Value of Interior Acts.
"JESUS," says St. Bernard, "is honey in the mouth, music in the ear, joy and jubilation in the heart." "I have only time," cries out St. Francis of Sales, "to write the great name of salvation Jesus." "O could we pronounce the holy name of salvation from our hearts, what sweetness would it diffuse to our souls." Ep. 10. To think of Jesus makes us good, to praise Jesus makes us better, to love to possess Jesus makes us saints. "To be without. Jesus," says the Imitation, "is a grievous hell, and to be with Jesus a sweet paradise." The soul that loves Jesus finds her greatest delight in thinking of Him, in praising and thanking Him, in advancing by every means His glory, in loving Him. No harm, no evil, no pain shall we add sin? can approach the soul whose affections are centered in and twined round the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus unites us to Himself that we may ever think of Him and love Him. By the Holy Communion we live in Jesus, Jesus lives in us. "He that eateth My body and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me, and I in him."
We have been treating of Holy Communion, but how imperfectly! How imperfect our words, how embarrassed our thoughts, and our thoughts how much beneath the sublime object to be conceived. It was the finite trying to comprehend the infinite, earth contemplating heaven, the creature overwhelmed in the dazzling light of the Creator. But the goodness of Jesus accepts our least good wishes: this leads us to our present chapter, Communion of desire, or spiritual Communion.
We sometimes forget the value of interior acts. The soul alone can love or offend God. "My soul," says the holy Mother of the Savior, doth magnify the Lord: my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." Luke i 46. The exterior acts add nothing or little to the interior. These acts of the soul, whether for good or evil, can be multiplied at will beyond the power of reckoning, and in the midst of apparently the most distracting occupations. One act of the will, the work of an instant, transformed bright angels into hideous devils, and cast them from the highest heaven to the lowest hell, without a ray of hope for all eternity! Suppose the soul consents to an evil thought, it is the work of an instant, but the work is complete. In that second of time what has taken place? The Holy Ghost has departed; a foul devil takes His place; the soul, before beautiful, is now hideous; before the friend of God, is now His enemy. In that one second she has forfeited heaven, and deserved hell for all eternity.
Reverse the picture, and you have the value of good thoughts. Good thoughts, good desires, good acts of the will, pierce heaven, please God, merit an increase of glory, and are written by the finger of God in the book of life. O the value of one act of love! Quicker than the lightning it is before God, and makes the soul the habitation of the Holy Ghost! These acts of the will such as acts of love, sorrow, adoration, praise, thanksgiving, petition for grace never fatigue the mind nor interfere with our ordinary occupations, and can be multiplied each day in thousands. What glory they give to God! What showers of graces they bring down from heaven upon the soul! Amongst the holiest of interior acts is spiritual Communion.
What is Spiritual Communion?
St. Thomas answers (3 p. q. 30, a. I. ad. 3): "Spiritual communion consists in an ardent desire of receiving Jesus Christ in the Holy Sacrament, and in embracing Him with the same love as if you had actually received Him." By spiritual Communion we invite Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament into our hearts by faith, desire, and love. We entertain our Divine Guest with holy affections. We thank, we praise, we bless Him, and beg His favors as if we had actually and sacramentally received Him. For the advantages and practice of this devotion we have no less authority than the holy Council of Trent, which says: "Some receive the Holy Eucharist spiritually only; those, to wit, who, eating in desire that heavenly bread which is set before them, are, by a lively faith which worketh by charity, made sensible of the fruit and usefulness thereof." Sess. xiii, xviii. The saints and masters of the spiritual life extol the advantages. of spiritual Communion, tell us of the graces and blessings it confers upon the soul, and they exhort the faithful to the frequent practice of it. Blessed Leonard says: "Spiritual Communion is a treasure which enriches the soul with inestimable wealth, and is capable of producing the very same graces as sacramental, and in some instances greater." Hidden Treasure, P. 59. St. Liguori teaches the same thing. Father Peter Faber used to say that spiritual Communions are a very powerful help to receive the holy Eucharist with the proper dispositions. The venerable Alphonsus Rodriguez says: "God often bestows the same graces to those who communicate spiritually as to those who really receive under the species. Nay, it may sometimes happen that he who communicates spiritually may receive more graces than he that actually communicates." Christian Perfection. It is true that sacramental Communion is of itself of greater value: of its own nature, by its own intrinsic efficacy as a sacrament, it is capable of conferring more grace, of producing greater fruit, than the spiritual: yet if the latter be accompanied by better dispositions than the former, by more humility, more reverence, more respect, more love and desire, the spiritual communicant may deserve and receive greater grace than the sacramental. Spiritual Communion has this advantage also, that it is free from the danger of vanity or vain glory, being hidden from the eyes of the world and known to God alone.
How often Can and Ought the Pious Soul make Spiritual Communion?
Let us remark that to communicate spiritually the soul must be in the state of grace. The Council of Trent requires an ardent desire, lively faith, and fervent charity. "Some receive the holy Eucharist spiritually, those to wit who eating in desire that heavenly bread which is set before them, are by a lively faith which worketh by charity made sensible of the fruit and usefulness thereof." Sess. xiii. c. viii.
How often communicate spiritually? As often as God inspires the holy desire. First: Whenever you hear Mass, at the moment the priest is about to receive Jesus Christ, invite Him into your soul, adore and love Him with your whole heart. Secondly: Whenever you visit the Blessed Sacrament the oftener the better make a spiritual Communion. St. Liguori advises three spiritual communions each time we hear Mass or visit the Blessed Sacrament. Thirdly: Every time, morning, noon, and night, you kneel down to pray, invite Jesus into your heart. Lastly Every hour of the day would not be too often! every minute not often enough, to remember the love of Jesus for man in the Blessed Sacrament, to adore, to thank, to love Him. Spiritual Communion has ever been the constant practice of the saints; it has sanctified them. Blessed Angela of the Cross used to make two hundred spiritual Communions every day, and used to say, "If my confessor had not taught me this method of communicating, I could scarcely live." So ardent her desire to receive Jesus.
We read in the lives of some of the saints, that to satisfy their vehement desire to receive the holy Eucharist, our divine Lord brought to them the sacred Host from heaven, sometimes by His own hands, to St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Liduina, and others ; sometimes by the hands of angels or of his blessed Mother, as to St. Bonaventure, St. Stanislaus, St. Sylvester. Thus the sacred Host sometimes comes down from heaven to satisfy the ardent desires of holy souls. Thus has Jesus by signal miracles manifested his approbation of spiritual Communion.
How are we to Make Spiritual Communion?
No certain form is required. We may use any form we please. St. Thomas, as we before remarked, teaches that spiritual Communion consists in the desire of receiving Jesus Christ in the holy Sacrament. St. Liguori gives the following form: "I believe in Thee, O Jesus present in the most holy Sacrament. I love Thee. I desire to receive Thee. Come into my heart. I embrace Thee. Do not ever more depart from me." St. Leonard gives another form: "Come, dearest Jesus, come into this my poor unhappy heart; come and satiate my longings; come and, sanctify my soul; come my sweetest Jesus, come."
The supernatural acts that precede and follow spiritual Communion are of inestimable value. The spirit of God Himself will dictate to the holy soul these acts, as well as the form. She will make an act of faith in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist; to prepare a dwellinghouse for her spouse in her heart, she will elicit acts of sorrow for her sins; she will make acts of love and humility, and then invite Jesus to take up His residence within her. And when Jesus is come, she entertains her divine Guest with holy affection; she adores, loves, thanks her Savior, and performs the same acts she is accustomed to do after sacramental Communion.
These holy spiritual Communions can be made at all times and in all places. We need not be on our knees nor in the church; anywhere we are, whether in the streets, in our shops, at our work in the fields, walking the road, amidst the most distracting occupations, we can in the silence of our hearts, unknown to the world, turn to the tabernacle and invite Jesus into our hearts. When we awake in the morning let Jesus occupy our first thoughts, let us invite Him into our hearts, thank Him for His protection during the night, and invoke His blessing for the day; every hour of the day, and even frequently during each hour, let us make spiritual Communions: and at night when we retire to rest, let Jesus be our last thought. Let us again invite Him into our hearts, and thus like St. Stephen, fall asleep in the Lord." O how happy such a day, the soul ever in the presence of God, united with Jesus, breathing silent love to its Maker. How many the supernatural interior acts of one day, and each act meriting an eternal weight of glory? We have said before, one act of love makes her the habitation of the Holy Ghost. Yes, could but one ray of love penetrate hell, it would light up the dark dungeons of the damned, send back to heaven the fallen angels, extinguish the burning flames, and transform hell into paradise. The reward of one act of divine love is God himself, for by it we merit the possession, the enjoyment of God for all eternity.
May Jesus give us all a love for spiritual Communions. "Custom," says the Imitation of Christ, "is overcome by custom." Let us have holy customs. Let us pray for the custom of spiritual Communions. Let us begin it, continue it, and fix in our minds certain times of the day to practice it, such as morning, noon, and night, at the Angelus, when we go to Mass or visit the blessed Sacrament, when the clock strikes, etc.
In a short time it will become a holy habit, and then the source of extraordinary graces and blessings to our souls. "Spiritual Communion," concludes St. Leonard, "inflames the soul with the love of God nay, unites it to God, disposes it to receive His most signal favors, and enriches it with graces, merits, and every good." p. 60.
My soul! how divinely inventive the love of Jesus in the holy Eucharist! Not only can thou receive Him every day if thou art worthy, but thou can receive Him spiritually every hour of the day. At all times and in all places Jesus is willing to come to thee at thy invitation, to shower upon thee His graces and blessings. How often hast thou neglected this holy practice?
"In gratitude to Jesus, and in love to the blessed sacrament, pray for grace to keep the following resolution"
My Jesus, all love and goodness in the holy Eucharist, I resolve to make spiritual Communions whenever I hear Mass, visit the Blessed Sacrament, or recite the Angelus; whenever I say in the Pater Noster, "give us this day our daily bread;" it will be my first act in the morning, my last at night. And I wish and desire at each spiritual Communion, and at each moment of my life, to offer to thee, my Jesus, the holiest love and the holiest acts that have been performed, and that will be performed by the saints on earth and blessed in heaven, including thy ever holy Mother. I place this resolution in the tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament, begging grace to keep it.
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