Calvary and the Altar.
IF men would but think of Jesus, they would not offend him; they would love him. His patience, his mercy, his love, would soften the sinner's heart to sorrow for the past, to love for the future. Every mystery of the life of our Divine Lord reveals new secrets of the goodness of God to man; but the depths of love and mercy contained in his passion and death are fathomless. Men and angels will gaze with amazement for all eternity on the Victim of Calvary. The eternal Son of God a babe! the "Word was made flesh" the eternal Son of God crucified! "Bowing down his head he gave up the ghost." If this great mystery was engraven on the hearts of mankind, the empire of Satan would totter to its foundation. We could not think of Jesus bleeding, Jesus dying, without hating sin, and in hating sin, we begin to love. "There is nothing," says St. Augustine, "conduces more to salvation than always to think what the Godman has suffered for us." Could Jesus give more than his life for the salvation of mankind? "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John xv. 13. Jesus has done more, he laid down his life for his enemies: "Jesus Christ," says St. Paul, "died for us, even when we were sinners." Rom., v. 9.
The Passion of Christ is the soul of Christianity. It is the inexhaustible, infinite ocean that daily waters the Church of God, and imparts to her life and fertility, youth and beauty. It has been, and ever will be, the constant meditation of the saints. It made them saints. "He," says St. Bernard, "who devoutly meditates on the life and death of Jesus Christ, finds there abundantly all things he stands in need of." And again, the same saint says: "Nothing is more efficacious for curing the wounds of our conscience and purifying our souls, than continually to meditate on the sufferings of Jesus Christ." A God suffers and dies for man! In the garden of Gethsemani Jesus begins "to fear, and to be heavy," and to be "sorrowful and sad." "My soul is sorrowful even unto death." Matt., xxvi. He falls upon his face flat upon the ground. Anguish, pain, and sorrow overwhelm the Redeemer. The blood is forced from his sacred heart through all the pores of his sacred body; in the words of the Gospel, "his sweat became as drops of blood trickling down upon the ground." Sweet Jesus! All this for man, poor, sinful, ungrateful man! An angel consoles thee. May we console thee by remembering thy passion and loving thee.
We do not intend to follow Jesus through all the stages of his passion. He was betrayed and sold. May we never betray and sell him again by sin. In Pilate's hall the virginal flesh and blood of Jesus purpled and besprinkled the floor and walls, and was trampled on by the soldiers. May we never scourge the virginal flesh of Jesus by the sins of our flesh; or by sacrilege trample upon his precious blood. Jesus upon his bleeding shoulders carries the cross, laden with the sins of the whole human family, to the summit of Calvary's hill, there to consummate the sacrifice of man's redemption. The purple garment, which had stuck fast to the clotted blood on his sacred back and shoulders, is violently torn off; the wounds are reopened, the blood spurts out anew. Exquisite pain! But no sigh, no moan from Jesus! Placidly the Lamb lies upon the cross: the victim, with eyes fixed on heaven, lies upon the altar. The savage executioners grasp the hand of the meek Jesus: on its palm is placed the rough, blunt nail: a strong arm, moved by a merciless heart, wields the hammer, stroke after stroke! and the nail, cutting, or rather breaking, through the flesh, sinews, muscles, and bones of Jesus, is deeply bedded in the wood of the cross! Dear Jesus, what exquisite suffering, what intense pain, what racking torture! Well did the prophet say, "They have dug my hands and feet, they have numbered all my bones." "From the sole of the foot to the top of the head, there is no soundness in him." Isa., i. 6.
For three hours the Son of God hangs upon the cross, amid the insults, jeers, scoffs, and blasphemies of a wicked mob. Sweet Jesus! he looks down upon them, and says, "I thirst." Yes, I thirst for the souls of my children. This thirst was far more parching than that which dried up his divine lips and breast from the loss of blood.
Raising his dying eyes to heaven, he implores mercy for his executioners: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Luke, xxiii. 34. O mercy worthy of God!
During these three hours the blood flows, drop by drop, from the bleeding wounds of Jesus! the last drop is about to flow. O supreme moment! The expectation and promises of four thousand years are about to be fulfilled; the human family to be redeemed; the empire of hell to be destroyed, and heaven to be opened. Supreme moment! The departed just in prison count each instant by years; the countless millions of blessed spirits are grouped round Calvary, counting every sigh, weeping (if indeed tears can bathe an angel's cheek) with their suffering, dying in God; the Holy Ghost is looking down; the Father is well pleased with his only begotten Son. The moment is come, the Sacred Heart opens wide. the last drop issues forth. "It is consummated." "Jesus, bowing down his head, gave up the ghost" (John, xix. 30), and MANKIND IS REDEEMED!
The eternal Son of God died upon the cross, in the most excruciating torments, to redeem sinful man. No wonder "the sun was darkened over the whole earth." Matt., xxvii., 45. A God dies! No wonder "the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top even to the bottom, and the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent." "And the graves were opened; and many of the bodies of the saints that had slept arose." Matt., xxvii. 51, 52. All nature was convulsed, and sympathized with the sufferings of the Son of God.
In the passion of Jesus Christ we find everything. When despair sits upon the brow of the sinner steeped in the deadly guilt of years, the passion of Jesus will turn despair into hope. No matter how deadly the dye of our guilt, no matter how enormous the crimes and sins of our lives, there is always mercy in the Blood of Jesus. "He was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins." Isa., v. One tear of Jesus would redeem the world, but he has shed his blood, nay even to the last drop. May this precious blood flow upon our souls and cleanse every stain of sin. The passion of Jesus is a balm for the wounded heart. "I found not," says St. Augustine, "in all my necessities a more efficacious remedy than the wounds of Christ." And Albertus Magnus used to say, "that a single tear, shed over our Lord's passion, was better than a year's fast on bread and water, with watchings and disciplines." The passion of Jesus not only gives hope to the despairing, but softens the hardest hearts. When the poor sinner, turning to God, kneels with faith at the foot of the cross, the tear of sorrow glistens in his eye, his heart swells with contrition and repentance. Yes, the blood of Jesus can thaw the coldest ice and burst the flintiest rock. At the sufferings of the Son of God even inanimate nature was moved the earth shook, the rocks split, the graves opened, the veil of the temple was rent, the sun was darkened, the dead arose. Shall, then, the heart of man, for whom alone Jesus suffered and died, remain unmoved, untouched?
At the foot of the cross the poor sinner conceives not only hope and sorrow, but love for Jesus. Mary Magdalene first wept, then loved. In sorrow and love she twined her arms round the tree of the cross, on which Jesus, her love, was dying. Jesus, give us sorrow and love like hers. Can we refuse to love Jesus when he suffers and dies through love for us? "Wherefore, let us love God," says St. John (I John, iv. 19), "because God first loved us." Jesus will accept our poor hearts, though they are hardly worth giving him: "Son, give me thy heart." Yes, suffering Jesus! accept our hearts and our souls with their affections and faculties forever. To use the words of St. Augustine (Conf., ii. 16): "What kindles, urges, inflames, and drives me on to love thee more than anything else, is the most ignominious and bitter death, which thou, O good Jesus, didst endure for the work of our redemption. This alone, this altogether, easily claims for itself all our life, all our labor, all our devotion, and finally, all our love. This, I say, best excites, most sweetly solicits, most amply multiplies our devotion."
How many more holy things to be said of the passion! One thing more we cannot omit, the use of the Passion as intercessory prayer. It is recommended by the Church in so many ways. She has put her stamp upon it, by granting an indulgence of one hundred days to the following aspirations: "Eternal Father! I offer thee the precious Blood of Jesus, in satisfaction for my sins, and for the wants of holy Church." What a holy thing to offer to God the Blood of Jesus for the conversion of poor sinners! In the Life of St. Gertrude we find our Lord himself taught her this pious practice. St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi used to offer, fifty times a day, the Blood of Jesus for the living and the dead. What a great thing to convert one sinner to Jesus! Do you wish it? Yes: then frequently say: Eternal Father! I offer thee the precious Blood of Jesus, for the conversion of poor sinners; and on the day of judgment you will find yourself to be the instrument of the conversion of many. O glorious thing, to win one soul to the Sacred Heart of Jesus! "He," says the word of God, "who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins." St. James, V. 20. And again, "They that instruct many to justice, shall shine as stars for all eternity." Daniel, xii. 3. Let us repeat it: offer to God the Blood of Jesus for poor sinners, and you save your own soul, and shine like a brilliant star for all eternity. We have said something of Calvary: let us turn to the altar.
On Calvary, as we have seen, a God is the priest, a God is the victim, giving infinite glory and making infinite atonement to an infinite God. But is not the altar the exact same? Let us hear the infallible Council of Trent. In Sess. xxii. ch. 2, the holy Council says: "That same Christ is contained and immolated (on the altar) in an unbloody manner, who once offered himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross." "For the victim is one and the same, the same now offering by the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the Cross."
In his Passion, Jesus was betrayed and sold by his own friend. Yes, the treason of his friend, the kiss of Judas, went straight to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But in the Blessed Sacrament, how often is not Jesus betrayed and sold by his friends, too, by sacrilegious communions, which, like the kiss of Judas, directly wound the Sacred Heart of the Savior! May God banish sacrilege from the Church of Jesus!
The Jews filled with the fell spirit of hell, could not bear the presence of the Messiah, but in wild frantic rage cried out: "Away with him, away with him;" "crucify him, crucify him." "His blood be upon us and our children." But how often in the history of the Church, how often in these our own sad days, has not the same fell spirit inspired like rage and hatred against the same Messiah present on our altars? Like the cruel Jews, how often have not the more wicked and cruel heretic and infidel cried out against Jesus on the altar: "Away with him, away with him."
Breathing this spirit of Satan, have not wicked men rushed into our churches? Have they not entered the awful sanctuary where the majesty of God resides? Have they not broken open the tabernacles where dwells Jesus the "Holy of Holies?" and there have they not laid sacrilegious hands on the Babe of Bethlehem Jesus in the Host? Have they not there, as far as in them lay, scourged and crucified again the Redeemer? Have they not thrown into the flames, and trampled under foot, like the Jews in Pilate's hall, the flesh and blood of Jesus? Dear Jesus! sweet Jesus! We believe in thee, and love thee, for these heretics and infidels. O patience and love of God! God divided the waters of the Red Sea to deliver his people. He sent a destroying angel to smite whole armies of the enemies of Israel. A hand from heaven wrote on the walls the death warrant of the king who dared to profane the sacred vessels of the temple. God has saved, a thousand times over and over, his servants from death in every shape. But on the altar, as on the cross, there is no invisible hand, no destroying angel to smite the enemies of Jesus. Love has brought down Jesus into the flesh; love brings him down daily on countless altars; and through love he will bear patiently, to the end of time, all insults, blasphemies, and sacrileges. May fervent Catholics, by their return of love, make reparation for all to the sacred Heart of Jesus.
We have said how supreme the last moment of Jesus expiring on the cross; but the consecration at the adorable sacrifice of the mass, in the eyes of faith, is not less solemn and supreme; for there the same victim is mystically slain; the same Jesus, bowing down his head, gives up the ghost. The mysteries of the altar exceed, if we be allowed thus to speak, those of Calvary; for on the altar no angels are sent, as to the shepherds, to announce his birth; no miraculous star points to the sanctuary; no earthquake, no eclipse, no convulsion of nature, proclaim his death. On the altar, faith alone tells "the Word is made Flesh," and "it is consummated" Jesus is born, Jesus dies, all nature is silent.
Calvary and the altar! what holy thoughts they inspire! Before the cross and altar the saints have ever wept and prayed: there they have shed tears of sorrow for their own past faults, and for the heavier sins of their fellowmen. There they have learned love and sacrifice for Jesus's sake. There, with hearts big and full to overflowing with the holy emotions of gratitude and sorrow, love and zeal, they have made the generous resolve to consecrate their lives to the service of their Maker to prayer and penance, labor and love; thirsting for the opportunity to give their lives, and shed their blood, for their Divine Savior. May Jesus inspire our hearts with such holy thoughts.
My soul! it was for thy salvation, and that of all mankind, that Jesus died and shed his precious Blood on Calvary. This sacred Blood is thy only hope. Its value is as infinite as God himself. In it there is "plentiful redemption" for all Catholic and unbeliever, pagan and Jew.
My Jesus! dying and thirsting for souls, I resolve to recite, frequently every day, and for the salvation of souls, for thy sake alone, the following aspirations: First: "Eternal Father! I offer thee the precious Blood of Jesus in satisfaction for my sins, and for the wants of Holy Church." Secondly: "Eternal Father! I offer thee the precious Blood of Jesus for the conversion of pagans, heretics, and sinners." Thirdly: "Holy Virgin! I beg of thee to offer to God the precious Blood of Jesus, to prevent, in some part of the world, a, mortal sin from being committed this day or this night."
The Real Presence.
THUS far, Jesus in the flesh and Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament has been our theme. Henceforward the Blessed Sacrament alone will be our subject. Though our object is devotion, and not controversy, and our little book is intended for the faithful alone for the children of the one true Church of Christ, the sheep of the one fold, "fed" by the one INFALLIBLE SHEPHERD, the Vicar of Jesus Christ; still a few reflections on the truth of the great dogma of the Real Presence cannot fail to enliven our faith and intensify our gratitude and love to God. In this age of bold infidelity, when the spirit of darkness stalks abroad to insult our holy religion; when wicked men, by sophistry and false reasoning, try to sap the very foundation of faith, and especially assail the doctrine of the Real Presence the center of all our love and all our affections every Catholic should not only glory in his religion, but be able to give an account of the faith that is in him. Hence in this chapter we give, or rather only touch, a few of the proofs of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
How divine and holy are all the doctrines of the Catholic Church! When the philosopher analyzes the human heart, and examines the doctrines of our holy faith, he cannot fail to recognize one and the same Maker of both. He finds that the same hand that molded the human heart, and breathed into it the breath of life, is the Divine Founder of the Catholic Church. She alone satisfies the reason of the mind as well as the feelings of the heart. For instance, every man feels within himself a longing for certainty in matters of faith. In the Catholic Church alone this desire is satisfied by the doctrine of Infallibility, which disperses doubt and uncertainty; whilst the Protestant is "shifted about by every wind of doctrine."
Again, the Creator has filled the heart of man with loving affections for family and friends; and when the ties of family are severed by death, this affection is continued and increased towards the dear departed. How beautiful the doctrines of Purgatory and Communion of Saints! The Catholic can lift his hands in supplication to those in bliss, and whisper a prayer of relief for those in pain. Have we not all felt it? How happy the good child that follows fond parents beyond the grave, and helps them to the enjoyment of their God! But more cruel than death, and colder than the grave is the Protestant doctrine. It snaps the connection between the living and the dead, and sternly forbids the children to help, or be helped by, the departed. But of all the articles of our holy religion, the Real Presence of Christ on our altars is the most consoling. It is the perfection of God's work; the greatest if, indeed, contrast be allowed manifestation of God's love for man.
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