for us what his divinity did for his humanity, which was to sanctify it, strengthen it, deify it, and render it so agreeable and glorious to God that the least of its actions, its slightest glance and most trifling movement procured infinite honor to the Eternal Father, and immense treasures of blessings to men; and that we may have grace likewise to imitate his sacred humanity in all the duties it performed toward the Divinity to which it was not only united substantially and personally, but to which it continued to unite itself by its own interior acts, by its love, its adorations, its glorifications, its thanksgivings, its zeal for God’s honor, its submission to his decrees, etc. Let us beg him to become incarnate in us; and, as his incarnation is a mystery of union, of love, of glorification, and of annihilation, to operate in us in an eminent degree all these effects.

III. The Virtues

The most important point in these exercises, is the effective expression of our Lord’s mysteries, by the exact and constant practice of the virtues he practiced in them, the principal ones of which we shall always be careful to propose.

1. Union with our Lord Jesus Christ

As our Lord so graciously and lovingly united himself to us in his incarnation, we ought, in order to express and represent this mystery, to exert all our efforts to unite ourselves to him. We ought to unite ourselves to him through the motives of love for him and zeal for his glory, and the knowledge of our extreme need of him. For, as our nature became innocent, holy, and perfect, only by union with the Word, we can individually share its regeneration only by uniting ourselves to the Incarnate Word.

God himself gives us an example of what we must do to form this union with our Lord, and teaches us our lesson in it. First, as he took pleasure in uniting himself to that sacred humanity, we should imitate him by finding in our union with our Lord our satisfaction and our chief delight. Secondly, as he united himself to that humanity in order to come and unite himself to us, and through it to confer upon us his gifts, we should go to him likewise through it, should by it unite ourselves to him and render ourselves capable of receiving his gifts and the effects of his goodness. Thirdly, as he united himself to that adorable humanity in order to draw from it his own glory and to accomplish our salvation, we should in the same way unite ourselves to it in order to promote God’s honor and to save our own souls . . . Finally, as God united himself to that sacred humanity intimately, inseparably, and forever, not forsaking it at the hour of death, let us likewise contract with our Lord an intimate and eternal union, such a union as neither death, nor life, nor anything whatsoever can destroy.

2. Zeal for our Lord’s Glory

It is certainly most reasonable that, since the Eternal Word became incarnate, and in his incarnation humbled himself and made use of his divinity and his humanity to exalt us, we should do all in our power to procure for him all the glory we can. The Greek Fathers call this mystery a Descent, because in it the Son of God descended infinitely low, and caused us to ascend infinitely high; they also call it a Condescension, because in it he exercised unspeakable goodness and condescension in order to accommodate himself to us; he assumed our degradation in order to give us his glory; he united himself to our poverty to fill us with his riches, and he charged himself with our miseries to give us a share in his felicity.

This is why, sensibly touched by this most admirable abasement, and completely won by this incomparable desire of our Lord for our glory, we should conceive a burning zeal for his, and by all possible means endeavor to procure him honor. We should breathe only his praises, and should refer to them all our thoughts, all our affections, all our plans, all our words, and all our works. We should consecrate our souls and bodies to his glory, employing for it all our strength, using and consuming ourselves for it, so as to recognize in some degree, although infinitely unequal, the prodigious things he has done, and the unutterable sufferings he has endured in order to raise us from the dust and place us in a state of glory and honor.

Besides we are bound to apply ourselves with all our powers to glorify God. God’s glory is the end of the incarnation of the Eternal Word, and, in general, the end of all that God does; because his will cannot propose as the last end of all his works anything but his exterior honor and the glory he can receive from his creatures, this being the thing that of all outside himself is best. Consequently, God’s glory is the end of our creation and preservation; save for it we would still be in nothingness, therefore we ought to refer to it all that we are, since we exist only for it.

Our Lord traced for us the model in his own person, having from the moment of his conception until his death acted incessantly for this end, whence he said: “I honor my Father . . . I seek not my own glory . . . I have glorified thee on the earth.” (Jno. viii. 49; xvii. 4.) I glorify my Father, to his glory I refer all my thoughts, all my affections, all my words, and all my works; I seek not my own glory. And still, now in the highest heaven, he refers to the same intention of God’s glory, and he will for all eternity, his body, his soul, all that he does and all that he will ever do . . . Let us then follow this perfect model, and in order to do so, let us unite ourselves intimately and inseparably with Jesus Christ by sanctifying grace, by acts of faith, hope, and charity, by desires and petitions, as to the first cause, the general and only instrument of all the exterior glory offered to the Divinity, for this purpose making ourselves but one with him, as we are in reality, since we have the honor to be members of a body of which he is the Head.

Let us spiritually unite our souls to his soul, our faculties to his faculties, our thoughts to his thoughts, our affections to his affections, our words to his words, our looks, our steps, our motions, and all our actions to his which are infinitely honorable to God, so that all that belongs to us may take from all that belongs to him a divine lustre and coloring.

Let us fill ourselves with his spirit, which is a spirit of pure devotion to the glory of God, since his incarnation, his birth, his life, his death, and all his mysteries, have no other end than God’s glory.

Let us very frequently offer him, as a treasure that belongs to us, to God, to glorify God in every manner and as much as he merits. Let us also pray him to offer us with himself, as one of his own possessions, for God’s glory, and in himself as being contained in him.

Still more, let us very frequently offer ourselves for the honor and praise of God with God himself. To understand what I mean, we must first know that God is our Creator who has formed our bodies and souls. David says: “He made us, and not we ourselves.” (Ps. xcix. 3.) We also learn this from reason and experience, which teach us that nothing can make itself. Secondly, that he is our preserver who not only has given us being, but who preserves it to us; and as preservation differs from first production only in some little formalities, and is in substance and essence the first production persevered in and a continued creation that follows its first plan, as the life of our body is only a perpetual flow of life from the soul over it; so to say that God preserves us is only to say that he constantly communicates being to us, and always produces our bodies and souls, and produces them in such or such a manner—a healthy body, an infirm or sickly one; a robust, weak, beautiful, or ugly body; a body of a melancholy, bilious, or other temperament; a soul with much, or with little, or with no talent, memory, judgment; a soul sometimes gay, sometimes sad, now consoled, then desolate, afflicted, pained, tempted, and with such and such a species of temptation. God creates our souls and bodies in these different dispositions, and sometimes in several different ways in one day.

Thirdly, it must be carefully remarked that God makes our bodies and souls thus for his own glory, and produces them in these different states in order to procure to himself by means of each of these different dispositions a particular kind of honor which he could not derive from any other. This is why, if you tell me that if you had more talents, more judgment, more capacity than God has given you, if your body were stronger and healthier than it is, you would in your opinion render him more honor than with the body and mind you have; I will reply that truly you might with a different body and mind render honor to God, but not the kind of honor he desires from you, which only your body and your mind just as you possess them can render him.

An artisan uses instruments of different sizes and shapes to fashion his works, and a small and bent instrument will not do what a large and straight one will, but will be good for some other part of the work. In embroidery the different silks used to form a flower all produce effect, each according to its particular color and shade; and in music, the different tones produce harmony, but each in its own particular manner. Just so a healthy body and a sick body, a great mind and an inferior one. a rich man and a poor man, and, in general, all creatures in the universe in their marvelous diversity, serve God in their different ways, and each in its own way renders him an honor which it alone can render him.

We know very well that God has created us for his glory and our own beatitude, but we are ignorant of what particular glory he requires from us, and to what degree of beatitude he has designed to raise us, whether it be to a place in the choir of angels of the lowest order, or among the archangels, or with the highest seraphim. And further, we know not by what particular means we are to execute these two great works of the glory of God and our own beatitude; God alone knows this; he alone knows in what manner he desires to be served and glorified in you and by you, and to what measure of grace and happiness he has predestined you; and likewise, he alone knows by what means you are to reach it. The only means capable of procuring him that particular glory he desires and expects from you, and of bringing you to the degree of grace, perfection, and eternal felicity he has assigned you, are your body and soul just as he has made them, the dispositions of light or of darkness, of consolation or of desolation, of unction or of dryness, of peace or of disquiet and temptation, in which he puts you today, at this hour and moment, and the present condition, office, and employment to which he has called you.

Therefore, as God truly present and dwelling in us, constantly creates for his own glory our bodies and souls in all the various dispositions of nature and grace wherein they are at each moment, and refers them to his honor and praise, thus making for himself in us perpetual sacrifices, and taking infinite complacency in all these dispositions because he creates them, according to the words of the Prophet king: “The Lord shall rejoice in his works,” (Ps. ciii. 31) and because in their varieties they are the true and only means by which he gains from us the particular honor he requires at that moment; we should unite ourselves to him dwelling in us, and should, as it were, second him, agreeing to all that he does in us for his glory and with him taking pleasure in it, esteeming ourselves happy to be able to concur with him in so noble a design, and very frequently referring our bodies and souls in all their states to his honor.

Let us in this imitate our Lord in whom the Divinity, sanctifying and deifying the humanity by its personal union with it, consecrated and applied it to its own glory; and that most sacred humanity referred to and employed for the same end without any intermission, its soul, its body, its essence, its faculties, its operations, and its whole being.

The last thing that we must understand is the practice of this divine glorification in us and by us.

It consists, first, in accepting and bearing with a great desire and an ardent zeal for God’s glory, all the dispositions and changes that he produces in us, in our bodies and souls, in whatsoever manner they may come to us.

Secondly, in accepting and bearing them in a spirit of faith, with a sentiment of esteem and approbation of his will; with submission, with humility and great respect, with patience and fortitude, with silence, with love, and with joy.

Thirdly, in referring very frequently during the day our body and soul, our being, our powers, our actions, and all that we are to God’s glory, uniting ourselves to him in order that he in us may refer them to that end, imitating the example our Lord has given us of this.

The more frequently, the more perfectly, that is, with the more zeal, the more faith, and the more of the other virtues, we shall do this, the more excellently we shall glorify God and the greater honor we shall render him.

In conclusion, remember that as God’s will is always invariably fixed to desire and claim his glory, the shortest, easiest, and surest way of glorifying God is to will precisely all that he wills; and in proportion as we do this with more or less resignation, abandonment, and destruction of our own will, the glory we render to God will be greater or less.

3. Self-Abasement

Our Lord annihilated himself in order to unite himself to us and to raise us to the degree of honor we now enjoy . . . Therefore, let us annihilate ourselves for him, let us labor to destroy and annihilate in us all that is ever so slightly contrary to his glory and our perfection; let us annihilate our spirit, our judgment, our will, our desires, our inclinations and humors, and let us undertake this task courageously and faithfully. And truly, if he who is All and Sovereign Majesty was pleased to become nothing, and to humble himself infinitely that he might make us something great and exalted, we who intrinsically are nothing, are under all imaginable obligations to abase and annihilate ourselves for him, at Last so far as nothing can abase itself. To incite you to this, keep continually in your mind, and very frequently on your lips, these words, [“he debased himself, he annihilated himself”].

Aspirator Verses 

These verses, together with those scattered through our pages, may serve to fix the mystery in our memories, to bind our spirits to it, and to help us to inhale our Lord and draw him into us; for this reason we should during the day frequently repeat them, now one, now another, according to our dispositions.

“The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (Jno. i. 14.) These words should be repeated with faith, love, and reverence, and sometimes with bended knee as the Church requires of her priests when they repeat them in the Mass.

“Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Ps. cxliii. 3.) Lord, what is man that thou shouldst make thyself known to him, even visibly and in his own nature? And the son of man that thou shouldst have regard to him? If thou consultest thy own knowledge thou wilt find that man is only vanity.

“He emptied himself.” (Philipp, ii. 7.) He annihilated himself.

Thoughts For The Christmas Season

Thoughts For The Christmas Season 
Saint Leo The Great

(Editor’s Introduction: Through his famous letter (“Tome”) to the Council of Chalcedon in which in classical form he expounded the traditional teaching on the hypostatic union and particularly on the two natures in Christ. Leo the Great shares with St. Cyril of Alexandria the honor of being the Doctor of the Incarnation. The Church has corroborated this title by choosing Leo’s first homily on the Nativity for the breviary lessons of Christmas. Ten of the Saint’s Christmas homilies have come down to us (P.L. 54, 190-234). [P.L. is the abbreviation for Migne’s great work Patrologia Latina.} There are also eight homilies for the sister feast of Epiphany. Since the first homily on Christmas is generally known, we have restricted ourselves in the following selections to his Christmas homilies 2 to 9, except for the concluding paragraph from Homily 1.)

LET US be glad in the Lord, dearly beloved, and make merry with spiritual joy. For there has dawned for us the day of new redemption, of ancient preparation, and of eternal bliss. In this annual feast there is renewed for us the sacrament of our salvation, which was promised from the beginning, was accomplished in the fullness of time, and will endure for all eternity. (Homily 2, 1.)

You therefore, whoever you may be, who devoutly and full of faith boast of the Christian name, rightly weigh the grace of your reconciliation. By the Incarnation of the Word, power was given you to return from afar to your Maker, to recognize your true parentage, from a slave to become a freeman, from an outcast to become a son. Born of corruptible flesh, you were empowered to be reborn of the Spirit of God, and to obtain through grace what was not yours through nature. You know that by the spirit of adoption you are become a son of God: you dare call God your father. (Homily 2, 5.)

In order that we might be recalled to eternal blessedness from the bonds of original sin and from all human error, He Himself came down to us to whom we of ourselves could never rise. For although there was in many the love of truth, yet the multitude of shifting opinions was taken advantage of by the crafty and deceitful demons, and in the false name of science human ignorance was led astray into various and mutually conflicting doctrines. To put an end to this fools’ merry-go-round, moreover, by which minds were held captive to serve the arrogance of Satan, the teaching of the Law was not sufficient, nor could our nature be repaired solely by the exhortations of the prophets. The reality of redemption had to be added to moral injunctions and strivings: our nature corrupted in its very origin must needs be re-born by new beginnings (“novis exordiis”: i.e., the new life deriving from the new Head of the race). (Homily 3, 3.)

Worthily and zealously will each of us celebrate the day of our Lord’s Nativity if we but recall of whose body we are members, and to what Head we are joined. Consider well, dearly beloved, and with the help of the enlightening Spirit wisely bear in mind who it was that received us into Himself and whom we have received into our midst: for as the Lord Jesus was made flesh, by being born, so we are made His body by our rebirth. Thus are we members of Christ as well as temples of the Holy Ghost, and for this reason the Blessed Apostle says: “Glorify and bear God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). (Homily 3, 5.)

Let the righteous exult in the Lord, let the hearts of believe turn to His praise, and let the sons of men confess His wondrous deeds. For in this work of God especially (the Nativity), does our humble condition realize how highly it is esteemed by its Maker. God indeed gave much to man when He made him to His own image, but He granted him far more by the work of restoration, for the Lord Himself assumed our “form of a servant.” And although all that the Creator expends upon His creatures is suggested by one and the same paternal love, it is less wonderful that man be elevated to the divine, than that God should descend to human estate. (Homily 4, 2.)

Each one of us by regeneration received part in Christ’s spiritual origin (consider the truth “conceived of the Holy Spirit”). To every one who is re-born, the water of baptism is as the Virgin’s womb, for the same Holy Spirit fills this font who filled the Virgin. Thus, the sin which that sacred conception overthrew is taken away by this mystical washing. (Homily 4, 3.)

But you, O dearly beloved, to whom I can address no words more worthy than those of Saint Peter: “you are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people” (1 Peter 2:9): you have been built upon the impregnable rock Christ, you have been planted into our Lord and Savior by His true assumption of our flesh. Remain firm then in that faith which you have confessed before many witnesses, and in which, having been born through water and the Holy Ghost, you received the chrism of salvation and the seal of eternal life. (Homily 4, 6.)

Unless faith is one, it is none, for the Apostle has said: “One Lord, one faith.” (Homily 4, 6.)

It was for the sake of our weakness, who were incapable of receiving Him, that Christ lowered Himself. Because the eye of man could not bear to look upon the brilliance of His majesty, Christ hid it with the veil of a body. (Homily 5, 2.)

In assuming our nature, Christ became for us a ladder, so that through Him we can now ascend even unto Himself. (Homily 5, 3.)

Father and Son are co-eternal. For brilliance born of light is not posterior to the light, nor is true light ever without its splendor. Moreover, to radiate is as essential to light as is its own being. The manifestation of this radiance, however, His appearance on this earth, is called Christ’s mission. While He ever filled all things with His invisible majesty, He came as it were from His remote and exalted secret place to those who knew Him not, and healed them of their blindness of ignorance, as it is written: “To those that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, a light is risen” (Isaiah 9:2). (Homily 5, 3)

Let Catholic faith recognize the glory of the Lord in His humility; and let the Church, which is the body of Christ, exult in the sacraments of her salvation. For unless the Word of God had become flesh and had dwelt amongst us, unless the Creator Himself had descended to enter into communion with His creature and in His birth had restored the old man by a new beginning, death would have reigned from Adam even unto the end (Romans 5:14). Irrevocable condemnation would have been all men’s lot, and the very fact of birth would have been unto all cause of perdition. But He became a man of our race, that we might become partake of the divine nature. The birth that was His from the virginal womb, He made available to us in the baptismal font. He gave to water the same power that He gave to His mother. For the power of the Most High and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35) which made Mary give birth to the Savior, likewise effect, that water gives new life to the believer. (Homily 5, 5.)

Adam treated the command of God with contempt, and led the race into sin’s damnation; Jesus, born under the Law, restored to us the liberty of justification. Adam, agreeing to the wiles of Satan even unto the fall, merited that in him all die; Jesus, obedient to the Father even unto the cross, merited that all in Him find life. Adam was jealous of angelic honors, and destroyed the dignity of his own nature; Jesus took upon Himself the condition of our infirmity, and raised up to heaven those for whom He descended into the abyss. To Adam who fell by pride it was said: “Dust you are, and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19); but to Jesus, who was glorified because of His abasement, it was said: “Sit You at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool” (Psalm 109:1 in the Vulgate or Psalm 110:1 in the Hebrew). (Homily 5, 5.)

On all days and at all times, dearly beloved, do the thoughts of the faithful who meditate on divine things dwell on the birth of our Lord and Savior from the Virgin-Mother. For the mind that is lifted up in acknowledgment of its Maker, whether it be in groaning supplication, in the gladness of praise, or in the offering of sacrifice, directs its spiritual gaze on nothing more frequently or with more confidence than the fact that the same God the Son of God who was begotten of the co-eternal Father was also born by a human birth. No other day, however, calls upon us to venerate the Nativity, worthy as it is of adoration both in heaven and on earth, so insistently as does the present, which reveals to our gaze the brightness of this wondrous sacrament, and on which even nature herself is radiant with new light. [Winter solstice is passed.] For the angel Gabriel’s converse with the astonished Mary and the conception that took place through the Holy Ghost, as wondrous because promised as because believed, are not merely recalled to mind, but as it were occur before our very eyes. For today did the Author of the world issue forth from the virginal womb, and He who made all natures today was made a Son of her whom He created. Today the Word of God appeared clothed in flesh, and that which had never been visible to human eyes, now became tangible to human hands as well. Today shepherds, taught by angels’ voices, came to the Savior born in the substance of our flesh and soul; and thus today was established the form in which the gospel was to be preached by the shepherds of the Lord’s flocks for all our preaching is no more than an echoing of the angelic host: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will” (Luke 2:4). (Homily 6, 1.)

Although the infancy which the majesty of God’s Son did not disdain passed into the maturity of manhood, and although all the acts of humility undertaken for us ceased once the triumph of the passion and resurrection had been attained, yet today’s festival renews for us the sacred infancy of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary; and while we adore the birth of our Savior, we find that we are celebrating too the commencement of our own life. For the birth of Christ is the origin of the Christian race, since the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body.

Though each of those who are called have his own station in life, though the sons of the Church are separated from each other by the passage of the years, yet the entire body of the faithful, having a common origin in the baptismal font, are crucified together with Christ in His passion, are raised up in His resurrection, and in His ascension are placed with Him at the Father’s right hand — and so likewise are they all with Him born in this Nativity. For every believer, in whatever part of the world he may be, who is reborn in Christ, quits the evil path of his first origin, and by being born again is changed into a new man. For no longer is he considered as an offspring merely of an earthly father, but as belonging now to the seed of the Savior, who for this reason became the Son of man that we might have the power of becoming sons of God. (Homily 6, 2.)

In no other way can God be worthily worshipped, than if we offer Him what He Himself has given us. But in the entire treasury of the Lord’s bounty, what more suitable gift can we find to honor the present day, than peace, that peace which was first proclaimed by angels’ chant on the Lord’s Nativity. For this peace it is that begets sons of God, that is the nurse of love and the mother of unity; this peace is the rest of the blessed and our eternal home; its proper task and special benefit it is to join to God those whom it separates from the world. Wherefore the Apostle urges us to attain this blessing, saying: “Being justified by faith, let us have peace with God” (Romans 5:1). In this short sentence is summed up the effect of almost all the commandments; for where there is true peace, there no virtue can be lacking. But, dearly beloved, what does it mean to have peace with God except to will what He commands, and not to desire what He forbids. . . . You are a chosen and kingly race. Live up, then, to the dignity of your regeneration, love what your Father loves, and in nothing dissent from your Maker, lest the Lord should again declare: “I have brought up children and exalted them: but they have despised Me. The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel has not known Me, and My people have not understood.” (Isaiah 1:2-3.) (Homily 6, 3.)

Great, O dearly beloved, is the sacrament of this gift, and far does it excel all other gifts: that God should call man His son and man call God father. (Homily 6, 4.)

If we are of one mind with God, if we will what He wills, and condemn what He abhors, He Himself will bring all our battles to good issue. For He who gave the will, will also give the power (“ipse qui dedit velle, donabit et posse”): thus, we shall be cooperators of His works, and in exultation of faith shall cry out with the prophet: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 26:1 in the Vulgate or Psalm 27:1 in the Hebrew.) (Homily 6, 4.)

The birthday of our Lord is the birthday of peace. For the Apostle says: “He is our peace, who has made both one” (Eph. 2:14), and whether we be Jew or Gentile, “by Him we have access both in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18). It was this doctrine in particular that Christ taught His disciples the very day before His passion, when He said: “My peace I give you. My peace I leave with you” (John 14:17). And lest in the generic term of peace the particular character of His peace be lost to view, He added: “Not as the world gives do I give to you.” The peace of the spiritual-minded and of Catholics comes from on high and itself leads to the heights. It refuses to hold communion with the lovers of this world. For “where your treasure is, there is your heart also” (Matthew 6:22): that is to say: if what you love is here below you will descend to the depths; but if your love is above, you will attain to the heavenly summits. Thither may the Spirit of peace lead and accompany us who all will the same, who are of one mind, who are united in faith and hope and charity. For “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14). (Homily 6, 5.)

That “the Word was made flesh” does not mean that the nature of God was changed into flesh, but that flesh was assumed by the Word into the unity of His person. The word “flesh” moreover signifies the whole man, with whom the Son of God so inseparably united Himself within the womb of the Virgin, fecundated by the Holy Spirit and destined to remain for ever virginal, that He who was begotten of the essence of the Father before time, in time was born of the Virgin’s womb. For in no other way could we be released from the chains of eternal death, except He become humble in our nature who remained almighty in His own.

The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Therefore He so united Himself to us and us with Him, that the descent of God to man’s estate became the exaltation of man to God’s. (Homily 7, 2.)

Though all the divine utterances exhort us, dearly beloved, to rejoice in the Lord always, yet today we are no doubt inspired to a fuller spiritual joy, since the sacrament of the Lord’s Nativity is shining so brightly upon us. Today especially, we have recourse to that unutterable condescension of the divine mercy whereby the Creator of men deigned to become man, that we might be found in His nature whom we worship in ours. For God the Son of God, the only-begotten of the eternal and unbegotten Father, while eternally remaining in the form of God, and unchangeably and beyond time possessing the same being as the Father, took unto Himself the form of a servant without suffering loss of His majesty, and thus did He advance us to His own estate without lessening Himself in ours. Thus, each nature remains the same in its properties, yet such is the community of their union that whatever there is of the Godhead is not disjoined from the humanity, and whatever there is of man, is not separated from the divinity. (Homily 8, 1.)

The greatness of the divine event (which we are celebrating), dearly beloved, far exceeds the power of human eloquence. Moreover, the difficulty in speaking adequately of it derives precisely from the reason for our not keeping silent about it. For it was not only of the divine essence in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, but also of His human nature that the words of the prophet were spoken: “Who shall declare His generation?” (Isaiah 53:8). Unless faith held fast, no speech could declare the union of twofold nature in one sole person. And thus, there is never lack of matter for praise, for never does the strength of him who praises suffice for the subject.

Indeed, let us rejoice that we are unequal to the task of giving due praise to so great a sacrament of mercy (that is, the Nativity); and if we are unable to express the sublimity of the manner of our redemption, let us know that it is good for us to be so helpless. For none approaches more closely to the knowledge of the truth than he who realizes that in matters divine there ever remains far more to attain, no matter how far he progresses. (Homily 9, 1.)

The angel sent of God, Gabriel, had said to blessed Mary: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). But of this same Spirit, of whom Christ was born out of the womb of the immaculate Mother, is reborn the Christian out of the womb of holy Church. True peace for him lies solely in not being separated from the will of God, in loving those things only which are beloved of God. (Homily 9, 1.)

Let us then, most dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, and in the Holy Spirit, who “for His great mercy wherewith He has loved us” has taken pity on us, and “when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together in Christ” (Eph. 2:5): that in Him we may be a new creature and a new creation. Let us put off, therefore, the old man and all his works. Having received a share in the birth of Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh. Recognize your dignity, O Christian! Made a partaker of the divine nature, do not dare by degenerate conduct to return to former baseness. Remember of what Head and what body you are a member. Call to mind that you were snatched from the power of darkness and translated into the light and kingdom of God. In the sacrament of Baptism, you were made a temple of the Holy Spirit: do not by evil actions drive from you so great a Guest in order once again to subject yourself to Satan’s thralldom. For the blood of Christ is your purchase money, and He who ransomed you in mercy will one day judge you in justice: who with the Father and the Holy Ghost reigns for all ages. Amen. (Homily 1, 3.)

Purgatory

Purgatory
Father Faber 

Rev. Frederick William Faber was born in England, 1814;
ordained for the Church of England, 1839; received into Catholic Church, 1845;
joined Newman’s Oratory, 1848; died, 1863.

There have always been two views of purgatory prevailing in the Church, not contradictory the one of the other, but rather expressive of the mind and devotion of those who have embraced them.

The first view is embodied in the terrifying sermons of the Italian Quaresimali, and in those wayside pictures which so often provoke the fastidiousness of the English traveller. It loves to represent purgatory as a hell which is not eternal. Violence, confusion, wailing, horror, preside over its descriptions. It dwells, and truly, on the terribleness of the pain of sense which the soul is mysteriously permitted to endure. The fire is the same fire as that of hell, created for the single and express purpose of giving torture. Our earthly fire is as painted fire compared to it. Besides this, there is a special and in-definable horror to the unbodied soul in becoming the prey of this material agony. The sense of imprisonment, close and intolerable, and the intense palpable darkness, are additional features in the horror of the scene, which prepare us for that sensible neighborhood to hell, which many Saints have spoken of as belonging to purgatory. Angels are represented as active executioners of God’s awful justice. Some have even held that the demons are permitted to touch and harass the spouses of Christ in those ardent fires. Then to this terribleness of the pain of sense, is added the dreadfulness of the pain of loss. The beauty of God remains in itself the same immensely desirable object it ever was. But the soul is changed. All that in life and in the world of sense dulled its desires after God is gone from it, so that it seeks Him with an impetuosity which no imagination can at all conceive. The very burning excess of its love becomes the measure of its intolerable pain. What love can do even on earth we learn from the example of Father John Baptist Sanchez, who said he was sure he should die of misery, if any morning he rose he should know that he was certain not to die that day. To those horrors we might add many more which depict purgatory simply as a hell which is not eternal.

The second view of purgatory does not deny any one of the features of the preceding view, but it almost puts them out of sight by the other considerations which it brings more prominently forward. It goes into purgatory with its eyes fascinated and its spirit sweetly tranquillized, by the face of Jesus, its sight of the Sacred Humanity at the particular Judgment which it has undergone. That vision abides with it still, and beautifies the uneven terrors of its prison as if with perpetual silvery showers of moonlight which seem to fall from Our Savior’s loving eyes. In the sea of fire it holds fast by that image. The moment that in His sight it perceives its own unfitness for heaven, it wings its voluntary flight to purgatory, like a dove to her proper nest in the shadows of the forest. There need be no Angels to convey it thither. It is its own free worship of the purity of God.

In that moment the soul loves God most tenderly, and in return is most tenderly loved by Him. The soul is in punishment, true; but it is in unbroken union with God. ― ‘It has no remembrance,’ says St. Catherine of Genoa most positively, ― ‘no remembrance at all of its past sins or of earth.’ Its sweet prison, its holy sepulcher, is in the adorable will of its heavenly Father, and there it abides the term of its purification with the most perfect contentment and the most unutterable love. As it is not teased by any vision of self or sin, so neither is it harassed by an atom of fear, or by a single doubt of its own imperturbable security. It is impeccable; and there was a time on earth when that gift alone seemed as if it would contain all heaven in itself. It cannot commit the slightest imperfection. It cannot have the least movement of impatience. It can do nothing whatever which will in the least displease God. It loves God above everything, and it loves Him with a pure and disinterested love. It is constantly consoled by Angels, and cannot but rejoice in the confirmed assurance of its own salvation. Nay; its very bitterest agonies are accompanied by a profound unshaken peace, such as the language of this world has no words to tell.

No sooner has a soul, with the guilt of no mortal sin upon it, but owing to God a debt of temporal punishment, issued from the world, and been judged, than it perceives itself to be confirmed in grace and charity (according to St. Catherine). It is incapable either of sinning or of meriting any more; and it is destined by an eternal and immutable decree to enter one day as a queen into the kingdom of the blessed, to see, to love, and to enjoy God, the perpetual fountain of all felicity.

In that instant all the sins of its past are represented to the soul, whether mortal or venial, even though they have been remitted in lifetime by Contrition and the Sacrament of Penance. But after this transitory and instantaneous view of them, the soul remembers nothing more about them. The Saints’ words are: ― ‘The cause of purgatory, which these souls have in themselves, they see once for all, in passing out of this life, and never afterwards.’ The reason of this exhibition of sins is, she teaches us, to enable the soul in that moment, by an act, no longer indeed meritorious, but nevertheless a real act of the will, to detest all its sins afresh, and especially those venial sins for which it had not contrition in lifetime, either through the weakness of an imperfect heart, or through the accident of a sudden death, that so it may be strictly true, that no sin whatever is pardoned unless the sinner makes an act of detestation of it.

After this momentary view of sins and formal detestation of them, the soul perceives in itself ‘their evil consequences and malignant legacies’, and these form what the Saint calls ― ‘the impediment of seeing God.’ ― ‘The rust of sin,’ she says, ― ‘is the impediment, and the fire keeps consuming the rust; and as a thing which is covered cannot correspond to the reverberation of the sun’s rays, so, if the covering be consumed, the thing is at length laid open to the sun.

As soon as the soul perceives itself to be acceptable to God, and constituted heir of paradise, but unable, because of this impediment, to take immediate possession of its inheritance, it conceives an intense desire to be rid of this hindrance, this double obligation of guilt and punishment. But knowing that purgatory alone can consume these two obligations, and that it is for that very end God condemns the soul to fire, it desires itself to endure the punishment. ― ‘The soul separated from the body’ (these are the Saint’s words), ‘not finding in itself this impediment which cannot be taken away except by purgatory, at once throws itself into it with right good will.’

‘Nay, if it did not find this ordinance of purgatory aptly contrived for the removal of this hindrance, there would instantaneously be generated in it a hell far worse than purgatory, inasmuch as it would see that because of this impediment it could not unite itself to God Who is its end. Wherefore, if the soul could find another purgatory fiercer than this, in which it could the sooner get rid of this impediment, it would speedily plunge itself therein, through the impetuosity of the love it bears to God.’

But this is not all. The Saint goes on to teach that if the soul, laboring under this impediment, were free to choose between ascending at once, as it is, to paradise, and descending to suffer in purgatory, it would choose to suffer, although the sufferings be almost as dreadful as those of hell. These are her words: ― ‘Of how much importance purgatory is no tongue can tell, no mind conceive. So much I see, that its pain is almost as if it were that of hell; and yet I see also that the soul which perceives in itself the slightest flaw or mote of imperfection, would rather throw itself into a thousand hells, than find itself in the presence of the divine Majesty with that defect upon it; and, therefore, seeing purgatory to be ordained for the very taking away of these flaws, forthwith it plunges into it, and it seems by its bearing, as I see, to conceive that it finds there an invention of no little mercy, simply in the being able to get rid of this impediment.’

When the righteous soul has thus arrived in purgatory, losing sight of everything else, it sees before it only two objects — the extremity of suffering, and the extremity of joys. A most tremendous pain is caused by knowing that God loves it with an infinite love, that He is the Chief Good, that He regards the soul as His daughter, and that He has predestined it to enjoy Him for ever in company with the Blessed: and hence the soul loves Him with a pure and most perfect charity. At the same time it perceives that it cannot see Him or enjoy Him yet, though it so intensely yearns to do so; and this afflicts it so much the more, as it is quite uncertain when the term of its penal exile, away from its Lord and paradise, will be fulfilled. This is the pain of loss in purgatory, of which the Saint says that it is ― ‘a pain so extreme, that no tongue can tell it, no understanding grasp the least portion of it. Though God in His favor showed me a little spark thereof, yet can I not in any way express it with my tongue.’

Now let us examine the other object, the extremity of joy. As it loves God with the purest affection, and knows its sufferings to be the will of God in order to procure its purification, it conforms itself perfectly to the divine decree. While in purgatory, it sees nothing but that this pleases God; it takes in no idea but that of His will; it apprehends nothing so clearly as the suitableness of this purification, in order to present it all fair and lovely to so great a majesty. Thus, the Saint says: ― ‘If a soul, having still something left to be cleansed away, were presented to the Vision of God, it would be worse than that of ten purgatories; for it would be quite unable to endure that excessive goodness and that exquisite justice.’ Hence it is that the suffering soul is entirely resigned to the will of its Creator. It loves its very pains, and rejoices in them because they are a holy ordinance of God. Thus in the midst of the ardent heats it enjoys a contentment so complete that it exceeds the grasp of human intelligence to comprehend it. ― ‘I do not believe,’ says the Saint, ― ‘that it is possible to find a contentment to compare with that of the souls in purgatory, unless it be the contentment of the Saints in paradise. This contentment increases daily through the influx of God into those souls, and this influx increases in proportion as the impediment is consumed and worn away. Indeed, so far as the will is concerned, we can hardly say that the pains are pains at all, so contentedly do the souls rest in the ordinance of God, to whose will pure love unites them.’

In another place, St. Catherine says that this inexplicable jubilee of the soul, while it is undergoing purgatory springs from the strength and purity of its love of God. ― ‘This love gives to the soul such a contentment as cannot be expressed. But this contentment does not take away one iota from the pain; nay, it is the retarding of love from the possession of its object which causes the pain; and the pain is greater according to the greater perfection of love of which God has made the soul capable. Thus the souls in purgatory have at once the greatest contentment and the greatest suffering; and the one in no way hinders the other.’ As to prayers, alms, and Masses, she asserts that the souls experience great consolation from them; but that in these, as in other matters, their principal solicitude is that everything should be ― ‘weighed in the most equitable scales of the Divine Will, leaving God to take His own course in everything, and to pay Himself and His justice in the way His own infinite goodness chooses to select.’

When she looked at herself with the light of supernatural illumination, she saw that God had set her up in the Church as an express and living image of purgatory. She says: ― ‘This form of purification, which I behold in the souls in purgatory, I perceive in my own soul now. I see that my soul dwells in its body as in a purgatory altogether conformable to the true purgatory, only in such measure as my body can bear without dying. Nevertheless, it is always increasing by little and little, until it reaches the point when it will really die.’ Her death was indeed most wonderful, and has always been considered as a martyrdom of Divine Love. So truly from the first has her position been appreciated, as the great doctor of purgatory, that in the old life of her, ― the ‘vita antica’, examined by theologians in 1670, and approved in the Roman process of her canonization, and which was composed by Marabotto, her confessor, and Vernaza, her spiritual son, it is said: ― ‘Verily it seems that God set up this His creature as a mirror and an example of the pains of the other life, which souls suffer in purgatory. It is just as if He had placed her upon a high wall, dividing this life from the life to come; so that, seeing what is suffered in that life beyond, she might manifest to us, even in this life, what we are to expect when we have passed the boundary.’ This is a mere epitome of her wonderful and exquisitely beautiful treatise, which has given St. Catherine a rank among the theologians of the Church.

I suppose there is none of us who expects to be lost. We know and feel, with more or less of alarm, the greatness of the risk we are running; but to expect to be lost would be the sin of despair. Hell is only practical to us as a motive of greater diligence, greater strictness, greater circumspectness, greater fear. It is not so with purgatory. I suppose we all expect, or think ourselves sure, to go there. If we do not think much of the matter at all, then we may have some vague notion of going straight to heaven as soon as we are judged. But if we seriously reflect upon it, upon our own lives, upon God’s sanctity, upon what we read in books of devotion and the lives of the Saints, I can hardly conceive any one of us expecting to escape purgatory, and not rather feeling that it must be almost a stretch of the divine mercy which will get us even there. It would more likely be vain presumption than heroic hope, if we thought otherwise. Now, if we really expect that our road to heaven will be through the punishment of purgatory, for surely its purification is penal, it very much concerns us to know what is common to both the views of purgatory, which it appears prevail in the Church.

First, both these views agree that the pains are extremely severe, as well because of the office which God intends them to fulfill, as because of the disembodied soul being the subject of them. Both agree, also, in the length of the suffering.

This requires to be dwelt upon, as it is hard to convince people of it, and a great deal comes of the conviction, both to ourselves and others. This duration may be understood in two ways: first, as of actual length of time, and, secondly, as of seeming length from the excess of pain. With regard to the first, if we look into the revelations of Sister Francesca of Pampeluna, we shall find, among some hundreds of cases, that by far the great majority suffered thirty, forty, or sixty years.

This disclosure may teach us greater watchfulness over ourselves, and more unwearied perseverance in praying for the departed. The old foundations for perpetual Masses embody the same sentiment. We are apt to leave off too soon, imagining with a foolish and unenlightened fondness that our friends are freed from purgatory much sooner than they really are. If Sister Francesca beheld the souls of many fervent Carmelites, some of whom had wrought miracles in lifetime still in purgatory ten, twenty, thirty, sixty years after their death, and still not near their deliverance, as many told her, what must become of us and ours? Then as to seeming length from the extremity of pain, there are many instances on record in the Chronicles of the Franciscans, the life of St. Francis Jerome, and elsewhere, of souls appearing an hour or two after death, and thinking they had been many years in purgatory. Such may be the purgatory of those who are caught up to meet the Lord at the Last Day.

Both views agree again in holding that what we in the world call very trivial faults are most severely visited in purgatory. St. Peter Damian gives us many instances of this, and others are collected and quoted by Bellarmine. Slight feelings of self-complacency, trifling inattentions in the recital of the Divine Office, and the like, occur frequently among them. Sister Francesca mentions the case of a girl of fourteen in purgatory, because she was not quite conformed to the will of God in dying so young: and one soul said to her: ― ‘Ah men little think in the world how dearly they are going to pay here for faults they hardly note there.’ She even saw souls that were immensely punished only for having been scrupulous in this life; either, I suppose, because there is mostly self-will in scruples, or because they did not lay them down when obedience commanded. Wrong notions about small faults may thus lead us to neglect the dead, or leave off our prayers too soon, as well as lose a lesson for ourselves.

Then, again, both views agree as to the helplessness of the Holy Souls. They lie like the paralytic at the pool. It would seem as if even the coming of the angel were not an effectual blessing to them, unless there be some one of us to help them Some have even thought they cannot pray. Anyhow, they have no means of making themselves heard by us on whose charity they depend. Some writers have said that Our Blessed Lord will not help them without our co-operation; and that Our Blessed Lady cannot help them, except in indirect ways, because she is no longer able to make satisfaction; though I never like to hear anything our dearest mother cannot do; and I regard such statements with suspicion. Whatever may come of these opinions, they at least illustrate the strong way in which theologians apprehend the helplessness of the Holy Souls. Then another feature in their helplessness is the forgetfulness of the living, or the cruel flattery of relations who will always have it that those near or dear to them die the deaths of Saints. They would surely have a scruple, if they knew of how many Masses and prayers they rob the souls, by the selfish exaggeration of their goodness. I call it selfish, for it is nothing more than a miserable device to console themselves in their sorrow. The very state of the Holy Souls is one of the most unbounded helplessness. They cannot do penance; they cannot merit; they cannot satisfy; they cannot gain indulgences; they have no Sacraments; they are not under the jurisdiction of God’s Vicar, overflowing with the plentitude of means of grace and manifold benedictions. They are a portion of the Church without either priesthood or altar at their own command.

Those are the points common to both views of purgatory; and how manifold are the lessons we learn from them, on our own behalf as well as on behalf of the Holy Souls. For ourselves, what light does all this throw on slovenliness, luke-warmness, and love of ease? What does it make us think of performing our devotions out of a mere spirit of formality, or a trick of habit? What diligence in our examens, confessions, Communions, and prayers! It seems as if the grace of all graces for which we should ever be importuning our dear Lord, would be to hate sin with something of the hatred wherewith He hated it in the garden of Gethsemane. Oh, is not the purity of God something awful, unspeakable, adorable?

He, who is Himself a simple act, has gone on acting, multiplying acts since creation, yet he has incurred no stain! He is ever mingling with a most unutterable condescension with what is beneath Him — yet no stain! He loves His creatures with a love immeasurably more intense than the wildest passion of earth — yet no stain! He is omnipotent, yet it is beyond the limits of His power to receive a stain. He is so pure that the very vision of Him causes eternal purity and blessedness. Mary’s purity is but a fair thin shadow of it, and yet we, even we, are to dwell in His arms for ever, we are to dwell amid the everlasting burnings of that uncreated purity! Yet, let us look at our lives; let us trace our hearts faithfully through but one day, and see of what mixed intentions, human respects, self-love, and pusillanimous temper our actions, nay, even our devotions, are made up of; and does not purgatory, heated seven-fold and endured to the day of doom, seem but a gentle novitiate for the Vision of the All-holy?

But some persons turn in anger from the thought of purgatory, as if it were not to be endured, that after trying all our lives long to serve God, we should accomplish the tremendous feat of a good death, only to pass from the agonies of the death-bed into fire, long, keen, searching, triumphant, incomparable fire. Alas! my dear friends, your anger will not help you nor alter facts. But have you thought sufficiently about God? Have you tried to realize His holiness and purity in assiduous meditation? Is there a real divorce between you and the world which you know is God’s enemy? Do you take God’s side? Are you devoted to His interests? Do you long for His glory? Have you put sin alongside of our dear Savior’s Passion, and measured the one by the other? Surely, if you had, purgatory would but seem to you the last, unexpected, and inexpressibly tender invention of an obstinate love, which was mercifully determined to save you in spite of yourself. It would be a perpetual wonder to you, a joyous wonder, fresh every morning, a wonder that would be meat and drink to your soul, that you, being what you know yourself to be, what God knows you to be, should be saved eternally. Remember what the suffering soul said so simply, yet with such force, to Sister Francesca: “Ah! those on that side of the grave little reckon how dearly they will pay on this side for the lives they live!” To be angry because you are told you will go to purgatory! Silly, silly people. Most likely it is a great false flattery, and that you will never be good enough to go there at all. Why, positively, you do not recognize your own good fortune, when you are told of it. And none but the humble go there. I remember Maria Crocifissa [died 1855, canonized 1954,] was told that although many of the Saints while on earth loved God more than some do even in heaven, yet that the greatest Saint on earth was not so humble as are the souls in purgatory. I do not think I ever read anything in the lives of the Saints which struck me so much as that. You see it is not well to be angry; for those only are lucky enough to get into purgatory who sincerely believe themselves to be worthy of hell.

But we not only learn lessons for our own good, but for the good of the Holy Souls. We see that our charitable attention towards them must be far more vigorous and persevering than they have been; for men go to purgatory for very little matters, and remain there an unexpectedly long time. But their most touching appeal to us lies in their helplessness; and our dear Lord, with His usual loving arrangement, has made the extent of our power to help them more than commensurate with their ability to help themselves. Some theologians have said that prayer for the Holy Souls is not infallibly answered. I confess their arguments on this head do not convince me; but, conceding the point, how wonderful still is the power which we can exercise in favor of the departed! St. Thomas has at least taught us that prayer for the dead is more readily accepted with God than prayer for the living. We can offer and apply for them all the satisfactions of Our Blessed Lord. We can do vicarious penance for them. We can give to them all the satisfactions of our ordinary actions, and of our sufferings. We can make over to them, by way of suffrage, the indulgences we gain, provided the Church has made them applicable to the dead. We can limit and direct to them, or any one of them, the intention of the Adorable Sacrifice. The Church, which has no jurisdiction over them, can yet make indulgences applicable or inapplicable to them by way of suffrage; and by means of liturgy, commemoration, incense, holy water, and the like, can reach efficaciously to them, and most of all by her device of privileged altars. The Communion of Saints furnishes the veins and channels by which all these things reach them in Christ.

Heaven itself condescends to act upon them through earth. Their Queen helps them by setting us to work for them, and the Angels and the Saints bestow their gifts through us, whom they persuade to be their almoners; nay, we are often their almoners without knowing that we are so. Our Blessed Lord vouchsafes to look to us, as if He would say: Here are my weapons, work for me! just as a father will let his child do a portion of his work, in spite of the risk he runs in having it spoiled. To possess such powers, and not to use them, would be the height of irreverence towards God, as well as of want of charity to men. There is nothing so irreverent, because nothing so un-filial, as to shrink from God’s gifts simply because of their exuberance. Men have a feeling of safety in not meddling with the supernatural; but the truth is, we cannot stand aloof on one side and be safe. Naturalism is the unsafe thing. If we do not enter the system, and humbly take our place in it, it will draw us in, only to tear us to pieces when it has done so. The dread of the supernatural is the un-safest of feelings. The jealousy of it is a prophecy of eternal loss.

It is not saying too much to call devotion to the Holy Souls a kind of centre in which all Catholic devotions meet, and which satisfies more than any other single devotion our duties in that way; because it is a devotion all of love, and of disinterested love. If we cast an eye over the chief Catholic devotion, we shall see the truth of this. Take the devotion of St. Ignatius to the glory of God. This, if we may dare to use such an expression of Him, was the special and favorite devotion of Jesus. Now, purgatory is simply a field white for the harvest of God’s glory. Not a prayer can be said for the Holy Souls, but God is at once glorified, both by the faith and the charity of the mere prayer.

Again, what devotion is justly more dear to Christians than the devotion to the Sacred Humanity of Jesus? It is rather a family of various and beautiful devotions, than a devotion by itself. Yet see how they are all, as it were, fulfilled, affectionately fulfilled, in devotion to the Holy Souls. The quicker the souls are liberated from purgatory, the more is the bountiful harvest of His Blessed Passion multiplied and accelerated. An early harvest is a blessing, as well as a plentiful one; for all delay of a soul’s ingress into the praise of heaven is an eternal and irremediable loss of honor and glory to the Sacred Humanity of Jesus. How strangely things sound in the language of the sanctuary! Yet so it is. Can the Sacred Humanity be honored more than by the adorable sacrifice of the Mass? But here is our chief action upon purgatory. Faith in His Sacraments as used for the dead is a pleasing homage to Jesus; and the same may be said of faith in indulgences and privileged altars and the like. The powers of the Church will flow from His Sacred Humanity, and are a perpetual praise and thank-offering to it. So, again, this devotion honors Him by imitating His zeal for souls. For this zeal is a badge of His people, and an inheritance for Him.

Devotion to our dearest Mother is equally comprehended in this devotion to the Holy Souls, whether we look at her as the Mother of Jesus, and so sharing the honors of His Sacred Humanity, or as Mother of Mercy, and so especially worshipped* by works of mercy, or, lastly, whether we regard her, as in a particular sense, the queen of purgatory, and so having all manner of dear interests to be promoted in the welfare and deliverance of those suffering souls.

*Footnote  on ‘worshipped’: *1 do not refrain from the use of this word as the English translation of cultus weary experience shows that objectors obstinately repeat their objections, whatever we do to abate them, and they rather triumph over the show of weakness, than appreciate the charity of such like condescensions. We lose by them ourselves, without gaining opponents.

Next to this we may rank devotion to the holy Angels, and this also is satisfied in devotion to the Holy Souls. For it keeps filling the vacant thrones in the angelic choirs, those unsightly gaps which the fall of Lucifer and one-third of the heavenly host occasioned. It multiplies the companions of the blessed spirits. They may be supposed also to look with an especial interest on that part of the Church which lies in purgatory, because it is already crowned with their own dear gift and ornament of final perseverance, and yet, it has not entered at once into its inheritance as they did. Many of them also have a tender personal interest in purgatory. Thousands, perhaps millions of them, are guardians to those souls, and their office is not yet over. Thousands have clients there who were specially devoted to them in life.

Neither is devotion to the Saints without its interests in this devotion for the dead. It fills them with the delights of charity, as it swells their numbers, and beautifies their ranks and orders. Numberless patron saints are personally in multitudes of souls. The affectionate relation between their clients and themselves not only subsists, but a deeper tenderness has entered into it, because of the fearful suffering, and a livelier interest because of the accomplished victory. They see in the Holy Souls their handiwork, the fruit of their patronage, the beautiful and finished crown of their affectionate intercession.

But there is another peculiarity in this devotion for the dead. It does not rest in words and feelings, nor does it merely lead to action indirectly and at last. It is action itself, and thus it is a substantial devotion. It speaks and a deed is done; it loves and a pain is lessened; it sacrifices, and a soul is delivered. Nothing can be more solid. We might also dare to compare it, in its pure measure, to the efficacious voice of God, which works what it says, and effects what it utters and wills, and a creation comes. The royal devotion of the Church is the works of mercy; and see how they are all satisfied in this devotion for the dead. It feeds the hungry souls with Jesus, the Bread of Angels. It gives them to drink in their incomparable thirst, His Precious Blood. It clothes the naked with a robe of glory. It visits the sick with mighty powers to heal, and at the last consoles them by the visit. It frees the captives with a heavenly and eternal freedom, from a bondage dreader far than death. It takes in the strangers and heaven is the hospice into which it receives them. It buries the dead in the Bosom of Jesus in everlasting rest. When the last doom shall come, and our dearest Lord shall ask those seven questions of His judicial process, those interrogatories of the works of mercy, how happy will that man be, and it may be the poorest beggar amongst us who never gave any alms because he has had to live on alms himself, who shall hear his own defense sweetly and eloquently taken up by crowds of blessed souls, to whom he has done all these things while they waited in their prison-house of hope.

Another point of view, from which we may look at this devotion for the dead, is as a specially complete and beautiful exercise of the three theological virtues, of faith, hope, and charity, which are the supernatural fountains of our whole spiritual life.

Neither is this devotion a less heroic exercise of the theological virtue of hope, the virtue so sadly wanting in the spiritual life of these times. For, look what a mighty edifice this devotion raises: lofty, intricate, and of magnificent proportions, into which somehow or other all creation is drawn, from the little headache we offer up to the Sacred Humanity of Jesus, and which has to do even with God Himself. Yet upon what does all this rest, except on a simple, childlike trust in God’s Fidelity, which is the supernatural motive of hope? We hope for the souls we help, and unbounded are the benedictions which we hope for in this regard. We hope to find mercy ourselves, because of our mercy; and this hope quickens our efforts without detracting from the merit of our charity. If we give away our own satisfaction, and the indulgences we gain, to the souls in purgatory, instead of keeping them for ourselves, what is this but a heroic exercise of hope? We throw ourselves upon God. We hardly face the thought that we ourselves are thus sentencing ourselves, it may be, to abide years and years longer in that unconquerable fire. We shut our eyes, we quell the rising thought, we give our alms, and throw ourselves on God. We shall not be defrauded of our hope. Who ever trusted Him, and His trust failed? No! No! All is right when it is left to God.

As to the charity of this devotion it dares to imitate even the charity of God Himself. What is there in heaven or on earth which it does not embrace, and with such facility, with so much gracefulness, as if there were scarcely an effort in it, or as if self was charmed away, and might not mingle to distract it? It is an exercise of the love of God; for it is loving those whom He loves, and loving them because He loves them and to augment His glory, and multiply His praise. There are a hundred loves of God in this one love, as we should see if we reflected on those Holy Souls, and realized all that was implied in the final entry of a soul into everlasting bliss. It is love towards the Sacred Humanity, because it magnifies the copious redemption of Jesus. It honors His merits, satisfactions, ordinances and mysteries. It peoples His heaven, and it glorifies His Blood. It is filled with Jesus, with His spirit, with His work, with His power, with His victories. No less is it an exercise of love to our dearest Lady, as I have shown before; and to the Angels and Saints. How abundant is its charity to the souls themselves; who can exaggerate, whether to give them the good measure of all the Church tells us to do, and some spontaneous alms besides; or the full measure of all our satisfactions during lifetime, and which are not by justice due elsewhere, as St. Gertrude gave them; or the measure shaken together, which adds that which shall be done for us when we are dead, like Father Munroy’s heroic act of self-renunciation; or the measure running over, which heaps upon all the rest special works of love, such as promoting this devotion by conversions, sermons, and books, and by getting Masses, Communions, penances, indulgences, from others for them. All men living on the earth, even unconverted sinners, are included in it, because it swells the Church Triumphant, and so multiplies intercessors for us who are still warring upon earth. To ourselves also it is an exercise of charity, for it gains us friends in heaven; it earns mercy for us when we ourselves shall be in purgatory, tranquil victims, yet, oh, in what distress! and it augments our merits in the sight of God, and so, if only we persevere, our eternal recompense hereafter.

Now, if this tenderness for the dead is such an exercise of these three theological virtues, and if again even heroic sanctity consists principally in their exercises, what store ought we not to set upon this touching and beautiful devotion!

But a further excellence in this devotion is to be found in its effects upon the spiritual life. It would seem as if it were a devotion specially intended for interior souls. But the fact is, that it is so full of doctrine, and embodies so much that is supernatural that we need not be surprised at the influence it exercises over the spiritual life. In the first place, it is a hidden work from first to last. We do not see the results, so that there is little food for vain-glory; neither is it a devotion the exercise of which appears in any way before the eyes of others. It implies, moreover, an utter ignoring of self, by making away with our own satisfactions and indulgences, and keeping up a tender interest in an object which does not directly concern ourselves. It is not only for the glory of God, but it is for His greater glory, and for His sole glory. It leads us to think purely of souls, which is very difficult to do in this material world, and to think of them, too, simply as spouses of Jesus. We thus gain a habit of mind which is fatal to the spirit of the world and to the tyranny of human respect, while it goes far to counteract the poison of self-love. The incessant thought of the Holy Souls keeps before us a continual image of suffering; and not merely passive suffering, but a joyful conformity to the will of God under it. Yet this is the very genius of the Gospel, the very atmosphere of holiness.

Furthermore, it communicates to us, as it were, by sympathy the feelings of those Holy Souls, and so increases our trembling, yet trustful, devotion to the adorable purity of God; and as, except in the case of indulgences applied to the dead, it requires a state of grace to make satisfaction for the sins of others, it is a special act of the lay priesthood of the members of Christ. The spirit of the devotion is one of pensiveness; and this is an antidote to frivolity and hardness, and tells wonderfully upon the affectionate character which belongs to high sanctity. We can tell what will come after patient years of thus keeping constantly before our eyes a model of eagerness, unspeakable, patient eagerness, to be with our dearest Lord? It is almost omnipotent, almost omnipresent; because it is not so much he who lives as Christ who lives in him! What is it we are touching and handling every day of our lives, all so full of supernatural vigor, of secret unction, of divine force, and yet we consider it not, but waste intentions and trifle time away in the midst of this stupendous supernatural system of grace, as unreflecting almost as a stone embedded in the earth and borne round unconsciously in its impetuous revolutions, day by day.

Know The Love Of Christ

Know The Love Of Christ 
Most Rev. Alban Goodier, S.J. Archbishop of Hierapolis

“A More Excellent Way” (1 Cor. 12, 31)

It is important for us to bear always in mind that we learn Our Lord as He was, and therefore as He is, wholly from the Gospels. Other Lives of Him, other writings, books of meditation and the like, may help us to interpret Him; they may give us the fruit of the discoveries of others; but in the end even the most inspired and the most living of these must be referred back to the Gospels; if their picture differs from that given by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, then, however beautiful and fascinating and elevating it may be, it is not Jesus Christ, but some fine fancy of an artist’s imagination. On this account, whatever else one may read and study – Lives of Christ, works on the spiritual life, mystical books, the letters and other writings of saints, great biographies, inspiriting histories, records of martyrs, subtlest theology, annals of the Church, poetry the most sublime – all, it may be, written to enlarge and deepen our concept of Our Lord – still one can never lay aside the constant reading of the Gospel; the constant following of Him through their pages who alone, and in them alone, is set before us infallibly as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

And, in fact, in them we have enough; not, it is true, enough to satisfy our human curiosity, for we are keen, almost beyond endurance, to know everything that can be known, even to the most trivial detail, about this “most beautiful among the sons of men”; but enough to form a perfect picture, nay more, enough to bring up before us a living reality, the study of which will occupy us all our lives, will occupy all men all their lives, and even at the end the mine will not be exhausted.

Let us but look for Him there, allowing other books to help us as they may, but not making them our final source, and we shall find Him for ourselves. We shall find this Man, Jesus, stamped from the beginning with a strange directness and clarity of vision, which nothing can ever divert, or draw aside, or make to falter; He could meet His mother’s tears with a direct reply: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” the remonstrance of John the Baptist, the first of saints, with the check: “Suffer it to be so; for so it becomes us to fulfill all justice”; to the end there is never any confusion, any doubtful understanding; He walks through life and death knowing always what would be.

We shall find Him next, as a natural concomitant to this, always clear, and firm, and decisive in His judgements, speaking always “as one having authority,” always so that His enemies were forced to exclaim: “Never has any man spoken as this man speaks”; unhesitating, true, no matter what the circumstances against Him, no matter how men heckled Him, how they tried “to catch him in his speech,” no matter what tact He was at times compelled to employ.

We shall find Him unerring in His estimates of men; He is never deceived or drawn away by a surface impression, never yields unduly, or against His better judgement, to occasion, never confounds evil with misfortune; but distinguishes truth from falsehood, real evil from real good, the canker at the root of human life from the mere withered branches, the “things that are for the real peace” of men as opposed to make-believe forms; He discriminates between reality and truth in all alike, whether in the heart of a disciple or in that of an enemy, in the saint or in the sinner, in the believer or the pagan, the conventionally good, those who pass muster among men, or the outcast criminal.

This stamp of utter, unerring certainty and of absolute trustworthiness because of certainty, is the first trait we discover. Along-side of this we shall find Him the tenderest of hearts, a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a true and not a patronizing or condescending friend, the exact equal of each and all, with an individual understanding and sympathy for every heart that opens out before Him, yet never does He confuse one with another, never does He weary of one in preference for another, much less exclude one. for the sake of another, never is the love or interest of anyone diminished because He has love for so many. On the other hand, never is He weak, or over-indulgent, or soft, or too blinded by affection to see the evil or the limitations of His beloved. He gives love lavishly and to all who will have it, even the most debarred from human love, yet none would call Him languid or sentimental; He wins love from those who are conquered by His presence, because He is so true, so strong, so selfless in purpose, so single-minded, so unable to deceive. Men might call Him by bad names; they might accuse Him of other evil deeds; they might say that He worked by Beelzebub, that He was possessed, that He was an impostor, that He blasphemed; they could never say, though He loved so much and showed it, though His love went out to the most loathsome and abhorred so that some took scandal, that this His love was ever other than understanding, and true, and generous, and enduring, and uplifting, and in itself perfect.

Again, we shall find Him ever constant. He has a definite work to do, a definite life to live and death to die – that is written on every page of the record, in His journeys, in His teaching, in His attitude to men, as much as it is constantly and repeatedly expressed in His words – and never for a moment does He swerve in its accomplishment. Failure may depress Him, but He does not despond; opposition may alter His plan, but it does not slacken His effort; malice does not embitter Him; deceit, falsehood, trickery, deliberate misconstruction of His words or actions, desertion, treacherous friends, faithless or weak-kneed companions, fruitlessness of all He may do, even deliberate rejection – none of these things can lessen His endeavor, make His hand tremble, or the feet on the mountains falter. None. of these things can alter Him; always and everywhere, from beginning to end, He is the same; He seems to give no thought to consequences, or fruits, or reward; whatever the results, He has a work to do, and the doing of the work is all that He considers; He tabours, not looking for reward; toils, not demanding rest; steadily He walks through life to His goal, “giving testimony of the truth,” “speaking as one having authority,” always “going about doing good,” to all alike, deserving and undeserving, friend and enemy, alien and ally, who will deign to accept from Him the blessing He strews along His path as He goes.

With these three, His absolute truth of understanding, His boundless, tender heart, His constancy in action, we shall find Him, as a necessary consequence, looking out on men with infinitely tender eyes. Never a human being comes within His horizon, but He looks through it with the eyes, of accurate judgement it may be, but infinitely tempered by love; with intimate understanding He interprets it, with the welcome of friendship He receives it; there is not a good thought thinkable about it, not a good interpretation possible to put upon its wayward deeds, but that thought and that interpretation will have found a place in His mind. While others find reason justly to condemn, He will find reason to save, while justice puts a limit to the time of repentance, and permits the law to run its course, He will wait till the very last moment, and in the end will rescue. He does not compel men; He has too much regard for them to drive. He offers them Himself and awaits the issue; when they look wistfully He invites them to draw near; once or twice only does He make the first step, usually He leaves that to them; but when they do come near, when they do let Him see that they want Him, then His eyes glisten, and His heart expands, and His hand opens, and there is interest, and sympathy and longing in every look and gesture; He was never so near seeming foolish, as when some pleading soul showed that it believed and responded, and the key was thus applied to the flood-gates of His bursting affection.

These are four main lines that go behind the portrait of Him “that comes from Edom, with dyed garments from Bosra, this beautiful one in his robe, walking in the greatness of his strength,” as the four Gospels consistently describe Him. This is He who, when the Evangelist himself endeavors to depict Him in the abstract, can only be summed up in the words of the Prophet: “The bruised reed he shall not break, and smoking flax he shall not extinguish”; yet whom that same Prophet also called “Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace.” We see Him clearly enough before us, and we know we are not mistaken; this Man of firm, unflinching manner, yet with not a shadow of hardness; grave in His looks, inspiring silence, yet with it something that attracts; an eye that looks out to long distances, yet not a soul feels itself passed over; glistening as through tears, yet strong as the eye of an eagle; a lip that trembles as the lip of a quivering maiden, yet so firm set that the weakest has courage from its strength. We see Him wrapt in deep thought, speaking words that set the wisest pondering, yet withal in such simplicity that the children understand Him; looking out beyond the limit of life, yet not a flower in the field, or a bird of the air, or an outcast cripple on the roadside is forgotten; with a toiler’s hand, and brain, and heart, and ambition consumed with eagerness for labour, yet ever ready to yield up His task when His companionship is needed; consumed with zeal for His Father’s house, with zeal for truth and justice, yet patient and pitiful even as He smites, gentle as the gentlest mother.

All this we see and much more: the love of loneliness, though “his delights are to be with the children of men”; the love of prayer, though He cannot tear Himself from the crowd, not even to take food; the love of peace, though His days are one long warfare; the love, seen in His every outside behavior, to be one with all men, though He could not keep from them that which prompted them to make Him their king. But it is useless to carry on the portrayal; we go on and on, the fascination grows, at each new step we see more and more, for He is utterly transparent; and yet at every point at which we stop we feel that we have said nothing. The Evangelists knew Him better than we, and they did not venture to describe Him. They were content to let Him walk through their narrative, preaching the Kingdom, healing the sick, having compassion on the multitude, or retiring into the mountain to pray, knowing well that in so doing He would not be lost amid the details; His personality would be too great for that; they knew they would, in their simple story of simple fact, leave behind them that on which all generations would ponder, yet which they would never exhaust.

And indeed it is so. The more we contemplate it, look at it with believing eyes, warmed by love, stirred by hope and trust, the more vivid does the portrait grow, the more living are the features. They are enthralling, we know them; “we have found him whom our soul loves, we have held him and will not let him go.” Other portraits help, copies, facsimiles, drawn by more recent artists; but all these have their limitations, some have their exaggerations, none are exactly accurate; all have what life they possess from the great original, and only in so far as they reproduce its fire have they any inspiration in themselves.

This is some little shadow of Jesus as the Gospels show Him to us; more if we like, and, above all, more of the details, we can gather for ourselves. These are four guiding lines; we can easily cluster much else around them. For He is not difficult to discover; He needs no great effort of psychology or analysis; He is Himself just simple and true, just meek and humble of heart, and by truth and simplicity, by humility and meekness, He is best to be found; let us not forget His own prayer of thanksgiving wrung from Him at a moment when the learned turned away in scorn: “Heavenly Father, I give You thanks that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them to little ones.” Nor again His other words of warning: “Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of God.”

It is worth our while to weigh the meaning of these words. We complain of our want of fruit in prayer; of its dryness, its emptiness; often we only mean, but we do not know it, that we are looking for fruit, not of prayer, but of study; we are watching for that reflex knowledge that comes of thought and study, not for that deeper insight, that fuller understanding, that realization which is found in faith and love and hope, which is the real fruit of prayer, and which can no more be weighed and measured than life itself can be weighed in pounds or measured by yards. In other words, we judge by the standards of poor grown-up people, and not by the unerring standard of a child. A child needs but its mother’s company to know her, to love her, and to trust her, yet its knowledge, and love, and trust are not less true, or less complete, or less admirable on that account. And in precisely the same way there is a knowledge of Our Lord which no books or pondering can give us; which can be gained only by living in His company; by living in His company as He glides through the pages of the Gospels; as he plies His daily trade at Nazareth, quiet, monotonous, till we become almost forgetful of His presence; or creeps away in silence up the mountain-side, till that, too, becomes a habit with us; or walks by the riverside, unnoticed in the crowd, except by one who alone has eyes to see – how strange that those who fail to see Him claim this as proof of their superior knowledge! – or stands firm and frank before the people, now appealing, now commanding, now consoling, now rebuking, but always the same strong pillar on which all may lean; or sits at table, now with friends, now with enemies, familiarly treated, yet always reverenced, condemned by some, yet feared by others, held in awe, yet never losing that which is expressed in the phrase “only Jesus”; or sleeps in the boat, feeble, yet almighty; or compassionates by lowering Himself to the lowest, yet in such a way that because of it men would hail Him as their king; or denounces evil with a thunder that cowers the most violent, yet all the while infants clamber on His knee – living with Him in the midst of all this, in busy streets or along lonely byways, in public Jerusalem or in the privacy of Bethany, we come to know Him as He is for ourselves, and we know that we know Him, whatever those who know Him not may say, and even though we have not, nor care to have, a single word with which to express it. “It is the Lord!” “I to my beloved and my beloved to me.” “I know in whom I have believed.” That is enough.

My Lord Jesus Christ, You Wonder of the world, most beautiful among the sons of men, before whom Your very enemies bow down, acknowledging the marvel of Your countenance, the perfection of Your character, the invincible attraction of Your whole self, how strange a thing it is that there can be those who pass You by unnoticed, how stranger still that even we can pass You by! Yet is it even so. We believe, we are certain, we now know; we build our life here, and our hope hereafter, on You and Your claim; we own You, not only to be perfect Man, but to be very God of very God; we see in You alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, the climax of all for which this world was made, the source from which flows whatever of good this world contains; we can see all this, and know it to be true, and in our moments of emotion can think we would gladly give our lives to witness to its truth; and yet the next minute we can ignore You; we can go counter to You; we can go our way through life as if You had never been.

More than this. We who have the light can reach behind the simple story of the Gospels; with Your Apostle St. Paul to guide us we can understand in part what Your Resurrection signified; that “having once risen You die now no more, death can no more have dominion over You”; that therefore You are living now as You were living then, the same Jesus now as then, the same utter truth, the same fascination, the same understanding sympathy, the same beating heart: “Jesus Christ yesterday, today, and the same for ever.” We can realize all this, understand it sufficiently to know that it is true; we can accept the fact of Your being, and of Your nearness to us here and now; and yet we can think, and act, and build up our lives as if it were not, or as if to us it meant nothing. We can, with eyes of faith, see Your face glowing in the darkness; with consciousness of hope we can feel Your hands stretched out to us to seize our own; with the instinct of love we can distinguish the very accent of Your voice, even as did Your fellow-countrymen of Galilee, calling to us, whispering our very names, telling us of love that human words cannot express – all this is ours, and by its very clearness we know it to be true; it is no fancy, it is the offshoot of no mere sentiment; and yet withal we can turn away, our vision obscured by the fascination of a trifle; and we can act as if we preferred to walk with You no more, as if we had never learnt to “taste and see how sweet is the Lord!”

Nay, there is something more. We can hear You, in words that true hearing cannot misunderstand, giving Yourself to us to be our slave, to be our food, our life, our abiding companion; yet we can still remain unmoved. One or two among men in the ages past we can see who have learnt You, and, once they have learnt, have counted all else but refuse in comparison; who have loved You, and, once they have begun to love, have known for certain that no other love could draw them away, with this no other love could compare; who have given themselves to You, and, once they have made the surrender, have then proved what heroism, what a true man’s strength can accomplish – the strength that conquers torture, that makes a toy of death; the strength that magically turns everything to gladness.

We can all see this; we can admire and approve; we can say that here is a man at his best, because he has found the true goal of his being, has become infused with the very life of life, has attained to that likeness to Jesus which is man’s ideal – all this we can see, and can say, and then can turn about upon our heel and go our way, as if for us these things had no meaning.

Truly, what a strange thing is man! Whether it be the man who believes, yet is not subdued, or the man who will not believe, as if to believe so grand and great a truth were in some way demeaning to himself. Demeaning to acknowledge Jesus Christ! Demeaning to own Him for my Brother, whose kinship makes me royal! To call Him my friend, whose great heart expands mine beyond the limits of the world! To take Him for my companion, whose comradeship gives life a new meaning! To accept Him for my Leader, whose service is a hall-mark of nobility! To set Him up for my Ideal than which neither God nor man could make anything more grand! Demeaning to be won by Jesus Christ! If man thinks so, or if in his meanness he acts so, can he be worth so great a gift? Can he be worth the offering of the life, the outpouring of the blood, of Jesus?

Yes; even to this Christ says, “Yes”; and it is a last disclosure of His character, the crowning feature of all, a revelation which breaks down the heart of St. Paul, and would break down the heart of every man who would let himself be penetrated by it. “Christ loved me, even me, and gave himself for me, even for me.”

When I was younger, a novice in religion, and knew myself less, and knew others less, and was full of high ambitions in the spiritual life, and sought in books and in study, in thought-out plans and schemes on paper for guides to the summit of perfection, I set virtues before me, and meditated on their beauty, and proposed to myself to acquire them, sub-dividing them, analyzing them, arranging their degrees as the steps of a ladder. This week, as the good spiritual writers bade me, I would acquire the virtue of patience; next week it should be a carefully guarded tongue; the week after should be given to charity; then should come the spirit of prayer; and in a month or two, perhaps, I might have an ecstasy and “see the Lord.” But now, when I have grown older, and find myself still struggling for the first of these virtues, and that in a very elementary degree, and have been taught quite other lessons than I dreamt of, in part by the sorry disappointments in my own soul, in part by the progress seen in the souls of others, I am convinced that there is one road to perfection better than all else – in fact, that if we neglect this one no other will be of much avail. After all, it is possible to acquire perfection in virtues, and yet to be far from a saint; few men have made better use of the particular examination of conscience, for the acquiring of natural virtues, than a certain well-known atheist, and yet to the end he remained without a spark of religion in him. On the other hand, it is possible to be a great saint, and yet to be imperfect in many respects: ask the saints themselves and they will all tell you of their many failures and shortcomings. But one thing is not possible; it is not possible to grow in the knowledge, and love, and imitation of Jesus Christ, without at the same time growing in the perfection of every virtue and becoming more a saint every day.

This, then, if I were allowed to begin my spiritual life over again, is the line along which I would try to live it; and is the line along which I would try to lead the lives of any whom God gave into my care. Particular virtues are good things – of course they are; it is much to be always patient, to be diligent in the use of our time, to be considerate with those who try us, to keep our tongue in control; nevertheless, “Do not the heathens do this?” And is it not possible to possess all these, and yet, on their very account, to remain as proud as Lucifer? I would go further and say that the devil himself must possess many of these virtues; he can certainly bide his time, he can be very busy, he can speak honeyed words, he can accommodate himself to everybody’s needs, he can be the most attractive of companions. But these things are not the main issue; they are often no more than the paint on the surface; and truth, sanctity, only begins when the core of the creature is affected. And this is done, almost alone, by love; when the creature loves, then it is changed, and till then scarcely at all. Thus it is that the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ goes deeper down than any Stoic striving after virtue; it is flesh and blood where the other is but bleached bones; it gives life and substance where the other is only dead perfection; the imitation of Jesus Christ includes every virtue, makes them unconsciously our own, produces them from itself, and does not merely put them on from without, even as the brown earth gives forth the beauty of spring flowers and does not know it.

Hence, in practice, were I to be asked for an application of all that I have been here pleading for, I would say:

1. Read spiritual books, yes, as much of them and as many as may be convenient; but do not measure growth in the spiritual life by the number of books you have read; do not even measure it by the amount of learning they give us. Remember the warning of St. Ignatius: “It is not abundance of knowledge that satisfies the soul, but to feel and to relish things with the inner man.” Read to provide material for this inward perception and relish; but do not count it necessarily loss that there are books we have not read, or authors of whom we know nothing. And, above all, read the Scriptures, especially the Gospels, with an eye less upon ourselves and more upon Him whom they describe; in that, more in any other reading, shall we find that knowledge and true spirituality grow together.

2. Hold spiritual conferences, yes, but less about ourselves and our own despicable faults, or even our little virtues and ideals; more, far more, about Him and His superb perfection, forgetting ourselves in the glory of His sunshine. By so doing it is true we may lose the satisfaction of watching ourselves grow in holiness – that is dangerous satisfaction at the best – but instead we shall grow the more naturally and fully, and He will know it, and that is enough.

3. Make meditation, yes; pray, yes; give the thirsting soul as much of this as it can take. But do not spend all the time lamenting our own littleness and our own shortcomings, patching up our petty, threadbare resolutions and will-o’-the-wisp ideals which, experience has taught us, are only set up that they may topple down again each day. Instead fill the hours of prayer with His absorbing presence, with His invigorating company, the loving admiration of this most Beautiful of the sons of men, the joy of His friendship, the interpretation of His mind, sympathy with the gladness and sorrows of His heart. Fill our prayer with these things, creep through His wounds into His very soul, thence look out through His eyes upon heaven and earth, and our little selves prone at His feet, and though by the process we may forget our own spiritual ambitions, we shall instead unconsciously become what He was.

4. Examine our consciences, yes; but do not turn it into an everlasting pecking at the soul, ceaseless beating of this poor creature, which time has long since shown us comes to little good. Instead, let the eyes of Jesus look at us, let us see ourselves through those eyes, the joy we are to Him for our encouragement, the sorrow for our trusting contrition, the smile on His face or the wistful look of disappointment at the sight of us; and it will be strange if the constant sight of Him does not produce its lasting effect.

There remains one more point on which human nature will ask to be assured. We may accept that growth in the knowledge, and love, and imitation of Jesus Christ is the all-important matter in our spiritual lives; we may also have grasped in some way how it may best be obtained; but human nature is tempted to ask a further question, and that is: Can we know, for certain, and if so, how can we know, that we have attained it? There are many tests of love, some true, many false; some good as far as they go, but inadequate; others indications only of temporary feeling; the signs of perfect love are usually far removed from these, usually devoid of all sentiment.

We may see this in ordinary life. A sign of understanding and love between two friends is a certain agreement, a sympathy of mind. They see things the same way, they look to the same ends, they share each other’s knowledge and views in order that they may think together; almost unconsciously their minds harmonize, become alike, and this is the best sign of all. So it is between the lover of Christ and His beloved. They see more and more alike as they come into communion, along the same perspective, towards the same goal; the interpretation of life given by the one becomes that accepted by the other. The sinner first sees his own sinfulness in all its hideous degradation; gradually he sees it with the eyes of Jesus Christ, and in that light it shows itself infinitely worse; soon those very eyes tone the horrid picture, for there come the tears of pity and mercy; self-hate softens to self-humiliation, self-humiliation to appeal – and the soul that before only knew itself unfit for any consideration, seeing itself as its Lover sees it, finds in its very unfitness a reason to cling, and to hope, and to love, and even to rejoice all the more.

Then with those same eyes it looks down the lane of life, and finds new ideals for which to live. What are those ideals? They are not far to seek, for He has fixed them as He walked before us.

“Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?”

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

“He that does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

“Whosoever shall do the will of my Father that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

“My food is to do the will of him that sent me.”

“I seek not my own will, but the will of him that sent me.”

“I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me.”

“I have done the work You gave me to do.”

“Father, not my will, but Yours be done.” So in many places does the mighty Lover of mankind give to His beloved men the key to the problem of life.

“In the head of the book it is written of me, that I should do Your will, O my God.”

In like manner the true lover of Our Lord finds himself, without any conscious effort, without even making of this a special virtue, simply, instinctively, because his heart beats in harmony with the heart of his Beloved, seeing ever more and more the will of God in all the circumstances of life, making this his one aim, longing for this as the cure of the ills of men, finding in its fulfillment his chief satisfaction. The man in whom the will of God becomes ever more his dominant ideal, the thing that is above all for his peace, may assure himself, whatever he may feel, however little display of love he may show, that his love of Jesus Christ, nevertheless, is real and fruitful and growing.

Again, we notice in those who truly love one another a tendency to become, not only of one mind, but also of one heart. Not only do they think and interpret alike, work towards the same ideals, and use the same means, but where the heart of one goes out, there the other’s heart will tend to follow.

Love loves what its beloved loves, and because its beloved loves it; once it knows, it asks no further questions, or, if it does, they are only to discover ever more motives for love.

If then, our knowledge and love of Jesus Christ our Lord are true, we shall find ourselves feeling what he feels, and as He feels it, suffering as He suffers, and for the same reasons bright when He is bright, and because we know there is gladness sparkling in His eyes, pouring out our love where He pours it out, and in the way that He bestows it. And, indeed, this is the one and only test that He Himself gives of true knowledge and love of Himself.

“If you love me,” He says, “keep my commandments.”

“If any man love me, he will keep my word.” And what is His commandment? What is His word? He leaves not a shadow of doubt.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another.”

“A new commandment I give to you, that you have love one for another.”

“In this shall men know you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”

Here, then, is our second test, utterly infallible; if we are really growing in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, we shall inevitably be growing in the understanding and love of others.

“Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” It is good to aim at charity, for its own sake, to practice it as a discipline upon ourselves, to set it as our standard of’ good breeding and behavior, to take it as a hallmark of education, a proof of a broad mind, a test of a kindly nature, even a definite spiritual ideal in itself. But there is a “yet more excellent way” than any of these, and that is growth in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. Nay, more; in comparison with this, the virtue acquired by this discipline and training and conscious effort scarcely deserves the name of charity. For charity is love, and love abides and comes from within; it is founded in the heart and expands itself outward; it is not put on as a garment; it is therefore an effect more of the training of the heart than of any external discipline. The man who really learns to love will do acts of love; it is not always true that the man who learns to do acts of love really cares, and therein lies the danger of acquiring charity by practice. But charity acquired through love of Jesus Christ is free from all such falsehood; it begins from within; usually at first, like a spring blade breaking through the ground, it gives little sign of its true nature; it lives in lowliness, bides its time, shows its charity chiefly by patience and endurance, by humble submission and service; meanwhile it attunes itself to Him, learns to love as He loves, for the reasons that He loves, in the way that He loves; and when the day comes for sacrifice such love will not be found wanting.

There is yet a third test, which includes and goes beyond the two just given, and which in regard to our study of ourselves may be of less concern, though it matters very much in reality. “Love makes like.” Those who love one another unconsciously grow in likeness to one another; in manner, in habit, in expression, in the turn of the foot or the play of the hand, even it may be in features the resemblance tends to develop. I know a religious Order whose nuns have, almost all of them, a little mannerism in their walk; were I taken into one of their convents blindfold, and one or two of the sisters were to pass by, I am sure I should be able to detect where I was. I believe these nuns have got their little manner from their sainted Mother Foundress; she has built her Order on love, and therefore the resemblance.

So, then, will it be between the lover of Christ and the Beloved. The mere intercourse has its silent effect; the manner of Christ is instinctively caught, the portrait is reproduced, the character is expressed: there is the same intentness of gaze, the same gentleness of hand, the same ease combined with energy in the whole bearing of the body; the thoughts, words. actions of Christ find an echo in him who loves; gradually he lives – no, not he, but Christ lives in him. Thus does he “put on Jesus Christ”; and when he has done that, it is everything, He will need no other teacher; he will possess the virtues he lacked; prayer will be spontaneous, and will solve its problem for itself; he will speak, when the time calls for it, “as one having power”; he will “go about doing good”; he will suffer, perhaps, “even unto death,” but his “sorrow will be turned into joy”; for in him will be accomplished the wish of his Beloved: “that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be filled.”

The Origins of the Rosary

The Origins of the Rosary 
Fr. M. J. Frings

“The Highest himself hath founded her.”—Ps. Ixxxvi.

My dear brethren, in our consideration on the rosary let us to-day reflect upon its origin.

Its origin and age bestow on this devotion a great dignity. From the earliest times of Christianity it has been the custom of the Christians to observe in their prayers method and perseverance. Thus it was the custom of the hermits of the Orient, as far back as the fourth century, to devise a sequence of certain prayers, which they counted on pebbles. We also know that long ago in England a so-called Paternoster-cord was used for this purpose. St. Gregory, at the end of the fourth century, spoke of such a method of devotion in veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This pious bishop thought a wreath of spiritual roses would be more pleasing to the blessed Virgin than the natural roses with which the faithful adorned her altar. He selected, therefore, a number of prayers, in praise of the blessed Virgin, and united them into a wreath. And this was the origin of the rosary, woven by pious hands for the veneration of Mary, the mystical rose.

In the fifth century, St. Brigid urgently commended the devotion of the rosary, and she chose as its prayers the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Creed, and united them into a wreath of prayers. In order to count their recital she strung little beads of stone or wood and made a wreath of them.

This custom subsequently spread through all Christian lands, and through the centuries, to our own days. That this devotion was always in great favor and esteem among pious Christians may be concluded from the fact that in the grave of St. Norbert, who died in 1134, a rosary similar to ours was found.

We have proof, then, that the devotion of the rosary, such as we have it, was practiced already in the early days of Christianity. And it was practiced not only by monks and nuns, but found adherents among all the faithful.

The particular manner in which we now pray the rosary was brought into vogue by St. Dominic. This is attested by the tradition of six centuries. Twelve Popes bear witness to this fact. We will now speak of the introduction by St. Dominic, and will also refer to the great efficacy of this devotion since its inception. May our reflections contribute to the greater honor of God, and of the glorious Queen of the rosary.

The devotion of the rosary in its present form dates its origin from the thirteenth century, and St. Dominic was selected by God as the instrument of its introduction. Spain was the home of this great saint. In one of the valleys of Castile there is situated an humble little village named Calarunga, where his parents possessed a small estate. He was born there in the year 1170. While being baptized his sponsor saw, as if in a vision, a brilliant star over the forehead of the future saint, shedding its brilliant light through the church. As Dominic advanced in years he increased in wisdom, virtue and piety. In due time he devoted himself to theology, believing that in this pursuit alone he could find the wisdom of God. Not in the pleasures of this world, but in the knowledge of God, he sought his pastime. His favorite place was the church and the solitude of the sanctuary.

Two incidents from his schooldays throw a light upon his character. At the time of a famine Dominic gave all that he possessed to the poor, even all but the necessary clothes, and when he had nothing more to give, he sold even his beloved books and gave the proceeds to the poor. When berated by people for his excessive generosity, he said: “How could I dare indulge in these lifeless books, when human lives are in danger of starva­tion?” At another time St. Dominic met a woman who was weeping bitterly because she had no money with which she could release her brother, who had been imprisoned by the Saracens. Dominic offered to sell himself into bondage to release this brother; but since God had destined him to release sinful mankind from the bondage of sin, of error and unbelief, He did not permit Dominic to do as he offered.

At the age of twenty-five he was appointed upon the chapter of the cathedral at Osma. Here he was conspicuous among his brethren on account of his humility, holiness, and zeal for prayer. He spent nine years in Osma, during which time divine Providence prepared him for his important and great vocation. This vocation became plain to him when, in the year 1204, he went to France and saw the terrible devastation which the prevailing heresies had wrought against the Church of Christ. The sight of this disaster nearly broke his heart. The poison of heresy had spread among the faithful with great rapidity, and principally in southern France. From the city of Albi the heretics had assumed the name Albigenses.

These Albigenses discarded the doctrines of Christianity and con­structed new doctrines that played havoc with morality and social order. They were violent enemies of Church and State, and preached disobedience and rebellion against spiritual and temporal authority. An enemy of the Church is invariably also an enemy of the State; history and experience prove this.

In southern France the Albigenses secured the support of Prince Raimond, of Toulouse, a wealthy and mighty, but, at the same time, a most godless and immoral prince of that time. He had several wives; associated with heretics, and even gave his children to be educated by them. This prince undertook the leadership of the heretical Albigenses, and with them, and other rabble by which France at that time was overrun, scoured the country, robbing and plundering wherever they went. This lawless band, under the di­rection of this godless prince, robbed churches of their treasures, murdered priests, even tore open the tabernacles and desecrated the most holy Sacrament.

A messenger of Pope Innocent III was murdered by one of these knaves, who then found the protection of this depraved prince. Under these conditions the Pope finally saw the necessity of preaching a crusade against these heretics, who surpassed even the Saracens in the outrages committed. A terrible war then ensued, in which these enemies of Church and State were subdued, but not converted. For this there was necessary an ex­traordinary spiritual effort, and divine Providence had already pre­pared the instrument. St. Dominic was the tool in the hand of God to introduce and apply an efficacious remedy, and this remedy was the rosary.

Dominic had for many years taught the doctrines of the Catholic Church to the heretics, and had converted a number of them, but not enough to satisfy his holy zeal. He often turned with humility to God and besought Him with tears, and deeds of penance, that He might let him know how to accomplish better results. Since childhood he had been a faithful servant of Mary, and had often said that the devotion to her was a powerful means of converting heretics and sinners.

Finally his prayers were heard in a miraculous way. One day, while on his way from Toulouse, Dominic threw himself down on his knees and resolved not to cease praying until his prayers were heard. Then, so the legend tells us, the glorious Queen of heaven appeared to him, spoke words of encouragement, and taught him how to pray the rosary, assuring him that this would be the right weapon to conquer error and sin.

With joy Dominic arose and returned to Toulouse, and began to spread the use of the rosary, as Mary had taught him and in the way we now recite it. He preached this devotion, explained it, and taught the people how to pray it. It proved indeed a most efficacious means for the conversion of apostates, heretics, and sinners. Since the lack of knowledge in matters of faith had been the real cause why heresy so quickly spread, the principal truths of faith and morals were now communicated to the people through the rosary, and the principles of a Christian life were taught them in this most sublime prayer of the Church. This was bound to bring results, and we will give now some thought to these results.

According to the historians of those ages the effects of the rosary sermons of St. Dominic were truly wonderful. In all cities where he preached, the people gathered in great numbers to hear his heaven-inspired words and to pray the rosary with St. Dominic. Sinners were converted, the faithful were strengthened and forti­fied, and many thousands of those who had been led into heresy opened their hearts again to the true faith and returned to the holy Church. The inspired words of St. Dominic met with such splendid results that, even if the tradition did not tell us so, the miraculous effects of this devotion would prove its heavenly inspiration, and Pius IX, Leo XIII, as many Popes before them, have publicly avowed their belief that St. Dominic received the rosary from our blessed Mother.

The promise which Dominic received was fulfilled. Where all other means had failed, the humble prayer of the rosary accom­plished the victory over heresy. Thus divine wisdom and infinite power make use of humble things to effect great achievements. Of this the great work of the redemption gives us an example. God made the Cross the instrument of the redemption. The despised Cross, once a shame and disgrace, was raised on the height of Calvary and became the instrument of the redemption for all the world, the fountain of grace, a blessing for time and eternity, the symbol of victory and glory.

St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, writes: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not in loftiness of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of Christ. For I judge not myself to know anything among you, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And my speech and my preaching was not in the persuasive words of human wisdom, but in the showing of the spirit and power. That your faith might not stand on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness: But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God; for the foolishness of God is wiser than men; but the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong. That no flesh should glory in his sight” (I Cor. i and ii). And so did God choose the rosary, this humble prayer, to work such great things, that human effort had not been able to accomplish. What an incentive to put all our trust in God, rather than in our own strength!

The devotion of the rosary soon spread from southern France to all other Catholic lands, and all peoples welcomed it with joy and prayed it with great zeal. Rosary societies were formed and approved of by the Popes, and were richly endowed with many indulgences. Ever since there has been no other prayer practiced so diligently as the rosary. And often there have been recorded miraculous effects of this devotion, no less miraculous than the conversion of the heretics in the south of France.

The devotion as now practiced is therefore in use over seven hundred years. The wonderful origin, its great age and the re­markable miracles that were wrought by its use at all times, bestow a great dignity on this devotion.

When we consider the conditions that prevailed at the time of the origin of the rosary, and for the betterment of which divine Providence provided this devotion, we can not fail to realize a similarity of conditions in our own times. Materialism and un­belief, connected with widespread immorality, are now prevalent as they were then. They are causing great injury to Church, State, and homes, and will become more destructive if not checked by the right weapon.

Pope Pius IX, as also Pope Leo XIII, have declared the rosary to be that weapon, and have exhorted Christianity to re­sort to the zealous use of it. If all Christians would follow the ad­vice of these supreme Pontiffs, we should soon see the Catholic faith and good morals come into their own again, and ample bless­ing would, through this devotion, be bestowed upon private and public life. All the insistent endeavors of world-wise scholars and reformers will be of no avail if God’s blessing does not rest upon their work. Only then, when the true faith and a life of faith are made the standard of public and private merit and ethics, will the temporal, no less than the eternal, welfare of nations and of indi­viduals be assured.

Let us, through the rosary, call to Mary for her powerful inter­cession in the battle of the Church against the enemies of faith and morals, and with her intercession we shall be sure of victory. Amen.

New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1912.
Nihil Obstat: Remigius Lafort, Censor.
Imprimatur: John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

An Easy Method of Mental Prayer

An Easy Method of Mental Prayer 
Rev. Betrand Wilberforce

1. What Mental Prayer is

Prayer is, says St. Gregory Nazianzen, a conference or conversation with God; St. John Chrysostom calls it a discoursing with the Divine Majesty; according to St. Augustine it is the raising up of the soul to God. St. Francis of Sales describes it as a conversation of the soul with God, by which we speak to God and He to us, by which we aspire to Him, and breathe in Him, and He in return inspires us and breathes on us. All prayer then is the speaking of the soul to God. This may be done in three ways; for the prayer may be either in thought only, unexpressed in any external way, or on the other hand the secret thoughts and feelings of the soul may be clothed in words; and these words again may either be confined to a set form, or they may be words of our own, unfettered by any form and expressing the emotions of our soul at the moment. In the first case our prayer will be purely mental; in the second in which we employ a set form of words, it will be vocal prayer; in the third case, where the prayer is chiefly in thought, but these thoughts are allowed to break forth into words in any way that at the moment seem best to express the feelings of the soul, it is a mixture of mental and vocal prayer; but as the words are spontaneous and not in any prescribed form, it may justly be considered as mental prayer.

In an audience with the Pope, we might read a written address to His Holiness, or we might trust to the words that might occur at the moment to express what we desired to convey to his mind. But if God were to enable the Pope to read the thoughts of our mind, we might then simply stand silent in his presence, and he would see all that we wanted to express. The formal address would be vocal prayer, the silent standing before his throne would be purely mental prayer, the conversation with unprepared words would be a mixture of the two, and might be called mental prayer in a more general and extended sense. God knows our secret thoughts more clearly than we can express them, more certainly than we ourselves can know them; and words therefore are not necessary in our intercourse with Him, though often a considerable help to us.

A set form of words spoken or read cannot be called prayer at all unless the mind intends it as prayer, and gives some kind of spiritual attention, either to the actual sense of the words themselves or to God Himself while they are being uttered. Shakespeare spoke as a theologian when, in Hamlet, he put into the mouth of the King, who asked for pardon without repentance:

My words go up, my thoughts remain below,
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.

God condemned the merely material homage of the Jews by declaring, “This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” All prayer, therefore, of whatever kind, must he “in spirit and in truth” (St. John iv, 23); but vocal prayer is confined to a prescribed form of words, whereas mental prayer is the spontaneous utterance of the soul either with or without words. When St. Francis said an Our Father, or recited his office, he used vocal prayer; when he knelt before God without a word, his prayer was purely mental; when he spent the whole night in saying “My God and my all,” his mental prayer was mingled with words which expressed the burning love of his seraphic soul.

II. The Importance and Necessity of Mental Prayer 

Prayer of one kind or another is absolutely and indispensably necessary for salvation—in other words, no one who has come to the use of reason, so as to be capable of prayer, can, according to God’s ordinary providence, be saved without it. This necessity is proved in the first place from the distinct, emphatic and constantly repeated command to pray, and to pray continually. For instance: “He spoke a parable to them (to show) that we ought always to pray, and not to faint”; St. Luke xviii, i:

“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation”; St. Matt. xxvi, 41:
“Ask, and it shall be given you”; St. Matt. vii, 7:
“Be instant (that is earnest) in prayer”; Coloss. 1V, 2:
“Pray without ceasing”: I Thess. V, 17.

Besides these positive commands it is evidently necessary; because though God really wills the salvation of all, (I Tim. ii, 4), He will not save us without our own co-operation. He will save no one by force: for heaven is not the land of slaves, into which men are driven by compulsion; it is the home of the free children of God, of those who love God, of those who are free with the freedom with which Christ hath made us free. Therefore God gives to all the grace to pray; and if they use this grace and continue to pray aright, He will continue to bestow on them a chain of graces that will end in salvation. But to those who will not pray, He has promised nothing: “The Lord is nigh unto all that call upon Him; to all that call upon Him in truth”; Ps. cxliv, 18. “Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you”; St. James iv, 8.

From this absolute and indispensable necessity of prayer in general, we can easily infer the importance and the moral necessity of the best and highest kind of prayer—namely mental prayer. If not absolutely it is certainly morally necessary in some form or another even for salvation; and there can be no manner of doubt that it is strictly necessary for any real advance of the soul in virtue and divine love. St. Alphonsus says: “He who neglects meditation (a part of mental prayer), and is distracted by the affairs of the world, will not know his spiritual wants, the dangers to which his salvation is exposed, the means he ought to take to conquer temptations; and will forget the necessity of the prayer of petition for all men: thus he will not ask for what is necessary, and by not asking God’s grace, he will certainly lose his soul.”

In the same way St. Teresa asks: “How can charity last, unless God gives perseverance? How will the Lord give us perseverance if we neglect to ask Him for it? And how shall we ask it without mental prayer? Without mental prayer there is not the communication with God which is necessary for the preservation of virtue.” The holy Doctors agree that those who persevere in mental prayer will live in God’s grace. The following words are the deliberate sentence of the holy Doctor St. Alphonsus, the conclusion gathered from his vast learning and experience: “Many say the Rosary, the Office of Our Lady, and other acts of devotion, but they still continue in sin. But it is impossible for him who perseveres in mental prayer to continue in sin: he will either give up mental Prayer or renounce sin. Mental prayer and sin cannot exist together. And this we see by experience; they who make mental prayer rarely fall into mortal sin; and should they have the misery of falling into sin, by persevering in mental prayer they see their misery and return to God. Let a soul, says St. Teresa, be ever so negligent; if she persevere in mental prayer the Lord will bring her hack to the haven of salvation.”

If this were merely the opinion of St. Alphonsus himself it would be of immense weight, considering his resplendent sanctity, his vast spiritual learning, and the varied experience of his long and active life; but besides this the holy Doctor is here only summing up in one sentence the teaching and experience of all the doctors, saints, writers, preachers, and confessors of the whole Church since the beginning. What stronger argument could be used to prove the importance and necessity of mental prayer?

III. Is Mental Prayer Easy? 

Anyone who has a real desire to be saved, and who believes that the opinion of St. Alphonsus and all other spiritual teachers—that mortal sin and mental prayer cannot live together, but are mutually destructive—is really true, but must feel a desire to adopt so certain a means of salvation. But many are fainthearted, and dread the little difficulty they feel in beginning anew exercise; and many more lack the coinage and self-denial necessary to continue in it after the novelty has worn away, and the yoke of perseverance begins to gall. Blessed are they who courageously persevere, for their salvation is secure.

Those who find it difficult to begin, or are tempted to abandon this powerful means of salvation, must pluck up heart, and encourage themselves by remembering that mental prayer requires no learning, no special power of mind, no extraordinary grace, but only a resolute will and a desire to please God. In fact, the hard matter is to convince people how easy and simple a matter mental prayer really is, and that the difficulty is far more imaginary than real. This difficulty often rises from not having grasped the true idea of what is meant by mental prayer; and the false idea of the exercise, once formed, is often never corrected, the consequence being that the practice is either abandoned in disgust, or persevered in with extreme repugnance and little fruit.

One common cause of misunderstanding, perhaps the most common of all, is the custom of calling the whole exercise by the name of one subordinate and not the most important part— that is, meditation. From this the idea arises that it is a prolonged spiritual study, drawn out at length with many divisions and much complicated process; and this notion frightens many good souls, and makes them fall back on vocal prayer alone. They imagine that the soul must preach a discourse to itself, and they feel no talent for preaching. Many, if they spoke their minds clearly, would say: “I cannot meditate, but if I might be allowed to pray during that time instead, I could do very well.” This is no imaginary case, as anyone who has had any experience will testify; and this miserable misunderstanding, that so often holds souls back for years, is partly brought about by defective teaching, but partly also by the name meditation being used instead of the more comprehensive one of mental prayer.

Mental prayer properly understood, will be found to be easy and within the power of all who desire salvation. Of course there are many degrees of prayer, and to pray perfectly is no doubt a matter of great difficulty; but to pray well, and in a way very pleasing to God and very profitable to the soul, is an easy and simple matter. If we remember how many thousands have excelled in mental prayer, though not even able to read, we shall see that this holy exercise cannot require any special power of mind or any degree of culture. St. Isidore, a farm laborer, is an example of a man utterly devoid of human learning, but rising, by God’s grace, to the sublimest prayer.

The following method of making mental prayer is drawn from the works of St. Alphonsus, who may justly be called the Doctor of Prayer; and it is so simple that no one who studies it with any attention can fail to understand it, and all who reduce it to practice will find that in great measure it takes away the difficulty they may feel in the exercise. Many who have found “making a meditation” to be a wearisome penance, have experienced that with this method the time is all too short; and that conversation with God is indeed the greatest joy of life; “Taste and see how sweet the Lord is.”

IV. Method of Mental Prayer

All methods of mental prayer are essentially the same. They are different ways of reaching the same end, the object of all being to teach the soul how she can converse lovingly with God. In the method recommended by St. Alphonsus, the whole exercise is divided into three parts—the Preparation, the Body of the Prayer, and the Conclusion.

1. Preparation 

The real preparation for prayer is a good life, a spirit of recollection enabling a man to live in God’s presence, and the invaluable habit of regular spiritual reading. But this is not the place to enter into these matters, and so we must proceed to the immediate preparation, when the time of prayer has come. “Before prayer prepare thy soul, and be not as a man that tempteth God” . . . Eccles. xviii, 23. From this admonition of the Holy Ghost, it is evident that we must not presume to throw ourselves down before God unprepared, our minds full of idle, distracting thoughts, and imagine that we can thus pray in a way pleasing to Him. How careful should we be to prepare both body and mind if admitted to a papal or a royal audience! At least then make in preparation for your conference with God, three short though fervent acts: 1. An act of faith in God’s presence, and of adoration, profound and humble, of His majesty: 2. An act of contrition for sin, sin forming the cloud thick and dark over our heads that hides the brightness of God’s face. “Your sins have hid his face from you” (Isaias lix, 2.) : 3. A fervent petition for light to see God’s holy will, especially in some one matter either pressing upon us then or suggested by the subject we are going to consider, and for grace to do God’s will when we do see it.

Examples of these acts may help beginners, but it must be clearly understood that they are only examples and that they may be made in any form.

1. Adoration of God present in your soul

My God, I believe that Thou art present with me and within me, and I adore Thee with all the affection of my soul. “Be watchful,” says St. Alphonsus, “to make this act with a lively faith, for the remembrance of the presence of God is a great help to keep away distractions. Cardinal Carraceiolo, Bishop of Aversa, used to say that distractions are a sign that the soul has not made a lively act of faith.”

2. Sorrow for sin, our sins preventing union with God in prayer

O Lord, by my sins I deserve now to be in hell; I repent, O infinite Goodness, with my whole heart of having offended Thee. I am sorry for sin from the bottom of my heart; have mercy on me.

3. Ask for light

O Eternal Father, for the love of Jesus and Mary, give me light in this prayer, that I may profit by it. Then add a Hail Mary, an ejaculation to St. Joseph, your Guardian Angel, and your holy patrons.

These acts should be short. In a mental prayer of half-an-hour, not more than three minutes should be devoted to them. But at the same time they should be fervent and earnest, the whole attention being given to them; for upon the manner in which they are made will, in great measure, depend the fervour of the whole prayer.

II. Body of the Prayer 

In order to pray with fruit and without distraction, it is very useful, and in most cases necessary, to spend some time in meditation, or pious thought, on some definite subject; and from this fact, as before stated, the whole exercise is often called meditation, instead of mental prayer. This often misleads people into imagining that meditation-—that is, the use of the intellect in thinking on a holy subject—is the main end to be aimed at, whereas in fact it is prayer, or conversation with God. Meditation furnishes us with the matter for conversation, but it is not itself prayer at all.

When thinking and reflecting, the soul speaks to itself, reasons with itself; in prayer it speaks to God.

Meditation, in its wide sense, is any kind of attentive and repeated thought upon any subject and with any intention; but in the more restricted sense in which it is understood as a part of mental prayer, it is, as St. Francis of Sales puts it, “an attentive thought, voluntarily repeated or entertained in the mind, to excite the will to holy and salutary reflections and resolutions. It differs in its object from mere study: we study to improve our minds and to store up information; we meditate to move the will to pray and to embrace good. We study that we may know, we meditate that we may pray.

We must then use the mind in thus thinking or pondering on a sacred subject for a few minutes; and in order to help the mind in this exercise, we must have some definite subject of thought, upon which it is well to read either a text of Holy Scripture, or a few lines out of some other holy book-—St. Teresa tells us that she thus helped herself with a book for seventeen years. By this short reading, the mind is rendered attentive and is set on a train of thought. Further to help the mind, you can ask yourself some such questions as the following: What does this mean? What lesson does it teach me? What have I done about this in the past? What shall I now do, and how?

Two remarks are here most important. The first is, that care must be taken not to read too much, but to stop when any thought strikes the mind. If the reading is prolonged—if, for example, in a short prayer of half-an-hour you were to read for ten minutes—the exercise would be changed into spiritual reading. The second remark is, that you must not be distressed if you find the mind torpid, and if only one or two very simple thoughts present themselves. It is by no means necessary to have many thoughts, nor to indulge in deep and well arranged reflections.

The object of mental prayer is not to preach a well prepared and eloquent sermon to yourself—the object is to pray. If one simple thought makes you pray, why distress yourself because you have not other and more elaborate thoughts? If you wanted to reach the top of a roof, you would not trouble yourself because your ladder was a short one, provided it was long enough to land you safely on the roof. The end is gained. If one simple reflection enables you to pray, you would, in reality, be merely distracting yourself from prayer, in order to occupy yourself with your own thoughts, if you were to go on developing a lengthy train of thought. This would be to mistake the means for the end, and it is a very common mistake, and the cause of great discouragement. This mistake will be evident if you remember that while you are following out a line of thought—for instance, when you are answering the questions suggested above—you are conversing with yourself.

It is plain therefore that as your object is to converse with God, you should not remain too long in talking to yourself, and that therefore, if you feel a difficulty in doing this, you need not be distressed. “The progress of a soul,” says the enlightened St. Teresa, “does not consist in thinking much of God, but in loving Him ardently; and this love is gained by resolving to do a great deal for Him.”

I have said that misunderstanding this point is the most fruitful source of discouragement and one of the commonest reasons for abandoning mental prayer in disgust; and the reason is, because very few people are accustomed to prolonged or deep thought on any subject— few indeed are capable of it. If therefore they imagine that prolonged if not deep thought, is necessary for mental prayer, they are in constant trouble and discouragement, which ends in their abandoning the whole exercise in despair. “If I might only be allowed to pray,” they will sigh to themselves, “how much easier it would be!”

Let such persons then clearly understand that many thoughts are not necessary, that their reflections need not be deep and ought not, especially in a prayer of half-an-hour, to be long, lest prayer should be neglected and the exercise be changed into a study. “Meditation,” says St. Alphonsus, “is the needle which only passes through that it may draw after it the golden thread, which is composed of affections, petitions and resolutions.” The needle is only used in order to draw the thread after it. If then you were to meditate for an hour and think out a subject in all its details, but without constant acts and petitions, you would be working hard with an unthreaded needle.

Men’s minds differ as much as their features, and some men, especially those employed in very distracting duties, need more thought than others before they can pray; but many, especially women, will find that the effort, after prolonged reflections, will generally defeat itself, and end in distraction.

As soon, therefore, as you feel an impulse to pray, give way to it at once in the best way you can by acts and petitions—in other words, begin your conversation with God on the subject about which you have been thinking. Do not imagine, moreover, that it is necessary to wait for a great fire to burn up in your soul, but cherish the little spark that you have got. Above all, never give way to the mistaken notion that you must restrain yourself from prayer in order to go through all the thoughts suggested by your book, or because your prayer does not appear to have a close connection with the subject of your meditation. This would simply be to turn from God to your own thoughts, or to those of some other man.

One useful suggestion may here be introduced. Those who are accustomed to make regular spiritual reading will often meet some idea, or passage of their author, which strikes their mind forcibly, or seems especially suited for their own practice. When this is the case, they could not do better than to take that idea, or that passage, as the subject of their next mental prayer. As they have read about it and thought about it in the time of spiritual reading, a very slight reflection will be enough to enable them to pray upon that subject with solid fruit, and to make practical resolutions concerning it.

We have spoken thus far of the needle: now we must proceed to consider the golden thread which is the matter of principal importance, and should occupy the chief part of the time devoted to prayer. The golden thread is composed of Affections or Acts, Petitions and Resolutions, a triple cord of beauty and strength, which, when the soul uses earnestly, she can be said to have “girded her loins with strength, and strengthened her arm.” (Prov. xxxi, 17.).

1. Acts of Affection

Acts, or affections of the will, are the movements of the soul towards God, The affections are called the feet of the soul, because by them she approaches to or recedes from God. To “draw nigh to God” does not mean any bodily motion, but the spiritual progression of love. When therefore in meditating on a subject you feel some holy sentiment arising in your heart, begin to make simple acts, with or without words, to God. Acts of this nature are very various, such as faith, hope, confidence, humility, thanksgiving, contrition, love. They should be simple, short, and often repeated. Think of our Lord’s prayer in the garden, which is intended as a model to us. He prayed for three hours, and His whole prayer consisted in the constant repetition of one single act of resignation and petition. The word “Acts’ will suggest the chief aspirations, that it is well constantly to repeat: A stands for Adoration; C for Contrition; T for Thanksgiving, to which is joined love; and S for Supplication, the prayer of petition.

These acts should be spontaneous, springing up from your own soul, but some examples may help beginners. If then you were to take as the subject of your prayer the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross, you would, after the preparatory acts, begin to think of the mystery. “Who is that hanging on the Cross? “—you would say to yourself—” What is He suffering—in body—in soul? Why does He suffer?”

Not many minutes’ thought would be necessary before you would feel moved to acts of Faith: “O my Lord, hanging on the Cross, I believe in Thee. Thou art the Eternal God, made man for me. Thou art my Redeemer; for my sins Thou art thus bleeding and dying on the Cross”.

Humility: “O my Jesus, I am not worthy to live. I have slain Thee, the Son of God. Who am I, dear Lord, that Thou, the everlasting God, hast thus suffered and died for me! I am Thy creature, made by Thy Hands. I am Thy rebellious child. I deserve hell for my sins, I deserve to have been abandoned by Thee, and yet Thou hast thought of me and hast offered Thyself as a victim for me. How good Thou art, dear Lord, to be nailed to the Cross for so miserable and ungrateful a sinner! I will not sin again.”

Confidence: “If I look at myself, dear Lard, I am filled with fear. I have sinned, O Lord, against Thee, my sins are more in number than the hairs of my head. How shall I dare ever to hope for pardon, after having so often and so basely offended thee! But Thy death is my hope. Thou hast made me. I am Thine, and Thou hast suffered for me, and died for me. I hope in Thee, in Thee do put my trust, and I shall not be confounded for ever. Thou canst not reject me now that I repent, when Thou hast shed Thy Blood for me”.

Thanksgiving: “I thank Thee, O Lord, with all my heart for Thy great goodness in dying for me, and shedding all Thy Blood for me. Blessed be Thy holy Name! I thank Thee for not abandoning me when I committed that sin, for loving me in spite of all my many sins against Thee. Blessed be Jesus, who shed His precious Blood for me I Most holy Mary, help me to thank thy Son for all He has done for me.”

Contrition: “I am heartily sorry for all my sins. I detest them all, and especially because they have displeased Thee, because they have nailed Thee to the Cross. Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner! Father, forgive me, for I knew not what I did.”

Love: “I love Thee, my Jesus, I love Thee, but I do not love Thee as I ought; make me love Thee more and more. I love Thee with my whole heart. I desire to see Thee loved by all. I will only what Thou wiliest. Thou hast died for love of me, I desire to die for love of Thee; I rejoice that Thou art eternally happy. Do with me and all that is mine according to Thy will,” “This last act of love and oblation of self,” says St. Alphonsus, “is especially pleasing to God, and St. Teresa used thus to offer herself to God at least fifty times in the day.”

Acts of love should be frequent whatever the subject of meditation may have been. “The act of love,” continues the same Saint, “as also the act of contrition (which is sorrow founded on love) is the golden chain which binds the soul to God.” An act of perfect charity is sufficient for the remission of all our, sins. “Charity covereth a multitude of sins”— (I Pet. iv, 8).

The Ven. Sister Mary of the Crucified once saw, in a vision, a globe of fire, in the flames of which straws were instantly burnt up. She was thus made to understand that when the soul makes acts of love to God, all her sins are consumed in the flames of charity and are forgiven. Besides, the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas, teaches that by every act of love, we gain a fresh degree of glory. “Every act of charity merits eternal life.” How many we can make in the course of the day, if we have some little fervor, especially during the time of mental prayer!

St. Francis of Sales has the following consoling and most instructive words concerning acts of sorrow founded on love, or, as he styles them, acts of loving repentance. “Because this loving repentance is ordinarily practiced by elevations and raising of the heart to God, like to those of the ancient penitents: I am Thine, save me! Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me; for my soul trusteth in Thee! Save me, O God; for the waters are come in even unto my soul / Make me as one of Thy hired servants! O God, be merciful to me a sinner I It is not without reason that some have said, that prayer justifies; for the repentant prayer or the suppliant repentance raising up the soul to God and reuniting it to His goodness, without doubt obtains pardon, in virtue of the holy love which gives it the sacred movement. And therefore we ought all to have very many such ejaculatory prayers, made in the sense of a loving repentance and of sighs which seek our reconciliation with God; so that by these laying our tribulation before our Savior, we may pour out our souls before and within His pitiful heart, which will receive them to mercy”

As already stated, these acts or affections should spring from the heart; we must not look for fine words nor make up grand sentences; the mere movement of the will towards God, with love, gratitude, hope, sorrow for sin, is sufficient even without words. Therefore does our Lord say: “Do not speak much when you pray”—a simple movement of the heart is better than many words proceeding merely from the lips. Nor should we hurry from one affection to another. If you feel yourself moved to make acts of love, keep on making acts of love; if you are excited to sorrow, repeat acts of sorrow for a while, till the affections grow cold; then pass on to another. Moreover, these affections should be made slowly, allowing the soul to dwell upon each act. It is well to make slight pauses between. God often speaks to us during these pauses, and when He does—when we perceive some good thought in our mind giving us some new light, a clearer insight into ourselves or a better knowledge of God, or showing us our duty or God’s will for us—then we should listen humbly while God speaks, prepared to obey His commands.

2. Petitions

Besides the acts and affections of the soul— all of which are truly prayer, since the soul, in making them, converses with God—it is extremely useful to occupy ourselves during mental prayers in making many fervent petitions to God for His spiritual graces and favor. This prayer of petition is a matter that St. Alphonsus, in all his ascetically works, is continually urging upon every soul in language the most emphatic. Indeed, our Lord Himself has given us the first lesson as to the necessity of constant petition, not only by His command “Ask and it shall be given unto you,” but by the fact that the Our Father, the model of all prayers, consists half of affections and half of petitions for what we need. In English, we have not any one word that expresses this kind of prayer, and we are obliged to call it prayer of petition. The French word la priere expresses it, while l’oraison means mental prayer with its acts, affections, and resolutions. This distinction explains many passages in the works of St. Alphonsus—for instance, where he says, “Without prayer (that is, petitions for graces) all the meditations we make, all our resolutions, all our promises will be useless. If we do not pray (that is, if we do not make petitions for graces) we shall always be un- faithful to the inspirations of God, and to the promises we make Him. Because in order actually to do good, to conquer temptations, to practice virtues, and to observe God’s law, it is not enough to receive light from God, and to meditate and to make resolutions, but we require moreover the actual assistance of God, and He does not give this assistance except to those who pray, and pray with perseverance.

Here is the distinction between meditation with resolutions, or mental prayer in general, and prayer of petition, or between l’oraison and la priere.

Without this distinction, which is not at first apparent in English translations, much that is said of prayer is confusing and unintelligible. For instance, in the above extract the Saint appears to say that mental prayer without prayer is of no avail. Again in his “Rule of Life for a Christian,” in that most valuable volume called” The Christian Virtues,” the second rule is about mental prayer while the sixth is concerning prayer. When we understand that prayer means prayer of petition, the difficulty vanishes. In his constant exhortations to the practice of prayer of petition, the holy Doctor is fond of quoting the experience of that learned and enlightened writer, F. Paul Segneri, S.J., who thus speaks of himself: “When I began and before I had studied theology, I used to employ my time of mental prayer in reflections and affections; but God opened my eyes afterwards, and from that time I endeavored to occupy myself in petitions, and if there is any good in me I consider it to be due to this habit of recommending myself to God.”

Petitions, therefore, for all you need, are a very important part of mental prayer, and are most useful to the soul. But a caution is necessary here to prevent misunderstanding. The petitions in the time of mental prayer, should be spiritual petitions- —that is, for spiritual objects, such as forgiveness of sin, love of God, light to see, and grace to do God’s will. For if the petitions were for temporal favors, such as health of body for yourself or others, success in business, rain or fine weather and the like, two inconveniences would follow. In the first place it is always doubtful whether such things are according to the will of God or not, and they must be asked for only if they should be the Divine Will, and the whole spiritual value of the petition will then be in that act of resignation. Secondly, the mind would be much distracted from God in order to think of the matters upon which to form petitions, and especially if the subject of the petition should be some person in whose temporal welfare you are much interested, or some worldly business that gives you anxiety—to pray for these things would probably result in distraction. The mind would begin to reflect upon the things themselves and forget God.

By this it is not meant that these temporal matters must never be made the subject of prayer, but only that it is not generally advisable to occupy the mind with them during mental prayer, for the reasons given. The truth is that all these things are suggestions from experience; for in the matter of mental prayer, in which “the Spirit bloweth where He listeth,” there are very few “musts,” few things of which you can say this must be done.

With this understanding as to the subject matter of petitions, the soul cannot be better occupied during mental prayer than in making frequent and earnest petitions, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the graces she feels to need. Ask, then, for help in the time of temptation, beg grace always to persevere in prayer when tempted, but particularly remember always to pray for the three following graces, which, if you obtain, will render your salvation secure. These three all-important graces are:

a. The perfect forgiveness of past sin;

b. The perfect love of God;

c. The grace of a holy death.

Christ our Lord, Truth itself, has promised distinctly and emphatically, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. ,‘—St. Matt. vii, 7. “All things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.”—St. Matt. xxi, 22.

Ask then for these three graces, which, by their very nature, must be according to God’s will that you shall have; ask for them with humility, confidence and perseverance, and they must be given to you. God’s promise cannot fail. Ask for the perfect forgiveness of all your sins, and, however many and grievous they may have been, forgiveness will be yours. Seek for the love of God by many earnest petitions, and you shall find it. Knock at Heaven’s gate by constant petition for a holy death, and the golden gate of that city of love and peace will be opened to you, as your eyes close in death, and your soul departs into eternity. “Pray,” exclaims St. Alphonsus, “pray, and never give up praying. If you pray, you will certainly be saved; if you do not pray, you will certainly be lost.” We have so many spiritual wants, that half-an-hour’s prayer will be all too short to make our earnest petitions before the throne of mercy.

3. Resolutions 

In order to make mental prayer truly fruitful, you should be careful to make some definite and precise resolution, either to avoid some fault or to practice some virtue. Mere thought, it is evident, cannot make us holy. Acts and affections by themselves will not make us practice virtue. Even petitions by themselves are not enough. They obtain for us, it is true, the strength to conquer sin, and to do what is good; but the most difficult matter remains— that is, to use this grace, and actually to do what we recognize to be God’s will.

We must, then, make a resolution to carry out into practice what we see to be good. How frequently, from want of this steadfast resolution, men pray for a grace, but in their actions deny and contradict their prayers I The resolution should be often repeated, day after day, until we can easily keep faithful to it. Moreover, it should be definite, that is, not too general and vague. A determination for instance, to be better than we have hitherto been, to be humble, to love God, is of no practical advantage whatever. It means nothing, it will begin and end itself, and produce no effect on our daily life; we must therefore resolve to avoid some particular fault into which we are likely to fall that day, or to practise some one act of virtue that very day.

The resolution moreover must be of a practical nature—that is, it must be something that we can do if we please; and above all, it must be sincere, by which is meant that we must truly intend in our hearts to carry it into practice when the opportunity occurs. It may be perfectly sincere at the time, even if we are weak enough afterwards to fall in its practice, but there is no excuse if we are insincere at the time of making it. That would surely be insulting to God, who sees the heart. We must never forget the words of St. Teresa, already quoted:

“The progress of a soul does not consist in thinking much of God, but in loving Him ardently, and this love is gained by resolving to do a great deal for him.” Make then one practical, definite resolution that you can keep and mean to keep that very day.

III Conclusion 

Before rising from your knees, three short but fervent acts should be made, as the finishing stroke of your mental prayer:

1. An act of thanksgiving for the lights and graces that God has given you during your prayer. For instance: “I thank Thee, O my God, in the name of Jesus Christ, for all the help Thou hast given me. Blessed be Thy holy name. Glory be to the Father.”

2. Renew earnestly the good resolution you have already made.

3. Ask for grace to keep it. You can address this petition either to the Eternal Father, begging Him, through the merits of Jesus and the intercession of Mary, to grant you this favor; or, you can address our Lord Himself, or you can beg the prayers of our Lady or your patrons. Lastly, make an ejaculation for the conversion of sinners, and for the souls in purgatory.

V. Concluding Remarks 

A few concluding remarks may be useful, in order to remove difficulties that often arise and discourage the souls who feel drawn to give themselves to the holy and delightful exercise of prayer.

1. “Is not mental prayer a very complicated matter?”

There seems so much to remember, so many things to do. When the method of prayer is drawn out step by step on paper this is quite true. It does look a complicated affair, and so would everything else if it were thus minutely described. Try to set down on paper all that we must remember in order to eat and drink in a polite manner, and see how formal and complicated it all seems; but do it, and it at once appears easy and natural. It is the same with mental prayer. Practice it for a short time, and all its difficulty will vanish.

2. “Are all these things to be done in the exact order prescribed?”

The preparation will always come first, with the three short fervent acts, and the conclusion will always naturally be at the end; but in the body of the prayer no formal order is to be observed. That part should indeed always begin by a short meditation, some simple earnest thoughts, but the Acts and Petitions should come forth from the heart in any way that they arise. In describing them we must adopt some order that the matter may be intelligible; but in practice they can be all intermingled in any way in which they spring from the soul. Remember, the end and object of the whole exercise is to converse with God; if you are doing this therefore you are doing well. I have said that there should always be some short meditation, because I am speaking to beginners of whom this is true; but for those more advanced this becomes less necessary, and after a time might be only a distraction. If the mind is all day long full of worldly and distracting thoughts and imaginations suggested by business, amusements, conversations, study, light reading.

It is evidently necessary to think of some holy subject in order to be able to pray with any fervor or recollection. When, on the other hand, a person leads a quiet, secluded life, with few distractions, regular spiritual readings and frequent reflections on spiritual subjects, the soul is very easily moved to pray, and less meditation is necessary. After a time, with holy and contemplative souls, any train of thought would become a distraction; they are at once, and without effort, absorbed in God. We may liken them to gunpowder; the slightest thought of God acts like a spark and sets them at once in a blaze, whereas distracted souls are like damp wood that requires much artificial help to kindle it into a flame.

3. “How long ought mental prayer to last?” 

No general rule can be laid down. The real answer is that if we only consider the matter in itself, the longer mental prayer can last the better for the soul; but taking into account the weakness of most souls, and the many occupations that cannot be neglected, half-an-hour in the day is a reasonable average time. If however half-an-hour appears too long, begin with fifteen minutes. One little quarter of an hour in each day is surely not too long to devote to the grandest of all occupations—conversation with God Himself. People who are constantly occupied and more devout could easily spend two half hours, one in the morning, one in the evening, in this holy exercise. The appetite for this spiritual manna will increase by satisfying it. The more you allow yourself, the more you will want. This may be said in conclusion, that the longer time you spend in fervent and humble mental prayer the more rapid will be your progress in the way of virtue.

4. “When is the best time for mental prayer?” 

Most certainly early in the morning. If it be faithfully performed in the early morning, this spiritual banquet is secured, but when once the duties of the day have begun, it is far more difficult to find time. Moreover, the early morning is the quietest time, and is far less liable to interruption. The brain, being then refreshed with sleep, is more able to attend to prayer. Besides all this, God seems more inclined to give His graces to those who mortify their sloth and arise early in order to praise Him; and all those who practice mental prayer will agree that the early morning is the best time to converse with God. This seems to be the lesson conveyed by the act of the manna being rained down in the desert early in the morning and melting with the first rays of the sun, “that it might be known to all, that we ought to prevent the sun to bless Thee, and to adore Thee, at the dawning of the light.”—Wisdom xvi, 28.

5. “I have no time for mental prayer.” 

It is difficult to answer this common objection with a grave face. What it means is, “I do not want to take the trouble to make mental prayer.” To say that would be at least honest. But to plead the want of time to spend 15 minutes out of the 24 hours in conversation with God is childish. What would the same persons say if they saw a way of gaining $5 or even $1 by employing one quarter of an hour in a particular pursuit well within their power? How quickly would time be found! Who is there that does not spend a quarter of an hour daily in useless conversation or idle reading or in doing nothing? I should reply, make time by arising a quarter of an hour earlier. All that is required is a little more earnestness in the one all-important business of salvation.

6. “Where should mental prayer be made?”

God is everywhere, and there is no place in which we cannot find Him, but in order to speak to Him reverently and without distraction, a private place should be sought. “Thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray thy Father in secret.” Matt. vi, 6. Our Lord prescribed this secrecy to avoid ostentation and vainglory, but another motive would be to shun distraction. But for those who have no suitable place at home, the church is always ready.

7. “What book shall I use?”

For those who are able to think a little for themselves, a text of Holy Scripture is the best food for meditation, or a sentence from the Following of Christ. But many need their thinking to be done for them by another, and this very thing often causes a difficulty. They come across a book which furnishes them with the thoughts and reflections of a man who probably was in a completely different state, both mental and spiritual, from their own. His thoughts most excellent and fruitful for himself, are not suited to them, to their difficulties, their temptations, their duties. The consequence is that they find these thoughts “dry”—that is, they do not come home to those using the book with any force or light, although so good in themselves. As a general rule the simpler a book is the better for practical use, and each one should try to find an author, or to select some parts out of a book, suited to the needs of his own soul. If you come across one thought that strikes the mind, immediately delay upon it, as a bee on a honey flower, and strive to draw from that one thought your acts, petitions and resolutions. If the thought suggested by the book enables you thus to pray and to resolve, it has done its office; and you need by no means distress yourself even if the acts elicited and the resolution formed do not seem to have any evident and immediate connection with the previous thought.

There is one snare, as has been said above, most carefully to be avoided—that is, to Stop praying in order to refer to the book for more points of reflection; for this would be to give up intercourse with God in order to entertain new thoughts. On the other hand it is well to have some other thought in store, in case you can pray no longer, and need some fresh light from the understanding to give impetus to the will. If you persist in using some book that does not suit your needs and fall in with your spiritual state, you will run the risk of suffering from a kind of mental indigestion, from trying to assimilate thoughts of another mind not fitted to be the food of your soul. The result will very probably be that you will abandon mental prayer in disgust, saving, “It’s no use, I cannot meditate!” This would be as unreasonable as to give up eating because one particular kind of food disagreed with you and would not digest. Find the food that will.

Simple thoughts on the four great truths of religion, on the Passion of Our Lord, or the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament, will suit the greater number of souls; and half the difficulty vanishes when it is clearly understood that one simple thought is amply sufficient as long as it helps you to pray, which is the real object of the exercise. Nor is it by any means necessary always to vary the thought, for often the same reflection repeated morning after morning, will suffice to help you to pray, and if so why change it! We eat bread day after day, and if one thought nourishes the soul morning after morning why change it for another? If it begins to pall and to produce distraction, then seek for another. One holy soul found matter for prayer and union with God for months together from the two simple words “Our Father.” If they were sufficient to form matter for prayer for years together, why change? Yet some people would have been inclined to pull St. Francis by the habit and to say— “You have been saying ‘My God and my all ‘for an hour now; had not you better go to the second point?”

8. “I am distracted.” 

Examine the causes of these distractions. If they arise from too great dissipation of mind during daily life, try to live more in God’s presence. If from not having prepared any definite thought, to dwell upon the remedy is to have one always prepared. If from mere weakness of mind, do not be disturbed, use no violent effort but quietly turn the mind back to God. One thing at least utterly avoid, and that is to abandon mental prayer because you are distracted. By this you will please no one except the devil. He does all he can to make you give up mental prayer, because he knows full well that if you persevere in it you will be saved. If by causing you troublesome distractions he can make you abandon mental prayer, he has succeeded in his object. St. Francis of Sales tells us that if in mental prayer we are able to do nothing but continually banish distractions and temptations, we shall derive great profit from the exercise and please God. What more could be desired?

Lastly, to encourage souls to persevere in the sanctifying habit of mental prayer, it is well to remember that Benedict XIV granted an indulgence of seven years to those who make half-an-hour’s mental prayer during the day, and a plenary indulgence if it is made once a month, on the condition of confession and communion, with prayers for the Pope’s intention. Those who are members of the Holy Rosary Confraternity can also gain a hundred days’ indulgence every time they make a quarter of an hour’s mental prayer, and seven years with seven quarantines for every half-hour devoted to this holy exercise.

Conversation With God

Conversation With God
Rev. Robert Nash S.J. 

A Common Language

The first essential for conversation is a common language. If you are traveling with a stranger in a train he may have many interesting things to say, and you, no doubt, would like to talk too, or perhaps, in quite exceptional circumstances you would be willing even to listen. But you are both up against a stone wall. He speaks German only, and you English only. After a few attempts to communicate by smiles and signs, you give up the effort, which, plainly, is useless, and you bury yourself once more in the pages of your book.

Prayer is conversation with God. It is the meeting place between God and the soul. To Him the soul addresses itself:

“Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.”

Perhaps we too often want to monopolize the conversation. We are so anxiously concerned to “get in” a self-imposed program of prayers that there may be a danger lest we speak with our lips only, and our hearts remain far from God. There can be a subtle pride in the feeling of satisfaction that we have said five rosaries and made the Stations three times, and added on the Thirty Days’ Prayer and a few novenas for good measure.

Listen Too

God forbid we should breathe a syllable against such excellent ways of prayer! Our point is that there may be a mistake here. With too many vocal prayers, especially if they tend to develop into parrot prayers, we can become preoccupied with ourselves, to the exclusion of God. God is, of course, anxious to speak, but we will not allow Him! “Mental” prayer is remedy for this tendency to monopolize the conversation.

At the same time our contribution to the conversation is of great importance. Hence the soul adds: “I will speak to my Lord whereas I am but dust and ashes.” Prayer is an audience with God, in which, with infinite condescension He deigns to address the soul, and the soul is emboldened by so much divine courtesy to speak to Him.

Face to Face

This double aspect of prayer is excellently illustrated in the story of Moses. By God’s command he climbed up Mount Sinai. As he walked a cloud began to envelop him round about. After a while he lifted his eyes to see where next to place his foot, and he stood, transfixed and overawed. A ray, of light had penetrated through the cloud and God’s servant was aware that it came from His Face. He fell on his knees, joined his hands, bowed his head low, and remained there on the mountain for full forty days and forty nights. He was admitted to a marvelous intimacy with God in this conversation. “The Lord spoke to Moses, face to face, as a man is wont to speak to his friend.”

During that time Moses “neither ate bread nor drank water”. He was oblivious of all save the one overwhelming fact that he was face to face with God. This tremendous truth absorbed him. The trivialities of the small world – down at the foot of the mountain – seemed so utterly insignificant now, by comparison. When he came back to his people the Israelites, his face was “horned”, luminous with the reflection of the divine light which had shone upon it during that long period. He had to wear a veil else no one could endure the brilliance.

Fifteen minutes’ mental prayer a day is an invitation to you, to enter with Moses into the cloud. There you too must kneel in God’s Presence. There He will speak to you. There you have the ineffable privilege of addressing Him as one friend to another.

Climb the Mountain

All of us probably realize that the mountain is a stiff climb and the temperature of the high altitudes bleak and un-inviting. The temptation is often strong to believe we are getting nowhere with our mental prayer. The cloud folds itself around us sure enough, but the ray of light fails to appear. We are stumbling in a land of fog and rain and blinding snow.

Better have sense and return to the comfort of the snug valley and leave this wild chase after mental prayer.

We shall talk about this temptation later. For the moment we must put down a full-stop. This only we will add — that love is the common language between God and the soul. It can be expressed in English or French or Chinese, but fundamentally it remains the same in every translation. In this conversation, God multiplies assurances and proofs of the love He bears the soul. And the poor soul tries to stammer out its acts of love, painfully conscious of their shortcomings.

It is love which beckons to the soul and encourages it to undertake the difficult ascent. It is love which strengthens the wearying footsteps and sustains the faltering heart. It is love that holds the soul up here where all seems so desolate, almost as desolate as Calvary, whither He climbed too, praying all the while.

 A Common Interest 

Conversation will soon be very boring if you discover that your companion can speak only of sport and you of the forthcoming exam. So much depends for you and for others on the results that you can think of little else. But he shows not even the mildest interest and wants to tell you all about the big match played last week or coming off next Saturday.

You have nothing much in common and you decide, wisely enough, to close down.

But what an enormous difference if you find a point of contact. Suppose your companion has just returned from America. At once you prick up your ears. America — does be perhaps know So and So, who one time used to live in Fifth Avenue, New York. He does. They are very good friends, and So and So and his family were down at the boat to see him off. This is wonderful, for the man in question is your brother. This is almost too good to be true.

Conversation thus sparked off, catches on without difficulty. You have a thousand questions to ask. Time simply flies and when you reach your destination you look in amazement at the name on the station. You glance at your watch, incredulous. You part on the platform but you exchange addresses and you exact a solemn promise that he will call to your house before he goes back to America.

It was the subject of common interest which made all the difference between a dull forced effort to keep the talk going and the eager spontaneous flow of talk which you found absorbing. Wouldn’t it be rather wonderful if something like this were to happen in our mental prayer? This is a conversation with God, and if He and we were deeply interested in the same things, our complaints about dryness and futility ought to die a natural death. If we can find out what He is interested in, and if a like interest be awakened in ourselves, then our mental prayer should no longer be stilted and irksome. It should develop into a more easy, informal relationship, full of reverence indeed but at the same time approaching close to “holy familiarity with God”.

Now what is God interested in most of all? Suppose you take your stand this evening at a bus queue in any Street of the city. Look around you. On every side you see a seething mass of humanity. A policeman on point duty; the different buses pulling up and disgorging passengers — an old woman who must climb out slowly and delays those impatient behind her, a pair of lovers who must, perforce, un-join hands for a few seconds — then the bus takes on another group from your queue and passes. A little boy in ragged clothes wants to sell you an evening paper. The shops are still open and prospective buyers stare in at the windows or loiter in the entrances.

Gaze Into Soul

Now Jesus Christ watches those crowds as you do. He is, indeed, deeply concerned about their material affairs — their state of health, the job they are after, the sickness in the family, what you will. But, far and above all these, the supreme interest in His mind is the soul of each of those thousands of persons. For in each that is what He discerns. His gaze penetrates below the ragged coat of the newsboy and sees his immortal soul. He reads the secrets of hearts like the pages of an open book. If in a soul He sees mortal sin, the sight is revolting and causes Him acute agony. If he sees a soul radiant with the light of divine grace, living with divine life; the sight fills Him with joy.

But the one point to note is that the soul, its state, its presence, its future destiny, is the interest that absorbs Him. So true is this that if we were to ask Him to summarize all His teaching, He would probably repeat His momentous question:

“What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

If we can talk about the souls of men, then, to Jesus in our prayer; if when we are invited to a conversation with Him, we have developed an interest in the salvation and sanctification of souls, we shall assuredly have found a subject of common interest and the conversation cannot but flow freely. Other subjects need not be excluded, but this one must always dominate. Indeed all others are worth discussing and considering, only in so far as they affect the welfare of the souls of man.

 Over The Wall

A child aged three was toddling along the road, clinging firmly to father’s right hand. A high wall skirted the pathway -and they heard the strains of a band playing on the other side. But the child was anxious to see as well as hear, and so Daddy took him in his strong arms and lifted him up high. From this point of vantage he can enjoy a perfect view and he proceeds to dilate on the wonders he sees, for the benefit of anyone who is willing to listen.

Something like this happens, at least from time to time, in the soul’s conversation with God in prayer. A glimpse is granted of, the relative importance of the temporal and the eternal. The heavenly Father lifts the soul and allows it to see what things God has prepared for those who love Him. There is a revelation, a new heaven and a new earth. On the other side of the wall is eternity. From even this fleeting glimpse the soul recognizes, with a clarity quite impossible to express, that nothing is worthy of consideration except getting there.

An Earnest Desire

The child gave signs to the father that it was anxious to be lifted up and see over the wall. The soul, too, must prove to God and to itself that it is in earnest in desiring to develop an interest in souls. This may well mean that it suppress or even sacrifice wholly, alien interests.

Apart from sin, the soul can cling to a thousand things which dim its powers of spiritual vision. The world is all around us, and nothing is easier than to allow it to push its wares and press them upon us with such persistence, that they end by assuming in our eyes an importance which they do not possess in actual fact.

I could not help overhearing a conversation in a bus lately. Two girls were talking and for some fifteen minutes their discussion turned on films, dances, dress, and holidays. Admittedly all four topics have their importance, but one got the impression that the girls thought of almost nothing else. If the impression was correct you can safely conclude that their prayer was superficial. They had no desire to see over the wall for the simple reason that they did not even suspect what was there. They were preoccupied with trifles, and, if you had seen the other side, you could feel nothing for them but compassion for their loss. It was calamitous to be satisfied with so little, or fail to realize that there was so much more.

Trespassers Prosecuted

What all this resolves itself into is that there is no chance of growth in prayer without a spirit of self-sacrifice. There are many trespassers in the soul which is God’s property and they must be ruthlessly prosecuted. The soul is God’s temple and like the Master, the soul must expel all intruders — the buyers and sellers who turn the house of God into a den of traffic.

Lent is an invitation to penance. What are we to give up and what are we to take up? The question may not be limited to the Lenten season. The hard saying of Our Lord holds for the twelve months of every year: “Unless a man renounce everything that he possesses, he cannot be My disciple.” This renunciation demands that we lay the axe to the root by controlling our desires for anything in which God may not share fully in order to succeed, it will often be necessary to go without, even in those things which are lawful.

It is noteworthy that Our Lord, immediately after He had laid down this condition which human nature in us finds so hard, proceeded at once to tell us about the Good Shepherd and the Prodigal Son. Mental prayer is not meant to be a struggle all the time. There are delights too, and these God grants with a lavish hand, when they are for the soul’s benefit.

When once the soul has tasted them it realizes that any sacrifice is a small price to pay for such inundation of joy. We need encouragement. People who give us a lop-sided view of the difficulties and trials of prayer are like a doctor displaying for his patient the knife to be used for the operation, and the knife only.

A Pattern

The Gospel according to St. Mark lies open before me. Here is the 35th verse of his first chapter: “And rising very early, going out, He (Our Lord) went into a desert place, and there He prayed.” Long ago God ordered Moses to build a tabernacle according to a pattern; here is God’s Son giving us a perfect pattern for our mental prayer.

Perhaps one of the most effective ways of making our prayer is simply to summon up before our mind’s eye some scene in the life of Christ. Then put yourself into that scene. Look and observe what is going on, who are there, what they are saying and doing, and speak to them just exactly as if you were actually present.

Let’s try it with this verse from St. Mark. The first detail to notice is the time chosen by Our Lord for prayer. It was early morning. If you read the preceding verses you will find that He had had a toilsome day yesterday. But no long sleep for Him next morning. He is up “very early” and at His prayer.

The Best Time

Hence the importance of the precise period during, which you make your time of mental prayer. No hard and fast rule can be laid down; you must experiment and try to discover the time when you seem to do best. It may be in the stillness of night, or on your way home from work in the evening. It is noteworthy, at the same time, that the founders of the Religious Orders have consistently assigned the early morning as the time of prayer.

Our blessed Lord is just as particular about the place for His prayer. “Going out, He went into a desert place.” He did not, indeed, seek this solitude because it was in some way necessary for Him, as though He wanted to avoid distractions. In His case there could be no possible distraction because He always saw the Face of His Father in the beauty and glory of the Beatific Vision. He was as intimately united with His Father in the crowded streets as in the trackless deserts.

But we are very different. St. Teresa calls that restless imagination of ours “the fool of the house”. For us it is imperative to leave nothing to chance where our prayer is concerned. Hence Our Lord seeks solitude for our instruction and example. We live such a noisy whirlpool existence; the world about us seems to have developed a cult of noise. We must escape if we want to pray well. If escape is genuinely impossible, then a loving God will compensate in His own way. But normally we must choose our place of prayer with the care we employ in selecting a site for a new building.

A Desert Place

That is why an enclosed retreat is beyond all praise. In your ordinary prayer, you may find some quiet church or convent chapel, or you may find tranquillity in your room at home. Anyhow, look for the spot where you are free of noise and noisy people. “Going out, He went into a desert place.”

“There He prayed.” It is significant that “Simon and they that were with him,” missed Him. Perhaps they were not up so early! They knew where to look for Him and we are permitted to imagine them, standing and watching their Master as He still continues to kneel and they wait for Him to finish. With them we can form a picture of the praying Christ. We can observe the position He takes up; probably He knelt, but whatever the position was, we can be certain it indicated deep reverence.

Perhaps our failures in prayer might be attributed to the position we assume. If we know that by sitting down we shall soon be drowsy, we should not sit. “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent bears it away.”

Look again, and this time note the obvious humility of the praying Christ. As man he prays on behalf of us sinners, and as our mediator with His Father and our Father. By his example He teaches you and me to imitate the humility of the publican who struck his breast and exclaimed: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Finally, as we watch, we may admire the perseverance of His prayer. His apostles have come to fetch Him; they warn Him “all seek You.” But, as again in Gethsemane, ‘He prayed the longer.’

What a wealth there is of thought in that one verse of St. Mark, material for several conversations with God.

 Light And Shade 

On Holy Thursday night our Lord was kneeling in prayer. Presently He falls flat on His face. A sweat breaks out through the pores of His body. It is not natural sweat merely. It is mixed with blood and it saturates His clothes and from them falls in drops to the ground.

Praying in Christ

It ought not to be difficult, in our prayer, to come here in spirit and kneel down beside Him. From the many thoughts which might suggest themselves, let us select one or two. First, our prayer, here or anywhere else, now or at any other time, is to be made not only with Christ but in Christ. We form part of His Mystical Body, and this implies, — among other magnificent truths — that it is His Will and intention to prolong, to continue, in us, the prayer He made in his life here on earth. He would employ us, use our faculties, our minds, hearts, wills, and bodies, as the instruments by means of which He would go on praying right up to the end of time.

Christ Lives In Me

Hence St. Paul wrote that inspiring if somewhat startling sentence: “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me.” He repeats this over and over again. When, then, we kneel for our mental prayer — or for any prayer at all — it is the Will of Our Lord to pray through us. The prayer is not so much ours as His. Why don’t we think more of this stunning fact and work out its implications?

At once it becomes clear that if in Gethsemane His prayer was filled with sorrow, with loneliness, with apparent failure, then His prayer in us must, at least sometimes, take on the same characteristics. Here is the answer to those of us who experience nothing in our prayer but weariness and desolation. Here is the proof that our prayer can be real and efficacious when we seem to ourselves to spend the time wondering if the clock is stopped.

St. Teresa, wonderful ‘woman of prayer’ that she was, tells, us — and God bless her for it — that at times she felt such weariness in her mental prayer that she would shake the hourglass to make the sand pass the more quickly from one section to the other. She had to try to resist that urge, but she did not, always succeed. For us the urge will be to fiddle with our wrist-watch and look at it every few minutes to make sure we don’t remain too long!

‘What would St. Ignatius tell us?’ When you are inclined to shorten your prayer, do the very opposite. You want to clip off five minutes; add on five extra instead! This is sound psychology. Try it. In the few extra minutes a generous God often rewards the soul with many lights and graces.

Keep On Doing Your Best

At the same time, it is vitally necessary to insist that, if weariness is no indication of failure, so, on the other hand, sweetness and delight and consolation do not necessarily mean that we are making the best possible prayer. Two people might come for their prayer into the same church. One is filled with all sorts of spiritual happiness. God seems so very near. His love is experienced so vividly. Some word from His lips fills the soul with enthusiasm, or ardent desires to sacrifice one’s all for Him. Splendid, this, and it is His gift, to be accepted with humility and gratitude.

To that soul St. Ignatius would say: “Remember all this will change; perhaps in a day or an hour you will have lost these grand feelings. Do not be surprised, and above all, do not abandon prayer. Consolation is God’s gift. It he withdraws it, go on just the same, doing your poor best.”

The other person in that church kneels also to pray. He tries a book. It seems dry. He remembers what he heard about scenes in Our Lord’s Life. He can recall not one of them definitely this evening. Or if he can, he cannot steady that wretched imagination of his. He shifts from one knee to the other; perhaps he sits up in the hope of doing better; he shuts his eyes to aid concentration. Nothing seems to help. Mental prayer is a mirage. He decides to give it up. “And (Jesus), being in an agony, prayed the longer.” Was His prayer a mirage in Gethsemane? Is His prayer in you a mirage because, like Him, you find it hard?

God In Her

A girl of eighteen was kneeling in prayer in a church. A hardened sinner, years from the sacraments, stumbled in too, unable to say why. A priest walked down the aisle. “Father, will you hear my confession?” says the till now hardened one. “I know I need to go. It’s that girl — can’t you see God in her . . . . . ?” He was right; God was in her, the Son of God, continuing His prayer with that girl as His instrument. What marvels of grace He can do through His instrument if only it will allow Him!

Distractions

St. Aloysius is declared officially by the Church to be the special patron of youth. One reason for this is that it seems certain he never lost his baptismal innocence, though he was assailed by fierce temptations against purity. He died a Jesuit student when he was just beginning his twenty-fourth year.

We mention him here because we want to tell you how he handled his distractions in prayer. He used to propose to himself to make one entire hour (not just fifteen minutes!) without a single distraction. He would remain motionless all that time, in the same position, and, if even towards the end of the hour, he had some slight distraction, he would begin all over again. By this heroic perseverance he gained wonderful self-mastery, a control over his imagination so complete that there came a day when he found it difficult not .to keep thinking of God. Once, in an illness, the doctor advised him to try to ease strain by thinking less about God. He tried, but found it impossible. It was far easier to remember God’s continual presence than to forget it.

Should you and I adopt his method of dealing with our distractions? A general answer would be hard to give. It is conceivable that in a given case some violence of the kind would be the right remedy. Once when St. Francis of Assisi was at prayer, his eyes wandered contentedly to a little cup be had carved in his leisure moments, so that he paid hardly any attention to the psalms he was saying. Suddenly he realized his distraction, and in his zeal seized the beaker that had taken his thoughts from God and threw it into the fire.

A Priceless Treasure

Whenever we think of their methods it must at least be clear that the saints were determined to become men of prayer. They realized, not merely believed, that prayer is a treasure of great price, worth the selling of anything else. It may well be that what is wrong with our prayer is just that it lacks that holy violence which faces distractions with the determination of a pugilist in the ring.

Another way of dealing with distractions may be just as effective. Why not make our distractions themselves a prayer? Suppose a mother is sitting at the fire, with her little son on her knee. She is telling him a story — incidentally, our excellent mothers should often tell the gripping stories of the Gospel. Halfway through, the child gets a distraction. People start cheering loudly in the street below. The child’s natural curiosity is aroused. He forgets all about the grand story, clambers down from mother’s knee, and pulls her over to the window.

Could you imagine any mother who would object or be offended that her wonderful tale is dismissed thus summarily? Why, she cares only for the contentment of her child and she is quite happy to try to answer his questions about the persons gathered below. The child has had a distraction during the conversation with mother, and they turn the distraction itself into subject-matter for discussion.

During your prayer your mind wanders, perhaps, to someone you met in the office today. Why not pray with your whole heart for him or her? You begin to think of the good news you received in a letter this morning. Why not lift up your heart in an act of joyous gratitude to God? Your approaching holidays loom pleasantly before your mind. Can’t you ask God to bless them, and Mary to share all your relaxations? Can’t you pray against accidents, can’t you go on to pray for some poor person or persons killed in a car smash?

A Common Interest

What we have to try to understand is that when Our Lord assures us He loves us He is not speaking the language of mere rhetoric. He means just what He says. Now one of the delights of friendship is that your friend and you can talk to each other about any subject under the sun. The fact that that subject interests you makes it interesting at once for your friend also.

Do you imagine the divine Friend is not interested in your holiday, in the mistake you made in your accounts, in the worry you have about your son in England, in the physical pain you have begun to feel, in everything and everyone, in fact, who interests or distracts you? Do we forget that we are, not only God’s children, but ‘God’s little children’, and what little child ever found it difficult to speak to a parent who loves it, even, or especially, about its “distractions?”

“Pray Like This” 

A workman used to visit the church every evening. He would spend hours there, kneeling or sitting quietly. The priest became interested and talked to him about his prayer. How did he pray? He never used a book or beads, did not make the Way of the Cross very often. So what did he use? “Father,” he answered, “the only instruction I got on prayer which really helped me was given me by a holy priest when I was quite young. ‘My son,’ he told me, ‘when you want to pray, all you have to do is to bring before your mind some scene in the gospel, look, at the persons in it, hear what they are saying, watch what they are doing. Then speak, now to one of them, then to another, exactly as you would do if you were actually present there.’ I have told many about this simple method, Father. It has helped myself enormously and I know that the others have advanced much more than I by praying like this.”

Follow Mary

St. Luke tells the story of Our Lady’s Visitation in his first chapter. “Mary,” he writes in verse 39, “rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste . . . . . and entered into the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth.”

Let me try, first of all, to see Our Lady. She has been talking to the angel; the stupendous mystery of the Incarnation has taken place, she is carrying the Son of God in her womb. One might suggest that all Mary’s natural longings would tell her to stay where she was. Surely her “mental prayer” must have been filled with consolation as she realized more and more clearly what had happened. Should she not remain on in her prayer, enjoying the delights of contemplation? Possibly, probably even, this would be her natural attraction. But there was work of charity to do and Mary rose from her knees and proceeded to do it.

She went “with haste.” Goaded by the Holy Spirit she would brook no delay. And the task called for physical endurance. Mary must travel across the “hill country.” The roads were bad, if they were there at all, but difficulties would not deter Our Lady when there was good to do.

As you look now from Mary to yourself, do you see anything alike in her and her child? Can you find something to say to her, in these precise circumstances, something, perhaps, to ask from her? Before reading on just pause for a while and try to answer this query, and, having found what you should say, say it quite simply.

From Prayer to Action

We, like Mary, must pray; that is why these pages are being written. We, also imitating Mary, must pass from prayer to active work for the neighbor. And there must be no dawdling, no hanging back. There is urgency about the tasks to be done; God’s enemies are alert and the apostle must be up and doing too. Like Mary, we will go “with haste” wherever we can do something to build up the Church of God, to lead souls to Him, to reclaim the lapsed or strengthen the faltering or inspire the good to greater holiness. Often the toils of the apostolate will demand a heavy enough toll. Mary had to make the difficult journey across the hill country, and every true apostolate, to be fruitful, must be nurtured on sacrifice.

It ought not be difficult, watching Our Lady like this, to talk to her simply along these lines. Look at her praying, and beg her to teach us to pray. See her leaving prayer and setting off to visit Elizabeth; note the details given by the evangelist; apply them to ourselves, asking Mary to infuse into our hearts that zeal, the overflow of our life of prayer, which must characterize every true sodalist and follower of Christ.

Gathered Together 

Prayer has been well called a secret weapon. Community prayer will call down graces of conversion on souls in sin, here and everywhere. It will obtain courage for our sorely-tried fellow-Catholics and Christians who are enduring hunger, imprisonment and torture at the hands of the communists and other enemies of the Church. It will be an act of love and loyalty to Christ Our King, to Mary, Our Queen, a protest that when His rights are ignored and His commandments scoffed at, here at least, He is praised, reverenced, and served. The power of this weapon can scarcely be over-stated. It is for each of us to learn to use it well, to co-operate in our vast family throughout the entire world, in offering unceasing prayer to God.

There Am I

But there is something more. Our Lord has promised that where one or two gather together in His Name, He will be there too, in the midst of them. What, then, when, not one or two, but many are so gathered? He is praying with us. We are members of His Mystical Body. What that means is that with Him and with each other, we form between us one great organism, a new Body of Christ, whose members are joined with Him as their head, and with each other in a manner real and intimate.

In this Mystical Body, then, Our Lord continues to pray. Just as He employed His lips and tongue, His mind and heart to pray in His lifetime, so does He still employ us. We are His members and He would prolong His prayer with us as His instruments. When we kneel to pray He wills to take possession of our faculties and employ them for the praise and glory of His Father. Through us and in us and with us, He begs for the needs of the human race; He expresses sorrow for man’s sin, through us and through our words; He offers, through us, those prayers as an act of devotion and reparation for the millions who never breathe a prayer. You recall His astounding words: “I in them, and You, Father, in Me, that they may be made perfect in one.

As we know, there is a widespread and zealous effort to develop the liturgical movement throughout the Church. Hence we have Dialogue Masses, our Easter Vigil, our writers and preachers explaining what the movement implies and how we should foster it. Briefly, it aims at developing that community spirit in our devotional life which we have been describing. It is mighty encouragement to realize we are not alone but members of God’s great family. But the union between Him and us, and between ourselves, is immensely more close than that between our earthly parents and their children. In God’s family all are one, one person, one single unit, all vivified by one and the same divine life. Assuredly we are distinct from God and from each other. But we are united too, all of us “in Christ”, as St. Paul never tires of telling us.

A Harmony

Our prayer, then, is like a symphony. Each of us must contribute what we can to augment and perfect the harmony. Our part may be insignificant, a note here and a note there, scarcely audible, scarcely noticed in the midst of the brilliant performances of the professionalists. But the small note is observed and treasured by the One Who has the principal part. Perhaps no one else has heard or bothered to try to listen; perhaps we ourselves are rather confused and ashamed that it is so unworthy of the occasion. Perhaps a feeling of envy steals into our hearts for those who can do so much better.

All wrong. What He looks for and what He values, is not what we do so much as the amount of love that goes into the doing.

Lord, Teach Us

St. Luke seems to have made a special study of Our Lord as Man of Prayer. In his eleventh chapter He gives us a picture of the Master surrounded by His disciples. Christ has been on His knees and they stand around, rather in awe, as they watch Him “making His mental prayer”. They do not dare disturb Him. They wait till He has ceased and only then present their request. Would He not initiate them into this sacred science? What He has just been doing could He not teach them to do also? ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.’

Lord

Every single word of that request will repay careful attention. First of all, they were wise in directing it to Him, rather than to any other. Lord, teach us. At school we appreciated a teacher who was at once dedicated to his work and at the same time highly competent in the art of imparting knowledge. The disciples are at school this morning. We are permitted to join them. We, too, will be wise to consult this Teacher. He is dedicated; no task is more congenial to Him than to induct His pupils into the marvels of the life of prayer. Dedicated, yes, and competent, too, as none other can be. For this Teacher sees the Face of His Father in the glory of the Beatific Vision, and prayer, as we have been saying all along, is conversation with God.

Who better qualified, then, than the “Lord” to teach us to pray? Good books can help us; learned and saintly writers and preachers can do much to guide and inspire; but, in the last analysis, it is to Him we must come Who knows about prayer all there is to know, Whose knowledge is the result of direct experience, Who longs to unveil the secrets of prayer and possesses the gift of imparting what He knows and inspiring His pupils with the longing to learn more.

Teach

Then they asked Him to teach prayer. We would be presumptuous if we imagined that we could, so to say; stumble into prayer and make a success of it. There is much we can learn, through our own industry, about how to improve our vocal prayers. Just as a language has its grammar and syntax which we must master if we are to become proficient, so prayer has its rules, its conditions for success, its trials and difficulties, its joys and rewards. Much of these can be learned, and our progress in prayer will be proportionate to the diligence with which we apply ourselves to study.

True, as we have said, the divine Teacher can dispense with much of the grind of the grammar and give us in a flash more than we ever could hope for from our own efforts. But we must not presume on this. Ordinarily He teaches only those who are prepared to work hard.

Us

‘Lord,’ they said, ‘teach us to pray.’ In this school it is not only the geniuses who can win distinctions and high marks. No one is so dull-witted that he cannot learn. Indeed it not infrequently happens that it is the “foolish things of the world” who advance most in this divine science. A condition for entering this school is to become “as little children.” Prayer will always remain a sealed book to the “wise and prudent” as long as they fail to understand that their approach is wrong.

To Pray

Finally, the disciple asked Him to teach them to pray. He proposed to them the model of all prayer, the Our Father. Try to stand near them and look at Our Lord and at them as one sublime phrase follows the other. They must have been rooted to the ground, lost in admiration, inflamed with love. There is a method of praying whereby we dwell on each word of a prayer like the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Creed. These everyday prayers contain a wealth of thought which we too often gloss over.

A priest visited an old woman in her last illness. Did she pray much, he asked. “Yes, Father. I pray all the time.” “Did she, perhaps, say several rosaries, with so many hours on her hands?” “Oh no, Father. I only say the Our Father. But not all of it. I never can get through it. It is so full of meaning. Just think how wonderful it is that He really is Our Father-God, Father of us, and we, all of us, really His Children.

She went on from there; pouring out exquisite ideas about this prayer taught by the Master Himself. “Lord, teach us to pray.” That poor woman was not an “intellectual” in any sense. She was just one of the “little children” frequenting the school. If you were to visit the school and talk about the pupils to the Teacher, I think he would point her out and tell you she was amongst the most distinguished in the whole class.

 Self-Control 

The mind is fed by the senses. What we look at, what we say, what we read, what we hear, all combine to make an impression, more or less lasting, on our thoughts. The senses are like windows to the soul. What they allow to come in and what they refuse to admit will fashion the soul in a definite mould.

Suppose you are sitting by the window reading, in a room, overlooking the street in front of your house. A salesman appears, opens the gate, smiles ingratiatingly and begins to display his wares. You are not interested and you have no intention of standing up and allowing him in. When he sees you are adamant he goes away. Ten minutes later one of your best friends moves into the picture. You look up from your book slightly irritated, but at once your expression changes. You are genuinely delighted. You have not seen him for five years, you didn’t even know he was home. All this runs through your mind as you rush to the door to welcome him.

If we are to pray well it is necessary to exercise the same discrimination with the different callers to our mind. A dissipated soul will never enter into the depths of intimacy with God in prayer which is the ideal for the sons and daughters of God. If I allow my eyes to wander where they will; if I stare at everything along the street as I. travel in the bus; if I read whatever appeals to me, irrespective of whether it is going to prove injurious or not; if, in a word, I throw the windows wide open and permit any chance impression to come in, it is clear that the images thus formed are bound to affect my prayer adversely.

If I am a chatter-box, always ready to pour out talk for the mere sake of exercising my vocal powers, I am once more throwing one picture after another on the screen of my imagination, and the result must be confusion and an inability to concentrate when I seek God in my fifteen-minute conversation.

If I listen to every scrap of news, if I gather up every rumor and broadcast it in my turn, if I am curious and do not stop short at deliberately overhearing a private conversation — perhaps on the phone — I am, once more, ruining my chances of developing my life of prayer.

Be on guard

Because the senses are so important you will find that the saints — that is, the people who prayed best — are adamant in insisting on the need for self-control. Every founder or foundress of the Religious Orders enjoins on the members periods of silence, in some cases, indeed, this silence is almost absolute. Likewise, they teach the necessity of guarding the eyes and the ears — “most diligently”, is St. Ignatius’ phrase. The same saint wrote a whole set of rules designed to show us how to place a guard over our senses and work for the habit of self-control. These he called “Rules of Modesty”. He spent several long months composing them; he prayed much and said Mass often in order to find light to write them aright. He gave a severe penance, more than once, to some sons of his who treated their observance lightly.

In saying all this, we are not forgetting that, for the most part, you are men and women living in the world. Nobody would expect from you the same uncompromising habit of self-control which one should find in the members of an Order. At the same time, it is true, and must be emphasized, that for want of self-control prayer grows inert and languishes. It flourishes, as a rule, according to the violence necessary to deny ourselves a look, a word, an opportunity to satisfy an inordinate curiosity to hear.

The approaches to the mind must thus be guarded. Moreover, we can do much to control the mind itself, to compel it to think along definite lines. Other lines will present themselves but we can lay down the law and say no. St. Teresa told us that the imagination is the fool of the house. The wise man says it is like the wheel of a cart, always whirling here there and everywhere. It is not enough to banish thoughts that are positively evil or dangerous. Thoughts which are merely useless, which make us day-dreamers, we must learn to deny. We can learn.

Some of what is written on this page was suggested in a hotel the other day. A woman was sitting there at the window, gazing vacantly into the street, waiting for anything that might present itself, in order to try to satisfy the hunger of her mind. If you wish to pray well you will undertake a vigorous campaign against this ‘laisez-faire’ attitude. It is responsible for stifling, in many souls, the life of intimacy with God.

What You Read 

For seventeen years St. Teresa never dared to go to make her mental prayer without a book. She was raised to a high degree of contemplation; she describes sublime states of prayer and clearly she is speaking from personal experience. Despite all this she felt the need of a good book near her. Even though she might not actually use it, it was a comfort and she felt it was there to turn to if she felt dryness — as she often did.

People who pray well recommend us to read each night a portion of such a book and quietly turn over in our minds as we go to bed the thoughts so garnered. When we awake, they advise us to train ourselves to turn our first thoughts once more to what we have read. A practice such as this calls for self-discipline, which is excellent and necessary preparation for prayer.

Do not easily reject the suggestion on the plea that it is too much to expect. Intimacy with God in prayer is worth any price. Now, if we were deadly in earnest about growing in prayer, could we not place near our bed a good spiritual book? For a start, let me recommend the Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis. What is to prevent you from reading a page of that golden little volume every night before you retire? Read it slowly and let the message sink in. Hold on to any one thought and reflect quietly on it. Train yourself to recall it when you waken.

Leave the book open after you have read your chapter. It will be lying there in the morning, a reminder to you to recall what it told you. If you have forgotten, take another look and try to hold that thought as you prepare for, I hope, your Mass and Holy Communion.

Cultivate

The number of good Catholics who have, never read a spiritual book is lamentably large. The taste has to be cultivated systematically. When once you have begun to appreciate good spiritual books the difficulty will be to read anything else. You will be genuinely surprised that you could have found pleasure in browsing over so much which passes for literature. I have known a man who regretted bitterly that so many years of his life had passed before he discovered this goldmine — regular spiritual reading.

From the point of view of our fifteen-minute mental prayer, the function of regular spiritual reading is to give us a background for our meditations. How can we possibly plunge deep into prayer and union with God unless we have some effective antidote against the thousand distractions which abound? A steady stream of sound spiritual reading will act like an injection. It will keep our prayer-life vigorous and healthy, even in the uncongenial atmosphere where many of us have to live.

Make believe or real

I feel sorry for young people when I see them worshipping at the shrines of Hollywood “stars”. The real stars are the saints who shine in real glory in God’s real heaven. There is nothing artificial, no make-believe, no make-up, about them. They are real heroes and the story of their lives, all true, all fact, grips you in a way that make the tinsel and cardboard of Hollywood cut a poor figure indeed. If once you get to know the saints you will never look again at a Hollywood star, except, perhaps, in pity or amusement. They perform mere antics; the saints do the deeds worthy of men and women who are children of God.

When you have read about some of the saints, pass on to books which deal with the doctrine which made them saints. Read books on prayer, on grace, on the Mass, and, of course, on Our Lady. There are veritable treasures at your elbow, waiting to be explored. And the principal reason we urge you to explore is that “the thoughts that absorb you are the thoughts that mould you”. Feed your mind on the best and you will see the happy results on your fifteen-minutes’ conversation with God.

Here Ends… 

Throughout this pamphlet we have kept in view the fact that prayer is conversation with God. It is, therefore, an immense privilege, not unlike what Moses enjoyed when the cloud folded itself around him on Sinai and he spoke to God face to face, as friend speaks to friend.

If the conversation between God and the soul is to be a success two things at least are required. We must have a common language, and the language of prayer is, above all, love. Only love will ensure that we keep faithful to our daily tryst, where God awaits us and, in His turn, speaks also the language of love. Not only must there be a common language, but a common interest, too. Every interest, in the mind of Our Lord, is secondary to the all-important interest of the souls of all men. We, then, who would pray must, like Him, be zealous for souls. And this zeal is inculcated in our sodality rules and in section 2 of this pamphlet. Every Catholic Christian is urged to have, or to pray for, a great practical ‘zeal for souls’, and a concrete desire to be part of the evangelization of the entire world of human souls.

It is easy to allow ourselves to become preoccupied with trivialities which absorb our powers and make them less alert to appreciate the value and importance of the souls of men. The Master will lift the soul up, like a father lifts his child to see over a wall. What the soul glimpses in prayer whets its appetite for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. But it must show the divine Master that it wants to see and realize, and this is done especially by the habit of self-sacrifice.

A Direction

Our Lord not only commands us to pray. He goes through His own prayer before our very eyes to give us a perfect object lesson. We found Him, if you remember, “rising very early, and, going out, He went into a desert place, and there He prayed.” We followed Him in spirit and found that that simple sentence is packed with matter for our own prayerful reflections. It serves as a perfect pattern for us in prayer.

Not only does He teach prayer, not only does He show us how to pray by His example, but Our Lord designs actually to continue in us His own very prayer. This wonderful truth should sustain us when our efforts seemingly are getting us nowhere. His prayer in Gethsemane was made in bleak desolation and darkness. Why should His prayer in us not be the same?

From there we went on to discuss distractions, recommending, among other things, the habit of trying to take hold of the distraction itself and turn it into a prayer. We are dealing in prayer with our best Friend. Everything, no matter how trivial, which interests us, interests Him too. Surely friends can talk about the things which interest either of them?

We took a glance at our corporate strength. What a colossal power that is! “Where one or two are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.” That led on to a few words about liturgical prayer, that great symphony in the Church in which each of us has a part.

When all this is said and done it is only a divine Master Who is qualified to teach this divine science. “Lord, teach us to pray”. We saw how wise that request was, and how aptly it fits in our own case.

Then we considered the vital need of denying ourselves, subjecting our eyes, ears, and tongue, to a careful discipline. Why? There are many reasons but the one concerning us here is that a dissipated soul will never learn what immense treasures are waiting to be discovered in intimacy with God in prayer. We urged you strongly to read good spiritual books regularly, because “the thoughts that absorb you are the thoughts that mould you”. Such good reading is bound to freshen up our prayer and stimulate us to continue on our journey of exploration.

For prayer can progress indefinitely. This stands to reason since it is conversation with God, “Who reaches from end to end mightily and disposes all things sweetly”.

Saint Philomena: The Little Wonder-Worker of the Twentieth Century

Saint Philomena: The Little Wonder-Worker of the Twentieth Century

For close on a hundred years the name of St. Philomena has been accorded in the Church a veneration which, growing intensified by the number of miracles vouchsafed through her intercession, has spread over the whole world. Previous to the discovery of her tomb and relics in the Catacomb of St. Priscilla, outside the walls of Rome, in the year 1802, her name had found no place in sacred story.

Hence what can be authoritatively written regarding this wonder-working little saint of the nineteenth century is more a narrative of the extraordinary chain of miracles associated with her intercession than the recital of facts relating to her life. There is, however, a pious tradition that she was a child-martyr and a contemporary of St. Sebastian, who suffered in the reign of the Emperor Diocletian about the year of our Lord 286. Some holy souls who were devoutly interested in promoting devotion to the saint, some years after the translation of her relics, are said to have been favored with revelations, in which Philomena made known to them the circumstances under which she shed her blood for Christ. According to this evidence she was thirteen years of age at the time of her martyrdom, and her relics bear testimony that she could scarcely have been older. In these pages, however, we shall confine ourselves to the facts attendant on the discovery of her tomb and to subsequent wonders which have surrounded her memory with a blessed immortality.

The Catacombs of Rome have long, been centers of Christian interest and veneration. Until a century ago their origin was a subject of controversy and speculation among learned writers. Now their conflicting theories are set at rest. It is fully accepted by archeologists and historians that these subterranean passages were the secret hiding-places of the primitive Christians, and later on, became the resting-places of their dead. When, after the early persecutions, peace and liberty were restored to the Church, these cemeteries, which enclosed the remains of so many martyrs—and were sacred to the sufferings and trials of generations of the faithful—became places of devotion and of great resort. Each of them came to be associated with the names of eminent martyred saints, at whose tombs the Divine mysteries were frequently offered up. As time went on and the desire of obtaining relics of the saints spread throughout the universal Church, the tombs of the Catacombs, with permission of the Holy See, supplied these treasures so jealously regarded as the precious inheritance of the altars of Christendom. Yet the exercise of this privilege of procuring from the Catacombs memorials of the saints and martyrs left the tomb and relies of St. Philomena unnoticed and undisturbed, until it pleased Almighty God to reveal this young virgin-martyr to the world as one of the heavenly wonder-workers of the nineteenth century.

The Catacomb of St. Priscilla lies beneath the Via Salaria Nova. Here, in the Pontificate of Pius VII., a remarkable slab attracted the custodians of the cemetery, who were then prosecuting investigations there, and on the 25th of May, 18O2, the tomb was formally examined. On the tiles that enclosed it, the following inscription was read:- “PHILOMENA PAX TECUM.”

The devices which were interwoven with these simple words—an anchor, an arrow, and a palm— determined the spot as the last resting-place of a martyr. The tomb was opened by Monsignor Ludovici, who disclosed to the gaze of his assistants and bystanders the precious remains. Beside them stood the phial containing the blood of the saint. An examination of the relics having been made, it was ascertained that Philomena had been martyred in her tender youth, at about twelve or thirteen years of age, scarcely more. The relics were then fervently removed to the Custodia, and deposited among the relics of the other servants of God, to await the decision of the Vicar of Jesus Christ as to where they should finally rest as objects of the veneration of the faithful. The tiles bearing the simple inscription were for a time placed in the college of the Jesuits at Rome. Later on they were transferred to the Museum of Antiquities at the Vatican. However, in 1827, they were bestowed on the Church of Mugnano, which was destined, through the possession of the relics of our saint, to become one of the most honored shrines in the Christian world.

During three years which followed, the relics of St. Philomena lay in the Custodia, unnoticed and undisturbed, almost as they had lain for fifteen hundred years in the silence of the Catacombs.

In the summer of 1805 the Bishop-Elect of Potenza came to Rome to receive his consecration.

His companion was a saintly priest of Mugnano— Don Francesco di Lucia —who availed of his visit to the Eternal City to seek the possession of the body of a saint for his private chapel. Accordingly he asked permission to visit the treasury of sacred relics. Complying with his desire, the guardian, Mgr. Ponzetti, offered the holy priest his choice, to the great delight of the latter. None of the caskets bore the names of the saints whose bodies they enclosed, except three. Amongst these was that of St. Philomena.

As the priest stood before this reliquary he felt his soul filled with an indescribable feeling of spiritual joy, and at once he petitioned to have the relics. A few days afterwards, however, the guardian of the Custodia retracted the permission he had given, stating reasonably that the saints of well-ascertained names were so few, that they ought to be reserved for Bishops and Catholic princes.

The Bishop of Potenza, however, intervened on behalf of his anxious companion, saying he felt convinced the saint wished her to go to his parish of Mugnano, and would bless the place with miracles. And so the request was at length granted. From that day commenced the long succession of wonders which have since made the name of Philomena illustrious over the world.

Don Francesco fell ill during his visit to Rome, and, sinking under a virulent attack of fever, made a vow to St. Philomena that if his health were restored, he would choose her for his patron. Instantly the malady subsided, and he was restored to perfect health. On his telling the Bishop of the miracle both returned thanks to God, promising to carry the bones of the saint to Naples with all possible honor.

They set out shortly afterwards, end reached Naples on the 2nd of July, 1805. There the casket was deposited in the private chapel of Don Antonio Terres—a wealthy citizen of the place. The relics were opened by ecclesiastical authority, and the bones arranged in a lifelike-size figure in papier-mache, and enclosed in an outer case of ebony, which was duly sealed in four places. Donna Angela Terres, the wife of Don Antonio was deputed to dress and adorn the figure, and was rewarded by the Saint for her devotion by being immediately healed of a malignant malady, from which she had been suffering for twelve years. Marvelous, too, during the dressing, many changes were observed in the countenance of the figure, while the virginal remains exhaled a sweet perfume. During three days the body was exposed in the church of St. Angelo. A great concourse of the faithful visited the shrine, but as no miracle took place it was believed to be an indication of the saint‟s wish not to remain in that city. Again, the relics were brought from the church to the house of Terres, and here again miraculous cures began to be vouchsafed. Amongst them was that of a lady suffering from gangrene in the hand which her physician had decided on amputating. A small portion of the sacred relics which had been presented to the Terres family was applied to the suffering hand. That night the patient slept, and in the morning the surgeons found that the gangrene had disappeared.

In another case—a lawyer, who for six months had been bed-ridden from sciatica, had himself carried to the house where the body of Philomena lay, and while he prayed to the holy Martyr, was completely cured.

The Bishop of Potenza and Don Francesco now determined to proceed on their journey to Mugnano. The month of August was fixed for their departure from Maples, two carriers being summoned from Mugnano to convey the saint. The grief of Donna Angela on parting with the venerable remains was so great that she would scarcely allow them to be removed. Don Francesco, to console her, presented her with the key of the casket, saying, “I leave you this. Henceforward you and your family shall be the owners of the holy body. I will be only its guardian.”

As the procession moved on its way, its course was marked by many miracles. When night set in, a column of light descended and rested on the relics, illuminating the path by which the bearers passed as they drew near to Cimitile, a suburb of Nola. Here the burden grew so heavy that the bearers declared they could carry it no further. On hearing this, Don Francesco feared that the saint desired to remain at Cimitile, a place sacred to the martyrdom of many saints. He immediately despatched one of the carriers, who had come with him from Naples, to Mugnano to secure additional bearers, meanwhile urging on the others to move the case, at least a little further, on the way. With great difficulty they succeeded in transporting it; but as they receded from Cimitile their burden became lighter and lighter, and soon was so easily borne that the bearers began to cry out with joy, “a miracle! a miracle! The saint has once more become as light as she was at Naples!”

At Mugnano, on the eve of the arrival, the bells of all the churches were rung, and cannon were fired in honor of the advent of the relics. The inhabitants made their first petition to the saint by asking, through her intercession, that the long- continued drought from which their crops suffered, might come to an end. The sound of the bells from the church towers had scarcely ceased when rain fell in copious torrents. At sunrise, the procession entered Mugnano. The joyful inhabitants turned out in vast multitudes with olive branches in their hands to welcome the youthful martyr—and the little children as they saw the case of relics dressed with flowers, filled the air with the cries of “Viva la Santa! Viva la Santa! Hail to the saint!”

During the course of the procession to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie—which occupied two hours—many manifestations of the power of the saint were witnessed.

Although the day was serene and beautiful at one time a whirlwind arose, and yet not a single one of the lights which were carried before the Shrine of Philomena was extinguished.

The body of the saint was placed under a splendid canopy at the Gospel side of the principal altar, where High Mass was celebrated. That day–the 10th of August—was observed as a feast day of obligation, and the spiritual rejoicings lasted over many weeks.

The numerous wonders which immediately began to be wrought at this Shrine induced Don Francesco to renounce his long-cherished intention of keeping the relics in his private chapel. After a short time he bestowed them on the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.

Here a side chapel was prepared to receive them, and an altar erected, beneath which they were henceforth to rest for public veneration.

On the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, September 26th, 1805, after the celebration of High Mass, the relics were carried in procession, and solemnly deposited in their appointed place.
Mass was again chanted at the new altar, and thus ended the translation of the relics of St. Philomena.

II.

The story of the Shrine of St. Philomena, and of the remarkable manifestations associated with it, possesses an unique interest among narratives of the kind. Much of it might, indeed, be difficult to accept without question, were not the authority in its support so strong.

The first in time, of the favors we shall record, is assigned to a date shortly after the translation of the relics of the saint to Mugnano.

While at Naples, as we may remember, the bones of the Virgin-Martyr were placed within a figure of childlike form, which was enclosed in an ebony casket. The casket being of small dimensions, the figure, though not larger than a child of about eight years of age, had to be placed in a cramped and ungraceful position.

One morning, however, shortly after the arrival of the saint within the chapel of Mugnano, to the amazement of some clients who had come to pay their homage at her shrine, the figure was found to have changed its attitude and whole appearance. Originally it had lain fiat within the case, the effect aimed at in its arrangement being that of the repose of death. Now the representation of the saint had mysteriously assumed a half sitting posture—full of majesty and grace— the face being turned towards the spectators. The hands too had changed their position, the arrow, the emblem of martyrdom, which had been placed in one of them, being reversed—in a word, the whole figure had become different. But the most striking marvel of the transformation was that the countenance no longer continued the same. The artist, by whom the figure had originally been designed, at Naples, had done his work hastily, and the features, imperfectly modeled, had been colored to represent the pallor of a corpse. All these defects now disappeared, and an expression of great beauty took their place, while the colorless hue, which the face had hitherto presented, changed into a soft life-like complexion.

And all the while, the four seals which had been attached to the casket by the Bishop of Potenza were intact, and the glass which surrounded it could not have been removed. The rumor of this occurrence, having quickly spread abroad, soon reached Naples. On hearing of the marvelous event, the members of the Terres family, by whom the figure of St. Philomena had been at first dressed, accompanied by the artist who had designed and painted it, together with some others, set out for Mugnano. It was beyond doubt that the key of the reliquary, which the Signora Terres, the custodian, held, had never left her possession, and yet, all attested that in no way was the attitude or appearance of the martyr like what it had been when the relics had left their home in Naples.

Further changes were subsequently, from time to time, observed in the position of the miraculous figure. Thus, some years after, when the garments in which the saint was clothed began to look worn and faded, another extraordinary circumstance occurred. The stitched seams loosened of themselves. The rich trimmings and accessories became detached, till at length, little by little, the whole vesture became disordered and scattered! The final and complete disarrangement of the exterior of the little figure took place about the Feast of Pentecost, 1824, when Don Francesco decided on having the relics arrayed in a new and costly attire, and also to provide a larger and more elegant shrine to receive them. Previous to the opening of the old reliquary, it was observed that the silken hair on the head of the saint had become sparse and scanty. As the date fixed for the translation of the relics was close at hand, no time remained to procure fresh silken hair. Then another wonder took place. An abundance of flowing tresses made their appearance before the beginning of the ceremony, which was carried out with great devotion and splendor by the Archbishop and his suite, in presence of the Vicar-General of the diocese, on July 5th, 1824.

Some time after the occurrence of this prodigy, this silken hair, which had been of a chestnut shade, suddenly turned to a deep black. At the same time the flowing tresses grew to such length, that it became necessary to open the case to re- arrange them over the shoulders. In 1833, nine years after the second dressing of the figure, the hair was found to have grown twenty-seven inches. Soon again a further development manifested itself. Another and larger shrine was deemed insufficient owing to the increased proportions of the wondrous figure of the occupant. A new receptacle was, therefore, again procured. On this occasion, Monsignor Cupola, Bishop of Vola, whose veneration for St. Philomena bordered almost on enthusiasm, came to Mugnano, to place, as an offering, a rich crown of silver on her head. On this occasion a similar miracle again took place. On the 27th of September, 1828, Cardinal Ruffo Scilla, Archbishop of Naples, opened the shrine, and removed the relics to the beautiful and spacious case where they have since rested. From the appearance of a child of tender years, as our saint was first represented, she had now grown to bear the appearance of a beautiful maiden of twenty.

When the Cardinal Archbishop of Naples, in fulfillment of a vow, came to Mugnano for a fifth time, he declared after he had celebrated Mass, in presence of the Shrine, that since he had sealed the reliquary, six months before, the holy form of the saint had changed anew its appearance.

Miraculous manifestations after that time became so frequent as to be regarded as a matter of course. Sometimes the countenance lost its habitual brightness of expression and became overcast and sad. The lips too of the saint were seen at times to move as if in prayer, in union with the supplications of her clients.

During the celebrations of the annual festival in 1847, among the vast congregation was a poor blind man who was fervently imploring the saint to procure for him the recovery of his sight. Suddenly the whole body was seen to move, turning on its side to face the congregation. This event was attested by numerous witnesses, and after careful inquiries solemnly published. This attestation concludes as follows:— “We can testify that similar changes are continually occurring—either the opening of the eyes, the movements of the lips, or, varied expressions of the countenance which sometimes appears pale and sad, sometimes pleased and bright. . . . He who will not believe what is stated, should himself repair to the sanctuary, where, he will see with his own eyes how God glorifies His saints.”

After so many extraordinary evidences of the miraculous power of St. Philomena one can scarcely wonder at the astonishing rapidity with which devotion to her was spread throughout the whole world.

Nevertheless the solemn approbation of the Church was not bestowed upon the devotion to St. Philomena till long after the dates of the incidents we have been recording. That prudent circumspection which at all times rules the decisions of the Holy See, demanded a long and mature consideration of the novel and marvelous circumstances which made up the history of the miracles of the saint. Although the pastors and laity of almost every diocese in Italy had more than once petitioned the Holy Father to authorize the public veneration of St. Philomena, she was not raised to the altars of the Church till the year 1837. The promulgation by the Supreme Pontiff of the decree so long sought for was mainly due to a miracle worked by the saint on Pauline Marie Jaricot, friend of the Cure d‟Ars, and foundress of the Association for the Propagation of the Faith, and of the devotion of the “Living Rosary.”

About the year 1819, some Brothers of St. John of God, who were seeking to revive their once famous order for the care of incurables, travelled through Brittany to the South of France, relating as they went along, the wonders they had witnessed at the shrine of Mugnano. At Lyons, the Brothers called on the Jaricot family, whose members were inspired with such enthusiasm at the recital of the miracles of the saint that they were filled with a great desire to possess a portion of her relics. The pious wish was eventually gratified, and among the blessings of which this family became the instrument in the hands of Providence, not the least remarkable was the promoting of devotion to St. Philomena.

In the year 1834 Pauline Marie Jaricot was stricken, beyond all hopes of recovery, with an aggravated form of heart disease. Various other sufferings of a complicated nature increased the intensity of the malady, which, in addition to its dreadful uncertainty, furnished symptoms of a quickly approaching dissolution. During the whole year Pauline describes her condition as one of continued agony, save during some few moments of passing relief which she attributed to prayers offered for her by some devoted friends.

The first amelioration of her sad condition that she experienced occurred at the close of a Novena offered on her behalf to St. Philomena. The complete prostration, which had deprived her of the use of her limbs, slightly subsided, and great was her joy at being able, unaided, to move even a little.

Day by day the improvement continued, and with the happy and wondrous change she became filled with a longing to visit, in thanksgiving, the shrine of the Sacred Heart at Paray-le-Monial. Inspired with this thought, she redoubled her anxious pleadings to St. Philomena. Having made known her wish to the members of her family, they in turn mentioned the matter to her physician, who, while admitting the slight improvement as inexplicable, looked upon her project as merely visionary. At length her entreaties overcame his reluctance, and he consented to her departure, prophesying, however, that she would never reach the first stage of the journey, and that the return would be a funeral. Her confidence in God, however, grew stronger as the time approached at which she had, determined to risk the perilous venture.

Contrary to the expectations of those who charitably accompanied her, Pauline reached Paray in safety. Her first visit to the chapel of the Monastery of the Visitation filled her with joy and holy consolation, and gave her a degree of vigor which astonished her companions.

Another and still greater surprise was theirs, when the poor invalid made known her decision to proceed from Paray to Rome, there to seek the blessing of the Vicar of Christ.

To make this journey had, indeed, been with her a life-long dream, but in the face of her excessive weakness, her friends were terrified at her determination. Filled with trust in God she carried her point against their fears. It was a tedious journey, accomplished in very easy and short stages, and so the little strength she had regained did not fail her. Visiting on the way the shrines of Chambery and Loreto, she reached the Eternal City, and was warmly received at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, the Trinita de Monte. The fame of the two great works she had inaugurated for the glory of the Church had preceded her, while the sight of her great sufferings won for her the sympathy of all.

Although Pauline had realized her wish to visit Rome, her prostrate condition still forbade her undergoing the fatiguing ceremonial of an audience with the Holy Father. But the paternal kindness of Gregory XVI., furnished a solution for this difficulty. Having heard of Pauline‟s arrival, he deigned to thank her in person for the benefits the Church owed her, and he came on two occasions to visit her at Trinita de Monte. Like others, the Holy Father deemed her condition hopeless. In one of his visits he asked her to pray for him, when she should get into heaven. Pauline replied, “Yes, most certainly Holy Father, I promise to do so, but if I visit the shrine of Mugnano, and then return on foot to the Vatican, will your Holiness deign to proceed with the definite examination of the cause of Philomena.” “Yes, my child,” replied the Pope, “for that would indeed be a miracle of the first class.”

With unwavering courage the heroic girl proceeded from Rome to Mugnano, which she reached August 8th, 1835. Her diary, which lies before us, furnishes a thrilling illustration of the reward which God vouchsafes to grant to the faith of those who seek His mercies through the intercession of His saints. The celebration of the solemn festival of St. Philomena had just commenced. Two days later, that is to say on the actual feast day, Pauline was carried to the church. At the moment of receiving Holy Communion, she experienced a fearful anguish in her whole frame. Her heart throbbed, as though it would burst. Overcome by the intensity of her suffering, she swooned away, and a death-like pallor overspread her countenance. To all appearance life seemed extinct. The bystanders terrified at what they witnessed, were about to bear her away in the chair wherein she lay. Consciousness, however, soon returned, and the poor sufferer feebly signified her wish to remain. A few moments later the dimmed eyes, already glazed with the film of death, began to shed copious tears—color returned to the pallid cheeks—Pauline Marie Jaricot was cured!

An outburst of jubilation followed the miracle. Unrestrained enthusiasm, within and outside the church prevailed. The air resounded with the cry “Viva Santa Filomena! Viva the holy French lady!”

Two months later full of health and strength, the restored client of St. Philomena presented herself at the feet of Gregory XVI., in the great hall of the Vatican. Filled with surprise the Holy Father exclaimed: “Is this, indeed, my dear child? Has she risen from the tomb, or, has God shown in her the power of the Virgin Martyr?” “Yes,” replied Pauline, “I am the person whom your Holiness saw at the point of death two months ago, and since St. Philomena has restored me to health, grant me permission to fulfill a vow which I have made, to erect a church in honor of my benefactress.”

Having received a detailed account of Pauline‟s visit to the shrine of Mugnano and the circumstances of her wonderful cure, the Pope promised to proceed at once to the examination of the “cause” of the saint.

Within a year after the departure of Mademoiselle Jaricot from her house, she returned to Lyons where her restoration to perfect health was regarded as an undoubted miracle. When she repaired on foot to the church of Notre Dame de Fourvieres, pious crowds followed her and joined her in hymns of praise and thanksgiving at the shrine of our Blessed Lady.

Later on, the grateful child of St. Philomena fulfilled her vow by building a beautiful chapel dedicated to her patroness on the slope that leads up to the Basilica of Notre Dame. No sacrifice or trouble was henceforth considered too great by Pauline in spreading devotion to the Holy Martyr. She promoted it, together with the other pious associations which, through her efforts, had already gained ground in the Church. In one of her letters she tells us—that, when in company with her—the representatives of the “Living Rosary,” prostrated themselves at the feet of Gregory XVI., supreme Pontiff imparted a special blessing to their association, and commended them and their work to the protection of St. Philomena. And on the occasion of Pauline‟s last presentation at the Vatican His Holiness renewed this commendation, saying:— “Pray to St. Philomena—whatever you ask from her she will obtain for you.”

The miracles wrought at the chapel at Lyons became almost as numerous and remarkable as the favors vouchsafed at the Shrine of Mugnano, and, at the present day, the devotion of the citizens to the saint manifests itself with extraordinary fervor.

It was at Lyons that the cure of Mademoiselle Le Clerc took place. This pious lady had been a hopeless invalid for eight years, having totally lost the use of her limbs. Through the intercession of St. Philomena she was miraculously restored. The miracle wrought in her behalf was attested by the Bishop of Belley, the Mayor of Ambrieux, and twenty- four physicians. Returning to her home at Roussillon she built a chapel in honor of the little wonder-working saint.

Between Pauline Jaricot and the Venerable Curé of d‟Ars, a friendship of the holiest kind long existed She impressed this holy priest with such veneration for her favorite saint that he became an ardent promoter of devotion to St. Philomena. To her advocacy he attributed many marvelous graces and favors, which are recorded in the story of his life. Having erected a shrine containing a portion of the saint‟s relics in his church, cures of earthly ills and extraordinary conversions of obdurate hearts were witnessed in this holy spot. The oil that burned before the altar became a source of miraculous healing, while the innumerable ex voto tributes of gratitude that line the walls of the little sanctuary, bear witness to the veneration and love in which she is held at the present day. To the zeal and sanctity of the Curé of Are may be ascribed, in great measure, the rapid and universal spread of devotion to St. Philomena throughout France. Medals and other memorials of the Virgin-Martyr distributed by him were fruitful of many miracles. The story of the extinction of a fire at his house (caused by the agency of the devil) through the presence of a statue of St. Philomena, will be remembered by many readers of Monsieur Vianney‟s life.

During the last thirty years, France has, so to speak, been covered, with votive churches to our saint, while the three festivals—the 10th of August, the 25th of May, and the Sunday within the octave of the Ascension—are preceded by novenas and observed with great devotion and solemnity. The limits of these pages prevent our noticing the myriads of graces and favors showered on the faithful of France by St. Philomena.

Among the clients of the martyr, whose special holiness has distinguished them in the annals of this century may be named—Pére Varin, one of the restorers of the Society of Jesus in France; Venerable Mother Barat, foundress of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart; Madame d‟Houet, foundress of the Faithful Companions of Jesus and Mary; Pere Eymart, founder of the Priests of the Most Holy Sacrament.

In the year 1835, the devotion to the saint was introduced into Paris, where, ever since it has found an abiding centre. A parishioner of St. Gervais, having obtained a miraculous favor through the intercession of St. Philomena, presented to the church some relics which he had received from Mademoiselle Jaricot, together with a picture of the saint. Shortly afterwards a side chapel was dedicated to her honor, St. Gervais is now a place of frequent pilgrimages, while the display of ex voto offerings and tablets rivals that of the mother-shrine at Mugnano. Those who have visited Paris will remember the position of the Church of St. Gervais, close to the Hotel de Ville. This quarter of the city was the unhappy scene of the worst excesses of the Communists in 1870. The Hotel de Ville, as many of us recollect, was then reduced to ashes, while churches on every side were desecrated and profaned during those days of anarchy. Strange to say, although preparations had been made by the Communists to set fire to St. Gervais and sack its treasury, by some mysterious intervention the im- pious purpose was never carried out. And while the Prussian shells wrought pitiless havoc over the whole city, the church of St. Gervais and the house of the parish priest escaped injury. The priests attached to the church never forsook their posts, yet not one of them was arrested, nor did they suffer any loss in the midst of general ruin and pillage.

In recognition of this preservation, thirteen lamps commemorative of the thirteen childhood years of St. Philomena, perpetually burn before her altar, and the oil in them is deemed to possess healing powers. An Association of prayer, under her invocation, in the Church of St. Gervais has been raised to the dignity of an Arch-confraternity by our present Holy Father Leo XIII.

Let us now return to the shrine at Mugnano. The present beautiful church, surmounted by its dome and towers, was undertaken in 1853, and completed three years later. Its great attraction is the chapel containing the relics of St. Philomena. A profusion of the finest marbles, mingled with agate and porphyry, cover the walls from floor to ceiling. Stately columns, supporting Corinthian capitols of white marble, impart an appearance of chaste splendor to the whole interior. Over the white marble altar stands the case containing the relics, revealing the figure of the saint, half sitting, half reclining on her couch, radiant in jewels and costly attire. Above is the familiar picture of our Lady of Good Counsel. At the opposite side of the nave is an altar, on which rests the reliquary containing the phial of the martyr‟s blood. This exquisite casket was the gift of Marie Thèrese, Queen of Naples. It is entirely composed of silver, and through an aperture filled with glass, the sacred relic may be easily seen. The generosity of faithful hearts, in happier times, bestowed vast endowments, and estates on this church of St. Philomena, and thus provided for the relief of the poor and the advancement of other meritorious works. But, alas! the sacrilegious hands of the usurper have confiscated all.

The constant stream of pilgrims has, however, never ceased. Old and young, rich and poor of all nationalities, assemble there, and bring away with them graces untold, and a deep sense of the power of God through the efficacy of His saints.

The roll of pilgrims contains many royal names, among which we notice:—Ferdinand II. of Naples, two queens of Naples and one of Sardinia, Marie Amelie of France, wife of Louis Phillippe; and Maria Christina, Queen of the two Sicilies. The latter was foundress of the Orphanage of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, which adjoins the sanctuary. She raised it in thanksgiving for petitions granted on the many occasions of her visits to the shrine. Hosts of distinguished personages, including Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops from all the world over, have inscribed their names on these records of piety and faith.

The decree authorizing the devotion to St. Philomena, and granting to the clergy of Nola the privilege of saying Mass in her honor, was published by Gregory XVI. on January 30th, 1837. In March, 1839, the same Pontiff, by decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, raised her feast to the dignity of a double of the second class. It is to be noted that hers is the only instance of a “Proper Office” being granted in honor of a saint of whom no details are recorded or known, except the bare fact of her martyrdom. This was indicated, as we have already remarked, by the emblems cut on her tomb, and the three simple words inscribed on the slab enclosing her place of rest:

“Pax tecum! Philomena.” “Peace be with thee! Philomena.”

The successors of Gregory XVI. in the Pontifical chair, have given evidences of a similar veneration for this martyr of the primitive Church.

Pius IX., when Archbishop of Spoleto, was prostrated by an illness, in which his life was despaired of. In his apartment was a figure of the saint, resting within an enclosed case. As he lay apparently awaiting death, a knocking seemed to proceed from the little shrine. From that moment the Archbishop began to recover, and soon he was perfectly restored to health. Afterwards, when he had been raised to the Pontificate, he made a pilgrimage in person to Mugnano. It was performed during the period of his exile, Nov. 7th, 1849. His reception was one of memorable splendor. At the church of St. Philomena he was received by the King of Naples, who humbly knelt on the bare ground, when assisting him to alight. The Queen, with seven children, and many royal personages, knelt on the steps leading to the church door to receive the blessing of the Holy Father as he ascended. In memory of the event, Pius IX. granted many new spiritual favors to the Sanctuary of Mugnano. During his sojourn at Naples, he named St. Philomena one of the patrons of the kingdom, and later on, in 1862, gave her as patron to “The Children of Mary,” and confirmed her title of „„Protector of the Living Rosary.”

The present Pope, while administrator of the diocese of Benevento, visited Mugnano twice, and since then, has sent a costly offering to the Church of St. Philomena. Confraternities and Sodalities placed under her invocation have been many times favored by Leo XIII. with increased indulgences.

In Ireland, the devotion to this child-saint and martyr has been taken up with great fervor, and rewarded with many striking favors.

The pious sisterhoods, to whose hands is confided the great work of Catholic education, have not been slow to find how powerful is the help of the “little wonder-worker.” Schools, special works of charity, the wants of the sick and afflicted, have many a time been blessed and promoted in wonderful ways through the invocation of St. Philomena. Her name is a household word in many Irish homes. Many a stricken heart turns to her for aid in the necessities which encompass our various paths through this land of distress and sorrow. And it is sweet to think that much of that beautiful fervor and devotion towards St. Philomena, which has spread like the odor of some delicate fragrant flower over pagan and far-off lands, has been borne thither by Irish hands and Irish hearts.

The Messager de St. Philomene et du Venerable Cure d‟Ars, published in Paris (monthly) contains interesting records of the miracles worked, and favors granted by the “Virgin Wonder-worker” in every portion of the globe. We should recommend its perusal to our educated readers, especially to the clients of St. Philomena.

Were space at our disposal, we should gladly place some extracts from it on record here. However, before we close this sketch, we select one which has struck us by its simple beauty, and tells how our saint hearkens to the prayers of the little ones of Christ.

In a province of France there lived a child named Marie Philomene, who, from her earliest years had been taught to invoke her holy patron, by whom more than once she was delivered from danger. In May, 1883, when but five years old, she was attacked by a fatal illness. The physician declared her case quite hopeless, and one evening informed the afflicted parents of the little sufferer that it was useless for him to return, inasmuch as all the symptoms of death had already set in.

Her godmother, who was kneeling by her little cot, bethought of invoking St. Philomena, and made the child kiss a picture representing her.

She could no longer see nor lift her hands, but could still hear. Suddenly with a trembling voice she exclaimed, “Godmother, where is St. Philomena? what shall I say to her?” “Ask her to come to you,” was the reply. “Tell her you will give yourself to God, and teach little children. Ask her to send you some sleep, and promise to go to Mass tomorrow to thank her.”

A few moments later the child said she would like to go to sleep, and then fell into a gentle slumber. At 6 o‟clock the following morning, she sat up in bed, saying “St Philomena has cured me! I want to go to Mass!” Arising, she dressed herself, and walked to church, a mile distant, holding her godmother‟s hand.

Our story of the great wonders wrought by the intercession of Philomena may not for the present extend farther.

May our efforts to retrace some of the glories which surround the name of the youthful Martyr of the Catacombs increase the fervor of those devoted to her. May they urge others to spread wider still veneration for her virtues of constancy and heroism, by which she obtained such favor with God, and merited so many benedictions for those who invoke her! St. Philomena! Pray for us.

Nihil Obstat:
Joannes Keane S. J. Cens. Theol. Deput.

Imprimi Potest: Eduardus Archiep. Dublinen. Hiberniae Primas Dublini: die 2 Januarii, 1929.

Pentecost: The Holy Ghost

Pentecost: The Holy Ghost 
Fr. K. Krogh-Tonning, D.D.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.” —John xv, I.

The three chief festivals of the Church are like three precious stones, all of equal beauty and value, but each possessing its own peculiar color and charm. Christmas reminds us of the Father, who sent His Son into the world for its redemption. There can be nothing greater or more glorious than this gift, and therefore “Blessed be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ now and for evermore.” But what would Christmas be without Easter—the resurrection of our crucified Savior? What benefit should we derive from the coming of God the Son into this world, if He had not died for our sins and risen again from the dead? There can be nothing greater and more glorious than His death and resurrection, therefore “Blessed be Jesus Christ, now and for evermore.” But what would Easter be without Pentecost? What significance would our Lord’s death and Resurrection have had for us without the Holy Ghost, who alone can bring us to Christ? Without the gift bestowed at Pentecost we should have no faith in Christ, nor should we be united with Him, for we owe both our faith and our union with Him to the Holy Ghost. There can be nothing greater and more glorious than this faith and union,—therefore, “Blessed be the Holy Ghost, now and for evermore.”

I. We are keeping the feast of the Holy Ghost, and yet there is no allusion to Him in our text, at least no explicit allusion; but when our Lord speaks of Himself as the vine, and of His disciples as the branches, we may believe the Holy Ghost to be the sap, flowing from the root and stem to every leaf and tendril, and conveying life and strength to every part. This is a token, which it is most important for us to observe, of our possession of the Holy Spirit and of our union with Christ. We ought to notice in the first place that the Holy Ghost is the spirit of sanctity, without which no one can see God. Hence, St. Peter reminds the early Christians: “It is written, ‘you shall be holy, for I am holy’” (I Peter i, 16). We cannot have the spirit of God, nor can we be united with Christ in the Holy Ghost, unless we are striving to be holy. This sanctity is the fruit of which our Savior spoke when He said that His followers should bring forth much fruit. He who brings forth none, will be cast out as a barren and unproductive branch, and thrown into the fire. Is not this a stringent order requiring us to aim at holiness of life?

Many desire forgiveness of sins and speak of its necessity, and they think Christianity exists for no other purpose than to enable them to obtain pardon. Suppose a son offends his father grievously, and then asks for and receives forgiveness. This happens again and again; but the young man is satisfied when he is pardoned; he never attempts to improve, or to avoid giving offense in future, and goes on wounding his parents by his wickedness. Surely he is a worthless wretch. In the same way, a kind of Christianity that stops short at faith in the forgiveness of sins, and never aims at sanctity, is a miserable thing, devoid of the spirit of God, for the Holy Ghost is a Spirit of sanctity.

Christ desires us to bring forth the fruits of a holy life, i.e., He wishes us gradually to improve, to grow more just and charitable in our dealings with others, more humble and severe in judging ourselves. Do those who call themselves Christians invariably display these characteristics? If you are uncharitable, irritable, untrustworthy, harsh towards others, self-satisfied and self-indulgent, there is much reason to fear that your profession of Christianity is vain, and that you do not possess the Holy Spirit, and are not united with Christ in that Spirit.

II. We must note further that the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of truth, speaking to us in the word of God. Hence Christ bids us “continue in His word,” i.e., in the word of God. Unless we act thus, we shall not possess the Holy Spirit. We must continue in the word, not hear or read it just once or twice, but study it with persevering zeal. We must read it in our homes, and hear it in God’s house, regularly and carefully, otherwise we are not continuing in the word. If God’s word is not familiar to us, we become estranged from the Holy Spirit, which bears testimony through the word, especially in God’s house.

III. God’s Spirit is the Spirit of prayer, and in the gospel Christ urges us to pray, and promises that we shall be heard. Where prayer is unknown, the Spirit of God is absent, for wherever it is present, it impels men to pray. Our Lord does not merely invite us to pray. He demands it of us as a duty, inseparable from the worship of God. He wishes us to honor Him by offering Him praise, thanksgiving and prayer. He bids us regard His house as a house of prayer, the place where He will accept the worship of our hearts and lips. Consequently where the churches stand empty, the hearts of men are undoubtedly devoid of the Spirit of God, and are not in union with Christ.

IV. The spirit of God is the Spirit of love, and Jesus Christ requires love of us. He says: “Abide in my love.” Absence of love denotes absence of the Holy Spirit, who always inspires love. We cannot evade our Lord’s claim upon our love; we ought to love Him more than father, or mother, or wife, or child. I remember how, when I was a child, this commandment filled me with fear, for it seemed to me impossible not to love my mother best of all, and yet God required me to love Him still more. God commands us to love Him, so it is our duty to obey. For our consolation, however, He tells us how this can be done: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.” “If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love.” Our Lord does not care about our feelings, which are not under our own control, and which have no permanence; but He wants us honestly to resolve to keep His commandments, to do our duty and to accomplish His will, although we may do so only very imperfectly, for all human actions arc necessarily imperfect. This is the love that He claims, and any one who intends to give it Him, receives grace and strength. I remember distinctly the happiness that I felt, when this doctrine concerning the duty of loving God was explained to me. The Spirit of God assists everyone who strives to do and be what our Savior desires. Hence the commandment of love alarms hypocrites, who talk a great deal about their emotions, and take no pains to please our Lord. Here again is consolation for honest though timid souls; for they must be aware that they desire nothing so ardently as to be able to say, with St. Peter: “Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee,” and to do God’s will, imperfectly perhaps, but still as well as they can.

Therefore, if the Spirit of Pentecost is to dwell within us, we must be in earnest about our own sanctification; we must continue in God’s word; we must lead a life of prayer in our homes as well as at church; and we must love God by striving to obey Him and to do our duty. All these things involve much effort on our part, and we should ever bear in mind our Savior’s words: “Without me ye can do nothing.” To boast of our own powers and merits would be as foolish as for a little branch of a vine to boast of the grapes that hang upon it. All the credit of producing good fruit belongs to the vine and to the sap that flows through the branches, and, in the same way, all the credit of whatever good there may be in our lives belongs to Christ and His Holy Spirit, which permeates the whole body of the Church. Without Him we can indeed do nothing, but it is our fault if we are unfruitful branches; the cause of unfruitfulness is always the same,—refusal to abide in Christ.

The Holy Angels of God

The Holy Angels of God
 Rev. M. J. Watson, S.J.

“Bless the Lord, all ye His Angels, you that are mighty in strength,
and execute His word, hearkening to the voice of His orders.”
Psalm 103:20 (Psalm 102:20 in the Vulgate.).

A sticking feature of the history of the human race, as set forth for our instruction and contemplation in the Bible, is the kindly dealing of Angels with men. We read that the holy spirits, appearing in visible forms on certain important occasions, made known how the Creator’s Will was to be carried into effect for man’s benefit in time and eternity. As those sublime intelligences are to be our companions in bliss and glory throughout the endless years of our life in heaven, it is assuredly fitting that here on earth we should try to know and love beings so worthy of esteem for their peerless perfection and display riches of gratitude and affection for the many benefits they confer on man.

Angels are the most noble and beautiful creations of God’s wisdom and power; they are princes of heaven, and the brightest images of Divine excellence. Not imprisoned, as men are, in corruptible bodies, they are all pure spirits, like God Himself, and are endowed with surpassing natural and supernatural gifts. Man, in his nature, is inferior to them in every way; he is made, the Scripture declares, “less than the Angels”; but when, after death, we are delivered from the bonds of corruption, we shall share in their privileges and their glory.

In the beginning, the Angels did not see God face to face; that Beatific Vision was to be the reward of their obedience and humility. That their love of God might be tested, they were subjected to a trial. As is generally believed the Son of God, in His future Incarnation as man, was proposed to them as the object of their adoration. No doubt, God the Son, considered merely in His human nature, with a body formed of the dust of the earth, was inferior to the Angels, who were spirits; but that human nature, by reason of its union with the Divinity, was worthy of their profound veneration and worship. Lucifer, one of the chief Angels, seeing his own excellence, was puffed up with pride, and refused to obey; but Michael and the spirits faithful to God, preserved by reverence and truth in true humility, fought against the rebels and cast them into the prison “which was prepared for the devil and his angels.” “I saw,” said Our Lord Jesus Christ, “Satan like lightning falling from heaven.”

God’s Holy Angels, as the reward of their fidelity, were admitted to gaze upon their Creator with unclouded knowledge. Standing in His presence and inflamed with perfect love, they are clothed with surpassing splendour, and thrill with complete and eternal happiness, which is ever fresh and new. Most worthy are those glorious beings of our reverence. Being spirits, we cannot see them with our eyes of flesh, but when, by Divine permission, they make themselves visible to men, they always appear under a noble and gracious form, as if their beauty, incapable of being wholly concealed, breaks through the external appearance they assume. Thus, the Bible tells us that the Angel Raphael showed himself to Tobias as “a beautiful young man.”

King Nabuchodonosor saw an Angel whose majestic and dazzling loveliness could belong to none, he thought, but the Son of God. (See Daniel Chapter 3.) When the prophet Daniel stood one day by the great river Tigris, he beheld an Angel who was appareled in snow-white linen, girt with cincture of finest gold: “his body was like the chrysolite, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as a burning lamp; and his arms and all downward, even to the feet, like in appearance to glittering brass, and the voice of his word like the voice of a multitude” (Daniel 10:4-8). Consternation seized the prophet, and his strength ebbing away, he fell on the earth and held his face close to the ground. The Angel gently raised him to his feet and gave him strength to hear a message from God regarding the coming of the promised Messiah.

Each human being has an Angel to stand ever by his side and help him to resist temptation and win the Kingdom of Heaven. How much we owe our Guardian Angels! They preserve us from many unknown dangers to soul and body. They defend us against the demons. They breathe holy thoughts into our soul; they prompt us to deeds, even heroic deeds, of virtue, in the Divine service, and they fling their mighty strength around us when we are dying and so save us from the last attacks of our spiritual foes. Full of zeal and jealous are they for God’s honor, for the interest of those committed to their care, and for the innocence of the young. “Beware,” says Our Savior, “of giving scandal to those little ones; for their Angels always behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

Saint Bernard tells us that we owe our Angels profound respect for their presence, and confidence in their love and power to protect us, as well as gratitude for the great benefits, which they confer. The heavenly spirits look upon themselves as our elder brothers; nay, to speak in our human way, they are passionate lovers of all whom God has charged them to guard.

Saint Paul says: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). And in the 90th Psalm of the Vulgate (or Psalm 91 in the Hebrew), the Holy Ghost declares: “No evil shall approach unto you, neither shall the scourge come nigh your dwelling. For He has given His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways: in their hands they shall bear you up, lest haply you dash your foot against a stone.” Through this angelic guardianship, “you shall walk upon the asp and the basilisk; the lion and the dragon shall you trample under foot.” Thus do they watch over each individual soul, even if that soul is in a state of sin, and they act as protectors to hamlets, cities and kingdoms. In the Book of Exodus (13:21) we see how, in the desert, an Angel of God went before the people to show the way by day in a pillar of cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire, that he might be the guide of their journey at both times.

We may, indeed, say that this earth of ours is full of innumerable spirits to defend all who are specially dear to God. When an army, with horses and chariots, beset the city of Samaria to slay the prophet Eliseus (Elisha), and the prophet’s servant cried out in terror, Eliseus prayed: “Lord, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the eyes of the servant and he saw, and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Eliseus. And the prophet said: “Fear not, for, as you see, there are more with us than with them.” (2 Kings, chapter 6. The Vulgate calls the book ‘4 Kings’.).

Also, when Sennacherib, the King of the Assyrians, marched with a mighty army against Jerusalem, an Angel of the Lord protected the city, and entering in the night into the Assyrian camp, slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand men; and Sennacherib departed and returned to his own land. This event is graphically described by the poet, Lord Byron:

For the angel of death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed on the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers wax’d deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved and for ever grew still.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broken in the temples of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, smote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.

The prophet Zachary (Zachariah) represents the Angels as declaring: “We have walked through the earth, and behold all the earth is inhabited and at rest” (Zechariah 1:11). Thus, by day and by night, there are countless angelic guardians that fill this world of ours and keep watch both when we wake and when we sleep.

In the works of Cardinal [Blessed John Henry] Newman, a beautiful passage dwells upon this fact of the Angels’ unresting watchfulness in their ministry among men and of their unceasing operations in the sphere of nature and of grace. The passage referred to is here quoted in full:

When we survey Almighty God surrounded by His Holy Angels, His thousands of ministering spirits, and ten thousand times ten thousand standing before Him, the idea of His awful majesty rises before us more powerfully and impressively; we begin to see how little we are, how altogether mean and worthless in ourselves, and how high He is and fearful.

The very lowest of His Angels is indefinitely above us in this our present state; how high then must be the Lord of Angels! The very Seraphim hide their faces before His glory while they praise Him; how shamefaced, then, should sinners be, when they come into His presence! Thus, whenever we look abroad, we are reminded of those most gracious and holy beings, the servants of the Holiest, who deign to minister to the heirs of salvation. Every breath of air and ray of light and heat, every beautiful prospect is, as it were, the skirts of their garments, the waving of the robes of those whose faces see God in heaven, and I put it to anyone whether it is not as philosophical, and as full of intellectual enjoyment, to refer the movements of the natural world to them as to attempt to explain them by certain theories of science, useful as these theories certainly are for particular purposes, and capable (in subordination to that higher view) of a religious application.

Suppose an inquirer into Nature, when examining a flower, or a herb, or a pebble, or a ray of light, which he treats as something beneath him in the scale of existence, suddenly discovered that he was in the presence of some powerful being, who was hidden behind the visible things he was inspecting, who, though concealing his wise hand, was giving them their beauty, grace, and perfection, as being God’s instrument for the purpose, nay, whose robe and ornament those wondrous objects were which he was so eager to analyze, what would be his thoughts?

Should we but accidentally show a rudeness of manner towards our fellowman, tread on the hem of his garment, or brush roughly against him, are we not vexed, not as if we had hurt him, but from the fear we have of having been disrespectful? David had watched the awful pestilence three days, not with curious eyes, but doubtless with indescribable terror and remorse; but when at length he lifted up
his eyes, and saw the Angel of the Lord (who caused the pestilence) stand between the earth and the heavens, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem, then David and the elders who were clothed in sackcloth fell upon their faces. The mysterious, irresistible pestilence became still more fearful when its cause was known. And what is true of the painful is true, on the other hand, of the pleasant and attractive operations of Nature. When, then, we walk abroad and meditate in the field at eventide, how much has every herb and flower in it to surprise and overwhelm us?

For, even did we know as much about them as the wisest of men, yet there are those around us, though unseen, to whom our greatest knowledge is as ignorance; and when we converse on the subjects of Nature, scientifically repeating the names of plants and earths, and describing their properties, we should do so religiously, as in the hearing of the great servants of God, with the sort of
diffidence which we always feel when speaking before the learned and wise of our own mortal race, as poor beginners in intellectual knowledge as well as in moral attainments.

Parochial Sermons,” Volume II, Sermon 29.

The Angelic Spirits are divided into Nine Choirs, mentioned in Holy Scripture.

1. The Seraphim, whose distinguishing characteristic is burning love for God.
2. The Cherubim, who possess a wondrous knowledge of God and of His infinite beauty.
3. The Thrones, the representatives of God’s Majesty.
4. The Dominations: they teach that the true way to hold rule or dominion and to reign is to serve God, and so possess true liberty, or freedom from passion and sin, and from the slavery of the devil.
5. The Virtues, who represent God’s Might, and impart strength and fortitude in the Divine service.
6. The Powers: they restrain the malice, craft, and power of the demons, lead men to obey all lawful authority for God’s sake.
7. The Principalities, the guardians of provinces, kingdoms, and peoples.
8. The Archangels, the captains of the heavenly armies, are sent by the Most High as His messengers to men.
9. The Angels: from this, the lowest Choir, the Guardians of individual human beings are taken, although it may be that Guardian Angels are appointed, also, from the higher Choirs.

We read in the Apocalypse (1: 4 and 4:5) of seven spirits who stand always before the Throne of God.

The three mighty Angels, whose names are given in the Bible, belong to this glorious company;

Saint Michael (“Who is like God?”), the conqueror of Lucifer;
Saint Gabriel (“the Strength of God”), the ambassador of the Incarnation;
and Saint Raphael, endowed with the power to heal all infirmity and the ravages of sin, whose name signifies ” the Medicine of God.”

Some say that the Angel who slew the host of Sennacherib, was Saint Uriel (“the Strong Companion”), but his name is not mentioned in the Bible.

Volumes have been written on the Holy Angels, full of most interesting matter; but even the slight and imperfect sketch in this pamphlet may serve to show how worthy of serious attention is devotion to those Heavenly Princes, and how we ought to take to heart the advice of Pope Saint Leo the Great, “Confirmate amicilias cum sanctis angelis”; “Make friendships with the Holy Angels.” Certainly, no earthly friends can vie with them in goodness, in power, and in love for men. Therefore, all through life we should regard them as our most faithful friends, and invoke their help daily in prosperity and affliction.

NOTE: An easy way to practice devotion to these Nine Choirs is, on Sunday to honor (by asking their prayers) the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and the Thrones; on Monday, the Holy Dominations; on Tuesday, the Holy Virtues; on Wednesday, the Holy Powers; on Thursday, the Holy Principalities; on Friday, the Archangels; and, on Saturday, the Choir of Angels.

It is extraordinary what great benefits to body, mind and soul are obtained by sincere and persevering devotion to those Most Glorious Heavenly Princes.

Appendix 

Saint Peter And His Guardian Angel
(Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 12)

And at the same time, Herod the king stretched forth his hands, to afflict some of the Church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.

And seeing that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to take up Peter also. Now it was in the days of the azymes. And when he had apprehended him, he cast him into prison, delivering him to four files of soldiers to be kept, intending after the Pasch to bring him forth to the people. Peter, therefore, was kept in prison. But prayer was made without ceasing by the Church unto God for him.

And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And behold an Angel of the Lord stood by him: and a light shined in the room: and he striking Peter on the side raised him up, saying: Arise quickly. And the chains fell off from his hands. And the Angel said to him: Gird yourself, and put on your sandals. And he did so. And he said to him: Cast your garment about you, and follow me. And going out he followed him, and he knew not that it was true which was done by the Angel: but thought he saw a vision. And passing through the first and the second ward, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which of itself opened to them. And going out, they passed on through one street: and immediately the Angel departed from him. And Peter coming to himself, said: Now I know in very deed that the Lord has sent His Angel, and has delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

And considering, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, who was surnamed Mark, where many were gathered together and praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, whose name was Rhoda. And as soon as she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for joy, but running in she told that Peter stood before the gate. But they said to her: You are mad. But she affirmed that it was so. Then said they it is his Angel. But Peter continued knocking. And when they had opened, they saw him, and were astonished. But he, beckoning to them with his hand to hold their peace, told how the Lord had brought him out of prison and he said: Tell these things to James and to the brethren. And going out he went into another place.

Now when day was come there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter. And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not; having examined the keepers, he commanded they should be put to death: and going down from Judea to Caesarea, he abode there. And he was angry with the Tyrians and the Sidonians. But they with one accord came to him, and having gained Blastus, who was the king’s chamberlain, they desired peace, because their countries were nourished by him. And upon a day appointed, Herod being arrayed in kingly apparel, sat in the judgment-seat, and made an oration to them. And the people made acclamation, saying: It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And forthwith an Angel of the Lord struck him, because he had not given the honour to God: and being eaten up by worms, he gave up the ghost. But the word of the Lord increased and multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, having fulfilled their ministry, taking with them John, who was surnamed Mark.

Saint Michael 

“There was a great battle in heaven; Michael and his Angels fought with the
Dragon, and the Dragon fought and his Angels: and they prevailed not, neither
was their place found any more in heaven.”

Apocalypse 12:7-8.

Saint Michael, who is the guardian and patron of the Church, is considered to be the first of all the Angels in glory, and the most exalted of the Seraphim. He is called an Archangel when he acts as a messenger from God to men. The Lord has given him the office of defending the soul at death, conducting it to judgment, and leading it, if found pure enough, to the Kingdom of the Blessed.

The feast of Saint Michael and all Angels is observed on September 29th, every year. A similar Feast, called the Apparition of Saint Michael, falls on the 8th May. The Divine Office and Mass of the two Feasts are substantially the same. (Rubrics of Saint Pius V.)

Friend of Mine: Our Lord and His Love

Friend of Mine: Our Lord and His Love
By Robert Nash, S.J.

All His life long, Jesus Christ had been trying to make men know Him. Shortly before the end, He rode in triumph into Jerusalem. The streets and the archways re-echoed with cheering, for the people had formed themselves into a procession, and were shouting themselves hoarse. “Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.” They thronged close about the Prophet and waved palm branches and spread their garments on the ground for Him to walk on. Today His enemies are filled with impotent rage. They are out of the picture; the whole world is gone after Him.

Jesus Unknown

So slow had the Master been about making a beginning of the foundation of His Kingdom that even His disciples had chafed at the delay. But this day marks a welcome change. Today the crowds are acclaiming Him King and He does not prevent them. On the contrary, He declares that if they were silent, the very stones of the street would cry cut. Today, then, He sets Himself at the head of His people to lead them to victory. Hated Rome shall lie in the dust before His triumphant advance, and once more Jerusalem will be able to lift her head high and take pride of place before the nations of the world as capital of Christ’s Kingdom. Wherefore, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!’

Thus pleasingly did they muse as they walked along. But presently the picture was rudely jolted out of focus. A short distance outside the city Christ halts, and they turn around to look in His direction. They are suddenly surprised, suddenly apprehensive. For they see that while every face about Him is radiant with happiness, tears dim the eyes of Jesus. Hope surges high in every other breast, but the Heart of Christ is weighed down with sorrow. For, though this morning they are all acclaiming Him their King, He knows that in a few days they will yell like wild beasts for His blood. Today it is “Hosanna!” On Friday, it will be “Crucify Him.” In spite of all their enthusiasm, they do not know Him, these thoughtless multitudes around Him. And Jesus wept on Palm Sunday, His day of triumph, because Jerusalem “did not know the day of her visitation.”

But it was not only the rabble who failed to know Christ. On the following Thursday night, He has His own twelve all to Himself, at the Last Supper. Though it is a festive gathering, the same sad complaint forces itself to His lips. These twelve are His closest friends; for three years they have been near Him; side by side they have worked and prayed and slept and eaten and drank and spoken intimately together, and now, after it all, even they do not know Him. Their ideas about Him and His Kingdom and His mission are all distorted. He is sorely disappointed that they are so slow of heart. “So long a time have I been with you, and you have not known Me!” His own twelve! And lifting up His eyes to the Father, He prays for them: “. . . that they may know You, the one true God, and Jesus Christ Whom You have sent.”

A man was kneeling in prayer in a dark cave. In his countenance there shone a brilliant light; it was the reflection of the burning love for Christ that was glowing in that man’s heart. Through a life of prayer and sacrifice, this man had come to know Christ intimately, and the knowledge had transformed him. He had turned his back on a soldier’s career because Christ had worked and died for souls, and he wanted to do the same. Christ was poor; this man had given away his last coin and was now living on alms. Christ prayed and fasted; since he came here to this cave he, too, has fasted and prayed. But with all this, his love is not yet satisfied. A great prayer forms itself in the heart of that great man, and springs to his lips: “Lord, that I may know You more clearly still, in order that I may love You more dearly and follow You more nearly.”

Manresa

And Ignatius Loyola came out of Manresa to tell the world what he had found in that cave. There he had come to know Christ, and so stunned was he at the discovery that he could know no rest. That knowledge brought him love for Christ, and the fire of personal love for Jesus of Nazareth drove him out into the world obsessed with a craving to share his secret with others. The knowledge and love of Jesus Christ had so revolutionised his whole outlook, he now saw so clearly the foolhardiness of all else, that the indifference of the world to Christ and the utter blindness to His love made him yearn to spend himself unreservedly on the task of teaching to men this Christ Whom he had found. So he gathered a band of followers around him into whom he fused his own passionate devotion to Christ and His cause, and then he scattered them to the four corners of the earth, giving them one only command: “Go and set the whole world on fire with the love of Jesus Christ.”

That is what happened to Ignatius Loyola when once he came to know Christ. Our object in these pages is to look upon one trait of the infinitely beautiful character of that same Christ. Even this may help to a deeper knowledge of Him, and it is not possible to know Him and withhold one’s love and one’s eagerness to imitate Him.

There is a whole world of difference between knowing Christ and knowing about Christ. If a man is interested, let us say, in some branch of science, he may know much about an eminent scientist who lives at the antipodes (the other side of the world from himself). He knows all the facts of the man’s life — where he was born, what studies he has pursued, the countries he has visited, the books he has written, the chain of circumstances that led him to settle down in a distant country. But the man himself he does not know until he meets him face to face.

Now it is the intensest yearning of Jesus to make men know Him in this intimate way. He is ever trying to make contact with them, and to let them understand that when He tells them His Sacred Heart is on fire with love for them He is not using the language of metaphor, but is stating the simple truth.

The Key to Christ

Love is, perhaps, the trait of Our Lord’s character that first impresses itself upon our minds as soon as we begin to know Him. This is to be expected, for proofs of that love crowd into every page, one might almost say into every line, of the Gospel story. There He holds up for us to look at, a Heart throbbing with a love which is the very embodiment of sincerity. So astonishingly genuine is His love; so solid and unshaken and unchanged does it stand in face of the assaults of treachery and falsehood; so completely does it efface the memory of the cowardice, the pettiness, the selfishness, the crimes even, of the sinner who falls down on his knees and asks to be forgiven; so exultant is it when men at last begin to get a small glimpse of its reality, and so keenly disappointed when they will not believe in it; so eager is it to make every allowance and to discover every excuse: in a word, so immeasurably beyond the ambit of our small minds to fathom, or our halting speech to utter, is this wonderful thing: the love of Christ for men, that the saints — they who best “learned Christ” — have made language yield up all her treasures of eloquence in the effort to tell us about it.

And with what result? Why, only to lay down their pens and confess that they despair of the task. Only to proclaim that that love is a luminary so bright that it stands out apart, quite on its own, dwarfing all human love, or, rather, taking into itself everything there is in human love of beauty and of truth, and excluding every taint of the selfishness by which human love is often marred. The fact is that there is no finding of words adequately to expose the treasures of love for men that are contained in Christ’s Sacred Heart. Prayer opens wide the door of that treasure-house; the earnest seeker knocks and is given admission; he looks around in astonishment, and gradually two truths break in on his mind.

The first of these is that God is love. Saint John learned that when he leaned close to Christ’s Heart at the Last Supper. When, later, he wanted to sum up all God’s attributes — His eternity, His justice, His awful sanctity, His infinite perfection — he chose love as being the best epitome of them all. “God is love,” and the soul of prayer makes that its first discovery.

But even more astonishing still is the second truth. All this wealth of love of God is waiting to be poured out on each individual who finds his way to this treasure-house. “Yea, I have loved you with an everlasting love.” “He loved me,” writes Saint Paul, “and He delivered Himself up for me.”

Forgiveness

Certain it is that this fire of Our Lord’s love shines out most brilliantly when it gathers into itself the sorrowful heart of the prodigal, and makes him realize that its flames have completely burned up every trace and every memory of his sin. The soul then understands that Our Lord fulfills, as no one ever did, as no one ever shall, that fine definition of a friend — a man who knows everything about me, and loves me just the same. The welcome back springs spontaneously from the Sacred Heart. There is no censure, no complaint, no aloofness, no formality. It is no time for formality when the welcoming Christ is overflowing with joy that His child is beginning at last to understand the utter truth of His love. And it is just at this moment, too, when the sinner stands before this forgiving Christ, stands and looks at his own selfishness and his meanness, that he best appreciates Our Lord’s generosity in forgetting all about it. Of course, he is forgiven; he knows quite well he is. But he has deliberately hurt a Friend, and the remembrance of his ingratitude and the pain he has caused burns into his brain and brings to his eyes tears of sweet repentance. In the light of his sin, he understands better than ever before how much Christ loves him. The very sincerity of the welcome back serves only to bring, hot from the heart, acts of sorrow and protestations that he is fixed in his determination to efface the past by a life of utter loyalty to that Friend in future. This is how this extraordinary Lover of men takes the sinner’s load of crimes from his shoulders, and from it welds, all the stronger and closer, the golden chain binding the sinner’s heart to the Sacred Heart. Christ will make of even his very sins, stepping-stones to higher things.

Saint Peter learned this, and the story of his schooling is a drama in three acts.

Three Chapters

Peter and the others are seated with the Master it the Last Supper. Our Lord is sad tonight, and, to these friends of His, “His own,” He reveals part of the cause of His sadness. For the last time, (He knows it,) He is in the midst of His own whom He loves so well. He is longing to make them understand Him, to give them at least some insight into the affection He has for them. Above all, He wants them to be loyal to Him. He wants to be able to lean on them for support during this terrifying Passion that is about to break in on Him tonight. But they are going to fail Him, and He knows it. He looks around the table sadly, looks from Peter to John, from John to Andrew, and so round about the entire group. Quite quietly, quite deliberately, He stretches out both hands in a comprehensive gesture, and, including the whole twelve, He tells them: “All you shall be scandalised in Me this night. One of you will even betray Me. . . . The hand of the traitor is with Me on the table.”

For a moment, they are struck dumb with horror and surprise. Scandalized in Him! Ashamed of Him! Traitors! Never would that be said of them, His very own, chosen out of the whole world. The Master must surely be mistaken. They can trust themselves that much at least, that they know they love Him and are ready to follow Him even to suffering and to death. Especially is Peter’s generous heart chilled at the suggestion. “Lord,” he says, when at length he finds his speech, though still his voice is hoarse under the strong emotion, “Lord, I will never be scandalized in You. The other eleven? Well, they, perhaps. But Peter? Lord, depend on Peter! Even though all should be scandalized, yet not I.” He means it, indeed, but the Lord knew Peter. “Peter,” He tells him, “the cock will not crow till you deny Me three times.” This is piling agony upon agony and Peter cannot believe. It is not possible. And he spoke the more vehemently: “Lord, I am ready to go with You to prison and to death. Even though I should die together with You, I will never deny You.” And in like manner spoke all His disciples.

Danger!

A few hours elapse and the scene changes to the barrack-yard outside the palace of Caiphas. Our Lord has been arrested down in Gethsemane and dragged through the street, and now He is inside, standing His trial before Annas. The night is cold, and out here in the yard, the soldiers gather round the fire to discuss the latest happenings. They have secured this Man Christ at last. For a long time He has been a source of trouble to the authorities, but tonight will seal His fate. What chance has He between the cunning Annas and the unscrupulous Caiphas? Indeed, truth to tell, on other occasions He had made away and nobody seemed able to tell how. But tonight they have made sure of His capture. Where so many others had failed they have succeeded, and they hope their masters will not forget that for them. Although, when all was said and done, the night’s work had been a simple enough task. There had been practically no resistance, for the Man’s friends had scampered away at the first sign of danger. One of them, indeed, had made some show of defense. In a sudden flare of zeal and anger, he had drawn a sword, but presently the flare had died down again, and he, too, had deserted his Master and had run off with the others.

In this strain, the conversation continues — the men sitting there with their hands spread out towards the grateful blaze of the fire, and regaling themselves at intervals with a draught from the bottles dangling from their belts. And, of all the people in the world, seated there, right in the midst of these soldiers, is Simon Peter — his face white with fear, his heart in his breast frozen with terror lest they notice him. What they are saying is true indeed. He it was who had drawn that sword and afterwards had run away when he saw the Master a Prisoner. He had retraced his steps, however, and, sorrowful and ashamed of his cowardice, he had succeeded in gaining admission to this courtyard, whence he might follow Jesus afar off and see the end. But now misery is eating into his very soul. What a fool he has been! Better never to have come back! Why did he not remain in safety with the others! Instead, in his impetuous way, he has rushed into the jaws of danger. He has had the foolhardiness to come into this place where he can do nothing at all to help the Master, and where every moment he is incurring the risk of being himself suspected and imprisoned. He must watch his chance and make good his escape before it is too late.

The Link Broken

His thoughts are rudely interrupted. Clear and loud above the coarse mutterings of the men rings out the shrill note of a girl’s voice. “Why,” she cries, “here is the very man you are talking about. Here is the friend of your Christ who drew his sword down in the garden.” And she points an accusing finger in the direction of the apostle. For one agonizing moment fear for himself and love for his Master have a fierce struggle in Peter’s heart. He stands still, with head bent, undecided, quite taken by surprise. But already they are gathering around him and scrutinizing his features more closely in the glare of the firelight. He must save himself at all costs. “It’s a lie,” he mutters. “I do not know Whom you are talking about! I never met the Man in my life.”

But they are not to be put off so easily. “A lie!” they repeat mockingly. “No, friend of Christ, if there is a lie it is on your side. Why, even your very accent betrays you that you are a Galilean. And did we not see you in the garden with Him?” Peter dare not gainsay these arguments, and so he has recourse to cursing and swearing. Three several times he declares he knows nothing of this Christ of theirs, and then, cloaking his fear under show of indignation, he rushes from the fireplace and his accusers, determined to get away at once before there is any more trouble. Hisses of contempt follow him, and the men hurl after him their threats and their scoffs. And Peter, still cursing and swearing that he knows not the Man, hurries from them in feigned rage, and makes straight for the gate of the courtyard.

“The Lord Turning”

He has about two-thirds of the way covered between the fire and the gate when all at once, he stops dead and stands staring blankly before him like a man changed into a block of marble. What has happened to mesmerize him like this? At the farther end of the yard, there is a balcony leading from the house of Annas to the house of Caiphas, and, just at that very moment, Our Lord is being led across. For a few seconds only, their eyes met — the eyes of Jesus and the eyes of Peter. “And the Lord, turning, looked at Peter.” There is a whole world of pathos in the evangelist’s simple words. That look of Christ seemed to choke Peter’s heart with sorrow. Light shone down from those eyes of Christ and penetrated into the deep places of Peter’s soul. It was like the flash of lightning that dazzles one in the midst of a black night.

In an instant, the flash was over, but it had lasted long enough to show the whole horrible truth to Peter. He had betrayed his Friend! He, Peter, who had been so loud in his protestations of loyalty only a few hours ago! Peter, who had left all things to follow Christ! Peter, for whom Our Lord had prayed especially that his faith might not fail! Peter, who was to confirm his brethren, to be their prop and their model! Peter, to whom had been made that promise that he should be lifted up to the high eminence of head of Christ’s Church! Peter had betrayed Christ! All Christ’s lovable ways stand out in his memory more lovable than ever now in the light of Peter’s fall — His patience, His thoughtfulness, His unfailing courtesy, His unselfishness. And Peter had betrayed Him! Not once either, but many times! And not by a simple denial, but with cursing and swearing that he never knew Him! And all because of the accusation of a whimpering servant-girl! The remorse of it! Such a Friend betrayed! And by such an apostle! And for such a reason! Echoes start suddenly in the much tortured brain. “Even though all should deny You. . . .” “I am ready to go with You to prison and to death.” “I will never be scandalized. . . .” “And the Lord turning, looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word which the Lord had spoken: ‘Before the cock crows, you will deny Me three times.’ And going out he wept bitterly.”

Absolution

The clouds of the Passion have rolled away. It is early morning. Peter and the others have been out in their little smack all night fishing the waters of the lake. It has been a wearisome night of labour, casting their nets and hauling them up again, and they are very tired.

As they draw near, in the first grey streaks of dawn, the figure of a Man is just discernible standing on the seashore. They take no notice of Him at first, pre-occupied, as they are, tugging at the oars, and eager to reach home and secure their much-needed food and rest. But that Figure on the shore has attracted the attention of John. He peers intently out over the side of the boat, and then, reassured, he bends down and whispers into Peter’s ear. “That disciple, therefore, whom Jesus loved, said to Peter: ‘It is the Lord’.” Peter’s heart gives a bound of joy. Nets, boat, tackle, the labors of the night, his weariness and hunger — straightaway all these fall from his mind. One thought only obsesses him — Jesus is there, standing on the shore, and Peter must get to Him. The boat is too slow. Indeed, they have not far to go, but Peter’s impetuous love cannot be held in check. “Peter, therefore, when he heard that it was the Lord, girt his coat about him and cast himself into the sea” to come to Jesus.

Then follows a scene so lovely that any words used to reproduce it must seem almost a desecration. The rays of the morning sun just beginning to peep out of the east; the majestic Figure of the Christ, standing there on the white sand at the edge of the water; the little waves stealing in and breaking only a small distance away from His sandaled feet; and, on his knees before Him, Peter, his clothes dripping with the water of the lake, slipping his great rough seaman’s hands into the white hands of Christ, and stammering out his profession of love with all the simplicity of a little child. There is no embarrassment in Peter. He knows Jesus too well. Of course, everything is all right; the old loving relations are fully restored. Not only does Our Lord forgive, but Peter is quite sure that He will receive him in such a way that nobody looking on would suspect that He even knew about that terrible triple denial on Holy Thursday night.

“You Know All Things”

But Peter himself? Ah, he had inflicted a smarting wound on the Heart of a Friend Who never had an equal. And a great sorrow and a great love and a big resolve to undo the past surge up in Peter’s heart as he kneels here and grasps firmly the hands of the Master. And, once again, “the Lord turning, looks at Peter.” “Simon, son of John, love you Me?” Peter looks up, and this time he gazes steadily into the eyes of Christ. “Yes, Lord, I do love You, indeed.” A second time the same question: “Simon, son of John, love you Me?” And a second time the same avowal. “Love You, Lord? Why, of course I love You.” Still a third time: “Simon, son of John, love you Me?” And Peter is grieved. Is it possible that the Master doubts his love, seeing that He questions him thus three several times? More vehemently, he declares it now. “Lord, do You wish me to reassure You of my love? Lord, You know all things. You know that I love You.” A triple declaration of love to blot out for ever his triple denial, and the repentant Peter is lifted from his feet and raised to the highest pinnacle of greatness and honour that the loving Christ can find. “Feed My lambs; feed My sheep.” The first Vicar of Christ on earth is Peter, who denied Him, but repented of his sin. Such is the love of Christ.

Peter never knew Our Lord so well as when he had caused Him pain. He knew Christ best in the infinitely tactful, infinitely gentle, infinitely forgiving, infinitely loving welcome back given him that morning on the seashore. He had found Jesus Christ to be a friend — a Man Who knew everything about him and loved him just the same. He looked up into the eyes of Christ, and it was good to know that he was trusted still. And the Face of Christ is radiant, for He has found a man who is beginning to understand the sincerity of His love. The light in Christ’s Face blots out for Peter the brilliance of the morning sun, and he looks up wistfully and reads there the story of a love so great that words are only poor, feeble instruments to express it, a friendship so utterly genuine that no treachery or falsehood can alter it.

A Festering Sore

Among the twelve at the supper-table that Holy Thursday night, a man was sitting in whose heart a secret was festering like a horrible sore. Judas Iscariot was a sensible, hard-headed man of the world who had found Christ and His ideals to be a disappointment. Everything had looked so promising two years ago. Christ’s name was on everybody’s lips then, and the crowds followed Him everywhere. Judas, too, had begun to take an interest in the Man. People were saying that He had come to found a kingdom, to restore the splendor of the ancient Jews. There was no denying that the Man had a wonderful power — there was power in His words to draw the multitudes; in His touch, there was power, for with his own eyes Judas had seen lepers cleansed by that touch, sight restored, even the dead raised to life. Then He had the majestic bearing befitting a King. Perhaps there was truth in the reports that were current about Him, and, if so, Judas would want to be on the Man’s side, for he loved power dearly, and he worshipped money for the power it put into men’s hands.

So Judas had become more and more interested in this Man, Jesus of Nazareth, and more favorably disposed to listen to His teaching. Accordingly, he had been vastly pleased that morning two years ago when Jesus had singled him out of the multitude to be His special disciple. The scene was still fresh in his memory. Jesus had spent a day by the shore of Lake Genesareth, and from every side the crowds had gathered and thronged about Him. They brought to Him all that were sick, those possessed by devils, lunatics, palsied. And He, laying His hands upon them, cured them all. “Power went out from Him,” the evangelist was to write later — that power coveted by Judas, who was scanning every movement of Christ. That night Jesus went up the mountainside alone to pray — it was often His custom at the end of a day — and next morning the multitudes gathered again. And Christ, standing there before them on the brow of the hill, looked out over them, indicating clearly that He had some special concern this morning. Twelve men are called aside from the crowd; one by one, in His quiet, deliberate way, He selects them Himself, mentioning each one by name and assigning to each his place near Him. Henceforth, these are to be “His own.” Presently they sit down, Jesus and the twelve, and with the multitude facing Him and His twelve, Jesus opens His mouth and begins to teach. And amongst the twelve names called that day was that of Judas Iscariot.

For a while, he had sat there by the Master’s side, proud that he had been chosen so, and fully conscious that the eyes of many were fixed upon him with a holy envy. But all at once, his complacency receives a shock. Jesus is speaking to the crowds, and what is this Judas hears? “Blessed are the poor in spirit. . . . Woe to you that are rich!” The words jar harshly on the ears of Judas. He had dreamed of a wealthy kingdom in which he would wield power, but here is the Founder of the Kingdom advocating poverty and denouncing riches as a snare and a danger-trap. Already his fears are awakened that there is something wrong.

Disillusioned!

Throughout the two years, all Christ’s teaching has been consistent with this sermon on the Mount. Consistently He has told His followers to expect and to love poverty and suffering; to despise what the world values most highly, and to look for their reward, not in this world, which is only a passing show, but to “lay up treasure in heaven where neither rust nor moth can consume nor thieves break through and steal.” Gradually it becomes more and more clear to Judas that he has made a mistake. And lately there has been even a more serious development, for Christ has lashed with merciless rigor the Pharisees and the Scribes — the very men who hold the power! He has pursued them with relentless logic, and has unmasked their hypocrisy before all the people. Of course, they are enraged, and everybody knows they are only seeking an excuse to put Him to death. Yes, Judas made the mistake of his life when he took up with this Man. Jesus of Nazareth. But is the mistake irretrievable? He is indeed on the losing side for the moment, but a skillful and swift move can save him still — perhaps.

Dare he take that move? For at first he is horrified by the mere suggestion, and he rejects it. But, for all that, it comes back again another day, and this time it seems not quite so horrible after all. Judas looks at the idea, and, in a hazy kind of way, begins remotely to think out ways and means. Perhaps the thing is just feasible. Anyhow, the facts are that Judas wants money very badly; that for two whole years he has followed about after Jesus, Who is now clearly proved a visionary, and for his pains, he has been told to love poverty and insult! He has had enough of such unsavory doctrine. On the other hand, there are the Chief Priests, the Pharisees and the Scribes, the men with money, influence, and power. And these are Christ’s implacable enemies. No doubt about it, if they could discover a man willing to hand over this Jesus to them, they would pay him handsomely. Was it not a chance for Judas, who knew every move of the Master? An opportunity of recompensing himself for the disappointments and losses of the past two years?

Playing With Fire

But conscience? Well, what of conscience? Judas has sense enough to know that there are times when a man has to brush aside these petty conscientious scruples. Besides, he remembers that before this, attempts had been made to effect the capture, but Jesus had passed through His enemies in some unaccountable fashion. It is quite possible that the same is going to happen this time, too, but not until Judas has had his money! Anyhow, there can be no great harm in approaching the Chief Priests and finding out what their offer would be. Not that he is going to clinch a bargain with them! He will just throw out a leading question to give them a hint of what is passing in his mind, and see how far they would be willing to go.

That decision once taken, the remaining chapters in Judas’ story follow in rapid succession. That night, under cover of darkness, the wretched man slips down the street and knocks at the door of the Chief Priest’s house. It is opened, and Judas is admitted to the chamber where Annas and Caiphas and the other great men are holding council. It is the interminable question — how are they going to silence for ever this fearless Christ, Who is destroying their prestige with the people? They are frankly surprised to see Judas, a known disciple of the Man they hate. What can Judas want with them, and at this hour? He has no time for apologies or introductions, for he has been driven in here by a restless hankering for something, anything almost, other than Christ. Christ is not enough for Judas; Christ is a disappointment to Judas; what can Judas get instead of Christ? That is his quest tonight. “What will you give me,” he blurts out, “and I will betray Him?”

They are taken aback. This was more than they had hoped for in their wildest dreams. Is there any mistaking Judas’ meaning? They observe him shrewdly, and the lips twitching with nervous excitement and the eyes glowing with greed reassure them. In such a place and at such a time. “Him” can only mean Jesus, but that hallowed name is stifled in the throat of the traitor apostle.

Treachery

Sure of their ground now, and recovered somewhat from the first shock of surprise, it is only with an effort that they succeed in controlling their delight. Why, if Judas can guarantee his side of the bargain, they are willing to go to almost any price. But they are not going to say so all at once, for they are careful Jews, and if they can have the capture effected at a low figure, why pay more than they need? What would Judas say to thirty pieces of silver? That was quite a fair sum. He would recall that it was the price laid down in their book of Exodus as the price to be paid to a master if his slave was injured. And Judas, dazzled by the glitter of the silver, sweeps the coins into his wallet and signs the promise that he will hand Christ over to them. “And from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him in the absence of the multitude.”

That is the horrible secret that is raging in the miserable man’s breast as he sits tonight at table with Jesus and the other eleven. Ever since he struck that fatal bargain, he has been ill at ease in this company. And now, as Jesus, in His quiet, deliberate way, begins to speak to them, His words strike the ears of Judas like a thunderbolt. “All of you will be scandalized in Me this night. . . . The hand of him that will betray Me is with Me on the table. . . . The Son of Man indeed goes. . . . But woe to that man by whom the Son of Man will be betrayed. It were better for him if that man had not been born.”

“Is It I, Lord?”

It is a warning for Judas from the merciful Christ. But by this time, sin has eaten its way deep into the soul of the wretched man, and he refuses to yield. Christ he has tried in the balance and found wanting. He prefers his bag of silver and the good graces of the men with power. Very soon, he will be finished for ever with this company of dreamers, but even with them, he must be tactful and diplomatic to the end. He will face Christ and brazen out His ominous warning. What does he care? And so, when deep concern lines the faces of these true lovers of Christ, the traitor, too, feigns alarm. Christ, it seems, knows the secret of Judas’ heart. What of that, then? And, with an insolence that is incredible, he looks up into the eyes of the Master. “A traitor, Lord? It is not I, is it?” And he points his index finger towards his breast. A mighty grace has been offered and rejected, and the Heart of Christ is crushed with sorrow and pain. He will not force this wayward man; He never does. Judas will have his way. Christ, having tried in vain to save Judas from his sin, makes sure now to shield at least his reputation with the others. “Judas, what you do, do quickly.” The eleven were accustomed to orders like this being given to Judas, for he carried the purse and was the trusted apostle. Frequently the Master would have some special commission for Judas to execute. Accordingly, they thought no more about him when he left the supper room and went out into the darkness, bent, they believed, on some errand of mercy undertaken at the bidding of Jesus. The traitor’s good name with the others is still intact. That much at least Christ’s love has made sure, even if He has failed to save him from his sin.

It Was Night.

“Judas, therefore . . . went out. And it was night.” Darkness fell down upon the soul of the apostle, and he hastened recklessly to destruction. We find him next with a cohort of soldiers drawing near the garden of Gethsemane. With nervous tread, he walks along, a little ahead of the rest. There is an undefined fear clutching at his heart — the warning note of conscience — which all his self-assurances and specious reasonings have not succeeded in reducing to silence. How can he draw back now, even if he wanted to? Poor Judas! But even yet, even now, on the very edge of the precipice, will that Christ he has rejected make a final effort to arouse his sorrow and win back his love once more? Christ has been kneeling in prayer under the olive trees, but on the approach of the soldiers and their leader, He rises from His knees and goes forward to meet them. By now, the traitor has become quite callous. Conscience is a delicate instrument, easily blunted. Let the Christ save Himself if He will and as best He may. Judas has made his bargain and he is going to stand by it.

“Judas, therefore, gave them a sign, saying: ‘Whomsoever I shall kiss, the same is He. Hold Him fast. Lead Him away carefully’.” “And he brushes aside the branches of the trees with both hands and emerges into the moonlight”. Yes, there is the Man standing erect before him, the Man Who loved Judas, and loves Judas still, but to Judas the Man is a disappointment. “And he kissed Him.” Is there any hope left for Judas? For, if there is still even a shadow of a chance of saving him, this loving Christ will seize upon it. Will not Judas pause and think?

From his place there in the embrace of Judas Jesus looks steadily into the traitor’s eyes. Such a look does He give him as will afterwards break the heart of Peter. Peter’s sin was a sin of weakness. Judas was more calculating. He had sat down and reckoned up the profits and losses, and had calmly and deliberately decided that the contract was worth while. Once more Christ will plead and warn, but He will not compel. Love must be won, not forced. “Friend, whereunto are you come? Judas, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” “And he kissed Him.” Again, Jesus has verified in Himself that definition of a Friend — a Man Who knows all about another and loves him just the same. As He looks straight into the traitor’s heart, every single incident, from the first dallying with the temptation to this terrifying consummation, is spread out before His eyes like the pages of an open book. And, even in the face of all this treachery and ingratitude, Christ loves Judas still; Christ pleads with Judas to think and repent even still, but Judas will not be won. “And he kissed Him.”

Sweet Sin

There is a sweetness about sin, as there is a sweetness about poison. That sweetness Judas had tasted. He had handled his money. He had ingratiated himself, parasite-like, into the favor of the men with power and influence. No doubt about it, they would remember it for him that they owed Christ’s arrest to his co-operation and plans. He had felt the importance of his position at the head of a troop of soldiers who awaited his orders. That was all that much made up the sweetness of sin for Judas Iscariot. What a miserable pittance for which to betray Christ! The bewitching of trifles! But the worst was not yet. Who tastes the sweetness of poison must surely pay a bitter penalty, and who takes sin into his heart holds an asp close to his breast. This, too, Judas discovered. No sooner is his crime completed and he has stowed the unresisting Christ into the hands of His enemies, than Judas is torn with remorse. Back he rushes to the Chief Priests with the coins in his hands. “I have sinned,” he cries, in a voice hoarse with despair. “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood!”

They smile upon him condescendingly. He has done his work very well. The bargain had been made and kept. They had paid the price settled upon, and Judas had secured their Victim. Indeed, he has been a useful tool in their hands, but now he is of use no longer. “Innocent blood! Why, Judas, that is your own affair. Look you to it then.” Why did he not foresee all this misery? Why did he not heed Christ’s warnings, repeated so lovingly and so insistently? He had dreamed of wealth, but now he has flung away even the thirty pieces of silver, for they were burning like coals of fire in his hands. He had fondly imagined that the betrayal would open the way to power, but these great men have just turned sneeringly from him. He is stunned at last into realizing that sin is a huge deception.

A hatred seizes upon him, hatred for all men and hatred for himself. He must get away, anywhere, provided he be left alone. And as he rushes out, he knows not where and cares not, a vision rises up once more before his tortured brain — the Face of Jesus of Nazareth: Jesus, Who had said He was ready to forgive the repentant sinner not once merely, not seven times merely, but till seventy times seven times. Jesus, Who had poured words of merciful forgiveness into the ear of Mary Magdalene, and had made her the inseparable companion of His Immaculate Mother. Jesus, Who had lifted up the woman taken in adultery and saved her from her enemies. Jesus, Who had sat with publicans and sinners, Who had been accused of being their Friend, and had admitted the truth of the accusation. Jesus, Who had looked so compassionately at Judas himself tonight and had spoken His warnings with so much gentleness and tact — the Face of that Jesus haunts his brain now, but still Judas resists. “My sin is greater than that I should hope for pardon.”

Despair

Blindly he hastens away to the lonely valley of Hinnon, trying to shut out the vision of that merciful Christ from his mind. The blackness of despair envelops him and blocks out every ray of hope. To the end, Christ is a disappointment to Judas. To the end, he refuses to believe in Christ’s mercy. To the end, he cannot be convinced that Christ could know everything about him and love him just the same. “My sin is greater than that I should hope for pardon. My case is exceptional!” Despair ties the hands of an omnipotent Lover. With his worldly ambitions dashed to the ground, and with a sin which he persuades himself is too great to be pardoned, what is there left to live for? Better finish once and for all with this life of disappointments! Jesus will hang on the cross tomorrow and pray for His murderers. Judas will hang from the tree tonight and refuse to believe in His love and His readiness to forgive.

So ended the story of Judas Iscariot. Mistakes crowd into every chapter, but the fatal mistake, the mistake that was quite irremediable, was not Judas’ love of money or even the horrible act of betrayal. The saddest mistake of all was Judas’ refusal to believe that Christ could be such a Friend, that He could still love Judas, and still want Judas, in spite of all. One remedy could have saved Judas, as it saved Peter; one only remedy there was, but it was an infallible one. A humble confession of his sin and a cry for mercy would instantly have restored all the old loving relations between Christ and the traitor. But that cry and that confession never rose from the lips of Judas. He refused to believe that Christ could be such a Friend. To Judas, Christ was a disappointment, and, to the infinitely forgiving, infinitely loving Jesus of Nazareth, Judas Iscariot was a disappointment, too.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice
Which is more than clemency.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven:
There’s no place where earth’s failings
Have such kind judgment given.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measures of man’s mind,
And the Heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own,
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of Our Lord.

-Father Faber

The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction?

The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction?
William Thompson, D.D.

The Most Important Event In History 

No event in all history has greater importance than the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and there is none the truth of which matters so much. For if the story of the Resurrection is a myth, there is no compelling reason to suppose that Jesus of Nazareth was more than a great ethical teacher and prophet such as Socrates or Buddha or Mahomet. He was no more the Son of God than they were the Sons of God and the message He gave was a purely human one – a good one, perhaps, but still a message from a mortal man. But if He rose from the dead, here is the mystery of all time, because we know that no dead person can ever come back to life. If this Man did what no living being can ever do, or can ever hope to do, then we know that He must also be God – the Master of Life and Death. This Man Who once lived in an obscure province of the Roman Empire must be the One Who made Man in His own image. In the words of the immortal hymn, this must be ‘He Who built the starry skies’.

If the Resurrection were to be abandoned no Gospel would remain. That Christ was risen was the message that the believers of the New Testament period were concerned to make known. This was their Good News. They never for a moment imagined that there could be a Gospel apart from the Resurrection. It was truly an amazing message that the Apostles released upon the world.

If the message was true, if Jesus of Nazareth did rise again from the dead, then we are face to face with surely the greatest historical fact in human history. For no other historical personage has such a claim ever been made. It is a thing, which simply does not happen. If it did happen, then this Man was a partaker in Godhead in a sense different to any other man. He was in fact, as he claimed to be, the Son of God. He was God.

It follows, therefore, that the historical authenticity or not, of the Resurrection is the most momentous problem in all history.

Has Science Disproved Miracles? 

The evidence for the Resurrection is exceedingly strong and it may be wondered at why so many people doubt and even dispute it, not even troubling to examine the evidence. Part of the explanation would appear to be that many people have a vague notion that modern science has disproved the possibility of miracles. They feel that miracles have never happened and can never happen.

Most skeptics claim that it is their scientific outlook, which causes them to reject the Resurrection out of hand. Their attitude is, however, anything but scientific. In any case, there is a whole field of experience, which cannot be verified by what is commonly described as scientific method.

Very many of us are unnecessarily overawed by the smattering of scientific learning which we happen to possess. We tend to come to the Resurrection narratives prejudiced by our superficial knowledge of physics towards a disbelief in the possibility of Christ’s Resurrection. But those of us who learn the actual findings of the foremost physicists of the present day cease to be so confident; we discover that there is an enormous range of phenomena for which physical science is unable to offer the sketchiest explanation.

It is quite untrue to say that modem science has disproved the possibility of miracles. The most scientists would say is that they have never met a proven miracle. But no one can assert that because an event has never yet come within his or her personal experience, it is therefore beyond the bounds of reason.

It is well for us to remember that science describes what happens; rarely does it explain why it happens.

The true scientific method is to approach any given problem with a completely open mind, examining all the relevant evidence and all the possible objections and then reaching whatever conclusions may be clearly indicated.

This is the legal method; this is the only logical way. In a court of law, the innocence or guilt of a prisoner is not judged in advance; all the evidence in his favor and all the evidence, which tells against him, is scrupulously examined, then a verdict is reached.

In like manner, all the evidence in favor of miracles should be examined and all possible objections should be minutely considered.

Evidence may be direct or indirect.

I can quite easily prove that a stone falls to the ground if left unsupported. All I need do is to take a stone and let it fall. I can prove that bacteria exist but that is slightly more difficult to prove for I must have a microscope. I can only indirectly prove that there is such a country as Australia; I have never been there but the testimony of people now living is so exhaustive and conclusive that it would be the height of insanity to doubt the existence of Australia. Yet I accept this fact on other people’s authority – I do not really know it myself.

With any fact of history, the evidence must necessarily be still more indirect – all that can be done is to show that there is a convergence of historical probabilities, which places the historicity of the event beyond all reasonable doubt.

We intend to show that the historical evidence for the Resurrection is overwhelming, far stronger than the evidence for many other events of history, which everyone unhesitatingly accepts as true.

The truth or falsity of an historical event can only be ascertained by collecting all the evidence, analysing it, weighing it, pondering upon it and finally deciding upon balance of probability whether it happened or not.

There cannot be absolute certainty about any event in the past. We say we know that George III became King of England in 1760 but there is no person alive who was living then to verify it. It is an historical fact but a fact dependent on the credibility of historical witnesses. So many witnesses in so many different places attest to the fact of George III becoming king in 1760 and there are so many corroborative details, that to question it would be downright stupid.

We shall make an impartial investigation of the Resurrection in the same way. We will examine all the available evidence in the way a court of law would do.

Are The Gospels History Or Legend? 

We must start by asking ourselves if the documents, which relate the story of the Resurrection, are reliable. Were they written by eye-witnesses? Are they really contemporary history, written by the four Evangelists? Or have we been fooled, are they simply pious legends?

In a world where there is much doubt and uncertainty, where contradictory accounts are published even about present-day events, the answer is simple. There is not a shadow of doubt that the four Gospels were circulating in the infant Church during the lifetime of Christians who had known the Apostles.

But can we be sure that they were not tampered with? Can we be sure the miracle stories were not added later?

Let us examine briefly a bit, a little bit of the evidence. A book could be filled with all the available evidence. As, for instance, the Gospel of Saint John. The beloved Disciple lived to an extreme old age and shortly before his death, he wrote the last of the Gospels. About this time, he taught a young man who later became Bishop of Smyrna. This man, Polycarp, later to obtain a martyr’s crown, taught in turn a young man eventually to become Bishop of Lyons. Irenaeus of Lyons in his Epistle to Florinus tells us that Polycarp frequently spoke to him about what Saint John and other disciples had told him about Our Lord and ‘all he said was in strict agreement with the Scriptures.’ He quotes frequently from the four Gospels.

Writers who wrote still earlier quoting the Gospels include Papias and Justin Martyr. The latter wrote a summary of Saint John’s Gospel full of quotations from that Gospel.

But the most treasured manuscript is the priceless fragment of part of Saint John’s Gospel. This, the earliest of them all, is amongst the papyri in the John Rylands Library at Manchester.

We even have non-Christians mentioning the Resurrection. Josephus, the great Jewish historian, born within ten years of the Crucifixion has this to say: ‘About this time lived Jesus, a man full of wisdom, if one may call him a man. He was a doer of incredible things . . . . He was the Christ. On the accusation of the leading men of our people, Pilate condemned him to death on the cross. Nevertheless, those who had previously loved him, still remained faithful to him. For on the third day he again appeared to them living, just as, in addition to a thousand other wonderful things, prophets sent by God had foretold. And at the present day the race of those who call themselves Christians after him has not ceased.’ (Jewish Antiquities, Book 18).

Strong Evidence

The first thing we find out is the startling fact that the evidence is all from one side. The Christians gave all the evidence in favor of the Resurrection; their opponents give no evidence to disprove it.

The next thing we find out is that the historical evidence for the Resurrection is exceedingly strong – far stronger than most people, believers and unbelievers alike, are aware. Indeed, the evidence is so overwhelming as to leave no reasonable doubt that Jesus of Nazareth, after He had been put to death by crucifixion, was raised from the dead and was seen alive by his disciples during the following forty days; and that this Resurrection meant more than the survival of His spirit, since it involved the raising of His body in such a way that His grave was left empty.

That the grave was really empty on the Sunday morning is beyond any reasonable question. Right from the beginning, the emptiness of the grave was taken for granted by friend and foe alike. The Jews never denied that the tomb was vacant. The only explanation they could offer was that the disciples had stolen the body out of the tomb.

Try to imagine the scene. Only a short distance from where His dead body had been laid to rest, the Christians were proclaiming the astounding message that He had risen. If the body lay in the tomb, all the High Priest and the Sanhedrin needed to do, was to throw the grave open to inspection so that anyone could see the body for himself.

The Jewish authorities were desperate for a solution. Their explanation that the disciples came by night and stole the body is really absurd. What were the guards doing? If they were awake, they could have stopped anyone taking the body away. If they were asleep, how could they know what happened to the body or who took it away? But who ever heard of soldiers on important guard duty, deciding to while the time away by sleeping? What happens to anyone rash enough to do so? There is no sign or suggestion anywhere that disciplinary action was taken against the guards.

The Empty Tomb 

In any case, there cannot be the slightest doubt that the grave was empty on the Sunday morning. What, then, happened to the body?

There can only be two explanations. The first is that Christ rose again from the dead and the second is that, somewhere or other, there was deliberate fraud. Absurd as we have shown the theory to be, let us examine the possibility that the disciples stole the body and pretended that their Master had risen from the dead.

We must ask ourselves first, what benefit would they have derived from such a deceit?

If they had invented the story of their Lord’s Resurrection, their reward was a lifetime of almost untold suffering, being excommunicated, ostracized and cut off from friends and relations. They knew that imprisonment and death awaited them and yet they launched their crusade in the very city where their master had been slain and only a few hundred yards from where His dead body had been laid to rest.

What a change had come over the Apostles in a few weeks time! When we read about them in the Gospels, Christ seems to have picked some very poor individuals as His followers. They fled at the approach of danger; their conduct in Gethsemane can only be called base and cowardly. Good Friday left them brokenhearted and in despair. He whom they had believed to be the Messiah was dead; the glorious adventure in which they had engaged with Him had come to a bitter, ignominious end; and so they skulked behind closed doors ‘for fear of the Jews’.

The Apostles Preached The Risen Lord

Seven weeks later, we find that they are scarcely recognizable as the same persons. Their despair and disappointment have given way to exultation, and soon they are in the busy streets of Jerusalem, the very stronghold of their enemies, fearlessly announcing that Christ is risen and that He is Lord.

There can be no argument about the message preached by the Apostles. They did not put Christianity forward as a code of ethics or a philosophy; they put it before the world as a supernatural religion, the story of a Man Who had died for the sins of the world and had miraculously risen again, and Who was both God and Man.

The earliest Christian document, which proves this, is Saint Paul’s 1st Epistle to the Corinthians. This Epistle is undoubtedly a genuine letter written by Saint Paul to the converts at Corinth. It was written about A.D. 55, approximately ten years before Saint Mark wrote his Gospel. (Most modern scholars believe that Saint Mark’s Gospel is the oldest of all the four Gospels.) At first, the Apostles and other preachers relied solely on oral tradition as to the facts of the Lord’s life and death and as to His sayings.

So the famous fifteenth chapter of Saint Paul’s 1st Epistle to the Corinthians affords us priceless testimony as to the belief of the early Church concerning the Resurrection: ‘Brethren, I make known unto you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand; by which also you are saved if you hold fast after what manner I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and the He rose again the third day, according to the scriptures; and that He was seen by Cephas, and after that by the eleven. Then He was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once, of whom many remain until this present, and some are fallen asleep. After that, He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. And last of all He was seen also by me, as one born out of due time.

So far, the evidence has shown us two definite facts. The first is that the tomb was certainly empty on that first Easter Sunday morning and the second is that the Apostles were convinced that their Master had risen from the dead.

Did The Apostles Imagine It All? 

Critics have not been wanting to suggest that the appearances of the Risen Christ were subjective hallucinations which tradition has elaborated into walks and talks and meals and messages.

There are no scientific grounds for assuming that collective hallucination ever takes place and even individual hallucination only occurs when an event is expected. But the disciples were not expecting the Resurrection; far from it. The crucifixion had left them utterly defeated, broken-hearted, crushed in spirit and quite without hope. He, round whom they had woven such dreams, had been executed in a shameful manner, and their hopes were shattered. They were timid, broken men, whose only hope was to save their own skins. Far from expecting to see their Master, they were only too sure that they had seen the last of Him. When the women came with their story that Jesus was alive, they would not believe them. And one of them, at least, was disposed to be skeptical even after the Risen Christ had shown Himself.

Though He had foretold his Resurrection to His disciples, it seems quite certain that they did not understand Him. They refused to take Him seriously when He spoke of His approaching death, and if they were slow and unwilling to understand, how could they possibly grasp His teaching concerning the Resurrection that was to follow? When we read the Gospels, it is quite clear that though Our Lord told them of what was ahead, when the blow fell and the Crucifixion came, it took them unawares and left them shattered.

The disciples as pictured in the Gospels are not the type of men likely to fall a prey to visions. The women could perhaps be regarded as possible victims of hallucination but the men, a slow-moving unimaginative lot, are not at all likely to become subjects of hysteria and fanciful flights of imagination. When we come to read the Gospel accounts carefully, we find that the Appearances would be a rather odd kind of ‘hallucination’ for the vision breaks bread, eats a bit of broiled fish and distributes the remains amongst them.

And he who attributes the transformation of the disciples to collective hallucination has still to explain the empty tomb. What happened to the body if the Christian explanation is not true? Was it removed to another grave? In that case, would it not have become a shrine, to which His followers would have repaired to give Him homage?

Even if someone did remove the body, what about the Appearances to the disciples? And not only to the disciples but to five hundred at once. Did the five hundred, presumably men, women and children, all suffer from the same hallucination? (Saint Paul probably meant five hundred men, ‘brethren’, not counting women and children, as he is deliberately bringing forth legal witnesses and makes no mention of Christ appearing to the women on the first Sunday, for which there is plentiful evidence from other sources.)

Did Joseph Of Arimathea Remove The Body?

It has been suggested by non-Christian critics that Joseph of Arimathaea removed the body. It is, however, difficult to see what motive he could have had. He could, it is true, have come to the tomb in the early hours of the morning and buried the body in another tomb of his own choice.

But is it conceivable that when the disciples were preaching the story of the Resurrection he would have kept quiet? A word from him would have exploded the whole story. He was a member of the Sanhedrin and if he never became a Christian, he had no motive for keeping silent. If he later became a Christian, he knew that the story of the Resurrection was false and he was a pious Jew, extremely unlikely to lend himself to blasphemy. Even supposing he died immediately after removing the body, which would be a remarkable coincidence, he could not have moved the stone alone; he must have had helpers. Surely, one or more of the helpers would have come forward. The Sanhedrin would have been delighted with such information and would have paid the informant well.

Did Christ Only Faint On The Cross?

Another alternative explanation put forward by rationalists is that Christ did not really die on the Cross but only fainted; and that, reviving in the cool of the tomb, He made His escape and inspired his disciples with the belief that He had risen from the dead.

This theory is of such extreme improbability that it is hardly worth a moment’s consideration. When He was taken down from the Cross, those supervising His execution were convinced that the job was done; and if they, whose duty it was to know, were satisfied that He was dead, it is hardly likely that they were mistaken.

However, supposing that for the sake of argument we concede that Our Lord may merely have been in a swoon when placed in the tomb, consider what difficulties there are in finding any reasonable explanation.

How did He escape from the tomb so carefully guarded by soldiers? Where did He get clothes from? Who rolled the stone away?

The theory that He did not really die on the Cross involves an appalling degree of fraud, much worse than the fraudulent removal of the body. All the Apostles must have been in the deception. It is interesting to remind ourselves here of a tremendous objection that the Apostles were guilty of fraud: would they have been willing to face persecution and death for a story, which they knew to be false. Tradition says that all the Apostles, except Saint John, perished by unnatural deaths. Death came to them in strange and horrible ways, devised for slaves and inferiors in a cruel age. We are inclined to think that they were not as other men; we shrink from pain and death, while they did not feel pain, neither did they fear death. Is this so?

We only need to read Saint Mark’s Gospel; he makes it quite clear that the disciples were anything but heroes. Only a conviction, overwhelming in force, a certainty that Christ had risen from the dead, could have transformed them from timid men ‘all who forsook Him and fled’ into supermen who invaded Jerusalem, the intellectual centre of Judea, who pitted their faith against the cleverest brains of the day, in the face of every hindrance and bitter opposition. They were not brilliant men, they were not very well-educated; they were men from the humblest walks of life, yet they carried all before them. In twenty years time they were threatening the very peace of the Roman Empire.

But at what a cost!

Persecution and martyrdom in the most fearful way.

Knowing this, as they must have done, why should they have formed a conspiracy to impose on the world a new religion in which they themselves did not believe? Is it conceivable that they would have persisted to the end in maintaining an elaborate conspiracy of falsehood? Surely, one or other would have broken away from such a foolish and such a pointless conspiracy? It is incredible to suppose that, sooner or later, the real facts would not have leaked out.

What of the difficulties of the situation? Our Lord, weak and in need of attention must have been conveyed somewhere where He could not be recognized while the Apostles brazenly preached the Resurrection.

Then He too, must have been a party to the fraud. Now, not even the most violent atheist would maintain that Christ was a common trickster.

But the suggestion that He did not really die on the Cross was given its death-blow more than a century ago by Strauss, one of the keenest critics of Christianity.

He says: ‘It is impossible to believe that a man who had crept, half-dead, out of the grave, weak and ill, needing medical attention, bandaging and indulgence, and who must finally have yielded to his sufferings, could have produced on the mind of his disciples that he had triumphed over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, and yet it was this impression which was the basis of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which he made on them in life and in death, and could not possibly have transformed their sorrow into enthusiasm, or their reverence into worship.’

There is not a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was really dead when taken down from the Cross.

Did Someone Else Remove The Body?

Sundry other suggestions have been advanced to try to find a materialistic explanation of the strange events of that first Easter Day.

Could anyone else have removed the body from the tomb? There were the Roman authorities; could Pilate have moved the body? But what possible motive could he have had? His interest was to preserve the Pax Romana (the Peace of Rome), none too easy a task with such a proud and turbulent people as the Jews. He had crucified Christ because it was the easiest way to avoid trouble with the Jews. Would he have antagonized them by moving the body and afterwards keeping silent? Then, too, others must have known the truth, is it conceivable that they would all have kept quiet? And how did the disciples and the five hundred imagine they had seen and heard the Risen Lord?

As for the Jewish authorities; they could easily have moved the body because they were annoyed with Joseph of Arimathaea for giving it honorable burial. They could have had it thrown into a common grave. They could have easily done all this, and then what would they have done when the disciples started to preach the Resurrection?

They would not have needed to produce a body, which could have been recognized as that of Jesus; all that would have been necessary would have been for them to produce mouldering remains of any sort from the tomb. Then the new doctrine would have been blown sky high. They did no such thing; and this is only explicable on the assumption that the tomb was empty and too many people in Jerusalem knew it was empty.

We have examined some of the available evidence and we have come to see that there is no other explanation save the Christian one of miracle.

Conversion Of St. Paul

Even so, we have not yet examined all the evidence.

About four years after the Crucifixion, a young Jew, hating the Christian faith with every fibre of his being, and attacking its adherents with the utmost vigor, turned completely round and ended up being its most fearless and most renowned advocate. His intellectual attainments have made him one of the greatest personalities of all time, as friend and foe alike have repeatedly testified. He was a Rabbi and a Pharisee, the chief persecutor of the new sect and he was the last man in the world to become a Christian.

But Saul, for such was his name, did become a Christian. The change of front was so remarkable that it astonished everyone. No one can ever really know what happened on the Damascus road. He certainly had a vision of the Risen Christ. This seems to have been somewhat different in some respects from the earlier Resurrection appearances; but Saul had not the slightest doubt that it was real, and so he adds it to the list of Resurrection appearances in the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians.

It is safe to say that at the date of his conversion, when he saw the vision of Christ, he knew the best of the official case against the Christians; he would be acquainted with all the facts known to the Jewish authorities, and would know welt all the ‘natural’ explanations of the Resurrection. He would certainly have been impressed and would probably have been shaken by the fortitude with which Saint Stephen had met his death.

Even so, all his background, all his training as an exceptionally ardent Pharisee, were such as to set him into violent opposition to any possibility of the Christians being right. The suggestion, even while he lived, that Christ was divine, would have filled Saul with intense repugnance; but the making of such a suggestion after the Crucifixion must have filled him with a horror so great that it is not to be wondered at that he rounded in violent hatred upon those whom he regarded as blasphemous heretics.

He was no unthinking, unquestioning, credulous individual but by common consent one of the greatest intellects of all time. His was a mind accustomed to assessing evidence and subjecting facts to searching scrutiny. He was a man equally capable of discussing Greek philosophical terms in Athens as of bandying Old Testament texts in the synagogues of Asia Minor.

He was the last man in the world to turn Christian.

He set out on his journey to Damascus, resolved to exterminate this new sect of Christianity; he arrived in Damascus convinced that Jesus had risen. He did not merely think he had been wrong; he became utterly convinced of the truth of the Resurrection. He was now as much for Christ as he had previously been against Him. Everything about him at Damascus goes to show that here was a man convinced beyond any possibility of doubt.

His conversion was not only thorough and complete; it was to be life-long. It led him to ridicule, hatred, persecution, stoning, floggings, imprisonment and shipwreck and, finally, it led him to an inglorious death.

Nothing could turn him away from his new faith and it is impossible to find any natural explanation for such a lifetime’s practical devotion.

Had there been any weak points in the disciples’ account of the Resurrection, here was the man to find them.

There was a considerable interval between his conversion and what he considered his call to spread the faith far and wide to all and sundry in the Roman world, an interval of self-communion and instruction. He announced his conversion at once but did not follow it up for some time. The evidence goes to show that he utilized this period to examine the Christian proofs of the Resurrection.

He mentions an appearance to Saint Peter (which others have mentioned) and another one to Saint James, an appearance which is nowhere else mentioned but the fact of which he must have had from the Apostle James himself. He did not start his missionary teaching until he had seen Saint Peter, one of the most vital witnesses on the question of the Resurrection. The proof that these two disciples alone could give was sufficient for him long after the excitement of his conversion had worn off. Being the man he was, too, we can be certain that he would have questioned very closely as many as he could of the five hundred. That he made himself known to most of the five hundred is indicated by his reference to them in the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians: ‘Then He was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once, of whom many remain until this present, and some are fallen asleep.

He must have been acquainted with them to know that some were still living but also that some of them had died.

Critics have tried to make much of his silence about the women’s visit to the tomb. Saint Paul was a strict Jew, writing not only to Greeks but also to his brethren. In Israel nineteen hundred years or so ago, a woman could not give testimony on oath – what she said was not evidence. The Gospels mention the woman’s visit to the tomb because it happened; they simply wrote a factual account, but no Jew would have dreamed of bringing female testimony forward as evidence.

Two points should be borne in mind. The first is that Saint Paul is not giving an exhaustive account of what happened on Easter Day, nor all the appearances of the Risen Christ, just as the Gospels in their turn, did not give a complete account. The second is that Saint Paul is not writing to prove the Resurrection to his readers; he is simply giving them a brief reminder of facts, which they, as well as he, know full well.

There is no reason to treat the fifteenth chapter of the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians as an example of what Saint Paul would have said if he had been writing to plead the truth of the Resurrection. This apparent difficulty, the supposed discrepancies between the Gospel and Saint Paul’s Epistle, is no reason for dismissing the Resurrection story.

Indeed, the real difficulty is finding a natural explanation for the transformation, which took place in Saint Paul’s life; the difficulty, not to say impossibility, of finding a natural explanation for what must surely be a supernatural event.

Weekly Testimony As To Truth Of Resurrection 

There is an extraordinary fact, which occurs once every week. It has been said that man can get used to almost anything. It is certain that we never notice what a remarkable thing we do every Sunday. We obey the Ten Commandments or, at least, we try to do. Almighty God ordered mankind to rest on the seventh day of the week and we know that the Jews faithfully observed the Sabbath.

Then a most remarkable thing happened. A very small group of men, the Apostles, took it on themselves to make the Sabbath an ordinary day and substituted in its place, the first day of the week. We in the twentieth century rarely realize, that, to the orthodox Jew of the first century, this must have appeared as an act of hideous blasphemy. These few men amended one of the Commandments of God and Christians have followed their example down the ages.

The earliest Christians were Jews, and converted Jews continued to form a large proportion of the Christian Church throughout the first century. Only some very extraordinary consideration could have caused them to tamper with one of the Ten Commandments; what could that be other than the conviction that it was on the first day of the week that the Lord had risen from the dead?

The event was so decisive and sure that it displaced even the Sabbath. Every Sunday that comes round is a new argument for the Resurrection.

Problem Of The Risen Body 

Though what has been said in these pages is adequate to show that Our Lord’s Resurrection is sober historical fact, it would be quite untrue to say that no problems remain in connection with the Appearances. One great difficulty is the nature of the risen body of Christ. It must be confessed that a full explanation would appear to be beyond our finite human minds. But there are some things which must be said.

One is that the historical truth of the Resurrection is not affected in the slightest by our inability to understand every problem connected with it. My inability to understand how the egg changes into the chicken does not alter anything; the egg hatches out even if I do not believe that it will do so.

Another thing, which must be said, is that our Risen Lord was different in some ways to the Christ before the Crucifixion; yet He was not a spirit. The true explanation must take account of the fact that the Risen Lord displayed physical attributes; He could see and be seen, He could eat and He could talk, yet, at the same time, He could appear and disappear at will. Perhaps we can do no better in attempting to describe Our Lord’s risen body than to speak of it as a ‘glorified’ body.

It was still Christ but it was not simply His physical body restored to the old life. Neither was it a disembodied spirit – the body that had laid in the tomb was taken up into this Risen Lord – but a wonderful change had taken place so that now it was suited to the conditions of a higher life as our flesh-and-blood body is suited to this one.

The resurrection of the individual Christian too, will have both continuity and difference, as Saint Paul points out. For us, too, the resurrection will be the resurrection of the body – not in the sense that the identical particles of our present body will form part of our ‘glorified’ body, but in the sense that we shall not be pure spirit and that there will be preserved all the essential physical features of our present earthly bodies.

How the Resurrection took place we do not know and certainly this side of the grave, we shall never be able to know. We do not know how it was that Jesus sometimes appeared as flesh and sometimes as spirit.

All attempts at a complete explanation of the ‘mode’ of the Resurrection are interesting. But they are not vital. The important thing, the one thing which is sufficient is that He rose from the dead in a manner which showed His power over life and death, a manner which demonstrates His victory over the grave, a victory which we, too, will eventually share with Him.

The Resurrection Is Historical Fact 

We have attempted to show how evidence piling upon evidence makes it unreasonable to doubt that Jesus rose from the dead. We sum up by emphasizing the impossibility of finding any other explanation of the Resurrection story.

It is for the sceptic to make good his claim; it is for the unbeliever to justify his contention that the Resurrection never took place.

But there is no satisfactory explanation except the Christian one of miracle.

There is only one explanation that fits the facts – the explanation given by Saint Peter when he says: ‘This Jesus, has God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses.’

Good Friday

Good Friday 
Fr. John F. Burns, Ph.D., O.S.A.

[From the book, Sermons for Lent, 4th Ed. by Rev. John F. Burns, Ph.D., O.S.A.
Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1944.
Permissu Superiorum: Rev. Mortimer A. Sullivan, O.S.A.
Nihil Obstat: Leo P. MacGinley, S.T.D., Censor librorum.
Imprimatur: D. Card. Dougherty, Archiepiscopus Philadelphiensis.]

 Lord, it is good for us to be here!” (Matt. xvii. 4.)

Dear friends, we call your attention particularly to the words of our text: “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” These words suggest, not sorrow, but joy. And sorrow is the usual theme for Good Friday. The circumstances also in which the words were first uttered bespoke glory and power for our Savior, and not the shame and defeat and suffering and death that we recall on each Good Friday. Nevertheless, as we begin our consideration of the passion and death of our Lord, the saddest scene that ever took place, we repeat the words: “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” These words were first spoken by the Apostle Peter on Mount Thabor when Jesus was gloriously transfigured, His divine face shining like the sun, His garments dazzling white as snow, and a Voice, the heavenly Voice of His Father calling Him “beloved.” On Mount Calvary also, dear friends, we behold our Lord transfigured. But this transfiguration is one of ignominy, and wounds, and blood, and suffering, and agonizing death. His Face in this transfigura­tion of Calvary is wan, disfigured with bruises, and covered with blood. His torn garments are crimson-stained. And a voice, the mocking, jeering voice of triumphant enemies is heard, a voice still echoing and re-echoing in His breaking heart the answer of the people to the question of Pilate: “What will you that I do to Him that is called Christ?” — a voice from His own creatures whom He loved and whom He had come to save, a voice that cried out madly to Pilate: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” And yet, we who in reverent memory witness on each Good Friday these and many other sad things still say: “Lord, it is good for us to be here!”

And why, dear friends, is it good for us to be here in memory on Mount Calvary? Here is agonizing suffering! Here is a cross with its divine Victim nailed hands and feet! Here are cruel executioners with spears and hammers and nails! Here are mocking scribes and Pharisees hurling insult while our Savior slowly dies! Here is a Mother brokenhearted, standing by His cross! Here is a rude multitude of pitiless people! Here are shame, injustice, ingratitude! Here are blood, groans, cursing, misery, and heartlessness! Here is death! Why, then, is it good for us to be here? Dear friends, it is because here, too, is Love! Here on Calvary is the Love of our infinite God! All of God’s dealings with humankind are motivated in His love. But here on Calvary is the convincing, overpowering, overwhelming climax of all the wonderful manifestations of that love.

We may see in Calvary the message of Redemp­tion. We may see there the justice of God in respect to atonement for sin. We may see there the holi­ness of God vindicated in the sacrifice of His divine Son. But tonight we are going to try to see in Calvary the greatest, grandest, most consoling thing of all, the love of God for His creatures, who, having loved His own, loved them to the end. That is why, even as we witness the sad passion and death of our loving Savior, we say, with joy in our hearts: “Lord, it is good for us to be here!”

And how much does our loving God love us? Is there any created being who can give an adequate answer to that question? Is there any man, any saint, any angel who can do so? Dear friends, only God Himself can tell us how much He loves us. When God created man it was because of His love, and in order that man might share in the happiness of heaven. And when that happiness was lost because of the first sin of the first man, God might have left us adrift — adrift, as it were, on a sea of misery — hopeless, suffering, deprived forever of our glorious destiny of eternal happiness. How much does God love us? He did not leave us adrift. He planned to redeem us. He planned in His love to make heaven and happiness again possible for us.

And how did God work out that Redemption? Did He send a prophet, a saint, or one of His minis­tering angels? God might have done this. But no! Because God so loved us, He came on earth Him­self, in the person of His divine Son. How much does God love us? God came Himself to offer the sacrifice for our Redemption. Just as a loving mother whose little child is sick chooses to nurse the child herself until it is well, so God, whose earthly children were sick unto spiritual death, chose to nurse them back to spiritual life Himself, because He so loved them.

And how did God come upon earth? Was it as some glorious spirit, radiating sublime magnifi­cence, or as an almighty ruler with sway over nations, or as a personage of power and majesty and incomparable honor? Ah, my friends, how much does God love us? Behold Him coming upon earth not only as man, not only as a poor man, but even as a little, helpless baby! God came to us in the manner that might appeal to us most, as a little, loving child. He smiles at us from His Virgin Mother’s knee. His little arms are outstretched to us as if bidding us to come and to love Him. His little heart, the heart of the God-man, is throbbing with infinite love for us. For God came on earth, a loving God, to win both our salvation and our love.

Dear friends, when, among all the countless proofs of God’s love for us, we stop on Good Friday to consider the last, astounding, most climactic proof of all, do we not of right cry out the rap­turous words of the Apostle: “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” But many people have formed a mis­taken conclusion concerning the climax of God’s proof of His love as this is seen in the passion and death of our Savior. When they behold Jesus suffering so much in performing the sacrifice for our Redemption, they suppose that because of the greatness of the work, or of the evil of sin, all this suffering was necessary. They forget that not even one of the terrible sufferings that Jesus endured was necessary in order to accomplish our Redemption. One single sigh, one tear, one moment of humilia­tion on the part of Jesus would have been sufficient to redeem the world. For every act of Jesus was the act of God. And every act of God has infinite merit. Therefore, not one of the many and terrible suffer­ings endured by Jesus in His passion and death was necessary. But Jesus, who loved us, chose to suffer not as little as He could, but as much and even more than would be humanly possible. Jesus chose to make His sufferings proportionate not to the necessities of the work of Redemption, but pro­portionate to His love. His love was infinite. Therefore He made His sufferings limitless. He made no measure for His sufferings. He placed no restric­tions on how much He would be willing to endure. And He did this in order to leave in our minds no possibility of doubt as to the extent of His love and of His desire to win our love in return. It was as if He had said within Himself: “I will go to the very limit in the suffering connected with the sacrifice of redeeming mankind. Then they cannot doubt My love for them. Then they will surely love Me in return.”

Dear friends, no sermon for Good Friday would be complete without a reference to the actual suffer­ing that our Savior endured for love of us. Indeed, His whole life from birth to death was a life of suf­fering. The Garden of Olives, the betrayal by Judas, the tribunals of Annas, Caiphas, and Herod, the night in the guardroom, the court of Pilate, the scourg­ing, the crowning with thorns, the way of the cross, Calvary, and the Crucifixion were only the last bitter ending of the role of suffering that Jesus had played ever since His baby eyes first opened and beheld His Virgin Mother. He was born in a stable. He knew hunger and thirst and cold and hardship and homelessness and labor and toil and want. He was misunderstood, ridiculed, reviled, persecuted. Often He was forced to save Himself by miracles from the pursuit of His enemies. His friends whom He had helped most and loved most turned against Him or fled from Him. One of these, with a kiss, betrayed Him in Gethsemani. Because our Saviour was God as well as man He suffered more, and not less, as many imagine. Kneeling distraught in Geth­semani, Jesus as God knew all things. He knew the future. He knew how useless His sufferings and His love would be for so many of His creatures. He knew how many myriads of times they would forget His sufferings and spurn His love by deliberate sin. And therefore His heart, because of its measureless, limitless, infinite love, began to break by reason of the rejection of His love. In Gethsemani Jesus suffered an agony not of death, but of what is worse than the agony of death — the agony of the death­blow to love. Only those who have loved deeply, with all the power of their whole being, and have had their love spurned or hurt, can partially understand what Jesus the divine Lover of mankind suf­fered in the Garden of Olives. Only they can par­tially understand the agony that shook His sacred body with convulsive sobs, that tore through His heart and soul, that sent the drops, not of perspiration, but of His heart’s blood through all the pores of His body. “And His sweat,” says St. Luke in describing the agony in the Garden, “became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground” (Luke xxii. 44). There in Gethsemani, dear friends, on the night before Jesus died, was a crucifixion not of the body, but of the soul of our Savior, who loved with an infinite love, and who longed, but in vain, for the love of His creatures.

So agonizingly bitter was the suffering caused by the rejection of His love, which our Lord foresaw in the Garden, that as man He seemed to quail be­fore it. St. Mark tells us that He “fell flat upon the ground” and prayed God that “if it might be, the hour might pass from Him” (Mark xiv. 35). “Father!” He cried out, “All things are possible to Thee! Remove this chalice from Me! But,” Jesus then added, “not what I will, but what Thou wilt!” (Mark xiv. 36.) How much does God love us, dear friends? Only He Himself can answer that. And in the person of Jesus His Son He has answered it with His life and His death, with the crucifixion of His soul in Gethsemani and the crucifixion of His body on Calvary. Is it not, then, good for us to be here on Good Friday to behold once more these proofs of the infinite love of our God?

In the darkness of Gethsemani the hour for the suffering and the death of our Savior had struck. Judas, His friend whom He loved and one of the chosen twelve, came with a great multitude carry­ing swords and staves, sent by the chief priests and the scribes and the ancients. And Judas betrayed His Master to them with a kiss, betrayed Him with the most intimate token of dearest friendship! St. Mark tells us that Judas said: “Hail Rabbi! And he kissed Him!” (Mark xiv. 45.) At that traitorous kiss how the Sacred Heart of Jesus must have bled! How bitter was this beginning of His passion! How that kiss of betrayal that began it all must have scourged the soul of Jesus even more cruelly than later on the lashes of Pilate’s soldiers scourged His body! And how our own selfish sins, which were present to the divine mind of Jesus in His passion, like the kiss of Judas, also scourged Him! For each of these sins, like the Judas kiss, implies refusal of service, rejection of His love, and preference against Him of some paltry gain or passing pleas­ure. Oh, we should not too harshly condemn the sin of Judas! He betrayed God’s love but once. But we, time after time perhaps, have gone madly after our thirty pieces of silver!

And dear friends, in this consideration of the passion and death of our Savior, we must not lose sight of the fact that He who suffered in the person of Jesus was the Almighty God of heaven and earth. He could, therefore, have struck His tormentors all dead! He could have saved Himself the shame and the torture and the agony! But He did not do so! Even in Gethsemani, when the soldiers stepped for­ward to arrest Jesus, the power of the God-head was manifested. At the very sound of His voice, relates St. John, “they went backward, and fell to the ground” (John xviii. 6). Not until our Saviour permitted, could they arise and take Him and lead Him, their God, bound with ropes, to the mock trials before Annas and Caiphas the high priest.

In the court of Caiphas were assembled the scribes and ancients, seeking evidence against Jesus that they might put Him to death. And find­ing none, some bore false witness against Him; and their testimony did not agree. To all their charges Jesus would answer nothing. But when Caiphas said to Him: “Art Thou the Christ, the Son of the blessed God?” Jesus answered: “I am.” “You have heard the blasphemy,” cried Caiphas, who in mock piety tore his garments. “What think you? Who all condemned Jesus to be guilty of death” (Mark xiv. 55-64).

After that Jesus was detained for the remainder of the night in the guardroom while they awaited the morning in order to seek from Pilate the official condemnation to death. For Jesus this was a night of torture. Imagine Him during the hours before dawn, bound with ropes, and at the mercy of His jibing enemies. This man had said that He was God! They laughed at that! And they found in it sport to while away the time. Covering His face, they struck Him brutally while He was thus blindfolded, and said: “Prophesy unto us, O Christ, who is he that struck Thee?” (Matt, xxvii. 68.) And they spat in His face — spat in the face of Him who was their very God! Can you imagine shame and humiliation that is worse than this? But Jesus patiently endured it all. How much does God love us, dear friends? Behold Him, in the person of Jesus, on that night in the guardroom, bound, blindfolded, buffeted, His own creatures spitting in His face, while He for love of us endured it all. Surely then, it is good for us to be here on Good Friday, beholding once more in reverent memory this almost incredible proof of the infinite love of our God!

When morning finally came and Jesus had been brought to trial before Pilate, the Roman governor could find no cause for condemning our Savior. Pilate sent Him to Herod, who likewise could find no charge against Jesus that was worthy of death. Pilate, therefore, desired to release Jesus. According to the Gospel narrative, it was the custom to release to the people one prisoner on that particular day of each year. Pilate had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. He said therefore to the people: “Whom will you that I release to you, Bar­abbas, or Jesus that is called Christ? . . . But they said: Barabbas. . . . What then,” rejoined Pilate, “shall I do with Jesus? . . . They say all: Let Him be crucified!” The governor asked them: “Why? What evil hath He done? But they cried out the more, saying: Let Him be crucified!” (Matt, xxvii. 17-23.)

Pilate, however, instead of condemning Jesus to death, ordered Him to be scourged. He may have thought perhaps that the cruelty and the torture of this fearful Roman punishment would move the leaders of the people to pity, and cause them to relent in their clamoring for the death of our Saviour. We are told that the Roman scourging was so unbelievably cruel that at the fifth blow the skin was cut. At the thirteenth the flesh was laid open. At the thirtieth the whole back was flayed. The scourging of our Saviour began. Strong, cruel, Roman soldiers took turns with the lashes one after the other until Jesus stood literally in a pool of His own blood. In later days, when the martyrs were scourged, affixed to the leather scourges were lead and spikes and sharp bones. These curled around the naked body of the victim and lacerated and tore not only the back but also the face and chest and whole body. Often the scourging of criminals who were condemned to die was so severe that it was called the intermediate death. In many instances it must have been worse than death itself. How much does God love us? Behold Him, in the person of Jesus, stripped of His clothing. His hands tied, His back bent as He stands bound to a column or stake, and enduring patiently this terrible scourging for love of us. And remember that not one of these sufferings was necessary in order to effect our Redemption!

The scourging finished, the soldiers gathered together the whole band before our Lord. Over His wounded, scourged body, and in mockery of His claim to Kingship, they placed a purple or scarlet robe. For a crown of royalty they platted sharp thorns and pressed them deep into His head. In His hand, for a mock scepter, they forced Him to hold a reed. Then they made sport of Him. Bowing the knee before this forlorn Figure, they cried: “Hail! King of the Jews!” (John xix. 3.) And again they spat upon Him. Snatching the reed from His hand they smote His head, driving still deeper the agonizing thorns.

Pilate came then and took Jesus, and in this condition presented Him to the sight of the people. Still bleeding from the wounds of the scourging, dressed in the mock-royal robe, the thorn-crown still upon His bleeding head, the reed for scepter in His hand, our Savior stood before them. And Pilate, presenting Him thus, said: “Behold the Man!” (John xix. 5.) But when the chief priests and people had seen Him they cried out: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” (Ibid. 6.) Pilate, however, was still anxious to release our Saviour. Once more he spoke to the people: “Behold your King!” (Ibid. 14.) “But they cried out: Away with Him! Away with Him! Crucify Him!” (Ibid. 15.) And the wavering Pilate then delivered Jesus to be crucified.

Dear friends, hovering somewhere near during this ordeal so terrible for her divine Son was Mary His Mother. She could hear the loud cries of hate and of condemnation. And she knew that soon, walking in a sad procession of death, her Son would pass by. Along the way that led through the city to Calvary Mary waited. It was now about eleven o’clock on the first Good Friday morning. Soon there came to the waiting Mother the sounds of a moving, muttering multitude. And then appeared the procession of death! Rabble, Pharisees, scribes, priests, ancients, soldiers, the crowd of the cruel, the curious, the pitying — all came passing by. And Mary waited. Then came the two thieves, each carrying his cross. And finally, her Son! Oh, but what a transfiguration has taken place! Was this her Son, her Boy, so strong, so straight, so beautiful! His body was not strong nor straight now, but bent over, and bleeding anew from the exertion of carrying the heavy cross. His face, once beautiful, was now pale and drawn and lined and disfigured from spittle and blows. The piercing thorn-crown was still upon His head, sending crimson moisture through His matted hair. His feet were torn and cut, and His step unsteady and faltering. . .

From beneath the cross [Our Lord Jesus Christ] is looking at her. His pain-filled eyes speak to her of His love, and of His compassion, too, for her present suffering. And Simeon’s prophecy is being ful­filled. Deeper and deeper into Mary’s breaking heart the sword of sorrow is piercing. The procession moves pitilessly on, and with it, Mary’s Son and our Savior, bending lower and more wearily under the cross, staggering at times, falling, lashed to His feet again — on and on and on, driven by blows and curses, jeered at by priests and people and soldiery, on and on through the streets of the Holy City to Calvary and to death.

Slowly Mary His Mother follows after. At Calvary a sudden, ominous silence falls upon the shouting, jibing crowd. About the crosses, an air of bustle, a sharp command, and then a sickening thud, and another and another! The nails! They are being driven mercilessly into the hands and feet of our Lord, fastening Him to the cross! How much does God love us? Listen on Calvary in that fearful silence while the nails are being driven through the flesh and sinew and bone of our Savior’s hands and feet. Hear the knock, knock, knock of the hammer! Does it not tell you how much God loves you? Even unto this, even unto agony, even unto the crucifixion and to death God in the person of Jesus proved His infinite love for us! And the sound of those nails being driven into the wood of the cross is knocking not only at the court of heaven pleading for mercy on all mankind; it is knocking also at the heart of each human being; it is knocking at your heart and mine, pleading the love of our Savior, pleading for a return of that love. The arms of Jesus are now wide-stretched, nailed and transfixed wide upon the cross, as though symbolically extended in gesture of the same pleading of Jesus for the love of His creatures. Soon the cross is upraised! And soon our Savior hangs dying for love of us between two thieves!

And when the nails were being driven He had prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” (Luke xxiii. 34.) Who except God Himself, dear friends, could have spoken thus under those circumstances? How much does God love us? Come closer to the cross! Stand with Mary His Mother! Look up at Jesus who is dying for love of us! And remember that not one of these suffer­ings was necessary for our Redemption. Remember that Jesus voluntarily chose to suffer them in order to prove beyond the possibility of a doubt the extent of His love, and in order to win our love for Him in return.

But the reviling crowd about the cross of Jesus — laughs! The Gospel says that “they that passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying: Vah!  . . . if Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross! ” (Matt, xxvii. 40.) “He saved others! Himself He cannot save!” (Ibid. 42.) And while they derided Him, Jesus hung in indescribable suffering, in pain from the nails in His hands and feet, in pain from the wounds of the scourging, in pain from the crown of thorns, in pain from fever and thirst and weakness and weariness, in pain from the aching in His Sacred Heart — an aching that told Him that for so many of His beloved creatures all His suffering and all His untold love would be in vain. Once more, as in Gethsemani, the people and the sins of the world are present to our Savior’s divine mind. From the cross He sees them all. He sees you and me and our sins that we commit now, but that were present to Him then, adding to His torment by their rejection of His love. But, dear friends, if our sins were all present to Jesus in His passion and death, so also were our good works present to Him. So also were our acts of love for Him, our acts of faith, our hours of prayer, our sorrow for our sins — so also were these all present to Him to comfort Him during these terrible hours. For Jesus was God. And for God there is no time. Everything is present to God, and not past or future. Is it not then good for us to be here in memory with Jesus on Mount Calvary? Is it not consoling to know that the good deeds we perform now were present to Jesus in the time of His suffering to comfort Him? And all the good deeds that we shall do, all the sacrifices, hardships, sufferings that we shall in the future endure for love of Jesus were present to Him on the cross. That is why, for love of our Savior who so loved us, we should be willing to perform good deeds, willing to keep His law, willing to avoid sin, willing at any cost to be loyal to Him, who was so loyal to us.

Slowly, the weary, agonizing three hours on Calvary drag by. From the cross our Savior forgave the Good Thief and promised him Paradise. And thus it is ever and always. God’s mercy, God’s providence, God’s love is always overshadowing us. Times there are when we call it into question. Ah, but this is because we forget at those times how much God loves us — even us! . . .

When sorrow tempts us to doubt God, we should think of this. Appearances may be all against us. It may seem as though we must sink into the very depths of hopelessness and even into despair. But suppose that the Good Thief had given in to appearances! Why should he not have taken it for granted that this forlorn, abandoned, defeated, dying Man could never help him? And suppose that he had taken it for granted. Suppose that the thief had not prayed! Dear friends, after we have seen our God in the person of Jesus hanging on a cross for love of us, we cannot doubt Him!

Before our Savior died, He gave His Mother and St. John to each other’s care. Then, in the extremity of His suffering and agony as the victim for sin, Jesus cried out, as it were, for help from His eternal Father: “My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me!” (Matt, xxvii. 46.) Forsaken by man, typifying sin, for which He was now the victim, and which meant rejection of God, becoming as St. Paul says (Gal. iii. 13; II Cor. v. 21) a “curse” for us, becoming “sin” for us, dying in shame and torture between two thieves! Do you ask, dear friends, how much God loves us? Come! Oh, come on Good Friday to Calvary and witness the answer to this question! No wonder the astounded sun paled! No wonder that even at midday in Palestine, darkness, like nature’s pall of mourning, settled upon the world! No wonder the startled dead came stalking forth from their tombs! No wonder the affrighted earth quaked, and the veil of the Temple was rent! No wonder the hearts of men on Calvary quailed, while they struck their breasts and cried out in the deepening shadows: “Indeed this was the Son of God!” (Mark. xv. 39.)

And when Jesus from the cross had said: “I thirst!” (John xix. 28), how little they had understood! They gave Him vinegar to drink, but He would not drink. They did not know that His thirst was for the love of His creatures, whom He Himself loved infinitely, and having loved, loved even unto the end. And at the end, His Sacred Heart broken because so many were to spurn His love, Jesus, crying with a loud voice, bowed down His head and gave up the ghost. At the end, Jesus died not from the torture and the agony, but from a broken heart. The blood and water that issued from His side when the spear was thrust attest most eloquently and most sadly to this fact. Jesus our Savior died at last from a broken heart! How much does God love us, dear friends? Look at your crucifix and learn the answer! And is it good for us to be here? Is it good for us to behold in memory this last, astounding, climactic proof of God’s love on Calvary? He Himself has said: “Greater love than this no man hath, than that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John xv. 13).

Dear friends, let us return to the words of our text: “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” It is good for us to be here because in reverent memory we have witnessed on Mount Calvary in the passion and death of our Savior the last, final, convincing, most consoling proof of God’s love. It is not suffi­cient, however, merely to endeavor to understand how much Jesus suffered for love of us. Judas understood this, Pilate understood it, the executioners understood it far better than we. But they completely lost the wonderful significance of it all. We must not lose its significance. We must know always that the great lesson of Calvary is the lesson of God’s love. Standing in memory beside the cross of Jesus with Mary His Mother, and then looking upon our crucifix, how can we ever doubt that God loves us? If God does not love us, what was He doing upon earth in the person of Jesus? If God does not love us, what was our Savior doing on the cross, dying an agonizing death? If God does not love us, how can we answer these questions? And if God does not love us, what use is there in living longer, what hope is there in life, what hope will there be in death, what hope for all eternity?

But God does love us, dear friends, and with an infinite love. God does love us! And that is why we are going to appreciate and to accept and to return His love by preferring loyalty to Him to paltry gain and passing pleasure. No longer will the thirty pieces of silver make us traitors to our loving God! God does love us! And that is why we are going to be willing to carry our own cross through this life, knowing that even though the cross be heavy, even though it cause us to falter and to stagger and at times to fall beneath its weight, even though it lead to a Calvary and to a very crucifixion by way of suffering and sacrifice and hardship, it leads also to Jesus our Savior, it leads also to heaven and to the eternal happiness that God in His infinite love has prepared for us, it leads also to the time when we ourselves, gloriously transfigured after death, shall cry out at the vision of God and the possession of heaven forever even as the enraptured Apostle cried out on Mount Thabor: “Lord, it is good for us to be here!”

The Holiness Of St. Patrick

The Holiness Of St. Patrick
By Rev P. F. Crudden.

We Australian Catholics are quite heavily committed to Saint Patrick with so many cathedrals, churches, colleges and schools under his patronage and so many persons bearing his name. Yet I think that I am right in saying that he is not particularly well known or well loved in Australia, even amongst the best informed Catholics.

If I speak of Saint Patrick, it is not of the historical figure who emerges somewhat hazily from a complex era, nor of the heroic figure about whom the folklore of a grateful people has woven so many beautiful legends, but rather of the Saint as a vital force in the living church in Australia. He is an exacting person who, if properly understood, gives the lie to much that is false in modern piety and points the way to such a relationship with the Father as Christ envisaged for his followers. Any person interested in achieving holiness of life can profit from a study of the holiness of Saint Patrick.

Saint Patrick Today.

The question arises how a man who died in the year 461 or thereabouts could possibly be a vital force in the church of today. The first thought that suggests itself is that he can certainly offer immediate support to the church and its members from his place in heaven. The merits that he acquired during his life on earth enable him to intercede with an intercession more powerful than that of our friends on earth. “The saints cooperate with us in obtaining our salvation,” says Saint Thomas Aquinas, “and by their help obtain from God what we ask of him. It is more glory for them to be able to help others, because in this they are co-operators with God.”

This does not suggest that any saint, or even Our Lady, can be the final support on whom we rest our hope. The final support on whom we rest our hope must always be Christ, for in no other name is salvation found. It is quite wrong to think that we can, or would even want to, bypass Christ in approaching the Father. We are united to God in Christ. Christ is man as we are men; with him and by him and in him we are truly sons of God. By this truth we live.

The application of this truth to the life of Saint Patrick serves to indicate his present role in the church more clearly. The same Christ who lives in us, making us sons of God, lived in Patrick, making him also a son of God. Patrick lived, and still lives, as a member of the same Christ in whom we live. Hence, the passing of fifteen hundred years or more need not make him remote from us, nor does it alter Christ’s formula for holiness in life. “If any man love me, he will keep my commandments and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23.) The presence of Saint Patrick and the other saints with God at this time is an encouragement to us to live by the same formula. “Since we are watched by such a cloud of witnesses,” says Saint Paul, “let us run with all endurance the race for which we are entered.” (Hebrews 12:1.)

Although it is never easy to state precisely the role of a saint in the church at a given time, it seems reasonable to suggest that all saints have a special work beyond the general ones already mentioned. Origen suggests, for instance, that the spirit and power of Saint John the Baptist must come first into the soul of a man who learns to believe in Christ to prepare him for the coming of Christ. We remember Saint Patrick chiefly as a great missionary, a man who won a whole nation for God by his word and example. As with Saint John the Baptist, neither the power of Patrick’s word, nor the witness of his life is lost to the church.

The Power of His Word.

The power of Saint Patrick’s word remains in the two writings of his that we still possess, his Confession and his Letter against Coroticus. Of these two documents, the Confession is by far the more important because of the outline of his life that it provides and because of the insights it gives into the motives behind his missionary effort.

The witness of his life is a compelling one. In his day, he exerted tremendous influence over the lives of other men. He still has the power to deepen our understanding of the Christian vocation in the world of men and to inspire us to shake off that half-the-day self-indulgence of ours which constantly impedes the work of Christ in the world.

The sense of our own value as persons made in the image of God is easily lost in the noise and movement of modern life. Even if we cling to a realization of the value of our own immortal souls and are determined in our efforts to save them, we are still likely to overlook the value of those persons, many in number, over whom we are going to exercise power for better or for worse.

Whether we like it or not, we are in actual fact the representatives of Christ in those circles in which we move. Simply by what we are, we are either effective or ineffective witnesses of Christ. Many souls are dependent upon the influence of our lives for their introduction to Christ. There was a time when Patrick, as a Christian, did not realize this; but once he saw his vocation as a Christian and understood it, he pursued it with Pauline vigour and energy. Just to see him in action is to have the value of our own souls impressed upon us and the urgency of our Christian vocation stressed.

Early Life.

Although little of the detail of Patrick’s life is known for certain its outline is reasonably clear. He was almost certainly born in Roman Britain about the year 385. Shortly after the year 400, he was captured at his home by a raiding party and carried off as a slave to Ireland. In his Confession, he remarks that he was then sixteen years old but still did not know God. This does not mean that he was not a Christian, for he was. It means rather that he lived without much thought of God and in general neglected God. He attributes his capture and the capture of many other Christians at this time to their neglect of God and their refusal to serve Him faithfully.

It must surely have been a jolt for a sixteen-year-old boy to be torn away from a happy and comfortable home and to face the prospect of a life spent in slavery. He was a sensitive person with a deep affection for his parents and real feeling for his own country so that the thought of living among barbarians in a foreign country was a hateful one. We would have expected his captivity to make him embittered and disillusioned. It had the opposite effect. He always recalled his capture with gratitude because this crisis “opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted to the Lord my God”. It was the beginning of a relationship with God that was to continue to develop during the remainder of his long life. It was a relationship in which Patrick saw God as his Father, loving him, caring for him and protecting him, even during those years when he was not conscious of God’s presence. “He watched over me before I knew him,” wrote Saint Patrick, “and guarded me and comforted me as a father would his son.”

Slavery in Ireland.

Patrick worked as a slave in Ireland for six years. He tells us that his work was to tend sheep. We know that he lacked food and clothing during that time but he does not complain of cruel treatment. The important thing about these years is that knowledge, love and fear of God all grew in him and his faith was strengthened. They were years of intense and fervent prayer. During the day and at night, in the woods and on the mountain, he sought and found opportunities for prayer. “I used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm, and there was no sloth in me – as I now see, – because the spirit within me was then fervent.”

It seems unlikely that Patrick would have received any kind of instruction at this time or even have had any manuscripts of Christian teaching to read. We may therefore conclude that he was “taught of God”. His ability to approach simply and directly to God was probably learned in these Irish woods and mountains. To the end of his life, however, he regretted his lack of formal education, speaking often of his slow tongue and only hesitantly committing his thoughts to paper for fear of revealing his lack of education. At the same time, he was aware that he had received from God gifts often withheld from those who study most assiduously. “Whence I, once rustic, exiled, unlearned, who does not know how to provide for the future, this I know most certainly that before I was humiliated I was like a stone lying in deep mire; and he that is mighty came and in his mercy lifted me up, and raised me aloft, and placed me on the top of the wall.”

Like Saint Paul.

It is interesting to note that Patrick was introduced to his Christian vocation in much the same way as Saint Paul, by the direct action of God rather than by the ordinary means of instruction through the church. In telling his story, Paul writes, “And then he who had set me apart from the day of my birth, and called me by his grace, saw fit to make his Son known in me, so that I could preach his gospel among the Gentiles. My first thought was not to hold any consultations with any human creature; and I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who had been apostles longer than myself; no, I went off into Arabia, and when I came back, it was to Damascus. Then, when three years had passed, I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Peter and I stayed a fortnight there in his company.” (Galatians 1:15-18.)

Patrick tells his story in more vigorous language than Paul, in this instance, but we note that the two stories run parallel in several respects. “And therefore I ought to cry out loud,” writes Saint Patrick, “and so also render something to the Lord for his great benefits here and in eternity – benefits which the mind of man is unable to appraise. Wherefore, then, be astonished, ye great and little that fear God, and you men of letters on your estates, listen and pore over this. Who was it that roused up me, the fool that I am, from those who in the eyes of men are wise, and expert in law, and powerful in word and in everything? And he inspired me – me, the outcast of this world – before others, to be the man (if only I could!) who, with fear and reverence and without blame, should faithfully serve the people to whom the love of Christ conveyed and gave me for the duration of my life, if I should be worthy.”

Escape from Slavery.

After six years in Ireland came the second crisis in Patrick’s life. He heard a voice in his sleep, which said, “See, your ship is ready.” At this point it should be noted that Patrick does not at any time speak in his Confession of working a miracle, although there is no reason why some of the miracles attributed to him may not be true, but he does say that God used to forewarn him of many things by a divine message. This particular message about the ship followed on another message he had received earlier, “It is well that you fast, soon you will go to your own country.”

He took flight from the man to whom he was bonded and made a journey of “perhaps two hundred miles” to a port, probably on the south-east coast where he knew nobody. He tells us that he made this journey in the strength of God who directed his way and that he feared nothing until he came to the ship.

If he feared nothing on the way, he was timid and nervous enough in his approach to the ship’s captain. Despite an offer to pay, he met a curt refusal.

After he had turned disappointedly away to make his way back to the hut where he had been sheltering he was recalled a by a crew member and taken aboard the ship which set sail at once for Gaul.

Still Amongst Barbarians.

In three days, they reached Gaul, only to find it impossible to dispose of their cargo because the country had been devastated by barbarian invasions. This may well have been the year 407, the year of a great Vandal raid on Gaul. These were grim days for the church. Only three years later the Goths, led by Alaric, entered the city of Rome and spent three days of destruction there. Alaric and his Goths were to be followed shortly by Attila and the Huns, and they in turn by Genseric and his Vandals. The work of Saint Patrick can be fully understood only against the background of his times. Those times are well described by Saint Jerome who lived through part of them at least. “The mind shudders,” he wrote, “when dwelling on the ruin of our day. For twenty years and more, Roman blood has been flowing ceaselessly over the broad countries between Constantinople and the Julian Alps, where the Goths, the Huns and Vandals spread ruin and death. How many Roman nobles have been their prey! How many matrons and maidens have fallen victim to their lust! Bishops live in prison, priests and clerics fall by the sword, churches are plundered, Christ’s altars are turned into feeding troughs, the remains of martyrs are thrown out of their coffins. Everywhere there is sorrow, everywhere lamentation, everywhere the image of death. . . . What is safe if Rome is gone? What is safe if the city which had taken captive the whole world is taken captive?”

The reply to Saint Jerome’s question is that the spiritual resources of the church were not seriously impaired by the fall of the Roman Empire. Christianity faced the problem of converting the barbarians. Patrick was a pioneer in that work. At the beginning of his Letter against Coroticus he wrote, “I, Patrick, a sinner, unlearned, resident in Ireland, declare myself to be a bishop. Most assuredly, I believe that what I am, I have received from God. And so I live among barbarians, a stranger and an exile for the love of God.” We note here Patrick’s awareness of two important things. His life’s work lay among the barbarians. He had been equipped by God for their conversion. At the same time, he is aware of the importance of his episcopate. In the early days of the rebuilding of Europe, the authority of the Emperor and his representatives was largely replaced by that of the Bishop. One tradition from the Middle Ages has Patrick presiding over a Council of the rulers of Ireland to bring their laws and social customs into line with Christian teaching.

Arrival in France.

Patrick’s arrival in France at this particular time must surely, therefore, have given perspective to his later work among the barbarians on what was then the fringe of the known world. However, we do not know in detail what happened to Saint Patrick in the few years after he landed in Gaul. He tells us that he was captured and held a prisoner for sixty days before escaping. It was only after many journeys over long distances that he was eventually able to make his way from Gaul to the home of his parents in Britain. One thing we know for certain is that he remained very close to God during these difficult days. As the country had become a “desert” after the ravages of the invaders, the travelers were in constant danger of starvation. He recalls that on one journey of twenty-eight days they travelled through deserted country and that God gave them food and fire and dry weather until they met people. “As I said above,” he wrote, “we travelled twenty-eight days through deserted country and the night we met people we had no food left.” After a few years, he found his way back to his people in Britain who received him as their son and sincerely begged him that, having suffered so many hardships, he should not leave them again.

A Voice from Ireland.

It is doubtful whether it would now have been possible for Patrick to settle down at home, much and all as he loved his parents and his country. At all events, his future was made plain to him by a vision, which he experienced while there with his parents. He saw in the night a vision of a man who appeared to hand him a letter on which was written the words, “Wake you, boy, come and walk amongst us once more.” At the same time, he appeared to hear the voice of the Irish from beside the Western Sea making the same request.

We must not imagine that he arose immediately from his bed and set about the conversion of Ireland. Many years were to pass before he again set foot in Ireland. He first of all journeyed to Gaul and remained there for perhaps fifteen years. These years were spent for the most part at the monastery of Lerins and at Auxerre, where he prayed, studied and worked, first as a deacon and later as a priest.

The fruit of these years is seen in his writing and in his later work. His writing is rough and unpolished but it shows a most remarkable knowledge of the Scriptures. He quotes from the Old and New Testaments readily and effectively. His writing echoes the Pauline Epistles, and even when he is not quoting directly from the Scriptures his outlook and even his phrasing reflects them.

The other benefit derived from these years in Gaul was his realization of the worth of the monastic way of life. Although he never became a monk himself, he loved the monks at Lerins and wrote as an old man that he longed “to visit the brethren and behold the faces of the Saints of the Lord”. There can be no doubt that the monastic movement in Ireland dates back as far as Saint Patrick because he speaks himself with pride of the “countless sons and daughters of kings who became the monks and virgins of Christ.”

Return to Ireland.

During Patrick’s stay in Gaul Saint Germanus, who was Bishop of Auxerre, was sent by the Pope to examine the state of the church in Britain. Among other things, his visit revealed that the British slaves in Ireland had converted many pagans to Christianity but that the Irish church was not yet properly organized. As a result of this, a priest named Palladius was named Bishop by the Pope and sent to Ireland.

Palladius lived only a short time and it soon became necessary to find a successor. The Confession indicates almost certainly that Patrick had been nominated as leader of the first expedition and even had ‘inside information’ that he was to be consecrated Bishop. This event did not take place because a misdemeanor of his very early life was quoted against his character. He was bitterly disappointed but was strengthened by a vision in which God made known to him that he was displeased with his rejection. Since he was sure that his vocation to work among the Irish came from God, he pressed his claims and was appointed to replace Palladius. It seems possible that he may have received this appointment directly from the Pope, as did Palladius, but we cannot be certain of this. We do not even know who consecrated him Bishop, but we do know that at the time of his consecration he was already a middle-aged man.

Work in Ireland.

In the Confession Patrick claims that it would be tedious to give an account of all or even part of his labours as a Bishop in Ireland. Perhaps he is right.

The important thing is that his labour were highly successful. In his favor would have been his knowledge of the customs of the people amongst whom he worked. The traditions that have been handed down about his missionary work invariably point to a deep insight into the mentality of the Irish. What he lacked in intellectual gifts he made up for by shrewdness tempered by a native kindness that shows through all his writing. He worked close to God and knew where true values lay.

He saw himself as a fisher of men and tells how he spread out his nets so that a great multitude and throng might be caught for God. It was a great consolation for him to see so many who had worshipped ‘idols and things impure’ join the ranks of the people of God. Recalling his missionary work he wrote, “For I am very much God’s debtor, who gave me such great grace that many people were reborn in God through me and afterwards confirmed, and that clerics were ordained for them everywhere.” In this way, he consolidated his work so successfully that the nation he won for God has never defected. Although he consciously attempted to leave a bequest, he could not have envisaged what a great bequest it would be. “I must spread everywhere the name of God,” he said, “so that after my decease I may leave a bequest to my brethren and sons whom I have baptized in the Lord – so many thousands of people.”

As the episcopal office demands, he became so deeply attached to his people that he could not bear the thought of leaving them. “Even if I wished to leave them and go to Britain, – and how I have wished to go to my country and my parents, – and also to Gaul in order to visit the brethren and to see the faces of the saints of my Lord, – God knows it that I much desired it; – but I am bound by the Spirit, who gives evidence against me if I do this, telling me that I shall be guilty.” His attachment was not a personal one. It was founded in the commission he had received from Christ. “I am afraid of losing the labour which I have begun – nay, not I, but Christ the Lord who bade me come here and stay with them for the rest of my life, if the Lord will, – and He will guard me from every evil that I may not sin before them.”

Death.

Saint Patrick died of a natural illness when in his mid-seventies. The exact circumstances of his death are not known, but when he died, Ireland was no longer a missionary country. It had already been won for God. Very soon, missionaries were to leave Ireland for Europe. The English historian Philip Hughes, in acknowledging this, pays Saint Patrick a great compliment, “From Ireland, which was Patrick’s creation, the light was one day to return and enlighten Europe itself.”

A Sinful Man.

One of the features of Saint Patrick’s spirituality was a constant awareness of his own sinfulness. There is no doubt that a deep sense of sin is one of God’s great graces. It can be given only to a person who had learned to love God deeply and sincerely. Romano Guardini has formulated a prayer which reads,

“Holy God, teach me to recognize your love, so that I may see how great is my guilt.”

In Patrick’s life, and in the life of every saint, this prayer was answered. He introduces himself to us with the words, “I am Patrick a sinner.” He recognizes that he needs constant support from God, “I do not trust myself as long as I am in this body of death, for strong is he who daily strives to turn me away from the faith and purity of true religion.” He squarely faces the fact that “the hostile flesh is ever dragging us unto death, that is, towards the forbidden satisfaction of one’s desires”, but not without recognizing the power of God’s grace to overcome sin. “From the time I came to know him in my youth, the love of God and the fear of Him, have grown in me, and up to now, thanks to the grace of God, I have kept the faith.” The natural corollary of the recognition of God’s love is confidence. Romano Guardini’s prayer sums this up perfectly.
“Holy God, teach me to recognize your love, so that I may see how great is my guilt. But grant that this recognition may also become confidence.”

The Trinity in His Life.

The pictures and statues of Saint Patrick show him with a shamrock in his hand and snakes beneath his feet. Without entering into the question of whether Saint Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, we may say that the symbolism is good. It points to the fact that he waged a successful fight against the forces of evil in Ireland.

The symbolism of the shamrock is equally good. Its value for teaching the doctrine of the Trinity is strictly limited, but the Confession indicates that Saint Patrick lived the mystery in his own life and, with or without the help of a shamrock, taught it successfully.

He sees clearly that the sanctification of men has its well-spring in the Father. “He watched over me before I knew him and guarded me and comforted me as a Father would his son.” Patrick praised God. He thanked Him. He loved Him. He trusted Him. He feared God. He saw the hand of God in everything. He said often that the strength of God directed his way. He accepted with equanimity whatever God asked of Him. He was in all things a devoted son to his Father.

He expresses his belief in the Son in a compact formula, “Him we believe to have always been with the Father, spiritually and ineffably begotten by the Father before the beginning of the world, before all beginning; and by him are made all things visible and invisible. He was made man, and, having defeated death was received into heaven by the Father; and he has given Him all power over all names, in heaven, on earth and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess to him that Jesus Christ is the Lord and God, in whom we believe, whose advent we expect soon, to be, yes judge of the living and the dead, who will render to every man according to his deeds.” He is glad to be poor with Christ. He is confident that Christ will guard him from every evil. He was prepared to sacrifice himself with Christ, “Ready I was that he should give me his chalice to drink, as he gave it also to the others who loved him.” He expected one day to reign with Christ. “Of Him and by Him and in Him we shall reign.”

His attachment to the Holy Spirit was no less real. He says that it is the Holy Spirit who makes those who believe and obey sons of God and joint heirs with Christ. He speaks of God saving him from evil “because of the Spirit that dwells in me”. He regrets that he, who was chosen to be God’s helper, “should have been so slow to do as the Spirit suggested.”

We have only very few pages of Saint Patrick’s writing. Altogether, they would scarcely be the length of a short story. They nonetheless give a graphic picture of Patrick as a man who lived for God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

“To Serve Faithfully . . .”

Saint Patrick saw himself as an ambassador of God. “I commend my soul to my faithful God, for whom I am an ambassador in all my wretchedness.” He regarded it a privilege to serve God’s people. He wanted, above all else, “to serve faithfully” the people to whom Christ had given him. As already stated he regarded himself as a fisher of men and he tried “to fish well and diligently”. He was driven by his love for men “to make known the gift of God and ever-lasting consolation”. His great desire was to spend himself for the souls committed to his care.

As an ambassador for God, Saint Patrick was a tremendous success. To be a successful ambassador for God is an exacting task, demanding full use of the power of divine love that lies within us. Perhaps Saint Patrick, by his example, inspiration and intercession may help us to exercise those powers more fully.

The Breastplate of Saint Patrick.

In this pamphlet, I have made reference to two writings of Saint Patrick. There may possibly be a third. There is an old Irish morning prayer called the Breastplate of Saint Patrick that can be traced back in its present form to the 9th century. The possibility of its composition by Saint Patrick should not be dismissed since it is one in spirit with his own writing. Some lines from the prayer are appended.

I arise today through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to secure me –
against the snares of devils,
against temptation of vices,
against inclinations of nature,
against everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near,
alone and in a crowd. . . .
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie,
Christ where I sit,
Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me,
Salvation is of the Lord,
Salvation is of the Lord,
Salvation is of Christ,
May Your salvation,
O Lord, be ever with us.

Penance And Self-Denial: Why? The Significance of Lenten Discipline for Modern Life.

Penance And Self-Denial: Why? The Significance of Lenten Discipline for Modern Life.
Rev John A. O’Brien, Ph.D.

The Significance of Lenten Discipline For Modern Life
“Lent is a relic from the Dark Ages. It is a shadow projected down the ages of gloom that falls athwart the sunshine of our modern life and happiness. As the Matterhorn that lifts its snow-crowned summit high into the skies of Switzerland, intercepts the slanting rays of the setting sun, and brings premature darkness to the little village nestling in the valley behind it, so Lent robs us of much of the brightness of social life and worldly amusement, casting prematurely across the noonday of our life the shadow of death and the here-after. Its doctrine of mortification runs counter to the very grain of our human nature. It is a killjoy, an anachronism in our enlightened twentieth century. We want a religion of joy and gladness, not of gloom.”

Such is the cry that we hear about us on every side — the cry of the epicurean, the cry of the cynic, the cry of the sophisticated, seeking through a thousand devious routes to find the Blue Bird of happiness. Is Lent really a barrier to our happiness? Is it the mere blind handing down of a custom from the hoary past, that has lost its purpose and its utility for our modern day? Let us face these questions frankly and fairly. For unless a person understands how the observance of Lent promotes his welfare and happiness he is not likely to enter into its spirit wholeheartedly. [Our twenty-first century is even more antagonistic to our Catholic Faith and regards itself as even more enlightened than the last century and thus even more entitled to criticize the Catholic Church. Moreover, we Catholics have a greater responsibility now that our Lenten penance is to be so much more dependent on our own initiative and less on Church Law. We owe it to ourselves to understand the principles and whys of penance and self-denial.]

Example of Christ

In the first place, Lent is but the following of the example of Our Divine Savior Himself. For the Gospel tells us that immediately after His baptism in the Jordan and before beginning His public ministry, Christ went out into the desert and fasted forty days and forty nights. Through the lips of His precursor, Saint John the Baptist, He said to the people: “Unless you do penance you shall likewise perish.” Unlike our modern generals who send their soldiers out into the front-line trenches, while they remain securely behind, Our Divine Master asks us to follow only where He Himself has led. For many centuries the Christian world followed the example of Our Savior with a rigorousness which we to-day do not even remotely approximate. A few years ago, I stood at the foot of Mount Quarantana, within sight of the Jordan, where the Savior spent forty days of fast. I saw the sides of the mountain studded with holes, where anchorites had come to dwell, and to follow literally the rigorous fast of the Savior.

Until the ninth century, for the ordinary Catholic but one meal a day was taken, and that at evening. During the Middle Ages not only the theaters but even the law courts were closed. War was forbidden under penalty of excommunication. Every activity that might distract the minds of the Christians from the consideration of the condition of their souls and the attainment of their eternal salvation was prohibited. It has only been in recent times that the severity of the Lenten fast has been so greatly mitigated that now we experience but little hardship in its observance.

Analysis of Saint Paul

Catholics do not observe Lent, however, merely because Our Savior fasted, but because of the reasons which lie behind His command — to do penance as the necessary condition for salvation. We do penance for a twofold purpose:
First, to atone for our past sins and to satisfy the temporal punishment due for them;
secondly, to strengthen our wills so as to prevent our falling in the future.

When psychology will have written its final chapter on human nature, it will be found that it has given us no more penetrating revelation of its conflicting duality than that which Saint Paul disclosed to the Romans when he said: “I see another law in my members fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin that is in my members.” And to the Galatians he said: “For the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to another, so that you do not the things that you would.” Because of this conflicting duality that lay at the very heart of his nature, he found himself yielding to the thralldom of the senses and to the imperious tyranny of flesh against the voice of reason and conscience, so that he was compelled to explain: “The good which I will. . . . . I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do.”

How aptly do these words of Saint Paul reflect the experience of all mankind. Because of this duality in our nature, we find a Dr. Jekyll and a Mr. Hyde, a saint and a demon struggling for the mastery in each of us. In the last analysis, it will be found that the whole purpose of all the exercises of the spiritual life is to emancipate the will from the tyranny of the flesh, to make it the ready servant of the reason and the conscience of man.

In order to secure such mastery, self-denial and self-discipline are necessary. The appetite, which is always pampered, petted and indulged, becomes imperious and domineering. By denying oneself at times pleasures that are lawful, we strengthen the muscles of the will, so that it will be more capable of resisting pleasures which are unlawful. That is why in Lent we are asked to give up some pleasures and amusements which are lawful in themselves. We thereby fortify the enthronement of our conscience and our intellect over our appetites and cravings. Then when the temptation comes, we shall be able to stand unshaken.

Promotes Happiness

Strength of will, which comes through self-denial and discipline, is necessary to success in every line of endeavor — in literature, in science, in art, in commerce, in athletics. Look at the athletes who are training day after day on the cinder track. See those muscles of theirs, at first soft and flabby, change under the dint of daily discipline until they become as sinews of iron. So it is with the Christian, whose will, at first soft and flabby, gradually becomes like iron under the lash of daily discipline during Lent. This strength of will developed by spiritual exercises carries over into every department of life — making for success in scholarship, in athletics, in business, in life.

Not only does it make for success, but it makes for that subjective correlate of success — happiness and peace of mind. True happiness is found not in the enslavement of the will to the passions, but in the enthronement of the conscience and the will over the appetites and the instincts of man. There is found that deeper and truer happiness which is not dependent upon external circumstances, but is found within — in the kingdom of the mind. Your entering generously into the spirit of Lent will have a far-reaching influence not only upon the success of all your manifold activities, but also upon your happiness and peace of mind.

Some time ago, the students at the University of Illinois, U.S.A., honored at a public mass meeting the young man who carried the colors of Illinois to victory at the Olympic Games at Amsterdam by winning the welterweight wrestling championship of the world. After congratulating him upon his great achievement, I asked him how long he had trained for the contest. “Father,” he said, “scarcely a day has passed in the last seven years that I haven’t gone through some special exercise designed to prepare me for that encounter.” No wonder that he was as hard as iron and steel, and able to withstand the assaults of the best wrestlers among all the nations of the world. If men toil and discipline themselves through rigorous self-denial to win a race for an earthly prize, how much greater should be our zeal and earnestness in seeking to win the race of life that leads to a crown of imperishable glory!

Christ’s Self-Control

If one will study with care the character of Our Divine Savior as portrayed in the Gospel stories, he will find it adorned in an eminent degree with all the qualities which have distinguished the illustrious heroes of the world. Wisdom, power, mercy, and love shine forth luminously from His sublime personality. But as one studies that complex character at greater length and secures a more penetrating insight into it, he gradually becomes conscious that there is some subtle quality there, blending all these into a harmonious whole, which is lacking in the character of the great heroes of the world. There is no jar, no jolt, none of the strange inconsistencies that glare out at us from the lives of the secular heroes.

That quality is the Savior’s perfect self-mastery, self-control. Never for an instant in all the scenes of the Master’s earthly life is there an incident wherein a rash, hasty, headstrong action mars the even tenor and the surpassing beauty of the Savior’s unfailing equanimity and perfect self-control. Washington’s greatness bears ever the tarnish of his profanity and ill-temper. Napoleon’s glory is dimmed by his uncontrolled concupiscence. But when on trial for His life before the court of Caiphas, when buffeted and spat upon by His executioners, even when stripped of His garments and nailed to the Cross, the Master shows no sign of anger or vindictiveness. Never for a moment does He lose that marvelous mastery of Himself.

That is one of the reasons why the name of Jesus stands out among all the names in human history — the solitary example of perfect self-control. As Richter has said: “The purest among the strong, and the strongest among the pure, Jesus lifted with His wounded hands empires from their hinges and changed the stream of centuries.” He taught man the greatest of all arts — the art of self-control.

“Self-knowledge, self-reverence, self-control
In these alone lie sovereign power;
Who conquers self, rules others,
Aye, is lord and ruler of the universe.”

Essential for Success

The person who would master the rudiments of the spiritual life must learn the lesson of self-discipline. It is one of the most essential elements for success in the earthly and spiritual warfare which we wage. The paths of life are strewn with the wrecks of men and women conquering others, mastering the arts, unlocking the secrets that lay hidden for countless centuries in the unfathomed bosom of the earth, only to fall victims to their own lusts, perishing in their own unconquered wilderness.

To me there is something tragically moving in the spectacle of Alexander the Great subjugating Greece, conquering imperial Persia, (outshining future imperial Rome), extending his little kingdom of Macedonia over the known world, until he found himself in distant Ecbatana, in Media, Asia, sitting astride his steed and weeping because there were no more worlds to conquer. Within a week Alexander the Great, conqueror of the world, making the earth tremble as his mighty battalion swept across Europe and Asia, lay dead in his tent, a victim to his own concupiscence — his unbridled passion for drink. Instead of sighing for new worlds to conquer, if he had but eyes to see, he would have perceived within himself a kingdom which stretched out as a huge jungle, untamed and unexplored. Alexander the Great will remain for all times as the classic example of the man who was able to conquer all the world, except himself — literally murdered at the very zenith of his greatness by his own untamed passions.

We need not go back to ancient Greece or Rome or Ecbatana, however, to witness the tragic wrecks of uncontrolled passions. Our insane asylums, our homes for wayward boys and girls, scream out at us their message of the frightful retribution meted out to those who allow their lust to subjugate their reason and their conscience. In the very bosom of our society are countless men and women in the untamed wilderness of whose hearts there surge unchecked, wild, primeval passions, pulling them down slowly but surely to the level of beasts, and murdering everything in their nature that is God-like and divine. The ceaseless gnawings of remorse, the sapping of their manhood and virility by terrible diseases — these are the forebodings of the far greater punishments that await with inexorable justice the transgressors of the Divine law in eternity.

A Dying Wreck

One evening some time ago, I was called to the bedside of a stranger, dying in one of the rooming houses for transients in the city. He had gone through all the stages of delirium tremens, and was a complete wreck. The doctor said that he had gone on one spree too many. For this particular spree had caused complications, a ruptured blood-vessel, and his end was a matter of hours. Though only in middle age, his hair was streaked with grey, and his face was heavily lined. Worry and dissipation were stamped unmistakably upon the scarred countenance.

Heartbroken, he told me his story. Possessing a good education, he had risen to a high position with a railroad, when he contracted the habit of drunkenness. Losing his job after a prolonged fit of intoxication, he was ashamed to face his wife and children. He went from bad to worse, finally becoming an outcast among the barrel houses in a large city.

After I heard his confession, he broke into tears, and his whole frame shook with sobbing as he cried, “Father, I would have given anything in the world to have freed myself from this terrible vice of drink. It has brought shame upon my family, whom I love more than anything in life. It has pulled me down into a living hell.” I shall never forget to my dying day the look of desolating anguish akin to despair in his wistful eyes, as he lay there sobbing as though his heart would break.

As I left that bare, drab room, with its dying victim, and came down the creaking stairs of the dingy rooming house, the scene haunted my mind. While hurrying home through the darkness of that winter night, illumined only by the distant stars shining as God’s silent sentinels in the sky, I prayed that God might protect my students, my people, myself, from a tragedy such as I had left behind. For that is the fate which awaits the boy or girl, the man or woman who allows any passion to grow unchecked, until it transforms him from a saint into a demon incarnate — the terrible tragedy of the man who is murdered, not by the hand of the assassin, but by his own brutal passions, slowly strangled to death by his own self.

The whole world watched breathlessly a few years ago the frantic struggle of men to free a victim (Floyd Collins) from the jaws of Sand Cave in the Kentucky hillsides. But the Sand Cave resisted all the assaults of men and machinery, and the rocks clung to their victim until life was extinct. So, any passion — intoxication, lust, anger, jealousy — that is allowed to go unchecked, develops into a monster that clings to its victim until it strangles him to a physical and spiritual death. Worse than the fall of a meteor from the sky is the fall of a young man or a woman from the beauty and sunshine of God’s grace into the foul swamp of uncontrolled vice. It is the most tragic note and the saddest that can be sounded in the whole gamut of human life.

The Remedy

What now is the remedy? Knowledge merely? “Quarry the granite rock,” says Cardinal [Blessed John Henry] Newman, “with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then you may hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passions and the pride of men.” Not knowledge alone, but will power is needed. Self-control means strength of will applied to one’s own conduct. How can will power be developed? Our Divine Master has given us the answer when He said: “He that will be My disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” By daily discipline, daily self denial, such as Lent brings to us. In no other way under the heavens, can there be developed will power and self-control.

The same conclusion was reached by an altogether different method of approach by one of the greatest of all psychologists, William James, when he said: “Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day.” Do something each day that is hard and more than is required in order that your faculty of effort, your will, may not become weak and atrophied through disuse. Thus, strikingly, does science reiterate and reinforce this age-old teaching of the Church.

Before the eyes of a world sick unto death with luxury and self-indulgence, the Church places during Lent the age-old picture drawn by the Master Artist, Christ, of will power developed through self-discipline, of self-control achieved through acts of self-denial. Greater than Napoleon Bonaparte, than Julius Caesar, than Alexander the Great, the conqueror of the world, is the man who has learned through the instrument of a vigorous will to conquer himself. For self-control is the ‘open sesame’ to success in this life and to eternal happiness in the next. All the after ages have but confirmed the wisdom of those words of an obscure Flemish monk, Thomas a Kempis, written in his monastic cell at Zwolle centuries ago: “He who best knows how to endure . . . is conqueror of himself and lord of the world, the friend of Christ and an heir of heaven.”

“And Unto Dust. . . .”

In addition to the great lesson of self-mastery, Lent brings home to mankind the fickleness of the world’s applause and its insufficiency to satisfy the hunger in the soul of man. On Ash Wednesday, the Church seeks by a colorful and impressive ceremony to drive home to her children the transiency of this earthly life and the wisdom of seeking to attain the life eternal. The palms which were blessed on the previous Palm Sunday, to remind us of the Saviour’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when the multitudes waved them aloft, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and strewed them in profusion on the road over which He rode — these palms the Church burns to ashes. Then, summoning her children to the altar railing, she places these ashes on the brow of each in the form of a cross, while she whispers in the ear of each the words of warning: “Remember, man, you are but dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

Why speak to youth in whose eager eyes there burn the fires of life, and on whose cheeks there rests the bloom of youthful vigor — why speak to them of dust and ashes, of death and the hereafter? Why lessen their zest for life and its pleasures? The Church thus speaks to them, not to lessen their zest for life, but to give them a sense of values. She shoves back the narrow horizon of youth, removes the veil from the senses, reveals the transient character of earthly things, and points out the folly of seeking enduring happiness in that which is so ephemeral. The thought of death and the hereafter is salutary at times for old and young, for it prompts one to answer aright that supreme question which the Master addresses to each of us: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?”

The wholesome effect of a profound realization of the transiency of human life and human beauty is illustrated by an incident in the life of Saint Francis Borgia. Francis was Duke of Gandia and Captain-General of Catalonia, and one of the most honored chevaliers at the Court of Spain. Isabella was known throughout Europe for her charm, her Spanish vivacity, and for the striking beauty of her countenance. Often had Francis braved death while carrying the banner of Aragon and Castile into the thick of the battle, knowing that he would be rewarded with a word of praise from his beloved Queen. He found his greatest happiness in basking in the sunshine of her smile and drinking in with greedy eyes her charming loveliness.

A Last Look

In 1539 there fell to his lot the sad duty of escorting the remains of his beloved Queen to the royal burial grounds at Granada. In order to verify the body as that of Isabella, the coffin was uncovered. Eagerly Francis stepped forward to take one last, lingering look at the beautiful countenance of his beloved Queen. He had no sooner done so than his face grew livid, his eyes wild with terror, as he shrank back. “No! No! Good God!” he cried; “it can’t be! It can’t be! Those eyes, that face, that smile! They can’t have perished so utterly.” What was the sight that greeted his eyes? A face of wondrous beauty? No. A face hideous and ugly in its putrefaction, the loathsome prey of worms and maggots pulling it back to dust and ashes. “God grant,” cried Francis, “that I seek not to find my happiness henceforth in that flesh which perishes so quickly, but only in that eternal Beauty which never knows decay.” Francis devoted his services thereafter to a heavenly King, seeking as a humble missionary to win souls for Christ.

From the most beautiful face in all Spain, for whose look of approval soldiers faced death with a smile, to a sight so foul and loathsome as to fill the spectator with revulsion — what a change! Gaze at the most beautiful face you have ever seen, with eyes that speak like a rapturous symphony, with a smile that warms and endears, and in a few short years will you be able to overcome your loathing to gaze upon it when death has touched it with its finger of decay? “Remember, man, that you are but dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

We need not go back, however, to the sixteenth century for striking instances of the transiency of earthly fame and the fickleness of human applause. On March 4, 1917, I stood in a crowd of 90,000 people before the Capitol in Washington, to watch the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson into the Presidency for his second term. His name was cheered on every side. A gigantic parade marched proudly before him in review. At the triumphant close of the World War, when he sailed for France to dictate the terms of the Versailles Treaty of Peace, he had reached the eminence of world fame. His words about freedom and democracy and the autonomy of small nations had rekindled the hopes of all the oppressed nations of the earth. Unprecedented crowds greeted him at Paris with tumultuous cheering. The eyes of all the world were turned to him, as he stood on the pinnacle of human eminence as a new Moses, heaven-sent to lead the groping feet of the nations into the Promised Land of perpetual peace.

An Age-Old Cry

A few years later I passed by a little home on ‘H Street’, where lived a broken old man, unable to take more than a few steps with the aid of his cane. Broken in body, broken in mind, broken in heart, his League of Nations plan contemptuously rejected by the Senate, his opponent swept into office by the greatest landslide in history, the nations of Europe shaking their fists at him for deluding them with false hopes. What a pitiable spectacle! As he gazed out of his window at night toward the Capitol ablaze with light, the scene of his brilliant feats, what memories must have stirred within him! Poor Woodrow Wilson!

One night, it is narrated, Mrs. Wilson happened to step into the parlor. The room was dark. Seated in a chair near the front window, with his face resting in his hands, she perceived her husband. There was the sound of a few broken sobs. Placing her hand tenderly upon the bowed head, she asked softly: “Are you ill, dear?” The former President raised his head and looked for a brief moment through tear-dimmed eyes toward the great shining Capitol that had resounded so often with his name. “No, not ill,” he said, “but I realize now as never before the fickleness of the plaudits of the multitude and the emptiness of the glory of this world.” As he sat there, broken in heart and alone, he tasted of that world weariness, that pang of the heart which caused Solomon in his old age to cry out: “Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity, save in loving God and serving Him alone.” [Woodrow Wilson died in 1924 aged 67.]

Solomon’s wisdom was echoed again by Saint Augustine, when, after running through the whole gamut of sensual indulgence in pagan Rome, he cried out: “Our hearts have been made for You, O God, and they shall never rest until they rest in You.” Such are the great eternal truths which Lent, with its gospel of penance and self-denial, drives home to a world that is forever tempted to find its happiness over the more beguiling but mistaken paths of ease and self-indulgence.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday
Rev. Fr. Leonard Goffine

Because on this day the Church blesses ashes, and places them on the heads of her faithful children, saying: “Remember man, thou art dust, and unto dust thou shaft return.”

Why is this done?

St. Charles Borromeo gives us the following reasons for this practice: that the faithful may be moved to sincere humility of heart; that the heavenly blessing may descend upon them, by which they, being really penitent, will weep with their whole soul for their sins, remembering how earth was cursed because of sin, and that we have all to return to dust; that strength to do true penance may be given the body, and that our soul may be endowed with divine grace to persevere in penance.

With such thoughts let the ashes be put upon your head, while you ask in all humility and with a contrite heart, for God’s mercy and grace.

Is the practice of putting ashes upon our heads pleasing to God?

It is, for God Himself commanded the Israelites to put ashes on their heads for a sign of repentance. (Jer. XXV. 34.) Thus did David (Ps, CI. 10.) who even strewed ashes on his bread; the Ninivites, (Jonas III. 5.) Judith, (Jud, IX. 1.) Mardochai, (Esth. IV 1.) Job, (JobXLII. 6.) etc. The Christians of the earliest times followed this practice as often as they did public penance for their sins.

Why from this day until the end of Lent are the altars draped in violet?

Because, as has been already said, the holy season of Lent is a time of sorrow and penance for sin, and the Church desires externally to demonstrate by the violet with which she drapes the altar, by the violet vestments worn by the priests, and by the cessation of the organ and festive singing, that we in quiet mourning are bewailing our sins; and to still further impress the spirit of penance upon us, there is usually only a simple crucifix or a picture of Christ’s passion, left visible upon the altar, and devoutly meditating upon it, the heart is mostly prepared for contrition.

In the Introit of this day’s Mass the Church uses the following words to make known her zeal for penance, and to move God to mercy.

Introit: Thou hast mercy upon all, O Lord, and hatest none of the things which Thou hast made, winking at the sins of men for the sake of repentance, and sparing them; for thou art the Lord our God. (Wisd. XI. 24. 25.) Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me; for my soul trusteth in thee. (Ps. LVI. 2.) Glory be to the Father, etc.

Collect: Grant to thy faithful, O Lord, that they may begin the venerable solemnities of fasting with suitable piety, and perform them with tranquil devotion. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, etc.

Lesson: (Joel II. 12-19) Thus with the Lord: Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning. And rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God; for he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil. Who knoweth but he will return, and forgive, anal leave a blessing behind him, sacrifice and libation to the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Sion: sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather together the people; sanctify the Church; assemble the ancients; gather together the little ones, and them that suck at the breasts; let the bridegroom go forth from his bed, and the bride out of her bride-chamber. Between the porch and the altar the priests, the Lord’s ministers, shall weep; and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people; and give not thine inheritance to reproach, that the heathens should rule over them. Why should they say among the nations: Where is their God? The Lord hath been zealous for his land, and hath spared his people. And the Lord answered, and said to his people: Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and you shall be filled with them; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations, with the Lord Almighty.

Explanation: The Prophet Joel exhorts the Jews to sorrow and penance for their sins, that they evade the expected judgment to be sent by God upon the city of Jerusalem. He required of them to show their repentance not merely by rending their garments, a sign of mourning with the Jews, but by a truly contrite heart. The Church wishes us to see plainly from this lesson of the prophet what qualities our penance should possess, if we desire reconciliation with God, forgiveness of our sins, and deliverance at the Last Day, which qualities are not merely abstinence from food and amusements, but the practice of real mortification of our evil inclinations, thus becoming with our whole heart converted to God.

Gospel: (Matt. VI. 16-21) At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: When you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face, that thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee. Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth, where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.

Explanation: Jesus forbids us to seek the praises of men when performing good works, (fasting is a good work,) and still worse it would be to do good as the Pharisees, through hypocrisy. He also warns us against avarice and the desire for temporal riches, urging us to employ our temporal goods, in giving alms, and doing works of charity, thus laying up treasures in heaven, which are there rewarded and will last there forever. “What folly”, says St. Chrysostom, “to leave our goods where we cannot stay, instead of sending them before us where we are going — to heaven!”‘

Preparing For A Good Lent: Penance

Preparing For A Good Lent: Penance
Sam Guzman

“How beautiful, how necessary is penance.” – St. Francis of Assisi

Penance is an unpopular topic these days. Perhaps it is because we have become soft, even wimpy, valuing comfort over anything else. Maybe it’s due to a misguided attempt to seem less rigid and legalistic. Then again, maybe it’s really because we don’t think we have any sins over which to be penitent. Whatever the reason, penance should not be ignored. It is vital to the spiritual life, and there’s no better time to practice it than Lent. But when we get down to it, what is penance really? Is it just hair shirts and 40 day fasts? Let’s get to the heart of the matter.

What is Penance?

When we talk about penance, we usually think of doing things, and that is indeed part of it. But our actions will be dead, and in fact harmful, if they are not preceded by an interior conversion of heart. Penance, then, is nothing more than an interior contrition of heart displayed through outward actions.

True penance flows from love for God and a recognition of the seriousness of sin. If we don’t realize how good and loving Our Lord is, and if we don’t simultaneously realize how truly evil sin is, we won’t be truly penitent. We’ll just think of God as angry tyrant who we are trying to appease by checking off a list of actions. Yet, He is no tyrant. Our Father daily pours out blessings and graces on us, and He loves us fervently. He has given us everything he has to give— most of all, Himself.

Yet, we daily repay him with ingratitude and indifference, wounding him deeply and crucifying his Son with sins of lust, anger, slander, pride, and countless others. We are the worst of children to the best of Fathers. When we let these thoughts sink in, when these realities penetrate our hearts, we are moved to penance.

Purpose

You may still be wondering why outward actions are necessary at all— after all, doesn’t God look on the heart? Of course he does, but with each of our sins, damage is created both spiritually and temporally, and it must be repaired. An example will help illustrate this principle.

A few weeks ago, a priceless violin, a Stradivarius, was stolen from the concertmaster of our local symphony. Now, this is no ordinary violin— it is valued somewhere between $6 million and $10 million dollars. It would be more accurate to say that it is priceless, as its maker is long dead and its unique qualities can never be reproduced. Fortunately, it was recovered quickly and has been returned safely to its owner. Now, imagine if the criminals who stole the violin hadn’t kept it safe. Imagine they had smashed it to pieces. We cringe at the thought—yet that is exactly what sin does to our souls.

Your soul is of infinite worth. Jesus bought it with his blood and has enriched it with His grace. The Holy Trinity dwells there. With each sin you commit, you are marring and destroying this priceless treasure, the temple of God. More than this, you are harming your relationship with Our Lord. It’s important to remember that no sin is isolated when you are a member of Christ’s body. Whether you see it or not, your sin is marring and wounding the spiritual reality that is the mystical body of Christ.

Now, this damage must be repaired, and it is repaired through penance. If I argue with my wife and say things I regret, I will show my sorrow by buying her flowers and chocolate. While it’s a poor analogy, penance is the flowers and chocolate of the spiritual life, restoring the broken relationship with Jesus and repairing the damage we have done to both His mystical body and our souls.

Penance Ideas

Now that we have defined penance and its purpose, we should discuss how to incorporate it into our Lent, as well as our daily lives.

Remember, deciding what penance you should undertake is a question of how best you can show Jesus you love him, recognizing that sacrifice is at the heart of love. Of course, even the greatest of our sacrifices are nothing compared to what he gave— His very life— to show us that he loved us. Keep that in mind as you prepare for this Lent.

Here are some penance ideas for this Lent:

•Fasting – Fasting is the traditional penance of the Church. You can fast from a meal, dessert, smoking, salt on your food, alcohol or anything else you enjoy. Be sure to simultaneously spiritually fast from sin, or your bodily fasting will be meaningless.
•Rising early – Getting up early is hard. A great penance, is to rise early, maybe 30 minutes earlier than you normally do. Jump out of bed immediately after your alarm goes off and don’t give yourself the comfort of hitting snooze and dozing off again.

•Cold shower – Turn the water to cold thirty seconds before you get out. Or if you’re really feeling penitent, take the entire shower cold.

•Extra attention – Many times, we don’t give others our full attention, whether it’s our wife, kids, or coworkers. We men are especially bad at this. Make a sacrifice of your time by paying attention to the words and concerns of others.

•TV and social media fast – Many times, we drown our souls in media noise. We have no time to reflect because of the constant input of Facebook, Twitter, music, or TV. Cut these out and spend the time you would have spent on them reading a spiritual book or praying.

•Daily crosses – Every day, we experience irritations and annoyances. Maybe it’s a traffic jam, maybe it’s a flat tire, maybe it’s an upsetting of our carefully laid plans, maybe it’s a sprained ankle. Accept these crosses patiently and peacefully, rather than resisting them irritably.

Conclusion

Penance is integral to Lent and to the spiritual life. It is only real and valuable if it flows from love for God and a grief over the reality of our sin. Through penance, we repair the spiritual damage we have done, healing our wounded souls and our relationship with Jesus.

The Beauty of Devotion

The Beauty of Devotion
St. Francis de Sales

In order to be devout, not only must we want to do the will of God, we must do it joyfully. If I were not a bishop, yet knew what I know, I would not want to be one. But being one, not only am I obliged to do what this annoying office requires, but I must do it joyfully, and I must take delight in it and accept it. To do so is to follow St. Paul’s saying, “in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God” (1 Cor. 7:24).

We must carry not the crosses of others, but our own. And this means that each of us must “deny himself” (Matt. 16:24), that is to say, to deny his own will. “I want to do this; I would be better there than here”: we are tempted by such thoughts. Our Lord knows what he is about. Let us do his will and remain where he has placed us.

Not only should you be devout and love the devout life, but you should be making that life beautiful to behold.

Now, it will be beautiful to the extent to which it is useful and agreeable to others. The sick will love your piety if it causes them to be charitably consoled. Your family will love it if it makes you more solicitous of their good, milder in the face of life’s vicissitudes, and withal more amiable. Your spouse will love it to the extent to which your devotion makes you warmer and more affectionate. If your parents and friends see in you a greater frankness, helpfulness, and readiness to bend to their wills in those things that are not contrary to the will of God, they too will find your life of devotion attractive. And this, as much as possible, should be your aim.

It is not possible to pray without employing the imagination and the understanding. Yet it cannot be doubted that we should make use of them only for the sake of moving the will, and then no more. Some say that it is not necessary to use the imagination to represent to ourselves the sacred humanity of the Savior. Not, perhaps, for those who are already far advanced on the mountain of perfection. But for those of us who are still in the valleys — though we wish to be climbing — I think it is expedient to make use of all our faculties, including the imagination.

This imagination, however, ought to be quite simple, serving as a sort of needle with which to thread affections and resolutions into our mind. This is the great road, from which we should not take leave until the light of day is a little brighter and we can see the little paths. It is true that these imaginings should not be tangled up in too many particularities, but should be simple. Let us remain a while longer in the low valleys.

The Peace of God

Strive to remain in that peace and tranquillity that our Lord has given you. “The peace of God,” says St. Paul, “which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). Do you not see that he says the peace of God “passes all understanding”? That is to teach you that you should never trouble your­self to have any sentiment other than that of the peace of God. Now, the peace of God is the peace that proves the resolutions we have taken for God and the path that God has ordained for us. Walk firmly in the way in which the providence of God has placed you, without looking either to the right or to the left.

That is the way of perfection for you. This satisfaction of spirit — even if it be without savor — is worth more than a thousand delightful consolations. If God intends you to face some difficulties, you must receive them from his hand — the hand you have taken hold of — and you must not let go of him until he has brought you to the point of your perfection. You will see that God’s providence will accomplish all things according to your intentions, provided they be entirely in conformity with his. What is needed of you is a courage that is a little more vigorous and resolute.

The Presence of God

To remain in the presence of God and to place oneself in the presence of God are two different things. To place our­selves in his presence, we must withdraw our souls from all other objects and make ourselves attentive to his presence. After we have placed ourselves in his presence, we can keep ourselves there by the action of our will or intellect: by either looking upon God, or looking upon something else for the love of him, or not looking at anything but instead speaking to him, or neither looking at him nor speaking to him but simply remaining where he has placed us, like a statue in its niche. And when, to this simple act of remaining there is joined some sentiment that we belong to God and that he is our all, then we ought to give earnest thanks for his goodness.

If a statue in a niche in the middle of a room were able to speak, and we were to ask it, “Why are you there?,” it would reply, “Because my master the sculptor placed me here.”

“But why do you not move?”

“Because he wishes me to remain immobile.”

“But what use do you serve there? What does it profit you to remain there in this way?”

“It is not to serve myself that I exist, but to serve and to obey the will of my master.”

“But him you cannot see.”

“No,” says the statue, “but he sees me and takes pleasure that I am where he has placed me.”

“But would you not like to be able to move so that you could be nearer to him?”

“No, not unless he so commands me.”

“Is there then nothing at all that you desire?”

“No, for I am where my master has placed me, and his good pleasure is the sole delight of my being.”

How good a prayer this is, and how good it is to keep oneself in the presence of God in this way, by holding fast to his will and his good pleasure! Mary Magdalene was a statue in her niche when, without speaking a word or moving, and perhaps without even looking at him, she “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Luke 10:39). When he spoke, she listened. When he stopped speaking, she stopped listening, and yet she remained there. A little child resting on his mother’s bosom while the two of them sleep is truly in his good and most desirable place, even though she says not a word to him, nor he to her.

How happy we are when we want to love our Lord! Let us then love him, and let us not stop to reckon how little we do for his love, provided that we know that we will never wish to do anything except for his love. Can we not even say that we remain in the presence of God while we sleep? For we sleep in his sight, at his pleasure, and by his will, and he places us upon our beds like statues in their niches, and when we awaken, we find that he is there, near to us, that he has not budged and neither have we. We are in his presence; it is only our eyes that are shut.

Devotion Is For Everyone

Devotion Is For Everyone
St. Francis de Sales

When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.
I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.

Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbor. Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganized and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfills all things. In fact if it ever works against, or is inimical to, anyone’s legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.

The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them. True devotion does still better. Not only does it not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it.

Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes brighter and more sparkling, each according to its color, so each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.

It is therefore an error and even a heresy to wish to exclude the exercise of devotion from military divisions, from the artisans’ shops, from the courts of princes, from family households. I acknowledge, my dear Philothea, that the type of devotion which is purely contemplative, monastic and religious can certainly not be exercised in these sorts of stations and occupations, but besides this threefold type of devotion, there are many others fit for perfecting those who live in a secular state.

Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.

Resolutions, Failures and the New Year

Resolutions, Failures and the New Year 
Sam Guzman 
The Catholic Gentleman 12/31/14

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set out to remedying them. Every day begin the task anew.” -St. Francis de Sales

If you’re anything like me, you have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. Oh, you like the idea of course. Who doesn’t fantasize about completely overhauling one’s life with one simple choice? But as most of us know from experience, it’s not that easy. No matter how strong our resolve, we inevitably fail.

Sure, you can go a few days without binge watching shows on Netflix or eating fatty foods or neglecting to exercise. Maybe even a few weeks or months. But you eventually fail. When it happens, you despise yourself and your own weakness. You renew your resolve and promise to do get back on track. And then you fail again—and then again. Discouragement sets in. It eats away at your resolve. You begin to rationalize your failure, to make excuses, and before you know it, your determination that was so strong only a short while ago evaporates. You give up, and go back to life as usual.

Spiritual Resolve, Spiritual Failure 

Unless you have an iron will and have completely mastered yourself, this pattern probably sounds pretty familiar.

Yet, it doesn’t just apply to New Year’s resolutions. It far too often could describe our spiritual lives. Perhaps we read a good article online about the importance of prayer or the danger of some sin. We resolve to pray the rosary and read Scripture more in the days to come, and our intentions are nothing but good. But no matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to stick with it. With each failure, our resolve weakens, and before we know it, we have given up.

The same applies in a negative sense with sin. Perhaps you have wrestled with a habitual sin for a long time, even years. You go to confession and resolve to do better with God’s help. But then you fail again and again. You begin to grow bitter and to lose hope of ever overcoming it.

You feel tremendous guilt, and you beat yourself up endlessly. “I’m so pathetic, so weak. God must hate me,” you begin to think. Your spiritual life becomes dominated by fear and shame. Maybe you even begin to resent God for not helping you more and for making the spiritual struggle so difficult. The feelings of failure and bitterness cause you to fall into a spiritual depression of sorts, in which none of it seems worth it. You give up on tending to your spiritual life altogether and the desire to please God you once had dissolves completely.

A Righteous Man Falls Seven Times… 

Does any of the above sound familiar? If so, you probably have a love-hate relationship with the spiritual life, just as I do with New Year’s resolutions. You want to please God and be a good Catholic, but no matter how hard you try, you seem to fail constantly. What do to?

The first thing we need to do is come to grow in self-knowledge. We are fallen beings, and while it might hurt our pride to say so, we are utterly helpless to do anything good on our own. So often we don’t realize this. We look at our failures and are surprised, as if perfection is our normal state of being and sin is an aberration. We think we can overcome our sinful nature with simple willpower.

The reality is exactly the opposite. Sin is our normal mode of existence. There is no sin, no act of depravity which we are not capable of committing. We should rather be surprised that we do anything good at all, and that when we fall, our falls our not more frequent or more grave.

Second, we must embrace the truth about ourselves in humility. As I said above, we think very highly of ourselves and our own abilities. God wants to cure us of this pride and self love, and allowing us to fall is one way of doing this. Without realizing our utter poverty, we will never advance in holiness.

With that in mind, imagine how it would inflate our egos if we were able to become masters of the spiritual life overnight, with a simple resolution and by mere will-power. We would very quickly become spiritual puffer fish, so to speak, in love with our own ability to do good. We would say haughtily like the Pharisee, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are…”

Let us view each fall as an opportunity to grow in knowledge of our own weakness and in humble dependence upon God. Let us give thanks that we have not fallen more frequently or more gravely. Above all, let us remember that step one in the spiritual life is realizing our utter spiritual poverty. As Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Third, we must reject discouragement. The discouragement and hopelessness I described above is of the devil, and it is rooted in pride. It is deadly to our souls. When we fall into sin, we should immediately return to God in repentant love. Though we may feel as though our sin has driven God away from us, it is not true. It is never too soon to repent. God is always waiting, like the Father in the story of the prodigal son, to run to us and embrace us with open arms.

Fourth, we must remember that it is love that restores us to communion with God. As St. Maximilian Kolbe teaches us, “A single act of love makes the soul return to life.” When you fall, immediately tell Jesus that you love him, and then seek to please him with a concrete action. This act of love will breathe life into your soul and repair your relationship with our heavenly Father.

Finally, we must begin again day by day. I tend to think making resolutions for a whole year is rather foolish. We live one day at a time, not one year at a time. The masters of the spiritual life all encourage daily resolutions and daily examinations of conscience. This daily approach allows us to progress one step at a time and to pick ourselves up after each fall. It is also much easier to avoid discouragement when we are not looking to the past or the distant future. As King David wisely said, “I pay my vows day by day.”

Do Not Lose Courage

A monk was once asked, “What do you monks do in the monastery?” The monk replied, “We fall and get up again, fall and get up again.”

While we may have illusions that saints are those who never fall, and may long for a day when we will be invincible to failure, this simply isn’t reality. The only difference between the saints and the rest of humanity is that the saints kept getting up again, returning to God in repentance until the day of their death. Fall and get up again—this is the only prescription for holiness. Those who patiently endure will not be without their reward, for in the words of our Lord, “He who perseveres to the end will be saved.”

The Mystery of Christmas

The Mystery of Christmas
Dom Prosper Gueranger

I was given two lines of Machiavelli to be analyzed, which I will do here. They show that even he can say things that are wise, which might surprise some of you. Everything is mystery in this holy season. The Word of God, whose generation is before the day-star, is born in time: A Child is God. A Virgin becomes a Mother and remains a Virgin. Things divine are commingled with those that are human. And the sublime, the ineffable antithesis, expressed by the Beloved Disciple in those words of his Gospel, The Word was made flesh, is repeated in a thousand different ways in all the prayers of the Church.

And rightly so, for it admirably embodies the whole of the great portent that unites in one Person the nature of Man and the nature of God.

The splendor of this mystery dazzles the understanding, but it inundates the heart with joy. It is the consummation of the designs of God in time. It is the endless subject of admiration and wonder to the Angels and Saints. Nay, it is the source and cause of their beatitude. Let us see how the Church offers this mystery to her children, veiled under the symbolism of the Liturgy.

Why the 25th of December?

The four weeks of our preparation are over. They were the image of the 4,000 years that preceded the great coming, and we have reached the 25th day of the month of December as a long desired place of sweetest rest. But, why is it that the celebration of our Savior’s Birth should be the perpetual privilege of this one fixed day, while the whole liturgical cycle has to be changed and remodeled every year in order to yield to that ever-varying day which is to be the feast of His Resurrection, Easter Sunday?

The question is a very natural one, and we find it proposed and answered as far back as the fourth century by St. Augustine in his celebrated Epistle to Januarius. The holy Doctor offers this explanation: We solemnize the day of our Savior’s Birth so that we may honor that Birth, which was for our salvation. But, the precise day of the week on which He was born is void of any mystical signification. … We should not suppose, however, that because the Feast of Jesus’ Birth is not fixed to any particular day of the week, there is no mystery expressed by its always being on the 25th of December.

First, we may observe, with the old liturgists, that the Feast of Christmas is kept by turns on each of the days of the week, that thus its holiness may cleanse and rid them of the curse that Adam’s sin had put upon them.

Second, the great mystery of the 25th of December being the Feast of our Savior’s Birth refers not to the division of time marked out by God himself, but to the course of that great luminary that gives life to the world, because it gives light and warmth. Jesus, our Savior, the Light of the World, was born when the night of idolatry and crime was at its darkest. The day of His Birth, the 25th of December, is the time when the material sun begins to gain its ascendancy over the reign of gloomy night and show to the world its triumph of brightness.

In our Advent, we showed, following the Holy Fathers, that the diminution of physical light may be considered as emblematic of those dismal times which preceded the Incarnation. We joined our prayers with those of the people of the Old Testament, and with our Holy Mother the Church we cried out to the Divine Orient, the Sun of Justice, that He would deign to come and deliver us from the twofold death of body and soul.

God has heard our prayers, and it is on the day of the Winter Solstice – which the pagans of old made so much of by their fears and rejoicings – that He gives us both the increase of the natural light and the One Who is the Light of our souls.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Ambrose, St. Maximus of Turin, St. Leo, St. Bernard and the principal liturgists, dwell with complacency on this profound mystery, which the Creator of the universe has willed should mark both the natural and the supernatural world. We shall find the Church also making continual allusion to it during this season of Christmas, as she did in that of Advent.

‘Darkness decreases, light increases’

“On this the Day which the Lord hath made,” says St. Gregory of Nyssa, “darkness decreases, light increases, and night is driven back again. No, brethren, it is not by chance, nor by any created will, that this natural change begins on the day when He shows himself in the brightness of His coming, which is the spiritual life of the world. It is nature revealing, under this symbol, a secret to those whose eye is quick enough to see it, that is, to those who are able to appreciate this circumstance of our Savior’s coming.

“Nature seems to me to say: ‘Know, O man! that under the things that I show thee, mysteries lie concealed. Hast thou not seen the night that had grown so long suddenly checked? Learn hence, that the black night of sin, which had reached its height by the accumulation of every guilty device, is this day stopped in its course. Yes, from this day forward its duration shall be shortened, until at length there shall be naught but light. Look, I pray thee, on the sun; and see how his rays are stronger, and his position higher in the heavens: Learn from that how the other light, the light of the Gospel, is now shedding itself over the whole earth.”

“Let us rejoice, my Brethren,” cries out St. Augustine. “This day is sacred not because of the visible sun, but because of the Birth of He who is the invisible Creator of the sun… He chose this day whereon to be born, as He chose the Mother of whom to be born, and He bade both the day and the Mother. The day He chose was that on which the light begins to increase, and it typifies the work of Christ, Who renews our interior man day by day. For the eternal Creator, having willed to be born in time, His Birthday would necessarily be in harmony with the rest of his creation.”

The same St. Augustine, in another sermon for the same Feast, gives us the interpretation of a mysterious expression of St. John the Baptist, which admirably confirms the tradition of the Church. The great Precursor said on one occasion, when speaking of Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

These prophetic words signify, in their literal sense that the Baptist’s mission was at its close because Jesus was entering upon His. But they convey, as St. Augustine assures us, a second meaning: “John came into this world at the season of the year when the length of the day decreases; Jesus was born in the season when the length of the day increases. Thus there is mystery both in the rising of that glorious star, the Baptist, at the summer solstice, and in the rising of our Divine Sun in the dark season of winter.”

There have been men who dared to scoff at Christianity as superstition because they discovered that the ancient pagans used to keep a feast of the sun on the winter solstice. In their shallow erudition they concluded that a Religion could not be divinely instituted that had certain rites or customs originating in an analogy to certain phenomena of this world.

In other words, these writers denied what Revelation asserts, namely, that God only created this world for the sake of His Christ and His Church. The very facts which these enemies to the true Faith are, to us Catholics, additional proof of its being worthy of our most devoted love.

Thus, then, have we explained the fundamental mystery of these Forty Days of Christmas by having shown the grand secret hidden in the choice made by God’s eternal decree, that the 25th day of December should be the Birthday of God upon this earth.

A Child Is Born To Us

A Child Is Born To Us
Francis L. Filas, S.J. 

Prologue
“WHEN God in His mercy decided to carry out the work of man‟s redemption, so long expected through the centuries,

He arranged to perform His task in such a way that in its beginnings it might show forth to the world the august spectacle of a divinely founded family.

“In this all men were to behold the perfect exemplar of domestic society as well as of all virtue and holiness.

“A benign Providence established the Holy Family in order that all Christians in whatever walk of life or situation might have a reason and an incentive to practice every virtue, provided they fix their gaze on the Holy Family.” Thus did Pope Leo XIII write in 1892.[ Decree 3777, S.R.C.]

A divinely founded family…the perfect exemplar of all virtue and holiness…for all Christians in whatever walk of life. “Why!” you say, “my family life is to make me holy? Did Pope Leo mean that ordinary people can be and should be saints? We who live in the world, who have to spend most of our time watching the budget and earning enough to support ourselves and our children? Our ideals are subjected to continual battering by the un-Christian teachings and practices of so many of our neighbors. We can‟t spend our whole day in prayer like the saints of old. Evidently the Pope did not realize how ordinary we are. We try to live a good Catholic life, but we don‟t deserve special credit for that. Holiness is something reserved for a few select laymen, for priests and religious, for monks and nuns in austere monasteries and convents.”

But the Pope did mean you—you and your husband or wife as well as your whole family. You can be and should be saints, for saints are those common-sense people who act according to their realization that all their happiness lies in obeying God‟s law perfectly as it is shown them by the Church and by their conscience. Holiness means happiness. Holy people are happy people at peace with God, with others, and with themselves.

There is only one requirement. You must do God‟s will. This embraces various obligations and gives you corresponding rights and privileges. God‟s will in your regard is not something frightening and preternatural, brought down to you by angels amid trumpet blasts, thunder, lightning, and earthquakes. No, it consists in the observance of the commandments, the frequent reception of the sacraments, and the practice of certain virtues in your everyday life. That is all. Call it homely, call it an everyday, ordinary, humdrum rule of life if you wish; but you can‟t call it difficult and beyond your strength. God‟s grace is with you at every turn, sufficient and more than sufficient to help you serve Him.

Sometimes in your efforts you perhaps will fall out of weariness or discouragement; but you rise quickly, and trusting in God‟s abundant grace, you go forward again. Your goal must ever be the perfect love of God manifested in perfect love for His creatures, your “neighbors”—your husband or your wife, your children, your friends, all with whom you come into contact.

You look for inspiration to attain such an ideal. You ask for a proof to convince yourself that everyday joys can be the means to serve God perfectly; or on the other hand you are possibly too close to the earthly conditions of daily work attended with monotony, disappointment, worry, and fatigue. This makes it hard to believe that in so ordinary a way you can become someone so extraordinary as a saint, known to God as His special image, His temple in whom He loves to dwell.

You want proof and inspiration? You wish to see everyday life made into a steppingstone to the very heights of heaven? Then you need only look at the Holy Family. In the following pages that is what you will see. You are going to behold Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. They not only possessed human nature like yours, but they performed workaday tasks as you do. They ate and drank and slept and cleaned house and earned a living and prayed and had their neighbors just like you. Yet who were they? They were Jesus Christ, God, Second Person of the eternal Blessed Trinity, who took to Himself a body and soul like ours: Mary, the blessed Virgin mother of God, all-perfect, in whom there was never the slightest sin or imperfection; and Joseph, he whom Jesus called “Father,” the virginal husband of the Mother of God.

Have you ever stopped to do a little arithmetic in studying Christ‟s life? Jesus had a tremendous mission to accomplish. He was to teach mankind the new and difficult law of brotherly love; He was to redeem us by means of intense suffering and a painful and disgraceful death; He was to found a Church that would last for all time as the only certain road to salvation. Nonetheless, with such a task before Him, the Son of God spent ten times as much of His life in obscurity as in His public apostolate. We are told of no miracles, no preaching, no teaching of the multitudes during that period. There was merely a hidden and ordinary family life with two lovable persons as His intimate and chosen companions, Joseph and Mary.

No human being has ever been or will ever be holier than this husband and wife. Yet these two souls did not help Jesus in His preaching and teaching, for Joseph was already dead when Jesus left Nazareth to begin His career; and as far as we know, Mary stayed quietly at home during almost all of the Public Life. Actually, then, Joseph and Mary gained their immeasurable holiness by offering Jesus the love of a father and mother in a true family, while Jesus in His turn tendered them the homage of a son. Could any lives have been more ordinary than those at Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth—yet were any lives ever more holy?

This is the lesson of the Holy Family. The will of God must count for everything in our daily lives. Prosaic deeds done for God can lead to spectacular holiness. We will be repeating this lesson again and again throughout this book. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were human, intensely human in the best sense of the word. They show us how our lives, too, should be human—truly warm and Godlike. By this means we can be sanctifying ourselves more and more. The method is simple. Perhaps we have been following it all along without realizing the fact. At any rate, the leaders are set before us. All we need do is follow.

Chapter One: The Setting 

ACTUALLY it should strike us like a thunderbolt to read in Holy Scripture that Jesus was like us in all things, sin alone excepted (Heb. 4:15). Only too often, however, our appreciation of the fact of the Incarnation is dulled because we do not realize vividly that true God became true man. In proportion as the divineness of Christ impresses us, His humanness tends to recede into the background of our minds, and we lose the benefit of that tremendous attractive power of knowing that God walked our earth in human form nineteen hundred years ago.

In parallel fashion we are prone to be left cold by the sanctity of Mary and Joseph. The dizzy heights of their holiness draw our eyes upward. but our feet remain fixed in the chasm scooped out by our sins and imperfections. We are afraid to call Mary and Joseph our own. We are afraid to imitate them.

That is why we should make every effort to think of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as living in our world: close to us, real, our best friends, human and understanding, whom no fault or misfortune can drive away, provided only that we try to model our lives on theirs. Once we know the actual conditions in which the Holy Family lived, once we see the human world in which Jesus, Mary, and Joseph spent their family life, we can more easily appreciate their holiness.

What was the environment of the Holy Family? We are all naturally curious on this score; but over and above mere curiosity, we ought to seek out the details of the careers of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in order to persuade ourselves how closely they resemble us. There is no need to go to the mass of pious but unhistorical legends that have grown up around the early life of our Lord. The gospel story is more than enough to paint the essentials of the picture we are seeking. If we amplify the Gospels with data gained from other reliable sources, the pageant of the Holy Family passes before our eyes with all its winsomeness and charm.

It would be well at the outset to explain the sources from which we learn the nature of the Holy Land scene amid which Jesus, Mary, and Joseph passed their lives. For one thing, the Gospels are full of deft touches referring to details of their times. Archeology, too, uncovers the well-preserved ruins of age-old buildings; from it we can deduce customs and culture. Best of all, there is the present oriental civilization which has changed little throughout the centuries. Houses, dress, implements, food, and social usages have withstood the changes that repeatedly revolutionized our Western way of living. Combining all these facts we gain a rather detailed and highly probable estimate of life in the Holy Land two thousand years ago.

Palestine, which derived its name from the Philistines of Old Testament times, is surprisingly small. Lying at the southeastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, it is only 150 miles long from north to south. The Jordan River cuts it roughly in half as the river courses south from Lake Genesareth (the Lake of Galilee) to empty itself into the Dead Sea.

We are more concerned with the western half of Palestine, for most of the life of the Holy Family was spent there. This section varies greatly in width. In Judea in the south it is 60 miles wide, but it grows more narrow until finally at its northern extremity in Galilee its width is hardly 25 miles. Western Palestine is only half the area of the state of Maryland- -5000 square miles. It would fit ten times within New York or Illinois, fifty times within Texas. Except for its coastal plain along the Mediterranean, it is quite hilly, and a few mountain-tops can usually be discerned along the horizon.

Because the traveling described in the Gospels was so often done on foot, we think of the distances as far greater than they are in actuality. Nazareth in Galilee in the north is 75 miles from Jerusalem in Judea in the south. Bethlehem is five miles south of Jerusalem. All in all, the territory which the Holy Family covered by slow and tiresome journeys of days can now be traversed by a fast airplane in a matter of minutes.

In the white Christmas scene so popularly represented Palestine‟s climate is not pictured correctly. Snow falls rarely during the winter, and even then it melts within a few hours. The winter months—November to March inclusive—should more properly be called the rainy season. The average temperature of the coldest month, January, is only forty-six degrees. From April to October the hot “dry season” sets in, but evening breezes and heavy morning dews are sufficient to temper the worst heat of this summer.

The crops and other vegetation of the Holy Land are influenced, of course, by its climate. In the time of the Holy Family there existed numerous forests and terraced vineyards. These have long since disappeared because of the shiftlessness and misrule of the Turks from the Middle Ages down to World War I. Consequently, erosion and denudation of the land can be seen where formerly many a Palestinian family—and probably our own Holy Family—raised small truck gardens to help stock the household larder. Near-by farms grew mainly wheat and barley. Other crops consisted of corn, millet, spelt, lentils, beans, flax, and sometimes cotton. Rice was not yet introduced.

One of the most interesting facts we can learn about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph concerns the kinds of food they ate. The gospel accounts intimate that they followed the customs of their times. Other historical sources as well as incidental references in the Bible tell us what those customs were.

The usual meals were two: a midday dinner and an evening supper, which was the large meal of the day. Breakfast was too scanty to be called a meal. It was no more than a cup of milk, a piece of butter, or a few baked cakes with olive oil. Wooden spoons might have been used instead of our modern silverware, but more likely eating was done with the hands.

Bread, as always, was the staff of life, and was made of barley, various kinds of wheat, or lentils. Mary baked her bread each day as it was needed, although she could purchase it from the town baker if she wished. She formed it into flat circular cakes about an inch thick and nine inches across. For an oven she used a clay-lined hole in the ground or an earthen or stone jar about three feet high, inside which fuel was placed. Baking took place on the outside of this portable oven or on the hot inside of the clay hole once the embers were removed. In preparing her bread our Lady did not use new leaven each day but kept a portion of the old dough from day to day with which to start fermentation in a new batch.

The rest of the diet of the Holy Family was made up largely of vegetable food. Olives and olive oil, butter, milk, cheese, eggs, and stewed fruit helped out this menu. Meat appeared rarely on the table, and then it was mutton and beef. Relish consisted of onions, garlic, or leek. For the equivalent of our present-day dessert, figs, mulberries, pistachio nuts, almonds, and pomegranates were available. Grapes were served either fresh or sun dried as pressed cakes of raisins. Cucumbers were an ever popular vegetable.

Mary‟s ordinary way of cooking food was to boil it, but she occasionally roasted meat and broiled the fish from Lake Genesareth much as her Son was to do for His apostles after His Resurrection, years later. Often on the menu, this fish was considered quite a delicacy in Galilee, and was pickled and dried to be preserved. In preparing corn Our Lady parched or roasted it at the fire. Lentils and beans were boiled into a delicious pottage, often with meat seasoned with mint, anise, cummin, or mustard.

For sweetening Mary used wild honey instead of sugar. The salt she bought was either rock salt from the shores of the Dead Sea or that evaporated from the water of the Mediterranean.

The two beverages on the table at Nazareth were goat‟s milk and wine. The butter made from this milk was sometimes solid, sometimes merely semi-fluid heavy cream, sometimes the thick curds from sour milk. Our Lady did the churning herself by jerking a skin of milk back and forth or by beating the container with a stick. The wine was kept in large goatskins in the cool cellar of the house. From these it was drawn off into smaller goatskin “bottles” for use at table.

We can hardly repeat often enough the value of knowing these homely details of the life of the Holy Family. Jesus referred to some of them in various of His parables or sermons, and showed how well He was acquainted with everyday life in Palestine. Could we ask for greater assurance from God that His gifts are good, and that we should use the good things He has given us in this world as helps to obtain our salvation and perfection?

Another personal detail that is highly interesting to us is the appearance of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

Following the customs of their day Jesus and Joseph had three types of garments. In a climate so mild as that of Palestine no more were necessary. The innermost garment next to the body resembled our modern nightshirt and was called a sheet or sindon. During strenuous labor other clothing was discarded in order to permit freedom of action. Thus, for example, when some of the apostles were fishing “naked” on the Lake of Galilee at the time Jesus appeared to them (John 21), they were actually clad in this undergarment. In other words, to wear only this sindon was to be in a state of undress.

Over the sindon Jesus and Joseph wore the tunic—a sort of cassock or dressing gown open down the front. This made up the usual indoor costume at home or in the shop. A wide sash or girdle at the waist and rather billowy long sleeves gave the garment pleasing lines. For freedom in walking, the ankle-length skirt was slit about a foot from the bottom on each side. Blue was its common color although white with brown stripes or red, too, were favorites.

The third and outermost article of clothing was the cloak. The foster father and his Son wore this cloak outdoors for protection against cold and rain, or as a covering during sleep. When made of fleece it was especially warm, although cotton and woolen cloth were more usual. It resembled a vest in that it was sleeveless and had an open front, but in length it reached almost to the ground. Either this cloak or the tunic was the valuable “seamless garment” for which the soldiers cast lots when Christ was crucified on Calvary.

For headdress Jesus and Joseph wound a sort of long kerchief into a turban. Another kerchief covered the neck and shoulders for protection against the blazing sun. In Nazareth as in all the Orient it was considered disrespectful to pass anyone bareheaded, so the two men must have worn the turban almost always.

They were bearded and wore their hair long, as paintings universally represent them. Two locks—ringlets—dropped from their temples as a vestige of the old Hebrew tradition whereby the Israelites were distinguished from idolatrous peoples who cut these locks as an offering to their gods.

For foot covering the Holy Family used sandals during the summer and shoes during the winter or rainy season. The ordinary sandal consisted of a wood or leather sole with thongs attached, to be strapped around the instep. Shoes were made of coarse material and protected the entire foot. Socks were seldom if ever worn. Since footwear was prescribed strictly for outdoor use, it was always left at the entrance of the house.

Mary‟s dress resembled the attire of her men-folk rather closely. Her distinctive mark was a veil and (for outdoor use) a mantle or great shawl. Judging from the colors usually employed, she wore a red dress with a blue mantle and a large white veil covering her whole body when she traveled in public. Her hair fell in long tresses, probably left unbraided, as it was more modest to do.

From our knowledge of Palestinian houses we can deduce rather closely the nature of the home of the Holy Family at Bethlehem and Nazareth. At the outset, however, we must rid ourselves of the preconceived notions which Western experience and legendary tale have given us.

Palestinian houses followed a rather uniform pattern. Like the present-day houses at Bethlehem, that of the Holy Family was probably built of rough-hewn limestone blocks cemented with limestone mortar. It had at least one upper room, built above a lower room at street level, and reached by outside stone stairs. The dimensions of these rooms approximated 15 feet in length, 12 feet in width, and 6 feet in height.

The lower room at Nazareth may well have been St. Joseph‟s workshop, extending back as a cave into the hill rising directly behind the house. Artisans like St. Joseph worked in the street outside their shops. The shops themselves were merely places to keep equipment.

The living room of the Holy Family (the upper chamber) was windowless and very simply furnished. Its only light came through the doorway. There was no fireplace or chimney, but a hearth placed near the door provided a spot for cooking where the smoke could easily escape. On a ledge running around the wall the gaily colored mats which were spread on the floor at night for sleeping purposes were rolled up during the day.

A large lamp hanging from a center beam shed a dim light at night–a rather curious looking lamp to us. It resembled a saucer with its sides folded together at one place, to form a neck for the cloth wick that rested in the supply of olive oil. Underneath this lamp was a painted stool or table together with a few chairs. Here the Three took their quiet meal.

The roof of their house was flat—a cemented or earthen surface overlaid on the beams that spanned the side walls. It was reached by the outside stairway. During the cool evenings of the summer Jesus, Mary, and Joseph retired to it for conversation and quiet prayer. They used the roof much as we use a front porch or veranda.

Joseph‟s position as carpenter placed him in the respectable middle class of artisans. Judging from his occupation, he was not desperately poor, nor on the contrary could he be called wealthy. His tools were the hammer, saw, ax, plane, chisel, and bow drill. Working in wood, he was a general handyman for making plows, milking tubs, winnowing fans, yokes, forks, and household furniture. Joseph on many occasions did not receive pay for each article as he fashioned it. Instead, he agreed under a sort of “blanket contract” barter system to look after the farm implements of his neighbors in so far as was necessary. In return for these services he received produce from his various customers at harvest time.

At this point we close our introductory picture of daily life with the Holy Family. One feature in particular stands out: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph lived a genuinely “human” life, using the good things of this earth as was proper. There was no puritanical refusal on their part to accept the blessings of God‟s creation as if these gifts were evil in themselves. Rather, the inherent bounty of Nature gave them ever so many opportunities to praise and thank the eternal Father in heaven for what He saw fit to bestow on them according to His wisdom and providence.

This is a lesson we, too, should bear in mind. Everything God has created is good in itself, and evil and sin enter only in the misuse of a creature. The great rule of life is always the same, whether in the Holy Family of Nazareth or the Jones family of twentieth-century Smithville: Because all creation is good, we should make use of it in so far as it helps us to serve God and to save our souls.

“What a simple rule to remember!” you say. “How easy to live by!
Why call it to my attention so sharply?”
Why? Because the cold pages of history testify that scores of heresies crashed, morally bankrupt, since they rested somehow or other on confusion of this truth of the goodness of creation. Before Christ came on this earth, the pagan world was in moral chaos because it could not accept the fact. It could choose only between the two extreme errors. One group of pagans—the Stoics—thought that creation in itself was evil, and everything material must be avoided completely. Others held that creation could not be misused in any way whatever. These men represented the two excesses of human conduct that continued to harass the Church‟s efforts later.

For instance, in Christian times there were heretics like the Manicheans of the second century, the Albigensians of the twelfth, and the rigid Calvinists of the sixteenth, who frowned on legitimate pleasures and looked on material things as evils to be tolerated at best if not to be shunned absolutely. However, such a mode of living was impossible for a man made up of body and soul. It was an insult to the wisdom and goodness and love of his Creator, and it could lead him only to unhappiness, sin, and despair. One primitive heresy built on this philosophy of the anti-material (the Docetist group) even taught that Christ‟s body was an appearance, that He was only a phantom, because as God He could not possess so evil a thing as a human body!

At the other extreme in all ages were the frankly materialistic pleasure seekers, who sank into all sorts of excesses in reveling in utter license and luxury.

Meanwhile the Church serenely kept pure the truth which Christ had confided to its charge, dauntlessly guarding it even though it conflicted violently with the extremists. Catholics were always taught that man is composed of soul and body; that the body is not something sinful although tendencies to sin are present in it because of original sin; that material things are to aid the body directly and the soul indirectly in order to attain man‟s purpose in this world and in the next; and therefore that creation should be used (because it is good) but not misused (because it is only a means to eternal life, not eternal life itself).

The Church went further. It taught that the body had dignity because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It sanctified the body during life with the sacraments instituted by Christ, and it blessed the body in death and buried it in consecrated ground. Despite all the sneers and scoffs of heretics and infidels it set forth Christ‟s doctrine that the glorified body as well as the soul would receive the reward of eternal life.

The Church in its liturgy again and again recalls the goodness of creation for our benefit. In fact, to take a specific example, the whole doctrine of the sacramentals is based on this principle.

The sacramentals are things or actions which the Church uses in a sort of imitation of the sacraments in order to obtain temporal and spiritual favors for the faithful. Sacramentals such as medals and scapulars are badges of belief, created things that are external signs of internal faith in God‟s goodness and kindness to us, marks of trust that He will hear our prayers.

Well known are the sacramentals which call down God‟s blessing. With the attitude of employing everything God has made as a means for eternal salvation, the Church has approved blessings for a host of articles so diverse—and apparently so unholy—as automobiles, fire-fighting equipment, blast furnaces, radios, bees, bridges, and beer.

Four hundred years ago the “Spiritual Exercises,” the “golden book” of St. Ignatius of Loyola, was a major factor in throwing back the moral anarchy of the Protestant Revolt and supplanting it with the revivified Catholic Counterreformation. Yet the bedrock element of the “Spiritual Exercises,” its “Principle and Foundation” upon which Ignatius built his entire system of bringing souls back to God, was simply a restatement of the lesson of the Holy Family on the proper use of created things.

“Man was created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. The other things on the face of the earth were created because of man, and that they might help him to obtain the end for which he was created. Whence it follows that man should use these creatures in so far as they help him to reach his end, and he ought to free himself from them in so far as they hinder him from that purpose.”

Practically, then, the Holy Family‟s lesson of the “good earth” can exemplify several cardinal principles:

If failure, disappointment, sickness, or any sort of suffering come into your life, remember that they come from the same Father who can give only good gifts. He sends or at least permits trials to enter your life only for your greater good. Therefore, make the supreme act of love by trusting in His providence, knowing that no slightest event can occur outside the influence of His all-perfect wisdom. Thus, even hardships can help you.

In this connection, too, it is well to understand correctly the attitude of the great ascetical saints who voluntarily gave up many lawful pleasures. They did not act in an attitude of pain-for-pain‟s-sake. Rather, while recognizing the intrinsic worth of all creation, they felt that they should offer their sacrifices as penance for their own sins and as reparation for the sins of the world. Prudence led them always. So, too, you can freely make small sacrifices occasionally in the spirit of penance, reparation, and love. The easiest yet most selfless abnegation of this sort lies in accepting willingly what God sends you each day.

When you see clearly that some created thing is an obstacle in your path toward God, that it robs you of your peace of conscience or is an occasion of sin, be generous in removing it from your life at once. The thing is good in itself, but it is not good for you.

However, these foregoing principles refer to the use of creation more or less negatively. Much more important for our present purpose is the positive aspect: to use creation in so far as it helps you.

For instance, don‟t be afraid to see the hand of God in the legitimate pleasures of your life. It would be puritanical and downright erroneous to think that your married life is any less holy in proportion as it is more intimate. By accepting the good things of life with gratitude to Him who created them, you can gain merit, for every such action becomes a prayer of thanksgiving. In fact, you should look on your temporal blessings as a faint foretaste of the exuberant goodness of Almighty God, who wishes to bestow on you His own everlasting happiness in heaven.

In your work or in your recreation you should not think that your merit is necessarily less because your enjoyment is greater. Similarly, the mutual love of husband and wife as well as the love of children are probably the keenest and deepest sources of joy in family life. God intended that you should relish this affection. Accept it, then, in the same spirit: “What love gives, love should take.”

Perhaps you wonder why Catholic teaching seems to say so little about this sanctification of the happiness and the pleasant things in life. The reason is not too far to seek. Usually, to spiritualize joy is easy: to spiritualize sorrow is hard, for it is more difficult to be faithful to God in times of discouragement. Hence, the emphasis is placed where it is needed.

Later in this very book we shall have occasion to call attention to the hardships Joseph and Mary encountered. This does not mean that their life was somber and dreary, nor that married life in imitation of theirs is full of suffering. True, the difficulties are not to be minimized. They should be foreseen and prepared for in a general way. That will be our purpose in mentioning them frankly. But the fact that they will be discussed does not mean that they are predominant. They are far outweighed by the sunshine and joy which God instills into every home where Christian ideals are the rule of the day and the hour.

And it is this sunshine which you will doubly enjoy if you accept it from God‟s hands with explicit thanksgiving and love.

Chapter Two: Before Christ Was Born 

NO NARRATIVE can excel the accuracy and charm of the accounts of the Holy Family given by Matthew and Luke. However, our twentieth-century Western minds are often unacquainted with the old oriental customs, geography, and history to which the Gospels refer. We are confronted with obscurities and difficulties that call for further comment not because of a fault in the gospel text but by reason of our own lack of information. Hence, the gospel story must be amplified with incidental side lights and explanations before we pause to reflect on the story itself.

“Now the origin of Christ was in this wise. When Mary his mother had been betrothed to Joseph, she was found, before they came together, to be with child by the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18).

This betrothal which St. Matthew mentions was in a sense equivalent to the engagement of our modern times. It was, however, much more binding. The bridegroom conducted all arrangements with the father of the bride and gave him a purchase price for his daughter. Then the betrothal took place. It lasted about a year, and during that time the couple was called husband and wife although they did not live together. The wife was bound most strictly to remain virginal as a special sign of loyalty to her husband. That is why Mary‟s predicament was so serious when by divine intervention she became the mother of Jesus. The miracle of miracles had taken place. God took on human nature within her womb. But who would believe her story even if she felt free to reveal it?

Although Mary “was found to be with child” while she was yet merely espoused to Joseph, it seems certain that her neighbors were not the ones who discovered her pregnancy. Later, Jesus was to be criticized sharply by His bitter enemies who looked in vain for any pretext to vilify Him. Nonetheless, they never cast the slightest shadow on the legitimacy of His birth. Instead, they used the humbleness of His apparent descent from Joseph, a craftsman, to rebuke Him for His high aspirations. The secret of the Incarnation was evidently well kept.

Contrariwise, Joseph himself, apparently, as well as the Nazarenes did not personally discover Our Lady‟s motherhood. St. Matthew‟s words, “was found,” strongly suggest that Joseph was informed of the fact; but by whom? Not by Mary, else she would have manifested the divine source of her maternity. Accordingly it would appear that some close relative—perhaps her mother—was deputed by Our Lady before her marriage took place to tell Joseph that she had conceived. Keeping the matter secret would have been gravely unjust to her spouse.

All this must have happened no later than four months after the angel Gabriel visited Nazareth and Mary consented to become the Mother of God. Such a period appears reasonable, for after that time there would have been external evidence of Mary‟s pregnancy, and her subsequent marriage to Joseph would have been useless to guard the honor of the virgin mother and her divine Son.

Meanwhile, “Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to expose her to reproach, was minded to put her away privately” (Matt. 1:19). This passage is classic for its short but meaningful description of the towering nobility of Joseph‟s character. St. Matthew bestowed a precious title when he called him the “just man,” for he told us in this manner that Joseph observed God‟s law in its fullness and excelled in every virtue and good quality.

Joseph‟s conduct as further portrayed excellently bears out Matthew‟s estimate. By Jewish law Joseph could have broken off his engagement and divorced his spouse publicly if he found her guilty of adultery. This type of divorce would have revealed the disgraceful charge, and according to the letter of the law Mary would have been liable to stoning to death. Whether or not so drastic a penalty would have been carried out is doubtful, but Joseph would not enforce it. He could not believe that Mary had sinned. Nonetheless, he was bound to observe the law of the Jews. Terribly perplexed and dismayed, in his mental anguish he decided to adopt the course that was most favorable to Mary and yet was consonant with justice. By choosing to divorce his spouse privately (instead of publicly), he would not be forced to make known the cause of the divorce. But always he was hesitant, and his hesitancy shows the force of his belief that Mary had been faithful to him.

As St. Jerome puts the case, “This is evidence for Mary, that Joseph, knowing Mary‟s chastity and wondering at what had occurred, concealed in silence the mystery which he did not fathom.” Ultimately, faced with a problem that seemed insoluble, Joseph began to feel that the private divorce was the only means of being fair to Mary while not disobeying his conscience. Unless the circumstances were somehow altered, he certainly could not proceed to marry his spouse.

“But while he thought on these things, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, „Do not be afraid, Joseph, son of David, to take to thee Mary, thy wife, for that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins.‟ So Joseph, arising from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took unto him his wife” (Matt. 1:20, 21, 24).

Here St. Matthew relates that at the angel‟s command Joseph married his betrothed. Realizing keenly now his role in the plans of Divine Providence, the prudent husband bent every effort to protect Mary. With the Roman census already announced, he was obliged to leave for Bethlehem where he had to register. What better course of action could he adopt than to take his wife with him to Bethlehem, a strange town, and thus remove her from Nazareth, dangerous for the gossip that would surely arise there?

“And he did not know her till she had brought forth her first-born son” (Matt. 1:25). Throughout Church history various heretics have alleged that according to this sentence Joseph was the natural father of other sons of Mary after Christ was born. Against this warping of the text Church writers from earliest times have insistently pointed out that St. Matthew uses “till” and “first-born” in a sense often found in Holy Scripture. “Till” can refer to action or lack of action up to a point, without necessarily implying that the action then changes. For example, St. Paul writes to Timothy, “Until I come, be diligent in reading, in exhortation, and in teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). Quoting Psalm 109:1 he adds, “[Christ] must reign until „he has put all his enemies under his feet‟” (1 Cor. 15:25). Certainly, in these texts St. Paul does not intend Timothy to stop being diligent after he arrives, nor does he think that Christ‟s supremacy will cease with the defeat of His enemies.

Similarly, “first-born” as applied to Christ does not mean that Mary had other children. Jewish custom gave this title to the first son whether or not other brothers followed him. Even in modern English we have an analogous usage when we speak of first-aid treatment without understanding that further medical care must always follow.

Yet the greatest difficulty in these passages concerns the perplexing question: why did God send this strange type of suffering to His two most loyal creatures? Mary was all-sinless, not even momentarily subject to that deprivation of sanctifying grace which we call original sin. Even more, her fidelity to her Creator made her worthy as no other human creature ever was to fashion the body of God incarnate in her womb for nine months. As for Joseph, he was second in dignity and holiness to Mary alone. God entrusted to him His two choicest treasures so that Joseph was to become the virginal husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus. Nevertheless, God sent this couple a heavy cross, most difficult to explain.

Mary‟s conception, when first disclosed, was compromising evidence. Had Joseph been a selfish, jealous spouse, the estrangement would have been complete. As it was, these two hearts who loved each other to a degree unequaled by any other husband and wife, could only suffer intensely until God stepped in to remedy the situation. The very perfection of Mary‟s love for Joseph and of Joseph‟s love for Mary made their pain keener.

Mary felt in conscience that she was not permitted to reveal the divine nature of her conception to her husband. Joseph knew that he was not permitted to marry an unfaithful spouse. Mary could take no external action to solve the problem. Joseph had in a sense the harder choice of taking action. He evidently was forced to do something; but what could he do? No matter which course he followed, grave difficulties faced him.

We can be certain that both Mary and Joseph prayed to God for help and light. Mary, in full conformity to God‟s will, was ready to sacrifice the love of her spouse as well as her own reputation if need be. Joseph asked only for inspiration to do what was right. And in God‟s good time the angel was sent to remove the trial by revealing to Joseph that he was the virginal husband of the very Mother of God.

Did God repay Joseph and Mary for their fidelity? No, it was more than mere repayment. It was the hundredfold of supernatural grace and joy and justified mutual confidence, “pressed down and flowing over,” so that the souls of the two spouses thrilled toward each other as they naturally and humanly could never have done. They realized now their full destiny. Two wills made one in the love of a virginal marriage, they knew that together they were to rear the infant Jesus to the full stature of the man Christ. Although Jesus as God was to have all knowledge, nonetheless as a human child He was to imitate the magnificent mutual love He would see in His parents.

Henceforth, Joseph and Mary knew that together they were to cooperate with the special plans of the Three Persons in One God— those mysterious plans hidden in the depths of eternal eons of the Godhead. They were to be favored as none of their fellow creatures had ever been although their responsibilities and their crosses would be proportionately greater. But they were to work out their destiny together—that was the great point, the new content of the angel‟s message to Joseph. Joseph was initiated into the incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the mystery of mysteries of which Mary was already a participant. All this was part of the hundredfold reward God bestowed on this couple, and from the bottom of their hearts they could only say, as they began to fathom it all, “In Thee, O Lord, have we hoped. We have not been confounded!” It was joy almost too deep to be experienced on this earth, but they did experience it because they were espoused husband and wife as well as the two saints of saints.

What lessons here for every husband and wife! They, too, are to work out their salvation and their perfection together, each depending on the other, each assisting the other. In the perfection of married love their personalities become merged, as it were, as completely as possible. For them God‟s commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor,” finds its first and chief expression in their love one for the other. Each is bound by obligations toward the other, each possesses the rights handed over by the other at the moment of their marriage. In the fullness of this mutual love, this mutual unselfish give- and-take, is included their love and service of Almighty God—together.

Then, too, the experience of Mary and Joseph offers a true example of a misunderstanding that can arise without the fault of either party. In this case two saints were involved, more closely united by flawless love than was any other couple in the history of the world. Our Lady knew the price her course of action would cost her, but she was even more distressed over the pain it caused her spouse. Until the time when God saw fit to manifest His plans, Mary‟s only course was that of trust. God‟s plans were far grander than anything a created intellect—even one so uniquely attuned as Mary‟s—could plumb or imagine. Consequently, the only course to adopt in the meantime was a wholehearted submission and conformity to His will.

Joseph‟s heroism was of the same caliber. Had he been spiteful, self-centered, resentful, he would have indulged in harsh recriminations of Mary. However, because he was convinced that somewhere and somehow all the facts would become evident and Mary would be justified, he withheld a rash judgment that would only have made matters worse.

In your own life when can you say that a misunderstanding arose in which you were in no wise at fault? Joseph and Mary were perfect; we ordinary mortals are not—that is the difference between them and us. Remembering this difference if misunderstandings occur in family life, you must try to realize that there is another side to every argument even though at the moment you do not or cannot see it. It is very rare that a problem has only one solution which of necessity must be right; and it is even more rare that that single solution must uniformly be your own. Ordinarily there are various ways of adjusting a difficult situation which causes distressing friction in the family.

Realistic couples bear in mind that with human nature as it is, married life cannot be one everlasting honeymoon. Two minds and two wills, even though united most intimately and sincerely in matrimony, belong to two different people. As a result, there will occasionally be different outlooks, different opinions, different reactions, all of which have to be adjusted lest harmony be lost when they clash. Such differences are normal even before we admit the possibility that one or both parties may be at fault.

Human faults!—and there a whole new chapter of possibilities for misunderstanding opens out. Gained in childhood, kept and perhaps strengthened in adult years, those faults will be taken with us to the grave. They are with every individual constantly. The most attractive characters of husbands and wives, try as they may, will find their faults ever recurring, mixed with all their good points. Faults are in reality based on virtues. They are good things gone to excess. We are not speaking here of vice, of course—of habitual faults so serious that they lead to grievous sin. We are talking of the “little things” that raise the bumps in life‟s highway: self-centeredness, unwillingness to admit error, slovenliness in dress or at table, disregard for the feelings of others, sarcasm, irritability, reluctance to overlook and forget accidental mistakes— these are only a few of the “little things” that cause mutual pain to two souls who love each other dearly.

Usually, the best way to deal with misunderstandings is to bring the trouble out into the light. If possible, discuss a sore point frankly and coolly before the end of the day. Feelings that are hurt over long periods fester like sores; and as troubles pile up, the vicious circle begins that adds imaginary new troubles merely because the old ones are supplying the momentum.

Above all, be ready to arbitrate. When ruffled tempers have calmed down, sit down side by side and analyze the argument as if you were a third-party umpire called in for the purpose. Find just where and why the point of difference occurs; and from there, a little yielding on each side should bring satisfaction.

Don‟t forget the moods to which you, like every human, are subject. When tired or slightly ill, you say and do things which normally you would avoid. This is why a misunderstanding between two tired people cannot be settled very easily on the spot. In such a case drop the argument for the time being (even though you think you know you are right!), and perhaps a good night‟s sleep will reduce the troublesome question to the insignificant status of a soap bubble or even— and this is quite possible—a laughing matter.

The trial of Joseph and Mary has still another great lesson. If trials and sufferings come into our lives, we complain almost involuntarily. We wonder why God has sent us this cross, we ask what we have done to deserve it. All the good deeds we have ever performed appear as so many reasons why God should have spared us.

From Joseph and Mary we learn the answer to such a complaint. Should God spare us because of our goodness? Then what should He have done to Joseph and Mary? No one ever surpassed them in holiness. Moreover, they were engaged in the very act of closest cooperation with the divine plan to send a Redeemer to this earth.

Spiritual writers have often enunciated the truth of the Christian life that nearness to Jesus means nearness to the cross. Nearness to Jesus does mean self-abnegation, which is merely another word for self-denial or selflessness. It does not mean unhappiness, for by the paradoxical law of God‟s providence, suffering borne for Him does not take away happiness but rather deepens and intensifies it.

Since Christ chose to redeem the world by suffering, those who are closest to Him act as co-redeemers of the world by uniting their sufferings to His. Then, too, there is the exalted union with Him whereby His friends imitate Him in every detail not for any “practical” purpose but solely and wholly for love, for he or she who loves desires always to become more and more like the beloved. If we apply these maxims to the conduct of Joseph and Mary, we understand why these two hearts had to suffer most (and knew they had to suffer most), for they loved most and were nearest to the Heart of Jesus.

For ourselves these reflections remove all cause of complaint. Unlike Joseph and Mary we are sinners and have done wrong or at least have been unfaithful repeatedly. In one sense we are receiving our just reward; we deserve to be punished for transgressing the law of our Maker. In another sense our crosses are favors from the hand of God. They are opportunities to gain merit here on earth, so that the eternal reward for fidelity may be greater. They are chances to atone for sin here on earth so that the temporal punishment in purgatory may be less. They are forms of cautery that remove habits of sin from our souls; or even, as the highest favor from God, they are invitations to unite our trials to the sufferings of Jesus so that His redemptive act may be applied more fully to souls, to save souls who otherwise might be lost.

Despite all this the great problem of suffering still remains a deep mystery, and we admit that our minds have never been able to fathom its full solution. Why suffering at all? It is a consequence of the presence of sin in the world. We simply know that there must be suffering which no one, rich or poor, good or bad, can escape. We also know that Jesus has marked out a way for us to follow. Without Him we would be lost in the fog that beset the pagans of old (and which still besets our modern intellectual pagans) when they tried to escape suffering, and when, having failed to avoid it, they could only ask fruitlessly, “Why?”

Christ could have redeemed us without suffering for us. Instead, He actually chose pain, disgrace, and disappointment because He knew that by imitating Him we could sweeten the sufferings we sometimes would have to bear. This is the Christian answer to the problem, and never in any circumstance will it fail to be the sole, all-satisfying answer.

Joseph and Mary have gone ahead of us in following the path of Jesus, and that is enough for us to know. In following them we will always find internal peace, no matter what problem or trial might befall us.

Chapter Three: “A Child Is Born To Us” 

“NOW it came to pass in those days that there went forth a decree from Caesar Augustus that a census of the whole world should be taken. This first census took place while Cyrinus was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:1-2).

What were “those days”? Since the greatest event in the history of the world was about to be described by St. Luke, the divinely inspired historian was very careful to give us the general period in which it occurred. Nonetheless, the exact year is problematical. For us to say that Jesus was born in A.D. 1 would be an easy matter. The facts do not permit so simple a solution.

The early Church counted the years from the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian (A.D. 285-305), or used the Roman system, “A.U.C.”—ab urbe condita, “from the founding of the city of Rome.” Our present method of basing the calendar on the year of Christ‟s birth was not introduced until the middle of the sixth century, and even then its starting point was reckoned erroneously.

In detail this is how it happened. Some time before 544, a Roman abbot, Dionysius Exiguus, conceived the plan of making the Nativity the focal point of every date. Dionysius erred in his computation, and to this day no one has been able to determine the exact extent of his mistake! That is why we do not know the precise year in which Christ was born. Although estimates have ranged all the way from 22 B.C. to A.D. 9, the evidence points to 5, 6, or best of all, 7 B.C. This date is obtained by correlating St. Luke‟s account, Roman and Jewish history, and archeological findings.

Since Augustus Caesar ordered a census of his empire in 8 B.C., we can be certain that the birth of Christ occurred soon thereafter. The Cyrinus mentioned by St. Luke was not, it is true, governor of Syria at the time, but he did act then as the military officer in charge of the census. St. Luke‟s language in the original Greek does not have to be translated, “Cyrinus was governor,” but can simply mean, “Cyrinus was in charge of Syria.”

Luke continues: “And all were going, each to his own town, to register. And Joseph also went from Galilee out of the town of Nazareth into Judea to the town of David which is called Bethlehem—because he was of the house and family of David—to register, together with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child” (2:3-5).

As was noted in an earlier chapter, Joseph may have used the census as a pretext to take Mary from Nazareth in order to protect her honor and that of Jesus. The fact that he was obliged to register at Bethlehem indicates that in all likelihood he owned property there. For all we know, Bethlehem may have been his birthplace just as Mary‟s seems to have been at Nazareth.

Bethlehem was about 80 miles south of Nazareth. At this period it was a hamlet with a population of no more than 2000 souls. About three days were required to complete the trip. Judging from the ordinary modes of travel of common folk in Palestine, Mary rode on an ass while Joseph walked alongside, leading the animal. They probably had no servant. Their road first descended into the Plain of Esdraelon, then began to rise more and more, passing through frequent towns that alternated with farm country. Finally, about five or six miles south of Jerusalem the two travelers reached their journey‟s end.

It should be noted carefully that St. Luke does not say that Christ was born immediately after the journey from Nazareth. “It came to pass while they were there that the days for her to be delivered were fulfilled” (2:6). Luke seems to suggest that Joseph and Mary lived at Bethlehem for some time before the Nativity. According to the computation we are following, Joseph married Our Lady after her pregnancy was four months advanced. This would mean that the stay at Bethlehem could have been of any length up to five months. Against this theory, age-old legends are responsible for the idea in our popular Christmas story that Jesus came into the world as soon as Mary reached Bethlehem. Up to the present time nothing certain can be established to settle the question.

The Church in its position as divinely appointed guardian of faith and morals has always taught and now solemnly teaches that Jesus was born miraculously of Mary so that the blessed Mother of God was ever virgin—before, during, and after the Nativity. This is called the Virgin Birth. Outside the Church it is ridiculed and misunderstood by many who think it synonymous with the Immaculate Conception (Mary‟s freedom from original sin). Yet the fact remains that the doctrine of the Virgin Birth was held from the very earliest days of Christianity; and to deny it now would be tantamount to denying the Church‟s mission as God‟s mouthpiece on earth. If Christ could pass through material objects (as He passed through the doors of the Upper Room after His Resurrection), why could He not pass through the body of His mother, leaving her virginal membranes intact?

Moreover, since Mary had been preserved from original sin by reason of her Immaculate Conception in the womb of her mother, she was free of the penalty Eve transmitted to every daughter of Adam. Mary bore Jesus without travail.

“And she wrapped him in swaddling clothes” (Luke 2:17). There are several interesting features about the swaddling clothes in which Jesus was given His first protection from cold and dampness. The custom of using swaddling bands had first been introduced while the Israelites were a wandering desert people. The binding was intended to provide warmth for the newly born infant as well as protection for his weak spine and soft bone structure.

A square piece of material formed the swaddling cloth proper, across the diagonal of which the babe was laid. Then the corners were tucked together, leaving only the infant‟s head exposed. Finally, two or three strips of cloth were wrapped around this tiny bundle, and the baby was thus snugly enclosed in a firm, warm, and comfortable sleeping bag. It took a genius in words like Cardinal Newman to capture the overwhelming paradox of this appealing scene when he described the lovable young virgin mother as tucking in “Omnipotence in bonds.”

“And she laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7). St. Luke implicitly tells us that the Nativity occurred in a stable. The manger used in Bethlehem was a trough hewn out of wood or scooped out of the soft limestone which abounds in the Holy Land. Jesus probably rested on a bed of wheat or barley straw, for hay as we understand it was not made in Palestine.

The inn in which “there was no room for them” (Luke 2:7) was no more than a small caravansary or khan, inasmuch as Bethlehem was only an insignificant hamlet. Vastly dissimilar to the hotels to which we are accustomed, the khan consisted of a courtyard for the animals, surrounded by alcoves in which the travelers spent the night. The entire enclosure was made safe against robbers by a high fence and by a gate that was strongly barred at nightfall.

Mary and Joseph were not turned away by a hardhearted innkeeper, greedy for money from richer patrons. The popular misconception arose from the medieval legends and miracle plays of Europe. It contradicts the traditional hospitality found all over the East. The real reason was simply the fact that other travelers were living in the inn. Over and above this circumstance, a lodging so public was no place for Mary, whose time was fast approaching. Joseph therefore led his wife to the only refuge available—a cave hollowed into the rock and used as a shelter by the shepherds of the vicinity. Such grottoes have served and still serve as a common place of refuge for man and beast on rainy chilly nights.

Were an ox and ass present at the side of Mary when she brought forth the Saviour of the world? We have no evidence. The stories of the ox and ass grew out of a pious application of a text from the prophet Isaias, “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master‟s crib” (Isa. 1:3). It would seem more likely that if any animals at all were in the cave, they should have been sheep that belonged to the near-by shepherds.

Yet the one great question remains unanswered. What circumstances prevented Joseph, the official protector of Jesus and Mary, from obtaining adequate shelter for his dear charges when they needed it so badly? Many theories have been propounded by expert scholars who have spent long years in studying every possible clue ranging from the climate of the Holy Land to the minutest detail of the text of Holy Scripture. Perhaps Joseph tried to get shelter better than the temporary home he acquired when he first came to Bethlehem; we do not know. But this seems certain: Mary‟s time was suddenly shortened by the direct providence of God so that Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, by His own choice would come into the world in poor circumstances, a lesson of detachment to all men of all time.

Evidently Jesus was born during the night, for “there were shepherds in the same district living in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). The weather may have been cool and raw, but not cold or snowy. Otherwise, the shepherds would have taken their flocks to some cave or other enclosure for shelter. Although tradition disagrees on the exact date of the first Christmas, it is rather uniform in holding that our Lord came into the world during the rainy or winter season—that is, some time between November and April.

“And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by [the shepherds], and said to them, „Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all the people; for there has been born to you today in the town of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.‟ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, „Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among men of good will.‟ And it came to pass, when the angels had departed from them into heaven, that the shepherds were saying to one another, „Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.‟ So they went with haste, and they found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in the manger. And when they had seen, they understood what had been told them concerning this Child. And all who heard marveled at the things told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept in mind all these words, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, even as it was spoken to them” (Luke 2:9-20).

Thus does St. Luke draw the curtain over the Christmas scene he has described in inimitable words—a scene whose richness painters and poets and preachers have never been able to exhaust. It is the first appearance of the Holy Family before men: “Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in the manger.” Mutual love shines forth in the faces of this earthly trinity: loving respect in the face of Joseph, loving adoration in the face of Mary, loving generosity in the face of the Eternal God with us. Joseph and Mary are, as it were, the mediators through whom the shepherds come to Jesus. In our own day and forever, they are the mediators through whom we, too, come to Jesus.

The all-pervading indefinable sense of deep peace that belongs to Christmas has come down to us through the ages. If we carefully search for the cause of this Christmas peace, we find that it lies in the unshakable calm brought forth by security. And if we search further for the cause of this security, we find it in the knowledge that God is with us.

“God with us!” We are children spoiled by twenty centuries of Christianity—spoiled because we have God with us and we do not appreciate the fact. We have had no experience of bleak paganism where in early youth our star-seeking ideals would be thrown down again and again as they sought to turn a rebellious nature to obey a God they were not favored to know as we know Him. We have had no experience (as had the pagans of old) of trying to drown all those ideals in an ocean of sinful pleasure, yet finding their craving for the good and pure and the noble and unselfish still unsatisfied. We cannot appreciate the pagans‟ despair at having no one to turn to—absolutely no one; because deep down in our hearts we know that even if all humans fail us, if we ourselves fail Jesus Christ, He can never and will never desert us.

Yes, the source of our Christmas peace is the realization that God is with us. And not merely God in heaven spiritually and invisibly at our side, but God in heaven come down to earth, clothed in flesh and bone as we are, like to us in all things, sin alone excepted.

The two thousand years that separate us from the midnight of the Nativity, vanish, and we kneel beside Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and we see that we are not in the past. It is a present moment that can never become part of the past. Even if Jesus had not perpetuated His bodily presence on earth by means of the Blessed Sacrament of His love, this one moment at the cave in Bethlehem, when the earth first saw its Saviour, would be so all-inclusive that the passing of time could never dim its perpetual newness. The fact that Almighty God should take on our human nature and walk among us is too stupendous to he held by one moment or even by all the moments of time. Because Christ was with us once, He is with us always. The moment when the Infinite came into the realm of time becomes, as it were, eternal.

The lesson of the Nativity, then, is the bodily presence of God with us. The Preface for the Masses of Christmas Day rightly phrases this lesson as a stirring keynote. “Through the mystery of the Incarnate Word, the new light of God‟s glory has shone on the eyes of our mind, so that while we look upon God present to our eyes, through Him we may be drawn to the love of the invisible.” From this point, “while we look upon God present to our eyes,” we must rely on our faith in order that “we may be drawn to the love of the invisible.”

But what is our faith? It is the “substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that are not seen” (Heb. 11:2). It is our belief in the word of God that what He tells us is true, despite the lack of evidence or even the apparently contrary evidence on the part of our senses.

Here in the cave at Bethlehem we see a newborn infant, his young mother, and her stalwart husband. Our faith tells us that the Infant is God Himself, become man without ceasing to be God; the mother is the person most exquisitely fashioned by the Lord Almighty; and the husband is the foster father closest to the Virgin and her Child in awesome holiness.

Before this Child came on earth, there was the law of God to be fulfilled. Like all laws it tended to be a “thing invisible,” a rule hard to follow because unseen. But now that Christ is among us, the law takes shape before our eyes. We behold a Person now, no longer an abstract mandate. We see Him carry out the two great commandments of the love of God and the love of our fellow men—“things invisible”—to which we are drawn now because we look upon them concretized in “God present to our eyes.” By the fact that Christ has come down to our earth, we are provided not only with an exemplar to show us how to live as we ought, but also we are fired by enthusiasm and love of Him to want to live as we ought.

Faith must enter into your daily life if you wish to live holily and happily. For instance, can you behold with your own eyes the sanctity and sacramental nature of Christian marriage? Hardly; yet your faith tells you that it is so.

Suppose that a serious problem turns up in your married life. It might be any of the thousand-and-one problems that can and do arise—misunderstanding, illness, financial distress, bereavement, difficulties with the children. Your faith tells you that because of the sacrament you received at the moment of your marriage, you have a right to receive from God those special benefactions, the actual graces, for carrying out the obligations of your married life. Can you believe this in a moment of trial? Can you bravely and generously go forward and attempt to solve your problems with a confident heart, serene in the knowledge that God has given you the grace to do so? You require faith, and faith requires a submission of your intellect to God‟s promises.

For that faith look at Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem. It is this very same Infant who in the years of His manhood will exalt your marriage to the height of a sacrament. The Christ is not a god dwelling far in the starry reaches of heaven; He came into your midst, a Babe subject to all the discomforts and helplessness natural to His state. With your own eyes you can see that He knows what you are describing when you tell Him of your troubles, for He Himself has shared our life on this earth. He is sympathetic to your needs, and His promises are not deceptions but come from the depths of His Sacred Heart that beats like your very own.

It is true that if Jesus had not come down to earth, we still would have had the consciousness of a loving Father in heaven who tenderly remembers His children on earth. It is also true that we need faith to see in the Babe the infinite God of love and majesty. But the lesson of Bethlehem lies in this extra help to our faith, this knowledge of Christ‟s personal presence among us—again to repeat from the Preface of the Christmas Masses—“that while we look upon God present to our eyes, we may be drawn to the love of things invisible.”

From this you can understand why the Church uses this same Preface for Christmas in its Masses of the Blessed Sacrament. Christ‟s body on earth at Bethlehem was the same body which is now on earth in our tabernacles all over the world. The only difference is that now He is veiled beneath the species of bread and wine. The Blessed Sacrament is the continuation of Christmas; we cannot think of Christ‟s first personal visit two thousand years ago without instinctively thinking of His constant visit at every present moment. We owe the Blessed Sacrament to Bethlehem.

Each recurring Christmas Day should refresh in your mind the magnificent import of the bodily presence of God among us. As you receive Holy Communion on each occasion, the story of Bethlehem is being renewed and continued in your heart, for the cave was the first tabernacle and the manger was the first ciborium. You have the opportunity of “wrapping the Child in swaddling clothes and laying Him in the manger” of your own heart every day if you wish.

In the Blessed Sacrament you will find the greatest, the most tangible help and inspiration for your family life. If you and your husband or wife can make it a practice to receive Holy Communion together, your union will be all the deeper because it is rooted all the more deeply in the love of Christ. There can be no doubt that the frequent reception of Holy Communion by husband and wife does infallibly make their marriage holier and happier.

It is hardly possible to speak satisfactorily of the Blessed Sacrament. The subject is too tremendous to do it justice. Just as the moment of the Incarnation could not hold its awesome reality for itself as the one moment when the Infinite took on the limits of time, so, too, the words that try to portray the quiet majesty of Christ‟s reign among us in the Tabernacle cannot convey their full message of truth. Jesus Christ, God and man, is present with His glorified living body under the appearance of bread and wine in the Blessed Sacrament. What then? The action of the frequent communicant is the only reasonable action, and the answer of the father of the possessed boy is the only reasonable answer: “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23.)

Every time we look on the mystery of the Nativity at Bethlehem, a little deeper sense of its meaning penetrates our souls. Sometimes for a few fleeting moments we feel that we can almost grasp the full realization of what it means to have God as man on this earth. The extension of Christ‟s life in the Blessed Sacrament adds to this realization still another note: “God as man is on this earth now, as my closest, dearest Friend, in whose love I can rest my love of my husband or wife, and in whom we two are united in the ideal of the selfless love toward which we are striving.”

Do not be deceived by the fallacy that because of unworthiness you ought not approach Christ closely, receiving Holy Communion often. Who would be so proud as to imply that anyone could become fully worthy? To receive Communion only two things are necessary and sufficient: the state of grace and the proper disposition. The proper disposition simply consists in approaching the Holy Table for the good which the Eucharist will effect in your soul and body, not for public show or merely to please someone else. The results will be a closer union of love with Christ, the growth of every virtue in your soul, the blotting out of venial sin, strength against mortal sin, and powerful assistance to die in the peace of the Lord when your time comes.

All these considerations on the meaning of the Nativity and the Blessed Sacrament have grown out of our looking more or less at the Infant Jesus. There were two other people next to Him whom we look at now—the virgin mother and the foster father. Their radiant love is all directed toward the Babe in the manger, and because it is directed toward the Babe, it also goes through Him from husband to wife and from wife to husband in the thrill of ecstasy that takes hold of the two greatest saints as they look on their God, their Son. Again must we stress this great love of Joseph and Mary for each other as the model for every husband and wife.

It is here at Bethlehem while we watch them together at the crib that we can discuss frankly and settle finally a point that sometimes bothers Catholics when they pray to Joseph instead of Mary or to Mary instead of Joseph. In venerating one they experience a sort of uneasy feeling that perhaps they are taking honor from the other. The same type of feeling can come to converts who have not yet developed the instinctive habit of praying to Mary, while realizing nevertheless that such an action not only does not derogate from God‟s rights but is highly pleasing to Him.

Cardinal Newman has said that ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt. So in this case. There is no doubt that devotion to St. Joseph honors Mary and gives glory to God, and there is no doubt that Joseph more than an other saint wishes Mary to be honored above all mere creatures including himself. There is merely the difficulty that we find it hard to comprehend the complete selflessness of the husband and the wife, and their total devotion to one cause alone: the will of God. We fear that one would be jealous of the other! At any rate, in examining their love more closely as we are doing, another aspect of ideal family love will be brought into focus.

In our limited human experience we rarely if ever succeed in erasing absolutely every trace of selfishness in dealing with even our nearest and dearest; but in the case of Joseph and Mary the two know that their mutual glorification redounds to the praise of their Creator. Mary is His choicest handiwork as the most delicately beautiful person God made, conceived without stain of original sin. All her dignity arises out of the fact that she is the Mother of God, for she it was who brought this Infant Jesus into the world here at Bethlehem.

In the same way honor paid to St. Joseph is honor paid to Mary, and through Mary, to God. The dignity of St. Joseph ultimately stems from the fact that he is the virginal husband of the Mother of God. Because of his marriage to Our Lady he possesses the rights of a father over this Jesus her Son, who lies in the manger before them. Had he not been Mary‟s husband, he would have been merely the guardian of Christ. He would not have had so intimate a share, as theologians tell us, in cooperating in Christ‟s work of redemption by educating and protecting Him during His childhood until He was ready to begin His public life.

Joseph and Mary realize all this as they kneel beside Jesus. Their humility does not deny the existence in themselves of the great gifts which Almighty God has bestowed on them. They understand the awesome heights of the dignity that belongs to their privileged positions, but they understand at the same time that all credit for their holiness must be given to the Infant they are serving, and to the workings of His grace in them. Their free will co-operated with Him in every detail; that, too, they realize. And while they see themselves rewarded for their fidelity by being the two chosen lovers to welcome Christ into the world, they see manifested in themselves God‟s justice and mercy and faithfulness to His promises.

If only we could grasp the depth of the love of Joseph for Mary and of Mary for Joseph as they adore their Son together! Next to God, or rather in God Himself, they bear an all-generous affection toward each other that could exist only in the husband and wife of the Holy Family.

Mary is not any less human because she is more holy. She looks at the Child and looks at His foster father, who is to guard Him (and act as His father) for possibly the next thirty years. She knows Joseph‟s fidelity and generosity and bravery. And she has another reason for her affection. She sees in him the tremendous nearness to God that made him worthy to be called the father of Christ. She wishes him to be honored for all he has done and will do for the newborn Redeemer.

And on Joseph‟s part, he loves Mary as no one except the Infant before them has ever done or can do. No angel or saint can be closer to Mary than her husband. He sees in her the sanctity that made her worthy to become the habitation of the Son of God. Since she is the mediatrix of all graces, Joseph goes to Jesus through Mary.

Yes, here in Bethlehem for the first time we behold the Holy Family, united on earth in that love and mutual confidence which continues to be our model here while they are united in even closer intimacy in heaven. We simply cannot honor St. Joseph without implicitly paying honor to Mary; and we cannot pay homage to Our Lady without honoring her Son, who is God, “to whom be all glory forever.”

We must leave the manger now but the manger will be our heart, and the Infant will lie there often as we receive Him again and again in the sacrament of His love. Joseph and Mary will help us welcome Him each time as they welcomed Him for that wonderful first time in Bethlehem.

Imprimi Potest:
Leo D. Sullivan, S.J., Praepositus Provincialis Provinciae Chicagiensis

Nihil obstat:
Joannes A. Schulien, S.T.D., Censor librorum

Imprimatur:
Moyses E. Koley, Archiepiscopus Milwaukiensis

Die 15 Januarii, 1947

Pius IX and the Immaculate Conception

Pius IX and the Immaculate Conception
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

In the Bull Ineffabilis signed by Pope Pius XI on December 8, 1854, he says:

“Our mouth overflows with joy and our lips with exultation. We give, and shall always give, the humblest and deepest thanks to Jesus Christ Our Lord because, through a singular grace, He has granted to us, unworthy though we be, to decree and offer this honor and glory and praise to His Blessed Mother.

“We repose all our hope in the most Blessed Virgin – in the all beautiful and immaculate one who has crushed the poisonous head of the most cruel serpent and brought salvation to the world. In her who is the glory of the prophets and apostles, the honor of the martyrs, the crown and joy of all the saints; in her who is the safest refuge and the most trustworthy helper of all who are in danger; in her who, with her only-begotten Son, is the most powerful Mediatrix and Conciliatrix in the whole world; in her who is the most excellent glory, ornament and impregnable stronghold of the holy Church; in her who has destroyed all heresies and snatched the faithful people and nations from all kinds of direst calamities; in her do we hope who has delivered us from so many threatening dangers.

“We have, therefore, a very certain hope and complete confidence that the most Blessed Virgin will ensure by her most powerful patronage that all difficulties be removed and all errors dissipated, so that our Holy Mother the Catholic Church may flourish daily more and more amidst all peoples and in all countries…”

These passages could seem awkward to the present generations for two reasons: first, for its long sentences and, second, for its use of superlatives.

The modern style likes short sentences and few superlatives. The merit of the long sentence, however, is to relate a series of thoughts in one sentence. And the merit of superlatives – when properly applied – is to break the common patterns in which we move and make us understand profound realities – which are the superlative realities – those for which human language can only find a superlative to express them. Everything invisible, everything supernatural, everything that is vastly more than the visible order in which we move, is so much greater than we are that language only refers to such things with superlatives.

And if this is true of all that is invisible, it is particularly true of Our Lady, who is the Queen of all things visible and invisible, and who is above everything visible and invisible. For this reason, having only God above her, the superlatives themselves are shattered, and we find in our language no way of adequately describing her. So, adding one superlative to another, we end by only affirming the failure of them all to say what should be said. But through such an effort, we somehow manage to make one understand that we have some idea of the greatness of Our Lady.

The Glory and Privileges of Our Lady

Pius IX amasses a number of ideas in these sentences. These long sentences are circles, each one a type of diadem with many jewels to adorn the crown of Our Lady. Presenting this series of ideas about the Immaculate Conception, he is making us see that because Our Lady was conceived without original sin – and this in anticipation of being the Mother of God – she reached the summit of glory in all the orders.

First, he makes an act of thanksgiving for the fact that he has been chosen, as Pope, to define the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. He says, “Our mouth overflows with joy and our lips with exultation.” The whole sentence is superlative. And really, there is no human tongue that can sufficiently express its joy that the Immaculate Conception was defined, all the more so that of the man who is called the Prince of Pastors and successor of St. Peter.

So, the mouth of Pius IX exults with joy. It is a super joy that pours forth from his lips and becomes exultation. This great joy is because the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady was defined, and because he was the instrument for that definition.

He explains, saying that he “gives, and shall always give, the humblest and deepest thanks” – everything is superlative – “to Our Lord Jesus Christ because, through a singular grace ” – it is no normal grace but one without equal – “He has granted us, unworthy though we be, to decree and offer this honor and glory and praise to His Blessed Mother.

The Power of the Papacy that can define a Dogma

Here you see the greatness of a Pope, the grandeur of the Roman pontificate, which is the Power of the Keys. Our Lady is above all the Angels and all the Saints. She is, so to speak, seated on a throne next to Our Lord Jesus Christ.

But a Pope, a simple man living on this earth, was able to say that he defined and decreed this title that gave new honor, praise and glory to the Most Holy Mother of God. That is to say, the Power of the Keys gave him the means to place a new crown on the forehead of one who is so far above him! That is the immense power and grandeur of the papacy.

A Virgin Beautiful and Immaculate

This is his first thought. It is followed by a second – that Our Lady, being Immaculate, crushed the head of the Devil: “We repose all our hope in the most Blessed Virgin – in the all beautiful and immaculate one who has crushed the poisonous head of the most cruel serpent and brought salvation to the world.

His thinking is very clear here. Being immaculate and beautiful, Our Lady crushed the head of the Devil. You see that these ideas are inseparable. The Pope thinks about the beauty of Our Lady and about her power. By way of contrast, he immediately thinks of the heinousness of the Devil that is crushed by her. That is to say, her beauty would not be complete unless it was a triumphal beauty that smashes the Devil.

Because she is so pure, so beautiful, it is not enough that all the creatures of this world and of Heaven and Purgatory pay her homage. It is necessary that the enemy be broken under her feet.

Therefore, the full idea of her glory entails the idea of the Devil slavering, smashed and humiliated, his face to the ground, because she so desired it and because she was the instrument of God to carry this out. This is part of her beauty. It is also another manifestation of the idea that man can only understand all the splendor of truth, beauty and goodness when it is placed in contrast with error, evil and ugliness. This becomes very clear in the image of the Immaculate Conception.

Her Intercession for Repentant Sinners

Then the Pope says, “We confide all our hope in her.” This is because she is beautiful and immaculate, but also because she crushes the Devil. If only we would remember this in times of temptation! We are tempted, the Devil is trying to draw us into some evil, we are afraid of falling into sin. Our Lady crushed the head of Satan and, therefore, can save any sinner from his clutches. She can snatch any tempted soul from his influence and empire. This is a reason to confide in her and should encourage us in our spiritual life.

Thus we should consider first , how Our Lady, being Immaculate and beautiful, crushed the head of the Devil;

Second, how she, being Immaculate, is the glory of the Prophets and Apostles, the honor of the Martyrs, the joy and glory of all the Saints. She not only crushed the Devil, but she is the joy and beauty of Heaven. She is “together with her only-begotten Son, the most powerful Mediatrix and Conciliatrix in the whole world.” Here is a thought that no longer concerns just  individuals, but rather all human society as such; she reconciles all of mankind, all the States, nations and public order.

Third, how she is the most secure refuge and most faithful support for all who are in danger. Here again, we find superlatives – Our Lady is not just a safe haven or faithful support. No, she is the most secure haven, the most faithful support for those in distress.

What relation does this have with the Immaculate Conception? Our Lady, who never experienced such danger because she was confirmed in grace from the first instant of her being, has an enormous pity for her children who are subject to these dangers in this world. There is no true Catholic mother in this world who does not harbor fear about what can happen to her children. Now, Our Lady discerns this danger much more clearly. We can say that the more “afflicted” she is by our situation, the more certainty we can have of being rescued when we pray to her. This is what is understood here.

Her Protection and Powerful Intercession Against Heresy

She is “the most excellent glory, ornament and impregnable stronghold of the holy Church.” She is, then, the terror of demons, the honor and glory of Heaven, the protector of men and the ornament of the Church. Why? Because the Church is a paradise, a prefigure of the heavenly paradise, and if she is the honor of the heavenly paradise, she has to be the honor of the Catholic Church.

He continues, “We reaffirm our hope in her who has destroyed all heresies.” All heresies, he says, including those that cause us the greatest distress. She has saved the faithful from the gravest evils of all kinds – including those that most alarm us, and she has rid us of the many dangers that threaten us.

We must confide that, with her most efficacious protection, she desires to make our Holy Mother Church overcome all difficulties, including the most unexpected and most tremendous. Thus, after smashing all errors – even those that people can incidentally embrace, like those that we see in the newspapers today – the Catholic Church “may flourish daily more and more amidst all peoples and in all places.

Our Lady, the Conversion of the World and the Reign of Mary

This affirmation that the Church should prosper among all the peoples and in all places seems to be a foretaste of the Reign of Mary.

What should we ask Our Lady today, the day of her Immaculate Conception? I have the impression that we should say to her: “May your Reign come, may your will be done on earth as in Heaven.” We should ask that her Reign come soon and that this state of affairs end where her will is not done on earth. Even in places where one would expect that her desire would be fulfilled, there is no such compliance. When man fulfills her will on this earth, this will be her Reign.

The Coming Of Christ: Meditations For Advent

The Coming Of Christ: Meditations For Advent 
By Richard F. Clarke S.J.

1. What Advent is.

Advent is the season when we are taught to look forward both to the first coming of our Lord into the world at Christmas time, and also to His second coming at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. His first coming was to seek and to save that which was lost. His second coming will be to gather His elect into the celestial paradise, and to trample all His enemies under His feet. Shall I on that day be regarded by Him as a friend or as an enemy? Is my present life one of devotion to Him and union with Him, or one of selfishness, pride, impatience of the yoke of Christ?

Of all the miracles in the world, never was there one to be compared to His coming on earth in the form of a man. It was a miracle so entirely above and beyond our reason, that, unless we knew it by faith to be a fact, we should be inclined to pronounce it impossible. That the Infinite God should take the form of a creature! that the Eternal Word should be clad in a body formed of the dust of the earth! that He should of His own accord leave the highest Heaven for a life of suffering, and death of agony! Nothing but the power of God could work such a wonder as this.

Yet we know that it is a fact. ‘For us men and for our salvation, He came down from Heaven.’ He yearned over us with a Divine love. Willingly, joyfully, almost eagerly, He stripped Himself of all His glory. ‘He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death.’ Who after this can refuse to believe that He loved us and still loves us fondly, tenderly? Who can refuse to love Him in return, and to show this love by a loyal obedience to all that He asks of us?

2. The Divine Decree.

What brought Christ down from Heaven? It was man’s sin. From all eternity, the Blessed Trinity, looking forward to the fall of man, had decreed that the Eternal Word should clothe Himself with human flesh, and should be born into the world in order to repair the evil that man had wrought. Thus, God in His mercy provides a remedy for all the sins and follies of men even before they are committed. We do the harm, and God undoes it. Has He not often thus averted from me the consequences due to my evil deeds?

In what garb was the Son of God to clothe Himself when He became Man? In one that should give us some idea of the evil He came to undo. He, the Eternal Son, coequal with the Father, took the form of a servant, was born of a despised race, of humble parents, in poverty, and humility, and contempt. All this should impress on us how sin has deserved all these and every other evil imaginable beside. If these were the results of sin on the spotless Lamb of God, what must they be on sinful, feeble man?

The divine decree did not stop at this first coming of the Son of God. There is to be a second Advent, but one in which He will appear in human form indeed, yet now no longer in lowliness and humiliation, but clothed with all the brightness and glory which His Divine Nature can impart to His Sacred Humanity. In this second coming, He is to come and receive the reward that He has earned for His human nature, and for all those who had faithfully served Him. He is to come and reign. He is to crush all His enemies under His feet. Look forward to that glorious day, and pray that you may share the glory of the Son of God.

3. The Announcement of His Coming.

For a short time after their creation, our first parents lived in perfect peace and happiness in the Garden of Eden. If they had continued obedient to the authority of their Creator during their whole time of probation, there would have been no need for the advent of the Son of God as their Redeemer from sin, for sin there would have been none. It was their deliberate rebellion that was the occasion that determined the visit of the Word to this world of ours. No wonder that the Church sings: ‘O felix culpa!’ ‘O happy transgression’, which earned a Redeemer such as this! Admire God’s wonderful Providence in thus bringing good out of evil, and advantage to man for his very sin.

The promise made was couched in words that gave no immediate prospect of the crushing of the serpent’s head and the destruction of His power. It left the curse of sin upon the earth and its inhabitants and announced the sorrows that would accompany them through their time of sojourn here. That law still holds. Christ came to abolish sin, but not its temporal consequences. “He who sins shall suffer”, is a law which Christ fulfilled and in no way destroyed.

Yet the promise of a Redeemer rekindled the light of hope in the souls of Adam and Eve. They and all their children were ever looking and praying for His coming. God’s intention was to keep them in expectancy. So, too, with His second coming. There has always been a tradition of expectation. ‘Blessed is the man whom his Lord, when He comes, shall find watching.’ Hence, learn to watch and pray. Come quickly, O Lord Jesus!

4. The Long Darkness.

The light extinguished at the Fall was rekindled in the hearts of our first parents when the promise was given them of a Redeemer who should undo the fatal mischief that had been done. But in their children, Adam and Eve had to lament the fatal effects of that deadly evil that they had introduced into the world. As generation followed generation, thicker and thicker grew the darkness, farther and farther did men wander away from the light, that gave to each the power of guiding his feet aright from earth to Heaven. Thus it is that each ill deed goes on bearing its deadly fruit, often long after the doer is dead and gone.

Yet every man had light and grace sufficient, and more than sufficient, to enable him to walk in the ways of God, and to find his way to the Kingdom of Heaven. But none save a very few availed themselves of it. ‘They loved darkness more than light.’ The world gradually lost all regard for virtue or for God. How grateful should I be to God that I live in happier days.

If I had lived then, what should I have been? Even with all my countless graces and advantages, what a poor specimen I am of one made by God, for God, and in the image of God. In heathen days, should I not have been among the most depraved? Should I not have recklessly indulged my own inclinations, irrespective of the voice of God warning and reproaching me? What chance should I have had of saving my soul in those days of dark corruption and depravity?

5. Transient Gleams.

From time to time, there broke through the thick darkness of heathendom a gleam of light that seemed to be a harbinger of the coming day. Some sage or poet sang of a golden age that soon would be at hand. But the flash of light soon disappeared, and only left the darkness even darker than before. So in the life of those who have hardened themselves against God there are sometimes moments when the devil seems to have forsaken his prey, and there seems a hope of better things. But if Jesus’ coming is still far away, the improvement soon passes, and the evil seems to have even a more complete mastery than ever before.

There is something very beautiful in the sentiments of the old Greek and Roman poets. Their minstrelsy rings sweetly in our ears. Their poems proclaim them men of the highest genius. But they have no power to effect a change of heart, such as is wrought by the inspired words of some great saint or servant of God. God must speak through man’s voice, if it is to avail to turn others to God. Do I pray God thus to rule and direct my words that they may do His work?

So, too, many of the deeds of the heroes of antiquity appear worthy of the holy ones of God. Some may have been done from a supernatural motive, and may even have merited eternal life. But no act, however noble in the natural order, is of any value in the sight of God, unless it be done with some sort of conscious desire to please and serve Him. Do my ordinary actions possess this necessary characteristic?

6. The Golden Thread.

All through the long ages that elapsed from the promise to the coming of the Redeemer, a golden thread of light from Heaven ran athwart their darkness. In the chosen people of Israel, there ever prevailed a strong conviction of the coming of a Saviour, who was to deliver His people from all sin and evil. It was handed down from generation to generation, and was again and again renewed by the inspired declarations of the Prophets of Israel. Thus, God in His mercy never leaves Himself without a witness to reveal to men of goodwill the message of hope.

So through all the centuries that have passed since the coming of our Lord, the Catholic Church has been the golden thread of light amid the darkness of heresy and heathendom. What a bright and glorious thread! What a contrast to all around! How it has, through God’s mercy, enlightened my life! How can I ever thank God sufficiently that, led by its Divine light, I am travelling on in peace and safety to the Heavenly Jerusalem!

So, too, there runs through the life of all those who are to attain at last to the eternal happiness of Heaven a golden thread, which never wholly disappears, even though their steps may wander far from the right path. Sometimes it is kindness to the poor; sometimes devotion to the holy souls; very often, it is a reverence to the Holy Mother of God that thus runs through the whole of life. In my life, God has interwoven some such thread. Do I follow it up with grateful perseverance?

7. The Causes of Delay.

If the wickedness of the world in heathen times was so great, how was it that the coming of the Redeemer was so long delayed? To this question, we can only give one answer with absolute certainty, that it was so decreed by Almighty God in His infinite wisdom. We cannot hope in this life to comprehend the mysteries of the Providence of the Most High. We can only humbly bow our heads and say that the Redeemer came when God so willed, and that what God wills is necessarily the best.

Yet we can at least form some kind of conjecture as to the causes of delay. God works by natural means. In order that the religion of Jesus should spread all over the world by the ordinary working of the laws that govern the affairs of men, it was convenient that the world should be subject to one central power. This was never the case until, at the time of Christ’s Nativity, the Roman Empire was mistress of the world. Thus, God prepares the way for His designs of mercy, and arranges the world’s events according to His will, yet without forcing the wills of men.

There was another reason for the long delay. It was to teach us that God does nothing hurriedly. He always waits before putting into execution His decrees. In this, He wishes us to imitate Him. The Eternal Wisdom of the Most High needs no time for deliberation. His works are not gradually perfected, or improved on second thoughts. But ours are, and the slow action of the Providence of God should impress upon us the importance of waiting before we act, and considering and re-considering all our plans.

8. The Approaching Day.

When the sun is soon to appear above the horizon, the morning star, shining with a light derived indeed from him, but nevertheless shining bright and clear even before his coming, gives the signal of his approach. So, the Holy Mother of God, dawning upon the world with a grace and beauty which was the gift of her Divine Son, anticipated His Incarnation and made the world more beautiful in God’s sight than it had ever been before. Mary was more precious to God than all the rest of men, and this quite independently of her Divine Maternity. Consider why this was, and learn a lesson for yourself.

The morning star is still clearly seen when all other stars have been extinguished by the light of the coming day. Mary has a brilliancy so great that the brightness of all the other saints fades into nothing in comparison with hers. If this was the case even in comparison with the glory of St John Baptist, St Joseph, Abraham the Patriarch, the friend of God, Job, the model of patience, Daniel, the beloved of God, what must her glory be! Thank God for having created one child of Adam worthy of Himself.

Mary’s consummate beauty is the consequence of there being in her nothing of her own. All was God’s; no admixture of self in her motives, in her aims, in her joys and sorrows, her love and hatred. Her affections were simply a reflection of what God loved and hated; like God, she loved all things except sin, and those who were the declared and eternal enemies of God. She desired nothing for herself except that she might see God’s holy will fulfilled in all. Is this the account that you can give of yourself? Only if this is so are you a worthy child of Mary.

9. The Fulfillment of the Decree.

The promised coming of the Redeemer had indeed been long delayed. Patriarch had succeeded Patriarch, and died without having the privilege of seeing that long-expected day. The long line of the Prophets had passed away, but their desire after the Messiah had not been satisfied. God always keeps His servants waiting for His best gifts, and therefore it was but fitting that they should wait for thousands of years before receiving this Gift of gifts, this Gift in which He gave them Himself.

The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity had also been waiting for one whose immaculate purity should make her fit, as far as any child of Adam could be fit, to be His Mother. There had been many holy women among the daughters of Abraham, but none without sin, and therefore none in whose womb the Son of God could find repose. If Christ thus could not come to dwell with one who was stained with sin, what must be the purity He requires now of those whose Guest He becomes in Holy Communion? O Jesus, forgive me all my careless receptions of You; my want of careful preparation, my faults innumerable!

Christ Himself had prepared a resting-place for Himself in Mary’s sacred breast. As we read in Holy Scripture: ‘The Most High has sanctified a tabernacle for Himself.’ (Psalm 45:5 in the Vulgate, or Psalm 46:4 in the Hebrew.) So now, if I am to be fit to receive Him, He must prepare my heart. Do I think of this during my preparation for Communion, and pray Him to cleanse me from every stain in His most Precious Blood, to beautify with many graces the tabernacle where He is to abide?

10. The Forerunner of the King.

St John Baptist was the chosen messenger to proclaim the coming of the King of kings. No other herald had so important an office. He had to prepare the hearts of men for the coming of the Messiah. It was this that constituted him the greatest of those who were born of women. If to proclaim the coming of Christ in the flesh was so solemn and responsible an office, what must be the dignity and responsibility of the priests of God, who are sent to announce His second coming in glory?

How did St John prepare for his work? By a life of seclusion and penance. From childhood, he lived alone in the desert, his bed the hard ground, his meat locusts and wild honey, his dress a camel’s skin. Our Lord contrasts him with those who wear soft raiment. No one who lives a life of luxury will ever be an efficient messenger of God. A priest above all must avoid a life of ease and self-indulgence, if he wishes to win souls for Christ.

The secret of St John’s success was thus the result of practicing what he preached. He practiced much more than he preached, for he enjoined upon his hearers the simple performance of ordinary duties while he led a life of continual penance and self-denial. If our words are to carry any weight, we must not preach without practicing. The parent or superior, who has the training of the young, will never train them up to virtue unless he himself is a man of virtue. No one can reach the hearts of others unless he first carries out the lessons he teaches others. Do I do this?

11. The Forerunner’s Message.

The refrain of St John’s teaching was a very simple and constant one. ‘Do penance, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ It seems strange advice. The coming of the King of Heaven might be a reason for joy on the part of those who looked for Him, and of dread on the part of His enemies. But why for doing penance? For repenting? Yet the teaching of St John is true now, as it was at the time his words were first spoken. Penance, repentance, is the means of preparation for the advent of our King. This explains the Saint’s love of penance. What penance do I practice with this object?

Yet after all, it is the natural and most suitable means of preparation. It helps us to bring into subjection that lower nature, which rebels against the sovereignty of our King. It detaches us from finding our satisfaction in earthly things. It is in itself an act of obedience to our King. It renders us humble, and teaches us to put our necks under the yoke. It saves us from being separated from the Kingdom we are to share by the long prison of Purgatory. Learn from all this, to love penance.

Penance is a necessary preparation for receiving our King when He comes to us in humble form in Holy Communion. This is why Confession is the preliminary of that Sacred Feast, and why contrition is necessary. We must purge our souls by prayer and penance and sorrow for sins, if we are to rejoice exceedingly in the Bridegroom’s presence, and to hear His voice sweetly whispering in our ears. Do I prepare thus for Holy Communion?

12. The Forerunner’s Office.

St John was something more than a herald. He had to prepare the way for the King, to make the crooked ways straight, and the rough places smooth. His office was that which is entrusted to us all in our own sphere; to try to make the way in which the followers of Christ have to tread straight and easy. What a privilege if we can by our charity and our edifying life make the path of life more easy for those whose lot it is to tread the way of the Cross and to walk over rough or stormy paths. Is this your endeavor in your daily life, or do you place obstacles in the path of others by your bad example, want of charity and consideration, impatience, etc.

St John, as the Herald or Forerunner of Christ, had to proclaim the coming of the King. He himself expresses this by his description of himself as the voice of one who cries in the desert; that is, Christ spoke through his mouth. So He speaks through the mouths of all His servants just in proportion to their devotion and singleness of purpose. How poor an echo are my words of the whispers of Christ to the faithful soul. How mixed with the discordant notes of self-will to worldliness!

St John’s estimate of himself in comparison with Him whom he announced was that he was not worthy to stoop down and untie the latchet of His sandal. This was the duty of the lowest slaves. It meant that he was unworthy to serve Christ, even in the capacity of a slave, and by doing the work that many slaves would consider beneath them. Am I willing to undertake the humblest and most menial duties in the service of Christ? Do I consider it a privilege to do so?

13. Hope.

Advent is essentially a time of hope. It is not in itself a time of joy except so far as hope of joy to come brings with it a present gladness. It is an exact representation of our life on earth. We are in a place of exile and a valley of tears, but yet our hope amid all the darkness should be lighted up and rendered joyous by the prospect of future joy. The motto of our life is our Lord’s farewell words to His disciples: ‘You indeed shall have sorrow, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy’. This must be my consolation in all sorrow. I must try to forget my present troubles in the happy thought of the joy to come.

Why have we so little hope? Generally, because we seek to have our happiness here, and so forfeit the right to it hereafter, or at least forfeit the right to look forward to it with confidence and joy. We cannot eat our cake and keep it. If I seek my satisfaction in money, or comforts, or praise, or applause, or affection of others, I have my reward here and cannot expect to get any reward hereafter. I have no crown of justice to hope for if already I have had the crown of satisfied ambition, or pockets filled with money, or a tickled palate, or the buzzing applause of a crowd.

Our hope is also marred by our self-will, which prevents our will from being in complete conformity with the will of God. We are conscious of a sort of barrier between ourselves and Him, which sadly interferes with our hope. We have assumed a sort of independence of God, which renders it impossible for Him to pour into our hearts that hope which is in exact proportion to our conformity to His will. If I were humble and more resigned in all things, I should be more full of hope.

14. Rejoice.

The time of preparation is a mingled period of penance and of joy. Of penance, by reason of our sins, which have removed us so far away from God; of joy, at the prospect of being brought near to Him once more through Jesus Christ. On mid-Advent, as on mid-Lent Sunday, it is the joyful side of the matter that comes before us. More than this, joy is insisted upon as a duty. It seems strange that the command to rejoice should be necessary. Do not all men love joy, and seek after it unbidden? One thing it shows, that God desires that we should be full of joy. Thank Him for this merciful intention, and try to carry it out.

Yet it is not all kinds of joy that is recommended to us. There are many kinds of joy that the Apostle would be far from recommending. To rejoice in the world is but a sorry kind of joy, on account of its transitory character. ‘Gaudete in Domino’, says the Apostle – ‘Rejoice in the Lord.’ This is the only joy that lasts, and the only joy that is really worth the having.

What does St Paul mean by rejoicing in the Lord? He means the joy that is the result of such a love of God, as makes us simply wish that His will should be done in all things, and that feels positive joy in seeing the accomplishment of the Divine will, quite apart from any personal advantage or disadvantage that may accrue to ourselves. This is the secret of true joy, for then what befalls ourselves is a matter of indifference to us. Be it weal or woe, success or failure, we rejoice in it simply because it is what God has ordained for us. This is the meaning of our Lord’s words, ‘Your joy no man takes from you.’

15. Rejoice always.

St Paul goes beyond the mere command to rejoice, and to rejoice in the Lord; he also bids us to rejoice always. Is this possible? Yes, it is quite possible. If it were not, the Apostle would not have imposed it upon us. It is not easy, because our self-love and our selfishness destroy joy. But the saints, who had driven self-love out of their hearts, found it a pleasant and an easy task to be always joyful. If we desire the same, we must do our best to get rid of this hindrance to our joy.

How are we to accomplish this task? It must be a gradual one. It is to be arrived at by many acts of submission to the will of God, and to the will of others when opposed to our own; and the submission must have for its motive, not the intellectual conviction that what we ourselves desire is in itself inferior, but the determination to submit for the sake of submission, and as an act of reverence to God. We must be willing to submit both will and intellect to those set over us, without complaining or questioning their commands. Do I do so?

When this painful process is over, and when at length we begin to learn the happiness of giving up our own will to the will of others, we soon begin to receive the reward of our self-conquest. We acquire by degrees an undisturbed calm of soul, and an increasing strength of will, as the fruits of our victory over self, and above all a happy consciousness that we have been learning the lesson of conforming our will to the will of God, in which the happiness of Heaven consists.

16. The Second Coming of Christ.

When the Apostles on Mount Olivet were gazing after their Master, who had just ascended into Heaven, two Angels stood by them, and announced to them that He who had just vanished from their sight would return in like manner. Our Lord Himself had already declared that He would come again with power and great glory and would sit upon the throne of His glory. At the sound of His approach, the dead will rise from their graves to meet Him, and the nations of the world who have not accepted His sway will be filled with unspeakable terror and dismay. What will be the dispositions with which I shall rise again to meet Christ? What would they be now if He were to come today?

The object of His coming will be to judge the living and the dead. All that is now hidden will be made manifest before the world. All the secret thoughts and whispered words, and actions concealed from the eyes of men, will then be made manifest. How should I like to have all my base and low motives dragged to light, all my unkind words revealed to those against whom they were spoken, all those actions, of which I cannot myself think without shame, proclaimed so that all may behold them?

Our Lord will come, radiant in majesty and glory, to crush His enemies under His feet and reward His faithful soldiers and servants. How great then will be the ignominy and shame of the mighty men of earth, if they have not bowed their neck to the King of kings! How full of joy will be the hearts of all who have humbled themselves before Him! How will they be beautiful beyond compare, and honored before His holy Angels! Learn now to humble yourself under the yoke of Christ.

17. The Signs of His Coming.

One of the signs of the Second Coming of our Lord being nigh at hand, will be that no one will expect it. All the world will be satisfied that things will go on, as hitherto for many a century, and they will ask: Where is the promise of His coming? In this, too, life of the individual is often a miniature of the history of the world. Christ comes again to many an unexpecting soul when sudden death, through some accident or unsuspected disease, carries off in a moment the man who thought he had long years to live. ‘Blessed is he whom his Lord, when He comes, shall find watching.’

Another warning of our Lord’s approach will be the coming of Antichrist. He will be one whose authority and power will be a counterfeit of that of the Vicar of Christ. His distinguishing marks will be overweening pride, hatred of the Catholic Church, widespread dominion, a spirit of rebellion, which will enlist in his service all who revolt against the authority that comes from God. Examine yourself to see if there lurks in you any of this dislike of lawful authority, and pray for the grace of loyalty to men for God’s sake.

Before our Lord’s coming, there will be a terrible persecution of the servants of God. In these days, when there is an ever increasing spirit of tolerance, it is hard to understand this. But under the spirit of what is called religious liberalism lurks a deadly hatred of the Church of Christ. It breaks out from time to time, as in the French Commune. It slumbers now, but will blaze up again some day. Pray for grace to withstand all the assaults of the persecutor.

18. The Uncertainty of His Coming.

Ever since our Lord’s Ascension into Heaven, His servants have watched for His return, crying out: ‘Come, O Lord Jesus, come quickly!’ In the days of the Apostles, in the early ages of the Church, in medieval times, men believed that His coming was close at hand. In these later days, it is true, the expectancy is not so immediate as it once was; but the very fact that we think the world has still centuries to run, may be an indication that the end is not far away. Can I from my heart offer the prayer that His coming may not be long delayed?

Men sometimes tell us that when six thousand years have passed, the world will have run its course, and Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. It may be so; but rash indeed is he who ventures thus to fix the time, for it is our Lord Himself who tells us: ‘Of that day and that hour no man knows, nor the angels of God, but the Father only.’ One of the essential characteristics of that day will be its suddenness. Hence learn the importance of being always ready, and then you will be always safe.

We may not live till the Second Coming of Christ surprises the world; but we shall live until the day which is the call for us to judgment. That day is not far off; it may be very near, and the chance is that it will either come unexpectedly, or else will be preceded by a time which will be but a poor time for preparation. I must be prepared now, I must always be prepared for the moment when I hear the voice of God summoning me, and then the sooner that time comes the better for me.

19. The Preparation for His Approach.

Who is there who does not desire to meet Jesus Christ, when He comes again, with joy and not with trembling? To ensure this three things are necessary.We must have friends amongst those who will come again with Him. Just as few die a happy death, unless they have some advocates in Heaven, so few indeed will meet our Lord with joy, unless they have some who will welcome them as having befriended them for Christ’s sake. Unless we have been men of supernatural charity, we shall stand defenseless on that day. Alas! how faint and feeble my charity has been; how little I have done to procure friends who will plead for me on that day.

We must also have had the thought of Jesus often present to our minds in life, if His coming is to be a joyful one to us. He must be no stranger to us. He must have been our guide, our friend, our Master, our companion. We must have walked with God on earth, if we are to walk with Him in the celestial paradise. The more familiar has been our friendship with Him, the greater will be our happiness in meeting Him again.

We must also have carried our cross willingly after Him on earth, if we are to meet Him with a well grounded confidence of a great reward in the kingdom which He has won for His elect. O how overflowing will be the delight of those who have lived mortified and self-denying lives for His sake! What a trifle will all their sufferings then appear in comparison with their abounding joy when the

Archangel’s trumpet sounds!

20. The Dangers of the Careless Soul.

There is in human nature a fatal tendency to procrastinate, especially when that which we know we ought to do is something to which we are naturally disinclined. All men are naturally disinclined to do violence to themselves, and force their pride and self-will to yield before the sway of Christ, to put on His yoke and carry His Cross. Hence, men put off and make excuses to themselves and fancy that what is difficult to them today will be easy to them tomorrow! O fatal mistake! Each day that we postpone the task of submission, it becomes more difficult, more distasteful. Why then do I not hasten to submit myself entirely to Christ?

From day to day the careless soul thus goes on putting off, crying: ‘Tomorrow I will amend my ways;’ and when tomorrow comes, it still cries: ‘Tomorrow.’ How fatal is this folly! Tomorrow may never come, or if it comes, you may have forfeited the grace. ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.’

This postponement is always accompanied by some deliberate disobedience to the commands or to the holy inspirations of the Spirit of God. Thus, the careless soul becomes more engrossed in earthly things and more and more disinclined to make the necessary effort. Thus it is that so many will be surprised by the coming of their Judge at the moment when they least expect Him, and are quite unprepared to meet Him. O Jesus, save me at any cost from the deadly state of the careless soul!

21. ‘O Sapientia’. ‘O Wisdom!’

Before the feast of Christmas, the coming Savior is welcomed in seven antiphons, which greet Him under various titles, and entreat Him to come quickly to enlighten and deliver His people.

O Wisdom, who came forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching in Your strength from end to end, and sweetly disposing all things, come and teach us the way of prudence.’ The first title given to Jesus is that of Wisdom. He was the Eternal Wisdom of God, and the source of all wisdom to men from one end of time to the other. With Him all wisdom; without Him no wisdom. Yet I have sometimes fancied myself wise when I was acting quite apart from Him, and perhaps His wishes or commands. What utter folly!

It is the Eternal Word that disposes all things sweetly. Everything that happens in Heaven or earth is arranged by Him, and is arranged not unkindly, or harshly, or bitterly, but sweetly. Why then do I regret what I ought to know He has arranged sweetly, i.e., with designs of love for me if I take it in the right spirit? ‘Come and teach us the way of prudence.’ This is our first petition to Him who is to come. If only He imparts prudence, all must be well. Prudence chooses the right end, namely, the glory of God, and the right means to the end, namely, what we know God asks of us now, and in our present circumstances. Teach me, O Jesus, that lesson of prudence, which will guide me safe to the Kingdom of Heaven.

22. ‘O Adonai.’ ‘O Lord God!’

O Lord, and Leader of the house of Israel, who did appear to Moses in a flame of fire in the bush, and did give to him the law on Mount Sinai, come to redeem us with Your stretched-out arm.’ The Savior for whom we look is also our Lord (Adonai), the Leader and Chief to whom we have sworn fealty. We speak of Him continually under the familiar name of our Lord, and each time we do so we reassert our acknowledgment of the obligation to follow where He leads, and to be subject to Him in all things. O happy followers of such a Leader! If we tread in His footsteps, and obey His voice, He will set our feet in green pastures, and lead us to the fountains of the water of life.

The flame of fire in the burning bush was a figure of Jesus in Mary’s sacred womb. Holy indeed was the place where God was present, and whence He promised to His people their deliverance from Egypt. So He still speaks as if concealed in Mary’s womb, and reminds us that He has made her holy with a holiness second only to His own; and when we draw nigh to her, we hear His voice announcing to us that He has heard our prayers offered through her, and will soon come to deliver us from our enemies.

What shall be our prayer to Him when He inspires us to make our request with boldness at the throne of grace? ‘Come to redeem us with Your stretched-out arm.’ Come to deliver us from the effects of our past sins. Come to deliver us from the attachment to some sin that still lurks within us. Come to deliver us from all our countless negligences and imperfections. Come with Your arm stretched out to ward us from the foe, O Lord and Lover of our souls.

23. ‘O Radix Jesse.’ ‘O Root of Jesse!’

O Root of Jesse, who stand for a sign to the nations, before whom kings shall shut their mouth, of whom the Gentiles shall entreat mercy; come to set us free; and no longer delay.’ The King who is to come is of the root of Jesse, (David’s father,) since He is of David’s royal line. He is the true David, who laid low the spiritual Goliath, the prince of darkness, who in pagan times defied the power of the living God. He is above all the Man after God’s own heart, in that the one motive of His Heart was to carry out His Father’s will. If this is the motive power of my life, then I too am of the root of Jesse, and in spite of failings, am a man after God’s own heart, just in proportion as this motive is ever present to me.

Jesus is a sign to the nations; a sign of contradiction to His enemies, but before whom the most powerful will have to shut their mouth in humble subjection; a sign to His friends, the men of goodwill in every clime and country, who will be drawn to Him to offer their joyful homage at His feet, entreating of Him that mercy which He is more ready to grant than they to ask. To me He is a sign, either fondly loved, or neglected and treated as of no account.

O Root of Jesse, O King and Savior, ‘come and set us free’; free from all that displeases You, free from the snares that entangle our feet, free from our perverse attachment to our own will, free from the power of the devil, free from our slowness in obeying Your commands and holy inspirations, free from all that hinders us in Your service; come and say the word, and we shall be delivered.

24. ‘O Clavis David.’ ‘O Key of David!’

O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel; who opens and no man shuts, and shuts and no man opens; come and deliver from the prison-house the captive who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.’ The key and the scepter are the symbol of supreme authority; they indicate the sway that the Savior is to hold over His faithful people, and the right which He alone possesses of opening the gate of Heaven to the children of men, and of extending to them the golden scepter of His mercy and forgiving love. To me, O

Key of David, unworthy though I am, open in Your mercy the door of Heaven; stretch out to me, all undeserving, the scepter of Your favor and Your love. You shut, O Lord, and no man opens. O shut not upon me the door which will admit me to draw nigh to You. Shut not upon me the door of Your mercy and grace. Shut not the door which leads me into the inner sanctuary of Your love. Shut not the door of that fold wherein Your favorite children dwell in peace and happiness. Shut not, above all, the door of Paradise at my last hour.

Come then, O Lord, and open to me now the door of my captivity. I am a captive to my own self-will; a captive to my want of charity; a captive to my vanity and love of display; a captive to my self-indulgence and dislike of mortification; a captive to a thousand faults of which I am scarcely conscious. ‘Come, O Lord, and set the captive free.’ I am weak, and cannot break my chains unless I receive from You the necessary strength; come, O Lord Jesus, come quickly.

25. ‘O Oriens.’ ‘O Eastern Morning Sun!’

O Orient, splendour of eternal light and Sun of Justice; come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.’

The night of Pagan times was long and dark, and seemed hopeless. Deeper and deeper the nations were sinking in misery and vice. But at length the Orient, the brightness of the eternal light of Heaven, rose, and scattered the darkness, changing the gloom into a brilliant day. So, too, to those who have been long shrouded in the dense gloom of sin or sorrow there waits the same Divine light, ready to scatter their darkness in a moment, if only they will draw nigh to Him. He waits for me, ready to brighten my path, to scatter my sins and sorrows, if I will avail myself of His love.

That rising light is the Sun of Justice, who shall exercise His justice in delivering the captive, and in recompensing His friends a hundred, nay, a thousand-fold, for every little service done to Him. For His justice is virtually identical with His mercy, and rejoices to employ itself in works of pity and of love

Come then, O Orient, O Sun of Justice; ‘shine on those who sit in darkness’, on those who are enveloped in the thick mists of heathendom and heresy. Come and enlighten their ignorance, that they may not perish. Come and deliver them from the shadow of death, for they cannot deliver themselves. Pour upon them such a flood of light and grace as may guide their feet into the way of peace.

26. ‘O Rex Gentium.’ ‘O King of the Nations!’

O King of the nations and desired of them, and the corner-stone that makes both one, come and save man whom You did form of dust.’ Never was there a King who had such a claim to sovereignty as Christ our Lord.

He is King by Divine appointment and His own right. He is King by the consentient voice of His subjects, and by the right of conquest. He is King by reason of His having purchased us with His own Blood. What unnumbered claims He has on me, and beside all the rest, does He not deserve to reign supreme by reason of His having won me by His love? Christ was desired by all nations, long before they knew Him whom they desired.

The heathen world felt a craving want, which it could not define, but which was the desire for the Savior who should free them from the bondage of sin. So now, men of good-will outside the Church feel something of the same strange longing. Nothing will satisfy it save submission to their King by union with His mystical body the Church of God. O, how happy am I, whose desires are fulfilled in that I am no alien, but a servant of that King whom to serve is my own desire.

Christ is the corner-stone that makes both one; the King of Peace, whose work it is to unite together those who love Him in the unity of mutual love of one another for His sake. Thus, He desires that I should be united to those around me, that there should be no dissension or disunion. Do I in this fulfill the pleasure of my King?

27. ‘O Emmanuel.’ ‘O God With Us!’

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the expectation of the nations and their Savior, come to save us, O Lord our God!’ Emmanuel, God with us, is a name that in every way belongs to Christ our Lord.

He is with His people in all their needs, ever ready to help and console them. He is with us on every altar, waiting for us to come and pour out before Him our sorrow and our needs. He is with us, above all, in Holy Communion, when He comes to dwell in our heart, and to bring with Him every grace that we need. He is with us in the hour of death, and He will be with us for ever in Heaven.

He who thus comes to dwell with us in familiar friendship is our King; He who thus condescends to be our companion is the God who has an absolute right to our obedience. He is our Lawgiver, and the statutes that He enacts for us have but one end and aim and object, to lead His subjects into the ways of happiness and the paths of peace.

Come then, O God, our Lord and our Savior. ‘Come and save us’ from all the perils of the evil one, and from our own weakness and frailty. Come and save us in the hour of temptation, for You alone are our King, and none save You shall rule over us. Come and bring us safe through this valley of tears to Your Eternal Kingdom, where we shall dwell for ever, O sweet Jesus, in the everlasting delights of Your blissful company.

28. Christmas Eve.

How did Mary and Joseph spend the first Christmas Eve? St Joseph spent it in a fruitless attempt to find a lodging for his holy spouse. Vainly he sought for a place in the caravanserai, or inn, where travelers were received. Vainly he went from house to house in Bethlehem. Everywhere he was disappointed. Thus it is, that God prepares His saints and chosen ones for some signal blessing. We must not be cast down by the fruitlessness of our efforts. It is a sign that some great grace is close at hand.

Mary meantime was patiently waiting. She was simply praying that God’s will might be done, whatever suffering it might bring to her. She was offering herself to God, to be used by Him, as He should see fit. She was making acts of perfect conformity to the will of God in all things. Blessed are those who wait patiently in such a spirit. God will soon fulfill all the desires of their heart.

Yet Mary and Joseph, in spite of the sorrow of the one, and the anxiety of the other, were both of them overflowing with heavenly consolations. How could it be otherwise, when one of them carried Christ in her chaste womb, and the other was more dear to God than any other of the sons of men, for he was Mary’s chosen spouse, and he knew that before another day was past she was to bring forth into the world the Son of God. Our happiness, like that of Joseph and Mary, does not depend upon our external circumstances, but on the love that we bear to God in our hearts.

Christ and Prayer

Christ and Prayer
By Philip Gerrard.
Australian Truth Society No. 1004 (1946).

Introduction. 

The most important thing in our lives is how we stand in relation to God. God is the only perfect judge of our value because He is the only one Who sees everything in its true light. He sees us as we really are, with all the failings and imperfections which we take good care to hide from those around us. Our real worth therefore is determined by how we stand in God’s eyes.

This is not the way the present day world judges a man’s value. For the twentieth century, having thrown aside all idea of the supernatural, has become accustomed to regard everything from the material standpoint. [This is even more true of the twenty-first century.] It is not surprising then, that when the world is assessing the worth of a person it takes as standards those things which, being material, have little or no connection with God or the Soul of man as, for example, money, social standing, physical powers.

Affected in so many ways by this spirit of materialism, our own judgment is easily warped. We follow the example of the world, and we, too, lose the balance between the natural and the supernatural. This mistaken outlook affects our life so that we find it hard to live as true Christians. We are satisfied to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but too often fail to render to God the things that are God’s.

How, then, are we to live so as to be always pleasing to our Creator? The answer to this question is found in the life of Christ because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. God became man, in all things like to us except in Sin, to show us in the clearest possible way how we are to live if we wish to please Him. Our Lord is our model in all our activities, amongst which the most important is Prayer. It is by Prayer that man grows in his knowledge and love of God. It is by Prayer that man fulfills the duty of thanking God for His benefits and of praising Him. It is by prayer that man keeps in touch with the supernatural order from which he derives his true life, the life of Grace. Our prayer is of the utmost importance because it is the surest indication of how we stand in relation to God.

In forming our ideas about Prayer, it is necessary to learn from Christ. This we can do in two ways. The first is by studying His teachings, as for example, the Our Father, which He taught His Apostles when they asked Him how to pray. On the other hand, we can learn from His example. We can study His life and actions and see when and under what circumstances Our Lord prayed. We can learn the qualities that our prayer should have by watching Christ as He prays and by trying to discover as far as we can how He went about praying. From the pages of the Gospels, we can also discover the reasons which prompted Our Saviour to converse with His Heavenly Father.

According to these three divisions we shall treat of Christ’s example in prayer, seeing in the first place WHEN He prayed; secondly, HOW He prayed, and thirdly, WHY He prayed.

When Did Christ Pray?

Prayer may be considered in two ways. In a broad sense to pray means to act in accordance with the will of God in order to please Him. When in the morning offering we offer to God all our thoughts, words and actions, we sanctify our everyday life by raising it to the level of a prayer. During the day when we do whatever God wants us to do, we are pleasing to Him and we fulfill our Lord’s command: You ought always to Pray.

In its strict and ordinary meaning, prayer is the intercourse of the Child of God with its Heavenly Father. To pray is to speak to God, to put aside other activities and to turn one’s thoughts and desires to Heaven. The great Saint Theresa, who was so experienced in prayer, writes that, Prayer is a communion alone with God so as to express our love to Him, by whom we know ourselves to be loved.

Taking prayer in its broad sense as being the offering to God of one’s actions, we may say that Christ’s life was a perfect prayer. From His youth, which He spent in helping His foster father, and throughout His public life until His death, our Lord lived every moment and offered every action for His Father’s glory. It was His constant rule and the means by which He sanctified His life, to do the will of His Father. What pleases Him I always do. At His birth, lying helpless in the manger, His little lips could not move, but the angels who surrounded the cave prayed in His name. Their prayer was one of praise and glory to God in the highest. They knew the reason for the Son of God becoming Man, and in their hymn on the morning of Christ’s birth, they reflected the depths of His Soul and foreshadowed the spirit that would inspire His whole life.

When Jesus was twelve years old the Holy Family went to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of the Passover. It was on their return journey with the large band of pilgrims from Galilee that Mary and Joseph discovered that Jesus was missing. Going back to Jerusalem in great distress they searched among their friends for the Child, and it was only after three days that they found Him, seated in the Temple in the midst of the Doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. Even though she was amazed at this scene, our Lady did not forget the anxiety she had suffered during those days. She said: My Son, why have You done so to us? Your father and I have sought you with sorrow. The reply which Jesus made to His mother is the first sentence of Our Saviour recorded in the Gospels. His thoughts were already fixed on His true Father in Heaven, and the desire to do His Father’s will was the key to His actions. Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business? Do you not realize, He says, that I have only one purpose in all My actions, and that is to please My Father. Do you not understand that My whole life is set aside for this, and even though at times it may cause a sword of sorrow to pierce your heart, still I shall do only what My Father wishes. From His earliest youth, therefore, Christ sanctified His life by consecrating it to God.

The little that we know about His hidden life in Nazareth bears out just as clearly that our Lord made a prayer of every action. After He was found teaching the doctors in the temple, Jesus went down to Nazareth with His parents; there He was subject to them, and He increased in Wisdom, in age, and in grace before God and before men. Jesus was subject to Mary and Joseph. They were the superiors whom God had appointed over Him, and in their will, He saw the will of His Father. Jesus knew that by subjecting Himself to Mary, His Mother, and Saint Joseph, and by pleasing them, He was at the same time pleasing His Heavenly Father.

During His public life, and especially during the Passion, this ready acceptance of His Father’s will is ever in His mind: My meat is to do the will of Him who sent me. As our study of Christ’s prayer proceeds, we shall see that this is at the heart of all His intercourse with God. By instructing the people, by healing the sick, and by preparing the foundations of the Church, Christ carried out from day to day the work which His Father had given Him to do. He consecrated His life to God, He became obedient even unto death, and by His loving acceptance of all His sorrows, His every act was sanctified and became a perfect prayer.

Besides this constant directing of His actions according to His Father’s pleasure, there were many times in our Lord’s life when He raised His heart to heaven in intimate converse, and when He turned aside from His preaching and devoted Himself to silent prayer. Throughout the Gospels, we find many instances of Christ retiring alone to the mountains in order to pray. In the first chapter of Saint Mark’s Gospel, we read that shortly after He began His public mission Christ rose up one morning before daybreak and departed into a solitary place, and there He prayed. Saint Luke describes the same incident, and then later on in 5:16 tells how Christ withdrew Himself into the wilderness and prayed. In two other places, 9:11 and 11:1, Saint Luke refers to this habit of quiet prayer. Saint Mark in 6:46, after describing how our Lord fed the multitude, relates that He sent His disciples away and then He departed into a mountain to pray, and Saint Matthew adds, when evening was come He was there alone.

The Apostles, therefore, were accustomed to their Master retiring frequently to some lonely place. He would leave the excited crowds wondering at His miracles of healing and slip away quietly to some remote place where He would be alone with His Father. In the evenings, especially this was His practice to retire by Himself, and when He was in Jerusalem He used to go to Mount Olivet. Saint Luke records that after the Last Supper Christ came out and went as He was accustomed, to the Mount of Olives and when He was withdrawn from them a stone’s throw He kneeled down and prayed.

Besides these frequent occasions when Our Lord went by Himself to pray, we find Him speaking to His Heavenly Father before each important work He undertook. At the beginning of His public life, He called together the men who were to help in His work of preaching. Of these disciples, He chose twelve to be more intimately associated with Him and later on to be His Apostles. These twelve men He was going to instruct with special care, and upon one of them, as upon a rock, He was to build His Church. It was important, then, that the right men should be chosen, for this was the beginning of the Church. On the evening before His final decision, Christ had recourse to prayer. As Saint Luke tells us, Christ went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in the prayer of God. When it was day He called His disciples, and of them, He chose twelve, whom also He named Apostles. (Luke 6:12-13.)

The miracles which Christ performed are an important and integral part of the story of His public life. He went about Palestine doing good by healing the sick as well as by preaching His Gospel of love. Not only did the poor have the Kingdom of God preached to them, but the blind saw, the lame walked, and the deaf were given their hearing. Our Lord used His miracles to show the people His divine power, and to win their attention so that they would listen to His teaching. They were also a means of bringing the people around Him, for the fame of these wonderful happenings preceded His journeys. Hence, they were so valuable and important to His ministry.

Before these miracles, Christ often prayed and asked His Father to direct the work He was about to do. They are further illustrations of how He consecrated His actions by referring them to His Heavenly Father.

Apart from His Glorious Resurrection, the raising of Lazarus from the dead is the most striking miracle in Our Lord’s life.

It was because of the sensation that this miracle caused among the people, who could not fail to see in it a ‘heavenly seal’ on the truth of His claims, that the Jewish Priests finally decided to put Our Lord to death. Christ loved Lazarus and his two sisters, and took a special interest in them, so it is not surprising to find that when Lazarus fell sick, the first person whom Martha and Mary thought of was Jesus. They sent a messenger at once to tell Him what had happened, but when our Lord arrived at Bethany Lazarus was already dead and buried. His sympathy went out to the sorrowing sisters, and He, too, began to weep because His friend was dead. Jesus asked that the stone covering the tomb should be taken away, and then He raised His eyes to Heaven and said: Father, I give thanks that You have heard me. Yet I know that You hear me always; but because of the people who stand around I spoke that they may believe that You have sent me.

This is an example of how Christ always had recourse to prayer. On this occasion, His prayer was one of thanks-giving to His Father for the favour that was to be given through His power to Martha and Mary. It was a prayer of confidence — confidence in God’s goodness, and another illustration of how His will was perfectly attuned to that of His Heavenly Father. Above all, His prayer before the tomb of Lazarus was for the benefit of the people who were witnessing the miracle, and for us, who after so many centuries can listen to Christ and learn from Him how we should turn our eyes to Heaven whenever we are about to begin an important task.

An incident in Our Lord’s life of greater importance for the Apostles who were present was the Transfiguration. The three in whom Jesus showed a special interest were Peter, James, and John, for it was they whom He was to bring into the Garden to witness His Agony, and one of them, His beloved disciple, was to accompany Him to Calvary and remain beside Mary at the foot of the Cross. Peter, James and John, therefore, needed special graces to strengthen them in their work, so on this occasion Our Lord gave them an opportunity to see Him in His power and glory.

At the Transfiguration, Christ chose to display His glory while at prayer. In the words of Saint Luke, He took Peter, James and John and went up into a mountain to pray. As He prayed, the appearance of His countenance was changed and His raiment became a radiant white. He wished to link up the two ideas of happiness and prayer in the minds of His Apostles. On another occasion, they were to see Him praying while suffering His agony in the garden of olives, so now He strengthened them by displaying His glory while at the same time He prayed. In this, they had a further proof that Christ’s mind was always occupied in prayer, and that He did not undertake any work without referring it to His Heavenly Father.

When Our Lord worked His miracle of feeding the multitude with a few loaves and fishes, He set before us yet another example of this constant intercourse with His Father. Each of the Evangelists refers to this prayer; Mark and John record that Christ gave thanks before He broke and distributed the bread. Matthew and Luke, using almost the same words, tell how Jesus took the five loaves and two fishes, and, looking up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to His disciples.

It was then that Christ promised to institute the Eucharist — to give His own body and blood to be the living food and drink for those who would believe in Him. Some time later, at the Last Supper, He fulfilled that promise and commanded the Apostles to do what He had done, that is, to change bread and wine into His body and blood. That evening His passion was about to begin, and as He sat at the table with His Apostles for the last time, His prayer took on a more impressive tone. In the next section, we shall see how He opened His heart to God and how He begged His Father’s help for the Apostles. What concerns us here is the fact that OUR LORD DID PRAY AT THIS TIME.

For many years, He had been looking forward to these days, and now that the time had arrived and His sufferings in all their terror began to appear before Him, it would have seemed natural for Our Lord to hesitate. But the peace of His Soul was not disturbed. Whenever He had a difficult task to perform during His life, He always turned to prayer, and now, as He is about to take on Himself the sufferings by which He was to atone for the sins of the world, Christ prepares Himself in the same way. Saint John relates in detail what Our Lord said on this occasion. Again, by His example, He impresses on those around Him the necessity of turning to God; and the Apostles, seeing the consolation Jesus derived from His prayer, would not easily have forgotten the lesson.

Having described Our Lord’s prayer, Saint John goes on to say, Jesus went forth with His disciples beyond the brook of Cedron, where there was a garden into which He and His disciples entered. . . . . Jesus took with Him the three who had witnessed His Transfiguration. . . . And when He had withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, He knelt down and began to pray. It was then that His agony became so intense that His sweat became as drops of blood. All this time, when the sins of the world were weighing heavily upon His shoulders, Christ continued in prayer, submitting Himself to His Father’s will, and when the suffering increased, He prayed more earnestly.

So did Our Lord’s Passion begin, and so it continued until the price of our salvation had been paid. Even when He was nailed to the cross and about to complete the sacrifice of His life, the suffering He was enduring could not turn His mind from prayer, for the words of the Psalms were on His lips. Christ prayed for those who had treated Him so cruelly. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do; and then as He was about to die, He said. Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.

How Did Christ Pray?

It is clear from what has gone before that Christ was constantly referring His actions to God, thinking of His Father’s will, pausing to thank His Father for hearing His requests, and then frequently setting aside all other activities and depriving Himself of the company of His friends to devote His whole mind and heart to God. In doing this, He allowed no opportunity to pass without impressing on the Apostles that they should begin their work in the spirit of prayer, of obedience to God’s will, and of thanksgiving for His benefits.

How did Christ pray? What did He do during those long silent vigils when the people in the villages were excitedly examining the cures He had done during the day and the Apostles were discussing His doctrines? What was the central point, or the main theme of His prayers? These are the questions that come to mind as we follow Him on His journeys through Galilee and listen to Him as He teaches the people who crowd around Him; or as we go with Him, even if it is only to spend an hour, to those quiet places among the hills. These are the questions we shall try to answer now, and even if we do not succeed in penetrating the depths of this Divine Personality, our search will lead us towards the main-spring of that activity which directed the life and actions of God-made-Man. Our search will lead us to the centre of Christ’s prayer, to the principal lesson which He wishes us to learn from His example and will help us to improve our own intimacy with God.
It is so important to pray well in these days when all the forces of a Godless world are bent on breaking this vital link with the source of our spiritual strength. Because that is what prayer is — the main line of communication between God and man, a channel down which God pours His graces to strengthen us, the life-line by which we are ever striving to bring ourselves closer to happiness and Heaven.

In setting out to discover how Christ prayed, it is necessary to examine the relation that existed between Him and the Being to Whom His prayer was directed. For in studying Our Lord’s prayer we must enter into those relations, mysterious for the most part, which began when the Word was made Flesh.

Christ was the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity become Man, and this great truth upon which our religion is based is naturally at the centre of Christ’s intercourse with His Father. The Truth, which came into being at the Annunciation when Mary said: Be it done unto me according to Your word, was Christ in Whom there are united two distinct elements, Divinity and Humanity. To understand how our Lord prayed, it is necessary to have clearly in mind that He is God and that He is man.

From this second point, namely, that Christ is man, it follows that it is possible for Him to act in a human way, as other men act. We have the power to speak to God because we are men. Christ was a man as really as we are; therefore, He, too, was able to speak to God. But whereas we are human persons having each of us the same human nature, our Lord is a Divine Person possessing Divine as well as human nature. In His Person the two natures did not fuse so as to form a middle nature, neither Divine nor human, but the two remained complete and distinct. Christ, a Divine Person, could act in a Divine way, and in a human way; and. in so far as He was human, He could raise His mind and heart to God.

The other great truth on which the prayer of Christ depended, was His Divinity. Christ, the man, was a Divine Person, the Second Person of the Trinity — united to His Heavenly Father by a union which is unique — a union in nature by which He and the Father were one. He was the Son of God, equal to the Father, and, as a result, His intercourse with His Father was one of unrivaled unity. I and the Father are One, Our Lord said to the Jews, and during those long nights and on the frequent occasions when He set aside all other activity to give Himself to prayer, it was this union that flooded His Soul with light. It was this union that shone during His prayer at the Transfiguration — it was this union that strengthened and consoled Him in His agony; in a word, the deepest element in the prayer of our Saviour was the experience and realization of an essential unity and an absolutely unique sonship.

It is clear, therefore, that the essence of Christ’s prayer was His oneness with the Father. It was the power strengthening His active life; the centre from which radiated the goodness, gentleness, the strength and perseverance, the loving interest, the self-sacrificing toil, the whole greatness of His perfect character. His humanity was united to His Divinity and drawn into unity with God.

The realization of this unity, the foundation on which Jesus built His prayer, was accompanied and perfected by love. Knowledge gives rise to love, and the more intimate our knowledge of a subject the greater is our love for it. The love of the Son of God for His Father was perfect to a degree far surpassing our understanding because this love was the result of perfect knowledge. No one knows who the Father is, but the Son, implies what is equally true, namely: That no one loves the Father as the Son.

This intense love flowing from Christ’s knowledge was also the perfection and summit of His prayer. Because of His union with the Divinity, Our Lord, in His human nature, enjoyed the Beatific Vision. His gaze fell directly and constantly on the beauty of the Trinity, and this vision, the beginning and end of all human life, and at the same time the true source of happiness, filled His Soul with complete joy. It was an absorbing love that lifted Him out of the monotony of His hidden life, separated Him from the companionship of men who saw and could see nothing, whose horizon was confined to the rough village street that crawled up that hillside. It was this that lifted Him above the coarse familiarities, the boorish manner, the galling condescensions that filled the greater part of His life.

It was an active love overflowing from perfect knowledge and strengthened by complete trust. It was the action of a perfect man, stronger than the affection of all human hearts united — a love which at once was the cause of our salvation, and in which our own slight love of God is given a meaning and a real power.

When Our Lord loved His Father with this complete love, there began that worship in Spirit and in Truth which He spoke of to the woman of Samaria. That true worship had been neglected by the Jews; but it was to be given an unshakable foundation in Christ and carried on by His Church till the end of time. The Church is the continuation of Christ’s life on earth, and as it continues and completes His life, so, too, it continues His prayer. We are incorporated into the Church which is His Mystical Body because Christ is the life of our souls, and for this very reason, our love is pleasing to God. Hence, the value of our love comes only from its being through Christ with Christ and in Christ. Per Ipsum et cum Ipso et in Ipso ‘Through Him Himself, and with Him Himself, and in Him Himself’ we pray in the Mass as we offer to the Father omnis honor et gloria ‘all honor and glory’. In the same way, our prayer must be made in unity with our Saviour.

Even though at times the Evangelists do not portray the scenes with as much detail as we might wish, we are given ample opportunity in the pages of the Gospel to learn the qualities of our Lord’s prayer. These qualities we shall examine as they appear to us from what is written, without going at length to fill in details left out by the narrators. Let us first take those aspects of the prayer of Christ that are more often overlooked.

Silence was our Lord’s most constant companion. His wish was rather to be in the quiet company of His chosen ones than amidst the noise and bustle of the crowds. So it was in His public life; but how much more marked is it in regard to His hidden life! For three years, He preached His Gospel of Love — for thirty years before that, He remained in the peaceful surroundings of the countryside. To the Jews, when speaking of prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: When you pray . . . go into your room and, closing the door, pray to the Father in secret. It was the same spirit of peaceful solitude that prompted Him to withdraw time and again from the multitudes and go into the mountains to pray. While there, He would be free from the distractions of His daily work and would be able to give His whole self to God in prayer. He chose to go away from the crowd because His prayer, although it must often have been for them, was certainly not to them. That His Father saw Him in secret was enough for our Lord.

Perhaps the reason for this insistence on silence was to bring home more clearly to us the way we are to go about our prayer. It is all very well for saints to be able to preserve their union with God during the busy hours of the day — a thing impossible in practice for people who are not saints. We shall not all rise to this degree of intimacy; but certainly our Lord does expect of us and He has made it clear by His own example, that we should frequently retire alone and pray in some quiet place. Christ was not like the Pharisee who went to the high place in the temple and shouted out his goodness, nor like the hypocrites, who love to pray standing in the Synagogues and at the street corners. This spirit of silence is so opposed to our modern ideas of excitement and publicity that we notice it is soon as we become acquainted with the life of Christ. But, despite the fact that it is so neglected by the world, it is silence that we should cultivate in our efforts to approach God. Who is man that You are mindful of him, was the thought of the Psalmist, and if we could only make this thought our own each time we begin to ply our prayer, then we would remember at least to approach the majesty of God in silence.

That God should be generous is one of the most wonderful, and at the same time, mysterious things about Him. His being generous is wonderful for us because otherwise we should not be alive. If He was not generous, there would have been no creation, no angels, nor a universe. On the other hand, when we do realise what He has done, we find it hard to see the reason. Why should He have chosen weak human beings to share in His Divine Life and happiness? Perhaps the best answer is to be found in His generosity. The greatest indication of this willingness to give Himself, is the Incarnation. That God should have created man is striking enough, but how much more striking surely that God, having made man from nothing, should in His greatness, Himself become the helpless creature that He had made. There shines through all the actions of the Son of God this same characteristic of doing good for others. Nor is it lacking in His prayer: Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you all that he may sift you all as wheat. But I have prayed for you (singular) that your (singular) faith may not fail, and do you (singular) confirm the brethren. . . . (Luke 22:31-32)

In the same way, He prayed for all His Apostles and followers. It is only natural that Christ should have interceded so much for His friends because His work depended on them. So the generosity of His prayer is best illustrated by His words on the cross, when, after subjecting Himself to every insult, He prayed for His persecutors in the words, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. He could not do enough for men, and here as He hung on the cross He was unable to forget those who had put Him there. It was not sufficient to die for all men — no, the Son of God must pray even in His last breath for His enemies. Therefore, how can we ever kneel down to pray while fostering hatred in our hearts for those who have done us harm? In this scene, Christ shows us, that our generosity should include even those who have offended us.

The knowledge that God is so generous helps us to be confident when we approach Him. If we wish to be like Christ in prayer confidence and trust in our Heavenly Father will be one of our principal qualities. We are children of God, our Father, and, after all, what is more noticeable about the way children approach their parents than their confidence? In the knowledge that their father and mother have always been good to them, distrust is far from their minds. Who could be a more perfect example of trust in God than Jesus Himself, appreciating as He did more than anyone else His Father’s power?

In the scenes of His early life, there is a calmness, quite out of proportion to His years; as, for example, when He is teaching the Doctors in the temple. His explanations of the scripture must have been full of wisdom, otherwise the Priests would have ignored Him. It was in the temple some years later that Christ did not hesitate to turn over the money changer’s tables, even though He was in the thick of His enemies. This confidence goes with Him throughout His public life in such an outstanding way that it points constantly to His Divinity. When Jesus prayed before the grave of Lazarus, He thanked God that He had been heard and then continued, Yet I knew that You hear me always. To the Apostles, when they heard His words about the difficulty of the rich man entering Heaven, and were in doubt whether anyone would be saved, He said, ‘With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God’. He accused the Sadducees of not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God. His confidence is brought out during the sufferings in the garden — Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee. (Mark 14:36.) Later on that evening, we are given a further instance of His trust, for when the chief Priests tried to arrest Him He made them draw back. Think you that I cannot now pray to My Father and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels. It was necessary only that He should ask and His prayer would be granted. He did not hesitate or try to escape, but He proclaimed to those who came out against Him the trust He had in God, which, working through the power of prayer, was able to overcome any human force. A wish, and He could have had His enemies at His mercy.

If we are really earnest about our prayer, we shall not neglect this all-important quality of confidence in God. Christ wants us to begin our prayer by addressing God as Our Father, and in this spirit of childlike confidence, He wishes us to carry through all our dealings with Him. Let us not forget, also, that we are speaking to one who is more interested in us than we are ourselves, and who can do more for us in one moment than we could do in a thousand years. It would be an insult to God were we to turn our hearts to Him, while at the same time doubting His care for us or His ability to help us. Whereas, if we begin our prayer remembering the thought of Saint Paul, I can do all things in Him who strengthens me, we shall be associating ourselves in spirit with Christ, and with Him, we, too, shall be able to give thanks to God for hearing us always.

Yet another quality of Our Lord’s prayer, showing us still more clearly how He prayed, is heroism. As we follow Him on those lonely vigils in the mountains, as we watch Him turn His eyes to Heaven when the people walk away with the words that His doctrines were too hard to believe, as He prays daily for the Apostles, and finally submits to the agony of the passion, praying without ceasing, what prayer can we imagine more heroic. This is a quality that we shall strive to introduce into our prayers; for if we are to persevere in our union with God we must be heroic. It is easy enough to pray at odd intervals, but it is no easy matter constantly to deny ourselves and overcome the inclination to comfort which hinders us from going down on our knees and recollecting ourselves. If we are really anxious to learn from Christ, we shall do this: If you would come after me, take up your cross daily and come follow me. Such are our Lord’s own words for those who wish to imitate His example.

How could His prayer have been anything but heroic when it was so strong that He willingly left every attraction to spend the night alone? Christ was as truly man as we are, and it was natural for Him to feel attracted by the company of men. Even more so was this true of Him, whose personality was so attractive that it was natural and easy for Him to become the centre of a group. Our Divine Master was far from being overcome by temptation to His Own glory, and night after night, He rejected it to spend the hours in solitude with His Father. Considering that our Lord’s active life was so tiring, working all day, preaching, healing the sick, instructing His disciples, walking long distances, His prayer appears even more heroic. For He would have been tired after all these activities, and, humanly speaking, would have felt more like resting than spending the night in the prayer of God.

The very constancy of His prayer is an indication of how heroic it was. We have seen how He never missed an opportunity of giving us an example in this matter. From His strength, let us draw our strength, so that we shall be able to go alone to pray, and, as well, to pray frequently. Even if it seems to others that we are wasting our life by praying often, we may be assured that only in this way shall we find our true life of union with God. Did not Christ say, He who loses His life for My sake shall find it.

Our attitude to prayer must be that it is really the business of life; for what after all is more important to life or living than that we should know God. The best way to get to know God is to pray, to talk to Him as He wants us to, as a child speaks to its father and then listens to what it is told. If we know God in this way we shall certainly love Him, and from knowledge and love will flow perfect service.

One of the scenes that always comes to mind when we think of Christ and prayer, is His agony in the garden. This is the summit of His prayer. In it, we find more clearly than in any other scene some of the most important qualities of His intercourse with God. Let us turn to it now, and see how it helps us to understand the heroic nature of His prayer.

The atmosphere of this scene is full of terror as His agony increases and His desolation becomes more intense. He had begun His suffering that evening with prayer, and in the garden, He falls on His knees to continue. His thoughts are turned now, not to what He wanted the Apostles to do, nor to how He had done His Father’s will, but only to the sins of men. A little while before He said to His Apostles, Pray that you may not enter into temptation. Then, going away a few yards, He knelt down and began to pray. It was not the same consoling prayer that had filled His heart during His public work, nor the glorious prayer of His Transfiguration on Mount Thabor. But now the insults of all the centuries were brought together in all their fulness and foulness to terrify the man who was God. The mental agony of Jesus was so great that His sweat become as drops of blood running down upon the ground. Under that strain, His prayer did not cease, for Saint Luke tells us He prayed the more earnestly. Christ had persevered in prayer in all the difficulties of His life, but this trial was not like the others. It was the most terrible moment of all, and if He began to weaken now, we would have had little cause to wonder. But such was the strength of Christ’s prayer that even when His mind could be taxed no further, and His body had already given way under the strain, He prayed the more earnestly. Could we imagine greater heroism?

We need go no further in seeking a standard by which to judge our own attempts to become intimate with God; for here He shows us that even the greatest suffering must be no obstacle to our efforts at praying; rather it will spur us on and our cross will help us to think only of Christ our model who being in agony prayed more earnestly. How often do we think it too much that the Church should ask us to pray every Sunday at Mass? Surely, this is little enough when compared to the trouble our Master took to pray — when judged by the heroism of His prayer. No matter how difficult it is to think about our Father in Heaven, or how great the suffering that this same Father permits to come our way, we must continue in prayer and continue more earnestly as the weight of the cross increases. During His agony our Lord went three times to see if Peter, James and John were watching with Him, but each time He was disappointed, and, returning, bowed His head to the ground. He, too, could have fallen asleep for He was as tired as they, but unlike them, He was strong in His determination to do God’s will. Christ would have foreseen the temptations which were to come our way when ease and pleasure would draw us from union with Him, so He gave us this perfect example. Who could have done more for us than Christ? Who was more deserving of rest than He? But to Our Lord, prayer was more important than any amount of rest: And leaving them, He went again and prayed a third time.

This quality of strength in prayer, proved so clearly by His perseverance on these occasions, brings out another point in Christ’s character, namely, His readiness or willingness to pray. There is never a suggestion of hesitation or indecision in Our Lord’s attitude to this sacred duty. He was eager to get away by Himself, to turn aside and pray for His Apostles, to intercede with His Father for those who asked His help. Just as He acted towards them by straight away doing what they wanted, so His prayer seemed to flow naturally from a heart full of love for His Father. It is usually so hard for us to work up any enthusiasm for our prayer that it will help us to watch Jesus leaving the crowds or giving Himself completely to prayer for His chosen ones in the Supper-room, or going again to His place in the garden, His body weary but His heart anxious to accept the approaching cross and death. This willingness, which was so intimately bound up with His spirit of prayer, had been foretold by Isaiah, He was offered because He himself wished it, and Saint John records the words, I lay down My life because I have power to lay it down and to take it up again.

These are some of the qualities of Our Lord’s prayer. But the question naturally arises — why was His prayer so great; what was there about His prayer that put it on such a plane? What in a word was the central and most important characteristic providing the foundation on which these qualities rested? This is the question we must answer if we are to arrive at anything like a real understanding of the prayer of Christ. If we can discover this secret and set about acquiring it ourselves, we shall be well on the way to learning of Him, Who gave us an example that as He has done so we should do, and those qualities which we have seen, will begin to appear in our own prayer.

When Our Lord fell down on His face in the garden of olives, He gave us a most vivid example of how to pray. He showed us the perseverance which drove Him again and again to His knees — the heroism and strength which endured such suffering. Portrayed in this scene as well are the lessons of self sacrifice and attention. But also, He makes clear to us that submission to His Father’s will, which lay at the heart of all our Lord’s actions, and specially of His prayer. For it is those words, Not my will but Yours be done, which mark the climax of His converse with God, and the final act of a tortured man by which He accepted His passion and death for our Redemption.

For Christ this was His food and drink: ‘To do the will of Him who sent Him’. This was the rule of Christ’s life that: ‘Whatever pleased His Father, He should do’. During His days on earth, nothing was to disturb the object set forth by His words in the Temple while He was yet a child: ‘Do you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ The reason that had made the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity become man was the Will of the Father. The will of God remained with Him all the days of His life, even to His death on the cross, when He said, Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.

It was the first thought in all His actions. If they were in agreement with His Father’s will, then they were perfect.

I and the Father are one, He said to His disciples, and just as there was this unity of nature in their Divinity, so in Christ’s actions was there complete conformity with the wishes of His Father. This singleness of purpose in His daily life was a reflection of the strong inner willing of all that God willed, which lay at the very root of His prayer. In spirit and in truth, in the life of His soul, our Lord submitted Himself continually to God’s will; and, as a result, in His daily life He did nothing that was not pleasing to His Father.

In the agony in the garden, we find this note in all its fullness. This night was the completion of all those long vigils that He had spent on the mountain sides, of all those lonely hours when He had gone away by Himself simply to pray. For now when His bitter passion was being plotted by the High Priests, Our Lord Took with Him Peter, James, and John and went, as He was accustomed to the garden of olives, and, falling on His knees, He prayed. Jesus knew all that was to befall Him, but He did not turn away from His agony. Rather, He turned to prayer. As He bows down for the last time, we can ask ourselves what form did His prayer take. Surely if we can lift the veil now, as He kneels there covered in a perspiration of blood, we shall uncover the secret of His prayer. Surely here, if nowhere else in His life, will we see the spirit that animates the Son of God made man as He turns to the God who made His manhood. The answer is contained in those words which Saint Luke records, and kneeling down He prayed, saying, Father, if You wish it, take away this chalice from Me; still not My will but Yours be done. Here is His prayer at its height, and what is it but a uniting of His will with God’s. Here is His whole purpose, here the secret of His life of prayer. When our Lord made this act of resignation, it was certainly not a blind bowing to some vague fate, but a determined and reverent willing of what His Father desired. It was a strong act of the will bringing with it untold suffering, but done in the spirit of love and sacrifice. Christ was loving us then with greater love than anyone has ever had for us. He was loving His Father, too, and thinking of His glory and the praise that all creatures would render God through the merits of His own act of submission.

It may seem simple enough that Christ should say, Not My will but Yours be done, but when we think of the immense suffering it entailed, and think, too, of who this suffering Person was, we get some idea of what it meant.

It was not, however, as if our Divine Lord was accepting God’s will for the first time; but because He was constantly guided by it, He was able to do whatever pleased His Father. It was on account of this union that He was able to leave His Mother and Saint Joseph and stay behind to instruct the teachers of the law in the temple. Because of this same union in prayer, He overcame all the difficulties of His life in Nazareth. Then when He went out to preach, and bring His message of love to the Jews, it was His inward attachment to the will of God that was the driving force of His actions. This same attachment was developed and perfected in our Lord’s prayer. To grasp this force which flowed into all His actions is to see the reasons of His life as He tells us Himself in John: 14:31, as the Father has given Me commandment so do I.

Just as for our Lord, the guiding principle was the will of His Father, so, too, for us must this be our rule in all things. If we follow it, we shall quickly become other Christs. Our Divine Master wants us to pray — to pray frequently and with perseverance. What greater honor can we give Him than to follow His example in our efforts to please God? We know how delighted a parent is when a child copies his good example; but we cannot appreciate how it must delight the Sacred Heart when He sees us trying to pray as He prayed. When His Apostles asked Him to teach them how to pray, He did not tell them to go away and discover it by their own efforts, but He put on their lips the words of His own prayer. . . . Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. We shall not be able to do what God wants nor pray as He wishes, unless in our prayers we, too, desire to do His Holy will.

It is in this constant acceptance of all that His Father asked that lies the secret of the strength and confidence of His prayer. We know now just how strong it was and how this confidence was able to overcome all obstacles. The explanation of this power is easy to see when we keep in mind that He came down from Heaven not to do His own will but the will of Him Who sent Him. God is omnipotent, and because Christ’s prayer was always directed in perfect harmony with the will of God, it was able to do all things. He never asked a favor of God in vain, even when it was a question of restoring life to the widow’s son at Naim or to Lazarus.

Saint Paul said that He could do all things in Him who was His strength. Even more truly, Christ could say that His was the strength of God, for in His prayer He bowed His will to that of His Father. It was a submission — not my will, — but a submission that resulted in perfect power, — but Yours be done. Christ’s prayer, therefore, could work miracles through the power of God because He wanted only what God wanted, and whatever God wishes will be brought about. Christ’s prayer was supremely confident because He knew that with God all things are possible. Knowing that God’s delight is to be with the children of men, His prayer was generous. Our Lord promised us that our prayers also would share in such greatness when He said: If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you. If we pray in the name of Jesus, which means with our wills resigned to His, then we will have complete confidence. Saint Matthew records our Lord’s words: If you shall say to this mountain, arise and hurl yourself into the sea, it shall be done. . . . All things whatever you ask for in prayer, believing you shall receive. For our Lord’s own part, it is impossible even to conceive a prayer dissociated from His Father’s will. . . . . What pleases Him I always do.

So it was that as He stood before the grave of Lazarus, He thanked His Father for always hearing Him. In that scene appears one of the best examples of what resulted from this uniformity of interests. There, as Christ is faced with the greatest terror that can befall us, He does not hesitate, but in simple clear words, bids Lazarus arise from the tomb. Still His was the power that controlled more than the mere material universe, as when He healed the sick or restored sight to the blind, for He was supreme also over the life of the soul. He had power to restore man’s soul to his body, and what is even more wonderful, He was able to forgive them their sins.

With God all things are possible, and with us, too, all things will be possible if our strength rests on Christ and if our wills are united to His. He prayed as He did in the garden that we might have an example — He gave the Apostles the Our Father that they might treasure it and use it as their daily prayer. He wished their prayer to be directed to the glory of God as we learn from the opening sentences, Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come; but He wanted them to have no doubt that the best way to bring about His Father’s glory was to accept the will of this same Father. Thy will be done . . . . It came before all their earthly needs, more important than their daily bread — than anything else; so that just as perfectly as it is carried out in Heaven, His will should be fulfilled on earth.

This was His teaching to them, and how could He have proved more clearly that this was what He meant than by those words in the garden: Not My will but Yours be done. If we would wish to imitate our Divine Model and become like Him, it will be necessary for us to appreciate the importance He attaches to this submission. Then our union with Christ will become more intimate for whosoever shall do the will of My Father in Heaven, he is My brother. . . . As the great Saint Theresa wrote, All that should be sought for in the exercise of prayer is conformity of our will with the Divine will; assuredly in this consists the highest perfection; He who excels most in this practice will receive the greatest gifts from God, and will make most progress in perfection.

Why Did Christ Pray?

This is the third question which comes to our minds as we try to fathom the depths of the prayer of Christ. Why did He want to exercise this virtue at all, for surely the Son of God, being Divine, had no need of prayer, as we know it? Why did He humble Himself to fall on His knees, when He realized perfectly that He and the Father are one, and that everything belonging to the Father is His. Nevertheless, the fact is that Christ did pray, as we have already seen, and He prayed with such constancy and self-sacrifice that He has left us no doubt about the quality of His prayer. It remains now only that we should examine the reasons which prompted our Saviour to give so much attention to this sacred duty.

Glory to God in the highest, was the song the angels sang as they surrounded the Infant lying in the manger at Bethlehem, providing with these words the most suitable setting for the Incarnation. Mystery and majesty, simplicity and poverty — all the elements that combined to make this first Christmas morning were all to give Glory to God in the highest. The angels voiced the theme that was to accompany Jesus throughout His life on earth. The Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us; but to what purpose? To give glory to the God of all creation, to praise Him and bless His Holy name. This was the very object that provided the motive for Christ in His prayer, for above all else, He prayed that His Father might be glorified.

After the Last Supper, our Lord raised His eyes to Heaven and said, Father . . . Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You. He prayed for His own glory, but only that by it His Father should be glorified the more. All His life He had thought and acted, and we have no doubt prayed, with His mind on the glory of God. At the beginning of His public mission, when He was tempted by the devil in the desert, Christ showed a complete disregard for displaying His own power and glory. He refused to be led by Satan to turn the stones into bread or to cast Himself down from the temple, as Saint Matthew relates in his fourth chapter. Asked by His disciples why a certain man was born blind, He told them that The works of God were to be made manifest in him. Not His own works, notice, but the works of His Father. About the same time, He said: If I glorify Myself My glory is nothing — always disregarding Himself that the Father may be glorified in the Son. We find another example of this when the passion was beginning and the Priests and soldiers were coming to take Him away. Our Lord chose to be treated as a common criminal, even though He could have entreated His Father and He would have furnished Him with more than twelve legions of angels. How could Christ have prayed otherwise than for His Father’s glory when His actions were so completely animated by this idea? The angels had sung the hymn of praise in His name at Bethlehem, and as He grew up and spent His youthful years in the little peaceful town of Nazareth, we can imagine how He would have spent many hours in praising His Heavenly Master.

In the “Our Father”, Christ taught the Apostles, and through them all Christians, to make the praise of God the chief object of their prayers. Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. He wanted them to begin their prayers in this way so that they would always remember what was the reason for their turning to God. We were made to be happy with God in Heaven and it is by our union with Him and the glory we will give Him that our happiness will be brought about. In searching for happiness now, it is just as important to keep in mind the glory of God, and to ask ourselves whether what we are doing is pleasing to God. Especially in our prayers should this come first, even before any thought of our own virtue or the increase of Grace in our souls. We shall quickly begin to imitate Christ in our daily life, and, like Him, do everything that the Father may be glorified in us, if in our prayer we are guided by His example.

Christ prayed as one who knew not sin and in whom no deceit was found. It was natural, therefore, that His prayers should be for the most part not petitions but acts of praise and thanksgiving. As He stood before the grave of Lazarus He prayed, Father. I give You thanks that You have heard me. When He rebuked the lepers whom He had cured for not returning and thanking Him, Our Lord said, has no one been found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner? In the act of instituting the Eucharist, He thanked God for the great gift He was about to leave with us, and taking a cup and giving thanks He gave it to them. This spirit of thanksgiving is very often absent from our prayers. We do not neglect to thank a friend who has given us a present. But when we turn to God, who already has given us more than we can ever hope to repay, we seem to forget that He too, deserves to be thanked for what He had given us. Christ expected the lepers to come back and thank Him; in His own prayers He did not neglect to teach us this same lesson, so we can be sure that we shall be pleasing to Him when we, in our turn, pray so as to thank God for His goodness.

Another reason why Christ prayed, and one that frequently occurred during His life, was that He might intercede for His followers and friends. We have seen how, in His temptations He refused to ask any personal favor of His Father. On the night before He chose His Apostles He prayed for them, and it was on the occasion of another vigil, the vigil of His passion, that He gave us the best example of His prayer for others. He prayed, on that night, that God the Father would send them another Advocate to dwell with them for ever. He prayed especially for Saint Peter, on whom His Church was to rest, but I have prayed for you (singular), that your (singular) faith may not fail. Finally, towards the end of His prayer after the Last Supper, Jesus said, I pray for them . . . Holy Father, keep in Your Name those whom You have given me, that they may be one even as we are. I pray that You keep them from evil, sanctify them in Your truth. It is in this beautiful prayer that we have the finest example of our Lord going out of His way to intercede for those He loved. Again, we notice that there is no question of asking His Father to lessen the sufferings of the passion, then so fast approaching. Even when our Lord seems to be praying for Himself, as later on during that Holy Thursday evening in the garden, it was really not His own glory but the will and glory of His Father that He was seeking. This, then, should be an example for us who are so self-centered and rarely go beyond petitions for our own needs. If anyone had a right to pray for Himself, it was Christ on this occasion, but during His Priestly prayer as Saint John records, His thoughts remained fixed on His Father’s glory, and the good of His Apostles.

How often do we think of the reasons why we pray, or of the fact that our prayers should be, above all, for the glory of God? Are we like the publican who fell on his knees afar off and beat his breast, or do we resemble the Pharisee, who prayed so as to be seen by men. If we seek first the Kingdom of God and His glory in our prayers, as well as in our actions, all else shall be given to us. The importance of this cannot be stressed too much, for it is the condition of our receiving help from God. It was not over-looked by our Lord in His prayer, so if we are continually asking God to give us our daily bread, and support us in our needs, while at the same time neglecting our duty of praising Him, we shall not be praying as He wishes.

Learn of me, said Christ on one occasion, for I am meek and humble of heart. We might equally well apply to Him the words: LEARN OF ME, FOR I HAVE PRAYED SO THAT YOU MIGHT UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER, THAT YOU MIGHT KNOW WHEN TO PRAY, HOW TO PRAY, AND WHY YOU SHOULD PRAY.

Nothing which Christ said or did was in vain; everything contains a lesson for us, and few lessons are as important as that of prayer. Another reason, therefore, why Christ prayed was to give us an example that as He had done so we also might do. He taught us the importance of prayer by His constant insistence on it, and more especially by His own life of prayer. According to Christ, we ought constantly to pray and not lose heart. Nothing can be more certain than that He Himself did not miss an opportunity of raising His heart to God. By His prayer, He taught His Apostles that in the life of union with God lay the real source of success. Christ appreciated the super-human task which lay before Him as He left His home in Nazareth to begin His public life, but never once did His steps falter, never once did He lose confidence in the power of His Heavenly Father. His prayer could accomplish all things because in it His will was one with the will of God. Without ceasing, He prayed to show us that if we want our voice to be heard in Heaven we must pray, not now and again, but constantly. He prayed, moreover, to impress on us the fact that He was a man like us — that His human nature was real, and that He, too, had a human will. He proved for us that in the dedication of that will to Divine pleasure lies the essence of Sanctity.

To become holy, as Christ was holy, is the chief purpose of our lives, for in holiness which is union with God, consists our only lasting happiness. As Saint Augustine said: You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they rest in You. In our efforts towards this union, one of the most important things is prayer, and now that we have seen our Divine Master’s attitude, we shall be able to make greater advances towards our goal. In Christ, we have the WAY we are to follow, the LIFE from which we are to draw our life, and the TRUTH, bringing with it peace and contentment.

In these days, it is more important than ever before to pray well. The world with its lust for money and power and its childish craving for amusements has cut God out of its life and returned to primitive paganism. The world has no room for prayer, no thought of praising God or of thanking Him for life, no idea of intercourse with a loving Father who has created us and who is interested in everything we do. Against this downward tendency of material values, it is necessary to oppose all the spiritual strength we can command. Our prayer, a powerful means of building up this strength, will be fashioned after the example of Christ, for in Him, with Him and through Him, we shall live and pray, until we have received of His fullness and we can say with Saint Paul, I live, now not I, but Christ lives to me.

Can We Be Saints?

Can We Be Saints?
By Frank Duff (Pre 1921)

What is a Saint?

In the heart of every right-thinking Catholic, God has implanted the desire to become a Saint. Yet few make a serious attempt to realise the ambition. The cause for this is to a large extent discouragement, due to the misunderstanding of what a Saint really is.

What is a Saint? The answer usually returned to this question is: One who does extraordinary penance’s and works miracles. Now, this is an incorrect description, for neither miracles nor great penance’s are essential. The man who works a miracle does not raise himself in God’s eyes by it; and, while penance in some shape is necessary, still the teaching of the Saints on this difficult question is encouraging.

What they direct is not bodily penance’s of a terrifying kind, but rather the strict avoidance of delicacies, softness, comfort. We are told to beware of injuring our health, and to eat enough plain food to enable us to work and pray without hindrance. There is ample opportunity for the severest mortification in the restraint of eyes and tongue, and in a warfare against the seven Deadly Sins.

Thus, there is another definition of what a Saint is. It is this: One who, with the object of pleasing God, does his ordinary duties extraordinarily well. Such a life may be lived out without a single wonder in it, arouse little notice, be soon forgotten, And yet be the life of one of God’s dearest friends.

It is obviously an encouragement to look on Sanctity in this way. When we see that those things which so terrified us in the lives of the Saints, because we felt we could not do them ourselves, are not the important part of their sanctity at all, we should feel, therefore, heartened to begin today and make a serious effort for great holiness. Believe this: it is only the first few wrenches given to the will that really hurt.

Perhaps the following words of Cardinal Newman will tempt us to take a step forward on the road:

“If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first, do not lie in bed beyond the time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God’s glory; say the Rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.”

Who Are Called to be Saints?

Every person that is born is called to be a Saint. Take it as most certain that you – no matter how unfitted your life may seem for holiness – are being given grace sufficient, if corresponded to, to bring you to Sanctity. We have already seen that nothing beyond our strength is expected; neither is Sanctity the exclusive property of any grade or manner of life. Among the Saints canonised by the Church are kings and beggars, and representatives of every trade, slaves, hermits, city people, mothers of families, invalids, soldiers and persons of every race and colour.

As a canonised Saint is a pattern provided by God, it is evident that an invitation to become Saints is extended to men and women of every type. It is equally a fact that to those who seriously try to respond to His invitation, He gives help sufficient to carry them to the goal.

The Two Successes.

Watch how the thought of fame or gold moves men. What sufferings they will endure for a mere chance of earthly gain! And in the end, though disappointed themselves, they will fill the minds of their children with the same longings for worldly success, so that each generation sees the same weary beat of the pendulum-ambitious youth to soured age. Is it really worth the trouble? So many are handicapped by lack of health or knowledge or brains that it never is a fair fight. Except for a few, striving is pure waste of time.

How differently God deals with anyone striving after holiness! Here all is certain. Every effort gets its reward. Everything is made to favour us; for, alike out of health and sickness, poverty and wealth – what looks good and what looks evil – can the man of goodwill extract spiritual gain. Every reasonable request granted; obstacles removed for the asking; no trial beyond our strength permitted. In the ears of the world this would sound like a fairy tale, but it is, in sober truth, God’s way of dealing with the earnest seeker after heavenly riches.

Surely, to announce calmly, as so many good people do, that they have no ambition to be Saints is very ungenerous treatment of One so kind. As He has so plainly set His Heart upon our doing great things, let us resolve to please Him and return generosity for generosity.

I Am a Bundle of Weaknesses.

‘`I am appalled at the thought of a life of constant effort to crush my nature into a new form. I have no strength of will, and such a life is beyond my powers.”

With such reasonings, we harden ourselves against the call which rings so often in our ears. We forget that the same holy lips which say, “Come, follow Me,” say also to all, “My yoke is sweet and My burden light.” What, then, is wrong with us that we fear the yoke of Christ?

It is this . . . our point of view. Unimportant ideas occupy the strongholds of our minds and shape our thoughts; while He, the Owner of Eternity, is left only as one of the hundred interests of our lives, so that it is not surprising that the zeal the courage, the ardour, that do big things, are spent on gains or pleasures which give a visible and rapid return. In a word, we undervalue holiness.

Once alter this – and little is required to do it – once accept the fact that holiness is the most important thing in the world for us, and it will become the most natural thing in the world for us to strive after it. There lies the whole secret of effort. Make the goal attractive and reasonable, and we pursue it in spite of hardships, and almost in spite of ourselves. The human mind works in that way.

A Changed Outlook.

The secret of bringing this about is contained in a few words: we must face facts. Now and then we must give the mind a chance to raise itself above the sea, in which it is immersed, of things that do not matter, and face in all coldness the grim truths which group themselves around the central facts of Death and Eternity. Think of the immortality of the Soul; the insanity of referring temporal to eternal good; the shortness of our stay on earth; the nearness of that moment which will decide all, and the pricelessness of each minute of time, which, short as it is, yet shapes our undying life beyond the grave.

To occupy oneself deliberately with these solemn considerations and still remain indifferent is impossible. Dwelt upon so that they become familiar, these thoughts bring a new force into our lives. There is operated in us a wonderful change. As if the needle of the compass were to turn from the north and point due south, worldliness will now repel and reason drive us on to God. Add a little love and the stock in trade for a Saint is there.

But we have already been deliberating too long. Whilst we have been in doubt the precious days have slipped away, and we find ourselves in the rapids above the great waters of the grave, and we hear the falling of the waters into the immeasurable abyss, and we feel the suction of eternity.”

Eternity! What a thought!

In God’s name, so, let us begin, while yet we have the time, and while the fire is still in us to love Him ardently.

A New Ambition.

Fear the postponed beginnings. A chill grows up, and our great destiny is forgotten. Oh, my God! Grant that I have not, in my indecision, let that day come upon myself. I confess that Your work has never been anything to me but occupation for an idle moment. My heart has been set upon the things that pass. But henceforth I will give myself entirely to You. Give me the time, and faithfully do I promise now to serve You. Give me back the years that the worm and the locust have devoured that I may one day restore them to You full of achievement.

And I do not ask for the big things – the life of the missionary or the monk, or those others I see around me so full of accomplishment. I do not ask for any of these, but simply set my face to follow out unswervingly, untiringly, the common life which day by day stretches out before me, satisfied if in it I love You and try to make You loved. Nature rebels against this life, with its never ending round of trivial tasks and full of the temptation to take relief in amusement or change. It seems so hard to be great in the small things, to be heroic in the doing of the commonplace; but still this life is Your will for me. There must be a great destiny in it. And so I am content.

And then, to crown the rest, dear Jesus, I beg of You to give me this . . . fidelity to the end . . . to be at my post when the final call comes, and to take my last weary breath in Your embrace. A valiant life. . . and faithful to the end. A short wish dearest Jesus, but it covers all.

Being Really in Earnest.

Goodwill is the very foundation of our progress. By goodwill is meant, not an empty wish to reach the goal, but a readiness to toil along the road that leads to it. Now, the symbol of our religion is a Cross. Our Lord has told us that we must carry it daily if we desire to be perfect. What excuse, therefore, can there be for being upset when trials come upon us? He that is discouraged by them evidently began without thought. But he who gives up altogether plainly never was in earnest. Of such Our Lord Himself said: “These have no roots.”

Perseverance.

There is usually a sweetness in beginnings. God gives this aid freely, then, in order to encourage, just as a helping hand is given to children learning to walk. It is not for our good that we should always be carried, so after a while this sweetness is lessened. Then comes the critical time when our resolution is being tested. Guardian angels must weep to see so many who gave hopes of high sanctity stop short in their course.

Now, to give up because our fervour is gone is to admit that we never had in view God’s pleasure but our own. Our pleasure in the work having gone, we labour no more. It apparently matters little to us that God’s pleasure in the work is still the same – greater, perhaps, for the offering made from a sick heart and tired brain is always the most precious.

Perseverance is the last grace that will be given to us, and the greatest. It is the test of our goodwill. Excitement, novelty, or any one of a dozen other merely human things may start something, but they will not keep it going. What is wrong with all those who begin so splendidly and stop so soon? Call for volunteers for any good work. There are many full of enthusiasm, but hardly one who remains steadfast, hardly one who keeps his hands to the plough to the end…. And the good intentions of a Retreat… How short-lived they are!

Is there any definite reason why all these people lack the quality of perseverance? Here is the answer, in the words of the celebrated Pere de Ravignan: ”I do here affirm that all deceptions, all spiritual deficiencies, all miseries, all faults, and even the most serious wanderings out of the right path, all proceed from this single source – a want of constancy in prayer.”

The Secret of Perseverance is Prayer.

From reading the lives of the Saints, one would conclude that they fall roughly into two classes: those who gave themselves to contemplation, and those who spent their lives in active works. In reality they were all alike. All were souls whose whole lives were prayer. Prayer was their business. Their good deeds were only valuable because they sprang from prayer; they bore the same relation to prayer that, the trunk of a tree bears to the roots, good deeds are a visible part of prayer; and good deeds cannot live without prayer.

The present is a period when successful appeal is being made to Catholics to show, by works of charity, the Faith that is in them. That the most ordinary act may become holy when inspired by a holy intention is well understood, and the words of Christ Himself, assuring us: “So long as ye did it unto one of these My least brethren, ye did it unto Me,” draw us powerfully on to the service of our neighbour.

The possibilities of holiness here are immense. But it is not sufficiently recognised that a proper balance of regular prayer and good works is essential to perseverance in the latter. There is a tendency to consider good works as prayerful enough in themselves. Their variety makes them easy, while prayer is difficult. Besides, we like to see results, and usually we do not see the results of prayer. So we reduce our prayer to little or nothing, satisfying ourselves with the reflection that we are doing plenty of practical work for our neighbour.

Readers of Canon Sheehan will remember how a similar course of reasoning ended in the case of Luke Delmege – in complete loss of spirituality and in disaster.

Of course, this is an extreme case. But we all know of many with noble qualities, holy intentions, and high promise who just reach a certain point and no further. In a way, these makings of Saints who give up advancing are most to be pitied. It is far easier to pick a sinner out of the mire than to induce such people to get out of the rut of mere goodness, which God never intended for them.

Let us sound once more the note upon which we began a little while ago. The cause of all this pitiful failure is this: there is not prayer enough.

Pray! Pray! Pray!

This is how St. Teresa stated she would summarise all her teaching.

People do not understand the importance of prayer. They say it is difficult. What wonder, considering that they make no effort to learn. The man who thinks it quite natural to put his son to a six years’ apprenticeship to learn a trade would think it absurd to spend six hours reading a book which might teach him how to pray.

Prayer must be brought to occupy a most prominent and definite place in our lives. This does not mean that we have to spend many hours each day on our knees. The duties of our state probably prevent that. But certainly we must aim at more than the saying of prayers twice a day, or even three and four times a day. He prays little who only prays on his knees.

Just as a gong or a tuning fork could be kept quietly sounding all day by an occasional tap, so will the soul of itself send up incessant prayer if now and then we apply the tap of an aspiration, a thought, an ejaculation. Never let the mind be too long away from God. The great disinclination to pray which most of us feel when the time set apart for prayer comes is plain proof that we are not, as it were, living with Him.

The Day In Detail.

The Foundation-Stone.

Foremost in the consideration of our day – and on an eminence apart, like the Cross itself – must stand the daily Mass and daily reception of the Holy Eucharist. These are so obviously the greatest means of grace that they need not be urged at length. The person who is able easily to go to morning Mass, and does not do so only deceives himself if he thinks he is aiming at great holiness.

Mass and Communion mean a day perfectly begun; and that is half the battle. But out of this great act come two smaller obligations:

(a) to your neighbour. There are many whom lack of thought alone keeps from daily Mass. Lend a book; say a word to awaken them,

(b) to yourself. Read to increase knowledge and reverence. You might begin with St. Leonard’s little book, “The Hidden Treasure.”

The Morning Offering.

The day should have opened with the morning offering of all our thoughts, words, and actions to Jesus through Mary. This offering must be the guiding idea of the whole day. We do not need to repeat the words many times, but the thought of it must lie in the heart, and govern our daily life in such a way that we feel ourselves to be working for God and not for the world.

Our Daily Work.

First, let no one pride himself on having what he considers a dignified occupation. In despising menial or manual labour, he is parting company with Christianity and allying himself to paganism, which in all ages has counted such work the greatest of evils.

The ancient Jews, on the contrary, esteemed it a disgrace that any man should be without a trade. Generally Our Lord’s followers were from the humblest type of manual labourers, and the whole teaching of traditional Christianity has been to exalt manual work, and to teach that to be poor, to have to toil hard, to be without what the world regards as enviable, is in reality a long start on the way to heaven.

“To work is to pray,” was the old saying of the monks, who never considered themselves any the further from God when working than when on their knees. In some monasteries they sang hymns while at work; in others, meditation was ordered.

We read of St. Bernard stopping suddenly short in the writing of one of his most wonderful sermons, because the time had arrived for him to go to dig in the fields. Others would have some pious book open before them to suggest holy thoughts, while their hands were engaged upon their allotted task; and, more wonderful still, others never began their painting or tasks of delicate workmanship without purifying their souls by Sacramental Confession. It was this spirit of prayer and work combined which produced those exquisite works of art which present generations marvel at but cannot equal. God, in His approval of work done in such a spirit, breathed beauty into it. Let us, if we desire to produce similar work, approach it in a similar way.

The Importance of a Right Idea of Work.

As half our waking day is spent in toil the need for rightly understanding the dignity and sanctity of labour is evident. It comes to this – that our work, whatever it may be, as sempstress, labourer, teacher, doctor, or farmer, was given to us by God as a means of sanctification and as a penance for our sins. Thus it is the foundation of our spiritual life. He who neglects his work and yet thinks, because he says many prayers, that he is leading a holy life, deludes himself.

A Right Idea of Duty.

We are to do what it is our duty to do – and at the right time. Duty is not something which is to be thrown off with our working clothes, as so many people imagine. It is as strictly our duty to keep an appointment or a secret as it is to do our work. A duty goes before even devotion. If it is your duty to wash the dishes do not run off to Benediction instead.

There are many duties in the day which seem less important than others, and for this reason we think very little of setting them aside to suit the convenience of the moment. Such conduct is wrong, and it does not build up a strong character. The real value of our day lies in the exact performance of all our obligations. The greater ones take care of themselves – their importance makes them easy to do. So look particularly to the small things.

Consider your whole day as a picture, where every line has its proper place and where the smallest may be the most essential. Do everything that you are supposed to do, and do it down to the tiniest detail – not because you gain by it; do it even when you lose by it; not because somebody is supervising you, but simply because you are supposed to do it.

There is a proverb, “Death is light as a feather, Duty as heavy as lead,” and a life lived in devotion to duty is going to be a hard life. But it is going to be the life of a man.

Here is a lesson from the Far East.

A Japanese craftsman was observed to be spending days in perfecting the inside of an article he was making. He was asked, “Why waste all this time? Nobody will ever see your work.” He replied, “Do I not see it myself?” To his answer may not we, as Christians, add, “And God sees it, too”?

Praying at Our Work.

We see that work and duty are holy things when the idea of God is in them. But, by themselves, they are not holy enough for those who are trying to be Saints. We must bring God closer to our work than by the mere offering of it in the morning. We must keep Him at our side by frequent thought of Him.

It is told of a Spanish nun who had charge of the refectory, that, in order never to be distracted, she imagined those she served to be Our Blessed Lord, and His Mother, and the Apostles. In this way her work became a great means of prayer to her, and the hours spent in it were amongst the most devotional in the whole day.

While this may be above the reach of our poor minds, distracted by a thousand things, we may at least confidently seek after a quiet sense of God’s presence. This does not mean that we have actually to feel Him near us. If we have, by the regular practice of prayer and frequent thought of Him, so drilled the mind that there is a tendency to swing back to Him when left free, we are doing very well. For this means that, however distracting our occupations are, the soul is giving Him a quiet attention all the time. We shall have reached the stage of praying always.

The Mechanism of Frequent Prayer.

In endeavouring to build up a spirit of prayer such as this, there is little use in relying on vague resolutions – made in moments of fervour – to pray frequently. Vague resolutions have no influence over people so strongly drawn away from prayer, as we unfortunately are. We must set up certain of the events of each day as regular calls to a word or thought of prayer.

Some of these reminders we already have: the Angelus, grace at meals, the passing of a church, and so forth. This number can be largely increased, so that quite a number of the items of our daily life will in the end cause an easy and natural lifting of the mind to God.

A passing funeral, the meeting of a friend, the hearing of a death, the striking of a clock, the ringing of a bell, the writing of a date, the sharpening of a pencil, the threading of a needle – one could go on for ever with suggestions for such a list. But the occupation of each one will determine what is best. Do not mind how foolish your expedients seem. They may have all the more love in them. In any case, nothing is foolish that leads to God.

It is better that the acts be not too frequent. They might tire out one’s good intentions or interfere with attention to work. But, above all, they must, for the beginner, be definite. That is, the resolution must take this shape: “Whenever I look at my watch (or whatever else it may be), I will say such and such an ejaculation.” Do not stop because this practice may at first seem mechanical and undevotional and tiring. Habit will soon come to your aid and make it less difficult. But determination will always be needed, as the tempter will make many an effort to hinder so excellent a practice.

While progress is being made in acquiring the spirit of prayer, those things which are a hindrance must go. Not until there is quiet within us can an attempt be made to build up a real spiritual life.

Hindrances And Pitfalls On The Way.

Sin.

Sin in its various forms is, of course, the great barrier. Such serious things as dishonesty, wronging one’s employer or those who work for one, gambling, intemperance, cursing, might be gone into at length. But surely this is unnecessary. We are considering a person who is making a serious effort for sanctity, who is fully aware of the gravity of such failings, and who has probably already cut them out of his life. Then there is the host of commoner faults: self-love, lying, backbiting, vanity, envy, and so forth, in direct attacks on which a lifetime could be spent with poor result. A surer success will quietly come of itself if prayerfulness and love develop. These will induce a frame of mind to which anything wrong will be distasteful. Such failings become no longer temptations, and simply drop out of one’s life.

All the foregoing are plainly labelled “sin.” When we are guilty of any of them we know that it is an occasion for repentance and amendment. But there are other enemies to sanctity that are more hidden and which constantly deceive even well intentioned people by assuming an innocent and commendable appearance. Amongst these may be mentioned discontent, human respect, an uncontrolled tongue, ill temper, discouragement, conceit. The seriousness of these is that they are harboured by good people when sin has been driven out, in ignorance that they do sin’s work.

Discontent.

This is the great fault of the good. “There is no harm in being dissatisfied,” they will say. Or they will call it ambition, and make a virtue of the turmoil which it makes in their minds. There would be some advantage in discontent if it spurred us on to aim at better things. But, unhappily, discontent tends only to make us despise what we have. So warped are we by it that we envy today in someone else what yesterday we scorned in ourselves.

Now, this spirit of discontent particularly concerns us when it sets up the delusion that our own particular mode of life and surroundings are unsuited to sanctity. Very often we entertain the thought as a holy one. We feel sure we could be Saints if God had made us priests or nuns, or indeed anything else but what we happen to be.

Than such a delusion, no greater obstacle to progress can exist. The conditions of each man’s life, as it is, are the raw materials out of which he has to fashion his future. Disbelief in the possibilities of doing any good with what he has is unlikely to lead to effort. A man is just as likely to start digging in his back garden for diamonds as to seek for jewels of sanctity where he does not believe they exist.

It may be that our present manner of life really is unfavourable to higher things. If this is so, God will in good time open up another door to us, that is, provided we are doing our duty in making the best of what we now have.

Most probably, however, far from being unfavourable, our present life is just the only one which will bring us to sanctity. God, Who sees all things, did not choose it over all others for us without ample reason. By discontent we are setting ourselves up as judges over His actions. Now, let us pay Him the compliment of thinking deeply over this and then bind ourselves with a stern resolution to put away every such disturbing thought. Its place will be filled by a grace. A calm will steadily grow up within us. We will find ourselves less and less put out by the worries of everyday life. We are getting on.

When Discontent is Banished.

Those who have always been in the close friendship of God cannot fully value the greatness of this treasure – peace of mind – which they have always possessed. But to those who have known the opposite, this feeling of calm, as it develops, carries a plain message of the presence of the Holy Ghost in the soul. One is on the way to that tranquillity which was a noted feature in the lives of the saints. For instance, it is written of St. Vincent Ferrer:

“Whether in the streets or the choir, or his own cell, or preaching, or on a journey, or whatever he did, he was always tranquil, because he had made an oratory in his heart, and there conversed uninterruptedly with God without any outward thing disturbing him.”

Another Big Obstacle – Human Respect.

The danger of Human Respect is not sufficiently recognised. In almost every Catholic it is a weak spot. In the case of some, it is a defect so grave as to put real holiness out of the question. Human Respect may be defined as the putting of the opinion of others in the place of our conscience. It sets up ridicule and unpopularity as the things most to be avoided, even at the risk of offending against truth and principle. Beginning in small things, if constantly yielded to, Human Respect brings about a general lowering of principle. A state of mind is reached which is as different from sanctity as chalk is from cheese.

You have always been in the habit of blessing yourself when at your meals. When not at home through a form of shame, you do not do this. This is Human Respect.

You always touch your hat as you pass a church – except when with Protestants. You would not have a religious picture in your drawing room. You are shy about making the Stations of the Cross. You would be mortified if your rosary beads fell from your pocket in Protestant company or in the tram. All these are signs of the disease we are discussing.

In a word, you are so taken up with making your conduct acceptable to others that you have no room for the thought that God might have been pleased by these little open professions of faith. You have treated Him as the rich are supposed to treat their poor relations – acknowledging them in private, ignoring them in public.

In the life of St. Philip Neri, we read how that saint was in the habit of imposing very humiliating penance’s upon his disciples, in his anxiety to destroy in them any trace of this mean spirit. Such practices would nowadays be termed extreme. Here is a suggestion which is not extreme. It will help anyone resolved upon the destruction of this failing. Wear openly something Catholic, some little devotional badge or emblem that will mark you as a Catholic who is not ashamed to be known as one. The feeling of unwillingness to do this, which will come to many, is the best test of its value; it is the spirit you seek to kill that is protesting in you.

Such objections as, “I don’t believe in badge-wearing,” and “I don’t believe in making a parade of my religion,” are usually not sincere. Those who speak in this way seldom seem to have any objection to wearing political or trade badges. Be honest with yourself. The trouble is that you are not really proud of being a Catholic. It is human nature to publish the fact if you are.

The priest and the nun advertise themselves to the world for what they are. Let the laity also, in the little ways that are open to them, confess Christ before men that He may one day confess them before His Father in heaven. But in this, let there be a wholesome moderation. Do nothing which will earn for yourself the name of mere eccentricity, for this would destroy much of your influence. To cover yourself with religious emblems or to make an unnecessary show of devotion in a church is to err in this way.

Discouragement and Pride.

The spiritual value of any work you do is not to be judged by the little or much you see result from it, but by the purity of intention and the effort which you have put into it. The powerful sermon or book that converts many might bring less merit to its author than the smallest act of self sacrifice. Thus it is as foolish to be discouraged by lack of visible results as it is to be puffed up by apparent success. Many average people have seen wonderful things come of their labours, while saints often have been faced with constant failure.

Whatever you take up, act well your part. Let this be your only concern. Be not anxious for results, which may bring conceit, one touch of which can destroy the beauty of any work in God’s sight.

Should some success cause stings of self conceit, summon common sense to your side to tell you how little self-denial there is in your life; how little you do; and how much more you could easily do if you liked. And then contrast yourself with those multitudes of good people over the world who have given up everything for the Master’s sake, and yet count themselves as idlers in His sight.

Let your frequent prayer be: “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thy Heart.” If you become perfectly humble, God will certainly use you for some great work.

Oh, Jesus; I desire to become a saint – not that I may be great, but that You may be greatly loved.

Weapons And Aids. 

Devotion to Mary.

“Show me how you say your Hail Marys,” said a great saint, “and I will tell you how you love God.” The finger-tips of other saints – hardened by the use of their beads – show this same idea in practice.

You must have a tremendous love for Mary. Read and pray, and pray again, until you get that love. Implore Our Lord to give you just the love for her that He would wish you to have. A great love for her is a great sign of sanctity.

Do not treat her only as the Queen of all Saints. She is much more than that. She is the most beloved Daughter of the Father, the Mother of the Son, and the Spouse of the Holy Ghost. When you pray to any One of these Three Divine Persons, let her be near to recommend your prayer.

And she is also our Mother. Is this idea real to us? The love of our own dear earthly mothers is a wonderful thing. What seas of fire and water would they not go through for us! Yet their love is faint and weak compared with hers.

There is a beautiful traditional custom, which unhappily seems less common than it was – the consecration of babies by their parents to this Blessed Mother. The terrible power of the evil one over the bodies of people possessed by him should be the best recommendation of this devotion. More than he can do for evil a million-fold, she can do for good.

Let us consecrate to her not only our children but ourselves in the most solemn manner, remembering that what belongs to Mary is all for Jesus.

St. Joseph

Our Lord and His Blessed Mother looked to St. Joseph for their daily bread. What wonder, then, that the Church tells us: “Go to Joseph”!

He was very dear to the Saints. In particular, that great master of prayer, St. Teresa, has glowing things to say of the fruits of devotion to him.

There seems to be no occupation or condition of life which cannot claim some point of likeness to him from which to draw encouragement. Above all, as the patron of those who work hard and are hard used, we address ourselves to him, knowing that to be like him in this way brings at once the arms of the Divine Babe around us.

We might make a frequent practice of saying some little prayer to him, such as, “St. Joseph, called Father by Jesus, pray for us.” This was his greatest dignity.

The Necessity of Spiritual Reading.

Read good literature; get others to read good literature, and, later, all of us will do good deeds. We must form a taste for religious literature. It must take a definite place in each day. From it we will acquire an interest in our religion; extend our knowledge of the doctrines of the Church, learn of its history, glories, institutions, opponents, and be able to answer the innumerable questions and objections which constantly proceed from friend and enemy.

There is a dearth of good religious libraries. Probably we shall have to buy the books we wish most to read. But let there be a little sacrifice, an occasional book purchased and read thoroughly, and more than once. If an author has put deep thought into his work, this will not be appreciated in one reading.

After that, let its mission be not to gather dust but souls. Send it on, a busy Apostolic, round amongst those friends who can be trusted to return a borrowed book.

Some good religious periodical should enter our home regularly – one which will keep us in touch with the wide-world doings of our Universal Church.

We Must Read the Lives of the Saints.

We were taught to read by means of a headline. Unconsciously, we shape our lives by some headline, too. God’s purpose in bringing about the canonisation of the Saints was to provide a headline which would draw us on to goodness and heroism.

Saints are the doctrines and practices of holiness made visible. If we frequent their company, we will soon imitate their qualities.

The Question of the Newspaper.

We are inclined to think it necessary to read the daily papers in order to keep in touch with what is going on in the world. Let us beware lest they place us in the world’s grip.

The modern newspaper is so well written, so attractive to the eye, that it tends to become an absorbing taste. It is a tendency of the day to wallow in the daily papers.

Endless discussions, a prejudiced outlook, a little scrappy knowledge, a distaste for serious or good literature, loss of power of concentration, faulty memory – such are the products of those wasted hours during which God’s Kingdom could have been so powerfully advanced.

Meditation, Realisation, Action.

Reading is a direct preparation for prayer and intimacy with God. To meditate on religious matters, one must have read, otherwise there is nothing to meditate on. The lamp has no oil. But read slowly, and think upon what has been read. Books rapidly run through and unreflected upon are as valueless as food eaten but not digested.

We must, therefore, accuse ourselves of waste of time if we read without the desire to profit by our reading. Yet such is our ordinary habit. We do not meditate, hence we do not realise. We leave in the unexplored depths of our souls the divine truths, which should be governing our intellects and driving us on to great things.

There is wonderful difference between merely believing and realising. Here are some truths we all believe:

1. Death is inevitable – then judgement.

2. Grace is the greatest possession in the world.

3. Sin – even venial – is infinitely the greatest misfortune in the world.

Now, to what extent do we realise these truths and act upon them?

And, again. We know that the Infinite God became Man for our sake, not a king – He wanted love, not fear – but the shivering babe of poor people; a rough-handed working man, a homeless wanderer – one might almost say an outcast… and then He was taken and tortured and put on a cross to die, an object of contempt; all, that He might win our love; or even our pity, which is akin to love.

Oh! the horror of it! Saints have cried out in anguish to think that love so great should be so unwanted by the world. For so it is! The Crucifix is only a piece of wood or metal to us. We have tears for any friend but Him!… Loyalty for every cause but His!… and why?

Because we neglect the means which common sense directs us to use. Prayer and meditation would make Him real and vivid to us; but, in our indifference, we leave Him a shadow – and who can love a shadow? Thus it is we miss the greatest force in the world – that personal love for Jesus, which looks for no reward, laughs at death, makes sacrifice delightful and sanctity easy.

Meditation Is So Very Difficult.

There are very many who really are unable to meditate in a regular manner. These should not be discouraged and avoid meditation altogether. It is very advisable, and some such simple method as the following can be used.

Endeavouring to bring the Master vividly before our minds, we must attentively consider that Divine Model. His slender form and serene, lovely face, His words, His actions – take them one by one, and, as best we can, reflect upon them with affection. What an incomparable beauty beams forth in all! Such mildness, wisdom, purity, patience, tenderness, and a love which is true to us in all our waywardness and disloyalty. Look and admire and seek to draw a breath of their loveliness into ourselves.

We can take consolation from this… we do not seek fruitlessly. The treasury of perfection’s in Him is not like the treasures of the world, behind bars or in museums – to be admired but not possessed. Each perfection shining in Jesus is there solely to be communicated to us. With all his heart, He desires to give them to us. So look on them and long to have them, and they will become yours.

Of this simple character may be our meditation. No regular system is necessary, though it helps. There need be no effort, no resolutions even – only a wish to love Him and to be like Him. Yet our advance will be by leaps and bounds. And why is this? It is because, as theologians put it, Our Lord and His qualities are not only holy, but sanctifying – that is, the mere looking upon them with good intentions will imprint them on our hearts and make them part of us.

And let our gaze be as Mary’s must have been. Ask her help in this contemplation. It was her employment from the night she first looked upon her new-born Babe’s face.

I Am Not Able to Meditate at All.

Those to whom even a simple form of meditation is difficult will find it very profitable to take some spiritual book before the Blessed Sacrament, and then very slowly to read it – more in the manner of prayer than of ordinary reading.

Pause frequently after all, every second word represents an idea – and frequently speak to the Eucharistic Presence. The longer one spends on each sentence, the better. Ability to dwell on the reading for a time means that a very satisfactory form of meditation is being made.

Our Work For Our Neighbour. 

Is the World Our Vocation?

The fact that God in His providence has left us in the world, instead of giving us a religious vocation, indicates that He wishes the world to be our vocation – that is, the persons and everyday things about us are to be the means of sanctity to us. It may be taken that the practical service of our neighbour is essential for our all-round development. We should bear in mind that serving our neighbour out of love of God means that what we do to him, we do to God.

The Influence We Can Exert.

The power each one of us has to influence others to good or evil is so great that it is almost without limit. The explanation of this is that when God finds a willing, a humble, a dependable worker, He uses him as a channel for His grace to others. And, horrible to say, there are many who lend themselves in similar manner to be instruments of the devil, and accept the dreadful destiny of aiding him in his work.

A thought on names such as St. Paul, St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, and, on the other hand, Luther or Voltaire, will serve to show what it lies in one man to do – to influence a whole world, century after century.

Man is small; but a man who is in earnest about an idea is not small. He is going to influence others, and nobody knows where that is going to end. Let our dominating idea be the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

Trials That Show Progress.

Certain trials may be expected. We shall be sneered at as would-be Saints, milksops, and upbraided with narrow-mindedness and intolerance.

The latter charge should be welcome to us. It lifts us out of that numerous class who are considered and consider themselves as broad-minded, when in reality they are only trimmers. Yet the charge possesses just that grain of truth which will make it hurtful to us. For, to have definite rules of principle and conduct does mean that we shall appear narrow to those who are not similarly hampered. It is part of the penalty of being right.

Some Responsibilities of Holiness.

To become associated in people’s minds with religion, as you undoubtedly will if you work for it, involves a responsibility. It may be unreasonable of them, but, nevertheless, people will judge religion in general from you. If you play a manly part, you are doing religion a benefit in making it attractive to others. If you make yourself a universal Good Samaritan, whose tongue, like St. Alphonsus Liguori’s, does not know how to say harsh or sarcastic things, and whose deeds are in keeping – you will draw men to you, and, better still, you will make them love God, because in your goodness they will feel they catch a glimpse of Him.

On the other hand, if you are careless at your work, dirty in your dress, mean in your conduct, you have done your religion an injury. It sinks into the gutter with yourself.

It is a big thing that Christ should thus have placed His honour in your keeping. If you are but half a man, it will stimulate you. Furthermore, it means that even the more worldly side of your life, your work in the factory or in your home, in the technical school or university or trade union, your athletics, your music, painting, and so on, can all be made to tell for Him in a very practical way.

Attacks Against the Church.

Wherever you go, at your work or in clubs and societies, you will hear difficulties raised and questions asked which, perhaps, strike at the foundations of the Church or of Faith itself; and, in aiding others, do not forget the danger to yourself.

Many of these you will be able to meet effectively from your own knowledge. Others may appear so strong as to frighten you. It is useful, then, to reason thus to oneself: “Whatever the objection is, there is an answer to it. All these difficulties have been raised and answered before. Great men have in all ages endeavoured to pick holes in the doctrines of the Church, and they and their philosophies have gone, while the Church lives on.”

Always remember that the truth of Catholic doctrines does not depend on your ability to prove them true. Ten lifetimes would not be long enough to satisfy oneself on every point. The real proof of them lies in the declaration of the Church which is the pillar and the ground of truth.

So do not let what someone in the works has said unsettle you. Let his objection – even if it raises a difficulty in your mind – only give you the opportunity for an Act of Faith: “I don’t understand, dear Lord, but I believe, because the Church teaches it, and the Church is infallible.”

Read the promise of Our Lord: “Upon this Rock I will build My Church… and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Then hear the words of Lord Macaulay, who was no friend of the Church, and see how that promise stands good after nineteen centuries: “When we reflect on the tremendous assaults which the Catholic Church has survived, we find it difficult to conceive in what way she is to perish.”

The Call to Good Works.

In times of retreat, or at your prayers, or by the invitation of a friend, a call to some good work will come. It may be from on high, so do not lightly refuse. You may miss your life’s vocation. St. Augustine speaks solemn words: “Fear Jesus passing by…He may not again pass your way.”

How We Can Do Big Things.

With industry, self-sacrifice, and some knowledge of human nature, we all can produce results:

(a) by organising – by making things ready for people who will not make them ready for themselves; (b) by bringing to people who would never get them for themselves things which will benefit them; (c) by appealing individually to people who would never respond to a general appeal.

In other words, we are to be the bridge that covers the chasm between what people will do of themselves and what God wants them to do. For example:

(a) A Pilgrimage is organised. Everything is cut and dried. All that one has to do is to buy the ticket and take one’s place. One thousand persons go. Would any have gone had the Pilgrimage and its details never been arranged?

(b) An appeal is made from a pulpit to support a certain religious publication. Only a handful of people respond. A house to house canvass later on, bringing the paper directly under people’s notice, produces hundreds of fresh readers.

(c) Everybody in a town knows the needs of a local charity. Yet few subscribe until a door to door call is organised. Then all give.

“Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself.”

The foregoing are only indications of what might be done. Your own tastes, surroundings, conscience, will suggest many powerful means of benefiting your own soul by benefiting the souls of other people. “Love thy neighbour as thyself” is a hard saying; but keep in mind Who said it and neglect no way of helping others on towards good. Ask St. Vincent de Paul, who is the patron of all such works, to inspire you with knowledge of what will suit you best. Perhaps you might make a beginning by joining the society which bears his name.

Here are some additional suggestions:

(a) You know an excellent sodality. Work hard for it. Be prefect of a guild. Train the sub-prefect to do the work, and then, when you are sure you can be done without, form another guild for yourself. Thus you will increase the sodality membership and keep yourself keen.

(b) You know a night school which sends many of its pupils into the priesthood or the convent. Tell anyone who might be interested. Many will join, and their settling down to work will be just the step which will turn into solid resolutions what otherwise would never be anything but hazy desires.

(c) There is some organisation which you know has produced great spiritual improvement in its members. Bring your friends into it.

(d) There is a religious magazine or paper which you think good. Extend its circulation.

(e) You know someone who has the gift of making those he meets enlist themselves in social works. Introduce people to him.

(f) You have read a book which did you great good. Buy a copy or two and lend it round.

Promoting the Week-End Retreat.

Or you might work for the Enclosed Retreats, those drilling-grounds of Christian perfection – as the latest Pontiff has termed them – producing, wherever they exist, hosts of tireless workers in the cause of religion, sanctifying the good, uplifting the degraded.

If you would wish to see far-reaching good accomplished, here is your means to hand, speedy and certain.

So where these Retreats are, organise for them, spread abroad the idea of them, and where they are not yet established, aim to have this done.

Breaking New Ground.

Perhaps you could band together others in association to do good, and give the first impulse to what St. Vincent calls the sacred contagion of charity.

Start a little organisation. Gather a few around you for some good work. Hold a regular meeting – weekly if possible – and discuss your little efforts under the auspices of prayer You have it on His own word that He Who can make your efforts fruitful is there in the midst of you.

Do not soar too high. Do not be overanxious. Look above all, to the routine duties and the small details of the meeting. A punctual start, carefully written minutes attendance roll regularly marked up, discussion of business, and business only affection among the members – these, far more than organising ability or exceptional workers, will ensure a lasting success.

It cannot be over emphasised that the progress and the permanence of the organisation depend upon the meetings, and that the meetings in turn depend upon the system, the prayerfulness, and the fraternity which are found in them. Act mindfully of this: face calmly the inevitable ups and downs; and your work may be multiplied exceedingly. All the great movements have had just such simple origins.

Some Homely Ways of Doing Great Work.

The following are some of the many ways in which a multitude of men and women are spending their free time serving God. Judgment Day alone will show the joy they have given Him and the good they have effected.

The few examples given will make it clear that such work is within the capacity of anyone with perseverance.

(a) The Catechism Teacher.

The saintly Pius X was once asked by a lady who was desirous of doing some really great work for God what he would suggest to her. He surprised her by answering:

“Teach children the Catechism.” Take a class and put your heart into it. Acquire a large stock of anecdotes by which you can both teach and interest these little ones, who are, as has been beautifully said, wax to receive, marble to retain. Many of them will some day do great  things for God. And it will be through you.

(b) The Holy Childhood.

Organise and run, with the sanction of your parish priest, a branch of the Holy Childhood. Keep a double object in view –

first the spreading of devotion to the foreign missions, together with the aiding of them financially and, secondly, to get into touch with the children who, by the rules, have to pay their little subscription once a month. Let them pay in person. Get to know them well. Tell them stories, and teach them little devotions and the art of making little sacrifices. Tell them to collect used postage stamps, the practice itself is a prayer, and the stamps are valued on the foreign missions.

Such a work can be made the mould of Saints. Not that you will see a wonderful advance suddenly made by the children. That is not their way. But do you keep on without slackening, and the years to come will see a rich harvest of holiness from amongst them.

(c) Visiting the Sick.

The first concern of St. Ignatius of Loyola and his companions on coming to each new town was to visit the sick in the hospitals, knowing that, in doing this, they did it to Christ Himself.

Pick out some hospital, by preference a poor hospital, and ascertain one or more of the very many patients who are without friends or visitors. Be you both friend and visitor to them. Visit them regularly, with perhaps a few booklets or some little gift – an apple or a few sweets. Your smiling face and cheerful words will make your visits longed for. And what wonderful prayers will ring up to high heaven for you from these poor suffering ones of Christ whom you have succoured!

(d) Spreading Good Literature.

There are many who act as promoters for a certain valuable little religious periodical, packed full of instruction in simple and interesting form. These promoters have worked up a list of people who are willing to subscribe to the paper, and month by month each home is visited and it is delivered. Father, mother and children will read it and be influenced by it. It is the setting up in the home of a regular lighthouse of grace.

A poor widow had a large family, and had to work hard during the day to keep them. Yet the day began with Mass and Holy Communion. She had almost a hundred subscribers who took this periodical. She delivered it to their widely scattered homes herself in the evenings when she must have craved for rest. She knew all their families well, and used this intimacy to interest them in those things that were dearest to her own heart – Daily Mass and Communion, the Apostleship of Prayer, the Maynooth Mission to China.

And again. Some years ago in New York a negro washerwoman, who had spent her life in just this same way, received a semipublic funeral, and was laid to rest amid the mourning of thousands, to whom that poor black face had constantly been a needed reminder of their duty to God.

Loving Jesus and making Him loved… There it is in practice! Who can assess the true value of such lives?

(e) The Duly Authorised Outdoor Collector.

His or her little book in hand showing the sanction and approval of the parish priest, the outdoor collector may be seen, usually on a Sunday, toiling up long flights of tenement stairs, diving into the alleys and back lanes, where the most charitable of all people – the poor – live. Here he gets, week by week, his pennies and twopences for some church building fund or other charitable work sanctioned by the parish priest.

Always a holy work, his round may be made a genuine apostolate. He need not take up a preaching tone. A quiet word here and there can do all the work. And he can add to his words weapons more powerful – the scapulars, medals, badges, approved by the Church. In spreading devotion to these, he is setting up channels along which grace will certainly flow.

He finds time for a short chat in each home, and he is keenly interested in each member of the family. How are the children’s Communions? Are Paddy and Molly enrolled in the brown scapuler? Here is a miraculous medal for one and a little picture for another. He has an eye to see that the elders are in some sodality. He probably has the father in his own guild.

He does not talk about what is in the papers. They know enough about that without him. Besides, he may differ in opinion from some, which often results in hot words, bitterness left behind, and his influence gone. There is more than enough to talk of in the shape of Church and parish matters, the private concerns of the family, and occasionally a suggestion about the First Friday Devotion, the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart, etc. Many are the stories he relates of the blessing of the family Rosary, and the way in which it saved the Faith in the Black Times.

His reference to the approaching mission will be more powerful than poster-covered walls.

Moreover, people will talk about their neighbours. So he will gain a good knowledge of his district, and his report on anything amiss is always useful to the priest.

And it will come to this – that his very step, his face, will be like a breath of religion to all, and a special reminder to those that are negligent. People will go to Mass or the Sacraments simply because they saw him and it reminded them of their neglect.

The Secret of Influencing Others.

There is an art in the moving of others, and those that work for their neighbour must study it.

Do not say, “I cannot,” or, “I am not fitted,” or, “Nobody heeds me.” For there is one thing that can clothe you with power in your dealings with others – affection for them. This is the great secret of all real influence. To possess it, follow this simple rule – Look only for good qualities in anyone you meet, you will find them. Never look for faults, for you would find them.

Act thus, and you will easily develop the habit of love.

Convince those around you by deeds, not phrases, that you truly have this feeling for them, and you can lead them where you like.

God In His Works.

All Things are but Signposts That Point to God.

We have been considering at some length methods of serving God. Let us try to remember they are only methods. There is always a tendency for the interest of any work to absorb us so that we forget why and for Whom we began it.

It is natural that this should happen. The work is visible; the supernatural is not, and we unthinkingly allow the visible things to push the supernatural into the background of our lives. This takes from the value of all our acts as offerings to God.

Instead, a little thoughtfulness would turn those very things which were inclined to lead us away from God into visible reminders of His presence in the world.

When we see a church, even though it is only a spire in the distance, it induces a feeling of reverence at the thought of His Presence with us in the Eucharist. But, then, churches are rare. We want that feeling of reverence over all our life. We can make it habitual if we cultivate the practice of seeing Him in all things.

In the beginning He created all things from nothing. But He did not then cease to work. It requires His omnipotent power to keep all those things there now. Were His Hand removed this second from any object we see, it would at once disappear from our vision into its original nothingness.

Thus, everything we see should tell us that God’s Hand is upon it. A sense of awe should fill us to think that we can touch what He is touching. The waving leaves on the trees tell us of the presence of the breeze which we do not see. Why not make trees and leaves and wind and all else around us speak plainly to us of the wonderful Power which holds them in existence?

We pick up an insect, or a flower, or bread, or a book. Each one proclaims Him to the thoughtful mind.

St. Bonaventure said of St. Francis of Assisi that he made everything in nature a step in the ladder by which he went to heaven. He loved the very stones beneath his feet, because they were the works of his Creator.

All the Saints saw without effort God in His works. Everything was a cause of prayer to them. But there was a time when they were only beginners, as we are. They persevered. Shall we?

You Are the Temple of the Holy Ghost, Who is in You.

In considering God in His works around us, we are not to forget His Presence in ourselves.

It is of Catholic doctrine that the Holy Ghost makes a dwelling in anyone who is free from mortal sin. Life would be greatly brightened if we could bring home to ourselves this wonderful truth.

How could we ever again feel sorrowful or lonely, or think ourselves poor!

If we consider God in His Heavenly Kingdom, we are apt to think of Him as at a great distance. We know Him as a loving Father, but this sense of remoteness diminishes the sense of His protection. Rather let us think of Him living in each of us, giving our hearts their beat and listening to our inmost thoughts.

Look at the great sun blazing in the sky, with enough light and heat for the entire world. He Who made it is within us with a glory infinitely greater.

There is holiness in the very thought of this; and the idea of sin as something that will drive out this Divine Tenant acquires a clearer and more repulsive meaning.

Heavens and Earth Are Full of Thy Glory.

The greatness and the loveliness of God, being infinite, cannot, while we live, be measured by us. We can only feebly search after an idea of them by representing to ourselves the pick and cream of what we know, and then trying to raise our minds above that.

Take from what is around, all that is delightful, mighty, pure, exquisite, glorious. Gaze upon them, and their beauty takes the very breath away.. But their beauty is only the shadow of His beauty.

In the light of this truth, will not the delicate flower or sky tinted with splendour, speak to us with a new meaning? Before, we admired them for what they are; rather, let us reverence them for what they suggest.

God’s Dealings With Men.

His goodness is equally beyond our comprehension. Our Lord’s life on earth, or the Host and Chalice lifted up in the Mass, should give us an idea of the depth of the love He has for each individual one of us, however wretched.

We are being dealt with in a princely way. One of the first results of our increase in holiness will be the gradual realisation of the wonderful goodness which is lavished upon us from morning until night. We grumble at the apparent afflictions and punishments that come to us, though each one of them bears, as the saying is, a jewel in its head. We are blind to the fact that nothing which is the bearer of a blessing can really be punishment at all.

God is good… Let this be the great thought whenever the shadows thicken. There is nothing from Him which is not kind – though it may seem hard. Whether it is one of those things that people dread most, such as death, or cancer, or bankruptcy, or only a headache, we may be sure it is for the best. There is some hidden mercy in it. God is good…God is so good.

Trust as a Characteristic of the Saints.

In this spirit of trusting faith did the Saints receive whatever came to them. Aware that they were enfolded in the arms of a loving Providence, it was equally a cause of thanks to them whether they were cradled to the left or to the right.

This holy spirit is not beyond imitation by all, for we see it in the poor of our day. The greatest calamity is met with fortitude. “There is no cross but breaks a heavier,” they will observe, and then – even though the tears are falling fast – “God’s will be done; welcome be the Holy Will of God.”

We must follow the holy ones of all times in this childlike confidence, this perfect knowledge that He is their Good Father.

Our Love for Him.

Our hearts were made to hold the biggest and the purest of loves. For nothing less than this did God intend them. It is dishonouring such vessels to keep in them a love based only on motives of reward or punishment, wholesome though these are. So let us try to send our love for the Good Shepherd to summits far above such thoughts of self, and love Him… “not that in heaven we may reign… not to escape eternal pain… nor in the hope of any gain”… but for Himself, and that we may satisfy with something clean, that great love of His which craves for any return.

And as this pure love strengthens in our hearts, it will soon, like the eagle, grow impatient even of the mountain peaks, and hunger after heights of heights, till – with the Little Flower – we will cry out in longing: “Jesus!… Jesus!… I would so wish to love You… love You as You never yet have been loved.”

The Message of the Rosary: The Glorious Mysteries

The Message of the Rosary: The Glorious Mysteries
By Rev A. Biskupek, S.V.D.

AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY No. 1107 (1955).

THE GLORIOUS MYSTERIES.

The Glorious Mysteries give us a preview, so to say, and a foretaste of the glory that awaits us in the life to come, which eye has not seen and ear has not heard and the human heart has not experienced. For this reason, they most powerfully stimulate Christian fervour and perseverance. Now, and not only in heaven, must we rise in a spiritual sense with Christ from the death of sin and walk in newness of life; now our thoughts and desires must dwell in heaven and delight in the company of angels and saints; now we must prepare our body for its glorified life by giving unstintingly of our physical strength to the service of God. In the light of these mysteries, we recognize the important role which bodily pain and hardship plays in the Christian way of the cross and we learn to mortify the body with all its evil inclinations now so that it may live eternally. Not only in heaven but now, must Mary be our Queen in whose service we glory and the imitation of whose virtues we make the ambition of our lives. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, these mysteries convey invincible courage, patience, peace and joy. The Holy Spirit has made us His temples and dwells in us now, so that full of the Holy Spirit we shall rise in glory on the day of resurrection.

THE RESURRECTION.

“If in this life only, we have hope in Christ, we are,” according to Saint Paul “of all men most miserable. But now Christ has risen from the dead” (1 Corinth 15:19-20). The Resurrection is a postulate of God’s justice and love. Jesus glorified the Father in His life and Passion, now the Father glorifies Him; Jesus humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death upon a cross, and therefore the Father has exalted Him and has given Him the name which is above all names, so that in the name of Jesus, the knees of all must bend, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. The same principle holds, with due proportion, also for us. If we suffer with Christ, we shall be glorified with Him, and if we die with Christ, we shall rise with Him. The mystery of the Resurrection ushers in our Saviour’s glorified life; it is a life of inspiration, power, strength and victory.

Jesus has died on the cross and the soldier has pierced His side with a lance, so that there can be no doubt as to His real death. To forestall any attempt on the part of the disciples to steal the body of Jesus, the tomb is sealed and a guard of soldiers is placed in front of it. These soldiers keep watch in front of the tomb the whole Sabbath and the following night. No disciples have come into sight; all has been quiet and peaceful. But as the morning of the first day of the week begins to dawn, the scene suddenly changes. An earthquake shakes the city, an angel, resplendent with heavenly light, rolls back the stone from the tomb; it is an empty tomb — Jesus is there no longer. The guards are hurled to the ground terror-stricken; as soon as they recover, they hasten to the city as fast as they can to bring the news to the authorities at Jerusalem. The report comes to those men like lightning and thunder from a clear sky; consternation is written in their faces. There can be no denial of the fact reported by the guards, and so they have recourse to an expedient to extricate themselves from this embarrassing situation and to prevent a popular change of attitude in favour of Jesus. They bribe the guards, charging them to spread the news that whilst they were asleep, the disciples had come and stolen the body. Poor, deluded Pharisees, who childishly think they can stop the triumphant march of the risen Christ by so silly a lie.

Let us now look at the figure of our risen Saviour. He is all light and splendour; He moves about with speed of light, neither walls nor door nor locks can stop Him. The wounds and disfigurement of His body have given way to immortal beauty and vigour; but in His hands and feet and in His sacred side He keeps the marks of the nails and the lance. They will forever be the sparkling gems blazing forth the truth that, as we were saved through the cross, so through the cross we must attain to light and glory.

Jesus who had loved His own who were in the world even unto death, does not forget them in His glory; He hastens to bring to them the joyful news of His Resurrection. Though not mentioned by the sacred writers, it must be taken for granted that Jesus appeared first of all to His holy Mother; we could not imagine anything else. (Saint Ambrose knew of it and preached it.) What a meeting this must have been of Mother and Son on that Easter morning. Rejoice, O Mother of Christ, be glad, O Queen of heaven, for your Son is risen from the dead. As in His mortal life, so in His glory He remains her Son and she His Mother. Then followed the many apparitions of Jesus to His apostles and friends, confirming their faith and speaking to them of the Kingdom of God.

The Resurrection of Christ, and the glorified life following it, is Christ’s decisive victory. He had foretold it and referred to it as proof of His divine Sonship and authority, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19) By rising from the dead Christ has proved that He is God, His teaching true, His promises certain of fulfilment. And so His cause shall be victorious in the Church as a whole as well as in the individual soul, though in either case the way to victory leads over Calvary.

Christ’s victory is above all victory over sin, and in this victory, we must share in this life already, if we wish the glory of the Resurrection to be ours in the life to come. Baptism is the beginning of this victory, “Know you not that all we, who are baptized in Christ Jesus, are baptized into His death? For we are buried together with Him by baptism into death; that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). In order to guarantee ultimate victory, in spite of possible falls due to human weakness, Christ has left to His Church as His most precious Easter gift the Sacrament of Penance, which He instituted on the evening of Easter Sunday, “Receive the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” (John 20:23).

The ideal of the Christian is the new life in Christ, free from sin. For that reason also holy Mother Church insists upon confession of all mortal sins at least once a year, and upon the reception of Holy Communion during the Easter season; thus the life of grace is restored if it should have been lost, and if it has not been lost it is strengthened and more intimately conformed to the life of Christ through the power of the bread of life. This new life, according to the intensity of its fervour, shows forth even whilst on earth the immortal vigour of Christ’s glorified life. It is a life of spiritual beauty, resplendent with the light of virtue.

There is promptness and determination in obeying the call of duty and the inspirations of grace, courage and confidence in the profession of the faith, a holy pride in following Christ our victorious Leader, a joyful readiness to go with Him even unto death. Hardships and privations, fear of men, threats of persecution cannot alter its course. Deep and living faith in the Resurrection is incompatible with timidity and half-heartedness in our allegiance to Christ the King, and will never compromise at the expense of truth and loyalty. “Knowing this that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, to the end that we may serve sin no longer…Knowing that Christ rising again from the dead, dies now no more, death can no more have dominion over Him…So do you also reckon, that you are dead to sin, but alive unto God, in Christ Jesus Our Lord” (Romans 6:6-11).

Our blessed Mother requests that we meditate on this mystery. She knows the conditions of the times and the growing danger to souls, the growing intensity of the Christian warfare as we approach the consummation of all things. Therefore, she wants us to be fortified with the invincible spirit of the Resurrection. The mystery of iniquity is at work, it can be overcome only by the mystery of a new, a holy life with Christ, the Victor over sin and death abiding in us, and we in Him. In His Resurrection, Jesus speaks to us as He spoke to the apostles, “Have confidence, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

THE ASCENSION.

As Son of God Jesus possessed the beatific vision from the very first moment His soul was created, and, in consequences the glorified state of the body with heaven as His dwelling place were due to Him. However, the saving mission which He had taken upon Himself called for suffering which was incompatible with the glorified state; so Jesus hid His glory and took the form of a servant, to labour and to suffer until His mission was accomplished. When He arose from the dead He assumed the glorified state of His body, but for our instruction and encouragement, He remained on earth for another forty days. When these days had come to an end, He gloriously ascended into heaven.

Saint Luke paints a lovely picture of Our Lord on His way to Mount Olivet on Ascension Day. The same road which had taken Him to this place only a few weeks before, there to begin His passion with His bloody agony, now sees Him return to the scene of battle as glorious conqueror. As on that evening so He is now surrounded by His apostles, but their number is swelled by many other friends and followers of Jesus. Jesus gives them His last instructions and answers their questions until they arrive at the place chosen by Him.

The great moment of His departure from them has come. He speaks to them His final word of parting; it is the apostolic commission, “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world” (Matthew 28:19-20). With a last blessing for the ungrateful world for which He had died, with a Father’s blessing for all His faithful friends, with a last loving and grateful look to His holy Mother He begins to raise Himself into space, higher and higher, until a cloud hides Him from the sight of human eyes. And whilst His friends are still looking towards heaven two angels appeared, assuring them that this Jesus, whom they had seen ascending into heaven, would come again such as they had seen Him on this day.

With holy joy in their hearts the apostles and friends of Jesus returned to Jerusalem; even though they would miss the presence of their beloved Master, they rejoiced over His glory. Their thoughts henceforth dwelt in heaven; there they found the inspiration to a holy life, strength and consolation and joy in the midst of their labours and even in the tortures of a bloody death. And how often during the course of centuries, especially in periods of persecution and distress, did the followers of Christ look to heaven, there to discover a sign of His coming; but even though He delayed, their faith remained unshaken. Their thoughts were with Him in heaven and the certainty that one day they would share in His triumph and glory, gave them new courage to persevere to the end.

Jesus entered heaven, but not alone. A wonderful scene was enacted when Jesus had vanished from the sight of His friends on earth. Limbo gives up the souls it has held for thousands of years and they join Jesus in His triumphant entry into heaven. At last, their prayers and hopes have been fulfilled. When Jesus had died on the cross, His soul descended into Limbo and brought these holy souls the joyous news that soon the days of their waiting would come to an end. Now the great moment has come; they join Jesus in a glorious procession of light and splendour.

As they approach the gates of heaven, their joyous cries announce the coming of heaven’s King to the blessed spirits of the heavenly Kingdom. “Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates, and the King of glory shall enter in.” From within the heavenly gates comes the question, “Who is this King of glory?” And the answer goes thundering back from the multitudes of Limbo, “The Lord, who is strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates, and the King of glory shall enter in” (Psalm 23:7-10 in the Vulgate, or Psalm 24:7-10 in the Hebrew). And now the gates of heaven are thrown open, the choirs of angels pay homage to the glorious King, and welcome into heaven their new brethren, the first human souls, to be their companions forever. Then mid them, Jesus enters the eternal Holy of Holies and takes possession of His royal throne, and of His kingdom, there shall be no end.

The Apostle’s Creed describes the heavenly life of Jesus as sitting at the right hand of the Father. This signifies His eternal rest, the absence of warfare and suffering, the possession of undisturbed joy and peace. True, He also remains the Head of His Mystical Body, the Church, and the Church continues to labour and to struggle, to carry on the warfare, for souls to the end, but the malice of men does not reach Jesus any more, enthroned as He is in heavenly glory. Yet Jesus’ life in heaven is not only rest. In His farewell address Jesus assured the apostles that in His Father’s house there were many mansions and that He went to prepare a place for them; having done this He would come and take them to Himself, in order that where He was they, too, would be. So Jesus in His glory prepares those mansions, and as His faithful servants arrive in the course of centuries, they find their place prepared according to their works. Saint Paul reveals another feature of our Saviour’s heavenly life when he tells us that Jesus is always making intercession for us.

He remains our Mediator at the throne of His Father, praying as the Head of His Mystical Body, the Church. His Mediator’s work culminates in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. As Priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech, He offers Himself through the instrumentality of human priests as the clean oblation, and feeds the faithful with His own flesh and blood, the bread of life. Remaining in heaven and without detriment to His glorified state He has in a most intimate manner united Himself with all the members of His Mystical Body even whilst on earth, and made true His promise that He would remain with us to the end of the world. In the Blessed Eucharist, the heavenly life of Jesus and the earthly life of the faithful meet in the most wonderful manner. We have heaven in our very midst.

Here on earth, “We have not here a lasting city but we seek one that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14); we are strangers and pilgrims on the way to our eternal home. “Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). Heaven is our goal, and if we wish to reach it, we certainly must keep it in mind, never to lose sight of it.

Heaven-mindedness is characteristic of the true Christian and lover of Christ. Alas, it has grown cold in many Christian hearts; the thought of heaven hardly ever enters their mind, it does not influence their lives, they show the same love of the world, the same concern about its possessions and pleasures, the same flight from the cross as those that do not know Christ. It is indeed a timely and practical petition that Holy Church puts on our lips on the feast of the Ascension: that with our minds we may always dwell in heaven.

Looking down from those heavenly heights gives us the correct perspective of things of this earth. How small and insignificant they all appear and yet also how great and precious, since it is by them that we merit the everlasting, all-exceeding glory of heaven. The thought of heaven makes us fervent, zealous, patient, generous; it detaches us from what may be as dear to us as life itself. Saint Ignatius filled with the thought of heaven could say, “How I loathe this earth, when I look up to heaven.” Heaven is worth every sacrifice, and therefore Our Lord exhorts us to lay up for ourselves treasures there, where moth and rust do not consume them and where thieves cannot steal and carry them away.

The loss of heaven is the greatest loss, because it is the loss of our soul, the loss of God Himself; therefore no earthly possession or pleasure can make up for it, “For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). The thought of heaven inspires a strong and fearless love of the cross, “For that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation works for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinth 4:17). The Christian imbued with the thought of heaven knows no real sadness; he radiates spiritual warmth, heavenly joy, which cannot but influence his fellowmen for the better.

The thought of heaven is a most effective remedy against earthly-mindedness, the strongest bulwark against the materialism of the world, an ever present incentive to a fervent Christian life; it will, in a very particular manner, lead us to the altar of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and perpetual presence. We shall come, more and more, to love the beauty of His house and the place where His glory dwells. And so through this mystery of the rosary our blessed Mother leads us to her Divine Son, now in the Eucharist and, in due time, in His eternal heavenly glory.

THE DESCENT OF THE HOLY GHOST.

Christ’s earthly mission came to an end with His Ascension. The Holy Spirit was to bring His work to final completion. For that reason, Jesus sent Him to the Church, and to prepare for His coming He commanded the apostles to stay in Jerusalem until they would be endowed with power from on high. So the apostles and friends of Jesus, having seen Him rising into heaven, returned to Jerusalem and “with one mind continued steadfastly in prayer with the women and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and with His brethren” (Acts 1:14).

Pentecost of the Old Testament, the fiftieth day after the Jewish Easter or Passover, commemorated the giving of the law on Mount Sinai; Pentecost of the New Testament, the fiftieth day after the Christian Easter, commemorates the establishment of the new Covenant of love. Nine days had elapsed since the Ascension and the day of Pentecost had arrived. The apostle and friends of Jesus were assembled for their customary prayer in the Upper Room, when all of a sudden a violent wind began to blow, arousing the attention of neighbours and passers-by. Within the house, another startling event took place.

Tongues of fire appeared and settled on each one present, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with diverse tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak.” Then there rose up to God a mighty prayer of praise and thanks in many languages for all His wondrous deeds. In the crowd that gathered around the house, there were Jews, “devout men from every nation under heaven,” who had come to Jerusalem for the celebration of the feast of Pentecost. They were greatly surprised to hear the apostles speak in the languages of their own countries; their amazement grew when they found out that these men were Galileans, whose native tongue was Aramaic. And, “They were all amazed and marvelled saying, ‘Behold, are not all these that speak Galileans? And how have we heard every man our own language wherein we were born?’ They were all astonished, and wondered,” (Acts 2:2-11 and 12).

So impressed were the crowds by this miracle that on that very day three thousand persons came to believe in Christ and received baptism. The fact that the apostles praised God in many foreign tongues and that representatives of many nations joined the Church on her first Pentecost marked her as the Church of all races and peoples. From now on, the Church will grow and spread; even to the ends of the earth; the apostles and their successors will preach the Gospel and be witnesses to Christ their Divine Master.

Wind, though not seen itself, is seen and felt in its effects. It possesses tremendous power; it can sweep before it all obstacles, clear the atmosphere of poisonous germs. So the unseen power of the Holy Spirit overthrows the strongholds of ancient and modern paganism and clears the atmosphere of the poisonous germs of godless philosophies. Having thus prepared the ground the Holy Spirit begins the positive work of enlightening the minds of men with His truth and warming their hearts with His love. This, His work is symbolized by the tongues of fire. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. To the hell-inspired philosophies of the present day, to the insincerity and pride of dictators and tyrants He opposes the truth of man’s nothingness and God’s sovereign majesty. God is the creator and man the creature, God is infinitely perfect and man is limited in every way; man comes and goes and his work falls into dust, but the word of God remains forever. As Our Lord said, the Holy Spirit convinces the world of sin and justice and judgement.

But the Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of love, and love must accompany truth, if the world is to be gained for Christ. Without love selfishness reigns supreme. This explains why mutual distrust divides individuals and nations, why hatred has reached a degree of intensity and a depth of degradation and savagery that only Satan can have inspired. Satan hates God and whatever is loved by God, and if he cannot destroy, he will at least cause as much suffering and harm as possible. The love of the Holy Spirit unites. The love of God has made men His children, members of the same family. “Our Father, Who art in heaven,” is the prayer taught us by our Divine Saviour. Where the love of the Holy Spirit has been poured into the hearts of men, there they are drawn into the living and loving union with Jesus as the members of His Mystical Body, there they are one with Him as the branches are one with the vine. One body, one spirit, one bread, one hope for all. It is the love of the Holy Spirit that has called into existence the wonderful works of charity that are the glory of the Catholic Church.

In doing this work, the Holy Spirit employs the Church as His organ. Though adapting herself to the conditions of the times and the character of the peoples to whom she ministers, the means employed by the Church throughout the centuries are essentially the same as those used by her on the first Pentecost. She gains her converts by preaching, not in the words of human wisdom but in the power of the Spirit, not by deception or violence but by the persuasion of truth and love, symbolized by the tongues of fire. But realizing her dependence upon the Holy Spirit, Holy Church unceasingly prays, “Send forth, O Lord, Your Spirit, and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth.”

In the work of spreading the faith, Mary the Mother of Jesus and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, holds a most distinguished place. The Holy Spirit overshadowed her with His power at Nazareth to make her the Mother of Jesus, and through her to give the world its Saviour. She is to accomplish her mission not by the labours of the apostolic ministry but by her intercession and example. She is the suppliant omnipotence, strong and mighty as an army in battle array. Holy Church says of her that she has brought joy to the whole world, and that through her all heresies have been overcome.

She implores for the preachers of the word of God a more profound understanding of what they preach as well as the method of presentation that convinces and gains the good will of men. Through her Immaculate Heart flow the streams of love that issue from the depths of the Godhead into the souls of men so that, detached from the fleeting things of the earth, they may fix their hearts upon the things of heaven. This precisely is the need of our time, when millions of men, overwhelmed by the flood of secularism have lost all appreciation of spiritual values, think of nothing, strive for nothing but the good things of this world. Great, therefore, must be the desire of our heavenly Mother that men would turn to the Holy Spirit, accept His truth, be inflamed with His love and become her loving children.

We, too, have received the power from on high to be witnesses unto Christ, though not under the visible symbol of fiery tongues. The Sacrament of Confirmation, in particular, is the Sacrament through which the faithful receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s grace for confessing and spreading the faith. Not all the faithful are called to preach the word of God officially, but all can and must do it through words that enlighten and deeds that arouse love. The holy lives of the faithful are tongues of fire demonstrating the power of love and truth. A halfhearted practice of religion, a life infected with the spirit of the world will impede the renewal of the world in Christ.

This Pentecostal mystery then calls for more truth and love in our lives, more interest in the cause of Christ and the Church, more courage and unshakable confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our Lady of Fatima expects this of us. Though she was not sent to preach like the apostles, we cannot imagine that in dealings with her fellowmen she spoke of anything or did anything that did not have for its ultimate object to bring others to a knowledge of her Divine Son and to the ways of salvation opened in the Church. We must heed her requests, follow her example, if the world is not to perish but to be saved, if the Kingdom of Christ is to replace the kingdom of Satan. Do we realize our responsibility and use the opportunities at our disposal for bringing about such happy results?

THE ASSUMPTION.

The last information the sacred writers give us regarding our blessed Mother is that she was united with the apostles and friends of Jesus, in prayer preparing for the coming of the Holy Spirit. After this, no more mention is made of her. Whether Mary, after the Ascension, stayed in Jerusalem or left it, whether she died soon or lived for many more years we do not know. One thing only is certain and that is that the rest of her life was devoted to prayer and to work in the interests of her Divine Son. We may also assume that, though she was fully resigned to the Will of God as to the duration of her earthly life, she longed for death. If Saint Paul could say that he desired to be dissolved and to be with Christ because of His ardent love of the Master, how much more Mary, who loved her Divine Son with an immeasurably greater love. Desire consumed her strength. As Jesus had died in atonement for the sins of the world, so Mary, wishing in all things to be like Jesus, also desired to die and to offer her life as a holocaust of love for the same purpose. At last, the day arrived when Jesus came to take His Mother home, “Arise, make haste, My love, My dove, My beautiful one and come…Come, you shall be crowned” (Canticle 2:10; and 4:8).

It has been the faith of the Church from the beginning that the body of the Mother of God was soon after death again united with the soul and taken up into heaven. In memory of this event, the Assumption was celebrated probably as early as the Fifth Century, and on November 1, 1950, was solemnly proclaimed an article of faith. The Assumption is in complete harmony with the place Mary holds in the economy of salvation. She has been conceived without sin, was never touched by concupiscence, never entertained an inordinate thought or desire, the eternal Word of God has taken His flesh and blood from her, and for nine months she was a living tabernacle of the Most High; our Christian feeling shrinks from the very thought that her body should have become a prey to corruption.

It is also a fact that never were any relics of our Blessed Mother’s body exposed for veneration, as is the case with relics of other saints. The Assumption of Mary is a confirmation of our faith in the resurrection and glorification of bodies, a new link between us and heaven, a new bond of love and hope that unites us, her children in this valley of tears, to her who is our Mother, our sweetness, our life, and our hope.

The body plays an important part in working out our salvation. No good work can be performed, not even a thought can be in our minds without some co-operation of bodily organs. It is the body that tires under the strain of prayer and work, feels the hardships and privations of the Christian warfare, is mortified by works of penance. The body, too, therefore must have a share in the reward enjoyed by the soul from the moment it enters heaven. Our Lord tells us, “The hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs, shall hear the Voice of the Son of God. And they who have done good shall come forth unto resurrection of life; but they who have done evil, unto resurrection of judgement” (John 5:28-29).

And Saint Paul assures us, “Behold I tell you a mystery…for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall rise again incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal body must put on immortality. But this mortal has put on immortality, then shall come to pass the word that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory, O death, where is thy sting?’ Now the sting of death is sin.” (1 Corinth 15:51-55 and 56.)

The thought of the resurrection and glorification of bodies inspired the martyrs in their tortures and death; it is a source of strength in temptation, of consolation in tribulations. We shall rise with a body immortal, spiritual, resplendent, with glory, under the complete control of the spirit. Indeed, this body of ours, though falling into dust, is not destined for the corruption of the grave forever, but through death and corruption, it will pass to immortal and glorious life.

The mystery sheds wonderful light on the place the body should hold in the Christian life. The Christian, looking forward to this glorious transfiguration of his body, will zealously guard it as the temple of God’s glory; he will not abuse it, degrade it, desecrate it by sin. Even now, the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and it is because of this Holy Spirit dwelling in Him that God will raise it up on the last day. Since the body with its natural inclinations can become a great hindrance and danger to salvation, the Christian will mortify it; he will not pamper it, but rather make it an instrument for his own sanctification and merit. The daily labours and hardships imposed upon us by our vocational duties mortify the body, the patient endurance of the manifold sufferings sent by God subject it to the rule of the Spirit, and works of penance, demanded by the Church or freely chosen, will further curb the rebellion of the flesh.

Thus, the body more and more becomes a willing instrument of the spirit in the service of God, and to the same extent merits its own glorification. The saints did not spare the body; their works of penance may at times make us shudder, but they knew what they were doing. They agreed with Saint Paul and acted in the spirit of his words, “I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worth to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

Such a view of the body will mightily contribute to make the Christian life more spiritual, more supernatural, abounding in zeal and merit, in patience, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit. And would such a condition among the faithful not have a beneficial influence upon their fellowmen? Would it not be a joy for our heavenly Mother? Indeed, we have good reason to rejoice and to give thanks for the light and inspiration offered us in this mystery, “Let us rejoice in the Lord and celebrate a festive day in honour of the Blessed Mother of God, over whose Assumption the angels rejoice and praise the Son of God, her Son.”

CROWNED AS HEAVEN’S QUEEN.

There is nothing in tradition or legend to give us definite information about this mystery, yet the rosary is recited throughout the world and approved by Holy Church. This fact alone is sufficient proof for the substantial truth of the contents of this mystery. The dignity of Mary, as the Mother of God and our Saviour, and the all-surpassing holiness of her life, give her incomparable pre-eminence in majesty and glory over all the angels and saints. It is altogether in harmony with our holy faith to suppose that her entrance into heaven should have been the cause of a special joy and should have been celebrated according to our human way of putting it, by a festive ceremony at which she was crowned as Queen of Heaven. Let us picture this feast to ourselves; the invocations of Mary as Queen, in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, give us so to say, the numbers of the festive programme. The feast, however, is timeless and will continue until all the children of Mary have been gathered around their heavenly Mother and Queen.

The good angels never sinned but remained loyal to God when Lucifer rose in rebellion. Though not their Saviour, Jesus is nevertheless also their Mediator in virtue of His soul, by which He stands between God and all created spiritual natures. Mary is the Mother of their Mediator. Like the angels she was never stained by sin, her will never troubled by any stirring of concupiscence. Her mind is more penetrating than that of the Cherubim, her heart burns with warmer love than the Seraphim ; she rules over vaster domains than the angelic Thrones; the grandeur of the mystery, which God wrought in her makes the Powers thrill with wonder, the Archangels standing before the throne of God now also stand before her throne, as she has taken her place next to her Divine Son; the Angels humbly admit that all their services to men are outdone immeasurably by the share the Blessed Mother had in the work of redemption. And so all the angels bow before her and offer her the diadem of the Queen of angels.

Those holy men, that lived at the dawn of human history and are mentioned among the ancestors of Christ, saw the Saviour of the world from afar, as they hoped and longed and prayed for His coming. Mary has given Him birth and calls Him her Son. And the patriarchs greet her as their greatest daughter and Queen.

These seers of old saw and foretold the mysteries of man’s redemption. Their prophecies found their fulfilment through Mary. As the splendour of the noonday sun outshines the early dawn, so the dazzling splendour of the Virgin Mother of the Saviour shines above the twilight of the prophet’s visions and humbly do the prophets pay homage to Mary as their Queen.

The Apostles, they were the chosen companions of Jesus; they remained loyal to their Master and were entrusted by Him with the continuation of His mission. The sound of their voices went out into the world. Mary was the Mother of Him whose Gospel they preached. She crushed the head of the serpent and through her prayers and merits the Kingdom of Christ has been extended, fortified, and protected more effectively than by all the apostles and their successors in the apostolic ministry. So the apostles approach and present her with the crown and sceptre of the apostolic college.

That which makes the martyr is not the mere fact that he died for Christ, but that he loves Christ unto the shedding of his blood. There are also martyrs of charity, and their martyrdom may be more excellent as it lasts longer and calls for greater endurance. Hidden labours and sufferings of the soul may consume life’s energy like a holocaust. Mary did not die a bloody death, but she endured sorrows of the soul greater than all the tortures endured by the martyrs of blood. Holy Church endeavours to give us some idea of the greatness of her sorrow, when she stood beneath the cross of her dying Son, by applying to her the words of the prophet, “O all you that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow…To what shall I compare you? Or to what shall I liken you, O daughter of Jerusalem; To what shall I equal you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter of Zion (Sion). For great as the sea, is your sorrow” (Lamentations 1:12, and 2. 13). And all the holy martyrs resplendent with the fiery red of charity or the bloody red of martyrdom wave their palms in exultation, acclaiming Mary as their Queen.

These saints have faithfully followed in the footsteps of Jesus, some in lowliness and hidden from the world, others as the teachers, leaders, the firebrands of their generation. But there is hardly one among them that did not pay the tribute of human weakness in regrettable faults and failings; what distinguished them and made them saints was their determined, persistent, and successful effort in striving after perfection. According to their character and the conditions of the times in which they were living, they excelled in the one or the other virtue. Mary alone was without fault or failing, excelling not only in one or the other virtue, but possessing all in the highest degree, since she was always full of grace. All the holy confessors are filled with delight to behold in Mary the ideal of the virtue, after which they have striven; there is among them all not one equal to her; she is their Queen.

The very designation of the Mother of God as the Blessed Virgin, the Virgin Mother, points to her towering position among all the virgins of the Church. She is the blessed one among them, as she is the blessed among all women. Not simply the fact of her virginity gives her this pre-eminence but the intensity of the love with which she consecrated herself to God. Mary’s love and devotion to God cannot be measured by human standards. She is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, all spiritual, all holy in body and in soul, and so the choirs of holy virgins lift up their lilies in rapturous acclaim to greet and honour their Virgin Queen.

Not only the angels and all those saints that distinguished themselves by their heroic virtue and are venerated by the Church as saints, glory in having the Blessed Virgin as their Queen, but likewise all the other blessed inhabitants of heaven. They are lesser stars, humble, little souls, who though not achieving heroic sanctity, served God with an upright and loving heart; among them are also the penitent sinners, eternally grateful for having been saved from eternal ruin. Whatever their condition may be, there is not one among them that does not owe a debt of gratitude for his salvation to Mary, the Mother of the Saviour, Mediatrix of all Graces, Mother of Mercy, Refuge of Sinners, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. And if they form if we may say so, the outer fringe of the heavenly Kingdom, they raise their voices the more humbly and gratefully from their distant places to greet her as their loving and merciful Queen.

Mary is Queen not only of the saints in heaven, but also of all the children of God on earth. By giving her the love and loyalty of our hearts and following her leadership we, too, shall reach our heavenly goal. The foregoing considerations point out the way, in which this can be done.

Sinlessness is the first and foremost requisite for the subjects of our heavenly Queen. Ours is not angelic purity, but it can be baptismal innocence, and if that has been lost, it still can be the purity of penitents.

Like the patriarchs and prophets of old, we can pray and long for the coming of the kingdom of God. “Thy Kingdom come,” we were taught to pray by our blessed Saviour. Let us pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom into the hearts of men through grace, for the spread of the Church, the kingdom of Christ throughout the world, for the second coming of our Saviour with power and majesty so “That transgression may be finished and sin may have an end and iniquity may be abolished and everlasting justice may be brought and vision and prophecy may be fulfilled” (Daniel 9:24). This is the grand object for which our heavenly Queen prayed, worked and suffered, for which she now intercedes and for which she desires our co-operation.

The apostles, and in them also their successors, were chosen by Jesus to carry the message of the Gospel to the nations. The harvest is great and many labourers are needed; therefore, we are to pray to the Lord of the harvest that He may send labourers into His vineyard. Loyal to the Queen of the apostles we shall endeavour to foster missionary vocations and to support the education and the work of missionaries.

Even should we not become martyrs of blood, the spirit of martyrs can be ours. If we cannot lay down our lives in one great act of martyrdom, let it be done through the many acts of devotion, love, and self-denial that make up the fervent Christian life. Then, as Saint Chrysostom says, God will accept the good will and grant also to such as actually do not become martyrs the reward of martyrs.

Whatever may be the state of our lives we can and must be confessors of the faith by its faithful practice. But our ambition should aim high; continuous progress in virtue and Christian perfection must be our goal, as it was the goal of the confessors.

Not all are called to a life of virginity, but the spirit of virginity can be ours, and that is the spirit of loving and undivided consecration to God and generosity in giving all that God expects of us. God is not satisfied with a divided heart.

If we feel that we are still far from the holiness of the saints this should not be reason for discouragement. The saints did not become saints overnight, but by dint of much prayer, work and self-denial, rising again and again from their falls through humble repentance. All this we also can do, no matter what may have been the sins of the past. The mercy of Jesus is infinite, and Mary is the refuge of sinners and our most merciful Queen.

So we look up to our Queen and resolve to listen to the daily message of the rosary. In the ‘Epistle’ for the feast of the Most Holy Rosary she pleads with motherly solicitude “Now, therefore, ye children, hear me; blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that hears me, and that watches daily at my gates; and waits at the posts of my doors. He that shall find me, shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord.” (Proverbs 8:32-35)

With filial, trustful love we dedicate ourselves to her in a final act of consecration, “O my Queen, O my Mother, I give myself entirely to you, keep me, guard me as your property and possession.”

The Message of the Rosary: The Sorrowful Mysteries

The Message of the Rosary: The Sorrowful Mysteries
By Rev A. Biskupek, S.V.D.

AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY No. 1106 (1955).

The Sorrowful Mysteries.

Whereas in the Joyful Mysteries the sacred writers record at some length the part which Mary played in them, the same writers are silent about her part in the sorrowful mysteries. All that we learn from them is that the Mother of Jesus stood beneath the cross, and that from the cross Jesus recommended her to Saint John as his Mother, and Saint John to her as her son. But what we know about Mary and her relation to Jesus is sufficient to supply the rest. Mary shared in the sufferings of her Divine Son as no other human person ever did or could have done, and she did it with sentiments of complete submission to the will of God and love for souls.

The Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary illustrate the sacrificial character of the Christian life. The crosses of life are manifold, but they can all be reduced to the one or other of the sufferings commemorated in these sorrowful mysteries. In particular they are: Fear, anxiety, disgust experienced with regard to the crosses that actually afflict us or that we see approaching: bodily pain, humiliation, the labours and hardships imposed upon us by our vocational duties, bitterness against those whom we consider the cause of our suffering, the urge to throw off the cross when patience gives out.

The general lesson inculcated by these mysteries is patience, the spirit of penance and love of the cross, and that is the object our Lady of Fatima had in view when she asked

for meditation on the mysteries of the rosary.

THE AGONY.

After the Last Supper, Jesus accompanied by his apostles, went out to Mount Olivet, on the Western slope of which was the Garden of Gethsemani. He left eight apostles at the gate, whilst He with Peter, John and James proceeded farther into the garden. The latter three were the apostles who had witnessed the transfiguration on Mount Thabor; now they were to witness its counterpart.

All of a sudden, Jesus began to grow sad, to fear and to tremble, and He said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death. Stay you here and watch with me.” Then He withdrew from them as far as a stone’s throw and the terrible agony set in. Staggering under the weight of crushing fear He falls to the ground, and with an expression of grief and helplessness in His voice, such as the apostles had never witnessed before. He prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass away from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Restless and exhausted He rises after some time and returns to the three apostles, seeking consolation, some words of sympathy, or at least the assurance that they were watching with Him in their prayers. Yet He finds them asleep; asleep, they His trusted friends, whilst His betrayer is awake and active. We sense the disappointment of the Saviour’s Heart in that gentle reproach: “Could you not watch one hour with Me? Watch all of you and pray, that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Without having found the consolation He had sought, Jesus returns to His former place and the agony continues. Abysmal as may be His sorrow and furiously as Hell may rage around Him, He never wavers in His attitude towards His Father; not His Will but the Will of the Father is to be done. Again, He arises and seeks the company of the apostles; should He not have expected that after the previous warning, they would have kept awake? Yet He finds them asleep the second time, and without waking them He returns to prayer. What the apostles did not give Him is now brought to Him by a messenger of His Heavenly Father, “And there appeared to Him an angel from heaven strengthening Him.” What could that consolation of the angel have been? The one thing that Jesus craved above all others, namely, that His Father was pleased with Him and that souls would be saved through His suffering. We may assume that in that moment He also felt the strength and consolation that His Passion would bring to souls of coming ages in their sufferings, the hope of salvation it would give them, the courage that would lead