On the Fast of Lent. – continued.
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. – continued.
The law of fasting was instituted for the express purpose of weakening the body: and if you experience sensations of languor, and faintness, it is no more than was intended: you have reason to rejoice on that account, for your merit will be proportionate to your patient suffering. The end, therefore, proposed by the law can never be a proper reason for a dispensation. .
You perhaps may say, that the Church has approved your reasons, and released you from the obligation of fasting by the ministry of your director.
To this your own conscience will reply, that a dispensation, obtained contrary to the intention, and spirit of the Church, is void; and that the obligation is still in force: that is to say, that the dispensation, which is granted without a sufficient cause, is not a dispensation in the sight of God. This is the doctrine of the saints. If, therefore, your reasons are not candidly, and truly of that nature as to require a relaxation in your favour, you impose upon your pastors, and you are transgressors every time that you avail yourselves of this fraudulent and unjust dispensation.
The Church, indeed, is not ignorant of the imposition. She sees with grief, that almost the whole of the submission of these loose and supine Christians consists in extorting her consent to the infringement of her own laws. And if, notwithstanding this conviction, she still appear to favour their unjust demands, she is influenced by the fear of driving them to extremities, and is willing to keep them in her communion by the simple ties of outward respect and obedience. But woe to the Christians who force her to this afflicting alternative. The disease must be dangerous indeed, when the patient is allowed to choose his own regimen.
2. But allowing that your reasons are just, and that a dispensation is necessary, nevertheless it not unfrequently happens, that you transgress the law of penance by the manner in which you avail yourselves of this dispensation of the Church.
It is incumbent on you, as Christians, to lament your inability to observe the law, and to offer up to God the sacrifice of an humble heart, as a kind of compensation for the corporal penance, which you are unable to endure. Esther called on God to witness her necessity, and expressed her detestation, when she was obliged to partake of the profane meats, and banquets of the uncircumcised. Urias exclaimed, when he was pressed by his sovereign to go down to his own house, and enjoy the pleasures of a momentary repose. What! shall I eat and drink, while Israel and Juda are enduring the severities of the camp, (2 Kings xi. 11.)
Are these, my beloved, your sentiments? Do you exclaim: “why am, I constrained to spare this criminal flesh, while the Church is clothed in sackcloth, and ashes, while my fellow members in Christ are walking courageously on in the holy paths of penance? Why, O Lord! have I not sufficient strength to satisfy thy justice – I, who have had sufficient strength to offend thee? Why was I not endued with a bodily frame, capable of enduring every degree of fatigue, and torture, that the instrument of my crimes might be made the instrument of my punishment?”
Ah! if you were animated with the true spirit of piety, you would blush at a distinction so little merited by your past life: you would consider such a singularity as a kind of anathema, – as a leprosy, which caused you to be banished from the society, and communion of the body of the faithful, and you would endeavour to compensate for your bodily infirmities by the strength and vigour of your interior piety.
In the second place, you must reflect, that the dispensation from fasting does not include a dispensation from doing penance. The Church has no intention of taking the cross from your shoulders: she is not authorized to do it: she can do no more than lessen its weight, and proportion it to the strength of the bearer. Lent must be, in some manner or other, a time of penance. St. Paul says, that he, who does not distinguish the eucharistic bread from common food, is guilty of the body of the Lord: and I say to you, that, whatever your infirmities may be, if you do not make a distinction between the time of Lent, and other times, you are guilty of the law of fasting.
Now, what distinction do you make? Do you pray more than at other times? Are you more charitable to the poor? Do you soothe the afflictions of the suffering members of Christ, and make amends in their persons for the extraordinary gratifications which your infirmities require? Do you abstain from lawful pleasures, which are not necessary for your health? Ah! my brethren, a compensation must be made. He, who cannot offer a lamb in sacrifice, must offer a pair of doves. The justice of God must be satisfied. If you cannot crucify your flesh by fasting, you must chastise it by abstaining from unnecessary pleasures: you must mortify your turbulent passions by retirement: you must have less communication with the world: you must be more attentive to your domestic concerns: you must be more assiduous in frequenting the place of worship, in receiving the sacraments, and in performing works of mercy: you must be more circumspect in your whole conduct. This, says St. Chrysostom, is the fast, which the Church requires from the infirm. To comply with this, neither health, nor strength are requisite: a firm faith, and the fear of God, will alone enable you to perform it. But, alas! a firm faith, and the fear of God, are precisely the virtues to which you are strangers. You object to sufferings of every description. You imagine that you are freed from all restraint, as soon as you are dispensed with fasting: and because you are not able to comply with the whole precept, you joyfully conclude that you are not obliged to do any thing.
There are many, I know, who say, that fasting is a matter of no great importance: that the great point is to be good moral men: and that, as to food, whether it be this or that, whether they take three meals or one, at can be of no such consequence in the sight of God, as to justify the declamations of the Church, or be a sufficient reason to subject the faithful to so many inconveniences, and vexations.
Thus, the children of the world are not satisfied with merely violating the law of fasting, and abstinence, they proceed even to abuse; they vilify it, by giving it the name of prejudice which custom has established: and they put on the appearance of reason, in order to infringe it without scruple. But what do they degrade? They degrade the most venerable tradition of the Church, the most ancient, and the most universal point of discipline, which has descended to us from our forefathers. The respectable institution of fasting, established by the apostles, consecrated by the custom of ages, honoured by the examples of patriarchs, and prophets, and of Jesus Christ himself, is nothing more, in their language, than a popular devotion a pious prejudice, of which enthusiasm alone can exact a rigorous, and minute observance.
These, however, I trust, are not the sentiments of any individual of this assembly. If, therefore, I will say in conclusion, if your infirmities require a dispensation, indulge not beyond the calls of necessity. Let your repasts savour of the frugality of this time of penance; let them be stampt, in some part or other, with the seal of mortification. Remember, that, although the Church consents that you do not accompany Moses on the mountain to fast the forty days, she expects that, while you remain in the plains below, you neither partake of the profane enjoyments, the excesses, and the festive sports of the Israelites, nor unite with them in the adoration of the golden calf.
Let us, my beloved brethren, enter into the true spirit of this holy time. Ah! can you remain unmoved at the affecting spectacle, which will shortly be displayed before you? When you behold the Church in affliction, and clothed in the weeds of mourning and sorrow; when you behold her ministers prostrate, and weeping between the porch and the altar; when you behold your brethren armed with the weapons of penance, and lighting with determined resolution against flesh and blood, will you be able to refrain from uniting with them? Will you have resolution sufficient to continue immersed in the enjoyment of sensual pleasures? – If the body cannot take part in the penitential works of the faithful, at least change your hearts, and be converted to the Lord. If you cannot rend, by fasting, the garment of flesh, which encompasseth you, rend your hearts, says the spirit of God, by the tears of grief, and compunction. Surpass your brethren, in the dispositions of your minds, if you cannot follow them in the exercises of the body. – In a word, live more holily than they, and you will fast more profitably. – Thus, you will glorify God in your infirmities, and in the end receive the reward, which is promised to the truly penitent.
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.
Though the world could give you, in an instant, the most enticing thing of all that it offers, and let you see, at a glance, all the kingdoms of the earth, and all their glory, could you possess them beyond the short time of your life ?. – St. Ignatius of Loyola, Bartoli, Book ii.
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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