Sunday, 1 August 2021

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: 'O God, be merciful to me the sinner!'

(Publican humbly praying at the entry to the temple)

     “O God, be merciful to me the sinner!” Such are the words of the rich publican, drawn from St. Luke’s Gospel used by the Church today. These eight words, so well known, form perhaps one of the most profound, yet also one of the easiest prayers to say.

How is this so? The truth is that in just eight words, there are multiple aspects of Catholic spirituality which are represented, when the words are prayed properly. The phrase begins with a heartfelt, and pious appeal to the Almighty, made not out of haste or presumption, but out of humility. This same humility is that which is constantly evident in the life of Mary, and which moved her to utter her fiat to the will of God as revealed to her by the angel. She willed for nothing other than to perform the will of God, and so humbly united her will to His. It is so with the publican’s prayer, for he comes before God with a heartfelt desire to unite himself to the Divinity and to obey His commands.

“Be merciful to me the sinner!” This phrase is awash with sentiments which echo the brief aspirations which St. Thérèse advocates in her Little Way spirituality, in order to be able to easily dedicate the day to God. The words reveal first of all the publican’s realisation of his own state, that of being sinful. He knows that in himself he is nothing, and identifies his actions with sins, calling himself “the sinner.” Indeed, but for the grace of God, such is the state of fallen man, who is apt for nothing but to commit sin and to indulge his fallen passions. 

The publican also reveals his understanding of God as One whom he can turn to for aid, despite his own sinful countenance. He knows that it is only God who can heal him, guide him onto the path of virtue. The publican also understands that his sins injure God, for it is to God that he turns asking for mercy for those sins. In the order of justice, mercy can only be bestowed by he who has been injured. This principle is clearly known by the publican, and hence he asks God for mercy. 

Such a question reveals something else also: it demonstrates a healthy understanding of one’s calling to the path of virtue and ultimately to the cross. For though he has fallen away from the path of virtue, the publican is aware of his need to reform his ways and to imitate his Saviour once more. No matter his past failings, the publican is determined to renew his zeal in the pursuit of God.  

This renewal he knows can only come about with the help of that same Saviour whom he seeks to imitate. Hence he turns to Him whom he seeks to imitate, asking first for clemency, for forgiveness, and as part of that same request, he implicitly asks for the grace to be able to make amends and continue more resolutely in the future. This point can justly be said of his request, for a sincere request for forgiveness is not made, if the one asking does not desire to amend his ways. 

Thus in just eight words, the publican offers a model prayer for faithful souls to imitate, demonstrating a proper understanding of self and of God, a hatred of sin, a firm purpose of amendment, and a desire to follow Christ. It is first and foremost a lesson in prayer for the soul desirous of following Christ. 

Preaching on this Gospel, St. Alphonsus writes about the importance of prayer, and how the example of the sinful, yet repentant publican serves as a reminder of this. Prayer draws us closer to God, and so the saint notes that God may permit those circumstances which necessitate our recourse to prayer: “The Lord…seeing the great advantages which we derive from the necessity of prayer, permits us to be attacked by enemies more powerful than we are, that we may ask his assistance. Hence they who are conquered cannot excuse themselves by saying that they had not strength to resist the assault of the enemy; for had they asked aid from God, he should have given it; and had they prayed, they should have been victorious. Therefore, if they are defeated, God will punish them. St. Bonaventure says, that if a general lose a fortress in consequence of not having sought timely succour from his sovereign, he shall be branded as a traitor. Thus God regards as a traitor the Christian who, when he finds himself assailed by temptations, neglects to seek the divine aid.”

Such words are strong indeed, but they are not without the evidence of Scripture to support the necessity and efficacy of prayer. The Psalm in today’s Introit serves as a reassurance of this: “When I call upon the Lord, He heard my voice, from those who war against me; and He humbled them, Who is before all ages, and remains forever: cast your care upon the Lord, and He will support you.” (Psalm 54)

Then again at the Offertory verse, this teaching is proclaimed once more: “To You I lift up my soul, O Lord. In You, O my God, I trust; let me not be put to shame, let not my enemies exult over me. No one who waits for You shall be put to shame.”

Indeed the example of the publican serves more than one purpose. Initially it offers a simple, yet profound, lesson on the manner of praying to God, pointing souls to the virtues the are necessary in order to develop the life of prayer and union with God. But it further reveals the necessity of prayer, showing that a soul who is truly desirous of union with God, must accept his complete dependance upon God. Finally it serves as a reassurance for those nervous to cast themselves at the foot of God in such a manner, for as evidenced by the other texts of the Mass, God will never leave a sincere prayer unanswered. 

One of the great counsels of St. Alphonsus in his many works on prayer and spirituality, is that the day be dedicated to God and punctuated with brief aspirations. His sermon on the necessity and efficacy of prayer serves only to compound that teaching. Holy Mother Church, in presenting this parable of Christ, perhaps offers us the eight words of the publican as an aspiration which can be easily made throughout the day, and thus draw one ever closer to the desired union with God. 

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost : 'your enemies will throw up a rampart about you.'


“For days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a rampart about you, and surround you and shut you in on every side, and will dash you to the ground and your children within you, and will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you have not known the time of your visitation.” These stern and foreboding words are taken from St. Luke’s Gospel, used on this ninth Sunday after Pentecost.

They are all too clear in meaning, and serve as a striking reminder of the hatred which the enemies of Christ have for Him and His Church. Indeed, He warns in John’s Gospel that the servant cannot expect better treatment than the master: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20) The passages presented today by Holy Mother Church are not gentle, but are rather a firm teaching of the faith to Her children. She wishes to ensure that Catholics are constantly reminded of the fleeting nature of life, and to be prepared for persecution, rather than be caught unawares.

An athlete prepares constantly for his race, training himself in every aspect that will improve his performance on the day, visualising the course, predicting any obstacles, and steeling himself for them accordingly. He is aware of the pain he must endure in his training, and the pain he will undergo on the race day itself, but because he is desirous of the goal he is able to bear with these hardships. It is likewise in the spiritual life and in the spiritual battle which all are called to partake in by virtue of their baptism, and given the strength to do so by virtue of Confession, Confirmation, and regular Holy Communion. Just as with an athlete’s fitness, a soul is either progressing or regressing in virtue, for one cannot remain stagnant in the pursuit of God. Hence, the Church is not a Church of softness and laxity, but rather, like a good coach, She constantly guides, encourages, and prepares Her children for their trials. 

In this way, therefore, the words of today’s Gospel have an import which, while perhaps initially foreboding upon first glance, are important to dwell on. The day will certainly come when the enemies of God, who are the enemies of all His followers, will present themselves around the faithful souls in the Church, “and will dash you to the ground.” Such a thought is not a hypothesis, nor the words of some crazed fear-mongering doomsday prophet. Rather they are the words of Christ, God-Incarnate, who came down to earth to die for man’s sin. They must, as such, be taken seriously. 

Indeed, in the same passage, the Redeemer warns against the misuse of the Church. “And He entered the temple, and began to cast out those who were selling and buying in it, saying to them, It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of thieves.” 

The admonition which Christ gives to the tradesmen is one which applies in every age also: the Church is a house of prayer. If those inside the Church neglect this aspect, peopling the Church with noise, scandal, desire for money or power, instead of offering true and worthy homage to God, then in truth the very ramparts of the Church which ought to be a defending wall, will seem to be the walls which oppress Her children. The Church is full of sinners and wayward men, yet in Herself is the spotless bride of Christ. Such wayward men will seek to besmirch the spotless garment She wears, tearing down the stones of the Church – “will not leave in you one stone upon another” – out of hatred for God and for His truth.

When this persecution from within is coupled with persecution from the world also, and the protecting walls of a God-centred society are turned into the in-prisoning walls of a satanic-centred society, then the persecution of faithful souls will be most grievous. 

In such moments, all might seem lost, the battle over, and resistance of no merit. Yet it is not so. The great act of redemption came about through the terrible passion and death of Christ, and so too the Church must undergo this passion in faithful imitation of Her Spouse. Nor will Her members be left unassisted, for God does not turn His ears away from those who seek Him. We are reminded of this in the words of the Introit: “Behold, God is my helper, the Lord sustains my life. Turn back the evil upon my foes; in Your faithfulness destroy them, O Lord, my protector. O God, by Your name save me, and by Your might deliver me.”

Almost by means of a training plan, the Church also presents on this day also the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in which he outlines the steps necessary for the pursuit of virtue, in order to prepare for the attacks against the faith. The great Apostle warns against the follies and pleasures enjoyed by those amongst the world, in order that faithful souls might wean themselves away from such things, and be drawn only to those which are of God. 

“Brethren: We should not lust after evil things even as they lusted. And do not become idolaters, even as some of them were, as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, even as some of them committed fornication, and there fell in one day twenty-three thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them tempted, and perished by the serpents. Neither murmur, as some of them murmured, and perished at the hands of the destroyer.”

St. Paul clearly states how such words are to serve as a warning for those desirous of seeking God, noting that “they were written for our correction, upon whom the final age of the world has come.” He warns against undue pride and presumption, which is a sure path away from the spiritual life: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

But the Apostle also ends with a word of encouragement, reassuring the Church that no matter the trials which God permits to befall us, they are not unconquerable. God ensures that the graces offered to each soul are sufficient to defeat the temptation or trial which the soul is undergoing. This is a great reassurance, for no matter how heavily the stones are torn down around us, God will not permit His Church to be defeated: “May no temptation take hold of you but such as man is equal to. God is faithful and will not permit you to be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also give you a way out that you may be able to bear it.”

Thus, the Church presents a harsh, but necessary passage from Sacred Scripture, designed to ensure that Her children are presented with the tools to equip themselves in the spiritual battles which they are to face. Like a good coach would for an athlete, the Church 

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - 'Make an accounting of your stewardship'

    

(Elevation at a traditional Mass: Shalone Cason/Unsplash)    

     The Catholic world has been torn apart in the last number of days, with one of the most severe attacks on Tradition which has been made in recent years. The innovators seek to do away with all that is not conformed to their ideals, and such ideals are by no means conformed to the law of God. It is perhaps fortuitous that the Gospel for today bears upon this subject, for St. Luke’s Gospel contains the warning from Christ: “Make an accounting of your stewardship, for you can be steward no longer.” Such a time comes to all on earth – that time when death is nigh, and the pleasures and hardships of this life fade away into nothingness, when faced with the prospect of eternity. 

    In this moment, each soul, faithful or not, will be called before the judgement of God and asked to make an account of his life. Woe to each one who has not followed the law of God; woe to each shepherd who has led his flock away from God. Woe to those also who do not withstand the false teaching of such shepherds. In modern society, morals and values are so depleted, that one can easily lose the horror which should naturally occur when faced with violations of the law of God, and when faced with attacks upon the faith. Yet one useful way to re-learn the horror which should spring naturally in such times – such as when the Pope might attack the faith and Mass of ages – is by dwelling on the moment of particular judgement which occurs after death. 

    For that moment is one of reckoning, in which excuses and reasons are of no use anymore, and one’s life is measured in terms of a simple question: ‘Did you follow Me even unto the cross?’ This question is involved, for it bears upon every aspect of life, every day, every moment. One’s life either tends towards God, or it moves away from Him: there is no room for remaining stagnant in the spiritual life. Consequently, each action can either serve as a stepping stone to align a soul closer with God or to move the soul further away. 

    It is the responsibility of each person to form his conscience well, to seek to know the Truth and to draw closer to Him, so that one might be able to use the precious moments of earthly life to reach the goal that is Heaven. The ‘race’ of which St. Paul speaks is not to be underestimated, for it is one in which every man is called to follow God and to work towards his salvation. The importance of seeking one’s own salvation must remain paramount in every soul. Hence it is that one’s actions must be in accord with that goal. 

    Those in positions of authority have the great burden not only of pursuing their salvation, but also of guiding those of their flock. For these shepherds, the burdens faced but also necessary graces offered, are numerous. There have indeed been many holy, canonised priests, bishops, popes and religious. But there have also been many evil clerics, more interested in power and prestige than the matter of saving their soul, let alone that of the flock entrusted to them. Such false shepherds can cause untold damage, as the have the appearance of sheep but are in reality wolves, who hunger for everything that they ought not.

    Such false shepherds, instead of promoting the faith, seek only to undermine it, to weaken and corrupt it. They do not consider the moment of their judgement, at which point they will have to answer how they heeded the call to the cross and safeguarded the faith of their flock. Each attack upon the Church is an attack upon God, but when the attack comes from within, by one of His anointed ministers, the attack is all the more egregious. 

    When these wolves turn their back upon the faith and seek only to promote their own novel teaching, they reject the duty which they accepted on the day of ordination. They take sides with the devil instead of their Captain, the Eternal High Priest, and scorn the faithful in their charge. Their punishment will undoubtedly come at the time of judgement. 

    St. Alphonsus de Ligouri has this to say about that moment: “Beloved Christians, of all the goods of nature, of fortune, and of grace, which we have received from God, we are not the masters, neither can we dispose of them as we please; we are but the administrators of them; and therefore we should employ them according to the will of God, who is our Lord. Hence, at the hour of death, we must render a strict account of them to Jesus Christ, our Judge. ‘For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body as he hath done, whether it be good or evil.’ (2 Cor. v. 10.) This is the precise meaning of that ‘give an account of thy stewardship,’ in the gospel of this day. ‘You are not,’ says St. Bonaventure, in his comment on these words, ‘a master, but a steward over the things committed to you; and therefore you are to render an account of them’.”

    Each soul has the duty to follow Christ in such a manner that he might answer in the affirmative when he is asked if he heeded the invitation to follow Christ. Yet, following Christ does not simply mean a quiet acceptance of all the sufferings of this life. One can indeed do so for injustices which are made against oneself, but any injustice against the faith, against the Church, against God, must be resisted firmly. The modernists have for so long proposed a form of ‘white heresy,’ whereby they preach love and acceptance, instead of adherence to doctrine. They pretend that following God means that one must be accepting of all, when in fact faithful adherence to the Gospel demands rejection of sin, wherever and whenever it is found.

    In the face of the constant, yet now severe, attacks on the faith by the fake shepherds, every soul is called upon to follow Christ so as to be able to give a worthy account of his actions at the particular judgement. Such a following of Christ demands adherence to the faith which He imparted to His Church, and if many of His ministers have abandoned this faith, it falls to the faithful souls to preserve it, to resist the attacks of the devil made through unfaithful clerics, and to stay true to God.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - The danger of false shepherds


    “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Such is the opening line of today’s Gospel, drawn from that of St. Matthew. In many ways, the text needs little expansion, for its meaning is clear: there are many in the world who seek to tempt souls away from the true faith, under the guise of being faithful shepherds themselves. Indeed, their sheep-like clothing is often all too convincing, and their error so subtle so as not to cause alarm. 

    Thus it is perhaps this last aspect which deserves more attention, for while many false prophets are easy to spot, those who cause the most damage are those who align themselves closest to the faith, yet deviate on even just one issue.

    Pope Leo XIII recalls this point in his encyclical Satis Cognitum: “Hence she [the Church] regarded as rebels and expelled from the ranks of her children all who held beliefs on any point of doctrine different from her own. The Arians, the Montanists, the Novatians, the Quartodecimans, the Eutychians, did not certainly reject all Catholic doctrine: they abandoned only a certain portion of it. Still who does not know that they were declared heretics and banished from the bosom of the Church? In like manner were condemned all authors of heretical tenets who followed them in subsequent ages. ‘There can be nothing more dangerous than those heretics who admit nearly the whole cycle of doctrine, and yet by one word, as with a drop of poison, infect the real and simple faith taught by our Lord and handed down by Apostolic tradition’ (Auctor Tract. de Fide Orthodoxa contra Arianos).”

    In these current days of laxity, where modernism instead of traditional Catholicism, is more often the policy of priests and bishops, Pope Leo’s words must be read carefully in conjunction with Christ’s warning in the Gospel. 

    “Beware of false prophets,” for they come in all guises, even in clerical ones. The devil rejoices for every soul he manages to lead astray through the lax, false, or ‘dodgy’ teaching of such false shepherds. How many bishops and priests across the world purport to lead their flock, yet resolutely avoid speaking out on issues such as abortion, LGBT ideology, the crisis of faith, corruption of the clergy, promotion of homosexuality and abortion by the Vatican, the immense scandal given by Pope Francis in his regular statements and actions.

Furthermore, how many are there, who are not content with merely silently avoiding these topics, but actively speak in favour of them. Stories abound of priests who inform their congregation that moral issues are a thing of the past, that the Church is an “accompanying Church” rather than a teaching Church, that God does not judge you, that Holy Communion should not be withheld even if you are in serious sin…. The list of examples continues almost endlessly, and comes form every level within the Church. 

    Until such “false prophets” are exposed and denounced, then lies and a misinterpretation of the faith will continue to run rampant within the Catholic Church, spread by those who are called to defend the faith. 

    But some might comment that this accusation is too harsh, and that such clergy are well-meaning and merely confused on particular, minor issues. The Gospel contains the answer to such questions however: “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit.” If such clergy continue to be supported or promoted, they will continue to spread evil fruit. Christ does not entrust His Church with the mission of loosely guarding the Church, and simply watching as its doctrine is relentlessly undermined. No! He gave commands for His disciples to go forth and convert all nations. Even out of simple regard for one’s own soul, such dangerous shepherds must be avoided, so that one does not put himself in danger of being led astray. 

    Christ’s call is full of love, yet it is the love of the cross, which requires similar complete self-oblation in return. If a soul seeks to return a false form of love to Him, then he does not respond to the call issue by the crucified Redeemer. 

    “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them. Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

    It is based on these principles that St. Alphonsus de Ligouri writes on this Sunday concerning the care which must be taken as to the education of children in the faith. Though his words are directed more to the care of children, they can also be understood as pertaining to all souls desirous of learning and pursuing the fullness of the faith. The saint writes about the importance of cultivating habits of virtue so as to form the bedrock of the spiritual life, and equip one for the trials of life, which include the attacks made by false prophets. 

    His principles and admonitions must be applied to souls of every age. The saint teaches that the chief care of parents must be to nurture the faith in their children, and such a responsibility applies to all, whether with children or without. To this end, care must be taken to safeguard oneself against the attacks of the false prophets, of which the Gospel warns. Armed with a ready and firm knowledge of the faith, along with a healthy spiritual life, a soul is more able to see through the wiles and cunning of wolves in sheep’s clothing, those bishops and priests who mislead countless souls. 

    Such faithful souls must seek out the faithful shepherds, those who can bring forth good fruit instead of evil, and whose primary concern is to lead souls to heaven in the fullness of the faith. 

    So widespread is the effect of modernism that it can indeed be hard to find shepherds who do not turn out to be wolves in disguise. But despite this, one must not settle for mediocrity in the matter of one’s path to salvation. For if a soul attaches himself to a false prophet, thinking that the few points of doctrine in which the priest errs are not going to be an issue, then such a soul give due priority to the safety of his path to salvation. Such false prophets, if they are not sound, cannot be a sure guide to bringing forth the good fruit of knowledge of the faith, a fervent spiritual life, and adherence to the doctrine and teachings of the faith as taught by Christ.

    For this reason then, Holy Mother Church presents also the words of St. Paul to the Romans in today’s Epistle, highlighting the importance of avoidance of sin, and seeking ought shepherds who will instruct their flock in the path of grace. “But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end life everlasting. For the wages of sin is death. But the grace of God, life everlasting in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Sunday, 4 July 2021

6th Sunday after Pentecost - Devotion to the Precious Blood

 The month of the Precious Blood follows directly on from the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart, which itself follows Mary’s month of May. The union of the Sacred Heart to the Passion is thus made abundantly clear in the devotion of the Church, as is the union of the two hearts of Jesus and Mary.

There is perhaps no better manner in which to embark into the month of the Precious Blood, than by taking the text of the hymn the Church provides for Lauds on the first day of the month, which is the feast of the Precious Blood itself. Praying and meditating upon the stanzas which Holy Mother Church provides for Her children is a sure way to grow in knowledge and love of the Precious Blood, for it is a devotion which is not so commonly found.


Hail, holy wounds of Jesus, hail,

Sweet pledges of the saving rood,

Whence flow the streams that never fail,

The purple streams of his dear blood.


Brighter than brightest stars ye show,

Than sweetest rose your scent more rare,

No Indian gem may match your glow,

No honey’s taste with yours compare.


Portals ye are to that dear home

Wherein our wearied souls may hide,

Whereto no angry foe can come,

The heart of Jesus crucified.


What countless stripes our Jesus bore,

All naked left in Pilate’s hall!

From his torn flesh how red a shower

Did round his sacred person fall!


His beauteous brow, oh, shame and grief,

By the sharp thorny crown is riven;

Through hands and feet, without relief,

The cruel nails are rudely driven.


But when for our poor sakes he died,

A willing priest by love subdued,

The soldiers lance transfixed his side,

Forth flowed the water and the blood.


In full atonement of our guilt,

Careless of self, the Saviour trod—

E’en till his heart’s best blood was spilt—

The wine-press of the wrath of God.


Come, bathe you in the healing flood,

All ye who mourn, by sin opprest;

Your only hope is Jesus’ blood,

His sacred heart your only rest.


All praise to him, the Eternal Son,

At God’s right hand enthroned above,

Whose blood our full redemption won,

Whose Spirit seals the gift of love.

Amen.”


This blog has already mentioned how the love which the Sacred Heart has for men, leads ultimately to the passion, which is the most supreme act of love. How fitting therefore, that after moving Her children to dwell on the Sacred Heart, the Church now moves them to dwell on the Precious Blood of that same Saviour. She is ever keen that Her members be always fixed on the events which won for them salvation, and so even after the period of Lent and the glorious season of Easter, the Church continues to present the passion and death of Christ before Her children, so that they may learn to grow ever closer to the way of the cross. 

Dom Gueranger points to this aspect in his own commentary for the feast: “The Church, it is true, has already made known to the sons of the New Covenant, and in a much more solemn manner, the price of the Blood that redeemed them, its nutritive strength, and the adoring homage which is its due. Yes; on Good Friday, earth and heaven beheld all sin drowned in the saving stream, whose eternal flood-gates at last gave way, beneath the combined effort of man’s violence and of the love of the divine Heart.

The festival of Corpus Christi witnessed our prostrate worship before the altars whereon is perpetuated the Sacrifice of Calvary, and where the outpouring of the Precious Blood affords drink to the humblest little ones, as well as to the mightiest potentates of earth, lowly bowed in adoration before it. How is it, then, that Holy Church is now inviting all Christians to hail, in a particular manner, the stream of life ever gushing from the sacred fount? What else can this mean, but that the preceding solemnities have by no means exhausted the mystery? 

The peace which the Blood has made to reign in the high places as well as in the low; the impetus of its wave bearing back the sons of Adam from the yawning gulf, purified, renewed, and dazzling white in the radiance of their heavenly apparel; the Sacred Table outspread before them, on the waters’ brink, and the Chalice brimful of inebriation; all this preparation and display would be objectless, if man were not brought to see therein the wooings of a Love that could never endure its advances to be outdone by the pretensions of any other. 

Therefore, the Blood of Jesus is set before our eyes, at this moment, as the Blood of the Testament; the pledge of the alliance proposed to us by God; (Exodus 24:8, Hebrews 9:20) the dower stipulated upon by Eternal Wisdom for this divine union to which he is inviting all men, and whereof the consummation in our soul is being urged forward with such vehemence by the Holy Ghost. This is why the present festival, fixed as it is upon a day that must necessarily be one of the Sundays after Pentecost, does not interrupt, in any way, the teaching which these Sundays are particularly meant to convey, but tends rather to confirm it.


What tender words the good abbott uses in order to highlight the importance of the feast of the Precious Blood! “The Blood of Jesus is set before our eyes, at this moment,” he writes calling on all his readers to increase their love of the Blood of the Saviour - that blood which was shed in the brutal agonies of the passion, paying the price for man’s sins.

This same Precious Blood is present on the altars of the world every day, as each alter Christus pronounces the solemn words of transubstantiation, and the sacrifice of Calvary is repeated in an unbloody manner. If one has not taken the time to dwell on this Blood, each drop of which was more than enough to merit for us salvation, then this month provides a perfect opportunity to do so, as Catholics are called on to renew their love of their Saviour, who died and rose again. 


“Come, bathe you in the healing flood,

All ye who mourn, by sin opprest;

Your only hope is Jesus’ blood,

His sacred heart your only rest.” 


How is it that one can afford to ignore such a devotion, for in truth it is not a ‘mere’ devotion, but rather a required response of love, from man to his Redeemer. He who shed His blood so completely and so willingly, deserves our love as a mere act of justice. How much more then, should faithful souls desirous of salvation, learn to love and honour each drop of that Precious Blood, not out of mere duty, but out of filial love for the God-man, who still each day, comes onto the altars and offers Himself under the appearances of bread and wine. 

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - following the Sacred Heart in charity


    “Because the eyes of the Lord are upon the just, and his ears unto their prayers: but the countenance of the Lord upon them that do evil things. And who is he that can hurt you, if you be zealous of good? But if also you suffer any thing for justice’ sake, blessed are ye. And be not afraid of their fear, and be not troubled. But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts.”

    As the month of the Sacred Heart draws to a close, these words from today’s Epistle ring out ever more true and apt for this time. The saints and commentators write about how the Sacred Heart is on fire with love for man, a love that leads ultimately to the cross. Dwelling upon this love of the God-man for mankind, St. Peter writes to encourage those in the Church, urging faithful souls to have confidence in the fathomless love of God. 

    Indeed, his words start by first calling his listeners to an imitation of Christ, as evidenced by a daily living out of the virtue of charity. “And in fine, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood, merciful, modest, humble.” Such words are not to be understood in the modern, corrupted meaning, whereby mercy is equated with ready acceptance of all and sundry, including sin. Rather, they are to be understood by charity itself, which is that virtue whereby one loves others for the sake of God. Moved by charity, faithful souls are thus able to practice true mercy, modesty and humility, since they seek the love of God in all things. This means, therefore, that any manifestation of mercy, modesty or humility which does not ultimately tend towards love of God, and respect for His will, is not motivated by charity, nor is it a true good action. 

Hence instead of an irreligious concept of fraternity, St. Peter urges a truly Catholic union of souls, where the binding theme is love of God which is consequently manifested in the love for one’s fellow men. Dom Gueranger writes of this true, charity driven brotherhood as described by St. Peter, when commentating on the Epistle: “But let us also understand the importance and the necessity of mutual union for all Christians: there must be, among them, that love of the brotherhood, which is so frequently, and so strongly, recommended by the Apostles, the co-operators of the spirit in the building up of the Church. The keeping aloof from schism and heresy, of whose terrible consequences we were told in last Sunday’s Gospel;—the repression of hatred and jealousy,—no, these are not enough for the making us become useful members of the Church of Christ.”

It is with this in mind, that the prince of the Apostles calls for his readers to give each other good works and blessings, instead of returning evil for evil. “Not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing: for unto this are you called, that you may inherit a blessing.” Here is true charity in practice, whereby souls deal only in blessings, and are repaid in blessings. 

    What is it that enables souls to be able to do so? A life lived in imitation of Christ, in imitation of the Sacred Heart, which burns constantly for love of man. Such a life of charity becomes much easier when faced with the reality of the Sacred Heart, the heart which was pierced out of love, for this reality instantly demands that men either rise to the challenge of the life of virtue, or reject it. There is no middle ground in this decision; no possibility of ‘treading water’ and remaining stationary in the spiritual life - one either grows or shrinks in virtue. 

    The moral and spiritual writers of recent decades have advocated a policy of avoiding the mention of sin, or firm doctrine, or even of solid teaching on the truth about the virtues. This leads unavoidably to a lack of understanding of the faith and an inability to realise the love which consumes the Sacred Heart. 

Yet the Apostles, principally St. Peter, do not shy away from firm teachings, aware that only an ardent zeal in the faith is going to enable souls to continue in their pursuit and imitation of the Sacred Heart. St. Peter’s words are not like those heard in more recent days, but challenging, constantly encouraging and teaching. “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him decline from evil, and do good: let him seek after peace and pursue it.” 

This challenge, which is not merely from one man but principally from the Sacred Heart, is not easy, but neither is it supposed to be. The Apostle does not promise that such a life would be free of hardship; on the contrary he warns that suffering will be expected. Indeed, hardship is to be expected, but so also is the assistance of God: “And who is he that can hurt you, if you be zealous of good? But if also you suffer any thing for justice’ sake, blessed are ye. And be not afraid of their fear, and be not troubled.”

The month of June is an apt time to make use of the month’s dedication and approach the Sacred Heart, using the principles laid out by St. Peter. They are firm, yet not overly severe; doctrinal, but not blind to the hardships faced in life. Ultimately, it boils down to developing the virtue of charity, for just as it is such pure as selfless love which fills the Sacred Heart, moved always by love of God, so it is love of God which must orient man’s actions on earth and so imitate the path established by the Sacred Heart.

As Dom Gueranger notes: “Union of true charity, concord and peace, which must, at every cost, be kept up as the condition for their being happy both now and forever,—such is the substance of the instructions addressed by Simon, now Peter, to those other chosen stones, which rest upon him, and constitute that august Temple to be presented by the Son of Man to the glory of the Most High.”

Sunday, 20 June 2021

The love of the Sacred Heart

Regular readers will have noted the absence of any post on this blog last Sunday. Many apologies for this unannounced break; normal service will now resume, with this below section from Dom Gueranger's writing on the feast of the Sacred Heart, since we are currently in the month of the Sacred Heart.

    At the period of Jesus’ coming upon this earth, man had forgotten how to love, for he had forgotten what true beauty was. His heart of flesh seemed to him as a sort of excuse for his false love of false goods: his heart was but an outlet, whereby his soul could stray from heavenly things to the husks of earth, there to waste his power and his substance. (Luke 15:13) To this material world, which the soul of man was intended to make subserve its Maker’s glory,—to this world, which, by a sad perversion, kept man’s soul a slave to his senses and passions,—the Holy Ghost sent a marvellous power, which, like a resistless lever, would replace the world in its right position:—it was the sacred Heart of Jesus; a Heart of flesh, like that of other human beings, from whose created throbbings there would ascend to the eternal Father an expression of love, which would be an homage infinitely pleasing to the infinite Majesty, because there was in that love of that human Heart the dignity of its union with the Word. 

    It is a harp of sweetest melody, that is ever vibrating under the touch of the Spirit of Love; it gathers up into its own music the music of all creation, whose imperfections it corrects, and supplies its deficiencies, and tunes all discordant voices into unity, and so offers to the glorious Trinity a hymn of perfect praise. The Trinity finds its delight in this Heart. It is the one only organum, as St. Gertrude calls it (Legatus divinæ pietatis; lib. ii. c. 23; lib. iii. c. 25.), the one only instrument which finds acceptance with the Most High. Through it must pass all the inflamed praises of the burning Seraphim, just as must do the humble homage paid to its God by inanimate creation. By it alone are to come upon this world the favors of heaven. It is the mystic ladder between man and God, the channel of all graces, the way whereby man ascends to God and God descends to man.

    The Holy Ghost, whose masterpiece it is, has made it a living image of himself; for although, in the ineffable relations of the divine Persons, he is not the source of love, he is its substantial expression, or, in theological language, the term; it is he who inclines the holy Trinity to those works outside itself, which first produce creatures, and then, having given them being (and to some, life), he (the Holy Spirit) pours out upon them all the effusion of their Creator’s love for them. And so is it with the love which the Man-God has for God and Man,—its direct and, so to say, material expression is the throbbing it produces upon his sacred Heart; and again, it is by that Heart that, like the Water and Blood which came from his wounded Side, he pours out upon the world a stream of redemption and grace, which is to be followed by the still richer one of glory.

    One of the soldiers, as the Gospel tells us, opened Jesus’ Side with a spear, and, immediately, there came out blood and water. (John 19:34) We must keep before us this text and the fact it relates, for they give us the true meaning of the Feast we are celebrating. The importance of the event here related is strongly intimated, by the earnest and solemn way in which St. John follows up his narration. After the words just quoted, he adds: And he that saw it, hath given testimony of it, and his testimony is true. And he knoweth that he saith true, that ye also may believe; for these things were done, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 19:35-36) Here the Gospel refers us to the testimony of the Prophet Zacharias, who, after predicting the Spirit of grace being poured out upon the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, (Zacharias 12:10) says: They shall look upon Him whom they pierced. (Zacharias as quoted by St John 19:37)

    And, when they look upon his side thus pierced what will they see there, but that great truth which is the summary of all Scripture—of all history:—God so loved the world, as to give it his Only Begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have eternal life. (John 3:16) This grant truth was, during the ages of expectation, veiled under types and figures; it could be deciphered by but few, and, even then, only obscurely; but it was made known with all possible clearness on that eventful day when, on Jordan’s banks, (Luke 3:21-22) the whole sacred Trinity manifested who was the Elect, the Chosen One, of the Father,—the Son in whom he was so well pleased. (Isaias 42:1) Yes, it was Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary: but there was another revelation, of deepest interest to us, which had still to be made: it was,—how, and in what way, would the eternal life brought by this Jesus into the world, pass from him into each one of us? 

    This second revelation was made to us, when the soldier’s spear opened the divine source, and there flowed from it that Water and Blood, which, as the Scripture tells us, completed the testimony of the Blessed Three. There are three, says St. John, who give testimony in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these Three are One. And there are three that give testimony on earth: the Spirit, and the Water, and the Blood: and these three are one, that is, they are one because they concur in giving the one same testimony. And this, continues St. John, is the testimony:—that God hath given to us eternal life, and that this life is in his Son. (John 5:7-8, 11) These words contain a very profound mystery; but we have their explanation in today’s Feast, which shows us how it is through the Heart of the Man-God that the divine work is achieved, and how, through that same Heart, the plan, which was conceived, from all eternity, by the Wisdom of the Father, has been realized.

    To communicate his own happiness to creatures, by making them, through the Holy Ghost, partakers of his own divine nature, (1 Peter 1:4) and members of his beloved Son,—this was the merciful design of the Father; and all the works of the Trinity, outside itself, tend to the accomplishment of that same. When the fullness of time had come, there appeared upon our earth He that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ,—not by water only, but by water and blood. The Spirit, who, together with the Father and the Son has already, on the banks of Jordan, given his testimony, gives it here again, for St. John continues: And it is the Spirit which testifieth, that Christ is the truth; and that he spoke the truth (1 john 5:6) when he said of himself, that he is Life. (John 5:26) Yes, the Spirit, as the Gospel teaches us, (John 7:37-39) comes forth with the water from the fountains of the Savior, (Isaias 12:3) and makes us worthy of the precious Blood, which flows together with the water. Then does mankind, thus born again of water and the Holy Ghost, become entitled to enter into the kingdom of God; (John 3:5) and the Church, thus made ready for her Spouse in those same waters of Baptism, is united to the Incarnate Word in the Blood of the sacred Mysteries. We, being members of that holy Church, have had the same union with Christ; we are bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh; (Genesis 2:23, Ephesians 5:30) we have received the power to be made adopted Sons of God, (John 1:12) and sharers, for all eternity, of the divine life, which He, the Son by nature, has in the bosom of the Father.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Sunday after Corpus Christi

 

In the happy days following Corpus Christi, the Church calls to mind the mysteries of the Sacred Species and the beauties of Holy Mass. It is a topic on which St. Jean-Marie Vianney writes on in his sermon for today, the second Sunday after Pentecost. He calls to mind the glorious nature of every Mass and the riches contained therein.

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    Why is it then, you are going to ask me, that we assist at so many Masses and yet we are always the same? Alas my dear brethren, it is because we are there in body but not in spirit and that rather our coming there completes our condemnation because of the bad dispositions with which assist. Alas! For all those badly heard Masses which, far from insuring our salvation, harden us the more. 

    When our Lord appears to St. Mechtilde, He said to her “Know this my child, that the saints will assist at the death of all those who have heard Mass devoutly, to help them to die well, to defend them against the temptations of the devil, and to offer their souls to My Father.”

    What wonderful happiness for us, my dear brethren, to be helped at this formidable moment by as many saints as we have heard Masses!

    No my dear children, we need never fear that the Mass hinders us in the fulfilment of our temporal affairs; t is altogether the other way around. We may b sure that all will go better and that even our business will success better than if we have the misfortune not to assist at Mass. 

    Here is a splendid example of that. It concerns two artisans who belonged to the same trade and who lived int eh same little town. One of them, who had a very large family and never missed Mass every day, lived very comfortably by his trade, but the other on the contrary, who had no family, worked all day and part of the night, and very often on the holy day of Sunday, and still had the greatest difficulty in the world in making ends meet. The latter, when he saw how well things were going for the other man, asked him on day when he met him how he managed to make enough to maintain so comfortably a family as large as his. Alas for himself, he said, although there were only his wife and himself and whenever stopped working, he was often short of everything. The other replied that if he so wished, he would show him the following day so that he might learn how to make his fortune. True to his word, his friend called for him. So there he was, setting off in great heart, and full of confidence, following his friend who brought him to church, where they heard Mass.

    When they came out the friend said, quite at his ease, “You can go back to your work now.” The same thing took place the following day, but on the third day, when the friend came to bring the unsuccessful artisan along to Mass, the latter objected. “What is this all about?,” he said. “If I want to go to Mass, I know the way without your taking the trouble to come and get me. That is not what I wanted to know, but the place where you find all the money that enables you to live so comfortably. I wanted to see whether, if I did the same as you, I could get something out of it too.”

    “My good friend,” said the other to him. “I do not know any other place than the church, and no other method than that of hearing Mass everyday of the week. I assure you that I have never used any other means to acquire the money which surprises you. But have you yourself not seen where Jesus Christ tells us in the Gospel to seek first the kingdom of God and that all the rest will be added unto us?”

    Are you surprised at this story my dear brethren? I am not. It is only what we see every day of our lives in those homes where there is some religion. Those who come often to holy Mass manage their affairs much better than those whose weak faith makes them think that they have no time for Mass. Alas, if only we put all our trust in God and relied on our own efforts for nothing, how much happier we should be than we are!

    Yes, you will tell me, but if we have nothing, no one is going to give us anything.

    What do you want God to give you when - as is shown by the fact that you do not give even the time to saying your morning and night prayers and that you are quite content to come to Mass once a week - you depend solely on your own efforts and not at all on Him? You have no knowledge of the resources of the providence of God for anyone who confides and trusts in Him. Do you want a more striking proof of this? It is before your eyes. Look at your pastor and examine his case in the light of God’s providence.

    Oh, you say, that is because people give to you.

    But who gives to me, unless it is the providence of God? That is the source of my treasures and nothing else. Alas, that man should be blind enough to worry and fret so much as to damn himself and yet be quite unhappy in this world. If you have the great happiness to think a lot about your salvation and to assist at Holy Mass as much as you can, you will soon see the proof of what I am telling you. 

Sunday, 30 May 2021

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.

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: 'O God, be merciful to me the sinner!'

(Publican humbly praying at the entry to the temple)        “O God, be merciful to me the sinner!” Such are the words of the rich publican, ...