The Agony of Our Lord in the Garden (By Fr Charles Hyacinth McKenna O.P.)

The Agony of Our Lord in the Garden

By Fr Charles Hyacinth McKenna O.P.

Then Jesus came with His disciples into a country place which is called Gethsemani; and said to them: Sit you here till I go yonder and pray; and taking with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to grow sorrowful and to be sad.  Then He said to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death; stay you here, and watch with Me.—Matt, xxvii. 36.

WE NOW COME TO THE SCHOOL OF JESUS CRUCIFIED.  We come now to study in the book of His sacred Passion.  It was in this blessed book that God’s greatest servants learned their most salutary lessons; for here they found the most saving truths, the most sublime wisdom. In this school, for nearly two thousand years, heroic souls have been trained to fight on the world’s great battlefield in the cause of the Master:

— Here, weak women and tender virgins have become strong and brave: and triumphing gloriously over their enemies, have won for themselves imperishable crowns.

— Here have been formed valiant soldiers, noble generals, leaders in the army of God.

— Here theologians have acquired their profoundest knowledge of Christian mysteries: and have drunk, as from an unfailing fountain, the greatest truths of mystical theology.  The Teacher is our Lord Jesus Christ, and He gives us His first lesson in the Garden of Gethsemani.

It is the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary.

St. Alphonsus Liguori asks: “Who can deny that, of all devotions, the devotion to the Passion of Jesus Christ is the most useful, the most tender, and the most pleasing to God?  It affords the greatest consolation to sinners, and is the most powerful means of enkindling in the heart an ardent love for God.”

From the Passion and death of Our Lord, all graces and blessings have come to us.  Through its serious and prayerful consideration we are brought face to face with the manifestation of God’s infinite love for us.  We behold in His mangled body the indisputable proof of that love, as well as the evidence of the enormity of our sins, which required so great an atonement.  At the foot of the cross, the worst of sinners can find mercy.  There they can obtain the grace of true contrition, without which reconciliation with God were impossible.  There they are strengthened in their resolutions to suffer all things, even death itself, rather than again crucify the Son of God by returning to their sins.  The cross of their Redeemer is their shelter, their protection, their chief ground of confidence, their glory.  St. Paul, that ardent lover of Jesus Christ, cried out: “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.”

In the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, on the night before His Passion, Our Lord gave us the final and most tender proof of His love.  Then it was that He raised His beloved disciples to the sublime dignity of the priesthood, and commanded them to offer the adorable sacrifice of the Mass.  Then it was that He fed them with the Bread of Heaven, to support them through the trial which awaited them.

After the conclusion of that solemn and touching ceremony, He went forth from the supper chamber with His disciples, and passing over the Valley of Josaphat, and the brook Cedron, ascended the mountainside leading to the Garden of Gethsemani.

Bidding the rest of the disciples to wait, He took with Him Peter, James, and John, and entered the depths of Gethsemani, there to prepare Himself for the sacrifice.  And presently, fear and sadness came upon Him, and He began to be exceedingly sorrowful.  Withdrawing even from the three whom He had chosen, He went a little farther into the shadow of the garden, and falling upon His face, prayed: “Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Mt 26, 39).

There is a mystery in this abyss of agonizing grief so deep that God alone can fathom it.  From eternity Christ knew, as God, all that would happen in time; and as man He had seen clearly from the moment of His Incarnation the price He would pay for our Redemption; and yet, notwithstanding this clear prevision of His suffering, it was only in the Garden of Gethsemani that, by an act of His divine will, the floodgates of fear and sorrow opened and overwhelmed His soul.

As God, He was able to lay down His life and take it up again.

As man, He was prepared to take upon Himself the crimes of a sinful world, and, so laden, to offer Himself as an atoning Victim to the inexorable justice of His heavenly Father.  This is what was meant by the chalice which was prepared for Him, and which He was to drink to its very dregs.  And what a bitter, revolting chalice this was!  It contained the sins of the whole human race, from the beginning until the end of time—all the murders, all the impurities, the sacrileges, the blasphemies, all the idolatries and outrages that ever had been offered, all that ever would be offered to His eternal Father! And for all, He, the innocent Lamb of God, must make atonement!  He was to assume the sins of all humanity—to suffer as if He alone were guilty!  As St. Paul says: “He put on iniquity as a garment,” since He, who is Infinite Sanctity, saw Himself enveloped, defiled, as it were, with the corruption of the whole human race.  Thus covered with our crimes, He presented Himself in fear and trembling before the justice of His heavenly Father.  No wonder that His soul was sorrowful even unto death!  No wonder that He fell into an agony so frightful that the precious Blood oozed from every pore of His body, and ran in great drops to the ground!

Christ’s virginal human nature endured in anticipation all the shame and suffering of His Passion—the betrayal by Judas, the blows, the insults, the abandonment by His trusted disciples, the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the reviling and rejection by His ungrateful people, the painful journey to Calvary, the cruel crucifixion, with its prolonged and unspeakable torments-all were present to Him.

In those hours of agonizing prevision were condensed all the sufferings of His many martyrs and confessors, including the dolors of His Blessed Mother, all the heartfelt contrition ever felt by poor penitents for their sins.

Added to this was the torturing knowledge that countless souls would be lost, notwithstanding all the excruciating anguish that He was about to endure for their salvation.  His soul was torn with unspeakable grief: and a conflict raged between His higher and His lower nature, the one urging Him to accomplish the will of His Father, the other “rebelling” against the extremity of complete satisfaction demanded by the divine justice.  This conflict enables us to understand that agonizing, oft-repeated prayer: “Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me.”  But the bitter cup was not destined to pass; both Father and Son had willed that it should be drained to the dregs.  Perhaps the most grievous element in that draught, and the one which weighed most heavily upon the desolate heart of Our Lord, was the withdrawal of all the supporting consolations of the Godhead.  Apparently deserted by His Father, His afflicted humanity was left to struggle unaided with the besetting powers of darkness. […]

It was then, in Gethsemani’s hour of desolation and abandonment, that Jesus sought consolation from His disciples.  He, the Comforter of the afflicted, sought the help of His creatures! His lonely, overburdened heart yearned for their sympathy.

But He found them asleep, unmindful of all that He had done for them, and of what He was then enduring for the love of them.  Alas, how little can we rely upon human comfort in the hour of affliction!  Finding the chosen three asleep (“for their eyes were heavy” says the text), Our Lord returned again to His solitary prayer; thus teaching us that when our souls are plunged in an abyss of sorrow and suffering, we must look to God alone for relief and strength.

The Evangelist tells us that an angel now descended from Heaven to comfort our desolate Lord; and that, through that heavenly visitation, His sacred humanity was invigorated and His courage renewed to continue the dreadful conflict.  Ascetic writers still further inform us that:

— the angel represented to the Redeemer the infinite glory which would be given to the Father by His sufferings and death.  He placed before Him the countless multitudes who would glorify His mercy forever in heaven;

— he reminded Him that even the lost would be forced to glorify the divine justice throughout all eternity.

Let us in like manner, when we stand face to face with some supreme trial, remember the words of saint Paul: “The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come.”

It was through suffering that God’s most illustrious servants attained their highest perfection.  The Way of the Cross is the way of salvation, and the humble resignation of our souls into the hands of God in the time of affliction will not only obtain for us strength to drink the chalice even to its dregs, but increase our merits in the kingdom of Heaven.  Let us learn from Our Lord submissively to accept whatever our heavenly Father may send us, whether it be mental suffering, physical pain, loss of property, the betrayal of friends, the tarnishing of our good name through the breath of calumny,— whatever it be, let us cry, ” Lord, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me”; but let us also add, after the example of Our Lord, in meek resignation, “Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done.”  God knows what is best for our purification and sanctification.  He will lead us to everlasting life, if we but follow Him in confidence and holy patience.

There is one lesson especially that Our Lord would teach us by His prayer in the Garden.  It is humble perseverance in the same petition.  Here we have divine warrant for repeating so often the “Hail Mary” and the “Holy Mary” in the Rosary.  The Evangelist tells us that Our Lord repeated the selfsame words, again and again: “Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me.”  Let us then persevere in our petitions, continually making known our needs, whether temporal or spiritual, to our heavenly Father.  It is His wish that we should continue to importune Him, not that He may know our wants, but that we may pay Him the homage of prayer which is His due, and acknowledge that all blessings must come to us through His adorable hands.

There are many instances of the reward of perseverance in prayer:

* The following was told the author by a priest who (for several years) had been his companion on the missions.  “My mother,” he said, “was a Catholic, but was unfortunately married out of the Church. My father was a bigoted Protestant, and soon after her marriage he forbade her the practice of her religion.  She consulted her confessor, and he enjoined on her as a penance to recite every day a third part of the Rosary for her husband’s conversion.  Further, he counseled her to bear patiently with her trials, and faithfully persevere in practicing her religion, no matter what she might have to suffer for it.”  Years passed on with this worthy woman, and as her children were born to her, she carried them by stealth to her saintly pastor and had them baptized.  As soon as they were able to lisp the “Hail Mary,” she had them unite with her in saying the Rosary for their father.  After five years, she doubled her penance; and after five years more, she offered up daily the fifteen mysteries for that husband’s conversion.  The change came unexpectedly in the end, as the priest had foretold.  The husband became a convert, and lived and died a fervent Catholic and an ardent lover of Our Lady of the Rosary.  The mother had the happiness of seeing her son a priest, and her daughter consecrated to the service of God among the Sisters of Loretto.

* We have another beautiful example of the power of prayer, accompanied by resignation to the will of God, in the life of the pious wife of King Louis XV of France, Maria Leckzinska of Poland.  The court of Louis was most corrupt; but the pious Queen did all in her power to save her children from its evil influences.  Her care was especially centered upon her son, the Dauphin, over whom she watched with unceasing vigilance.  On one occasion, she learned that certain vile young men had determined to destroy the innocence of the young Prince, and for that purpose had laid a snare to entrap him.  This news was as a dagger to the heart of the pious mother.  She hastened to her oratory, and closing the door, prostrated herself before the image of the Blessed Mother, imploring her to save her son from the danger that threatened him.  “It is to you, O Queen of Heaven,” she prayed, “that after God, I owe my son!  From his youth you have protected him.  I conjure you now to obtain from your divine Son his deliverance from his enemies; and, if it be necessary for me to weep for him, beg Our Lord that I may weep over his death, rather than over the loss of his innocence!”  Noble sacrifice of the Queen mother, worthy to be recorded with the sacrifice of Abraham!  In the midst of her ardent prayers and tears, an anonymous note was handed to her, containing these words: “Madame, be in peace.  Your petitions for the Dauphin are heard.”  She never discovered the writer of the note.  The young Prince almost miraculously escaped the snares so maliciously laid for him, and remained faithful to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  But that grace was purchased for him by his mother’s sacrifice.  Shortly afterwards the Prince became dangerously ill, and at the same time another anonymous letter was received by the Queen, which read as follows: “Remember, Madame, the request you made, and adore the mercy of God in behalf of your son.”  Recognizing in the sickness of the Prince the answer to her prayer, the mother accepted the decree with true Christian resignation and prepared for the worst.  When she saw her son expire, she had the inexpressible consolation of knowing that he had been received undefiled into the arms of his God.  Addressing her family, she said: “Oh, my children, seek no longer to know the cause of your brother’s death.  I prayed that he might die sooner than commit sin, and God has heard my prayer.”

What noble incentives to perseverance in prayer are thus given us in the life of our Saviour and His saints!  Should we, too, not pray without ceasing in all our difficulties and trials, and under the pressure of the cross humbly resign ourselves continually to God’s holy will?  Let us ever present our petitions through the hands of our immaculate Mother Mary.  O Virgin Mother of God! teach us to repeat again and again that sublime prayer, the “Hail Mary!”  Obtain for us the grace to persevere in prayer during our lives, that, at the hour of our death, we may be worthy to behold the blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus!

(From The Treasures of the Rosary, by Fr Charles Hyacinth McKenna O.P., written 1835; edited by P.J. Kenedy and Sons, New York, 1917.)

The Art of Confessing (Part 3 of 3)

The Art of Confessing

by Fr Henri-Charles Chery O.P.

(Part 3 of 3)

III

In this way, we are not likely to forget, as already mentioned several times, that in the sacrament of penance, the main merit comes from the purifying blood of Christ, not from the exhortation of the confessor, and this purification is obtained through our sorrow.

This truth affects the way in which you should bring your faults to the tribunal of confession: you should know that that it’s not just a matter of giving an account of your sins, but of truly being sorry for them.

However, every priest who hears confessions, is struck by the kind of indifference, or at least apparent indifference, with which many penitents state their faults.  They render an account of them, they make a list: and provided it’s accurately done, then it seems to them that they have done all that the Church requires of them.  All that is now needed is to receive absolution, and away they go, liberated from now on.  The formality is over and done with.

Now actually, it’s nothing of the sort.  Nothing is ‘formality’ when it comes to acts of religion – neither the Mass, which is not just a matter of our attendance, but requires our active participation, nor confession, which is essentially a sorrow for our sins, a renunciation of the evil we have done, in order to obtain forgiveness. It’s about love – a matter of the heart (that is to say of the will).  We come to admit that we have done wrong, that we have failed in the love we owe God by refusing to do His will in one way or another (His will that we should be faithful, or just, or pure, or loving, etc.).   That should come across in the way we confess our sins.

‘Confiteor…., ‘ is the formula which is recommended you say before confessing your sins: ‘I confess’, I admit, I’m sorry, it’s my fault, I am guilty, I beat my breast.  Your confession should be in line with this formula.  It’s not a matter of seeing that you’ve done wrong and bringing this observation to the priest’s attention, it’s about conveying real regret for having done wrong.

It would therefore be good (and this will be easy if we confess a limited number of sins) to repeat before confessing each fault, ‘I confess to….’.  Provided your heart is in it, this will prevent the dry indifference of those who merely recount their faults, instead of truly repenting of them.

A QUESTION: Should one confess sins from the past that have already been forgiven in previous confessions?

1) As an exercise in humility, if it doesn’t cause any turmoil or unease to your conscience, it can be good to acknowledge your guilt one more time for an old sin already absolved.  And not only as an exercise in humility;

2) but also for the grace of purification that the sacrament will bring in a special way, to the particular source of infection from which the sin originated, and which perhaps is not yet completely cleansed.

SIMILARLY, it can be good, at certain solemn times of life (before marriage, the religious life, during a retreat, etc.) to make what is called a “general confession”, bringing to it either the past year or a longer period.  But on one condition: that this is not done just for convention’s sake, but from a need;  not from being told, ‘It’s the thing to do’ – but rather because you feel interiorly drawn to doing it.  (This point is particularly relevant to confessions made during retreats.)

However, there are those who should refrain from delving back into the past: the scrupulous.  The scrupulous suffer from an illness, and their illness takes the specific form of an anxiety which makes them incapable of judging whether they’ve done something wrong or not; whether they’ve done this action well or badly.  They would like ‘to be sure’ and yet the more they seek this certitude, the more it escapes them.

In the confessional they want to be sure of having said absolutely everything, or of really having true contrition, and, never being sure, they repeat things indefinitely.  All this exhausting soul-searching aggravates their illness under the guise of soothing it.

There is only one way for them to be cured and that is to obey the confessor without any argument or discussion.  He will order them to completely shut their eyes on all the past, recent and far off.

IV

AN OBJECTION: One form of anxiety that is experienced, not only by the scrupulous, but also by the honest or sincere, has to do with the quality of their contrition, and it is expressed in this way: ‘What’s the use of confessing this sin?  I surely can’t be repentant since I know I’ll fall into it again.’

We are now talking about firm purpose of amendment.

But let us carefully distinguish between ‘predicting that we’ll sin again’ and ‘wanting to sin again.’

* Undoubtedly, the penitent who wants to sin again, who has the intention of repeating his fault at the first opportunity, is not really a penitent.  He has no contrition at all.  He is abusing the sacrament and is also under the false illusion that absolution from a sin can be obtained without the repentance of the sinner.

* But this is not, thanks be to God, the usual case.  Most penitents have a keen awareness of their weakness justified by past experience of relapses.  They believe they know that their good intention, when put to the test one more time, will not be any more effective than it was in the past.  And they conclude: ‘I do not have true contrition’.

They are wrong.  Deep down, they call ‘evil’ the evil they have done.  They really wish they hadn’t done it.  They wish they were capable of never doing it again.

But that is contrition!

God does not require, in order to forgive us, that we be sure of never sinning again!  (That kind of certitude would strongly resemble presumption).

He asks us to have the intention of doing what we can, with the promised support of his grace, to avoid sinning again.  Do we have this intention?  Then we don’t have to worry about being hypocritical or insincere.  Our gloomy predictions do not change our intention.

All the more so since they are based on a blameworthy mistrust of the grace of the sacrament.  If the sacrament of penance is a means of making progress, it is not so much achieved by the psychological effort it requires of us: it’s because it applies to our sick soul the medicine of the saving and meritorious blood of Jesus Christ.

Jesus grants us the pardon He obtained for our benefit by his Passion, but He also gives us the graces of cleansing and strength to support us in future struggles, particularly in the area of the sins we have brought to Him for absolution.  It is in these graces we should put our trust, not in the doubtful capacities for resistance of our good will.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow.  For tomorrow, tomorrow’s grace will be enough, provided that you keep trusting and praying.  For today you have today’s grace, the grace of contrition.  Wanting to imagine tomorrow’s temptations, is to want to carry a burden for which you have no help.  It’s not surprising then that it seems too heavy and overwhelms you in advance.

To say this is not, however, an invitation to heedlessness.  Confession should be finished with a resolution.  The carrying out of this resolution we entrust to God’s help, but we must also be willing to work at it.

The most efficient way of doing this is to make that resolution precise, dealing with one sin that we want to avoid, not on all the faults confessed, nor even, as a general rule, on several.

And better still, to try to anticipate, going by past experience, the circumstances which might lead us into a fall – those occasions, which, if we place ourselves into them, may sweep us along into sin again.  Let us make a resolution to avoid these occasions.

For instance, if we know:

— that this particular company drags us into malicious gossip;

— that that kind of reading turn our thoughts towards impurity;

— that this open drawer brings to mind old, barely dormant, grudges;

— that this kind of conversation gets us all worked up1.

The resolution will be:

— to flee from this type of company;

— to forbid ourselves this kind of reading;

— to keep that drawer closed, and to avoid this particular kind of conversation.

To act like this, is to realistically accept ourselves as we truly are, capable of falling where someone else would be strong in resisting.  In this way we avoid presumptuously ‘tempting God’, by laying ourselves open to temptation; it’s therefore being logical with our contrition.

Why not, from time to time, safeguard your resolution by putting it to the confessor at the end of your confession?  That will certainly help you to keep to it.

When done in this way, confession will no longer be the tedious repetition of ‘standard’ sins, which it only too often becomes, and which is sheer drudgery.  It will become one of the most powerful means of sanctification that the Church puts at our disposal.  In going to the tribunal of confession, we will be conscious of going to Christ on the Cross, who holds, in his crucified hands, the forgiveness He has obtained for our benefit; the blood with which he wants to cleanse us.

Conscious of our poverty, all the more so if we have taken a good, clear look at our daily weaknesses, and trusting in His mercy, having begged him to make us detest our sins, we will enter through the door of the confessional with the humble disposition of the prodigal child:

‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am not worthy of being called your son.’

Because of that, we will be able to go away with renewed strength, founded on the liberating assurance:

‘Go in peace, my son, your faith has saved you.’


The Art of Confessing (Part 2 of 3)

The Art of Confessing

by Fr Henri-Charles Chery O.P.

(Part 2 of 3)

II

Accusation of sins

Here I am next to the confessional, beginning my examination of conscience.  Which sins am I going to confess?

The question obviously needs to be addressed, because I can’t confess every single fault.  ‘The just man sins seven times a day’, Scripture says, and I, who am not just, how many sins slip my mind each day?  To be completely comprehensive, counting up every single possible sin is an unrealistic dream – and not even useful or helpful.  I need to choose. But what do I choose?

Obviously, first of all – all the mortal sins.

To deliberately omit confessing a mortal sin, even if you confess others that are just as serious, would be to render the confession invalid and sacrilegious.  That act by which we deliberately turned away from God, our last end (which is just like saying to him quite consciously, that we could not care less about disobeying him in a serious matter – as long as we can satisfy this or that disordered tendency) how could we come back to grace with God without renouncing it and therefore confessing itWe cannot, at the same time, be both a friend of God and hostile to him.

The difficulty for some of us is knowing when there is mortal sin:

* in theory, everyone knows it: serious matter, full knowledge, and full consent;

* but in practice, we often ask ourselves:

1)  Was the matter really a serious one?

2) And even more commonly: Did I really fully consent?

For the first question, it’s easy enough to ask the confessor’s advice.

As for the second, so long as the question is being asked in all honesty and in good conscience, and if you are really not absolutely sure, the rule is, there was not full consent.

Is this to say that there is no need to confess this ‘doubtful’ sin, or rather, this doubtfully committed sin?  Certainly not!  Because of the uncertainty, one may be permitted to approach the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and, strictly speaking, you aren’t even obliged to confess this sin; but you’d be wrong, if you wish to make progress in the spiritual life, to hide behind this non-obligation to hold on to an uneasy conscience.

Practically, the rule is quite simple.  You are not required to say, ‘I confess to having committed a mortal sin’, but rather, ‘I confess to having committed this sin, to having done this act.’  You might add, if this is the case, ‘I do not know if I fully consented.’  Then everything is in order.  In any case, we are always able to reply according to our conscience if the confessor asks us, ‘Do you believe that acting in this way, you have grievously sinned?’

What are we to think of the formula, so dear to those who use it constantly and almost automatically, ‘I confess myself as guilty as God finds me guilty.’?

Although useful and legitimate when you are uncertain of the nature of your culpability, it seems to me to be too facile, and somewhat hypocritical, when you know very well where you stand.

On the other hand let it be said that we should not (as some souls tend to do) see ‘mortal sin’ everywhere.  A sin that merits, of itself alone, separation from God for all eternity and the pains of hell – we do not commit that kind of sin without our conscience being well aware of it.  If this conscience is in need of formation, you must ask your confessor to enlighten you and then go strictly by his direction.

This formation of conscience should have been done at a young age, yet listening to the confessions of children, we are astonished by their ability to believe that their little faults – mere peccadilloes – are mortal sins.  Is there not in that – let it be said in passing – a responsibility going back to educators, who do not know how to distinguish between their grumblings or scoldings and the true moral value of childish faults?  In any case, this problem of formation of conscience in children should be looked into carefully and individually by parents and regular confessors, as it is just as dangerous to leave children to believe in the seriousness of little faults as it is to leave them to commit, as though quite unconcerned, gravely reprehensible acts.

A scrupulous and anguished conscience in youth makes for a weak adult, withdrawn, without courage, or indirectly results in an adolescent suddenly and brutally ‘liberating’ himself from an unbearable constraint.

Whether mortal or not, one would do well to get into the habit of confessing first of all, right at the beginning, the faults that weigh most heavily on the conscience, instead of slipping them, as if inadvertently, in the middle of a long list of relatively unimportant sins.  In this way you can free yourself in one fell swoop from faults that you might otherwise end up not confessing at all by giving in to foolish fear.

I would like to pay particular attention here on:

1) the examination of conscience and,

2) the confessing of venial sins.  Is it not here that a great many regular penitents fall short?

What is the most common complaint made by those who confess frequently?  ‘Confession bores me, because I always have to say the same thing.’  Or else this other complaint which is directed at the confessor: ‘He doesn’t say anything to me.’ – meaning – nothing out of the ordinary, nothing which helps me to shake off my faults.

Now these two failings, which make confession psychologically tedious, have the same cause – you do not know how to confess your sins.

How do most penitents confess?  Some (admittedly the smaller number) forget that sin is an act, not a state.  And so they reveal (or think they’re revealing) the depths of their soul by saying, ‘I am a liar, I am bad-tempered, I am impatient.  This kind of talk is not what is required.  All it does is expose a tendency of your soul, but confession is not about exposing your tendencies.  It is about admitting to specific acts – which are no doubt the outcome of your tendencies – but as different from them as the fruit is from the tree.  One can very well have a tendency to lying and yet not have committed the sin of lying in the fortnight since the last confession.  If one has told a lie, one should say, ‘I lied’, not ‘I am a liar’.

This is in fact what most penitents do say: ‘I lied, I lacked charity, I was lazy, I was vain.’  This is a more correct way, but the confession is hardly any better, meaning, it is hardly any better for your soul.  And hardly any more likely to draw out useful advice from your confessor.  Why?  Because it is bland.  You haven’t had to put any real thought into it.  You haven’t clarified.  It doesn’t give the confessor any specific indication, any clue, which might enable him to see in what way your soul differs from that of the soul he has had to judge and advise before you.  For every ten penitents following each other, at least nine of them could present the same list.  And in fact, alas! they do so.

So why (unless he already knows you from somewhere else) do you expect your confessor to give you exactly the advice you need?  Nothing specific has been revealed to him by this confession.  He hasn’t been given anything to go on.  He would have to be a marvelous psychologist and amazingly intuitive to guess, from this rapid outpouring of common faults, one after the other, through this grille where he can’t even see your face, the words he should say to reach out to you, touch your heart and encourage you into making the effort which you personally should undertake.  We can’t ask every confessor to be the Cure of Ars.  Normally, he will only be able to give you back from what you have given him.

If, as it sometimes happens through excessive scrupulousness, the penitent launches into a long list that he wants to make meticulously all-inclusive, if he intends to say every single thing and churns out just about every venial sin that it’s possible to commit (which he has, no doubt committed) and all of this made at a speedy pace that sometimes lasts several minutes, there you will have a completely overwhelmed and swamped confessor.  Is there anything personal or distinctive in all this, he’ll be wondering in vain.  And, not finding anything, all he can do is give a general exhortation which isn’t all that helpful.  Whose fault is that?

First and foremost let us emphasize that venial sin is a matter of free choice in the confessional.  We are not obliged to confess it.

A well-made act of contrition, and act of charity, a faithful and humble use of a sacramental are enough to obtain pardon [of venial sins].

A confession that is made up only of venial sins is therefore not necessary for salvation, but rather a means of sanctification.  It is a recourse to a sacrament – to the cleansing Blood of Jesus – by which we are purified and strengthened.  It is also, secondarily, an exercise in humility founded on knowledge of self, and an admission of all that is impeding our spiritual progress.

Therefore we are free to choose which of our committed venial sins to confess.  Does this mean choosing the most insignificant and forgetting about those which trouble us?  No!  Not at all!   A well-made examination of conscience will pick out, from the pile of daily faults, those which, because of their frequency or because of their malice, are the most harmful to the life of the soul.

The physiognomy of my sinful soul is no more similar to that of another soul than my face is similar to another face.  Broadly speaking, we all commit more of less the same faults, just as we all have a nose, a mouth, ears… but the importance for me of this fault, the place it holds in my spiritual life, how it influences other faults, that is what makes up my sinner’s face.  That, therefore, is what an intelligent examination of conscience will serve to pick out and highlight.

It’s useless to gather up a multitude of sins.  Five or six, well chosen, will be enough to see yourself, to show yourself as you are before God.  But as for these sins (and this remark is without doubt the most practical of all) it is a question of bringing them out in their true colors!

Examples

*  ‘I lied’: that means nothing.   ‘Omnis homo mendax,’ says the psalm.  Every man is a liar.  In what way have I lied?  To whom?  In what circumstances?  Why?

‘I lied to a sick friend who was looking forward to my visit because going to see her bored me.’  Who cannot see that this is a specific kind of lie?   ‘I lied to my boss in order to obtain some holiday leave to which I had no right‘,   ‘I lied to a client about the quality of my work so I could charge him more’ – so many different types of lies!   Therefore to just confess, ‘I lied’, would not have given any true idea of what was involved.

* ‘To fail in charity’ – the most common sin.  Why use this totally bland, colorless expression?  Better to say, ‘I said some hurtful words to someone I do not like, with the intention of upsetting him.’ ,  ‘I showed contempt towards a friend who is not very intelligent.’, ‘I refused some help that I could have given to a friend in need’,  or  ‘I made fun of a disabled sick person….’

* There are a hundred ways of being vain. What is yours?  Is it spending far too much time in getting dressed up?  Is it looking in the mirror every other minute?  Do you show off whenever you are in a group, trying to grab all the attention by your brilliant conversation?

* And your laziness?  How does that reveal itself in you?  By your persistent habit of staying in bed when it’s time to get up?  By your careless, half-finished duties of state?  By your could-not-care-less attitude, or your excessive love of sofas?

From these few examples (which could so easily be multiplied) you can see what we mean when we say – confess specific acts, and the circumstances in which you committed them.  Try to find the words that best put across your fault such as it was in reality, as something that was specifically yours and not just anyone’s.  This will be of great benefit to you:

— Firstly, because it will force you to see yourself as you really are, and then, because it will be a healthy and profitable humiliation.  It is more humiliating to say, ‘I spent half an hour every day putting on make up,’ than to say, ‘I was vain’.

— And lastly, because from this clear and precise information, your confessor will be able to see the state of your soul, and from that will be able to give you appropriate advice.

Having said all that, you are not invited to long-winded chatting.  To confess with precision is not the same as ‘telling stories’.  The confession should not be drowned in a flood of descriptive accounts, narration, explanations and digressions, where the penitent forgets he is confessing sins and where the confessor grasps nothing apart from the fact that you are admitting to having been sinned against.  Sometimes we hear this so-called confession changing into self-justification, or at the very least, a speech for the defense.

If you need to unburden a heart that is too weighed down and heavy, and receive some consolation, or if you would like some advice about what you must do, nothing could be more legitimate.  But do clearly separate the two intentions.  First make a proper confession, keeping strictly to your faults, and then inform the confessor that you also have something else to say.

(To be continued)

The Art of Confessing (Part 1 of 3)

The Art of Confessing – PART ONE

by Fr Chery O.P.

THESE WORDS are not addressed to the “big sinners” who come before Christ to relieve themselves of a great burden. They are not even addressed to Catholics who are making their annual Easter confession. But these lessons may be helpful for those people who have the “habit” of weekly, bimonthly or monthly confession.

“Habit” is a colorless word if it signifies only a praiseworthy regularity; it is a cold word if it signifies routine.  And sadly, everyone knows that a praiseworthy regularity easily degenerates into something routine.

The majority of penitents lament the miserable banality of their confessions, the small amount of fruit derived, and sometimes even their little interest in the exhortation that the confessor addresses to them when they come to find him.  Some have disgust for it, confess only by custom, and finally end up spacing their recourse to the sacrament of penance in a way that is prejudicial to their spiritual progress.

This disgust, and its consequences, do these not come from those who do not know how to confess?  There is a manner, an “art,” that could make this regular exercise into a serious means of sanctification.

In writing these lines, we have particularly thought of the numerous young people who seek to live a true Christianity in a generous effort of sincerity.  Not yet habituated, they suffer from a horror of routines, and they reject formalities.  They are right.  But they need to know that formalism is introduced through the fault of the ‘users,’ and I dare say, that it depends on them to keep intact, or lose, their religious vitality, for want of a personal effort.

The rites are conveyors of life, but only to the living.

The use of confession, if it is well understood, can be a serious support for the development of the spiritual life.

But first, since we are going to speak of confession, and nothing but confession [accusation of sins], it is necessary to carefully note that this is not the whole sacrament of penance, that it is not even the principal element.  This principal element consists of a regret, an accusation, an absolution, a reparation.  The sacrament is constituted essentially by an absolution effacing the fault of a heart that repents.  If a penitent, on his deathbed for example, cannot [verbally] express his accusation, the sacrament can [still] take place [even] from this [unspoken] accusation; it cannot take place without regret.  God, for His part, can effect the sacrament (in the absence of any priest qualified to give it): (but) He cannot save a soul in spite of itself, or remit a sin that someone obstinately refuses to regret.

Such people for whom the essential seems to be their accusation will do well to remember it.  The priest exhorts them to contrition, to the means to be considered so as not to fall back into their fault, but once their accusation has been made they seem not to follow him, distracted as they are by the concern to enunciate such and such other sin that did not initially come to their lips.  If it were a matter of a serious fault, it would be normal not to withdraw before expressing it; but most often it is a matter of venial faults. One mainly worries about being complete; but it is necessary above all to be contrite.

Consequently, in the few moments usually spent preparing for confession, it will be good not to give everything to the examination of conscience, but even more to implore the grace of God, in order to obtain a sincere regret for one’s faults, and to express in advance one’s contrition and the intention not to fall again.

To whom am I going to address myself when I go to confession?

First response:  to a priest.  I am deliberately using this general term to emphasize that the primordial importance in the use of the sacrament of penance must be granted not to the qualities of the man who hears confessions, but to his quality as minister of Christ. Because we lack faith, we excessively attach ourselves to the human value of the confessor, a real, objective value, or a value that attributes to him our sympathy and our confidence.

Whether this is to be taken into consideration is undeniable, but from a point of view which is, so to speak, on the margins of the sacrament.

This comes into play for the counsel that will follow the accusation and precede absolution.  But the sacrament is not constituted by this counsel; it can even do without it.  The important thing is to deal with the Christ who holds forgiveness, with the living Christ acting in his Church.  Every priest who has received from the Church the powers to absolve you validly, acts in persona Christi, in the name of Christ.  He opens for your soul the spring of pardon – which is the Blood of the Redeemer Christ – and He washes it in this Blood.

Erroneous for lack of faith is therefore the attitude of such penitents who delay liberating themselves from a serious sin or who indefinitely delay a confession which would release them from a growing malaise (by purifying the infection that spreads little by little) because “their confessor” is not there. If they had an understanding of what the sacrament is – sovereignly valuable in its purifying work, independent of the quality of the confessor who is before all else the “minister of Christ,” that is to say, the ear of Christ to hear the admissions, the wisdom of Christ to judge, and the mouth of Christ to pronounce the remission – they would attach themselves less to the human appearances and not delay at all.

It is appropriate here to mention why I must admit my faults to a priest instead of contenting myself with an admission directly expressed to God in the intimacy of my heart.  This is because I am a member of the Church.

My fault has offended God and diminished myself: it is a lack of the love that I owe to my Creator and to the virtuous love that I must show for the child of God that I am.  And it also harmed the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. “Every soul that raises itself, raises the world.”  Likewise, every Christian who sins upsets the perfection of the Christian community.  The most obscure of sins causes a wound to the tree of which I am a branch.  Whether I detach myself from the tree completely by mortal sin, or whether I separate myself only a little, the entire tree suffers.  I rise from the Church in my vitality, for God has entrusted his graces to the Church for me.  I should, therefore, also rise to escape my fault.

In the early centuries this responsibility before the Church was more obvious, since accusation was public and professed before the entire community.  Presently, the discipline has softened, but it is always before the Church that I accuse myself – through the person of the priest who hears me, and the Church from which I receive reconciliation through the ministry of the priest who absolves me.

I thus confess to the priest because he is a priest.  This does not prevent me from choosing him as humanly capable of understanding and advising me. We are not speaking here, since it is not our aim, of that which is called (a little improperly perhaps) “direction.” Even while remaining strictly on the plane of confession, it is surely better for the progress of the soul if it usually addresses itself to the same confessor.  After some time (provided we have followed the advice we shall give later concerning the manner of accusing ourselves), he (the same confessor) knows whom he is dealing with.  He knows your tendencies and your habitual weaknesses.  Even if you have little to say, he knows what points should be insisted upon in his exhortations.  Little by little you have revealed the difficulties with which you are struggling:  your particular situation.  He does not risk, as would a stranger who does not understand you, perplexing you by an untimely remark.  At a difficult moment in your life, he can stop you from making a dangerous fall.  And at any time, he is able to suggest to you appropriate decisions to get out of your torpor if you let yourself fall asleep.

How should you choose him?

Above all, he needs good sense and right judgment.   Also, holy if this is possible – this is clear – but a balanced and insightful priest will always be preferable to another of a more fervent life with less sound judgment.

Do not forget that you seek a counselor, and that as is the wisdom of the counselor, so is the value of his advice.  But as he is also one who leads, you ought to desire that he be demanding.  A good-natured confessor who merely lulls you with soothing words or sends you away with absolution and a general exhortation, would risk leaving you to languish in your sin or your serious imperfections.

This is why it is necessary, if need be, to encourage the confessor to this beneficial requirement and to humbly accept his invitations to effort.  You will recall that the first condition for him to be useful to you is that you trust him.  You can have the best confessor in the city; but if you cannot open yourself up to him frankly, he can do nothing for you.  You should thus choose him so that you do not feel paralyzed in his presence and that you readily consider him as a father, perceptive, capable of realizing your situation and to interest himself in it, open to the realities of life, sure in his diagnoses, and of firm goodness in his counsel.

If you do not find him (one such ideal priest), do not be much distressed.  Go to a priest2: he has the grace of state.  The Holy Ghost will use him anyway for your best good, provided you are listening.

If you do find the ideal priest, do not easily switch from him.  While remaining fully free from another choice, do not let yourself be “undone” by a few impressions, all the more by some crushing of self-esteem or by some of his demands.  Persevere until you have positive proof that you are making no progress in his school, despite a loyal and constant effort on your part.

(To be continued)

The Assumption

The Assumption

By Fr. McKenna O.P.

(extracts)

“Behold! My Beloved speaketh to me; arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come, the winter is now past, the rain is over and gone.” — Canticle of Canticles 2, 10.

The two closing mysteries of the Holy Rosary deal especially with the celestial joys and rewards of our Blessed Lady.  They set forth before us her glorious Assumption into heaven, and her Coronation by the Triune Deity as Queen of heaven and earth.  The Assumption is one of the greatest of the Divine Mother’s festivals.  Our Catholic forefathers called it “Great Lady Day,” as they considered it the most beautiful and most solemn of her feasts.  The end of her long and weary pilgrimage had come; her yearning soul was, at last, drawn up to be united with her Beloved, never again to be separated from Him.  In the Introit of the Mass of the day, the Church calls upon us to rejoice in the Lord in celebrating the festival of the Assumption, in whose solemnity the angels rejoice, and together praise the Son of God.

It is generally believed that the death of our Blessed Mother occurred fifteen years after the Ascension of her adorable Son.  She was then in her sixty-third year, and having left Ephesus, where she had lived several years in the house of St. John, the Beloved Disciple, she had come with him to Jerusalem.  She knew that the end of her pilgrimage was at hand, and she desired to be near that city and its precincts which had been sanctified by the footprints and blood of the world’s Redeemer.  She made all the preparations for her last moments; and we are told that, by a special Providence of God, the disciples of her Son were gathered in Jerusalem from their several missions, in order to assist at her deathbed and receive her last blessing.  It might be asked why Mary, who had never been defiled by sin, should be forced to submit to death, which was the punishment of Adam’s sin.  But even if the immaculate Virgin, having closely imitated her Divine Son in every detail of His earthly life, had not desired to imitate Him also in paying the debt of nature, the Angel of the Schools teaches that death and the miseries which we experience, such as hunger, thirst, and all mundane maladies, arise from the constitutive principle of our nature.  Before the sin of Adam these miseries were unknown, for God had elevated Adam to a supernatural state; but human nature, having been despoiled, by the justice of God, of these immunities—which He had conferred as a special grace—lost through sin its integrity and those privileges so liberally given it, and which are not restored in Baptism (St. Thos. Sum. I. p. q. 69, a. 3.). […]

In the Old Law,” said St. Thomas Aquinas,” there were two events which filled all Israel with joy:

* One was the bearing of the Ark of the Covenant into the house of David, which was a source of great rejoicing to David and all his people;

* The other was when the Ark was brought, amid the chanting of choirs, and the sound of timbrels and harps, into the beautiful new Temple which Solomon had just completed for its reception.

There were also two great events in Heaven:

* One was when our humanity, united with the divinity—the Living Ark, which enclosed all the wisdom and knowledge of God1, —entered Heaven, accompanied by all the ransomed souls from Limbo;

* The other was when our dear Mother, the most perfect of all human beings, entered, leaning on her adorable Son, to take possession of that throne and that glory prepared for her from eternity.”

In the Assumption of our Blessed Lady, we behold our human nature exalted and honored above the most resplendent angels in heaven, and placed at the right hand of her adorable Son.  If all Israel united with Solomon in celebrating with song and timbre and harp the coming of the Ark of the Covenant into the Temple prepared for it, how much more did the saints and angels rejoice in seeing the Ark of the New Covenant, the pure and spotless Virgin, conducted on this day into the joys of paradise!  How those blessed spirits of God must have exulted, and burst into paeans of welcome, beholding with wonder and delight their glorious Queen coming in all regal splendor to take possession of the throne prepared for her before the foundation of the world!  We can picture to ourselves the patriarchs and prophets approaching to greet that glorious Daughter of Israel and thank her for all that she had done and suffered in the work of the world’s redemption.  What must have been the unspeakable rapture of Joachim and Anna, of Joseph, her faithful spouse, of the Baptist, and John, her adopted son, of Elizabeth, Zachary, Magdalen, and of so many other chosen souls who had known her during their lives on earth!

How blissful, also, to us, dear fellow Rosarians, is the consideration of our Lady’s Assumption, for, although we are still far removed from our blessed home in Heaven, yet, in telling the beads of the Fourth Glorious Mystery, we commemorate the elevation of the body and soul of one of our fellow beings to the most sublime heights of Heaven.  We see our poor humanity, apart from the divinity, thus exalted, thus glorified, in God’s eternal kingdom.  Never would poor human nature, have been so elevated, had it not been for that felix culpa—that happy fault—the fall of our first parents in the Garden of Eden.

In Mary’s Assumption we have reason not only to thank Almighty God for the favor bestowed on our race in the honor conferred on this glorious daughter of Eve, but we are filled with unbounded confidence in the goodness of God, who has thus elevated this Woman of women to be our Mother and our powerful advocate before the throne of His Mercy.  We acknowledge that we are sinners, but behold! in the bright realms above we have the Advocate of Sinners who, on account of our fall, was raised to such an eminent dignity on earth, and is now enthroned as our refuge and mediatrix in heaven.  Like Queen Esther, standing close to the King in a vesture of gold, she pleads incessantly for the people of her race, and is ever ready to aid all the children of Adam by her powerful intercession.

O Blessed Mother of God! it is with reason that all your true children rejoice in your glorious Assumption, for they see in you their irresistible advocate with your adorable Son.  We know well that Jesus-Christ is the advocate of redemption, that without the merits of His blood no man can be saved; but we know too that He is a God “who loveth justice and hateth iniquity,” and therefore must hate sin with an eternal hatred, and punish it wherever it is found.  But, praise to His holy Name!  He delights in showing mercy; and He has given to His saints, and especially to you, His Blessed Mother, the office of mercy, that through your merits and your powerful pleadings with Him we sinners may obtain pity and pardon, when we deserve nothing but justice and condign punishment.

It is this hope that has ever filled the Catholic heart with confidence in the powerful intercession of the Mother of God.  When we read the lives of God’s illustrious saints, we find that they were all inspired with this humble and unwavering confidence.  The child, who has angered his father by disobedience, will run and hide in the arms of his loving mother, imploring her protection from the just punishment, which he deserves.  Even so, poor, repentant sinners run to Mary, knowing well how grievously they have offended God, but firmly believing that she, who found favor with the Almighty even before the mystery of the Incarnation was accomplished, will much more find favor now with her adorable Son, who is the judge of the living and the dead.  Hence, the prayer of that bright light in the Middle Ages, St. Bernard: “Remember, O most spotless Mother, that never was any one known who sought your help or implored your aid and did not receive powerful assistance!”  How many, indeed, O Blessed Mother, have experienced your render pity and compassion, and your efficacious intercession with your adorable Son!

Bourdaloue2 tells us in his sermon on Our Lady’s Assumption: “Her death was precious in the sight of the Lord because her life was spent in His service.  She was ever faithful to grace; her will was ever conformed to His adorable will; her heart was never attached to the pleasures or vanities of this life.”

The death of all God’s saints, according to David, is precious in His sight; but: just as we cooperate with God’s grace, and labor to promote His glory and our own perfection, in the same proportion will our death be precious before Him and our reward great in Heaven.

Is it not sad, then, dear Rosarians, to consider that, whilst we believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and know that our reward or punishment, must be according to our work (for He will render to every man according to his works), that we are so slothful in doing good, and so prone to add sin to sin?  Alas, how many there are who live in mortal sin, and are thus unable to merit any supernatural reward!  Is it not of faith that mortal sin makes us enemies of God, and that from an enemy He will accept nothing?  What can be sadder than that men, destined for heaven, and having all the means for attaining it within their reach, think little of its unspeakable delights, but prostitute their hearts to sensual gratifications and sacrifice their souls for filthy, fleeting pleasures?  Alas, how many are the daughters of Mary who, instead of seeking to please God and their immaculate Mother, place the affections of their heart on vanity and fashion, and cling to sinful fellow-creatures who seek their eternal destruction!  O God! that all would be wise in time, and labor not for that which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life; that all would lay up treasures for heaven, and so live as to be always prepared to die!

St. Alphonsus, speaking of the glorious death and Assumption of our Blessed Lady, closes his discourse in these words:

We have contemplated, brethren, the death of our Blessed Lady and her glorious Assumption. We have followed her in spirit into the joys of Heaven; we have seen her surrounded by patriarchs and prophets, by saints and angels; we have seen her adorned by her adorable Son at His right hand.  Let us unite with heaven and earth in praising and blessing our glorious Queen.  Let us con­gratulate her on her happiness and on the power which Our Lord has given her, and let us implore her by that power and glory which she now enjoys to look down with compassion on her poor children.  Let us beseech her to watch over us during life, and when death comes, to bring us to share with her in the glory of heaven, where, with all the saints, we shall see God face to face and praise and bless Him and His Virgin Mother for all eternity. Amen.”

(From the book of Fr Charles-Hyacinth McKenna O.P.,The Treasures of the Rosary, New York, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1917 )

(written 1835)


Practice of Christian Mortification – Part 2 (of 2)

Practice of Christian Mortification – Part 2 (of 2)

by Cardinal Mercier

(continued)

Mortifications to practice in our exterior actions

1 — You ought to show the greatest exactitude in observing all the points of your rule of life, obeying them without delay, remembering Saint John Berchmans, who said: “Penance for me is to lead the common life”; “To have the highest regard for the smallest things, such is my motto”; “Rather die than break a single rule.”

2 —In the exercise of your duties of state, try to be well-pleased with whatever happens to be most unpleasant or boring for you, recalling again here the words of Saint Francis: “I am never better than when I am not well.”

3 — Never give one moment over to sloth: from morning until night keep busy without respite.

4 — If your life is, at least partly, spent in study, apply to yourself this advice from Saint Thomas Aquinas to his pupils: “Do not be content to take in superficially what you read and hear, but endeavour to go into it deeply and to fathom the whole sense of it.  Never remain in doubt about what you could know with certainty.  Work with a holy eagerness to enrich your mind; arrange and classify in your memory all the knowledge you are able to acquire.  On the other hand, do not seek to penetrate mysteries which are beyond your intelligence.”

5 — Devote yourself solely to your present occupation, without looking back on what went before or anticipating in thought what will follow.  Say with Saint Francis: “While I am doing this I am not obliged to do anything else”; “let us make haste very calmly; all in good time.”

6 — Be modest in your bearing.  Nothing was so perfect as Saint Francis’s deportment; he always kept his head straight, avoiding alike the inconstancy which turns it in all directions, the negligence which lets it droop forward and the proud and haughty disposition which throws it back.  His countenance was always peaceful, free from all annoyance, always cheerful, serene and open; without however any merriment or indiscreet humour, without loud, immoderate or too frequent laughter.

He was as composed when alone as in a large gathering. He did not cross his legs, never supported his head on his elbow. When he prayed he was motionless as a statue. When nature suggested to him he should relax, he did not listen.

7 — Regard cleanliness and order as a virtue, uncleanness and untidyness as a vice; do not have dirty, stained or torn clothes. On the other hand, regard luxury and worldliness as a greater vice still. Make sure that, on seeing your way of dressing, nobody calls it “slovenly” or “elegant”, but that everybody is bound to think it “decent”.

Mortifications to practice in our relations with our neighbour

1 — Bear with your neighbour’s defects; defects of education, of mind, of character. Bear with everything about him which irritates you: his gait, his posture, tone of voice, accent, or whatever.

2 — Bear with everything in everybody and endure it to the end and in a Christian spirit. Never with that proud patience which makes one say: “What have I to do with so and so? How does what he says affect me? What need have I for the affection, the kindness or even the politeness of any creature at all and of that person in particular?” Nothing accords less with the will of God than this haughty unconcern, this scornful indifference; it is worse, indeed, than impatience.

3 — Are you tempted to be angry?  For the love of Jesus, be meek.

To avenge yourself?  Return good for evil; it is said the great secret of touching Saint Teresa’s heart was to do her a bad turn.

To look sourly at someone?  Smile at him with good nature.

To avoid meeting him?  Seek him out willingly.

To talk badly of him?  Talk well of him.

To speak harshly to him?  Speak very gently, warmly, to him.

4 — Love to give praise to your companions, especially those you are naturally most inclined to envy.

5 — Do not be witty at the expense of charity.

6 — If somebody in your presence should take the liberty of making remarks which are rather improper, or if someone should hold conversations likely to injure his neighbour’s reputation, you may sometimes rebuke the speaker gently, but more often it will be better to divert the conversation skillfully, or indicate by a gesture of sorrow or of deliberate inattention that what is said displeases you.

7 — It costs you an effort to render a small service: offer to do it.  You will have twice the merit.

8 — Avoid with horror posing as a victim in your own eyes or those of others.  Far be it from you to exaggerate your burdens; strive to find them light; they are so, in reality, much more often than it seems; they would be so always if you were more virtuous.

Conclusion

In general, know how to refuse to nature what she asks of you unnecessarily.

Know how to make her give what she refuses you for no reason.  Your progress in virtue, says the author of The Imitation of Christ, will be in proportion to the violence that you succeed in doing to yourself.

“It is necessary to die,” said the saintly Bishop of Geneva, “it is necessary to die in order that God may live in us, for it is impossible to achieve the union of the soul with God by any means other than by mortification.  These words ‘it is necessary to die’ are hard, but they will be followed by a great sweetness, because one dies to oneself for no other reason than to be united to God by that death.”   

Would to God we had the right to apply to ourselves these beautiful words of Saint Paul to the Corinthians:  “In all things we suffer tribulation… Always bearing about in our body the death of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies.” (II Cor 4:8-10)

Practice of Christian Mortification

Practice of Christian Mortification

by Cardinal Mercier

N.B.: All the practices of mortification which we have collected here are derived from the examples of the saints, especially Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Teresa, Saint Francis de Sales, Saint John Berchmans; or they are recommended by acknowledged masters of the spiritual life, such as the Venerable Louis de Blois, Rodriguez, Scaramelli, Msgr Gay, Abbé Allemand, Abbé Hamon, Abbé Dubois, etc…

Mortification of the body

1 — In the matter of food, restrict yourself as far as possible to simple necessity. Consider these words which Saint Augustine addressed to God: “O my God, Thou hast taught me to take food only as a remedy. Ah! Lord, who is there among us who does not sometimes exceed the limit here? If there is such a one, I say that man is great, and must give great glory to Thy name.” (Confessions, book X, ch. 31)

2— Pray to God often, pray to God daily to help you by His grace so that you do not overstep the limits of necessity and do not permit yourself to give way to pleasure.

3— Take nothing between meals, unless out of necessity or for the sake of convenience.

4— Practise fasting and abstinence, but practise them only under obedience and with discretion.

5— It is not forbidden for you to enjoy some bodily satisfaction, but do so with a pure intention, giving thanks to God.

6— Regulate your sleep, avoiding in this all faint-heartedness, all softness, especially in the morning. Set an hour, if you can, for going to bed and getting up, and keep strictly to it.

7— In general, take your rest only in so far as it is necessary; give yourself generously to work, not sparing your labour. Take care not to exhaust your body, but guard against indulging it; as soon as you feel it even a little disposed to play the master, treat it at once as a slave.

8— If you suffer some slight indisposition, avoid being a nuisance to others through your bad mood; leave to your companions the task of complaining for you; for yourself, be patient and silent as the Divine Lamb who has truly borne all our weaknesses.

9— Guard against making the slightest illness a reason for dispensation or exemption from your daily schedule. “One must detest like the plague every exception when it comes to rules,” wrote Saint John Berchmans.

10 —Accept with docility, endure humbly, patiently and with perseverance, the tiresome mortification called illness.

Mortification of the senses, of the imagination and the passions

1 — Close your eyes always and above all to every dangerous sight, and even – have the courage to do it – to every frivolous and useless sight. See without looking; do not gaze at anybody to judge of their beauty or ugliness.

2—Keep your ears closed to flattering remarks, to praise, to persuasion, to bad advice, to slander, to uncharitable mocking, to indiscretions, to ill-disposed criticism, to suspicions voiced, to every word capable of causing the very smallest coolness between two souls.

3 — If the sense of smell has something to suffer due to your neighbour’s infirmity or illness, far be it from you ever to complain of it; draw from it a holy joy.

4 — In what concerns the quality of food, have great respect for Our Lord’s counsel: “Eat such things as are set before you.”   “Eat what is good without delighting in it, what is bad without expressing aversion to it, and show yourself equally indifferent to the one as to the other. There,”says Saint Francis de Sales, “is real mortification.”

5 — Offer your meals to God; at table impose on yourself a tiny penance: for example, refuse a sprinkling of salt, a glass of wine, a sweet, etc.; your companions will not notice it, but God will keep account of it.

6— If what you are given appeals to you very much, think of the gall and the vinegar given to Our Lord on the cross: that cannot keep you from tasting, but will serve as a counterbalance to the pleasure.

7— You must avoid all sensual contact, every caress in which you set some passion, by which you look for passion, from which you take a joy which is principally of the senses.

8— Refrain from going to warm yourself, unless this is necessary to save you from being unwell.

9— Bear with everything which naturally grieves the flesh, especially the cold of winter, the heat of summer, a hard bed and every inconvenience of that kind. Whatever the weather, put on a good face; smile at all temperatures. Say with the prophet: “Cold, heat, rain, bless ye the Lord.” It will be a happy day for us when we are able to say with a good heart these words which were familiar to Saint Francis de Sales: “I am never better than when I am not well.”

10— Mortify your imagination when it beguiles you with the lure of a brilliant position, when it saddens you with the prospect of a dreary future, when it irritates you with the memory of a word or deed which offended you.

11— If you feel within you the need to day-dream, mortify it without mercy.

12— Mortify yourself with the greatest care in the matter of impatience, of irritation, or of anger.

13— Examine your desires thoroughly; submit them to the control of reason and of faith:  Do you never desire a long life rather than a holy life, wish for pleasure and well-being without trouble or sadness, victory without battle, success without setbacks, praise without criticism, a comfortable, peaceful life without a cross of any sort – a that is to say, a life quite opposite to that of Our Divine Lord?

14—Take care not to acquire certain habits which, without being positively bad, can become injurious, such as habits of frivolous reading, of playing at games of chance, etc..

15— Seek to discover your predominant failing and, as soon as you have recognised it, pursue it all the way to its last retreat. To that purpose, submit with good will to whatever could be monotonous or boring in the practice of the examination of conscience.

16— You are not forbidden to have a heart and to show it, but be on your guard against the danger of exceeding due measure.  Resist attachments which are too natural, particular friendships and all softness of the heart.

Mortification of the mind and of the will

1— Mortify your mind by denying it all fruitless imaginings, all ineffectual or wandering thoughts which waste time, dissipate the soul, and render work and serious things distasteful.

2— Every gloomy and anxious thought should be banished from your mind. Concern about all that could happen to you later on should not worry you at all. As for the bad thoughts which bother you in spite of yourself, you should, in dismissing them, make of them a subject for patience.  Being involuntary, they will simply be for you an occasion of merit.

3—Avoid obstinacy in your ideas, stubbornness in your sentiments. You should willingly let the judgments of others prevail, unless there is a question of matters on which you have a duty to give your opinion and speak out.

4— Mortify the natural organ of your mind, which is to say the tongue. Practise silence gladly, whether your rule prescribes it for you or whether you impose it on yourself of your own accord.

5— Prefer to listen to others rather than to speak yourself; and yet speak appropriately, avoiding as extremes both speaking too much, which prevents others from telling their thoughts, and speaking too little, which suggests a hurtful lack of interest in what they say.

6— Never interrupt somebody who is speaking and do not forestall, by answering too swiftly, a question he would put to you.

7— Always have a moderate tone of voice, never abrupt or sharp.  Avoid exaggeration, as being horrible.

(To be continued)

Sister Lucy of Fatima and the Rosary

Sister Lucy of Fatima and the Rosary

“Pray the Rosary every day to obtain peace in the world, and the end of the war.”

Our Lady of Fatima 13 May 1917

All souls of good will can and should pray the Rosary every day. They can recite it in a church whether the Most Holy Sacrament is exposed or residing in the tabernacle. They can pray it as a family as well as individually, while out and about or travelling. The Rosary is the most accessible prayer for everyone, both rich and poor, learned or uneducated. It should be like spiritual bread for everyone. By means of the mysteries which we recall in each decade, it nourishes and increases in our souls faith, hope and charity.

“I want … you to pray the rosary every day.”

13 June 1917

We should pray the Rosary every day for we all need to pray, and have a duty to do so. If we do not save ourselves through innocence, then we must save ourselves through penance. For this, let the small daily sacrifice of reciting the Rosary, which we offer to God, be united to this prayer of supplication:

‘Our Father Who art in Heaven… Forgive us as we forgive those who have offended us. ’     ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us poor sinners, now and at the hour of our death.’

“I want … you to continue praying the Rosary every day.“

13 July 1917

Our Lady stresses this and asks us to persevere in prayer.

It is not enough to pray for a day. We need to pray always, every day, with faith, trustingly, since every day we commit faults, and every day we need to turn to God asking Him to forgive us and help us.

“I want … you to continue to pray the rosary every day.”

19 August 1917

Our Lady is insistent because she knows our inconstancy in doing good, our fragility and our spiritual poverty, and like a Mother, she comes to meet us, to hold us by the hand and support us in our weakness along the path which we must follow to be saved. This path is that of prayer. It’s there that we shall meet with God. That’s why she has asked us to say, at the end of each decade, ‘ O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are most in need.’ That is, those who find themselves in danger of damnation.

“Continue to pray the rosary to obtain the end of the war.”

13 September 1917

By this insistence, Our Lady is showing us how we very much need to pray in order to obtain the grace of peace between nations, among peoples, in families, homes, consciences, and between God and souls.

It is only when the light, power and grace of God penetrate our hearts and souls that we will come to truly and mutually understand each other, forgive each other, and help each other. That is the only way to arrive at a true and just peace. But in order to obtain it, we need to pray!

“I want … you all to continue to pray the rosary every day.”

13 October 1917

Truly, the Rosary is the prayer that should bring us daily closer to God. It is not an exclusively Marian prayer; it is even more a biblical and Eucharistic prayer addressed to the most Holy Trinity. With each decade we pray the ‘Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Ghost’ , and the ‘Our Father’ which Christ taught us to pray so that we could address the Father with confidence.

And we recite the ‘Ave Maria’ which is also praise and supplication to God through Our Lady’s intercession. ‘Ave Maria, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst all women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.’

In this way we greet Mary in the mystery of our redemption, the mystery that God brought about in her, and through which Mary was appointed to be the Mother of God, Mother of the Church and Mother of men. This is why Mary was the first tabernacle in which the Father enclosed his Word, the first monstrance, and the first altar, where Our Lord has remained forever exposed to our adoration and our love.

Sister Lucy

The Devotion of the Five First Saturdays of the Month

The Devotion of the Five First Saturdays of the Month


“Father, the Blessed Virgin is very sad because no one has paid attention to her message, neither the good nor the bad.  The bad, because of their sins, do not see God’s chastisement already falling on them presently; they also continue on their path of badness, ignoring the message.  But, Father, you must believe me that God is going to punish the world and chastise it in a tremendous way.”

(Sister Lucy of Fatima, to Father Fuentes, 1957)

* If we listened to Our Lady, we could:

1.  Console Her, and pray for sinners

“Have compassion on the Heart of your Most Holy Mother, covered with thorns which ungrateful men place therein at every moment, while there is no one who does an act of reparation to withdraw them for her.”

(The Child Jesus to Sister Lucy, December 10, 1925, Pontevedra)

“So numerous are the souls which the justice of God condemns for sins committed against Me, that I come to ask for reparation.  Sacrifice yourself for this intention and pray.”

(Our Lady to Sister Lucy, 1929)


2. Save our souls and other souls

“God wishes to establish devotion to my Immaculate Heart in the world.  I promise salvation to those who embrace it; and these souls will be beloved of God like flowers arranged by me to adorn His throne.”

(Our Lady, during the apparition in Fatima, June 13, 1917)

“If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace.”

(Our Lady, during the apparition in Fatima, July 13, 1917)


3. Obtain peace in the world

“If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church.  The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated.”

(Our Lady, during the apparition in Fatima, July13, 1917)

“Whether the world has war or peace depends on the practice of this devotion, along with the consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  This is why I desire its propagation so ardently, especially because this is also the will of our dear Mother in Heaven.” (Sister Lucy, March 19, 1939)

* So, shall we pay attention to that message?

The Child Jesus complains to Sister Lucy:

It is true, my daughter, that many souls begin, but few persevere to the very end, and those who persevere do it to receive the graces promised.  The souls who make the five first Saturdays with fervor and to make reparation to the Heart of your Heavenly Mother, please Me more than those who make fifteen, but are lukewarm and indifferent.”

(Pontevedra, February 15, 1925)


What are the requirements?

On the first Saturday of the month, five consecutive months:

— make a confession (the confession can be made within eight days before or after the first Saturday);

— receive Holy Communion (it may be received on the first Sunday when the priests, for a just cause, allows the faithful);    [ Note from a Dominican Father:  In case of impossibility to go to Confession and Mass (Communion), then at least make a perfect Act of Contrition with the firm will to go to Confession as soon as possible (because one must be in the state of grace to fulfill the devotion of the five First Saturdays).  ]

— make a spiritual communion.”

— pray five decades of the Rosary;

— meditate for fifteen minutes on one or several of the mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation for the blasphemies and the offenses committed against Our Lady.


A devotion that applies to our whole Christian life

Let us listen to Sister Lucy of Fatima:

“Over and over again during those precious hours in which I was in her company, she emphasized that it is the fulfillment of one’s daily duty, according to one’s state in life (and the sanctification of this effort in reparation for our sins and for the conversion of sinners) which is the primary condition for the turning back of the tide of evil which threatens today’s world, and which will also bring us the great favor of the conversion of Russia and an era of peace for mankind.  But she also stressed that the Rosary is indeed important, because it is one of Our Lady’s principal aids given to us to facilitate the sanctification of our daily duty.”

(Memoirs of John Haffert concerning the Blue Army, AMI International Press, Washington, NJ, 1982, p 18)

In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph”

(Our Lady of Fatima; July 13, 1917)

(On this website www.dominicansavrille.us, read the article: Fatima, or the means chosen by God to redress the present situation.)

Mortification in our spiritual life

Mortification in our spiritual life

By Fr. Martín HARRISON, O.P.

How we dread the word “mortification”!  It suggests terrifying penances, hair-shirts, plank-beds and other extraordinary hardships practiced by some saint; mark the word “extraordinary.”  Such penances are not for “ordinary” people like ourselves, but for those called by God to be out of the ordinary through the help of special graces.

Yet penance in some form or another we must do, since we are bound to mortify the flesh and its desires.  What does mortification really mean?  In a spiritual sense it may be defined as the act of subduing the passions and appetites of our lower nature by fasting or severities inflicted on the body, the act of subordinating all natural impulses to the influence of the Holy Spirit, in a natural sense it may denote being humiliated by circumstances, depressed by disappointments or vexations; but these are not penances in the strict sense, though they may be turned into true mortification by our method of acceptance.

Mortification essentially consists in self-denial: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself” (Mt 16, 24).  Self-denial means saying “NO” to self, which for most people is a difficult thing to do.  By sin our willpower was weakened; we became prone to evil finding it easier to give in to the desires of the flesh than to resist them.  Because of sin the soul lost its domination over the flesh, so that “the flesh, lusteth against the spirit” (Ga 5:17).

The chief work of mortification is to strengthen the will power and heal the wounds caused by sinBy denying self what is lawful, the will is strengthened to resist what is unlawful, and some measure of atonement is made.  Therefore penance is imposed as a strict duty.  Thus the Lenten and other fasts imposed by the Church consist in refraining from a certain amount of food, otherwise lawful, so denying to us the pleasure of satisfying hunger completely.  Too often these grave obligations of fasting are dismissed as impracticable because of hardship or inconvenience, before any attempt has been made to find out if they are really so.

It is difficult to understand how anyone can settle in conscience so grave an obligation in so casual a manner.  Certainly some are excused by the nature of the work they must do, or for other good reasons; but this does not free them entirely from all obligation of doing penance of another sort.  We are bound to deny self, and that is the essence of penance.  We need so much to be strengthened against temptations that only by denying lawful things to ourselves can we hope to be strong enough to deny the unlawful also.

It is difficult to understand how anyone can settle in conscience so grave an obligation in so casual a manner

Some pride themselves on their strength of will, but too often it is shown only in denying something to others rather than to themselves.  In reality such people are simply stubborn and actually weak-willed, since they are not able to say “NO” to self.

Let us test ourselves by the following questions:

1. — Do I always stick to my own opinions and insist on having my own way?

2. — Can I admit being in the wrong, or that I have made a mistake?

3. — Can I give in gracefully to the will of the majority?1

The answers to such questions as these, will soon prove whether we can say “NO” to self or if we are self-willed.

Mortification is necessary for all.  The wounds of nature demand an effort to strengthen the will against its propensity to evil; the more we indulge our natural desires, the stronger and more insistent they become in demanding satisfaction, the more difficult to resist their appeal.

However, it is not necessary to undertake special hardships or penances beyond those imposed under obligation by the Church.  Life itself provides a variety of opportunities for mortification that we cannot escape.  The pity of it, is that we endure without much or any spiritual profit much that might be mortification, because of the wrong attitude we adopt toward these various vexations.  We can make a virtue of necessity by accepting in a spirit of patience and humility the daily trials forced upon us.

[Some examples:]   Take any ordinary day in life:

— Probably we must get up earlier than we would wish, we should like to stay in bed much longer.  It is not easy to rise promptly; it demands self-denial.  How do we react?  Do we come down peevish and disagreeable, upsetting others by our grumbling and irritation?  If this is out reaction, then we have lost the chance of mortifying ourselves, instead of turning the necessity to spiritual profit by accepting it with patience.

— We have to go to work, oftentimes hard and disagreeable, to work with others who get on our nerves, to take orders given in an abrupt manner, and endure many other similar vexations that can be very irritating.  What is our attitude to such things?  They can all become occasions of mortification if accepted in a proper spirit.  Obedience to others, which is the submission of our own will to that of another, can be a very real and difficult penance.  Too often we can become impatient and disgruntled, resent the orders given to us: and miss the chance of being spiritually mortified under adversity.

Life is full of such opportunities: we make silly mistakes, are humiliated by others, meet with disappointments, hear slurs east or disparaging remarks made about us; accidents make us ludicrous and cause laughter and ridicule at our expense.  These things are certainly humiliating to our pride and self-conceit? but do we turn them to spiritual worth by a humble and contrite spirit in accepting them as mortifications?  If they simply cause us to become disagreeable and complain, there is no penance; they are lost to us entirely when they might have been real crosses born for the love of God, real penances accepted in a spirit of self-denial, some atonement for the sins we have committed.

We are told [by Holy Mother the Church] to perform the three good works: Prayer, Fasting, and Alms-deeds.  These can all form some kind of mortification for us:

By fasting we mean here self-denial in any form, the giving up of one’s desires and inclinations.  We are forced to this at times by circumstances, yet profit little because we accept grudgingly, with resentment and complaints about the hardness of our lot.

Prayer might find a larger place in our lives and provide penance at the same time.  For instance, we might give up an evening’s pleasure so that we may go to Benediction.  How many give up the Sunday evening to selfish comfort rather than go out to the evening service?  It may be cold and wet; it is so much pleasanter to sit reading by the fireside, or playing cards with friends.  The weather is so often an excuse to avoid going to church, but it would not prevent us from going out to the cinema or to a dance.  It is difficult to give up pleasure and comfort to go to church, hard to mortify our desires and say “NO” to self!  To give up our comforts can be a real mortification.

Alms-giving does not necessarily mean giving money away.  The best alms is to give happiness to others – any kind of action done for the love of God and our neighbor, any small service especially if it means self-denial, is acceptable to God as a mortification.  Our Lord went about doing good, never sparing Himself.  We, on the contrary, find doing good to others to be too much trouble and to cause too much inconvenience to ourselves.  We could make a point of doing at least one kind act a day to help another, as a mortification.  We could do much more to ease the burdens of others, to bring happiness or solace, and if this entails denying self and putting ourselves to some inconvenience so much the better, it will mortify us all the more.

There is no need to undertake extraordinary penances – life provides its own opportunities of mortifying self.  We do not know that Our Lady or St. Joseph ever did any special kind of penance, but they did accept the many trials and sufferings of life, grief, hardship, poverty, hard work, and such like, in a spirit of resignation to the will of God.  The early disciples do not seem to have done extraordinary penances, but we may note that St, Paul writes; “I chastise the flesh to bring it into subjection… lest perhaps I become a castaway (1 Co 9, 27).”   If St. Paul felt the need of “chastising the flesh,” how much more we, who do so little to atone for all the number of times we give way to our evil inclinations.   We must chastise the flesh by denying to it the satisfaction it demands, even in what is lawful, that we may strengthen ourselves to refuse all that is unlawful and to thrust down the inclinations and desires of unlawful passion, by denying the pleasure of lawful desires at times.  We must learn how to say “NO” to self.

To resume therefore, we cannot escape mortifications, even though we do not seek them.  Life will provide many opportunities of self-denial; let us see to it that these unavoidable vexations are all turned to profit for the soul by accepting them in a spirit of penance and humiliation for our many sins and as a means of strengthening our will-power against our proneness to evil.  If we would realize that hardship, sickness, poverty, disappointments, vexations, inconveniences, even the monotony of life, can all be spiritually useful and made profitable by a spirit of humble acceptance and mortification and for the love of God, we should be carrying out our obligation of doing penance lest we perish.

It is all a matter of will-power pitted against the fatal attractions of sin in which we prove so weak and easily overcome.

Only by denying self what is lawful, or accepting what we cannot escape as a means of self-denial, can we become strong in our resistance to what is unlawful, strong to resist the many temptations that beset us from the flesh, the world and the devil.

We must atone for sin by true repentance and by penance enjoined to the sufferings of Our Lord, that they may become an atonement for our many sins.

“Unless ye do penance, ye shall all likewise perish” (Lc 13, 5).

Taken from Credo, Fr. Martin Harrison O.P.

Chicago, Henry Regnery Company, 1954, pgs 141-145