On the Fast of Lent.
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 Fast of Lent.
When you fast, be not, like the hypocrites, sad. – Matt. vi. 16.
Gospel for Ash-Wednesday.
With this gospel, the Church ushers in the solemn fast of Lent. With this gospel she encourages us to put on the weeds of penance, and to endeavour with united efforts to disarm the wrath of God, to avert his impending judgments, and to expiate our sins. She exhorts us to enter on this holy time without sadness; because, fasting will enable us to triumph over the flesh, and the devil: and ought sadness and grief to be indulged by the warrior who has the means of victory in his power? May our enemy alone repine at the approach of this happy season: may he be sad during these days of propitiation: may he be alarmed at the view of these consolatory appearances of repentance, and tremble at the display of the mercies which God has prepared for sinners. But you, my beloved, you ought to anoint your heads, and to open your hearts to the feelings of holy joy, and gladness: conquerors are never sorrowful.
There are, indeed, various kinds of sadness. There is a holy sadness – the sadness of repentance, which advanceth the great work of salvation, and is enlivened by the interior consolations of the Holy Ghost. There is likewise the sadness which is alluded to in the words of my text, – the sadness of hypocrisy, which observes the letter of the law, and puts on the appearance of rigid austerity, in order to gain the applause of men: this is very uncommon in these times. Lastly, there is a sadness produced by the depravity of corrupt nature, which revolts at the idea of self-denial, and restraint: and this I am grieved to say, is the sadness which is felt by the generality of Christians, and against which it is particularly necessary that you should be guarded.
The consequences of this sadness are obvious, and certain: every frivolous pretext is adduced for the purpose of obtaining an exemption from the rigour of the law. – In order, therefore, that you may not be led into error on a subject of this importance, I will display the futility of the pretexts which are usually alledged, and lay down in plain terms the conditions, on which alone a dispensation can be lawfully founded.
1. Were I speaking to men who despised the laws of the Church on this, head, and disputed her authority in enacting them, I would prove that fasting always was, and always will be necessary for the support of a truly Christian life. I would go back to the pure ages of Christianity, and shew you that religion itself was nourished in the bosom of abstinence, and fasting: – I would say, that, after the ascension of our Lord, the disciples assembled in Jerusalem, and devoted their whole time to prayer, and fasting: – I would say, that the primitive Christians served the laborious apprenticeship to martyrdom in the austerities of fasting; and that, in the midst of the licentiousness of an idolatrous camp, the Christian soldiers assembled together in order to celebrate, with greater solemnity, the fasts prescribed by universal custom: – I would say, that the emissaries of the persecutors designated the faithful by the paleness of their countenances, and by the odour of sanctity, and mortification, which distinguished them from the rest of mankind: – I would say, that our mortal enemy, who is ever ready to extract pernicious effects from the most pious observances, stirred up many restless spirits to practise new, and extravagant abstinences, not with a view to the reparation of the injured justice of God, but with the idea that the meats themselves were unclean: so strongly was the whole Christian world convinced, that, after the death of the Spouse, the obligation of fasting was indispensable.
I proceed, however, on the supposition that I am speaking to men, who are neither rebellious, nor obedient; who acknowledge the obligation of fasting, but who will not fast; who do not openly exclaim, with the impious, I will not obey, but who, with the men invited to the marriage feast, (Luke xiv. 19.), find some plea or other, to excuse their disobedience.
In order to distinguish truth from falsehood in a subject of this importance, it is necessary to state, that, since the law of fasting is made, and received, it is impossibility alone that can justify the infringement of it: by impossibility, I mean, a difficulty founded on evident and considerable danger: for the Church established the law with the intent, not to destroy in this world, but to save in the next.
This being the truth, let us now examine your excuses. You say, in the first place, with great assurance and boldness, that you are dispensed with fasting for sufficient reasons; that your conscience does not reproach you on that head; and that, if you had nothing but the transgression of this precept to answer for before God, you could present yourselves at his tribunal without fear: or, in other words, that you have naturally a weak constitution, that you are not able to undergo the severities of fasting, and that the little health you enjoy, is entirely owing to care and precaution.
If it be true, that your weakness is such as you describe it to be, I will ask, whence did it originate? Was it not from this over solicitude and care to preserve it? Was it not brought on by that soft, voluptuous life which you have led? Was it not occasioned by habits of indolence, and by constantly indulging your sensual appetite in all its caprices Were you, however, to examine impartially into the state of your health, you perhaps would discover that the constant aversion you feel for self-denial, and penance, has led you into an error on this subject; and that you imagine that your condition is weak, because you never have had piety and resolution sufficient to induce you to try its strength. If this be the case, as it probably is, can you pretend that the very reason, which makes penance more necessary, is a sufficient plea for a dispensation? Your imaginary weakness is itself a crime, and ought to be expiated by extraordinary austerities, instead of exempting you from those which are common to all the faithful.
If the Church were to make any distinction amongst her children; if she was inclined to grant privileges to some and not to others, it would be to those, whose lowly, and dependent station exposes them to the hardships and fatigues of toilsome labour, – who suffer from the severities of seasons, from hunger, from thirst, from public oppressions, and from private wrongs, – who have only a distant view of the pleasures which this world affords, – and whose happiness has attained its greatest height – when a bare sufficiency is procured for themselves and families. But as for those, on whom the world has lavished its choicest gifts, whose greatest unhappiness arises from the satiety and disgust, which is inseparable from sensual felicity; they can pretend to no other distinction than that of increased austerity, and a prolongation of the canonical rigours of penance.
But what is their conduct? The opulent, the independent, the higher classes of society, – the men, who alone seem to need repentance, – the men, for whom this penitential time is principally intended, are almost the only ones who plead for a dispensation: whilst the poor artisan, the indigent labourer, who eats his bread in the sweat of his brow, – whose days of feasting and merriment would be to the rich man days of penance, and mortification, whilst he, I say, bows down with respect and submission to this holy law, and, even in his poverty, retrenches from his usual pittance, and makes the time of Lent a time of extraordinary suffering and penance. But, my God! the time will come, when Thou wilt openly espouse the cause of thy holy law, and confound the advocates of human concupiscence. The Pharisees in the gospel disfigured their faces, in order that their fasting might be remarked by men: but this is not the hypocrisy of the present day; no: after a year spent in excess, in murmurings, and in sin, the pampered disciples of a crucified Jesus put on a pale, a weak appearance at the commencement of this holy time, for the sole purpose of setting up a plausible pretext to violate in peace the law of fasting, and abstinence.
My dear brethren, has the tenderness of your constitution ever deterred you from taking part in any worldly enjoyment? Ah! you can bear the fatigues of company, and entertainments; you can overcharge yourselves with surfeiting, and wine; you can submit to the painful consequences of high living, and intemperance; you can keep irregular hours, and take other liberties, which would be felt by the strongest constitution. It is fasting alone that you cannot endure; then only are you particularly solicitous for your health, when penance is required.
Is it for me only, says the Lord by his prophet, is it for me only that you refuse to suffer, O house of Israel! You are indefatigable, and strong in the ways of iniquity, but in my service you are weak, and discouraged by the least difficulty. Tell me if you have any thing to justify yourselves, (Isa. xliii. 26.)
So it is, my beloved friends; and so it always has been: pleasures are never incommodious. The purchase of what you love, is always cheap, The slavery of the world, of riches, and of iniquity, is not painful, because you are worldly, ambitious, and sensual. But, if you could once divest yourselves of this spirit of the world, and imbibe the spirit of Christ; then, your strength would not fail you in his service; then, you would be convinced that the law of fasting was not a cruel and destructive law; then, you would acknowledge that the observance of your duties was not incompatible with the care of your health; then, with Daniel and the three children, you would experience that forbidden meats were not, by any means, necessary for the preservation of your strength, and vigour.
Supposing, however, that fasting does weaken your corporal faculties; is it not just that you should stamp the painful seal of the cross on a body, which has so often been marked with the shameful characters of the beast? Is it not time that members, which have served iniquity, should at length be subservient to justice; and that grace should be strengthened in your infirmity?
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.
It is an extreme punishment that obliges us to remain so long on earth, unless love causes us to live more in Heaven and with God than on earth and with ourselves; just as the rays of the sun continue to shed their light a great way off as long as they are not separated from their focus. – St. Ignatius of Loyola, Bartoli, Book iv.
March Devotion: St. Joseph
Virtue to practice: Mortification
O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of fathers. O St. Joseph I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for me. Amen.
Prayer to St. Joseph by Pope St. Pius X
O Glorious St. Joseph, model of all those who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace to work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my natural inclinations, to work with gratitude and joy, in a spirit of penance for the remission of my sins, considering it an honor to employ and develop by means of labor the gifts received from God, to work with order, peace, moderation, and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties, to work above all with purity of intention and detachment from self, having always death before my eyes and the account that I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted, of vain complacency in success, so fatal to the work of God. All for Jesus, all through Mary, all after thine example, O Patriarch, St. Joseph. Such shall be my watchword in life and in death. Amen.
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