On the Palm-Tree As an Emblem of the True Christian.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On the Palm-Tree As an Emblem of the True Christian.
You will have seen from yesterday’s meditation that if you desire ultimately to enter with our Lord into the heavenly Jerusalem, you must before all else take heed that you are not an unfruitful fig-tree. The tree by the wayside was designed to act as a warning to you. To-day you are invited to direct your attention to another tree which likewise played a considerable part on the occasion of our Lord’s journey to Jerusalem, the palm-tree. This tree contributed to enhance the grandeur of our Lord’s entry into the city, and consequently it is presented to your view in order to encourage, not to alarm you. The palm is the model of the true Christian, it is the type of the just man.
1st. Consider the saying of St. Jerome, “The just shall flourish as the palm-tree.” Now the palm is a tree of very tall and slender growth. Without ever bending in the least, or drooping towards the ground, it shoots upwards with its crown of branches. What a beautiful emblem of the true Christian, and pre-eminently of the Priest and Religious, we have in this graceful tree! Does not the just man aspire to rise ever higher, does he not strive after what is perfect, yearn for the things of Heaven without ever allowing himself to be swayed by the spirit of the world, weighed downwards by the burden of sin, warped by corrupt proclivities? Nothing avails to arrest him in his endeavor thus to rise. No temptation, no affliction has power to bend him, no suffering, no opposition casts him down, the spirit of tepidity does not check his progress; for never, as St. Bernard remarks, does the just man think he has attained his goal, never does he say: it is enough; so far and no further. No, he hungers and thirsts after justice, and could he live forever, he would forever strive with all his powers to attain greater perfection. Ask yourself, my soul, if you are like the palm-tree, tending continually upwards. Or do you belong to the number of those who say to themselves, So long as I save my soul, I need not exert myself to attain greater sanctity? listen to what the devout Gerson answers to those who speak thus: Such persons have every reason to fear lest they should finally be cast away, like the foolish virgins who thoughtlessly gave themselves up to slumber, or the idle servant who buried the talent entrusted to him instead of trading with it. And if you are a Religious, hear what St. Thomas says: He who does not strive diligently and to the utmost of his power after perfection is no true Religious, because he does not do the one thing for which he embraced the Religious state.
2d. St. Jerome adds: “The just strike their roots deep into the ground.” It is a peculiarity of the palm-tree that its roots, which are of a bitter flavor, go deep down into the earth, and that it strikes root far better in a poor than in a rich soil. The deeper those roots can go, and the poorer the ground in which it is planted, the more the tree flourishes, the more verdant are its leaves, the taller is its stem, the more abundant and luxuriant are its branches. Here again we have a beauteous type of the just man, of the Priest, of the monk. If their aspirations after perfection are to be crowned with success, if they are to bear fair blossoms, then they must strike deep root in a meagre soil, they must practise humility and mortification. The man who intends to build a lofty tower must first lay a deep foundation, and he who would ascend to the summit of a high mountain must not shrink from encountering exertion and fatigue; in like manner, my soul, it is impossible for you to reach the summit of perfection unless you lay a solid foundation of humility, and make the necessary efforts by the practice of mortification and self-renunciation. St. Cyprian, himself an eminent saint, declares humility to be the foundation of all sanctity; and how essential mortification is to the attainment of perfection we learn from St. Jerome, who says: In proportion as thou doest violence to thyself wilt thou make progress. Now ask yourself, my soul, do you in this respect resemble the palm-tree, do you strike deep root, and love a meagre soil?
3d. The third note of the just man which St. Jerome mentions is this: “The just will, like the palm, produce wide branches and abundant fruit.” In these words he indicates the special characteristics of the palm, that though its stem is rough and its root bitter, the wealth of leaves that form its crown are none the less verdant and luxuriant in their growth; they form an object pleasing to the eye, and are a welcome sight to the heated traveller in search of a shady resting-place. Such ought to be your character, Christian; towards yourself harsh and austere, towards yourself severe and unyielding, but not towards others. A pleasing and attractive crown of leaves must grow from and surmount the bitter root, the rough stem. Thus all saints have been; strict to themselves, lenient towards others; harsh to their own body, gentle towards their fellow men; bitter to themselves, that is, weaned from all earthly pleasures, but not on that account marring the enjoyment of their Brethren. They were like trees, affording refreshing shade to others, whilst they themselves bore the sun’s hottest beams, for this is precisely the distinguishing mark of sanctity: charity is its bloom and its fruit. Are you like the palm-tree in this respect? Can the words of the Imitation be reversed in your case: “We would have others strictly corrected but will not be corrected ourselves. The large liberty of others displeases us, and yet we would not be denied what we ask. We will that others shall be bound by laws and we suffer not ourselves to be in any wise restrained.” (Imit. B. i. ch. 16.)
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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