The Thought of Hell an Efficacious Remedy for Forming the Soul to Virtue.
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.
The Thought of Hell an Efficacious Remedy for Forming the Soul to Virtue.
This thought, in point of fact, lays the foundation of virtue through the humility which it inspires; it raises the edifice of it by the acts which it gives us courage to practise; it puts the crown on it by the love Which it kindles in the heart,
1st. This thought renders us humble. We have already seen, on the Friday of the second week after Pentecost, that if we had committed but one single sin, and that even had this sin been forgiven, we should never be anything more than a person who has escaped hell, who has deserved to be, throughout eternity, insulted and despised by devils; and we are ignorant whether we do not still deserve this treatment, for no one knows whether he is worthy of love or of hatred, nor do we know whether, supposing that we are worthy to-day of heaven, we shall not, on some future day, render ourselves worthy of hell; in order to do so, nothing more is wanted than a moment of weakness, a thought of pride, of which the rebel angels are a proof; nothing more than a calumny, an impurity, according to St. Paul; nothing more than a desire, a look, according to Jesus Christ; now, are not all these considerations supremely suitable to keep a soul abased in humility?
2d. The foundation of virtue being thus laid, the thought on which we are meditating raises the edifice of virtue by acts which it gives us courage to practise. Doubtless it costs us something to renounce ourselves, to break with frivolity, dissipation, self-love; to subject ourselves to a rule of life and no longer to lose our time; but when we think of hell, what is all that, we say, compared with hell, wherein, if I am not a saint, I shall always burn? And then we hesitate no longer. It costs us something to mortify and humiliate ourselves, to suffer grief, contradiction, contempt, and insults; but when we think of hell, what is all that, we say to ourselves, compared with hell, wherein, if I am not a saint, I shall always burn? And thence we conclude: Ah, if it were necessary to wean myself from all kinds of pleasures, to practise upon my body the severities of the most austere penance, if I had to pass days and nights in prayer, bury myself alive, cut off my hand, tear out my eyes, sacrifice possessions and liberty, health and life, I ought not to hesitate a moment, for what is all that compared with hell, wherein, if I am not a saint, I shall always burn? Thus, full of courage, the soul reasons which thinks of hell; thus St. Augustine reasoned, when he begged of God to make him suffer fire and iron here below, provided that He would spare him in eternity. It was thus that an ancient hermit understood it when he said to a young religious who was wearied of his cavern, “Ah, my son, you can never have meditated much on what hell is, from which you are preserved therein.” It was thus that all the martyrs understood it, all the anchorites, all the illustrious penitents, in a word, all the saints, for it was through it that they attained the courage whereby they became saints. It is thus that the thought of hell raises the edifice of virtue.
3d. It is the consummation of virtue through the love which it kindles in the heart. For there is no medium; either we must burn here below with the flames of holy love, or we must burn eternally in the flames of divine justice. Now, in the presence of such an alternative there is no room for hesitation. Nothing is so cruel as hell; nothing is so sweet as love. Besides, how could we help loving God, Who places us so high in His esteem and love that He desires, at all costs, to be loved by us, since He has only made hell in order to force us to love Him? How could we help loving God, whose anger, even though it be provoked by our crimes, creates an order of things which is in our greatest temporal and eternal interests? Now this is what He has done in creating hell; for, if there were no hell, what would the consequences have been to us? Natural, divine, and human laws would be without sanction, passions without any bridle, vice without any barrier; there would be no virtue, no guarantee of order for society here below, no elect for heaven, and paradise would be a kingdom devoid of inhabitants. Be Thou therefore blessed and loved, O my God, not only for having prepared for us the happiness of heaven, but also for having created hell to frighten our passions. Thou hast thereby made it a kind of necessity for us to save ourselves, and Thy anger has served the designs of Thy love. How, lastly, not love a God who has worked so many miracles and has had recourse to so many means to preserve us from hell? The Incarnation, the Redemption, the maintenance of Thy Holy Church, the priesthood and all the sacraments, all interior and exterior graces, all the solicitations of the Holy Spirit in the bottom of our hearts, all the instructions given us, and all the good examples set us, are as so many ingenious devices of God, who desires to save us all. Oh, how greatly does such goodness merit the whole of our love! And what shall we say of the divine patience which did not allow us to fall into the depths of hell, when we deserved to do so? It kept us, as it were, suspended by a hair over the abyss; it had only to open its hand, let us go, and we should have been lost (Ps. xciii. 17; lxxxv. 13). O God, who hast waited for me to do penance, may all creatures bless and love Thee! (Dan. iii. 57, 58.) Alas! how many others, after a single sin, have fallen into the abyss, whilst I, who am much more guilty than they, still breathe. I have at my disposition all Thy graces whereby to save myself. O divine goodness! O ineffable predilection! Touched by so much love, O my God, I will henceforth make my whole life a permanent testimony of my gratitude. I ought to be sacrificed to Thy anger, I will sacrifice myself to Thy love; I will everywhere proclaim Thy praise and Thy goodness; I will bless Thee always; I ought to suffer forever, I will love Thee always!
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.
October Devotions: The Holy Angels and the Holy Rosary
Virtue to practice: Confidence
PRAYER TO ST. RAPHAEL, ARCHANGEL. Glorious Archangel, St. Raphael, great prince of the heavenly court, illustrious by thy gifts of wisdom and grace, guide of travellers by land and sea, consoler of the unfortunate and refuge of sinners, I entreat thee to help me in all my needs and in all the trials of this life, as thou didst once assist the young Tobias in his journeying. And since thou art the “physician of God,” I humbly pray thee to heal my soul of its many infirmities and my body of the ills that afflict it, if this favor is for my greater good. I ask, especially, for angelic purity, that I may be made fit to be the living temple of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
His Holiness, Leo XIII., by a rescript of the S. Congr. of Indulgences, June 21, 1890, granted to the faithful who shall recite the above prayer AN INDULGENCE OF ONE HUNDRED DAYS, once a day. .
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