Sunday, 28 June 2020

The certainty of death.

On this Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, St. Alphonsus offers two chief thoughts for meditation - death is certain and the time of death is uncertain.
    A cheering and uplifting thought as we close this month of the Sacred Heart, yet Ligouri's words are in many ways a blessing for us in drawing our attention to eternity. For just as Christ commanded the disciples to put out their nets and draw in fish, so we are commanded to do the same, to win souls and perform good works, by which we can merit eternal life. For our eternal life depends upon the moment of our death and the manner in which we are prepared for it. Heaven is to be won or lost depending on how we follow the call to "launch out into the deep". (Luke 5:4).
     "We must all die. This truth we not only believe, but see with our eyes. In every age houses, streets, and cities are filled with new inhabitants: their former possessors are shut up in the grave. And, as for them the days of life are over, so a time shall come when not one of all who are now alive shall be among the living. 'Days shall be formed, and no one in them.' (Ps. 138:10) 'Who is the man that shall live, and shall not see death ?' (Ps. 88:49 ) Should any one flatter himself that he will not die, he would not only be a disbeliever for it is of faith that we shall all die but he would be regarded as a madman. We know that all men, even potentates and princes and emperors, have, utter a certain time, fallen victims to death. And where are they now? 'Tell me,' says St. Bernard, 'where are the lovers of the world? Nothing has remained of them but ashes and worms.' Of so many great men of the world, though buried in marble mausoleums, nothing has remained but a little dust and a few withered bones. We know that our ancestors are no longer among the living: of their death we are constantly reminded by their pictures, their memorandum books, their beds, and by the clothes which they have left us. And can we entertain a hope or a doubt that we shall not die? Of all who lived in this town a hundred years ago how many are now alive? They are all in eternity in an eternal day of delights, or in an eternal night of torments. Either the one or the other shall be our lot also."(1)
    These are the words with which the saint wishes to draw attention to our certain end, for death is a certainty which we can never avoid no matter how much one might wish. And yet so much is done, so many terrible actions are committed as if there is no death or end to this life with an eternity to follow it. The great and powerful, along with the meek and lowly all come to the same, final end and have to face their Maker in judgement. Why then does society pretend that we shall not die, or seek to encourage wanton licentiousness as if there is no judgement to fear? St. Alphonsus mentions this when remarking on the fact that this life is to be spent preparing for the next: "And are not you on the way to death? Why then do you seek only the gratification of the senses? Why do you not think of preparing the accounts which you shall one day, and perhaps very soon, have to render at the tribunal of Jesus Christ? Souls that have faith, leave to the fools of this world the care of realizing a fortune on this earth; seek you to make a fortune for the next life, which shall be eternal. The present life must end, and end very soon." (2)

    But to the second point then, regarding the uncertainty of death. Even though death itself is certain, the time of it is not and hence preparation for death must be a constant thought throughout life. Perhaps the lovers of the world mentioned by St. Bernard would not have loved it quite so much, had they known the day of their upcoming demise. Indeed, even for each individual soul, how different might their approach to life be, if they knew in days and hours the time which remained in order to attain eternity.
    "Many Christians are lost, because many, even among the old, who feel the approach of death, flatter themselves that it is at a distance, and that it will not come without giving them time to prepare for it. 'Dura mentesays St. Gregory, 'abesse longe mors creditur etiam cum sentitur.' (Moral, lib. 8.) Death, even when it is felt, is believed to be far off. O brethren, are these your sentiments? How do you know that your death is near or distant? What reason have you to suppose that death will give you time to prepare for it? How many do we know who have died suddenly? Some have died walking; some sitting; and some during sleep. Did any one of these ever imagine that he should die in such a manner? But they have died in this way; and if they were in enmity with God, what has been the lot of their unhappy souls? Miserable the man who meets with an unprovided death! And I assert, that all who ordinarily neglect to unburden their conscience, die without preparation, even though they should have seven or eight days to prepare for a good death; for as I shall show in the forty- fourth sermon, it is very difficult, during these days of confusion and terror, to settle accounts with God, and to return to him with sincerity. But I repeat that death may come upon you in such a manner, that you shall not have time even to receive the sacraments. And who knows whether, in another hour, you shall be among the living or the dead? The uncertainty of the time of his death made Job tremble. 'For I knew not how long I shall continue, or whether, after a while, my Maker may take me away.' (Job 32:22) Hence St. Basil exhorts us in going to bed at night, not to trust that we shall see the next day." (3)
    What then does St. Alphonsus wish to be the focus of todays liturgical texts? - a healthy and lively understanding of our own mortality and the brief time which we have to attain salvation. Duc in altum -  launch out into the deep! We cannot afford not to take the plunge and not to commit wholeheartedly to the work of attaining salvation. Death is both certain yet uncertain: the question remains as to how we respond to the call to put out into the deep. If we respond with the light of faith then we can allow Christ to guide our daily lives, leading us where He wills and living each day in preparation for our final end. The time of preparation is now, nor should this be a frightening prospect but a joyful one. For now is the time when we can respond to grace, perform good works and win souls. It is a time wherein one might, with the grace of God, determine whether to love or reject God and thus to be properly prepared for death or not. 
    St. Alphonsus summarises his thoughts thus: "If, when the tree of your life is cut down, you fall to the south, that is if you obtain eternal life, how great shall be your joy at being able to say: I shall be saved; I have secured all; I can never lose God; I shall be happy for ever. But, if you fall to the north that is, into eternal damnation how great shall be your despair! Alas! you shall say, I have erred, and my error is irremediable! Arise, then, from your tepidity, and, after this sermon, make a resolution to give yourselves sincerely to God. This resolution will insure you a good death, and will make you happy for eternity".(4)

1: St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Sermons for All the Sundays in the Year, Sermon 23 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: "Death is certain and uncertain". All further references are from this work. 

Friday, 26 June 2020

A timely devotion.

As the month of June draws to close, so does our month long meditation on the Sacred Heart, and it is useful to turn again to the pages of Fr Bierbaum’s homilies on the topic which we mentioned in the last post. Below is a selection from his sixth homily regarding the devotion to the Sacred Heart and its great importance today. The pious preacher outlines that is precisely in devotion to the Sacred Heart that we are to find solace in the impious world. He mentions that it is indeed a timely devotion, one which is directly in opposition to the proud and selfish spirit of modernity. 

“But to come to our own times, do they not bear a striking resemblance to the age in which Jesus revealed His Divine Heart to the world? Do we not find the same appalling coldness and indifference towards God and everything holy? Yes, men frequently are not satisfied with turning and wresting hearts from God, but would were it possible, drag the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth from His throne. The history of our day records the most horrible crimes against God, against Christ, against the Church and her head, against innocence and virtue, against every social right and duty; and these crimes are not only perpetrated with satanic deliberation, but in cold blood approved and publicly extolled. Satan, in a word stalks through the world, followed by an innumerable throng of exultant satellites from all conditions and all ranks in life. 

Man sees himself encompassed with a chaos and wild disorder which he is powerless to rectify and every quiet thinker asks himself: How will it all end? What will it lead to? Whither are we drifting?

But in the midst of this night and obscurity which darken the spirit and threaten to spread ever farther and farther, the Sun of grace shines with still greater splendour in the firmament of the Church: the Divine Heart of our Saviour rises before us, shedding luminous rays of grace and glowing love. We are invited, nay, implored to fix our eyes upon this triumphal sign of victory, to hasten to this Heart and draw from It the fulness of light, strength and perseverance. In this cold unloving age, the bride of Christ directs us to the loving Heart of her Founder and Spouse, Who offers, not a few marks of love, but all the love of His Divine Heart, that it may soften and enkindle a return of love in ours. In this sensual enervating age the Church, the teacher of mortification, shows us the Heart of her Master, which, as the seat and source of love, was also the centre of all the suffering which It endured from the first moment of Its earthly existence until It was broken and pierced on the cross.

Yes, the Heart of Jesus is the remedy chosen and appointed by God Himself for the great evil of the day; and anyone who considers the needs of his times will confidently and devoutly have recourse to the Sacred Heart of the Saviour. The spirit of this Heart is directly contrary to the spirit of the age; if we were to represent the latter, it would be in the form of a heart without the cross - that is without faith; a heart without thorns, yet apparently encircled with roses - that is, a heart thirsting for earthly things; a heart from which issue no burning flames - that is, a cold and loveless heart…There can hardly be found in history a time when so much has been said of faith and when men have believed so little as at the present day. All assail the Catholic faith, however great their ignorance or meagre their knowledge of it. Not only Catholics, but Protestants, Jews, Turks, infidels of all classes, deem themselves fitted to sit in judgement, to decide, to determine upon matters of faith.

In this age so devoid of hope it is the thorn-encircled Heart of Jesus with Its sacrificial symbols which shows us our true destiny; which impressively reminds us of the value of a human soul created for a glorious end; which forcibly tells us, ‘The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us’(Rom 8:18); it is this Heart which shows us suffering as the path which Jesus trod, as the royal road which leads to the crown of life. Thus, the Heart of our Redeemer is a salutary and efficacious solace in the sufferings which come to all, but which are truly sweetened and softened to all who bear them with Jesus.

The heart of the present age is a heart devoid of love. this is a fact which we cannot sufficiently deplore; a fact which shows most clearly the decline of Christianity, for our Saviour has made love the characteristic mark of His true disciples: ‘By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another’(John 13:35). At the present day, however, everyone seeks himself, and considers his neighbour only in so far as he can use him for his own ends.

What is to remedy this capital evil? What is to rekindle love in the cold hearts of men, if not the loving Heart of our Redeemer which so loudly preaches love? This Heart sending forth streams of grace and burning rays of love! This Heart that endured all things for all men; this Heart that sought not Itself, but us alone, in all that It suffered; this Heart that offers all things to all who lovingly draw near to It - only this Heart can rekindle love which is extinguished, and will rekindle it in all that confidently have recourse to It.

Yes, the Heart of Jesus is the remedy for the great evils and needs of our time.”

Fr. Ewald Bierbaum, Six Sermons on Devotion to the Sacred Heart, (New York, Benziger Brothers, 1886). Sermon Six.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

The Sacred Heart

This past Friday marked the great feast of the Sacred Heart. The month of May, devoted to Mary, leads us straight into the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of her Son, and after celebrating the great feasts of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi, the beautiful feast of the Sacred Heart is now upon us in the fast paced movement of the liturgical year. 

Evidence of a devotion to the Sacred Heart is found even in the writings of the fathers of the Church, such as the Adversus Haereses of St. Iraneaus as well as the writings of Sts. Justin Martyr and John Crysostom. The devotion to the Sacred Heart further grew out of a devotion to the five wounds of Jesus. The public practice of both laity and clergy was so widespread, that in 1353 Pope Innocent VI instituted a Mass in honour of the beautiful mystery of the Sacred Heart. However it is with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque that we most associate the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Starting in December of 1673, she received a number of visions of Christ who revealed the nature of the devotion and His wish to institute a feast honouring His most Sacred Heart. After her death in 1690, the devotion grew in popularity until it was established as a feast in the whole of France in 1765. Finally, in 1873 the devotion was approved by Pius IX and in 1899 Leo XIII beseeched the bishops of the Church to celebrate the feast in their dioceses. 

In what manner then, is this devotion so important? Pius XII mentions that firstly, Christ’s heart is the noblest part of human nature and is hypostatically united to the Person of the Word. Thus we must pay due reverence to His heart as we would the Son of God Himself. But more than this, the pope mentions that “His Heart, more than all the other members of His body, is the natural sign and symbol of his boundless love for the human race”.(1) Just as with any man, the heart is considered the symbol of love for another, the pope teaches that it is so with Christ. Thus the chief sign of the love of Christ for His Father and for man is His Sacred Heart. It is with this beating heart, the symbol of the deepest and most perfect love, that Christ loves wayward man and loves His Father. He was endowed with a true body and real emotions, just as is any man, yet His love exceeded all of mankind’s love throughout history. It is a boundless love which cannot be contained nor hidden. His most Sacred Heart is thus the symbol of this love, as Pius XII teaches. In reverencing this Heart we reverence Christ and become more united to Him.

Indeed, it is a devotion based upon humility, which is placed in stark contrast to the proud vulgarities which dominate this month in modern society. Through reverencing the Sacred Heart, we reverence the purest and most perfect act of true love, based not on selfishness or sensuality, but on selfless sacrifice. In loving the Sacred Heart, we love that “source of expiating blood which effaced the sins of the world”.(2) We have thus a devotion not only to the corporeal but to the spiritual - to the beating heart which was pierced on the cross and which pours out His blessings upon us each day. 

In loving the Sacred Heart, we are responding in precisely the manner which is fitting to do, since is this not the reason that Christ revealed that we should love Him thus? In fact we can relate this to any devotion to Christ, particularly a devotion to the Crucified Saviour. For in proffering Himself to us, and enabling us to know and love Him more through such devotions, He requires of us that we return such love through availing of these devotions. The devotion to the Sacred Heart is the offering from Christ to win the cold hearts of modern man. Love moved God to create man, to become incarnate and die on the cross. Love moved God to give to us the Holy Spirit and the great gift of the Holy Eucharist. Love has now moved God to reveal such a devotion to Him through His Sacred Heart, that we might atone for the coldness with which we have treated Him and return His love. He longs for us to return His love to Him.

Indeed, in an age when material and sensual pursuits are foremost, the devotion to the Sacred Heart is particularly poignant, since it is a devotion to true and lasting Love. Instead of focussing on distortions of love, such a devotion allows us to turn to God as the proper end of all our endeavours and the highest good. Such devotion to the Sacred Heart, alongside the Immaculate Heart, can be the remedy for modern society that hardens its heart to the point of blaspheming God and killing the innocent unborn. We need this devotion more than ever, and the world desperately needs it in order to have any hope of turning back to God.

Consequently, it is not merely advisory but almost a duty of filial love, to reverence and honour the Sacred Heart, in order that we might partake more fully of the goodness of His love which He wishes to impart to us. There are so many graces and blessings which God wishes to bestow upon us if we only ask Him and turn to Him in this devotion. The very heart that we adore in this devotion is the heart that cannot stop loving and calling us to Him. He is not content with giving us this devotion as a means to unite ourselves with Him, for Christ then further blesses those who avail of this means. It is an opportunity to console His suffering Heart through the sorrows and pains which He has endured as a result of our sins; so also it is an opportunity to rejoice with Him in the glories which He has won through His salvific redemption. But chiefly it is an opportunity to grow in love and adoration of the sweet Saviour, who so ardently wishes that we might come to know and love God ever more perfectly.

Here below are the twelve promises of the Sacred Heart to those who practice a devotion to His Sacred Heart:

  1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
  2. I will give peace in their families.
  3. I will console them in all their troubles.
  4. I will be their refuge in life and especially in death.
  5. I will abundantly bless all their undertakings.
  6. Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
  7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
  8. Fervent souls shall rise speedily to great perfection.
  9. I will bless those places wherein the image of My Sacred Heart shall be exposed and venerated.
  10. I will give to priests the power to touch the most hardened hearts.
  11. Persons who propagate this devotion shall have their names eternally written in my Heart.
  12. In the excess of the mercy of my Heart, I promise you that my all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my Heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour.

Here also is the Litany of the Sacred Heart.

  1. Pope Pius XII, Haurietis Aquas, in Denzinger §3922.
  2. Rev. Bierbaum, Six Sermons on Devotion to the Sacred Heart, (New York, Benzinger Brothers, 1886), 49.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

The Desire for Perfection

The Gospel of today, the second Sunday after Pentecost, recounts the parable of the ungrateful guests. Despite being invited to a marvellous by the gracious host, they chose to decline the invitation at the very hour in which they should have been making their way to the banquet. Excuses are given and absences justified: “I have bought a farm and must needs go out and see it…I bought five yoke of oxen…I have married a wife and therefore I cannot come”. (Luke 14:18-20).

The result, of course, is that the generous host sees through the excuses of the selfish guests, and responds “none of those men that were invited, shall taste of my supper”. (Luke 14:24)

These excuses sound all too familiar in our own daily lives; how often do we find ourselves producing similar excuses for avoiding daily prayer or even the general pursuit of perfection? The struggle between the call to perfection and the duties and frivolities of temporal life are very aptly found in this parable. Be it through the call of work or pleasure, it is all too common that we can become like the ungrateful guests, rejecting the union with Christ found in the practice of the spiritual life. We have been called, given the grace of Baptism and then nourished by the sacraments of the Church, particularly the Holy Eucharist. Just as with those guests, we are underserving of the riches to which the Host, our Eucharistic Lord, calls us to share in.

So how can we guard against becoming like these ungrateful guests? The answer lies in the first of the inner means of perfection outlined by the spiritual authors, namely the desire for perfection. 

No action would be taken in any area of life if there were not some purpose or motivation behind the action. Even if the motivation is very slight, the person performing the action still has a desire to achieve the end, else we can be sure he would not put himself to trouble. For instance, the first step in the entire process of building a ship is to have the firm desire to build a ship. In the same way the first step in the spiritual life, the pursuit of perfection, is to have the desire for perfection. All the spiritual writers agree on this matter, man cannot take even the slightest step in his path to sanctity if he does not wish to. St. Alphonsus’ first line of advice to the soul desirous of perfection is “to desire ardently to increase in the love of Jesus Christ”.(1) God created us with the great gift of free will, which can be used either to follow God or to turn away from Him in the path of sin. No one can commandeer this free will, for it must remain entirely free in order for our actions to be attributed to us. For example, if God did command man’s will to love Him, then this would be not a proper act of love, since it would not be free. Consequently, in order for us to attain perfection, we must first engage the will and actually wish for perfection. God will not act in violation of our free will: if we choose to desire something else rather than the spiritual life then we are permitted to do so, but we are choosing ourselves instead of God. So it is that this desire for perfection is a necessary part of the spiritual life, without which perfection cannot be reached.  Abbé Tanquerey defines such a desire as “an act of the will, which, under the influence of grace, ever seeks after spiritual progress”.(2)

Why is this desire such an important aspect in the spiritual life? The saints and spiritual writers have often used the image of the spiritual life being a great mountain, which we must climb in order to attain the glorious summit. We cannot hope to reach the summit if we do not even begin the climb. Another image used is that of a spring or river: Christ is the river that nourishes and all who come to Him will be given the water of eternal life. (John 4:14) In order to reach this spring of life, we “must thirst for virtue and walk generously along the narrow way of abnegation”. (3) God is ready and eager to pour out His love upon us, if only we should turn to Him and ask. The greatest gift anyone could wish for, God Himself, is ours if we truly desire. This desire must therefore be put into effect, by stern resolution. It must have certain qualities in order to be an aid to perfection; notably, it should be supernatural, fervent, persevering and practical.

Such a desire must be supernatural by its very nature, since the object and origin is God Himself. The desire for perfection must be grounded in faith, based upon such reasons as the nature of perfection and man’s ultimate end. Grace is needed to illumine our minds, in order to make this firm resolution to desire perfection, since the end of this desire is ultimately God. St. Alphonsus warns that the man who wishes to attain perfection must do so ardently and without hesitation. This is because if we have only a half-hearted desire we shall not reach the goal, but instead run the risk of becoming lukewarm. Instead, we must “desire, with a very great desire, to attain a lofty height of divine love”.(4)

It follows then that our desire must additionally be persevering, ever driving us to finish the race, to reach the summit and receive the eternal reward. Christ warned that our resolve must be constant: “No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God”. (Luke 9:62) We cannot seek perfection if we still cling to the sins of our past, or try to fool ourselves into allowing a break in the spiritual life. The devil makes great use of human frailty, and should we pause on the mountainside, he will endeavour to make the summit appear too far off, leading us into despair and sin once more. Alphonsus warns of such an occurrence when he counsels the soul, “always to renew your determination of becoming a saint, saying, ‘My Jesus, I desire to be all Yours, and You must be all mine’ ”. (5) St. Teresa teaches that “perseverance is the first essential” in response to the countless attacks of the devils. (6) The soul who practices the desire for perfection, remaining firm and resolute in the face of the enemy, enjoys the divine aid of God who ever invites the fervent and persevering soul into an increasingly intimate union with Him. 

Some care must be taken here, for the devil can seek to tempt souls from the path of perfection by means of apparent holy desires. He places before us the life of some great saint or mystic, that we might imitate their ascetical practices in pursuit of perfection. Yet such a path may very well be inconsistent with the duties of our state in life, and consequently even a hindrance to the spiritual life. For instance, a soldier defending his country from unjust aggressors, would not be fulfilling his duty, or increasing his spiritual life if he practiced extreme fasting which rendered him too weak to fight. Or again, we might be filled with a strong thought to leave our house and possessions, to practice penance in the desert. But it is very likely we cannot pass through one day without failing in charity to others, or carrying out our duties with love. Leaving the comfort of our surroundings for such a harsh life of penance will probably leave us discouraged and disconsolate with the spiritual life. Instead of seeking to correct the small, yet persistent faults of daily life, we are often tempted to do great things which are not compatible with our state of life. Yet the Gospels warn us that “he that is unjust in that which is little, is unjust also in that which is greater”. (Luke 16:10) Hence, the desire for perfection must be practical, calm and steady. It should grow reasonably, with steady increase, not in great peaks and troughs. St. Alphonsus warns that these grandiose ideas of attaining perfection can be “nothing better than mere fancies, which, instead of benefitting [men], do them great harm”. (7)

In order to develop and maintain this desire for perfection, which is a necessary starting point of the spiritual life, we should have recourse above all to prayer and meditation. By turning to God and asking for His help, along with meditating upon the beauty of the truths of the faith and God, our desire should be strengthened and increased. Certain occasions, such as retreats or even the daily temptations, can serve as a time when this desire can be greatly nourished by God. Should we fall and our desire weaken, instead of allowing ourselves to become despondent, let us rather throw ourselves at the feet of Mary Co-Redemptrix and beseech her help in the spiritual life.

Hence, the Gospel calls us to foster a lively desire for perfection, lest we become like the ungrateful guests and reject the gift of grace which has been won for us.

  1. St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Maxims for the direction of a soul that desires to obtain perfection in the Love of Jesus Christ, 1.
  2. Abbe Tanquerey, The Spiritual Life, 205.
  3. Abbe Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life - Volume One, 272.
  4. St. Alphonsus Ligouri, The Way of Salvation and of Perfection, 184.
  5. Ligouri, Maxims for the direction of a soul that desires to obtain perfection in the Love of Jesus Christ, 50.
  6. St. Teresa d’Avila, Interior Castle, 2nd Mansion, 5.
  7. Ligouri, The Way of Salvation and of Perfection, 185.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Corpus Christi.

“See today before us laid, the living and life-giving Bread! Theme for praise and joy profound”. So reads the third verse of the great sequence from the Mass of this feast of Corpus Christi. 
O living and life-giving bread; oh sweetest Saviour and Redeemer, our Eucharistic Lord! Such pious thoughts spring freely to mind when we come face to face with Christ at each Holy Mass and at each worthy reception of Holy Communion. 

Brief history of the feast.

This glorious feast is that day upon which we celebrate the inestimable gift of so receiving God in the Sacred Host, a true marvel of God’s goodness. Dom Gueranger notes that in the year 1208, a holy religious name Bl. Juliana of Mont Cornillon was favoured with a vision of a moon with a hollow on its disc. The vision repeated itself before her each time she began to pray, and after two years she learned that the hollow disc represented the hole in the Church’s liturgical year by not having this feast. For though we celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist on Maundy Thursday, the Church’s liturgical eye is very much focussed on the events of Good Friday and thus we cannot give full attention to the meditation on the Eucharist which we can do so today. Furthermore, the people of the time (how much more so today) had been greatly affected by the influences of heresy and needed this extra feast to properly celebrate its mysteries. She was thus commanded by God to make known to the world the content of this message and to bring about the feast of the Holy Eucharist. Plagued by timidity, it was twenty years before she petitioned the bishop of Liege, who instituted a feast for his diocese in 1246. However at the time of Bl. Juliana’s death in 1258, the practice had still only spread to the single diocese. It took some years further for Pope Urban IV to establish the feast for the entire Church in 1264, having asked St. Thomas Aquinas to compose the office for the feast.

Dwelling on the great mystery.

How can one best celebrate this feast? The simplest answer would be to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion worthily and to pay careful attention to the thanksgiving made afterwards. However for many people across the world, access to the sacraments is still unjustly prohibited and so we must console ourselves with making a deep meditation upon the great mystery of the Holy Eucharist.
In fact such a method of celebrating can be of itself extremely grace-filled. For who among us can really dare to say that they fully understand such a mystery or that they are not moved by it? When news spreads of a visiting royal or celebrity, crowds flock to just catch a sight of those who they wish to set their earthly gaze on. As Catholics, we have God Himself before us in the Holy Eucharist, who makes all pale in comparison to Him. Unlike the celebrities, He does not visit us in great noise and artificial pomp, but in silence and calm. Our Eucharistic Lord is not an unwilling or vain personage, but actively wishes to give Himself entirely to us out of the sheer boundlessness of His love.
What words can thus properly describe such an encounter? How can we dare to even approach the rail at which we receive the author of all that ever has and ever will exist? Ours is the greatest honour of all, to be able to adore and receive Christ under the sacred species. Our faith and devotion are crucial to being able to properly adore Him and thus celebrate this feast. For our devotion and love of the Holy Eucharist will grow only in so far as we can really admit to ourselves that it is truly God whom we receive. By this, I mean a real embracing of this truth; we should not simply repeat the lines of our catechism to ourselves, but truly recall and reinforce our understanding of the great truth that God is in fact before us. In short, we need to firmly believe and love the Real Presence. The manner in which we accept this truth determines the entire nature of our spiritual life and our devotion at Mass. It further determines the entire fervour of the Church Herself, in Her liturgies and ceremonies. 
For once we accept, truly and deeply accept, that in the Sacred Host is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, we are faced with a great choice. Either we embrace Him and seek to deepen our love of Him and thus conform our lives to His holy will, or we reject Him and seek to ignore His advent into our souls. Only one way leads to life and salvation. 
Perhaps reading through this, one might suggest that such a meditation just on accepting the truth of the Divine Presence, is somewhat uneccesary. For as stated, it is something which was taught in the early catechism lessons. Yet if our believe and devotion to this truth was as it should be, then our spiritual lives would be very different. For is it not incongruous to dwell on the glory of the Real Presence before us, then rush speedily off without even making a proper thanksgiving? What trouble are a few minutes of humble thanksgiving for having receive God into our souls, and yet how often can we honestly state to have done so? Or again, is it not wrong to receive Holy Communion and then to ignore the inestimable blessing by falling back into past faults without even the slightest struggle? If we truly wished to honour God who has visited us, would we at least try to adhere to the virtues, even for a short time?
For myself and I am sure for others, it is an uncomfortable truth that very often we seek to somewhat ignore the truth of the Divine Presence. Perhaps we know that if we were truly to dwell on such an awful truth then it would necessitate a change in our attendance at Mass or an increase in the practice of the spiritual life?
However, there can be no greater consolation in this world than the simple gaze of a soul before the Blessed Sacrament. Or the quiet content of the soul who has just worthily received Holy Communion - who has received God Himself. Christ gave us Himself in this most glorious sacrament, in perfect knowledge that nothing else can fill us with grace, life or peace. We mentioned a choice a few lines earlier, but in actual fact there is really no choice, for only a fool would actively choose to reject the love which can be found in the Blessed Sacrament.
The soul who truly accepts that God is before his eyes and thus wishes to ordain his life accordingly, can only be filled with the sweetest graces and blessings from his Eucharistic Lord. Such a soul enters into a deep union of love with Christ, for he believes with a lively faith that each time he adores and receives the Blessed Sacrament, he receives Christ. Gradually this soul enters into a happy union whereby he comes to know and love Christ intimately, through the worthy reception of Communion and the passionate devotion which he shows to the Blessed Sacrament. Especially in those precious moments after the reception of Holy Communion, we have a unique opportunity to unite ourselves completely with God, allowing Him to engulf us with His love and fill us with His divine life. 
Indeed, it is hard to properly express the beauty of this feast and the mysteries which we are called to contemplate. One day is not enough and yet the whole year would not be enough. The reception of Christ in the Holy Eucharist can truly be called the pinnacle of our life; if one were to die after a worthy reception, then what a happy position such a soul would be in. Today’s feast is an opportunity for a renewal of such fervour and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. We are, as the centurion so rightly said, not worthy that He should come into our houses or souls, yet He wishes to do so and to unite us to Himself. (Matt 8:8) At His name all shall tremble and knees shall bend, yet this omnipotent Saviour chooses to hide Himself in the Sacred Species and so give Himself to us on a daily basis! The greatest love letters from history cannot describe the love of such a Divine Lover.
So on this feast of Corpus Christ, let us use the opportunity to fall in love with our Eucharistic Lord ever more, strengthening our faith and love in the Real Presence and ordering our lives accordingly. All too often, Holy Communion is received unworthily, or received without a second thought, and yet how can anyone do so if they truly believe and love Christ in the Sacred Species? With a deeper love and union with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, it will not even seem possible to rush away from the end of Mass or to avoid times of adoration. The more we unite ourselves in love and faith to Him, the more we realise that our thirst and longing can only be satisfied by Christ. There is no love like that of Christ and no longing like that which He has for us. But so also there is no love more pure and worthy than that of the soul who draws ever nearer to his Eucharistic Lord.
What can one say about such a mystery! Christ, our Eucharist Lord and author of life, draw us into Thyself!

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Trinity Sunday: God's love for man

Who is God and does He care for us? The question that has been postulated by man throughout time and is asked ever more increasingly today; who is God? does He really love us? The great difference today is that many of those who ask the question, do so without expecting any answer, for they have already rejected the possibility of His existence. For modern man the concept of God is incongruous with the notion of suffering, hardship pain or trials of any sort: ‘If God exists, then why do we have war, injustice and civil unrest? Why is there so much pain?’
Yet this Trinity Sunday it is a perfect opportunity to briefly contemplate God and the love of God for man. For firstly, we do not worship a God as the muslims do, a god of anger, rage and death; a god who is outrightly not Tri-une. We adore the one God, three in one, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We adore a God who has already become incarnate and died on the cross for us and we await His glorious second coming. We adore Him most perfectly by adhering to the commandments He gave us, by following the laws of the Church which He established and by worshipping Him in the rites and sacraments which She performs every day. There is only one Church which He has established and it is through Her that He most abundantly pours forth His life and love.
Secondly, though, we must examine the love for man which God has, as an answer to the many critics and disbelievers. In short, St. Alphonsus teaches that God has shown us the utmost love through our creation, redemption and sanctification. But since this is the feast of the Holy Trinity, we cannot leave the question so briefly answered and thus follow the saint’s exposition on the matter.

The love of God the Father.

We read in Sacred Scripture: “Yea I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee”. (Jer 31:3) Then again we find these words: “Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee: and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee” (Jer 1:5). God, in His infinite goodness and out of no necessity, has created us simply out of the boundlessness of His love. He has no need of our existence or of the love which we can render to Him, yet His nature of love wishes to enable us to share in the joy and sanctity of His divinity. The Bible teaches that God has loved us from eternity, knowing us individually and willing us into existence. He bestows upon us His likeness and imparts to us a vocation, completely unique and greater than all the riches of the earth. He has so ordered the natural world that we find ourselves surrounded by all manner of beauty and appointed over it to rule and govern. (Gen 1:28) 
Time and again, when we have fallen away from the practice of the worship of God, He has forgiven us and made the greatest act of love in sending His only Son to suffer and die. Moreover says St. Alphonsus, “See also the special love which God has shown you in bringing you into life in a Christian country, and in the bosom of the Catholic or true Church”. (1) Amongst all men created throughout the world, God has seen fit to impart to us the gift of faith, of knowing and loving Him. Those who reject Him cannot understand the gift which this is, since they reject the author of very goodness Himself. Yet those who know God are aware of the wonderful gift of faith which He bestows; a gift which makes the trials of life seem but nothing compared to the glories which will come as a result of this gift of faith. Through no merit of our own, we have been given the great gift of faith by God, and it is a gift which He calls us to use in order to know and love Him.

The love of God the Son.

Yet this gift has been so oft rejected and scorned, both by our forefathers and by ourselves in daily life. Rather than recognising the gift we have chosen instead to follow our own desires and whims, preferring sin and consequent death to the promises of life found through love of God. In spite of this, God’s love remains unchanged and undeterred. “Christ came, that man might know how much God loves him” and Christ died out of love for us.(2) Truly, greater love than this has no man, because Christ freely chose to suffer and die the most ignominious torments and death at the hands of sinful men, in order to free us from the yoke of the devil which we accepted in sin. He was not content with merely becoming like us in our frail human state, but chose to die that we might have life in Him. Thus St. Paul states that “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross”. (Phil 2:8) What greater proof of love can be given by one to another? But further, what greater proof of Divine love can be given, than by this selfless death of the most Innocent, the Son of God made man? “In this we have known the charity of God, because he hath laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16)
Again, how can we object that Christ does not love us when He established the Church, with Her sacraments and life of grace, in order that we might continually experience the life which He bought for us on the cross. He has given His own mother to us, that we might have the perfect helper and guide to come to know Him. He has given us His own body, in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, whereby we can receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of God Himself. Whilst the unbelievers cry out against the existence of God, we have the opportunity to receive the author of life and salvation in this Eucharistic manner each and every day! Christ takes delight in being so intimately united with each one of us and longs for us to approach the sacrificial altar and there receive Him. We have but to be in a state of grace, and there, kneeling at the altar rail, our Innocent Redeemer comes to us. When we are tempted to cry out in despair or anguish at God for the suffering which we are undergoing, we have only to look at the cross and the Eucharist; there lies proof of His immeasurable love for us.

The love of God the Holy Spirit.
But God was not content with leaving us His very self in the Eucharist species and in the Church; He could not abandon His flock, a flock for which He paid such a high price. Thus the third person of the Trinity came to us “that he may dwell in our souls, and that he may keep them always inflamed with holy love”.(3) This great advent of the Holy Spirit has been celebrated most recently in the great feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. Through the Holy Spirit, we are bound together in the spirit of charity and consequently bound to God. The union of love, of charity, is a union which the world cannot imitate. Modern society cannot even comprehend the concept of such an intimate union of love, whereby man is united to God by a bond sustained and supported by God Himself. Death and destruction are the promises of the world and earthly life and satisfaction fade into insignificance when the light of the Holy Spirit calls us to the practice of charity and to reciprocate the love of God. “The chains of the world are chains of death, but the bonds of the Holy Ghost are bonds of eternal life, because they bind us to God, who is our true and only life” (4).
The Holy Spirit guides and supports the Church, ensuring that all Her faithful members are sanctified and nourished by the life of grace. He imparts to us His gifts and fruits in order that we might fruitfully live the life of faith imparted to us by God the Father and so exemplified by His Son.

Called to the union of the Trinity.

We are thus called to the union of the Trinity. The Fourth Lateran Council expresses this relation thus: “Without beginning, always, and without end, the Father begets, the Son is born, and the Holy Spirit proceeds”.(5) Through the Father we have life and faith, through the Son we have redemption and salvation, and through the Holy Spirit we have the gift of sanctification and grace. Into this union of infinite and perfect love the Trinity calls each of us, in order that we might share in the goodness of this love. To be able to do so, is the most perfect action which we can perform, for there is no greater act than to love and contemplate God as He calls us to do. We do not love God the Father without loving God the Son and Holy Spirit, for God is perfect unity. In His Trinity He is unity and in this bond of love is found the source of life, salvation and grace. There can be no better sign of God’s existence than the call to share in this most beautiful love - a call to share in the divine love.
Hence to answer the critics and unbelievers, denying that God loves us or that He even exists, we have the answer found in the Trinity. In this most complex truth of the faith, we have the source and answer of faith, of life and of perfection. Life cannot be full of joys and contentment unless we respond to the love proffered by the Holy Trinity. We cannot expect to experience trials or sufferings and respond properly to them, if we reject all that the Trinity offers to us. This love of the Trinity for man, for each one of us, is the call to the most perfect happiness and contentment. It is a call to a share in divine life, and nothing can be greater than that.

  1. St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Sermons for all the Sundays in the Year, Trinity Sunday.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Fourth Lateran Council, Denzinger §800.

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

 Apologies to regular readers of this blog, who will notice the absence of a post this morning, as a result of needing time away from the sc...