Saturday, September 26, 2009
The tendency in modern times even in regard to spiritual projects, is to try and draw attention and admiration. Perhaps this is why these projects are so often unsuccessful. Like the seed thrown by the sower upon the hard ground, they wither away because they have no moisture (Cf. Luke 8:6). Without humility a great deal of noise can be made, but nothing supernatural is achieved. The first lesson we must learn from Jesus is the silence and recollection of the interior life.
2. Jesus chose to be an ordinary workman. He had power over the angels of Heaven, over the sun and stars of the firmament, over the waves of the ocean and over all the elements. By a single act of His divine will He could multiply loaves and change water into wine. Yet He elected to earn His living by the sweat of His brow. In His times the artisan was held in low esteem and was very often a slave. Manual labor was regarded as sordid and undignified. Christ wished to sanctify manual work by His own toil. He wished to teach men that in the eyes of God the hoe is as valuable as the pen. There is no difference between driving a plough and wielding a sceptre as long as a man is fulfilling his duty for the love of God. The only thing in this regard which is displeasing to God is laziness and inactivity. Anyone who leads an idle life at the expense of others is breaking God's law, which commands everybody to work. Let us follow the example of Jesus the worker. Let us avoid idleness, which is the father of vices and is opposed to the command of God (Cf. Gen. 3:19; 2 Thess. 3:10). Let nobody claim that there is no need for him to work because he has enough money to last him all his life. There was far less need for Jesus to work in order to live, yet He chose to work as an ordinary labourer. If we do not have to work for our own sakes, let us reflect on how much need there is for us to work for others and for the glory of God. If justice does not compel us, charity does. It makes very little difference whether a man goes to hell for lack of justice or for lack of charity.
3. There are many who complain that their work is degrading or heavy or unsatisfying. This is an indication that they are working for themselves rather than for God. We should sanctify our work by prayer. We should meditate on the example of Jesus and remember that there are many sins for which we must make reparation. If we offer our work to God, it will not only become meritorious, but much easier. To work purely for profit is avarice, to work for the good opinion and praise of others is vanity; and to work in order to pass the time is a waste of time. The perfect Christian approach to work in order to do our duty, to please God, to atone for our sins and to gain Heaven.
Friday, September 25, 2009
2. Obedience is an universal rule, without which there could be no harmony in the world. All creatures obey the laws of nature laid down by their Creator. The sun rises in the east, moves along its accustomed path everyday and every season, and sets in the west. The stars never leave the orbit arranged for them by the hand of God. The waves of the sea toss about when disturbed by the strength of the wind, but they fall back again without ever crossing the boundaries which God has set for them. Man alone dares to rebel against his Creator and against those who represent God on earth. Man alone dares to repeat the blasphemous cry of Satan: "I will not serve!" Remember the example which Jesus has given to us. Although He is God, the lord and master of heaven and earth, He condescends to obey Mary and Joseph, two creatures incapable of achieving anything without Him. He was subject to them (Luke 2:51). Let us learn from Him how to obey willingly and humbly. Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart (Mt. 11:29).
3. It is easier to practice the virtue of obedience when we remember that all power comes from God. Then we can see Him in those who have authority over us. This will prevent us obeying orders from secondary motives, such as the desire to please men or to avoid punishment. We shall be able to obey solely for the purpose of doing our duty and pleasing God. Many think that it is easier to command than to obey. They are mistaken. Anyone in authority has grave responsibility before God and men and can sin seriously as well. The man who is obedient to his lawful superiors in the name of God, however, can never go wrong. Reflect on the following exhortation of St. Paul, which still holds good in our times. Slaves, obey your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling in the sincerity of your heart, as you would Christ; not serving to the eye as pleasers of men, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart, giving your service with good will as to the Lord and not to men, in the knowledge that whatever good each does, the same he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is slave or freeman. And you, masters, do the same towards them, and give up threatening, knowing that their Lord who is also your Lord is in Heaven, and that with him there is no respect of persons (Eph. 6:5-9).
Thursday, September 24, 2009
We do not wish to speak slightingly of knowledge. It is a gift from God, Who has given us our intellects to know the truth. But truth, like every created thing, comes from God and should lead us back to God. It is the same with knowledge. If we investigate the secrets of nature and do not make of them a ladder which helps us to climb towards our Creator, we turn the natural order upside down and inevitably fall backwards. We can gain by our labours a mastery over the hidden forces of nature. If we do not use them to benefit humanity, but to destroy those of our brothers whom we call our enemies, we are worse than Cain. Science which does not serve goodness is worse than barbarism. The latter has very few instruments of destruction at its disposal. When science rebels against sound idealism, however, and makes itself absolute, it can destroy all that we have inherited of beauty and goodness throughout the centuries.
2. The supremacy of goodness over knowledge has to be admitted in practice as well as in theory. It is useless and even harmful for us to be courageous if we are not also good. Very often knowledge is like a weapon in the hands of a child. If the child is naughty or careless he can do a great deal of damage with the weapon. Before everything else we must be good. We must have that Christian goodness which embraces all the virtues and culminates in the love of God and of our neighbour. Once we have acquired this goodness, science will benefit by it. It will become a powerful means of enlightenment rather than of destruction. It will no longer be mere knowledge; it will be wisdom. It will teach us how to live and show us our proper destination. In short, it will become an instrument of virtue which will contribute enormously to the welfare of the human race.
3. Science is too easily glorified today. But knowledge for the sake of knowledge does not lead us to God and is very often stupidity or worse. It can be an instrument of evil and of physical and spiritual destruction. This is why St. Paul wrote: Let no one rate himself more than he ought, but let him rate himself according to moderation, and according as God has apportioned to each one the measure of faith (Rom. 12:3). Knowledge puffs up, he said, but charity edifies (1 Cor. 8:1).
"The humble knowledge of oneself," The Imitation of Christ tells us, "is a surer way to God than deep researches after science. Knowledge is not to be blamed...but a good conscience and a virtuous life are always to be preferred. But because many take more pains to be learned than to lead good lives, therefore they often go astray" (Bk. 1, Ch. 3). So let us learn everything which our position in life requires of us, and as much besides as we are able. But above all let us learn to be good and holy. If we fail in this, the rest is useless and dangerous.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
One might say that St. Thomas was raised up by God, for he gathered together the whole of human knowledge up to his own time and interpreted it in the new light of Christianity. He ordered it into a complete, compact body of philosophical and theological doctrine to serve as an impregnable defence against the errors of his own and later times. In spite of his greatness, however, Thomas of Aquin was a very humble man. There is a good deal of truth in Pascal's remark that little knowledge makes the mind proud, but real wisdom makes it humble. We cannot all imitate the knowledge of St. Thomas, but we should imitate his humility.
2. Thomas of Aquin was a wealthy nobleman of great intelligence. A brilliant future seemed to lie before him. But he answered the inspiration which called him to a life of Christian perfection in the Order of St. Dominic. This divine vocation encountered serious obstacles. His mother and brothers opposed it. The latter went as far as capturing him beside a woman whoh tempted him to sin against holy purity. But it was all useless. He chased away the temptress with a blazing torch. Then he knelt before a cross outlined upon the wall and as he was praying fervently he experienced such wonderful peace that it seemed like a foretaste of Heaven. From that day he was never again tried by temptations of the flesh. He was like an angel in human form.
Do we wish to share even a little in these rewards? Let us listen to the good inspirations which God gives us. Like St. Thomas, let us be ready to make any sacrifice rather than offend God. Let us be prepared to work earnestly to acquire the virtues proper to our state in life.
3. St. Thomas was not only a tireless student, but a man of unceasing prayer. He was accustomed to say that anything he ever learned was the result of prayer rather than study. In any case, as far as he was concerned, study and any other activity was a prayer. No matter what he was doing, his mind was absorbed with God. He died when he was about fifty years of age, but he was able to leave behind a masterpiece of human and divine wisdom which has probably never been surpassed.
Everything which is good and beautiful comes from God. Even though our stature is far less than that of St. Thomas, we must constantly nourish our desires and intentions with prayer and focus them on good objects.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
2. Some people picture the Saints as grim and austere men, shut away in the ivory tower of their own sanctity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Admittedly, there were some who practised austerities and penances which would astonish and frighten many of us today. Even in the midst of the voluntary acts of mortification, however, they were full of holy joy. They no longer craved for anything in this world; they desired Heaven alone. It is said that St. Romuald's countenance was always so radiantly cheerful that anyone who looked at him felt happy. The gaiety of St. Philip Neri and many others has become a well-known legend. Heaven was already in their hearts. We cannot all arrive at such a height of sanctity, but we can and must avoid vain and sinful pleasures and search for the real happiness which comes from a good life.
3. There is a story told about St. Francis of Assisi and another brother who were approaching a monastery after a long journey. They were tired and hungry and it was late. "When we arrive at the monastery and knock at the door, the porter may not recognise us," St. Francis said to his companion. "He may send us away with hard woods under the impression that we are a pair of thieves. If that happens, we shall be made to look ridiculous and shall have neither food nor lodging for the night...That would be pure joy. I'm telling you!" Naturally, it woud be impossible for everyone to become quite as detached as this from worldly things. But we should all have that confidence in God which gives peace and spiritual contentment during the trials of life. The joy of Christian resignation is the knowledge that everything we suffer for the love of God helps us to merit Heaven.
Monday, September 21, 2009
2. Perhaps we complain at times about the humiliations which we have to endure and the temptations which we have to overcome. But this is the prolonged martyrdom of a virtuous life. The kingdom of heaven, Jesus tells us, has been enduring violent assault and the violent have been seizing it by force (Mt. 11:12). We must struggle against ourselves and our evil inclinations in order to gain the kingdom of Heaven. Only those who fight can conquer. St. Paul says that nobody can win the crown of victory unless he has fought valiantly. One who enters a contest is not crowned unless he has competed according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5). So let us resign ourselves willingly to the lengthy martyrdom of a good life. If we do, our martyrdom will prove easy and acceptable. We shall trust in God and shall be comforted by the thought of the crown which awaits us.
3. Those who go the way of worldly vanity and vice endure a martyrdom in any case. There is no doubt that their martyrdom is even more painful. Worldly pleasure is like a gilded cup which has a little honey on the rim but when it is drained leaves behind a bitter taste. St. Augustine says that God has ruled from all eternity that a disordered soul will be its own punishment. Sacrifice which demands heroic virtue leaves God's peace in the soul. Those sacrifices, on the other hand, which are demanded by a worldly life and excessive pleasures are a martyrdom which brings no reward and no happiness. Since either way we must undergo a martyrdom in this life, let us choose the sweet martyrdom of virtue. Our reward will be in Heaven.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Speech is an extraordinary gift, and one day we shall have to render God a strict account of it. Learn from the Saints. They understood perfectly that they would have to account not only for evil or deceitful words, but that of every idle word men speak, they shall give account on the day of judgment (Mt. 12:36). For this reason their conversation was always impregnated with divine wisdom. By their instruction and advice they raised men's minds to an appreciation of heavenly truths and encouraged them to practice virtue. They did this not only by word, but also by example. Their own lives were a complete theoretical and practical model which led others to sanctity.
2. Sacred Scripture says of Jesus that he did and taught (Acts 1:1). We should reflect on these words. Very often we come across thinkers who teach but do nothing. Sometimes they even act contrary to their own precepts, and then their work is futile and harmful. Many unfortunate young men are the victims of false ideas and bad examples of their teachers. It was not so with Jesus, nor was it so with the Saints, His faithful followers. We can learn much from their writings, and still more from their example. For this reason we should read about their lives. People read so many books and reviews which teach them nothing, and many others which arouse their lower instincts and smother their high ideals. A good Christian should read The Lives of the Saints as well as those books which it is his duty to know. The highest and most useful school of learning for a sincere Christian is the reading of the Gospel and The Lives of the Saints.
3. If we read The Lives of the Saints, we cannot fail to be inspired by their example. We shall learn the burning love of God from the missionary zeal of St. Paul, who feels that he himself has ceased to live, but that Jesus Christ lives in him. We shall learn detachment from worldly things and the love of holy poverty from St. Francis of Assisi. We shall learn from St. Theresa and St. Philip Neri to love God alone, and from St. Francis de Sales peace of mind in the midst of misfortune. We shall learn to love purity more than life itself from St. Aloysius Gonzaga and St. Maria Goretti. We can learn so many good and beautiful things from the lives of those whom the Church has elevated to her Altars. Let us read these lives with humility and devotion. We shall be happier and better as a result of our reading.
3. Another vision will confront us also in that final hour. Our frightened minds will see again all those hours which we have misused in sin. The devil will try be every means in his power to repaint them in our troubled imagination. He will do his best to lead us into despair, even as he tempted Judas and many other sinners before us. We know well that the mercy of God is infinite, and that it remains infinite at the hour of death. But we know also that His justice is no less infinite. Since God has granted us so much time in which He called us to repentance and to a life of virtue, it could happen that at the point of death He will put an end to the mercy and to the favours which He has shown us and which we have disregarded. What will become of us then? Remember that only of the two thieves was converted. The other died unrepentant on his cross, even though he was hanging by the side of Jesus. Reflect and make provision while there is still time. While we have time, let us do good (Gal. 6:10). We shall be unable to do anything about it afterwards.
Friday, February 27, 2009
This kind of langour is not always sinful, however. Sometimes God permits dryness of spirit to test our humility and to make us understand that without Him we are capable of nothing. Saints like St. Theresa and St. Francis de Sales were tried by spiritual aridity. In such cases the only remedy is to be patient and humble and to trust in God. We must ask God to let us die rather than be separated from Him, and to restore to us our former fervent love for Him.
2. Sometimes this state of ineptitude is the result of pride. We are too fond of ourselves. We seek to satisfy ourselves in everything and therefore God abandons us. Whoever seeks God finds Him. Whoever seeks his own ends finds disillusionment and emptiness. God abandons him and allows him to fall humiliatingly in punishment for his pride and self-confidence. St. Peter is an example of this. God withholds spiritual consolations fom the arrogant soul. If our state of tepidity is the result of pride, let us humble ourselves before God. Let us implore Him to deprive us of all worldly consolation rather than of His friendship.
3. More often this langour and inertia is caused by our neglect of the means necessary to preserve our spiritual life. We begin by omitting the prayers and penances which it is our duty to to perform and by postponing Confession and Communion. Without frequent Confession our sins increase like noxious weeds which stifle the good grain. Without Holy Communion we lack the protection and grace of God. Let us examine ourselves and make good resolutions. Fervour of soul, the love of God and a strong and effective inclination to virtue cannot be attributed purely to ourselves. They are the result of God's grace, for which we should pray without ceasing.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
2. The need for a lay apostolate has grown tremendously in our day. The scarcity of priests is not the only reason for this. It is true that their numbers are entirely inadequate in many places to meet the spiritual needs of the people. But there is the additional factor that certain spheres cannot easily be penetrated by the clergy. There are many people who never even enter a church. They never have any contact with the priest, who finds it difficult to approach them. He needs a "long arm" which will bear the light where he cannot carry it himself. The lay apostolate can be this "long arm". Catholic workmen can do an amount of good among their fellow workers by word and by example. So can teachers, clerks, doctors, journalists, and the rest. This kind of environmental apostolate is very valuable today. It must be built up into a system of blood-vessels which will carry the stream of Christian life from its heart, which is the priesthood, to the farther extremities of society. Let Christian laymen recognise that this is an honourable vocation which they have received, for it is a participation in the priestly office. Everyone should feel summoned to do everything possible in his own environment to lead souls to Christ.
3. Spiritual formation is necessary for this task. The layman must be sincere and earnest Christian. Otherwise, he will not be able to transmit to others what he has not got himself. He must live the life of the Church and help it to fulfil its saving mission. To say that he must co-operate with the priest is the same as saying that he must co-operate with Christ, for the priest must be another Christ. So it is a high honour which the layman assumes when he dedicates himself to the aposotlate and he will enjoy many consolations.
If anyone deliberately refuses to undertake this apostolate, his faith is neither alive nor active. If our faith is to be sincere and effective, we must first of all undergo a strenous spiritual training, nourished by prayer and by divine grace. As a consequence, we shall work generously to bring about the triumph of the life of Christ in others souls also.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Now, the Association of the Apostleship of Prayer offers everybody a simple way of doing exactly this. Its object is to promote the glory of God and the salvation of souls, especially by means of prayer in union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Besides prayer, we must offer the actions and sufferings of each day. Let us decide to join with all the faithful in offering the prayers, and actions and sufferings of each day to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We shall certainly receive a shower of graces, both for ourselves and our neighbour.
2. The Popes have blessed and endowed with favours and indulgences this Association which St. Pius X has gone so far as to call the most useful of all the pious Associations (Letter to the Director General of the Apostleship of Prayer, 9th April, 1911). If you are not already enrolled, therefore, become a member as soon as possible. By enrolling you undertake the obligations of living a good Christian life and of saying the following short prayer every day:
In this way we unite ourselves to the vast outpouring of prayer and to the precious offering of action and sufferings presented by the whole Church in union with Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
3. When we enrol in the Apostleship of Prayer, we are sure that when we work, suffer, and pray, we are not alone in our efforts, but are united with the Church praying, working, and suffering. Our offerings, united with the prayers, labours and sufferings of many holy souls, find their way through the mediation of the Heart of Mary, our beloved Mother, to the Divine Heart of Jesus. He hears them without fail; He blesses them, and received them on our behalf in propitation for our sins and in supplication for graces for ourselves and for our neighbour.
Friday, February 13, 2009
2. Pope St. Pius X holds greater authority for a Christian. In his "Exhortatio ad Clerum" he strongly recommends the examination of conscience especially at the close of the day. This examination, he says, is necessary for priests, but it is no less necessary for the laity. He recalls the apt words of St. Augustine: Judge your own conscience. Demand an account from it. Dig deep and rend it apart. Discover all the evil thoughts and intentions of the day...and punish yourself for them (Expos. in Ps. 4, n.8). He also quotes the equally relevant words of St. Bernard. Be a searching inquirer into your own integrity of life; examine your conduct every day. See how much you have advanced, or how much you have fallen back...Learn to know yourself...Place all your faults before your eyes. Stand before yourself, as if it were before somebody else, and you will find reasons to weep over yourself (Meditat., Cap. 5 de quotidiano sui ipsius examine). The saintly Pontiff concludes his inspiring address as follows: Experience has proved that anyone who makes a strict examination of his thoughts, words and actions, is more firmly resolved to hate and avoid what is evil and wholeheartedly to love what is good (Acta Pii X, IV, p. 257).
3. It is necessary and profitable, therefore, to end the day with an examination of conscience made in the presence of God. Enter into ourselves; examine our thoughts, words and actions. Examine also the motives behind our actions and see whether they have been distorted or really directed towards God. Examine the sins we have committed, so that we may beg for pardon and form resolutions to do better. See whether we have prayed fervently or distractedly and half-heartedly. See if we have co-operated with the graces and good inspirations which we have been given. See if we have improved or grown worse in our efforts to do good. See if we have been dissipated or close to God. From a close examination of this kind we shall draw an incitement to humility and repentance, as well as to greater determination in the future.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Apart from these occasions, there is a time every day when we should feel a special need to kneel and pray to God. This is when we are going to bed. Before retiring, we should kneel by the bedside and say our prayers fervently. We have many reasons for praying. (1) We should thank God for His graces during the day. (2) We should ask forgiveness for our lack of co-operation with the gifts He has given us. (3) We should ask the good God to grant us new favours.
2. A page in the story of our lives is closed. For all we know it may be the last. Sleep is a symbol of death. How can we be certain that this night will not be our last? A large number of people die during their sleep. For this reason our night prayers should include an act of sincere contrition for our sins, an act of love for God, our supreme benefactor, and an act of complete resignation to His will. When we are in bed, we should repeat the words of Jesus on the cross. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. (Luke 23:46; Ps. 30:6) If this prayer is on our lips and in our heart, we can sleep in peace.
3. We must remember, moreover, that during the night we can be assailed by many dangers to soul and body. The devil stops at nothing in his efforts to seduce us. Any one who goes to bed with no other thought than getting a pleasant night's sleep has neglected to ask for God's blessing and is running the risk of yielding to temptation. During these hours of necessary inactivity the devil can come with all his wiles to tempt us. In the beginning there will be idle day-dreams, then impure image, and finally the full-blooded onslaught of temptation. It would be disastrous if we were caught unprepared and without any help from God. But this assistance can be obtained by fervent and constant prayer. If it is always necessary to pray, it is especially necessary when we are inactive and therefore in a state of continual danger from the seductions of the devil. So let our day close with prayer, and from prayer we shall pass on to sleep. Let us offer to God this sleep, so necessary for the restoration of bodily energy. Let us make the intention of offering every breath we draw as an act of obedience and of the love of God.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
2. Let us consider the infinite goodness of Jesus. He became man for us, and spent thirty-three years on earth, doing good and healing all. (Acts 10:38) More than this, He chose to remain with us until the end of time, hidden in the Blessed Sacrament, to be our friend and comforter and the food of our souls. In his infinite power and goodness, is there anything more He could have done for us? All day He waits there, anxious to heal our ills, to console us in our troubles, and to give us the strength to persevere in our journey towards perfection and towards Heaven. Let us listen to that loving voice. Do not be ungrateful for this miracle of infinite goodness. Let us go to Jesus as often as we can, especially in the evening when our day is nearly over. We shall find Him a true friend Who is always ready to listen; better still, He is a friend Who is able and willing to help us.
3. Taste and see how good the Lord is: happy the man who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 33:9) Many people, unfortunately, place their trust in men and in worldly things. They soon see the mistake they have made and are disillusioned and embittered. It was not so with the Saints. They spent long hours by day and night praying to Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist, and carried away with them reserves of spiritual strength and tranquillity. When they could not visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, many of them would go to some place where they could see a church and remain there in adoration. Whenever duty made it impossible for St. Stanislaus Kostka to remain before the Tabernacle, He asked his Angel Guardian to adore Jesus for him. If we were on fire with love for God, as the Saints were, we should do the same.
So it is not enough to be mediocre Christians. The half-hearted and indifferent are already travelling along the slippery path of sin and are on the waiting-list for Hell. It is dangerous for anyone to remain thoughtlessly in this state of spiritual ineptitude. A man who never thinks of his own salvation is suffering from a serious illness. He is running a grave risk of eternal damnation.
2. Our Lord does not command us to be merely virtuous. He commands us to be perfect. You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt. 5:48) He tells us to love Him with our whole heart and our whole soul. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul. (Mt. 22:37) He orders us to renounce everything rather than offend Him, (Luke 14:33) even to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand or foot if it should present an obstacle to our eternal salvation. (Mt. 18:8) How can we remain unmoved and inactive in face of these exhortations? The grade of perfection to which Our Lord calls us cannot be reached without His grace, which we can only obtain by fervent and unceasing prayer. Fervour is the animating principle of the spiritual life. It wins God's gifts for us and makes us almost immune from sin.
3. We can become fervent by eliminating the causes of tepidity. These are: (a) The lack of a living faith. The remedy is frequent meditation on the eternal truths in order to arouse our faith and make us think more constantly of Heaven. (b) The spirit of the world and inordinate attachment to worldly things, Which are like bonds restricting us in our advance towards God. Let us remember that the world passes away and cannot satisfy our souls which have been made for God. Let us seek Him, therefore and love Him above all. (c) Our lack of perseverence in doing good. It is not easy to preserve constant intimacy with God, even at times when we seem to have become spiritually dried up and deprived of all supernatural consolation. It is not easy to persevere in our resistance to the attractions of the world and of sin. It is not easy to pray constantly even when God does not seem to heed us. It is no wonder that we grow tired and discouraged. But let us remember that God rewards His faithful servants by making them fervent in prayer and in action. So let us be constant. We shall be rewarded with spiritual fervour, which will give us the joy and inner peace which conquer every obstacle and arc the prelude to unending happiness with God in Heaven.
Careerism is a similar kind of viciousness. The careerist is driven by a mad desire to carve out a career for himself at all costs, even if he has to make use of lies, adulation, and bribery in the pursuit of his ambition. His ambition is to win glory and esteem and to hold the highest and most honourable positions, which naturally command the best salaries as well.
The Gospel is severe in its warning to these two classes of people. What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul? (Mt. 16:25) Seek the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be given you besides. (Mt. 6:33; Lk. 12:31)
2. Although the Gospel stresses so much the necessity of being detached from the things of the world and of striving after the things of Heaven, it is a sad fact that from the early days of the Church up to to the present time greed for money and desire for honour have always been there to do great harm to the faithful.
In his first letter St. Peter exhorted priests to guide and look after their flocks not for the sake of base gain, but eagerly; nor yet as lording it over your charges, but becoming from the heart a pattern to the f lock (I Peter 5:3). He went on to urge the faithful to be humble, obedient and detached from the desires of the world. He told them to entrust their cares to God, their protector. Let us examine how well we follow this counsel and resolve to correct any deficiencies in our behaviour.
3. What is our attitude in regard to these matters? We are not forbidden, naturally, to look after our own affairs and our work. In fact, it is our duty to do so to whatever degree is demanded by the circumstances in which we live. Similarly, it is not forbidden to try and better our social position. All this must be done, however, with a due sense of proportion and by the proper means. The first concern in our life should be the service of God. This is what we were created for; this is what we must wholeheartedly aim at doing. Only in this way can we secure peace of mind and attain eternal salvation. Everything else must be secondary to our ultimate purpose in life. Otherwise God would be in a position inferior to ourselves, and this would be equivalent to robbing for ourselves the honour and glory due to our Creator and Redeemer. Think earnestly about this truth.
2. We should confess our sins humbly and sincerely. We are obliged to confess at least all the mortal sins which we have committed after Baptism and have never included in a previous good Confession. We should prepare for this Sacrament by making a careful examination of conscience in the presence of God. When we kneel before our confessor, we should remember that, even though he is only a man like ourselves, he is the representative of God. We should confess at least our mortal sins in a clear and exact manner. Whenever possible, we should confess deliberate venial sins in order to be sure of obtaining forgiveness for them. It is very necessary to be sincerely sorry for our sins and to be firmly resolved not to commit them again with the help of divine grace. Perfect contrition, which steins from a pure and disinterested act of love for God, is not necessary. Attrition is sufficient, that is, imperfect sorrow which springs from a lower supernatural motive, such as the fear of hell, the hideousness of sin in so far as it is an offence against God, or the loss of eternal happiness. Let us examine ourselves to ensure that we fulfil all the necessary conditions in our Confessions.
3. St. Charles Borromeo had the habit of going to Confession every day. This was not the result of scruples on his part; it was simply that he was supernaturally enlightened so as to perceive even his smallest faults and he was anxious to remove from his soul the slightest trace of sin. We do not have to follow his example, but weekly or fortnightly Confession is strongly recommended by spiritual writers. It is a great loss to neglect Confession for too long a period. We are deprived of the graces of this Sacrament, our fervour grows cold, and we slip easily from venial into mortal sin. Let us decide to make a good Confession every week whenever we find it possible.
2. When Jesus had been scourged and crowned with thorns, He was forced to set out towards the execution-ground on Calvary, carrying the heavy wooden cross. On the way He met a Cyrenean named Simon, who was probably returning from his work in the fields outside the city. The Jews had realised that Jesus had lost so much blood that He was unable to bear the weight any longer. They felt no compassion for Him, but they were anxious to save their victim for the final punishment. With this in mind, they compelled Simon to carry Jesus' cross. The Cyrenean could have said: "Why pick on me? I am tired and must get home . . ." But his eyes met the tired gaze of Our Saviour. He saw that He was covered with wounds and streaming blood. Simon was deeply moved and willingly lifted the Cross which he carried to the place of execution .(Cf. Mt. 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26)
Picture Jesus, suffering and bleeding on the road to Calvary, and Simon removing the Cross from the shoulders of Our Saviour and transferring it to his own. How can we ever again rebel and complain when we meet with inconvenience or sorrow?
3. When the Saints were confronted by misfortune or suffering, they submitted and thanked God. They understood that this was the price of Heaven. I reckon that the sufferings of the present time, St. Paul writes, are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us.(Rom. 8:18)
"So great is the reward which awaits me," St. Francis of Assisi was fond of saying, "it is a joy for me to suffer." Let our attitude be the same. Then we shall find it easier to win the battles of life and our troubles will be lightened by the brightest of all hopes, the hope of Heaven.
Read the simple and vivid account of this incident in the Gospel. Meditate on the infinite goodness of Jesus, Who is always ready to come to our relief. Meditate also on the lively and spontaneous faith of this poor blind man. If our faith were of the same quality as his, we could obtain everything we asked from God.
2. Spiritually, we are all blind to a greater or less extent. Do we understand the infinite truth, beauty and goodness of God, in Whom our true happiness consists? Do we understand the emptiness of the world, despite the glory of its transient beauty which can never satisfy our hearts? Do we understand our own nothingness and our dependence on God for light and grace If we understood all this, then the scales of our spiritual blindness would fall from our eyes. Our faith would be even purer and more heartfelt than that of the poor blind man of Jericho, If we do not possess this lively faith and our eyes are dazzled by the glittering vanities of the world, let us turn to Jesus and beseech Him: "Lord, that I may see! Only the light which conies from You is the true light which illumines every man who comes into this world."(John 1:9)
3. The restlessness and the intensity of living make us see things as different from what they are. But one day the veil of the temple will be rent asunder before our frightened eyes and eternal light will break upon us. Then we shall be blind no longer, but we shall see everything in the light of eternity. Let us place ourselves now in the state in which we should like to find ourselves at that moment. Let us consider ourselves and everything else in the light of eternity. Then our blindness will disappear. Since we shall see everything in God's way we shall direct all our thoughts and actions towards Him.
Public opinion can be deceived by subterfuge and hypocrisy. Conscience can be ignored, or it can become warped or deadened. The tribunal of Penance can be misused, and we can remain obdurate in our sins. Civil authority can sometimes be evaded; it is also open to deception and corruption. But the tribunal of God is different. We shall be alone before Him --- fraud and deceit will be useless. There will be no excuses, no defense. Everything will be clear, and His judgment will be just and unchangeable. Let us reflect on this while we have time. Let us adopt the necessary remedies, for soon there will be no more time.
2. The tribunal of God is the one for which we must be specially prepared, because our eternal happiness or unhappiness depends on it. Nevertheless, we should not ignore the existence of the others. We have to consider public opinion. It is not that we should be anxious to put up a good appearance before it, but we should try and give good example to our neighbours rather than become the cause of scandal. Let your light shine before men, in order that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Mt. 5:16)
Conscience is a court of justice to which we must pay more attention. This is the medium God often uses when He exhorts us to change our lives or to strive towards perfection. The tribunal of Penance is the only sure way for the sinner to return to the friendship of God, although in case of necessity he could obtain pardon by an act of perfect contrition. Finally, we must respect civil authority. All authority comes from God, and for this reason we must obey the civil law in the manner of good citizens.
3. In regard to civil authority, however, one thing should be made quite clear. We are only obliged to obey it when it does not infringe on the rights of God or of the Church. If it should run counter to these we should answer in the words of St. Peter and the other Apostles when they were called before the Sanhedrin: We must obey God rather than men. (Acts. 5:29)
If we had to suffer anything as a result in the cause of God and of the Church, we should count that as our good fortune. Like the Apostles, we should be able to rejoice that we have been found worthy to suffer indignity and ill-treatment for the sake of Jesus' name. (Acts. 5:41)
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
2. There is one very special way in which God communicates with us. He condescends to speak directly to us in the intimacy of our hearts. Our ears do not hear this voice, but we experience it in the depths of the spirit. When we are tempted to fall into sin, suddenly we hear its warning tones. Perhaps we have already fallen, this voice pursues us again, inviting us to return to God. Sometimes after Holy Communion we converse with God and He speaks gently, making us understand that true happiness can be found only in His love and service. These are the holy inspirations which God gives us. At such moments we should reply meekly like the prophet Samuel: Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth. (I Kings 3:9-10)
Moreover, we should follow Samuel's example in putting into practice the instructions of the Lord.
3. These good inspirations are a wonderful gift from God, but it can be disastrous to refuse to hear them. Are we being called to reform our lives? Let us begin immediately the hard task of changing ourselves. Are we being called to Christian perfection? Let us be generous. Remember the words of Bossuet who said that perfection is like a high mountain which must be conquered step by step. So begin the ascent right away in obedience to God's wishes. Remember that to ignore a holy inspiration is an insult to God and a deviation from the straight path of perfection. It is a proof that we do not love Jesus and are not prepared to be faithful to Him. In fact, we are risking our own eternal salvation. Remember the case of the young man in the Gospel who was asked to leave everything and follow Jesus along the way of perfection. He did not do so, and we cfannot say with certainty whether or not his soul was saved.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
1. Many people allow themselves to be swept away in the confusion of the world around them. Modern life has become a whirling machine which snatches men up into its enormous rotators and carries them with it. Not only has it become difficult to remain Christian, but it is even difficult to continue to be a man.
We cannot cast aside the natural gifts of intellect, free will, and personal dignity which God has given us. Still less can we renounce the dignity of being Christians. This dignity can be retained by interior recollection, which will be nourished by divine grace if we ask for it and will find its external expression in good works. A man must be able to detach himself from the din of modern life and spend an occasional moment in recollection. No matter what is going on around him he must be able to find time to raise his mind to God. Otherwise he will realise one day that life has passed him by like a cloud, or, worse still, like a lost battle. We shall not be tormented with useless regrets on our deathbed if we think about this now.
2. God speaks readily when our souls are silent. He cannot be heard in the noise of the world. But we do not have to abandon our normal way of life in order to find a little interior recollection. It is enough to pause for a moment and remember God's presence. Once we have formed the habit of doing this, it becomes quite easy at any time and in any place. We may be walking along the street or in the middle of our work. We may be in a room full of people chatting together. Wherever we are, we shall be able to pause and raise our minds to God. If we acquire this habit, we can lead peaceful lives on a completely supernatural level.
3. It is much easier to recollect ourselves in the Church in front of the altar. For this reason one could not sufficiently recommend a visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every morning before going to work and every evening before going to bed.
The ideal is always daily Mass and Holy Communion. This will be tiring and my be inconvenient. But God is infinitely good and will handsomely reward us for anything we do out of love for Him or for our own spiritual welfare.
When it is said with sincerity and determination, this little phrase, "I will," is capable of producing amazing results both in the physical and spiritual order. St. Thomas Aquinas was once asked by a nun what were the requirements for sanctity. He replied that the chief thing necessary was a strong and decisive act of the will, which would be certain to be reinforced by divine grace. The Saints began every project by making a sincere and definite resolution to succeed. They were weak creatures like the rest of us, but they knew that if they wanted something intensely enough God would grant whatever miracles they needed. The father who asked Jesus to heal his son pleaded: If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us and help us, to which Jesus replied: If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him who believes (Mk. 9:16-22). The same answer could be given to any of us who say that we are anxious to beome holy. Anything is possible if we really want it, because God will do the rest.
2. St. Paul seems to contradict this idea when he writes: There is question not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God showing mercy. (Rom. 9:16)
What he says is true. Our will is inadequate to effect anything without the grace of God. But it is equally true that the grace of God is not sufficient without an act of the will on our part. God created us as intelligent beings with the marvellous gift of free will. Because He respects the liberty which He gave us He will not compel us by His grace to become holy. He only assists us. His assistance is absolutely necessary, because of ourselves we are incapable of forming a good intention, let alone performing a good action. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, St. Paul says elsewhere, to think anything, as for ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God. (2 Cor. 3:5)
It is necessary, therefore, that our resolutions should be accompanied by the grace of God. We should pray fervently and make firm decisions. We must pray for divine grace, but it depends on our own will to ensure that God's grace produces results in us. This is the only way in which we can become perfect.
3. We are assured of this by St. Paul and by all the Saints. I can do all things in him who strengthens me, (Phil. 4:13) wrote the Apostle of the Gentiles. By the grace of God I am what I am, and hsi grace in me has not been fruitless --- in fact, I have laboured more than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. (I Cor. 15:10)
So let us go forward. Be determined. Work hard. Above all, pray humbly and fervently for the grace of God, without which we can do nothing that is good.
2. Some are called by God to the lofty state of the priesthood or of the religious life. This is a very great grace. We should co-operate generously and do our best to overcome any obstacles we meet. Others are called to become good Christian fathers and mothers and to rear a family. This is a most important role, because the proper education of children and the future of the Church and of society depend on it. Every position has its obligations, which each of us should work hard to fulfil in every detail. The grace appropriate to our state will be available to us. But this grace has to be balanced by a sincere determination on our part to carry out carefully the duties of our state. Let us examine ourselves in this regard. If we discover that we have been neglectful or deficient in any way, let us resolve to put things right.
3. Let us be content or at least resigned in the position in which Providence has placed us. Let us pay special attention to those things which we are obliged to do. Anything which is not necessary should be left until later, even if it is more pleasant or seems more worthwhile in itself. Let us never become involved in business which is incompatible with our state or dangerous to our eternal welfare. Let us not make light of minor offences against the duties of our station. Smaller transgressions gradually become greater. Above all, let us try and sanctify our calling. It is one thing to work conscientiously, another to work in a spirit of holiness. Even pagans can do their duty earnestly. Doing our duty is only a help to our eternal salvation if it is done with God's grace for the purpose of serving Him, for His love and glory. This should be our manner of behaviour. If it is, we can claim to have sanctified our state in life and to have made our work holy.