Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
The Office for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost, which began yesterday evening, reminded us, in its Magnificat Antiphon, of a repentence which has never had an equal. David, the royal prophet, the conqueror of Goliath, himself conquered by sensuality, and from adulterer become a murderer, at last felt the crushing weight of his double crime, and exclaimed: I do beseech thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant, for I have done foolishly! “I have acted as a fool!”
Sin is always a folly, and a weakness, no matter what kind it may be, or who he be that commits it. The rebel angel, or fallen man may, in their pride, make efforts to persuade themselves that, when they sinned, they did not act as fools, and were not weak; but all their efforts are vain; sin must ever have this disgrace upon it, that it is folly and weakness, for it is a revolt against God, a contempt for his law, a mad act of the creature who, being made by his Creator to attain infinite happiness and glory, prefers to debase himself by turning towards nothingness, and then falls even lower than the nothingness from which he was taken. It is, however, a folly that is voluntary, and a weakness that has no excuse; for although the creature has nothing of his own but darkness and misery, yet his infinitely merciful Creator, by means of his grace, which is never wanting, puts within that creature’s reach divine strength and light.
It is so with even the sinner that has been the least liberally gifted—he has no reason that can justify his offenses: but when he that sins is a creature who has been laden with God’s gifts and, by his divine generosity, raised higher than others in the order of grace—oh! then, the offense he commits against his benefactor is an injury that has no name. Let this be remembered by those who, like David, could say that their God has multiplied his magnificence over them. They may, perhaps, have been led by him into high paths which are reserved for the favored few, and may, perhaps, have reached the heights of divine union: yet must they be on their guard; no one who has still to carry with him the burden of a mortal body of flesh is safe, unless by exercising a ceaseless vigilance. On the mountains, as on the plains and the valleys, at all times and in all places, a fall is possible; but when it is on those lofty peaks which, in this land of exile, seem bordering on heaven, and but one step from the entrance into the powers of the Lord,—what a terrific fall, when the foot slips there! The yawning precipices, which that soul had avoided on her ascent now are all open to engulf her; abyss after abyss of crime, she rushes into them, and with a violence of passion that terries even them that have long been nothing but wickedness.
Poor fallen soul! pride, like that of Satan, will now try to keep her obstinately fixed in her crimes: but from the depths into which she has fallen, let her lament her abominations; let her not be afraid to look up, through her tears, at those glorious heights which were once her abode,—an anticipated heaven. Without further delay, let her imitate the royal penitent, and say with him: I have sinned against the Lord! and she will hear the same answer that he did: The Lord hath taken away thy sin; thou shalt not die; and as with David, so also with her, God may still do grand things in her. David, when innocent, was a faithful image of Christ, who was the object of the love of both heaven and earth; David, sinner but penitent, was still the figure of the Man-God, as laden with the sins of the whole world, and bearing on his single self the merciful and just vengeance of his offended Father.
It is difficult to see what connection there is between the Mass and the Office of this Sunday, at least as we now have them. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Honorius of Autun and Durandus applied the Introit and the other sung portion to the inauguration of Solomon’s reign. At the time when these two writers lived, the Scripture Lessons for this Sunday were taken fron the first pages of the second book of Paralipomenon, where we have the account of the glorious early days of David’s son. But since then, it has been the Church’s practice to continue the reading of the four books of Kings (again, first and second books of Samuel; and first and second books of Kings in Bibles other than Douay) up to the month of August, omitting altogether the two books of Paralipomenon, which were but a practical repetition of the events already related in previous Lessons. So that the connection suggested by the two writers just mentioned has no foundation in the actual arrangement of today’s liturgy. We must, therefore, be satisfied with taking from the Introit the teaching of what it is that constitutes the Christian’s courage—his faith in God’s power which is always ready to help him, and the conviction of his own nothingness, which keeps him from all presumption.
|Dominus fortitudo plebis suæ, et protector salutarium Christi sui est: salvum fac populum tuum, Domine, et benedic hæreditati tuæ, et rege eos usque in sæculum.||The Lord is the strength of his people, and the protector of the salvation of his Christ: save, O Lord, thy people, and bless thine inheritance, and govern them for ever.|
|Ps. Ad te, Domine, clamabo; Deus meus, ne sileas a me, nequando taceas a me, et assimilabor descendentibus in lacum. Gloria Patri. Dominus.||Ps. To thee, O Lord, will I cry out: O my God, be not silent, refuse not to answer me, lest I become like those who descend into the pit. Glory, &.c. The Lord.|
The Collect gives us an admirable summing up of the strong yet sweet action of grace upon the whole course of Christian life. It has evidently been suggested by those words of St. James: Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.
|Deus virtutum, cujus est totum quod est optimum: insere pectoribus nostris amorem tui nominis, et præsta in nobis religionis augmentum: ut quæ sunt bona, nutrias, ac pietatis studio, quæ sunt nutrita, custodias. Per Dominum.||O God of all power, to whom belongs whatsoever is best: implant in our hearts the love of thy name, and grant us an increase of religion: that thou mayst nourish what is good in us, and, whilst we make endeavors after virtue, mayst guard the things thus nourished. Through, &.c,|
The other Collects as in the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost.
|Lectio Epistolæ beati Pauli Apostoli ad Romanos.||Lesson of the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Romans.|
|Cap. vi.||Ch. vi.|
|Fratres: Quicumque baptizati sumus in Christo Jesu, in morte ipsius baptizati sumus. Consepulti enim sumus cum illo per baptismum in mortem: ut quomodo Christus surrexit a mortuis per gloriam Patris, ita et nos in novitate vitae ambulemus. i enim complantati facti sumus similitudini mortis ejus: simul et resurrectionis erimus. Hoc scientes, quia vetus homo noster simul crucifixus est, ut destruatur corpus peccati, et ultra non serviamus peccato. Qui enim mortuus est, justificatus est a peccato. Si autem mortui sumus cum Christo, credimus quia simul etiam vivemus cum Christo, scientes quod Christus resurgens ex mortuis jam non moritur: mors illi ultra non dominabitur. Quod enim mortuus est peccato, mortuus est semel: quod autem vivit, vivit Deo. Ita et vos existimate vos mortuos quidem esse peccato, viventes autem Deo, in Christo Jesu Domino nostro.||Brethren: all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus, are baptized in his death. For we are buried together with him by baptism into death; that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, to the end that we may serve sin no longer. For he that is dead is justified from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall live also together with Christ: Knowing that Christ rising again from the dead, dieth now no more, death shall no more have dominion over him. For in that he died to sin, he died once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God: So do you also reckon, that you are dead to sin, but alive unto God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.|
The Masses of the Sundays after Pentecost have, so far, given us but once a passage from St. Paul’s Epistles. It has been to Sts. Peter and John that the preference has been hitherto given of addressing the Faithful at the commencement of the sacred Mysteries. It may be that the Church, during these weeks, which represent the early days of the apostolic preaching, has intended by this to show us the disciple of faith and the disciple of love as being the two most prominent in the first promulgation of the new Covenant, which was committed, at the onset, to the Jewish people. At that time, Paul was but Saul the persecutor, and was putting himself forward as the most rabid opponent of that Gospel, which later on he would so zealously carry to the furthest parts of the earth. If his subsequent conversion made him become an ardent and enlightened apostle even to the Jews, it soon became evident that the house of Jacob was not the mission that was to be specially the one of his apostolate. After publicly announcing his faith in Jesus the Son of God; after confounding the synagogue by the weight of his testimony, he waited in silence for the termination of the period accorded to Juda for the acceptance of the covenant; he withdrew into privacy, waiting for the Vicar of the Man-God, the Head of the apostolic college, to give the signal for the vocation of the Gentiles, and open, in person, the door of the Church to these new children of Abraham.
But Israel has too long abused God’s patience; the day of the ungrateful Jerusalem’s repudiation is approaching, and the divine Spouse, after all this long forbearance with his once chosen, but now faithless Bride, the Synagogue—has gone to the Gentile nations. Now is the time for the Doctor of the Gentiles to speak; he will go on speaking and preaching to them, to his dying day; he will not cease proclaiming the word to them, until he has brought them back, and lifted them up to God, and consolidated them in faith and love. He will not rest until he has led this once poor despised gentile world to the nuptial union with Christ, yes, to the full fecundity of that divine union, of which, on the 24th and last Sunday after Pentecost, we shall hear him thus speaking: We cease not to pray for you, and to beg that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye may walk worthy of God, in all things pleasing him; being fruitful in every good work. … Giving thanks to God the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the Saints in light, … and hath translated us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.
It is to the Romans that are addressed today’s inspired instructions of the great Apostle. For the reading of these admirable Epistles of St. Paul, the Church, during the Sundays after Pentecost, will follow the order in which they stand in the canon of Scripture: the epistle to the Romans, the two to the Corinthians, then those to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, will be read to us in their turns. They make up the sublimest correspondence that was ever written—a correspondence where we find Paul’s whole soul, giving us both precept and example how best we may love our Lord: I beseech you, so he speaks to his Corinthians, be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ.
Indeed, the Gospel, the kingdom of God, the Christian life, is not an affair of mere words. Nothing is less speculative than the science of salvation. Nothing makes it penetrate so deep in the souls of men as the holy life of him that teaches it. It is for this reason that the Christian world counts him alone as Apostle or Teacher, who in his one person holds the double teaching of doctrine and works. Thus, Jesus, the Prince of Pastors, manifested eternal truth to men, not alone by the words uttered by his divine lips, but likewise by the works he did during his life on earth. So too the Apostle, having become a pattern of the flock, shows us all, in his own person, what marvelous progress a faithful soul may make under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of sanctification.
Let us, then, be attentive to every word that comes from this mouth, ever open to speak to the whole earth; but at the same time, let us fix the eyes of our soul on the works achieved by our Apostle, and let us walk in his footsteps. He lives in his Epistles; he abides and continues with us all, as he himself assures us, for the furtherance and joy of our faith.
Nor is this all. If we value, as we ought, the example and the teaching of this father of the gentiles, we must not forget his labors and sufferings and solicitudes, and the intense love he bore towards all those who never had seen, or were to see, his face in the flesh. Let us make him the return of dilating our hearts with affectionate admiration of him. Let us love not only the light, but also him who brings it to us—and all them who, like him, have been getting for us the exquisite brightness from the treasures of God the Father and his Christ. It is the recommendation made so feelingly by St. Paul himself; it is the intention willed by God Himself, by the fact of his confiding to men like ourselves the charge of sharing with Him the imparting this heavenly light to us. Eternal Wisdom does not show herself directly here below; she is hidden, with all her treasures, in the Man-God; she reveals herself by Him; and by the Church, which is the mystical body of that Man-God, and by the chosen members of that Church, the Apostles. We cannot either love or know our Lord Jesus Christ, save by and in Him; but we cannot love or understand Jesus unless we love and understand his Church. Now, in this Church—the glorious aggregate of the elect both of heaven and earth—we should especially love and venerate those who are, in a special manner, associated with our Lord’s sacred humanity in making the divine Word manifest—that Word who is the one center of our thoughts, both in this world and in the world to come.
According to this standard, who was there that had a stronger claim than paul to the veneration, gratitude, and love of the Faithful? Who of the Prophets and holy Apostles went deeper into the mystery of Christ? Who was there like him, in revealing to the world the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus? Was there ever a more perfect teacher, or a more eloquent interpreter, of the life of union—that marvelous union which brings regenerated humanity into the embrace of God, union which continues and repeats the life of the Word Incarnate in each Christian? To him, the last and least of the saints (as he humbly calls himself), was given the grace of proclaiming to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; to him was confided the mission of teaching to all nations the mystery of creation—mystery hidden so long in God, as the secret to be, at some distant day, revealed to men, and would show them what was the one only meaning of the world’s history—the mystery, that is, of the manifestation, through the Church, of the infinite Wisdom which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
For, as the Church is neither more nor less than the body and mystical complement of the Man-God,—so, in St. Paul’s mind, the formation and growth of the Church are but the sequel of the Incarnation; they are but the continued development of the mystery shown to the angelic hosts, when this Word Incarnate made himself visible to them in the Crib at Bethlehem. After the Incarnation, God was the better known of his Angels; though ever the self-same in his own unchanging essence, yet to them he appeared grander and more magnificent in the brilliant reflection of his infinite perfections, as seen in the Flesh of his Word. So, too, although no increase in them was possible, and their plenitude was their fixed measure; yet the created perfection and holiness of the Man-God have their fuller and clearer revelation in proportion as the marvels of perfection and holiness which dwell in Him, as in their source, are multiplied in the world.
Starting from Him, flowing ever from His fulness, the stream of grace and truth ceaselessly laves each member of the body of the Church. Principle of spiritual growth, mysterious sap, it has its divinely appointed channels: and these unite the Church more closely to her Head than the nerves and vessels, which convey movement and life to the extremities of our body, unite its several parts to the head which directs and governs the whole frame. But just as in the human body, the life and the head and of the members is one, giving to each of them the proportion and harmony which go to make up the perfect man, so in the Church, there is but one life: the life of the Man-God, of Christ the head, forming his mystical Body, and perfecting, in the Holy Ghost, its several members. The time will come when this perfection will have attained its full development; then will human nature, united with its divine Head in the measure and beauty of the perfect age due to Christ, appear on the throne of the Word, an object of admiration to the Angels, and of delight to the most holy Trinity. Meanwhile, Christ is being completed in all things and in all men; as heretofore at Nazareth, Jesus is still growing; and these his advancings are gradual fresh manifestations of the beauty of infinite Wisdom.
The holiness, the sufferings, and then, the glory of the Lord Jesus—in a word, his life continued in his members, this is St. Paul’s notion of the Christian life: a notion most simple and sublime which, in the Apostle’s mind, resumes the whole commencement, progress and consummation of the work of the Spirit of love in every soul that is sanctified. We shall find him, later on, developing this practical truth, of which the Epistle read to us today merely gives the leading principle. After all, what is Baptism, that first step made on the road which leads to heaven—what else is it but the neophyte’s incorporation with the Man-God, who died once unto sin that he might forever live in God his Father? On Holy Saturday, after having assisted at the blessing of the font, we had read to us a similar passage from another Epistle of St. Paul, which put before us the divine realities achieved beneath the mysterious waters. Holy Church returns to the same teaching today, in order that she may recall to our minds this great principle of the commencement of the Christian life, and make it the basis of the instructions she is here going to give us. If the very first effect of the sanctification of one who, by Baptism, is buried together with Christ, is making him a new man, the creating of him anew in this Man-God, the ingrafting his new life upon the life of Jesus whereby to bring forth new fruits—we cannot wonder at the Apostle’s unwillingness to give us any other rule for our contemplation or our practice, than the study and imitation of this divine model. There, and there only, is man’s perfection, there is his happiness: as then ye have received the knowledge of Jesus Christ the Lord, walk ye in him; for as many of you as have been baptised in Christ, have put on Christ. Our Apostle emphatically tells us that he knoweth nothing, and will preach nothing but Jesus. If we are to be of St. Paul’s school, adopting the sentiments of our Lord Jesus Christ and making them our own, we shall become other Christs, or, rather, one only Christ with the Man-God, by the sameness of thoughts and virtues, under the impulse of the same sanctifying Spirit.
Between the two lessons of Epistle and Gospel, the Gradual and Alleluia-Verse come urging us to make that humble and confiding prayer, which should ever be ascending to God from the Christian soul.
|Convertere, Domine, aliquantulum, et deprecare super servos tuos.||Turn to us a little, O Lord, and be appeased with thy servants.|
|℣. Domine, refugium factus es nobis, a generatione et progenie.||℣. O Lord, thou hast been our refuge, from generation to generation.|
|Alleluia, alleluia.||Alleluia, alleluia.|
|℣. In te, Domine, speravi, non confudar in æternum: in justitia tua libera me et eripe me: inclina ad me aurem tuam: accelera, ut eripias me. Alleluia.||℣. In thee, O Lord, have I put my trust, let me never be confounded: save me by thy justice, and rescue me: bend thine ear unto me: make haste to save me. Alleluia.|
|Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Marcum.||Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Mark.|
|In illo tempore: Quum turba multa esset, nec haberent quod manducarent, convocatis discipulis, ait illis: Misereor super turbam: quia ecce jam triduo sustinent me, nec habent quod manducent: et si dimisero eos jejunos in domum suam, deficient in via: quidam enim ex eis de longe venerunt. Et responderunt ei discipuli sui: Unde illos quis poterit saturare panibus in solitudine? Et interrogavit eos: Quot panes habetis? Qui dixerunt: Septem. Et præcepit turbæ discumbere super terram. Et accipiens septem panes, gratias agens fregit, et dabat discipulis suis ut apponerent, et apposuerunt turbæ. Et habebant pisciculos paucos: et ipsos benedixit, et jussit apponi. Et manducaverunt, et saturati sunt, et sustulerunt quod superaverat de fragmentis, septem sportas. Erant autem qui manducaverunt, quasi quatuor millia: et dimisit eos.||At that time: When there was a great multitude, and had nothing to eat; calling his disciples together, he saith to them: I have compassion on the multitude, for behold they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat. And if I shall send them away fasting to their home, they will faint in the way; for some of them came from afar off. And his disciples answered him: From whence can any one fill them here with bread in the wilderness? And he asked them: How many loaves have ye? Who said: Seven. And taking the seven loaves, giving thanks, he broke, and gave to his disciples for to set before them; and they set them before the people. And they had a few little fishes; and he blessed them, and commanded them to be set before them. And they did eat and were filled; and they took up that which was left of the fragments, seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand; and he sent them away.|
The interpretation of the sacred text is given to us by St. Ambrose, in his Homily which has been chosen for this Sunday. We shall there find the same vein of thought as is suggested by the whole tenor of the Liturgy assigned for this portion of the Year. The holy Doctor thus begins: “After the woman, who is the type of the Church, has been cured of the flow of blood,—and after the Apostles have received their commission to preach the Gospel,—the nourishment of heavenly grace is imparted.” He had just been asking, a few lines previous, what this signified; and his answer was: “The Old Law had been insufficient to feed the hungry hearts of the nations; so, the Gospel food was given to them.”
We were observing this day week, that the Law of Sinaï, because of its weakness, had made way for the Testament of the universal covenant. And yet, it is from Sion itself that the Law of Grace has issued; here again, it is Jerusalem that is the first to whom the word of the Lord is spoken. But the bearers of the Good Tidings have been rejected by the obdurate and jealous Jews; they, therefore, turn to the Gentiles, and shake of Jerusalem’s dust from their feet. That dust, however, is to be an accusing testimony; it is soon to be turned into a rain showering down on the proud city a more terrible vengeance than was that of fire, which once fell on Sodom and Gomorrha. The superiority of Juda over the rest of the human race, had lasted for ages; but now, all that ancient privilege of Israel, and all his rights of primogeniture, are gone; the prinacy has followed Simon Peter to the west; and the crown of Sion, which is fallen from off her guilty head, now glitters, and will so forever, on the consecrated brow of the queen of nations.
Like the poor woman of the Gospel who had spent all her substance over useless remedies, the Gentile world had grown weaker and weaker by the effects of original and subsequent sins; she had put herself under the treatment of false teachers, who gradually reduced her to the loss of that law and gifts of nature, which, as St. Ambrose expresses it, had been her “vital patrimony.” At length the day came for her hearing of the arrival of the heavenly Physician: she, at once, roused herself; the consciousness of her miserable condition urged her on; her faith got the upper hand of her human respect, and brought her to the presence of the Incarnate Word; her humble confidence, which so strongly contrasted with the insulting arrogance of the Synagogue, lead her into contact with Christ, and she touched him; virtue went forth from him, cured from her original wound, and, at once, restored to her all the strength she had lost by her long period of languor.
Having thus cured human nature, our Lord bids her cease her fast which had lasted for ages; he gives her the excellent nourishment she required. St. Ambrose, whose comment we are following, compares the miraculous repast mentioned in today’s Gospel with the other multiplication of loaves brought before us on the fourth Sunday of Lent; and he remarks, how, both in spiritual nourishment, and in that which refreshes the body, there are various degrees of excellence. The Bridegroom does not ordinarily serve up the choicest wine, he does not produce the daintiest dishes, at the beginning of the banquet he has prepared for his dear ones. Besides, there are many souls here below who are incapable of rising, beyond a certain limit, towards the divine and substantial Light which is the nourishment of the spirit. To these, therefore, and they are the majority, and are represented by the five thousand men who were present at the first miraculous multiplication, the five loaves of inferior quality (Hordeaceos, barley) are an appropriate food, and one that, by its very number, is in keeping with the five senses, which, more or less, have dominion over the multitude. But, as for the privileged favorites of grace,—as for those men who are not distracted by the cares of this present life, who scorn to use its permitted pleasures, and who, even while in the flesh, make God the only king of their soul,—for these, and for these only, the Bridegroom reserves the pure wheat of the seven loaves, which, by their number express the plenitude of the Holy Spirit, and mysteries in abundance.
“Although they are in the world,” says St. Ambrose, “yet these men, to whom is given the nourishment of mystical rest, are not of the world.” In the beginning, God was, for six days, giving to the universe he had created its perfection and beauty; he consecrated the seventh to the enjoyment of his works. Seven is the number of the divine rest; it was also to be that of the fruitful rest of the Son of God,—the perfecting souls in that peace which makes love secure, and is the source of the invincible power of the bride, as mentioned in the Canticle. It is for this reas, that the Man-God, when proclaiming on the mount the Beatitudes of the law of love, attributed the seventh to the peace-makers, or peaceable, as deserving to be called, by excellence, the Sons of God. It is in them alone, that is fully developed the germ of divine sonship, which is put into the soul at Baptism. Thanks to the silence to which the passions have been reduced, their spirit, now master of the flesh, and itself subject to God, is a stranger to those inward storms, those sudden changes, and even those inequalities of temperature, which are all unfavorable to the growth of the precious seed; warmed by the Sun of Justice in an atmosphere which is ever serene and unclouded, there is no obstacle to its coming up, there is no ill-shapen growth; absorbing all thehuman moisture of this earth wherein it is set, assimilating the very earth itself, it soon leaves nothing else to be seen in these men but the divine, for they have become, in the eyes of the Father who is in heaven, a most image of his first-born Son.
“Rightly then,” continues St. Ambrose, “the seventh Beatitude is that of the peaceful; to them belong the seven baskets of the crumbs that were over and above. This bread of the Sabbath, this sanctified bread, this bread of rest,—yes, it is something great; and I even venture to say, that if, after thou hast eaten also of the seven, thou hast no bread on earth that thou canst look forward to.”
But, take notice of the condition specified in our Gospel, as necessary for those who aspire to such nourishment as that. “It is not,” says the Saint, “to lazy people, nor to them that live in cities, nor to them that are great in worldly honors, but to them that seek Christ in the desert, that is given the heavenly nourishment: they only who hunger after it, are received by Christ into a participation of the World and of God’s kingdom.” The more intense their hunger, the more they long for their divine object and for no other, the more will the heavenly food strengthen them with light and love, the more will it satiate them with delight.
All the truth, all the goodness, all the beauty of created things, are incapable of satisfying any single soul; it must have God; and so long as man does not understand this, everything that his senses and his reason can provide him with of good or true, far from its being able to satiate him, is ordinarily nothing more than a something which distracts him from the one object that can make him the happy being he was created to be,—a mere something that becomes a hindrance to his living the true life which God willed him to attain. Observe how our Lord waits for all their human schemes to fail, and then he will be their helper, if they will but permit him. The men of our today’s Gospel are not afraid to abide with him in the desert, and put up with the consequent privations of meat and drink; their faith is greater than that of their brethren who have preferred to remain in their home in the cities, and has raised them so much the higher in the order of grace; for that very reason, our Lord would not allow them to admit anything of a nature to interfere with the divine food he prepares for their souls.
Such is the importance of this entire self-abnegation for souls that aim at the highest perfection of Christian life, such, too, the difficulty which even the bravest find of reaching that total self-abnegation by their own efforts, that we see our Lord himself acting directly upon the souls of his saints, in order to create in them that desert, that spiritual vacuum, whose very appearance makes poor nature tremble, and yet which is so indispensable for the reception of his gifts. Struggling, like another Jacob with God, under the effort of this unsparing purification, the creature feels herself to be undergoing a sort of indescribable martyrdom. She has become the favored object of Jesus’ research; and, as He intends to give himself unreservedly to her, so He insists on her becoming entirely His. It is with a view to this, that he, in the delicate dealings of his mercy, subdues and breaks her, in order that he may detach her from creatures and from herself. The piercing eye of the Word perceives every least crease or fold of her spiritual being; his grace carries its jealous work right down to the division of soul and spirit, and reaches to the very joints and marrow, scrutinizing and unmercifully probing the thoughts and intents of the heart As the Prophet describes the refiner of the silver and gold, which is to form the king’s crown and scepter, so our divine Lord: he shall sit, refining and cleansing, in the crucible, this soul so dear to him, that he wishes to wear her as one of the precious jewels of his everlasting diadem. Nothing could exceed his zeal in this work, which, in his eyes, is grander far than the creation of a thousand worlds. He watches, he fans, the flame of the furnace, and he himself is called a consuming fire. When the senses have no more vile vapors to emit; when the dross of the spirit, which is the last to yield, has got detached from the gold, then does the divine purifier show it, with complacency, to the gaze of men and angels; its luster is all he would have it be; so he may safely produce on it a faithful image of himself.
When the Jewish people were led forth by Moses from Egypt, they said: The Lord God hath called us; we will go three days’ journey into the wilderness, to sacrifice unto the Lord our God. In like manner, the disciples of Jesus have retired into the wilderness, as our today’s Gospel tells us; and, after three days, they have been fed with a miraculous bread, which foretold the victim of the great Sacrifice, of which the Hebrew one was a figure. In a few moments, both the bread and the figure are to make way, on the altar before which we are standing, for the highest possible realities. Let us, then, go forth from the land of bondage of our sins; and since our Lord’s merciful invitation comes to us so repeatedly, let our souls get the habit of keeping away from the frivolities of earth, and from worldly thoughts. And now as we sing the Offertory-anthem, let us beseech our Lord that he may graciously give us strength to advance further into that interior desert, where he is always the most inclined to hear us, and where he is most liberal with his graces.
|Perfice gressus meos in semitis tuis, ut non moveantur vestigia mea: inclina aurem tuam, et exaudi verba mea: mirifica misericordias tuas, qui salvos facis sperantes in te, Domine.||Perfect thou my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps be not moved: incline thine ear unto me, and graciously hear my words: show forth thy wonderful mercies, O thou that savest them, who trust in thee, O Lord.|
The efficacy of our prayers depends on this,—that the object of those prayers be prompted and animated by faith. The Church has just been receiving her children’s offerings for the Sacrifice; she now asks, in the Secret, that we may all be endowed with faith.
|Propitiare, Domine, supplicationibus nostris, et has populi tui oblationes benignus assume: et ut nullius sit irritum votum, nullius vacua postulatio, præsta; ut quod fideliter petimus, efficaciter consequamur. Per Dominum.||Be appeased, O Lord, by our humble prayers, and mercifully receive the offerings of thy people: and, that the vows and prayers of none may be in vain, grant, that we may effectually obtain, what we ask with faith.|
The other Secrets as in the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost.
We were just admiring the work of purification, achieved by the Angel of the Covenant in his chosen souls. The Prophet Malachy, who spoke to us about this mystery of refining the elect, tells us, in the next verse, why all this is done; his words give us an explanation of the Communion-anthem we are now going to chant: And the sacrifice of Juda and of Jerusalem shall please the Lord, as in the days of old, and in the ancient years.
|Circuibo, et immolabo in tabernaculo ejus hostiam jubilationis: cantabo et psalmum dicam Domino.||I will go up, and sacrifice, in his temple, a victim of praise: I will sing, and repeat a psalm to the Lord.|
The sacred Mysteries are the true fire that purifies: they entirely cleanse from the remnants of sin every Christian that allows their divine heat to tell upon him; they also strengthen him in the path of perfection. Let us, then, unite with the Church in this prayer:
|Repleti sumus, Domine, muneribus tuis: tribue quæsumus; ut eorum et mundemur effectu, et muniamur auxilio. Per Dominum.||We have been filled, O Lord, with thy gifts; grant, we beseech thee, that we may be cleansed by their efficacy, and strengthened by their aid. Through, &c.|
The other Postcommunions, as in the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)