Thursday -- Second Week of Lent
DELUSIONS THE DEVIL SUGGESTS TO SINNERS
The devil brings sinners to hell by closing their eyes to the dangers of damnation. He first blinds them, and then leads them into eternal torments. If, then, we wish to be saved, we must continually pray to God in the words of the blind man in the Gospel: Lord, that I may see! Domine, ut videam! Give me light, O Lord, and make me see the way in which I must walk, in order to escape the illusions of the enemy of my salvation.
Let us take a young person who has fallen into grievous sins, has confessed them, and has regained Divine grace. The devil again tempts him to sin; he resists, but already wavers through the deceits suggested to him by the enemy. I say to that person--to you: Tell me, what will you do? Will you now lose the grace of God, which you have regained, and which is of more value than the whole world, for this wretched gratification? Will you write your own sentence of eternal death, and condemn yourself to burn for ever in hell? "No," you say, "I do not wish to condemn myself, I wish to be saved; if I commit this sin, I will afterwards confess it." Behold the first delusion of the tempter. You say to me, then, that you will afterwards confess it? But in the meantime you already give away your soul. Tell me, if you had in your hand a jewel worth a thousand crowns, would you throw it into the river, saying: Afterwards I will search diligently and hope to find it? You hold in your hand that precious jewel of your soul, which Jesus Christ has purchased by His Blood; and you cast it voluntarily into hell (for in sinning you are, according to present justice, already condemned), and say: But I hope to recover it by Confession. But supposing you should not recover it? To recover it you must have true repentance, which is the gift of God; and if God should not give you this repentance? And if death were to come, and take from you time for Confession?
You say you will not allow a week to pass over without Confession; and who promises you a week? You say you will go to Confession tomorrow; and who promises you tomorrow? St. Augustine says: "God has not promised you tomorrow; perhaps He will give it you, and perhaps He will not give it you," as He has denied it to so many, who have gone to bed well, and have been found dead in the morning. How many has God struck dead and sent to hell in the very act of sinning!
And should He do the same to you, how can you ever repair your eternal ruin? Know, that through this delusion, "I will confess afterwards," the devil has carried off thousands and thousands of Christians to hell. We shall hardly ever find a sinner so desperate as positively to resolve to damn himself: all, even when they commit sin, do so in the hope of future Confession. And thus have so many poor souls been lost, and now they can no longer repair the past.
Is it, then, O my God, because Thou hast been so good to me, that I have been thus ungrateful to Thee? We have been engaged in a contest--I to fly from Thee, and Thou to pursue me; Thou to do me good, and I to return Thee evil. Ah, my Lord, were there no other reason, Thy goodness alone towards me ought to enamour me of Thee, since whilst I have increased my sins, Thou hast increased Thy graces. And how have I merited the light Thou now givest me? My Lord, I thank Thee for it with my whole heart; and I hope to thank Thee for it for all eternity in Heaven.
But you say: At present I do not feel strength to resist this temptation. Behold the second delusion of the devil, who makes it appear to you impossible to resist the present passion. In the first place, you must know that God, as the Apostle says, is faithful, and never permits us to be tempted above our strength: God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able. (1 Cor. x. 13). I ask of you, moreover, if you are not confident now of being able to resist, how can you hope to resist hereafter? Hereafter the devil will not fail to tempt you to other sins; and then he will have become much stronger against you, and you will be weaker. If, then, you feel you cannot now extinguish this flame, how can you hope to do so when it will be immeasurably greater. You say: God will aid me. But God aids you now; why, then, with this aid will you not resist? Do you hope, perchance, that God will increase His aids and His graces after you have increased the number of your sins? And if you now require greater help and strength, why do you not ask it of God? Do you, perhaps, doubt of the faithfulness of God, Who has promised to give all that is asked of Him? Ask, and it shall be given to you. (Matt. vii. 7). God cannot fail; have recourse to Him, and He will give you that strength which you need to resist. "God does not command impossibilities," says the Council of Trent; "but by commanding, both admonishes thee to do what thou art able, and to pray for what thou art not able (to do), and aids thee that thou mayest be able." God does not command what is impossible, but in imposing on us His precepts He admonishes us to do what we can with the actual aid He bestows on us; and should that aid prove insufficient for us to resist, He exhorts us to ask for more aid; and if we ask for it properly, He will certainly give it to us.
O dear Jesus, I come to Thee. I hope to be saved through Thy Blood; and I hope it with certainty, since Thou hast shown me such great mercy. In the meantime I hope Thou wilt give me strength never more to betray Thee. I purpose, with Thy grace, to die a thousand times rather than offend Thee any more. I have offended Thee enough; during the remainder of my life I will love Thee. And how can I but love a God, Who, after having died for me, has borne with me so patiently in spite of the many injuries I have done Him! O God of my soul, I repent with all my heart; I wish I could die of sorrow. But if in the past I have turned my back on Thee, I now love Thee above all things; I love Thee more than myself. Eternal Father, through the merits of Jesus Christ, succour a miserable sinner, who desires to love Thee. Mary, my hope, assist me; obtain for me the grace to have recourse always to thy Son and to thee, whenever the devil tempts me to sin again.
The second means to obtain the spirit of interior mortification is to resist the passions, and to beat them down before they acquire strength. If one of them becomes strong by habitual indulgence, the subjugation of it will be exceedingly difficult. "Lest cupidity," says St. Augustine, "should gain strength, strike it to the ground whilst it is weak." Sometimes it will happen that you will feel inclined to make use of an angry expression, or to entertain an affection for a certain person. If you do not resist these desires in the beginning, the slight wound, inflicted by your consent to them, shall soon become incurable. "Unless," says St. Ephrem, "you quickly take away the passions, they produce an ulcer." One of the ancient monks, as we learn from St. Dorotheus, has beautifully illustrated this doctrine. He commanded one of his disciples to pluck up a young cypress. The disciple executed the command without difficulty. The Superior then told him to pull up another tree of greater growth: to perform this task all the strength of the young monk was necessary. Lastly, the venerable Father commanded the disciple to tear up a tree which had taken deep root. In obedience to this precept, the young religious exerted all his strength; but his efforts were fruitless--the tree was immovable. Behold, said the old man, how easily our passions are rooted out in the beginning, and how difficult it is to conquer them after they have acquired strength and vigour by evil habits. This truth is confirmed by daily experience. If when you receive an insult you feel a motion of resentment, but you at once stifle the spark and silently offer to God the sacrifice of your feelings, the fire is extinguished, you escape unhurt, and even acquire merit before the Lord. But if you yield to the impulse of passion, if you pause to reflect on the insult you have received and manifest externally the feelings of your soul--that spark of resentment will soon be kindled into a flame of hatred.
The third means by which to acquire the spirit of interior mortification, is, as Cassian says, to endeavour to change the object of our passions, that thus the pernicious and vicious desires of the heart may become salutary and holy. Some are inclined to an inordinate love of all from whom they receive a favour. They should seek to change the object of this propensity, and to turn their affections to God Who is infinitely amiable, and Who has bestowed the most inestimable blessings upon them. Others are prone to anger against those who are opposed to them: they ought to direct their resentment against their own sins, which have done them more injury than all the devils in hell could inflict upon them. Others pant after honours and temporal goods: they should aspire to the goods and honours of God's eternal kingdom.
But to practise successfully this means of conquering our passions, frequent meditation on the Truths of Faith, frequent spiritual readings, and frequent reflections on the eternal maxims are indispensably necessary. And above all, it is necessary to impress deeply on the mind certain fundamental spiritual maxims, such as: "God alone deserves to be loved. Sin is the only evil which we ought to hate. Whatever God wills is good. All worldly goods shall have an end. The most insignificant action, performed for God's sake, is more profitable than the conversion of the whole world, effected from any other motive than the love of God. It is necessary to do what at the hour of death we would wish to have done. We ought to live on this earth as if there were nothing in existence but ourselves and God." He whose mind is continually filled with holy maxims suffers little molestation from earthly objects, and is always strong enough to resist his corrupt inclinations. The Saints kept their souls always occupied with the truths of eternity, and thus in the time of temptation, were almost insensible to the goods or the evils of this life. To conquer self-love, and to shake off the tyranny of passion, we must above all things pray without ceasing, and continually ask of God the assistance of His grace. He that prays, obtains all God's gifts. For every one that asketh receiveth. (Luke xi. 10). We ought especially to beg the gift of Divine love; for to him who loves God, nothing is difficult. Consideration and reflection assist us greatly in the practice of virtue; but in the observance of the Divine commands a single spark of the love of God affords more help than a thousand reflections and considerations. Acts of virtue which proceed from reflection are accompanied with labour and violence; but he that loves is not fatigued by doing what pleases his Beloved. "He that loves, labours not," says St. Augustine.
REFLECTIONS AND AFFECTIONS ON THE PASSION OF JESUS CHRIST
St. Bonaventure sorrowfully exclaims, "The royal Blood is flowing; bruise is superadded to bruise, and gash to gash." That Divine Blood was already issuing from every pore: that Sacred Body had already become but one perfect Wound; yet those infuriated brutes did not forbear from adding blow to blow, as the Prophet had foretold: And they have added to the grief of my wounds. (Ps. lxviii. 27). So that the thongs had not only made the whole Body one Wound, but even bore away pieces of it into the air, until at length the gashes in that Sacred Flesh were such that the bones might have been counted: "The Flesh was so torn away that the bones could be numbered." Cornelius a Lapide says that in this torment Jesus Christ ought, naturally speaking, to have died; but He willed by His Divine power to keep Himself in life, in order to suffer yet greater pains for love of us; and St. Laurence Justinian had observed the same thing before: "He evidently ought to have died. Yet He reserved Himself unto life, it being His will to endure heavier sufferings."
Ah, my most loving Lord, Thou art worthy of an infinite love; Thou hast suffered so much in order that I may love Thee. Oh, never permit me, instead of loving Thee, to offend or displease Thee more! Oh, what place in hell should there not be set apart for me, if, after having known the love that Thou hast borne towards such a wretch, I should damn myself, despising a God Who had suffered scorn, smitings, and scourgings for me; and Who had, moreover, after having so often offended Him, so mercifully pardoned me! Ah, my Jesus, let it not, oh, let it not be thus! O my God, how would the love and patience which Thou hast shown me be a torture for me in hell, another hell even yet more full of torments!
Cruel in excess to our Redeemer was this torture of His scourging, in the first place, because of the great number of those by whom it was inflicted; who, as was revealed to St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, were no fewer than sixty. And these, at the instigation of the devils, and even more so of the priests, who being afraid lest Pilate should, after this punishment, be minded to release the Lord, as he had already protested to them saying, I will therefore scourge him and let him go, aimed at taking away His life by means of the scourging. Again, all theologians agree with St. Bonaventure, that, for this purpose, the sharpest implements were selected, so that, as St. Anselm declares, every stroke produced a wound. Moreover, the number of the strokes amounted to several thousand, the flagellation being administered, as Father Crasset says, not after the manner of the Jews, for whom the Lord had forbidden that the number of strokes should ever exceed forty: Yet so, that they exceed not the number of forty; lest thy brother depart shamefully torn. (Deut. xxv. 3); but after the manner of the Romans, with whom there was no measure. And so it is related by Josephus, the Jew (who lived shortly after our Lord), that Jesus was torn in his scourging to such a degree that the bones of His ribs were laid bare; as it was also revealed by the most Holy Virgin to St. Bridget in these words "I, who was standing by, saw His body scourged to the very ribs, so that His ribs themselves might be seen. And what was even yet more bitter still, when the scourges were drawn back, His flesh was furrowed by them." To St. Teresa, Jesus revealed Himself in His scourging; so that the Saint wished to have Him painted exactly as she had seen Him, and told the painter to represent a large piece of flesh torn off, and hanging down from the left elbow; but when the painter enquired as to the shape in which he ought to paint it, he found, on turning round again to his picture, the piece of flesh already drawn. Ah, my beloved and adored Jesus, how much hast Thou suffered for love of me! Oh, let not so many pangs, and so much Blood be lost for me!