Sunday, 28 March 2021

Palm Sunday - from palms to the cross.

Already Lent is racing towards its conclusion and towards Mount Calvary, but first Christ is to be welcomed by the crowds in Jerusalem on this Palm Sunday. “When the people heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they went forth to meet Him:With palm branches, cried out: Hosanna in the highest.” 

Dom Gueranger explains the events of this day in his Liturgical Year, noting the triumph of Christ in that very city where He was to lose his life for our salvation: 

“Thus did God, in His power over men’s hearts, procure a triumph for His Son, and in the very city which, a few days later, was to clamour for His Blood. This day was one of glory to our Jesus, and the holy Church would have us renew, each year, the memory of this triumph of the Man-God. Shortly after the birth of our Emmanuel, we saw the Magi coming from the extreme east, and looking in Jerusalem for the King of the Jews, to whom they intended offering their gifts and their adorations: but it is Jerusalem herself that now goes forth to meet this King. Each of these events is an acknowledgment of the kingship of Jesus; the first, from the Gentiles; the second, from the Jews. Both were to pay Him this regal homage, before He suffered His Passion.” 

“The inscription to be put upon the cross, by Pilate’s order, will express the kingly character of the Crucified: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Pilate, the Roman governor, the pagan, the base coward, has been unwittingly the fulfiller of a prophecy; and when the enemies of Jesus insist on the inscription being altered, Pilate will not deign to give them any answer but this: ‘What I have written, I have written.’ To-day, it is the Jews themselves that proclaim Jesus to be their King: they will soon be dispersed, in punishment for their revolt against the Son of David; but Jesus is King, and will be so for ever.” 

“Thus were literally verified the words spoken by the Archangel to Mary, when he announced to her the glories of the Child that was to be born of her: ‘The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David, His father; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.’ [St. Luke i. 32]. Jesus begins His reign upon the earth this very day; and though the first Israel is soon to disclaim His rule, a new Israel, formed from the faithful few of the old, shall rise up in every nation of the earth, and become the kingdom of Christ, a kingdom such as no mere earthly monarch ever coveted in his wildest fancies of ambition.”

Yet the cry of welcome is already hollow. Gueranger writes that “an enthusiastic reception is given to Him in the morning, He is proclaimed by the people as their King; but when the evening of that day comes on, there is not one of all those thousands to offer Him food or lodging.” 

The Man whom the people acclaim with shouts of joy and praise is soon to be the Man whom they condemn with shouts of anger and hatred. Their exaltation soon turns to rejection and scorn, their welcoming of Christ in such a kingly manner is to be dashed by their rejection of Him as if a common criminal. This is reflected in the liturgy of the day, as the chants and sacred texts which occur during the liturgical procession of palms are swiftly replaced by the solemn and sombre tones of those in the Mass, including of course, St. Matthew’s Passion. 

Yet whilst His enemies sought to thwart Him, to kill Him and thus scatter His followers, in their hatred of Truth they became servants of the father of lies. The father of lies cannot lead to victory nor truth. Thus, the death they inflicted upon Christ became in fact the path to life, as St. Paul notes in his Epistle: “Brethren: Have this in mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was by nature God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to, but emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave and being made like unto men.” 

St. Paul reminds us of how Christ desired to humble Himself and die for man, so that man might return to God through Him: “And appearing in the form of man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross. Therefore God also has exalted Him and has bestowed upon Him the Name that is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven, on earth and under the earth and every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.”

The crowds in Jerusalem hailed Christ as king, but already by evening their devotion had grown weak. By Friday, their devotion will have turned to hatred and lust for blood. The palms they lay down before Him today, offering a royal welcome, are turned to spitting and insults as they jeer Him along the way to the cross. But they, and many in the world still today, are unable to understand the truth of the Divine Kingship. The Jews offered palms, hoping for some earthly wonders, liberation from physical oppression, and when they did not find these things, they made Christ fall on His knees to them with their beatings, instead of kneeling before the King of Kings. The world today does likewise, seeking only comforts, luxury and freedom from all hardships: when they find not these things, then their anger towards God grows and they soon deny Him altogether.

The ignorance, their hatred and their sin, all of which moved them to clamour “crucify Him,” were meant to be their ultimate rejection of the one Whom they had rejected as King. Yet the cross became the throne of glory, whereon Christ performed a victory more glorious than any around Him could have dreamt of. 

The cross, that terrible instrument of the passion, became the noble instrument of salvation, and those faithful souls who follow Christ are thus more ready to bend their knee towards the crucified Lord, than were the Jews when welcoming Him with palms into the city. 

The worldly concept of glory cannot comprehend the mystery of the cross, and yet St. Paul tells us that it is precisely through the cross that glory comes. “He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross. Therefore God also has exalted Him.” 

This week of sorrows is one where we are called to enter deep into the mystery of the Redemption, contemplating on the passion and death of our Saviour. Still today, the cross is seen as something offensive, something which is to be removed from the public sphere, and is used as an insult against those who love the crucified Lord. So as the world continues its constant rejection of Christ on the cross, let the liturgy of this week serve to highlight the glory of the cross, and the beauty of Heaven which is only found through walking in the footsteps of Christ, along the royal road of the cross. 

Thursday, 25 March 2021

The Annunciation - Mary's joyful acceptance of the cross.

 It is very fitting that this year the feast of the Annunciation lies so close to Holy Week and Good Friday, for as regards Mary, the two are intimately connected. On the great day of her annunciation, Mary humbly accepted all that God asked of her, freely offering her fiat to the plan of God - namely, to become the Mother of God, the Mediatrix of graces, and the Co-Redemptrix. 

Mary’s fiat was characteristic of her union with Christ in His salvific mission: it was not given grudgingly, in annoyance, or lowly submission, but in ardent longing for the completion of the will of God and the salvation of man. As such, her response was one of perfect union with God, not merely submitting herself to His ordinances, but making His will her own. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.”

But nor was Mary accepting the will of God blindly, as if completely unaware of all that was asked of her. In her fiat she accepted each and every part of the joys and sorrows which were required of her, as Mother of God and Co-Redemptrix, knowing that such was in accordance with the will of God. In his work Mary in Doctrine, Father Emil Neubert comments on this aspect, noting that Mary gave her willing response to the angelic messenger in full knowledge of what it meant for her: “In answering she shows to what she is engaging herself. She gives her consent to this motherhood and to all that her Son’s mission will include.”

Indeed, Fr. Neubert notes that from the very moment “that she pronounced her fiat, Mary was already in truth the co-operatrix of Christ in the work of our Redemption.” This acceptance of the Mother of God is whole and entire, it is necessarily an acceptance of the motherly mission to be Co-Redemptrix. It is a joyful cry of obedient unison to the will of God.

On this feast, salvation history hinges, for on this day Mary accepted to become the mother of God, who was that day made incarnate, and joyfully became co-operator in His work. Her fiat led to the Incarnation, and ultimately to redemption. Thus writes St. Alphonsus Ligouri in his sermon for the feast of the Annunciation: “O admirable answer, which rejoiced heaven, and brought an immense treasure of good things to the world. Answer which drew the only-begotten Son from the bosom of His eternal Father into this world to become man; for these words had hardly fallen from the lips of Mary before ‘the Word was made flesh,’ the Son of God became also the Son of Mary.”

Mary’s answer is an act of perfect humility, not seeking to draw honour or attention to herself, but wishing only to perform the will of God. It is in this way that those few words which she utters truly shed light upon the mystery of Mary’s life and her co-operation with her Son. “Wholly annihilated within herself, yet all inflamed at the same time by the ardour of her desire to uniter herself thus still more closely with God, and abandoning herself entirely to the Divine will, she replies, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord’.”

With this humble union with the Divine Will, comes the acceptance of the great sufferings which are requested of her as Mother of God and Co-Redemptrix. Mary is not ignorant of these either, and makes no hesitation in accepting these with a joyful heart. From this instant of the Annunciation, her life becomes one which is devoted to the workings of the salvation, not motivated by visions of self-glory, but by acts of sacrificial love. The torments which lie before her, she views as blessings from God, firstly because they are in accord with His will, and also because they allow her to immolate herself with her Son in the work of Redemption. 

St. Bernard writes beautifully in his sermon for the Assumption, referring to the depth of sorrow which the Blessed Virgin endured with Christ: “One can well say, indeed, that a sword pierced your heart, o blessed Mother, for it was only through your heart that it could penetrate the flesh of your Son…His pain, like a violent sword, has thus passed through your heart, and we can call you, with reason, more than a martyr, since in you the sense of compassion has prevailed so strongly over that passion endured by the body.”

The life of Mary cannot be understood without this reference to the cross. It was precisely for this salvific action that Christ came upon the earth, to pay the price for man’s sin, and Mary joins Him in this, as she does in every part of His life. In fact, Mary’s co-operation in Redemption stems from, and is a necessary part, of her motherhood. Fr. Neubert teaches that “Mary’s co-operation in our salvation gives a special orientation to our cult of her. Without that co-operation Mary would not be truly, or at least not completely, a mother.” Out of love for God, love for her Divine Son, and love for her children, Mary gives herself entirely so that she might also empty herself on the altar of the cross. 

The teaching of Mary as Co-Redemptrix has been a constant and rich tradition, dating back to the early fathers of the Church, and most recently proclaimed by Popes from the last century, such as St. Pius X, Benedict XV and Pius XI. Yet perhaps the most profound description of the reality of Mary’s Co-Redemption comes from St. Bonaventure: “there was but one altar - that of the cross of the Son, on which, together with this Divine Lamb, the victim, the Mother was also sacrificed; …O Lady, where are thou? near the cross? Nay, rather, thou art on the cross, crucified, sacrificing thyself with thy Son.”

St. Alphonsus’s great work, The Glories of Mary, is a veritable wealth of Co-Redemptive theology, as the doctor of the Church describes the intimate union between mother and Son, and how her co-operation in no way detracts from His salvific action, but is subordinated and joined to His. “Mary, then, having by the merit of her sorrows, and by sacrificing her Son, become the Mother of all the redeemed, it is right to believe that through her hands Divine graces, and the means to obtain eternal life, which are the fruits of the merits of Jesus Christ, are given to men.”

St. Alphonsus cements the teaching by presenting an image of Calvary, urging his readers to dwell upon it in the run up to the Passion: “To show the sufferings endured by other martyrs, they are represented with the instruments of their torture…Mary is represented with her dead Son in her arms; for He alone was the instrument of her martyrdom, and compassion for Him made her the Queen of martyrs.”

On this feast of the Annunciation then, it falls to Catholics around the world to rejoice for the humility and self-sacrifice which moved Mary at all times. On this day she joined her will to God’s: on this day she humbly accepted to be the Mother of God, and joyfully welcomed the immense sorrows which were asked of her as Co-Redemptrix.

Indeed, this year there is another providential alignment of dates, for on the Friday before Good Friday, Holy Mother Church commemorates the feast of the ‘Compassion of Our Lady,’ instituted in 1482, and later moved to the Friday before Palm Sunday by Pope Benedict XIII. Just days before dwelling on the Redemption and Co-Redemption on Good Friday, the Church urges Her children to consider the sorrowful compassion of Mary, in an effort to nurture devotion to the Mother of God.

In a year marked by prolonged, forced absences from Churches, due to their enforced and unjust closure, it is particularly fitting that the great feast of the Annunciation is closely followed by the Compassion of Our Lady, and soon followed by the day of the passion and death of Christ, so that meditating on the sorrows of Mary can console and strengthen those of her children sorely afflicted.

The feast of the Annunciation summarises Mary’s entire life - leading her children to God, by faithful uniting her will to His and joyfully accepting the sufferings for which He asks.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

Passion Sunday - the Friends of the Cross.

 Passion Sunday - with veiled statues and images, the long fortnight leading up to Good Friday and Easter, thus begins. The purple vestments, worn since the start of Septuagesima, seem to have been here for so long, and now when Lenten resolve might well be dwindling, the statues and images in our churches and home are hidden, in yet another effort to redouble the Lenten sacrifice. The small consolation which one might gain from gazing up at these statues is thus deprived from pious souls in these final two weeks, as the focus turns ever more towards the cross.

As expected, the Mass texts follow this pattern of focus on the upcoming passion, and the Gospel depicts scenes far less pleasant than last week. Instead, St. John records the anger of the Jews at the teaching of Christ, and His words revealing Himself to be God: “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I am.” The evangelist records that at that moment, the Jews “took up stones to cast at Him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out from the temple.” All of a sudden, the reality of the passion and death are very much more real, as indeed they should be, for Holy Week is but days away. The anger and hatred which Christ incurs by revealing the Word of God is closely followed by the lust for His blood which stemmed from that hatred. The enemies of Christ begin their plots to kill Him, consumed only with hatred and a shortsighted desire for instant revenge. 

These scenes are presented every year, and perhaps every year it is all too easy to allow them to pass by without giving proper thought to them. The crucifixion is so familiar, the resurrection closely following Good Friday is but the passage of time, and nothing more - at least, so it often feels if one is not paying attention to the liturgy. In a sense then, this season of redoubled efforts in Lent, this Passiontide, is a means given by the Church to refocus ourselves on the mysteries which are about to unfold in a few days. If Lent has been a season of poor adherence to one’s penances, then let the next fortnight be a firm preparation for Good Friday and Easter. The joys and celebrations of the Paschaltide are close at hand, and upon arrival they can easily make one forget the cross. 

Can it be then, that one could pass through the entirety of Septuagesima, Lent and Passiontide, without properly meditating and praying on the cross? It is very easy for such to happen, but in order to for it not to be so, it is useful to turn to the words of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort as found in his beautiful Letter to the Friends of the Cross. This short work is but a few pages long, and makes for excellent meditation for these final days of Lent. His words provide a focus in the run up to Holy Week, allowing one to embrace the sacrifices and penances imposed, in order to gladly join in the sufferings of the cross:

“To suffer forever, without merit, without mercy, and without end - Do we think of this, my dear brothers and sisters, when we have to suffer some trial in this world? How fortunate we are to be able to exchange a never-ending and unprofitable punishment for a temporary and rewarding one just buy bearing our cross with patience! How many of our debts are still unpaid! How many sins have we committed which, despite a sincere confession and heartfelt contrition, will have to be atoned for in purgatory for many years, simply because in this world we contented ourselves with a few slight penances!”

“Ah, let us settle our debts with good grace in this life by cheerfully carrying our cross.”

With such words, the great Marian saint presents Lenten penance as a joy, an honour, and a necessary means of salvation. He posits the awful thought of hell in one’s mind, that place of eternal suffering without respite or purpose, or even the presence of God, and then contrasts it with the voluntary and happy sufferings which one encounters in this life as a way to atone for sin. Such is the true spirit of Lent, not a time when hardships are simply endured but not loved, but instead a time when such sufferings are joyfully accepted - even sought - so as to die a little more to self, and to imitate Christ on the cross ever more closely. 

“And this is why He is mediator of a new covenant, that whereas a death has taken place for redemption from the transgressions committed under the former covenant, they who have been called may receive eternal inheritance according to the promise, in Christ Jesus our Lord.” With these words St. Paul closes today’s Epistle, providing the background for St. Louis-Marie’s words. Christ has died for us, as will be dwelt on increasingly so in Holy Week. Yet He calls each man to do likewise, to take up the cross and follow Him, which necessarily involves following Him to death. This does not have to mean physical death, although for many around the world it does and might swiftly be the case even in the Western world, but primarily means a death to self. Abandoning self-will, that most precious of all belongings, is necessary in order to heed the divine call. As St. Louis-Marie writes: “Friends of the Cross, do you not flatter yourselves that you are, or desire to become, the friends of God? Well then, resolve to drink the cup that you must drink in order to become his friends.” 

With each line, the great saint unravels the mystery of Lent ever more. It is in fact an honour to be able to emulate Christ in suffering, sorrowing, dying, because by doing so one thus drinks the cup which He drunk. As St. Paul writes, those who receive eternal life do so “in Christ Jesus our Lord” and this is done by drinking the cup which is handed to each soul from the cross. It is “by virtue of His own blood,” writes St. Paul, that Christ wins our salvation, and it through a similar total gift of self that one follows Him to the cross, which is not a punishment but rather a joy.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Fourth Sunday of Lent - children of the free woman.

Todays Epistle presents the account of Abraham having two sons, one by a bondwoman and another by a free woman. The child of the free woman is described by St. Paul as being an allegory of those in the Church. Those who are born of the freewoman, are pointed to salvation, since Christ has freed mankind from the slavery of sin by the death on the cross, which was promised. The Old Covenant, signified by the bondwoman, has been replaced by the New, signified by the free woman. Christ teaches and brings about the New Covenant, sealing it with His blood on the cross and thus liberating man from oppression. 

But traditionally this passage has also been used to point to Our Lady, as exegetes have described how the children of Mary are like those of the freewoman - being children of promise who are directed in the paths of salvation by the heavenly mother. She joins her Son in the sacrifice of the New Covenant, paying the price for sinful man. She becomes the Co-Redemptrix alongside, but subordinate to, the Redeemer. The text also marries with the warning God gave to the devil in Genesis. He declared that the seed of "the woman" will "crush thy head" and that there shall be enmities between the devil and Mary. In the Epistle, St. Paul echoes this, and repeats this Mariological theme: "Cast out the bondwoman and her son; for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman." 

Before beginning the final few weeks of Lent, when ones thoughts will turn increasingly to dwelling on the mystery of the passion, and Marys co-operation in it, todays Mass texts provide an opportunity to examine some of the Scriptural passages pertaining to Mary as Co-Redemptrix.

The first reference to Mary in Sacred Scripture contains a wealth of Mariological truths, but especially presents Our Lady as Co-Redemptrix. Genesis 3:15 reads, “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel”. This passage places Mary in direct opposition to the devil and not merely in a passive manner. It specifically states that she will crush the head of the devil, that she and her seed will be united in their fight against satan. This passage is the basis for all consequent Marian study and presents Mary not only as the Mother of God but also as intimately linked with Him in the process of redemption. Indeed, the Fathers of the Church draw greatly upon this passage in their teaching on Mary as the New Eve. The use of the word ‘woman’ here is crucial, for it is used to tie together the other appearances of Mary in the New Testament: at the wedding of Cana, at the foot of the Cross and as the woman clothed with the sun in the Apocalypse.

By referring to Mary under the appellation ‘woman’, Christ does not act in a derogatory manner, but rather is speaking thus “in the exercise of His divine dignity and mission”. When Mary is styled as ‘woman’ it is in the most beautiful and crucial passages relating to salvation, particularly in the protoevangelium and at the foot of the cross. ‘Woman’ denotes the passages of Marian Co-Redemption in Scripture. This is the case at the wedding feast of Cana, where Mary is responsible for calling to her Son’s attention the need for wine at the celebration and Christ addresses her under the title “Woman”. It is truly fitting that she should be so linked to Him in this very first of His public miracles, for it teaches man about the proper relation which exists between the Mother and her Son. John 2:5 recounts Mary advising the servants that “Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye”. This act is very much part of Mary’s Co-Redemptive mission as enacted throughout her life: she sees the problem and then brings those servants to Christ. In like manner she brings her sinful children to Christ, aware that only His death on the cross can save man from sin. But she is always united to Him in this saving act, in a subordinate role.

In the Gospel of St. Luke, one dwells upon the account of the Annunciation. At the very moment of her word of acceptance, ‘fiat’, Mary united her will completely to the Divine, consenting and willing “all that her Son’s mission will include”. Mary studied the scriptures and knew the words of Isaiah, “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel”. Mary replied in humble acceptance of the angel’s greeting, (Luke 1:38) aware of the true weight of her fiat. Indeed, from this moment “that she pronounced her fiat, Mary was already in truth the co-operatrix of Christ in the work of our Redemption”. This acceptance of the Mother of God is whole and entire, it is necessarily an acceptance of the motherly mission to be Co-Redemptrix. It is a joyful cry of obedient unison to the will of God.

Of course the most poignant appearance of the Blessed Mother in the New Testament is at the foot of the cross. John describes Calvary thus: “There stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: ‘Woman, behold thy son’ ”. Her position beside the cross is one of suffering and offering. Christ styles her as ‘woman’, evoking the words of Genesis 3:15; here she is crushing the devil’s head and her seed is performing the salvific and redemptive death. This use of ‘woman’ denotes Our Lady in her role as Co-Redemtrix, fulfilling the words by which she and her Son were promised in Genesis. Mary’s position at the foot of the cross is the climax of her Motherly role, for she unites herself so completely to the Divine will that she abnegates her natural desire for Christ’s life and wills His salvific death. Thus she has the dual sorrow of witnessing Him in death, whilst lovingly willing Him to die in order that He might conquer sin.

Sunday, 7 March 2021

Third Sunday of Lent - Spiritual infancy

 With another Sunday in Lent, comes another exhortation from St. Paul about the spiritual life. Each line of the Epistle contains a wealth of teaching, as he presents the grounding principles of spirituality in just a short space of time. As if to summarise his teaching even further, Paul opens with a line which portrays the nature of the spiritual life, as it should most properly be lived: “Be ye therefore followers of God, as most dear children.”

    This style of spiritual childhood is a sure way by which to develop some key principles which the saints encourage - namely the fight against concupiscence, a knowledge of God and self, and the practice of the presence of God. By the very nature of allowing oneself to be guided in the spiritual life in the manner of a child, humility along with a deeper knowledge of God and self, comes more naturally. A child needs direction, instruction, prompting and correction, and all this is necessary too in the spiritual life. Adopting the practice of approaching God with a childlike trust and willing obedience, opens one to thus being guided in the way of perfection, instead of perhaps ignoring the Divine Wisdom. 

    This practice also allows one to develop a proper understanding both of self and of God, learning one’s own weaknesses and God’s omnipotence. When working with two materials, a scientist must first know the various properties and how they will interact with each other. In like manner, since the spiritual life is a sharing in God’s life, we must seek to know God and ourselves. Knowing God leads us to love Him and to deny ourselves for love of Him. Knowing ourselves leads us to realise the wonders of God’s majesty, as well as the utter dependance which we have upon Him and the humble nature of our sinful state.

    It is with this in mind that St. Paul counsels on how to best conform oneself to God, after having approached Him in the manner of a child. “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks. For know you this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean, or covetous person (which is a serving of idols), hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”

    Spiritual childhood involves not just a childlike abandoning of self to God, but also an adoption of childlike innocence, in order that one might adhere to the words of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.” It is surely somewhat of this Gospel passage which the apostle has in mind when writing and directing that souls seeking God must do so purely. A heart divided between things of the world and things of God is unable to flourish, and soon the temptations which surround one may prove too great. Yet St. Paul urges that one who choose such a lifestyle forfeits his inheritance before God.

    In the season of Lent, the Church thus presents this passage, from which two principal themes can be drawn. One is that the lines presented for use in the Epistle serve as a handy guide sheet for the spiritual life. They are ready to be printed out and carried around, so that one always has them to hand. 

    But another theme which can be drawn is that of the threefold struggle against the flesh, the world and the devil. This is clearly alluded to by St. Paul, and it is this which is one of the key struggles during the Lenten season. 

    As the plight of mankind throughout time can attest to, each of the senses can be a gateway to temptation and sin. Be it by sight, smell, touch, taste, or hearing, the rebellion in the natural order leaves us weak and vulnerable to the temptations which arise from our surroundings. Christ warns of this inherent danger: “if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome”. (Matt 6:23) St. Augustine reflects at length on this rebellion of the passions towards the end of his Confessions, praying that he might be “freed from the hold of concupiscence: so that it may not be in revolt against itself”. The remedy for this weakness is of course mortification of the senses. Just as the plants are pruned in order to produce more abundant and healthier fruit, so the the devout soul must mortify itself in order to produce the fruit of a flourishing spiritual life. Christ gives us the sword of self-mortification “and He wishes that they should make use of it against themselves, in that circumcision of the heart which mortifies without pity all the inclinations of corrupt nature, even to finally putting it to death.” (Fr Grou - Manual for Interior Souls)

    Outside of the temptations arising from one’s senses, are those stemming from the world. The ‘world’ which the faithful are called to fight against is not the creation of God, but the conglomeration of all those who reject Christ and place themselves above Him. The spiritual authors denote four such categories of people - unbelievers, the indifferent, hardened sinners and the worldly. The world proposes its alternative values and commandments which are contrary to those of the law of God. It is imbued with a spirit which is completely contrary to the spirit of God and of the Gospel. Those things which all faithful children of God must fight against, temptations of the senses and the love of money, the world proposes as desirable and maligns as peculiar those, who disagree with it.

    As a remedy and defence against the world, faithful souls should recall that all is but a short time in comparison to eternity with God. God does not permit us to be tested more than we are given graces to cope with, and hence all the suffering which we must bear is given so that we might purify ourselves and merit one day to attain sanctity and dwell with God. We must be content to be at war with the world, for the apostle tells us, “if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ”. (Gal 1:10)

    Finally, then, one must make war against those temptations which have their origin with the devil. God permits such actions of the devil in order that we might be purified and grow in sanctity, though not that this thought should lead to nonchalance about temptations. The devil seeks to influence the exterior and interior senses, to effect an indirect action upon the human will, seeking to gain the assent of the will through the movements and desires of the appetites. However, whilst the devil may present an evil action as good in some way, he is never able to completely cloud our reason or free will, and hence we are responsible for each sin. 

    The proper remedies against the attacks of the devil might well be summarised as the faithful practice of the spiritual life and a love of God. Indeed, this it what St. Paul recommends in today’s text “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness.” Hence, we must be faithful to our prayer, worthily receive the sacraments as frequently as possible, and develop a firm trust in God and hatred of sin. The Gospels teach about the importance of prayer in such times: “pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak”. (Matt 26:41)

    The lines of Scripture following the passage used in the Epistle, support this remedy for temptation: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father.”

    Hence, by adopting the manner of a child before God in the spiritual life, one is able to better understand his own faults, and the perfection of God. This is not to say that he will be spared from all trials and tribulations, indeed the threefold attacks will surely come to all seeking to advance in the spiritual life. But St. Paul presents the means by which one can rebuff these attacks, outlining the principles of the spiritual life, and urging souls to “Walk then as children of the light. For the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and justice, and truth.”

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost: Imitate St Paul to effect the reign of Christ the King

  Dom Gueranger writes in his commentary for the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, that the Mass has references to the “days of the anti...