Passion Sunday. On Contrition. – part 2.
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.
Passion Sunday. On Contrition. – part 2.
It likewise frequently happens, that, after we have examined the state of our interior, and after we have discovered the multitude and enormity of our offences, we are seized with terror and consternation. Hell and eternity seem to stare us in the face: and the dread of that terrible abyss, on the brink of which we have been heedlessly sporting, rushes powerfully on the mind. Under the influence of some such terrifying impressions as these, we throw ourselves before the ministers of Christ, we confess our sins, and readily conclude that our sorrow is sufficiently intense to find acceptance with God, and move Him to be reconciled to us. My dear friends, I do not say that this is at all times the case; but it is more than probable that it oftentimes is so with many, and that their sorrow is nothing more than the produce of self-love, the slavish dread of punishment. And is it in reason to be supposed that men, actuated by no better principles than these, can possibly possess that love of God which prefers Him, His will and law, before all things? No: the sorrow that proceeds from the sensation of fear alone, is little better than the sorrow which proceeds from shame. The honour and glory of God are to them objects of indifference. They are disgusted with sin merely on account of the consequences that will result personally to themselves. Their will is not changed: it is just as depraved as it was before: their propensities are as bad as ever: their inclinations are as corrupt; their affections as heartily wedded to the world and its pleasures; and so far are they from entertaining a sincere love of God, that they would gladly continue on in their vicious courses, if they knew that the loss of His love, or the withdrawing of His friendship, would be the only consequence that would ensue from their iniquitous proceedings.
I acknowledge that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and that it is salutary to penetrate frequently with the eyes of faith the dreadful abyss of fire and darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth; to descend in spirit into hell; and, by the view of future torments, to place a restraint on the lawless passions of the breast. I acknowledge that this fear is a gift of the Holy Ghost: and far be it from me to deprive sinners of a means of salvation, and of a motive for compunction which Christ himself held out, which the Church recommends, which the saints had continually before their eyes, and which we ourselves daily employ with the view of disturbing the slumbers in which sinners pass their days. For, my God! if, notwithstanding thy threats of avenging flames, if, notwithstanding the view of hell and its eternal torments which Thy justice has prepared for sinners, if, I say, iniquity still prevails on the earth, and all flesh hath corrupted its ways, would there be any faith remaining among men, were we imprudently to endeavour to turn away their eyes from this dismal spectacle; or were we to declare that the motive the most common and the most universal, ought to be disregarded. The noble and generous souls, whom love alone attaches to the service of their Maker, are few in number. Love is the wisdom of the perfect. The weak stand in need of indulgence; and God willingly consents, that self-interest should be one great incitement to their fidelity.
The fear of the torments, therefore, which God has reserved for the wicked, is one ingredient of contrition, but it is not the only, nor the principal one. Love alone drew our hearts from God, and love alone can restore them to Him. Love caused the depravation of our will, and love must restore it to its primitive state of subjection. Love, therefore, is the principal ingredient of contrition; we must begin to love God in preference to all creatures; and then the virtue of the sacrament, united with this love, although perhaps it may not have attained its perfection, will effect our reconciliation with God, and complete our justification. I exclude not, I say, from contrition the fear of punishment: I exclude only the criminal dispositions of those men, who, if there were no torments, no hell in store, would live like atheists without a sense either of morality or religion, without the use of any of our sacred institutions: who are callous to every sentiment of love; who are roused only by the threats of future judgments; and who in their own minds are grieved that God is just, and that He has attached eternal torments to the most shameful excesses.
You may say, perhaps, that few men are influenced by these unchristian dispositions. Ah! would to God that your assertion was founded on truth. But experience too plainly demonstrates that the number is very few who are not actuated, by them. Fear is almost the whole of our religion. We divorce ourselves from our passions only for a moment: we separate ourselves from them as from, objects which, are dear to us, but dangerous. Like the wife of Lot, we do not hate Sodom, we are afraid only of the flames. – The spirit of true piety is less diffused in the world than you imagine. Our virtues are for the most part counterfeit virtues. We entertain, indeed, a hatred for mortal sin: but for what reason? because it will be succeeded by eternal torments. This is manifest from our unconcern about venial sins: which, because they will not subject us to the same miserable eternity, we commit with little or no scruple, notwithstanding their opposition to the sanctity of God. If, therefore, we impartially scrutinize the affections of our hearts, we shall discover that few of our actions are influenced by principles either of grace or love, and that hell is almost the only object of our fears.
But how are we to discover the real dispositions of our souls? and by what marks are we to distinguish whether the perturbation of our minds on these solemn occasions is the genuine offspring of true repentance, or whether it only originates in the sense of shame, the effect of our wounded pride, mixed with a low, and mercenary fear? In plain terms, (for my wish is to set you right in a matter, which, though little thought of, is of the utmost consequence) in plain terms, then, if the fear, which is so apt to beset us on these occasions, is not accompanied with a real and sincere resolution of forsaking the ways of sin, and embracing a life of true Christian piety in future, be assured, that it is not the effect of sincere sorrow, and that it has nothing in it that can possibly connect it with true repentance. “Wilt thou be made whole?” said our blessed Saviour to a man striken with the palsy. The same question is proposed to you, whenever you approach the sacred tribunal of penance. Will you be made whole? Do you wish for a perfect cure? Are you bent upon, renouncing, your former bad habits? and do you, before God, and with a deliberative mind, firmly resolve to enter upon a new life, a life of true Christian piety for the future?
This, my beloved brethren, is the question proposed to you, and what answer are you prepared to make? Will you candidly declare that you are resolved to break the chains which bind you to the world, and to labour henceforward for salvation by the uniform and constant practice of Christian virtues? Remember that the question is not, whether you have made vague and indefinite resolutions of amendment – resolutions, which will never be put in execution, and which are calculated only to deceive the penitent, and cause Him to perpetrate the horrid sacrilege without a consciousness of the crime, and consequently without remorse: but the question is, have you that strong, that complete, that sincere will to be reformed, which has given proofs of its determination by the tears of compunction which it has already drawn from you? Wilt you be made whole? This is the question which is proposed to you in the name of Jesus. Your conscience cannot here deceive you. A moment’s reflection will discover whether you are sincere or not. All the preliminaries of a thorough conversion of the heart to God are as strongly marked as any thing in nature can be. They are instantly distinguished: they cannot be mistaken. Tears, conflicts, interior troubles, new plans of conduct, sensations which perhaps you never felt before: these are the pangs which announce the birth of the new man in the soul. In the midst of such tumults, in the conflicts of such impetuous winds as these, if I may be allowed the expression, the Spirit of God descends on the penitent heart, as He did on the apostles, and He descends with His best gifts.
Examine yourselves, therefore, my beloved friends; you, I mean, whose lives have been devoted to the world and sin: see whether the protestations you have made to alter your plan of life for the future, have been marked with this kind of trepidation and sorrow, these unequivocal tokens of a true repentance, whenever you presented yourselves at the sacred tribunal of reconciliation.
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.
God desires but one thing of me, that I submit my soul to His Divine Majesty. – St. Ignatius of Loyola, Letter 9.
March Devotion: St. Joseph
Virtue to practice: Mortification
To thee, O blessed Joseph, do we have recourse in our tribulation, and, implored the help of thy thrice-holy Spouse, we confidently invoke thy patronage also. By that charity wherewith thou was united to the immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and by that fatherly affection with which thou didst embrace the Child Jesus, we beseech thee and we humbly pray, that thou wouldst look graciously upon the inheritance which Jesus Christ hath purchased by His Blood, and assist us in our needs by thy power and strength. Most watchful guardian of the Holy Family, protect the chosen people of Jesus Christ; keep far from us most lovely father, all blight of error and corruption: mercifully assist us from heaven, most mighty defender, in this our conflict with the powers of darkness; and, even as of old thou didst rescue the Child Jesus from the supreme peril of His life, so now defend God’s Holy Church from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity; keep us one and all under thy continual protection, that we may be supported by thine example and thine assistance, may be enabled to lead a holy life, die a happy death and come at last to the possession of everlasting blessedness in heaven. Amen.
An indulgence of 3 years. An indulgence of 7 years during the month of October, when said after the recitation of the Rosary and on any Wednesday throughout the year. A plenary indulgence once a month on the usual conditions, If this prayer is devoutly said daily (Leo Xiii, Encyclical Aug. 15, 1889; S.C. Ind., Sept. 21, 1889; S.P.Ap., May 17, 1927; Dec. 13, 1935; and March 10, 1941).
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