Friday -- Second Week of Lent
(For First Friday of March)
THE LOVING HEART OF JESUS
The Sacred Heart of Jesus loves us infinitely more than we love ourselves. Jesus has loved us even to excess. He has loved us more than His own honour, more than His repose, more than His very life. And is not this an excess of love sufficient to stupefy with astonishment the Angels of Paradise!
Oh, if we could but understand the love that burns in the Heart of Jesus for us! He has loved us so much, that if all men, all the Angels, and all the Saints were to unite with all their energies, they could not arrive at the thousandth part of the love that Jesus bears to us. He loves us infinitely more than we love ourselves. He has loved us even to excess: They spoke of his decease (excess) which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem. (Luke ix. 31). And what greater excess of love could there be than for God to die for His creatures? He has loved us to the greatest degree: Having loved his own . . . he loved them unto the end. (John xiii. 1); since, after having loved us from eternity,--for there never was a moment from eternity when God did not think of us and did not love each one of us: I have loved thee with an everlasting love,--for the love of us He made Himself Man, and chose a life of sufferings and the death of the Cross for our sakes. Therefore He has loved us more than His honour, more than His repose, and more than His life; for He sacrificed everything to show us the love that He bears us. And is not this an excess of love sufficient to stupefy with astonishment the Angels of Paradise for all eternity? This love has induced Him also to remain with us in the Holy Sacrament as on a throne of love; for He remains there under the appearance of a small piece of bread, shut up in a Ciborium, where He seems to remain in perfect annihilation of His Majesty, without movement, and without the use of His senses; so that it seems that He performs no other office than that of loving men. Love makes us desire the constant presence of the object of our love. It is this love and this desire that makes Jesus Christ reside with us in the most Holy Sacrament.
O adorable Heart of my Jesus, Heart inflamed with the love of men, Heart created on purpose to love them, how is it possible that Thou canst be despised, and Thy love so ill corresponded to by men? Oh, miserable that I am, I also have been one of those ungrateful ones that have not loved Thee. Forgive me, my Jesus, this great sin of not having loved Thee Who art so amiable, and Who hast loved me so much that Thou canst do nothing more to oblige me to love Thee. I feel that I deserve to be condemned to be unable to love Thee, for having renounced Thy love, as I have hitherto done. But no, my dearest Saviour, give me any chastisement, but do not inflict this one upon me. Grant me the grace to love Thee, and then, give me any affliction Thou pleasest. But how can I fear such a chastisement, whilst I feel that Thou continuest to give me the sweet, the pleasing precept of loving Thee, my Lord and my God? "Love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart."
It seemed too short a time to this loving Saviour to have been only thirty-three years with men on earth; therefore, in order to show His desire of being constantly with us, He thought right to perform the greatest of all miracles, in the institution of the Holy Eucharist. But the work of redemption was already completed, men had already become reconciled to God; for what purpose, then, did Jesus remain on earth in this Sacrament?
Ah, He remains there because He cannot bear to separate Himself from us, as He has said that He takes a delight in us. Again, this love has induced Him even to become the Food of our souls, so as to unite Himself to us, and to make His Heart and ours as one: He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. (John vi. 57). O wonder! O excess of Divine love! It was said by a servant of God: If any thing could shake my faith in the Eucharist, it would not be the doubt as to how the bread could become Flesh, or how Jesus could be in several places and confined into so small a space, because I should answer that God can do everything; but if I were asked how He could love men so much as to make Himself their Food, I have nothing else to answer but that this is a Mystery of Faith above my comprehension, and that the love of Jesus cannot be understood. O Love of Jesus, do Thou make Thyself known to men, and do Thou make Thyself loved.
Yes, O my God, Thou wouldst be loved by me, and I will love Thee; indeed, I will love none but Thee Who hast loved me so much. O Love of my Jesus, Thou art my Love. O Burning Heart of my Jesus, do Thou inflame my heart also. Do not permit me in future, even for a single moment, to live without Thy love; rather kill me, destroy me; do not let the world behold the spectacle of such horrid ingratitude as that I, who have been so beloved by Thee, and received so many favours and lights from Thee, should begin again to despise Thy love. No, my Jesus, permit it not. I trust in the Blood that Thou hast shed for me, that I shall always love Thee, and that Thou wilt always love me, and that this love between Thee and me will not be broken off for eternity. O Mary, Mother of fair love, thou who desirest so much to see Jesus loved, bind me, unite me with thy Son; but bind me to Him so that we may never again be separated.
HEROES AND HEROINES OF THE FAITH
SAINTS PERPETUA AND FELICITAS AND COMPANIONS
St. Augustine makes frequent and honourable mention of these Saints in his Works, and was wont to hold them up to the people as examples of fidelity to Jesus Christ.
The Emperor Severus published an edict commanding all Christians who refused to sacrifice to the gods to be put to death; whereupon Minutius, the proconsul of Africa, caused five young persons to be arrested at Carthage, who were as yet catechumens, and, together with them, Saints Perpetua and Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus.
Perpetua was a young married woman, only twenty-two years of age, who led a very devout life, and had an only child. Felicitas was still younger, but also married, and a most exemplary person. The Martyrs were kept for some time in a private house, guarded by soldiers; during which time the father of St. Perpetua, came to see her, and being a Pagan, used all his endeavours to make her abandon the Faith. In the original Acts of these Martyrs, we find that the occurrences which took place up to the eve of their Martyrdom were written by Saint Perpetua herself: The following are the principal facts:
"My father," writes the Saint, "used all his endeavours to pervert me. I resolutely answered: 'Father, I am a Christian.' He instantly threw himself upon me in a rage, as if to tear out my eyes, and used the most injurious language. A few days afterwards, we all received holy Baptism, and were led to the public prison, where I was horrified by the darkness, the noisome smell, and the great heat occasioned by the number of prisoners. I had the happiness to have my child brought to me here, which greatly consoled me. My brother came to see me, and desired me to pray to the Lord to let me know whether I was to obtain the crown of Martyrdom. I accordingly placed myself in prayer, and saw, in a vision, a golden ladder which reached to the heavens; it was very narrow, and to the sides were fixed sharp knives and iron spikes. At the foot of this ladder was a dragon, which appeared ready to devour those that would attempt to mount it. The first that went up was a certain Christian named Saturus, who invited me to follow him. I ascended, and found myself in a spacious garden, where I met a man of very fine aspect, who said to me: 'Thou art welcome, my daughter.' After this vision I knew that we were all destined to suffer Martyrdom, and I told my brother so.
"My father came again to see me at the prison, and throwing himself at my feet in a flood of tears: 'Daughter,' he said, 'have pity on me, a poor old man, that am thy father; have pity, at least, on thy child, and bring not ruin upon us all by thy obstinacy.' I was pierced with grief, but remained immovable in my resolution.
"On the following day I was brought before the auditor, Hilarian, who, by reason of the death of the proconsul, acted as judge. My father appeared with me, holding my child in his arms, whereupon the judge said: 'Perpetua, have pity on thy father and on thy son--sacrifice to the gods.' I answered that I was a Christian, and that we were all ready to die for our Faith. The judge then condemned us to be devoured by wild beasts.
"We received the sentence with joy, and were brought back to prison, where we were met by my father, who tearing his hair and his beard, threw himself upon his face on the earth, lamenting that he lived to see that day. He once endeavoured to pull me off the platform, but the judge commanded him to be beaten off, and he received a blow with a stick, at which I was much grieved; but the Lord continued to grant me strength."*
*The Acts of the Martyrs tell us that St. Perpetua was favoured with wonderful visions. She had a young brother named Dinocrates, who died when he was only seven years of age, of a most hideous ulcer in the face. She recollected his death during her imprisonment; and having prayed for his repose, saw him in a vision, with the ulcer on his face, having a most squalid appearance, and endeavouring to drink from a vessel which he could not reach. After the vision she knew that her brother was in pain, and continued to pray fervently for his relief. She was accordingly favoured with a second vision, in which she saw him quite clean, refreshing himself with the water, and retaining only a scar where the ulcer had formerly been. "I knew," she says, "from this vision that he had been released from pain."
Secundulus died in prison of his sufferings, and Saturus had already obtained his crown. Felicitas desired to suffer with the rest, but she was with child, and the law forbade women to be put to death in that state. Her companions therefore prayed for her, and on that very day she was delivered of a daughter. The Saint moaned by reason of her pains, and one of the guards said to her: "Dost thou moan? What wilt thou do when thou shalt be devoured by wild beasts?" She answered: "It is now myself that suffers: but then I shall have Jesus Christ with me, and by His grace I will endure all things for His sake."
Upon the appointed day the Martyrs went forward to their execution with a joy that was manifest to all.
The other Saints having being torn by the wild beasts, Saints Perpetua and Felicitas were wrapped in nets and exposed to a mad cow. St. Perpetua was first attacked, and having been tossed in the air, she fell upon her back. Then sitting up, she perceived her clothes torn, and was endeavouring to cover herself when she was again knocked down; but recovering herself, she stretched forth her hand to raise St. Felicitas, whom she perceived prostrate upon the ground, much hurt. The populace were at length moved to compassion, and the two Saints were led into the centre of the amphitheatre, and dispatched by the gladiators. Thus did they receive, with their companions, the heavenly crown, on the 7th March, in the year 203.
St. Augustine cites the Acts of their Martyrdom, and Tertullian and St. Fulgentius have passed the most magnificent encomiums on Saints Perpetua and Felicitas. They are mentioned also in the Canon of the Mass. Their relics are in Rome.
REFLECTIONS AND AFFECTIONS ON THE PASSION OF JESUS CHRIST
We read in history that several penitents, being enlightened by Divine light to see the malice of their sins, died of pure sorrow for them. Oh, what torment, then, must not the Heart of Jesus endure at the sight of all the sins of the world, all the blasphemies, sacrileges, acts of impurity, and all the other crimes which would be committed by men after His death, every one of which, like a wild beast, tore His Heart separately by its own malice! Wherefore our afflicted Lord, during His Agony in the Garden, exclaimed: Is this, therefore, O men, the reward that you render Me for My immeasurable love? Oh, if I could only see that, grateful for My affection, you gave up sin and began to love Me, with what delight should I not hasten to die for you! But to behold, after all My sufferings, so many sins; after so much love, such ingratitude--this is what afflicts Me the most, makes Me sorrowful even unto death, and makes Me sweat pure Blood: And his sweat became as drops of blood trickling down upon the ground. (Luke xxii. 44). So that, according to the Evangelist, this Bloody Sweat was so copious, that it first drenched all the vestments of our Blessed Redeemer, and then came forth in streams and bathed the ground.
Ah, my loving Jesus, I do not behold in this Garden either scourges or thorns or nails that pierce Thee; how, then, is it that I see Thee all bathed in Blood from Thy head to Thy feet? Alas, my sins were the cruel press which, by dint of affliction and sorrow, forced so much Blood from Thy Heart. I was, then, one of Thy most cruel executioners, who contributed the most to crucify Thee with my sins. It is certain that, if I had sinned less, Thou, my Jesus, wouldst have suffered less. As much pleasure, therefore, as I have taken in offending Thee, so much the more did I increase the sorrow of Thy Heart, already full of anguish. How, then, does not this thought make me die of grief, when I see that I have repaid the love Thou hast shown me in Thy Passion by adding to Thy sorrow and suffering! I, then, have tormented this Heart, so loving and so worthy of love, which has shown so much love to me. My Lord, since I have now no other means left of consoling Thee than to weep over my offences towards Thee, I will now, my Jesus, sorrow for them and lament over them with my whole heart. Oh, give me, I pray Thee, as great sorrow for them as may make me to my last breath weep over the displeasure I have caused Thee, my God, my Love, my All.
He fell upon his face. (Matt. xxvi. 39). Jesus, beholding Himself charged with the burden of satisfying for all the sins of the world, prostrated Himself, with His face on the ground, to pray for men, as if He were ashamed to raise His eyes towards Heaven, loaded as He was with such iniquities. O my Redeemer, I behold Thee pale and worn out with sorrow; Thou art in the agony of death, and Thou dost pray: And being in an agony, he prayed the longer. (Luke xxii. 43). Tell me, my Saviour, for whom dost Thou pray? Ah, Thou didst not pray so much for Thyself at that hour as for me; Thou didst offer to Thy Eternal Father Thy all-powerful prayers, united to Thy sufferings, to obtain for me, a wretched sinner, the pardon of my sins: Who, in the days of his flesh with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to him that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence. (Heb. v. 7). O my beloved Redeemer, how is it possible that Thou couldst love so much one who has so grievously offended Thee? How couldst Thou embrace such sufferings for me, foreseeing, as Thou didst, all the ingratitude of which I should be guilty towards Thee?
O my afflicted Lord, make me share in that sorrow which Thou didst then have for my sins. I abhor them at this present moment, and I unite this my hatred to the horror that Thou didst feel for them in the Garden. O my Saviour, look not upon my sins; for hell itself would not be sufficient to expiate them, but look upon the sufferings that Thou hast endured for me! O love of my Jesus, Thou art my Love and my Hope. O my Lord, I love Thee with my whole soul, and will always love Thee. I beseech Thee, through the merits of that weariness and sadness which Thou didst endure in the Garden, give me fervour and courage in all works that may contribute to Thy glory. Through the merits of Thy Agony, grant me Thy assistance to resist all the temptations of the flesh and of hell. My God, grant me the grace always to commend myself to Thee, and always to repeat to Thee, with Jesus Christ: Not as I will, but as thou willest. May Thy Divine will, not mine, be ever done. Amen.