Saturday -- Second Week of Lent
MARY'S MARTYRDOM WITHOUT ANY ALLEVIATION
St. Bonaventure asks: "O Lady, tell me--where didst thou stand? Was it only at the foot of the Cross? Ah, much more than this. Thou wert on the Cross itself, crucified with thy Son!" Mary suffered in her heart all that Jesus suffered in His Body. Who shall heal thee, O Mary, since that very Son Who alone could give thee consolation was by His sufferings the sole cause of thine.
St. Bonaventure remarks that "those wounds which were scattered over the Body of our Lord, were all united in the single heart of Mary." Thus was our Blessed Lady, through the compassion of her loving heart for her Son, scourged, crowned with thorns, insulted, and nailed to the Cross. Whence the same Saint, considering Mary on Mount Calvary, present at the death of her Son, questions her in these words: "O Lady, tell me, where didst thou stand? Was it only at the foot of the Cross? Ah, much more than this, thou wast on the Cross itself, crucified with thy Son." Richard of St. Laurence, on the words of the Redeemer, spoken by Isaias the Prophet: I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the Gentiles there is not a man with me (Is. lxiii. 3), says, "It is true, O Lord, that in the work of human redemption Thou didst suffer alone, and that there was not a man who sufficiently pitied Thee; but there was a woman with Thee, and she was Thine own Mother; she suffered in her heart all that Thou didst endure in Thy body."
But all this is saying too little of Mary's sorrows, since she suffered more in witnessing the sufferings of her beloved Jesus than if she herself had endured all the outrages and death of her Son. Erasmus, speaking of parents in general, says that "they are more cruelly tormented by their children's sufferings than by their own." This is not always true, but in Mary it evidently was so; for it is certain that she loved her Son and His life beyond all comparison more than herself or a thousand lives of her own. Therefore, Blessed Amadeus rightly affirms that "the afflicted Mother, at the sorrowful sight of the torments of her beloved Jesus, suffered far more than she would have done had she herself endured His whole Passion." The reason is evident, for, as St. Bernard says, "the soul is more where it loves than where it lives." Our Lord Himself had already said the same thing: where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke xii. 34). If Mary then, by love, lived more in her Son than in herself, she must have endured far greater torments in the sufferings and death of her Son than she would have done had the most cruel death in the world been inflicted upon her.
The Martyrs suffered under the torments inflicted on them by tyrants; but the love of Jesus rendered their pains sweet and agreeable. St. Vincent was tortured on a rack, torn with pincers, burnt with red-hot iron plates; but, as St. Augustine remarks, "it seemed as if it was one who suffered, and another who spoke." The Saint addressed the tyrant with such energy and contempt for his torments, that it seemed as if one Vincent suffered and another spoke; so greatly did God strengthen him with the sweetness of His love in the midst of all he endured. St. Boniface had his body torn with iron hooks; sharp-pointed reeds were thrust between his nails and flesh; melted lead was poured into his mouth; and in the midst of all this he was heard saying, "I give Thee thanks, O Lord Jesus Christ." A St. Mark and a St. Marcellinus were bound to a stake, their feet pierced with nails; and when the tyrant addressed them, saying: "Wretches, see to what a state you are reduced; save yourselves from these torments," they answered: "Of what pains, of what torments dost thou speak? We never enjoyed so luxurious a banquet as in the present moment, in which we joyfully suffer for the love of Jesus Christ." St. Laurence suffered, but when roasting on the gridiron, "the interior flame of love," says St. Leo, "was more powerful in comforting his soul than the flame without in torturing his body." Hence love rendered him so courageous that he mocked the tyrant, saying: "If thou desirest to feed on my flesh, a part is sufficiently roasted; turn it, and eat." But how, in the midst of so many torments, in that prolonged death, could the Saint thus rejoice? "Ah!" replies St. Augustine, "inebriated with the wine of Divine love, he felt neither torments nor death."
So that the more the holy Martyrs loved Jesus, the less did they feel their torments and death; and the sight alone of the sufferings of a crucified God was sufficient to console them. But was our suffering Mother also consoled by love for her Son, and the sight of His torments? Ah, no; for this very Son Who suffered was the whole cause of them, and the love she bore Him was her only and most cruel executioner; for Mary's whole Martyrdom consisted in beholding and pitying her innocent and beloved Son, Who suffered so much. Hence, the greater her love for Him the more bitter and inconsolable was her grief. Great as the sea is thy destruction; who shall heal thee? (Lam. ii. 13). Ah, Queen of Heaven, love hath mitigated the sufferings of other Martyrs, and healed their wounds; but who hath ever soothed thy bitter grief? Who hath ever healed the too cruel wounds of thy heart? Who shall heal thee, since that very Son Who could give Thee consolation was, by His sufferings, the sole cause of thine, and the love which thou didst bear Him was the whole ingredient of Thy Martyrdom.
FASTING IN HONOUR OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN
There are many devout clients of Mary who, to honour her, fast on bread and water on Saturdays, and the Vigils of her Feasts.
It is well known that Saturday is dedicated by the Holy Church to Mary, because, as St. Bernard says, on that day, the day after the death of her Son, she remained constant in Faith. Therefore, Mary's clients are careful to honour her on that day by some particular devotion, and especially by fasting on bread and water, as did St. Charles Borromeo, Cardinal Tolet, and so many others. Nittardo, Bishop of Bamberg, and Father Joseph Arriaga, of the Society of Jesus, took no food at all on that day.
The great graces that the Mother of God has dispensed to those who do this are recorded by Father Auriemma. Let one example suffice: it is that of a famous captain of brigands, who, on account of this devotion, was preserved in life after his head had been cut off, and was thus enabled to make his Confession; for the unfortunate creature was in a state of sin. After Confession he declared that, on account of this devotion, the Blessed Virgin had obtained for him so great a grace, and immediately expired.
It would not, then, be anything very great, for a person who pretends to be devout to Mary, and particularly for one who has perhaps already deserved hell, to offer her this fast on Saturdays. I affirm that those who practise this devotion can hardly be lost; not that I mean to say that if they die in mortal sin the Blessed Virgin will deliver them by a miracle, as she did this bandit: these are prodigies of Divine mercy which very rarely occur, and it would be the height of folly to expect eternal salvation by such means; but I say, that for those who practise this devotion, the Divine Mother will make perseverance in God's grace easy, and obtain them a good death. All the members of our little Congregation, who are able to do so, practise this devotion. I say those who are unable to do so; and if our health does not permit it, at least we should on Saturdays content ourselves with one dish, or observe an ordinary fast, or abstain from fruit or something for which we have a relish. On Saturdays we should always practise some devotion in honour of our Blessed Lady, receive Holy Communion, or at least hear Mass, visit an image of Mary, wear a hair-cloth, or something of that sort. But at least on the Vigils of her Seven Principal Festivals, her clients should either offer her this fast on bread and water, or honour her otherwise as best they can.
REFLECTIONS AND AFFECTIONS ON THE PASSION OF JESUS CHRIST
From the Scriptures alone it clearly appears how barbarous and inhuman was the scourging of Jesus Christ. For why was it that Pilate should, after the scourging, ever have shown Him to the people, saying, Behold the man! were it not that our Saviour was reduced to so pitiable a condition that Pilate believed the very sight of Him would have moved His enemies themselves to compassion, and hindered them from any longer demanding His death? Why was it that in the journey which Jesus, after this, made to Calvary, the Jewish women followed Him with tears and lamentations? But there followed him a great multitude of the people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented him. (Luke xxiii. 27). Was it, perhaps, because those women loved Him and believed Him to be innocent? No, the women, for the most part, agree with their husbands in opinion; so that they, too, esteemed Him guilty; but the appearance of Jesus after His scourging was so shocking and pitiable, as to move even those who hated Him to tears; and therefore it was that the women gave vent to their tears and sighs. Why, again, was it that in this journey the Jews took the Cross from off His shoulders, and gave it the Cyrenean to carry? According to the most probable opinion, and as the words of St. Matthew clearly show: They compelled him to bear his cross. (Matt. xxvii. 32); or as St. Luke says: And on him they laid the cross, that he might carry it after Jesus. (Luke xxiii. 26). Was it, perhaps, that they felt pity for Him, and wished to lessen His pains? No, those guilty men hated Him, and sought to afflict Him to their uttermost. But as the Blessed Denis the Carthusian says, "They feared lest He should die upon the way "; seeing that Our Lord after the scourging was so drained of Blood and so exhausted of strength as to be scarcely able any longer to stand, falling down as He did on His road under the Cross, and faltering as He went at every step, as if at the point of death. Therefore, in order to take Him alive to Calvary, and see Him die upon the Cross, according to their desire, that His name might ever after be one of infamy: Let us cut him off, said they (as the Prophet had foretold), from the land of the living, and let his name be remembered no more (Jer. xi. 19), -- this was the end for which they constrained the Cyrenean to bear the Cross.
Ah, my Lord, great is my happiness in understanding how much Thou hast loved me, and that Thou dost even now preserve for me the same love which Thou didst bear me then, in the time of Thy Passion! But how great is my sorrow at the thought of having offended so good a God! By the merit of Thy scourging, O my Jesus, I ask Thy pardon. I repent, above every other evil, of having offended Thee; and I purpose rather to die than offend Thee again. Pardon me all the wrongs that I have done Thee, and give me the grace ever to love Thee for the time to come.
The Prophet Isaias has described more clearly than all the pitiable state to which He foresaw our Redeemer reduced. He said that His most holy Flesh would have to be not merely wounded, but altogether bruised and crushed to pieces: But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins. (Isaias liii. 3). For (as the Prophet goes on to say) the Eternal Father, the more perfectly to satisfy His justice, and to make mankind understand the deformity of sin, was not content without beholding His Son pounded piecemeal, as it were, and torn to shreds by the scourges: And the Lord willed to bruise him in infirmity (Is. liii.); so that the Blessed Body of Jesus had to become like the body of a leper, all wounds from head to foot: And we esteemed him as a leper, and one smitten of God. (Is. liii.).
Behold, then, O my lacerated Lord, the condition to which our iniquities have reduced Thee: "O good Jesus, it is ourselves who sinned, and dost Thou bear the penalty of it?" Blessed for evermore be Thy exceeding charity; and mayest Thou be beloved as Thou dost deserve by all sinners; and, above all, by me, who have done Thee more injury than others.
Jesus one day manifested Himself under His scourging to Sister Victoria Angelini; and, showing her His body one mass of wounds, said to her: "These Wounds, Victoria, every one of them ask thee for love." "Let us love the Bridegroom," said the loving St. Augustine, "and the more He is presented to us veiled under deformity, the more precious and sweet is He made to the bride." Yes, my sweet Saviour, I see Thee all covered with wounds; I look into Thy beautiful Face; but, O my God, it no longer wears its beautiful appearance, but is disfigured and blackened with blood and bruises, and shameful spittings: There is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we beheld him, and esteemed him not. (Is. liii.). But the more I see Thee so disfigured, O my Lord, the more beautiful and lovely dost Thou appear to me. And what are these disfigurements that I behold but signs of the tenderness of that love which Thou dost bear towards me?
I love Thee, my Jesus, thus wounded and torn to pieces for me; would that I could see myself, too, torn to pieces for Thee, like so many Martyrs whose portion this has been. But if I cannot offer Thee wounds and blood, I offer Thee at least all the pains which it will be my lot to suffer. I offer Thee my heart; with this I desire to love Thee more tenderly even than I am able. And who is there that my soul should love more tenderly than a God Who has endured scourging and been drained of His Blood for me? I love Thee, O God of love! I love Thee, O Infinite Goodness! I love Thee, O my Love, my All! I love Thee, and I would never cease from saying, both in this life and in the other: I love Thee, I love Thee, I love Thee. Amen.