Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace, may mercifully be relieved; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. – Collect for Lætare Sunday, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘There seems almost to be a suggestion of pious, cloistered humour in the collect for Mid-Lent Sunday. As this is Refreshment Sunday our forefathers in the faith, while recognising their responsibility for the sin that made necessary the austerity of the season, yet claim some momentary relief before they enter on the special rigour of passiontide. If that is so, they certainly pass on from the thought of the particular relief to the more general consideration of final redemption and its release from the consequence of sin.
The attitude of the prayer is one of complete sincerity before God. We recognise our true condition. There is no attempt to offer excuses. We do not begin, as so many poor things have done when faced with the imminence of severe illness, bereavement, or death: “But I’ve done no wrong: why should this happen to me?” We admit our evil deeds and the justice of our punishment. We throw ourselves on God’s mercy. We admit that we worthily deserve to be punished.
Is this sincerity true of us individually as we repeat the prayer? How conscious are we of our own guilt? It is very easy to listen to the words as they are said or sung by the priest. We can even in a fashion accept them without letting them penetrate very deeply into our consciousness. All our responsibility and conventionality toughen the fibre of our self-respect and make it really difficult for such sentiments to pierce through to the heart. We need therefore to examine ourselves seriously as to our own state of mind.
To what evil deeds are we confessing? Mere peccadilloes, for which we excuse ourselves as soon as they are committed? Or real faults, for which we know in our heart of hearts there is no adequate excuse? Certainly, if we look deep enough, we shall find much of which we must honestly say, “My fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault”. We feel guilty both for what we have done and probably more for what we have left undone.
…For all this we acknowledge that we “worthily deserve to be punished”. No doubt we are talking in rather childish language. But as this is Mothering Sunday it is perhaps natural that we should revert to the language of the nursery, where, after all, the foundations of our moral life were laid. In any case there is an honesty and simplicity about it that is very refreshing. It is better than much of the psychology of today, which would put the blame for our bad dispositions on our environment, heredity, or childhood misadventures’.
from Reflections on the Collects, 1964
by William Wand KCVO, 1885-1977 (Bishop of London 1945-1955)
Bishop Synesius, 375-430, translated by A.W. Chatfield, 1808-1896
The English Hymnal no.77
‘In Lent we gaze at the divine figure of our Lord, and two things are brought specially before us, His temptation in the wilderness, and His suffering and death at Jerusalem. For Him, as for us and for every one, the real religious conflict must be fought in solitude. We see this conflict fought out in our Lord’s life of prayer; proved in His contacts with life and with people; consummated by His Passion and death upon the Cross. Lent calls each one of us personally to imitate our Lord’s retirement into the wilderness by the deepening of our own spiritual adventure, to honour His Passion by bringing into our lives deliberate self-denial, to expect that the reality of our faith and prayer will have its proving in the common contacts and experiences of life. The Christian’s faith issues in the Christian’s life; the Christian’s life is proved by the Christian’s sacrifice. We have to fight out our own spiritual battle in solitude and silence, and the result will be proved in our contacts with people, and consummated in the ultimate sacrifice wherein we yield up our life to God’.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
‘Lent prepares us to commemorate the death of our Lord on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter morning.
But what do we mean by commemorate? Not just remembering an ancient story but finding how the death of Jesus can mean more to us than ever before, and how the risen life of Jesus is something in which we may actually be sharing. Start by putting our aim into a prayer: Thanks be to thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast won for me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me: most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly.
Realising the meaning of his death, sharing in his risen life: that is our goal. Our way will include our prayer, our sharing in the Holy Communion, our reading… But this will not be in a vacuum, but in the midst of the world around us. In the terrible suffering of our time Jesus suffers. By the cruelties and evil of our time Jesus suffers. So, linking our Lent with the world around us, pray now for some who suffer whether near or far; and pray now for some near or far whose cruelty or callousness is wounding Jesus’.
A.M. Ramsey, Lord Ramsey of Canterbury, 1904-1988 (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1961-1974)
Congratulations to my colleague Monsignor Carl Reid (second from right, above), who was yesterday named as the new Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Southern Cross in Australia, in succession to Mgr Harry Entwistle (who, like myself, was once of the Anglican Diocese of Blackburn). Mgr Reid is presently the Administrator of Blessed John Henry Newman, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and will be installed as Ordinary at the end of August. I was privileged to be present for his ordination to the priesthood in Ottawa in 2013 and honoured to be asked to preach at his First Mass. Australia and its Ordinariate will be greatly blessed by this appointment.
‘You are invited to a sterner discipline than merely giving up sugar for Lent! It is the discipline of a pilgrimage, a journey into scripture, a journey into your deepest self, a journey into God. Like all good disciplines, positive good emerges with accompanying joy, and closer proximity to that union in Love which is the goal of all our journeyings. We are all on pilgrimage anyway – from the cradle to the grave, and through the gateway of death into eternity. So any smaller pilgrimages on this larger journey which can infuse meaning and joy into life’s twisting and (hopefully) ascending pathway, should be treasured.
It is in the nature of life’s journey to include days of spring sunshine where bounding life and vitality initiate the adventure, running into summer days of lingering on plateaux of shared work and play, sustained by the bread and wine of loving communion and spurred on by personal and corporate vision. The pathway becomes more difficult and yet more rewarding in the autumn mists of unknowing, with the fruitful contemplative vistas of mature understanding. Then there are the wintry blasts of icy wind and freezing fog which we have to suffer for ourselves or on behalf of our loved ones.
Yet the path does not decline into the valley of the shadow of death, but is meant to be gently ascending into the greater mystery and deeper awareness of the divine Love. It is a personal and corporate journey, but whether alone or with others, we are called into the deeper fellowship of Christ our Saviour, Friend and Brother.
Indeed, the whole pilgrimage is centred upon him. He is our fellow pilgrim who accompanies us on the way, and dwells within us on the journey. We tread in the footsteps of the historical Jesus, and we commune in mystical vision with the indwelling Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who makes the Christ personal and real to us on this pilgrimage, and it is toward the glory of the Father that we move. The scriptures are our map and the sacraments sustain us on the way from earth to heaven’.
Brother Ramon SSF, 1936-2000
‘Our Lady said yes for the human race. Each one of us must echo that yes for our lives.
We are all asked if we will surrender what we are, our humanity, our flesh and blood to the Holy Spirit and allow Christ to fill the emptiness formed by the particular shape of our life.
The surrender that is asked of us includes complete and absolute trust; it must be like Our Lady’s surrender, without condition and without reservation.
What we shall be asked to give is our flesh and blood, our daily life, our thoughts, our service to one another, our affections and loves, our words, our intellect, our waking, working and sleeping, our ordinary human joys and sorrows - to God.
To surrender all that we are, as we are, to the Spirit of Love in order that our lives may bear Christ into the world - that is what we shall be asked.
Our Lady has made this possible. Her fiat was for herself and for us, but if we want God’s will to be completed in us as it was in her, we must echo her fiat’.
Caryll Houselander, 1901-1954
We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace int our hearts: that, as we have known the Incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an Angel; so by his Cross and Passion we may be brought unto the glory of his Resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
We beseech thee, Almighty God: look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘[T]he Collect, Epistle and Gospel [in the Prayer Book] are the same as in the Roman rite, and are derived from ancient sources. Our Collect adds “hearty” to desires and in place of “the humble” puts “Thy humble servants”. The old Collect ends at “defence” whilst our Collect adds “against all our enemies”.
Again we have a warning against those terrible sins of uncleanness. Again the Epistle implores us to avoid them; and the Gospel shows us Who alone can expel the unclean spirit. The Collect takes up this thought and prays that God will stretch forth the right hand of His Majesty to be our defence. The Collect suggests that our prayer to avoid this danger and for His help comes from our “Hearty desires”, or heartfelt desires.
…The Collect assumes that we do not want to leave the house of our soul empty, that we want to cast out all uncleanness and put the love of God into our souls. So it speaks of our desires for cleanness as being “hearty desires”… which come from the heart. Unless they are hearty desires we shall never conquer evil”.
from Teaching the Collects, 1965, by H.E. Sheen
O MOST HOLY MOTHER, Queen of Sorrows,
who didst follow thy beloved Son through all the Way of the Cross,
and whose Heart was pierced with a fresh sword of grief
at all the Stations of that most sorrowful journey,
obtain for us, we beseech thee, O most loving Mother,
a perpetual remembrance of our Blessed Saviour's Cross and Death,
and a true and tender devotion to all the mysteries of His most holy Passion.
Obtain for us the grace to hate sin,
even as He hated it in the agony in the garden;
to endure wrong and insult with all patience
as He endured them in the judgement hall;
to be meek and humble in all our trials
as He was before His judges;
to love our enemies even as He loved his murderers,
and prayed for them upon the Cross;
and to glorify God and to do good to our neighbour,
even as He did in every mystery of His suffering.
O Queen of Martyrs,
who by the Dolours of thy Immaculate Heart on Calvary,
didst merit to share the Passion of Our Most Holy Redeemer,
obtain for us some portion of thy compassion,
that for love of Jesus crucified,
we may be crucified to the world in this life,
and in the life to come may,
by His infinite merits and thy most powerful intercession,
reign with Him in glory everlasting.
1. My God, who could have imagined, by any light of nature, that it was one of Thy attributes to lower Thyself, and to work out Thy purposes by Thy own humiliation and suffering? Thou hadst lived from eternity in ineffable blessedness. My God, I might have understood as much as this, viz. that, when Thou didst begin to create and surround Thyself with a world of creatures, that these attributes would show themselves in Thee which before had no exercise. Thou couldest not show Thy power when there was nothing whatever to exercise it. Then too, Thou didst begin to show thy wonderful and tender providence, Thy faithfulness, Thy solicitous care for those whom Thou hadst created. But who could have fancied that Thy creation of the universe implied and involved in it Thy humiliation? O my great God, Thou hast humbled Thyself, Thou hast stooped to take our flesh and blood, and hast been lifted up upon the tree! I praise and glorify Thee tenfold the more, because Thou hast shown Thy power by means of Thy suffering, than hadst Thou carried on Thy work without it. It is worthy of Thy infinitude thus to surpass and transcend all our thoughts.
2. O my Lord Jesu, I believe, and by Thy grace will ever believe and hold, and I know that it is true, and will be true to the end of the world, that nothing great is done without suffering, without humiliation, and that all things are possible by means of it. I believe, O my God, that poverty is better than riches, pain better than pleasure, obscurity and contempt than name, and ignominy and reproach than honour. My Lord, I do not ask Thee to bring these trials on me, for I know not if I could face them; but at least, O Lord, whether I be in prosperity or adversity, I will believe that it is as I have said. I will never have faith in riches, rank, power, or reputation. I will never set my heart on worldly success or on worldly advantages. I will never wish for what men call the prizes of life. I will ever, with Thy grace, make much of those who are despised or neglected, honour the poor, revere the suffering, and admire and venerate Thy saints and confessors, and take my part with them in spite of the world.
3. And lastly, O my dear Lord, though I am so very weak that I am not fit to ask Thee for suffering as a gift, and have not strength to do so, at least I will beg of Thee grace to meet suffering well, when Thou in Thy love and wisdom dost bring it upon me. Let me bear pain, reproach, disappointment, slander, anxiety, suspense, as Thou wouldest have me, O my Jesu, and as Thou by Thy own suffering hast taught me, when it comes. And I promise too, with Thy grace, that I will never set myself up, never seek pre-eminence, never court any great thing of the world, never prefer myself to others. I wish to bear insult meekly, and to return good for evil. I wish to humble myself in all things, and to be silent when I am ill-used, and to be patient when sorrow or pain is prolonged, and all for the love of Thee, and Thy Cross, knowing that in this way I shall gain the promise both of this life and of the next.
Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
Ex more docti mystico
c. 6th century, translated by John Mason Neale, 1818-1866
The English Hymnal no.65
‘Lent is no time to sit at ease in Sion (Amos vi. 1) content with a few additional pious practices and sermon tasting, nor are we meant to turn our grace inwardly upon ourselves, wasting this precious season in useless laments upon the past or raking over the dustheap of our sins in the vain belief that this is penitence. We have confessed our sins, we have made our act of contrition, we have heard the Divine word of absolution, word which accomplishes that which it says, and now we are called to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance (Luke iii. 8), to arise from the dead and Christ shall give thee light (Eph. v. 14), to lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and to run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. xii. 1, 2).
Come unto Me. It is our one need; all our victory over temptation, all our progress in virtue, all our hope of eternal life lies in this alone. There is no more deep-seated root of our failures than that which tempts us to discouragement and anger with ourselves, which would persuade us to remain in the far country lamenting our evil state instead of acting upon the word God puts within our hearts, I will arise and go to my Father (Luke xv. 18). There is no greater foolishness than to yield to the pride which tells us that we must make ourselves fit to come to God, that the way of return is long and difficult, that we need anything more than to fling ourselves upon the Divine Mercy with but one word, “My Jesus, I am sorry”’.
Dom Bede Frost OSB, 1877-1961
It was from Joseph first I learned
of love. Like me he was dismayed.
How easily he could have turned
me from his house; but, unafraid,
he put me not away from him
(O God-sent angel, pray for him).
Thus through his love was Love obeyed.
The Child’s first cry came like a bell:
God’s Word aloud, God’s Word in deed.
The angel spoke: so it befell,
and Joseph with me in my need.
O Child whose father came from heaven,
to you another gift was given,
your earthly father chosen well.
With Joseph I was always warmed
and cherished. Even in the stable
I knew that I would not be harmed.
And, though above the angels swarmed,
man’s love it was that made me able
to bear God’s love, wild, formidable,
to bear God’s will, through me performed.
‘O Sapientia’ by Madeleine L’Engle, 1918-2007
O God, who from the house of thy servant David didst raise up Saint Joseph to be the guardian of thine incarnate Son, and spouse of his Virgin Mother: give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to thy commands; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. – Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘After this the Priest says, Holy things to holy men. Holy are the gifts presented, having received the visitation of the Holy Ghost; holy are you also, having been deemed worthy of the Holy Ghost; the holy things therefore correspond to the holy persons. Then ye say, One is Holy, One is the Lord, Jesus Christ. For One is truly holy, by nature holy; we too are holy, but not by nature, only by participation, and discipline, and prayer.
After this ye hear the chanter inviting you with a sacred melody to the communion of the Holy Mysteries, and saying, O taste and see that the Lord is good. Trust not the judgment to your bodily palate no, but to faith unfaltering; for they who taste are bidden to taste, not bread and wine, but the anti-typical Body and Blood of Christ.
In approaching therefore, come not with your wrists extended, or your fingers spread; but make your left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed your palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen. So then after having carefully hallowed your eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake of it; giving heed lest you lose any portion thereof; for whatever you lose, is evidently a loss to you as it were from one of your own members. For tell me, if any one gave you grains of gold, would you not hold them with all carefulness, being on your guard against losing any of them, and suffering loss? Will you not then much more carefully keep watch, that not a crumb fall from you of what is more precious than gold and precious stones?
Then after you have partaken of the Body of Christ, draw near also to the Cup of His Blood; not stretching forth your hands, but bending , and saying with an air of worship and reverence, Amen, hallow yourself by partaking also of the Blood of Christ. And while the moisture is still upon your lips, touch it with your hands, and hallow your eyes and brow and the other organs of sense. Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks unto God, who has accounted you worthy of so great mysteries.
Hold fast these traditions undefiled and, keep yourselves free from offence. Sever not yourselves from the Communion; deprive not yourselves, through the pollution of sins, of these Holy and Spiritual Mysteries. And the God of peace sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit, and soul, and body be preserved entire without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23): To whom be glory and honour and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and world without end. Amen’.
On the Sacred Liturgy and Communion from Catechetical Lecture 23
by St Cyril of Jerusalem, c.313-386
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that at the intercession of thy blessed Bishop Saint Cyril, we may learn to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent; that we may be found worthy to be numbered for ever among the sheep that hear his voice; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves to help ourselves: keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘If there is one time in the Church Year when we ought to feel the need to exercise faith and to pray fervently in faith… it is Lent.
The usual tendency in our prayers is to ask God to help us, to aid us, to assist us and to strengthen us. All well and good, but sometimes hidden in such verbal requests is the general idea that we can do so much for ourselves and we only need God to come along and give us the extra push, to top up our strength. But in this prayer we begin by recognising as we meditate before almighty God our Father, who is the Omnipotent One, that in fact we need more than a push and a topping up: we need his help, power, grace and strength completely and wholly. For we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves in the real battles of life against adversaries much stronger than we are.
Therefore, from the position of total dependency upon God’s gracious power we ask the Father in the name of his well beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that in body and soul we may be daily preserved and protected from all forms of evil and sin. We cannot predict as each day begins what bad things can and will happen to our body, from accident, disease, carelessness, or the evil will of others. Further, and significantly, we cannot predict what can and will happen to our soul – our mind, emotions and will – as it is open to testing and temptation. Evil thoughts, desires and imaginations can be generated within our souls by all kinds of stimuli, by the world and the devil.
This prayer of wholehearted submission to the Almighty Father is entirely suitable for Lent as we engage in self-examination, fast inwardly and outwardly in union with our blessed Lord (who himself fasted forty days and forty nights) and look forward to the Victory of Christ at Easter over the world, the flesh and the devil in which, by union with him, we share’.
Peter Toon, 1939-2009
‘Alas, the holy seasons of the Ember Days, which recur four times a year at the beginning of spring, summer, fall and winter, are no longer observed as they were in the old Church, namely as days of ordination of our priests when the Church wants her faithful to remember her priests by prayer and sacrifice. Nowadays, we have “Priest’s Saturday”, which takes, somewhat, the place of those very holy seasons. Ember Saturday, which was the day of the final ordinations, is the day when we might explain the sacrament of Holy Orders to the children. On the evenings of these Saturdays, after preparation for the Mass, we could tell them about the holiness of priesthood and sisterhood, about our Holy Father, the Pope, about the cardinals and bishops, and particularly about our own bishop — our true representative of Christ. We could remind them to remember the Pope, the bishop, and all the priests in their daily prayers. If it is at all possible, we might have them participate in the yearly ordination ceremonies, a great liturgical experience’.
from Around the Year with the Trapp Family, 1955, by Maria Von Trapp, 1905-1987
O God, who didst lead thy holy Apostles to ordain ministers in every place: grant that thy Church, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, may choose suitable men for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the extension of thy kingdom; through him who is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. – A collect for the Ember Saturday in Lent, Divine Worship: The Missal.
We beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully to have compassion on thy people: that they, who by thee are enabled to serve thee in all godliness, may ever be comforted by thy gracious and ready help; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. – Collect for Ember Friday in Lent, Divine Worship: The Missal
‘On Ember Friday [in Lent] we are reminded of the ancient Lenten discipline of the Church. We would frequently be at a loss to understand Her liturgy of this season, unless we picture Her to ourselves as preparing the public penitents for a renewed participation in the Sacred Mysteries. But first they must be reconciled to God, Whom they have offended. Their soul is dead by sin; can it be restored to life? Yes; we have God’s word for it. The Lesson from the prophet Ezechiel, which the Church began yesterday for the catechumens, is continued today for the benefit of the public penitents. If the wicked do penance for all his sins, which he hath committed, and keep all My commandments, and do judgment and justice; living he shall live, and shall not die. But his iniquities are upon him and rise up against him, crying to Heaven for eternal vengeance! And yet God, Who knows all things, and forgets nothing, assures us that He will not remember iniquities which have been redeemed by penance. Such is the affection of His Fatherly Heart, that He will forget the outrage offered Him by His child, if this child will but return to its duty. Thus then the penitents are to be reconciled; and on the Feast of the Resurrection they will be associated with the just, because God will have forgotten their iniquities; they themselves will be just men. Thus it is that the Liturgy, which never changes in its essentials, brings frequently before us the ancient discipline of public penance’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
Robert Herrick, 1591-1674
We beseech thee, O Lord, that thou wouldest graciously hear our prayers: and stretch forth the right hand of thy majesty to be our defence against all adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for Ember Wednesday in Lent, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘The Lenten Ember days are the most recent of the four sets and do not have the same importance as the other three, since the whole of Lent is devoted to spiritual renewal. Doubtlessly the three days, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, formed part of the Lenten liturgy from its very beginning, as can be seen from the formulary content. Wednesday, devoted to our Lady, is a day of reflection and spiritual orientation; Friday emphasises conversion and penance; Saturday, a preview of Easter, marks the renewal of our baptismal covenant.
There may well be a relation between this week’s Ember day liturgy and that of the first Sunday of Lent. Christ fasts forty days and conquers the devil. Moses and Elias, representing the Old Testament, also fast forty days (even the paralytic’s thirty-eight years have an affinity to the number forty). On Ember Saturday, Christ, Moses, and Elias appear together on the Mount of Transfiguration. Thus the Ember days do not fail to contribute their share to the theology of Lent’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
St Andrew of Crete, 660-732, translated by J. M. Neale, 1818-1866
The English Hymnal no.72
‘I see the figure of a man, whether young or old I cannot tell. He may be fifty, or he may be thirty. Sometimes he looks one, sometimes the other. There is something inexpressible about his face that I cannot solve. Perhaps, as he bears all burdens, he bears that of old age too. But so it is; his face is at once most venerable, yet most childlike, most calm, most sweet, most modest, beaming with sanctity and with loving kindness. His eyes rivet me and move my heart. His breath is all fragrant and transports me out of myself. Oh, I will look upon that face forever and will not cease.
And I see suddenly someone come to him and raise his hand and sharply strike him on that heavenly face. It is a hard hand, the hand of a rude man, and perhaps has iron upon it. It could not be so sudden as to take by surprise him who knows all things past and future, and he shows no sign of resentment, remaining calm and grave as before; but the expression of his face is marred; a great welt arises, and in a short time that all-gracious face is hidden from me by the effects of this indignity, as if a cloud came over it.
A hand was lifted up against the face of Christ. Whose hand was that? My conscience tells me: “You are the man”. I trust it is not so with me now. But, O my soul, contemplate the awful fact. Fancy Christ before you, and fancy yourself lifting up your hand and striking him! You will say, ‘It is impossible: I could not do so.’ Yes, you have done so. When you sinned wilfully, then you have done so. He is beyond pain now: still you have struck him, and had it been in the days of his flesh, he would have felt pain. Turn back in memory, and recollect the time, the day, the hour, when by wilful mortal sin, by scoffing at sacred things, or by profaneness, or by hard hatred of your brother, or by acts of impurity, or by deliberate rejection of God’s voice, or in any other devilish way known to you, you have struck the All-Holy One.
O injured Lord, what can I say? I am very guilty concerning you, my brother; and I shall sink in sullen despair if you do not raise me. I cannot look on you; I shrink from you; I throw my arms round my face; I crouch to the earth. Satan will pull me down if you do not take pity. It is terrible to turn to you; but oh, turn me, and so shall I be turned. It is a purgatory to endure the sight of you, the sight of myself – I most vile, you most holy. Yet make me look once more on you whom I have so incomprehensibly affronted, for your countenance is my only life, my only hope and health lies in looking on you whom I have pierced. So I put myself before you; I look on you again; I endure the pain in order to receive the purification.
O my God, how can I look you in the face when I think of my ingratitude, so deeply seated, so habitual, so immovable – or rather so awfully increasing! You load me day by day with your favours and feed me with yourself, as you did Judas, yet not only do I not profit thereby, but I do not even make any acknowledgment at the time. Lord, how long? When shall I be free of this real, this fatal captivity? He who made Judas his prey has got foothold of me in my old age, and I cannot get loose. It is the same day after day. When will you give me a still greater grace than you have given, the grace to profit by the graces that you give? When will you give me your effectual grace, which alone can give life and vigour to this effete, miserable, dying soul of mine? My God, I know not in what sense I can pain you in your glorified state; but I know that every fresh sin, every fresh ingratitude I now commit, was among the blows and stripes that once fell on you in your Passion. Oh, let me have as little share in those past sufferings as possible. Day by day goes, and I find I have been more and more, by the new sins of each day, the cause of them. I know that at best I have a real share of them all, but still it is shocking to find myself having a greater and greater share. Let others wound you – let not me. Let me not have to think that you would have had this or that pang of soul or body the less, except for me. O my God, I am so fast in prison that I cannot get out. O Mary, pray for me’.
Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
‘In His great spiritual conflict in the wilderness our Lord came in His human nature to that great conclusion, that “man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God doth man live”. That which He had known to proceed from the mouth of God was the great commandment of love, to love God above all things and His neighbour and Himself, and to go on loving God whatever the circumstances of His life might be, and His neighbour however evilly that neighbour might behave. It was in His own darkest hour that He gave to us the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament. We have all of us one day to meet our darkest hour, whatever it may be, and we know that we can meet it in the power of that Heavenly Bread which the Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God made to be His Body and His Blood and the communication of His sacrificial love. In the Mass we bring our own difficulties and darknesses and present them to God in union with the everlasting Sacrifice of Christ. They enable us to understand That, and That enables us to consecrate them’.
from The Way of Victory: Meditations for Lent and After, by Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights: give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Having for forty years led a most saintly life in the married state, upon which she entered when but twelve years of age, Frances retired from the world, where she had endured every sort of tribulation. But she had given her heart to her God long before she withdrew to the cloister. Her whole life had been spent in the exercise of the highest Christian perfection, and she had ever received from our Lord the sublimest spiritual favours. Her amiable disposition had won for her the love and admiration of her husband and children: the rich venerated her as their model, the poor respected her as their devoted benefactress and mother.
God recompensed her angelic virtues by these two special graces: the almost uninterrupted sight of her guardian angel, and the most sublime revelations. But there is one trait of her life which is particularly striking, and reminds us forcibly of St Elizabeth of Hungary, and of St Jane Frances Chantal: her austere practices of penance. Such an innocent, and yet such a mortified, life is full of instruction for us. How can we think of murmuring against the obligation of mortification when we find a saint like this practising it during her whole life? True, we are not bound to imitate her in the manner of her penance; but penance we must do, if we would confidently approach that God who readily pardons the sinner when he repents, but whose justice requires atonement and satisfaction’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
O Frances, sublime model of every virtue! thou wast the glory of Christian Rome, and the ornament of thy sex. How insignificant are the pagan heroines of old compared with thee! Thy fidelity to the duties of thy state, all thy saintly actions, had God for their one single end and motive. The world looked on thee with amazement, as though heaven had lent one of its angels to this earth. Humility and penance put such energy into thy soul, that every trial was met and mastered. Thy love for those whom God Himself had given thee, thy calm resignation and interior joy under tribulation, thy simple and generous charity, to every neighbour – all was evidence of God’s dwelling within thy soul. Thy seeing and conversing with thy angel guardian, and the wonderful revelations granted thee of the secrets of the other world, how much these favours tell us of thy merits! Nature suspended her laws at thy bidding; she was subservient to thee, as to one that was already face to face with the sovereign Master, and had the power to command. We admire these privileges and gifts granted thee by our Lord; and now beseech thee to have pity on us, who are so far from being in that path in which thou didst so perseveringly walk. Pray for us, that we may be Christians, practically and earnestly; that we may cease to love the world and its vanities; that we may courageously take up the yoke of our Lord and do penance; that we may give our pride; that we may be patient and firm under temptation. Such was thy influence with our heavenly Father, that thou hadst but to pray, and a vine produced the richest clusters of fruit, even in the midst of winter. Our Jesus calls Himself the true Vine; ask Him to give us of the vine of His divine love, which His cross has so richly prepared for us. When we remember how frequently thou didst ask Him to let thee suffer, and accept thy sufferings for poor sinners, we feel encouraged to ask thee to offer thy merits to Him for us. Pray too for Rome, thy native city, that her people may be stanch to the faith, edifying by holiness of life, and loyal to the Church. May thy powerful intercession bring blessings on the faithful throughout the world, add to their number, and make them fervent as were our fathers of old.
‘On July 3, 1549, a fire broke out in the kitchen of the Royal hospital at Granada that had been founded by the Spanish king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella. It threatened to spread to the large wards where hundreds of sick were lying. The storm and fire bells rang loudly. People rushed from all sides, John in the lead. The fire was beyond control, firemen and volunteers were unable to extinguish it. No one dared to enter the burning building from which came the pitiful cries of the sick in the agony of imminent and certain death. Fire and smoke choked the exits. Those who could still arise from their beds stood pleading at the windows. The scene was enough to drive a person insane.
John could not stand idly by. Disregarding smoke and flame, he rushed in among the sick, opened doors and windows, gave terse orders and directions as to how they who could might save themselves; some he led, others he dragged or carried into the open, often two at a time. When all the bedridden were safe, he wasted no time in throwing coverlets, bed clothing, chairs and other valuables out of the windows, thus saving the property of the poor.
Then he took an axe, climbed to the roof and began chopping away vigorously. Suddenly the liberated flames leapt up high beside him. He fled, only to continue his heroic work in another part of the building. There too a wave of fire soon stopped him. He was standing literally between two infernos. Moments passed, he was lost in the heat of the flames and the choking smoke. A quarter of an hour - loud cries of fear could be heard for the brave man - and then he sprang from the fire, blackened by smoke but unscathed except for singed eyebrows. Joyously the crowd surrounded him, congratulating the saviour of the sick. John’s modesty, however, prevented him from accepting praise and honours’.
from The Life of St John of God by Bihlmeyer
quoted in The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
O God, who didst cause blessed John, by the fire of thy love, to pass unhurt amid the flames, and through him didst enrich thy Church with a new offspring: grant, by the pleading of his merits that our vices may be healed by the fire of thy charity, and that we may obtain thine eternal healing; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. – Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Vibia Perpetua, a well-to-do young woman and mother, and Felicitas, a slave who gave birth to a child three days before suffering a martyr’s death, were catechumens. Against such prospective converts the persecution of Septimius Severus was particularly severe. These two holy women suffered death on the seventh of March in Carthage. The Breviary relates the following touching episode:
“Now the day had arrived when they were to be thrown to the wild beasts. Felicitas began to be sorrowful because she feared she would have to wait longer than her companions. For eight months she had been pregnant and therefore, according to Roman law, could not be executed before the birth of the child. But the prayers of her fellow sufferers hastened her time and she gave birth to a baby girl.
While she was suffering from the pains of childbirth, one of the guards called out to her, ‘If you are suffering so much now, what will you do when you are thrown to the wild beasts?’ ‘Now I suffer’, she answered, ‘but there Another will be in me, who will suffer for me, because I will suffer for Him’. When she was in travail she had sorrow, but when she was set before the wild beasts she rejoiced (Martyrology)”.
Finally, on the seventh of March, these heroic women were led into the amphitheatre and severely scourged. Then they were tossed about by an exceptionally wild cow, gored, and thrown to the ground’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
O holy God, who gavest great courage to Saints Perpetua, Felicitas and their Companions: grant that, through their prayers, we may be worthy to climb the ladder of sacrifice, and be received into the garden of peace; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon
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