Defending the Faith of our Fathers!
Christ's Faithful People

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BOOK ONE:

ON THE FIRST THREE WORDS SPOKEN ON THE CROSS

 


CHAPTER I: The literal explanation of the first Word, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Christ Jesus, the Word of the Eternal Father, of Whom the Father Himself hath spoken, "Hear ye Him,"[1] and Who hath said of Himself, "For One is your Master, Christ,"[2] in order to perform the task He had undertaken, never ceased from instructing us. Not only during His life, but even in the arms of death, from the pulpit of the Cross, He preached to us words few in number, but burning with love, most useful and efficacious, and in every way worthy to be engraven on the heart of every Christian, to be preserved there, meditated upon, and fulfilled literally and in deed. His first word is this, "And Jesus said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."[3] Which prayer, as though it were altogether new and unheard of before, the Holy Spirit wished to be foretold by the Prophet Isaias in these words: "And He prayed for the evil doers."[4] And the petitions of our Lord on the Cross prove how truly the Apostle St. Paul spoke when he said: " Charity seeketh not her own,"[5] for of the seven words our Redeemer spoke three were for the good of others, three for His own good, and one was common both to Himself and to us. His first care, however, was for others. He thought of Himself last.

Of the first three words which He spoke, the first was for His enemies, the second for His friends, the third for His relations. Now, the reason why He thus prayed, is that the first demand of charity is to succour those who are in want: and those who were then most in want of spiritual succour were His enemies; and what we also, the disciples of so great a Master, stand most in need of is to love our enemies, a virtue which we know is most difficult to be obtained and rarely to be met with, whereas the love of our friends and relations is easy and natural, increases with our years, and often predominates more than it ought. Wherefore the Evangelist wrote, "And Jesus said:"[6] where the word and shows the time and the occasion of this prayer for His enemies, and places in contrast the words of the Sufferer and the words of the executioners, His works and their works; as though the Evangelist would explain himself more fully thus: they were crucifying the Lord, and in His very presence were dividing His garments amongst them, they mocked and defamed Him as a seducer and a liar; whilst He, seeing what they were doing, hearing what they were saying, and suffering the most acute pains in His Hands and Feet, returned good for evil and prayed; " Father, forgive them."

He calls Him "Father," not God or Lord, because He wished Him to exercise the benignity of a Father and not the severity of a Judge; and as He desired to avert the anger of God, which He knew was aroused at their enormous crimes, He uses the tender name of Father. The word Father appears to contain in itself this request: I, Thy Son, in the midst of all My torments have pardoned them; do you likewise, My Father, extend your pardon to them. Although they deserve it not, still pardon them for the sake of Me, your Son. Remember, too, that you are their Father, since you have created them, and made them to your own image and likeness. Show them therefore a Father's love, for although they are wicked, they are nevertheless your children.

"Forgive." This word contains the chief petition which the Son of God, as the advocate for His enemies, made to His Father. The word Forgive may be referred both to the punishment due to the crime, and also to the crime itself. If it be referred to the punishment due to the crime, then was the prayer heard: for since this sin of the Jews demanded that its perpetrators should be instantly and condignly made to feel the wrath of God, by either being consumed with fire from heaven, or drowned in a second deluge, or extirpated with famine and the sword, still the infliction of this punishment was postponed for forty years, during which period, if the Jewish people had done penance they would have been saved and their city preserved, but because they did not perform penance, God sent against them the Roman army, which, in the reign of Vespasian, destroyed their metropolis, and partly by famine during the siege, and partly by the sword in the sack of the city, slew a vast multitude of its inhabitants, whilst the survivors w ere sold into slavery and scattered throughout the world. All these misfortunes were foretold by our Lord in the parables of the householder who hired labourers for his vineyard; of the king who made a marriage for his son; of the barren fig-tree; and more clearly when He wept over the city on Palm Sunday. Our Lord's prayer was also heard if it had reference to the crime of the Jews, since it obtained for many the grace of compunction and reformation of life. There were some who " returned striking their breasts."[7] There was the Centurion, who said, "Truly this was the Son of God."[8] And there were many who a few weeks afterwards were converted by the preaching of the Apostles, and confessed Him Whom they denied, adored Him Whom they had despised. But the reason why the grace of conversion was not granted to all is that the will of Christ was conformable to the wisdom and the will of God, which St. Luke shows us when he says in the Acts of the Apostles, "As many as were ordained to life everlasting, believed."[9]

"Them." This word applied to all for whose pardon Christ prayed. In the first place it is applied to those who really nailed Christ to the Cross, and cast lots for His garments. It may also be extended to all who were the cause of our Lord's Passion: to Pilate who pronounced the sentence; to the people who cried out, " Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him;"[10] to the chief priests and the scribes who falsely accused Him; and, to proceed still farther, to the first man and all his posterity who by their sins occasioned Christ's death. And thus from His Cross our Lord prayed for the forgiveness of all His enemies. Each one, however, may reckon himself amongst the enemies of Christ according to the words of the Apostle, " When we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.[11] Therefore our High Priest Christ made a commemoration for all of us, even before our birth, in that most holy "Memento," if I may so speak, which He made in the first Sacrifice of the Mass which He celebrated on the altar of the Cross. What return then, O my soul, wilt thou make to the Lord for all that He hath done for thee, even before thou hadst a being? Our dear Lord saw that thou also wouldst one day rank thyself with His enemies, and though thou askedst not, nor besoughtest Him, He prayed for thee to His Father not to lay to thy charge the fault of folly. Does it not therefore behove thee to bear in mind so sweet a Patron, and to make every effort to serve Him faithfully in all things? Is it not just that with such an example before thee thou shouldst learn not only to pardon thy enemies with ease, and to pray for them, but even bring as many as thou canst to do the same? It is just, and this I desire and purpose to do, provided that He Who has set me so brilliant an example would also in His goodness give me sufficient help to accomplish so great a work.

For they know not what they do. In order that His prayer might be reasonable, Christ extenuates, or rather gives what excuse He could for the sins of His enemies. He certainly could not excuse either the injustice of Pilate, or the cruelty of the soldiers, or the ingratitude of the people, or the false testimony of those who perjured themselves. It only remained for Him then to excuse their fault on the plea of ignorance. For with truth does the Apostle observe, "If they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory."[12] Neither Pilate, nor the chief priests, nor the people knew that Christ was the Lord of glory, still Pilate knew Him to be a just and holy man, Who had been delivered up through the envy of the chief priests; and the chief priests knew Him to be the promised Christ, as St. Thomas teaches, because they neither could nor did they deny that He had wrought many of the miracles which the prophets foretold the Messias would work. In fine, the people knew that Christ had been unjustly condemned, since Pilate publicly told them, "I find no cause in this Man:"[13] and, "I am innocent of the Blood of this just Man."[14]

But although the Jews, both priests and people, knew not the fact that Christ was the Lord of glory, nevertheless, they would not have remained in this state of ignorance if their malice had not blinded them. According to the words of St. John: "And whereas He had done so many miracles before them, they believed not in Him, because Isaias said: He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them."[15] Blindness is no excuse for a blind man, because it is voluntary, accompanying, not preceding, the evil he does. Similarly those who sin in the malice of their hearts may always plead their ignorance, which is nevertheless not an excuse for their sin since it does not precede it but accompanies it. Wherefore the Wise Man says, " They err who work iniquity."[16] The Philosopher likewise with truth proclaims every evil-doer to be ignorant of what he does, and consequently it may ingeniously be said of sinners in general, "They know not what they do." For no one can desire that which is wicked on the ground of its wickedness, because the will of man does not tend to what is bad as well as what is good, but solely to what is good, and for this reason those who make choice of what is bad do so because the object is presented to them under the aspect of something good, and may thus be chosen. This results from the disquietude of the inferior part of the soul which blinds the reason and renders it incapable of distinguishing anything but what is good in the object it seeks. Thus the man who commits adultery or is guilty of a theft perpetrates these crimes because he looks only to the pleasure or the gain which may result, and he would not perpetrate them if his passions had not blinded him to the shameful infamy of the one and the injustice of the other. Hence a sinner is like to a man who wishes to throw himself from an eminence into a river; he first shuts his eyes and then casts himself headlong; so he who does an evil act hates the light, and labours under a voluntary ignorance which does not exculpate him, because it is voluntary. But if voluntary ignorance does not exculpate the sinner, why did our Lord pray, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do?" To this I answer that the most straightforward interpretation to be put to our Lord's words is that they were spoken for His executioners, who were probably entirely ignorant not only of our Lord's Divinity, but even of His innocence, and simply performed the hangman's duty. For those, therefore, our Lord most truly said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Again, if our Lord's prayer be interpreted as applicable to ourselves who had not then a being, or to that multitude of sinners who were His contemporaries, but had no knowledge of what was being enacted in Jerusalem, then did our Lord most truly say, "They know not what they do." Lastly, if He addressed His Father in behalf of those who were present, and knew that Christ was the Messias and an innocent Man, then must we confess the charity of Christ to be such as to wish to palliate as far as possible the sin of His enemies. If ignorance cannot justify a fault, it may nevertheless serve as a partial excuse, and the deicide of the Jews would have worn a more heinous aspect had they known the character of their Victim. Although our Lord was aware that this was not so much an excuse as a shadow of an excuse, He urged it, forsooth, to show us how kindly He feels towards the sinner, and how eagerly He would have used a better defence even for Caiphas and Pilate, had a better and more reasonable apology presented itself.

ENDNOTES

1. St. Matt. xvii. 5.

2. St. Matt. xxiii. 10.

3. St. Luke xxiii. 34.

4. Isaias liii. 12.

5. I Cor. xiii. 5.

6. St. Luke xxiii. 34.

7. St. Luke xxiii. 48.

8. St. Matt. xxvii. 54.

9. Acts xiii. 48.

10. St. Matt. xxvii. 22.

11. Rom. v. 10.

12. I Cor. ii. 8.

13. St. Luke xxiii. 14.

14. St. Matt. xxvii. 24.

15. St. John xii. 37-40.

16. Prov. iv. 22.

CHAPTER II: The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the first Word spoken by Christ on the Cross.

Having given the literal meaning of the first word spoken by our Lord on the Cross, our next endeavour must be to gather some of its most eligible and advantageous fruits. What strikes us most in the first part of Christ's sermon on the Cross is His ardent charity, which burns with a more brilliant lustre than we can either know or conceive, according to that which St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, saying, "To know also the charity of Christ which surpasseth all knowledge."[1] For in this passage the Apostle informs us by the mystery of the Cross how the charity of Christ surpasseth our understanding because it extends beyond the compass of our limited intellect. For when we suffer any grievous pain, as for example a toothache, or a headache, or a pain in the eyes, or in any other member of our body, our mind is so rivetted on this as to be incapable of any exertion; hence we are in no humour either to receive our friends, or carry on our business. But when Christ was nailed to the Cross He wore His diadem of thorns, as is clearly shown in the writings of the ancient Fathers; by Tertullian amongst the Latin Fathers in his book against the Jews, and amongst the Greek Fathers by Origen in his work upon St. Matthew, and hence it followed that He could neither lean His Head back, nor move it from side to side without additional pain. Rough nails held fast His Hands and Feet, and from the manner in which they tore their way through His flesh occasioned a most acute and lasting torment. His Body was naked, worn out with the cruel scourging and the journeyings to and fro, ignominiously exposed to the gaze of the vulgar, and by its weight was widening with a barbarous and continual agony the wounds in His Hands and Feet; all which things combined were the source of much suffering, and as it were of additional crosses. Yet, O charity! truly surpassing our understanding, He thought no more of His torments than if He were suffering nothing, and is solicitous only for the salvation of His enemies; and desiring to screen them from the penalty of their crimes, cries aloud to His Father, "Father, forgive them." What would He have done if these wretches had been the victims of an unjust persecution, or had been His friends, His relations, or His children, and not His enemies, His betrayers and abandoned parricides? Truly, O most benign Jesus! your charity surpasses our understanding. I behold your Heart in the midst of such a storm of injuries and sufferings, like a rock in the midst of the ocean which remains immovable and at rest, though the billows dash themselves in fury against it. For you see your enemies are not satisfied with inflicting mortal wounds on your Body, but must scoff at your patience, and howl in triumph at your ill-treatment; you look upon them, I say, not as a foe scans his antagonists, but as a father regards his wandering children, as a doctor listens to the ravings of a delirious patient. Wherefore you are not angry with them but pity them, and intrust them to the care of your all-powerful Father, that He would cure them and make them whole. This is the effect of true charity, to be on good terms with all men, to consider no one your enemy, and to live at peace with those who hate peace.

This is what is sung in the Canticle of love about the virtue of perfect charity. "Many waters cannot quench charity, neither can the floods drown it."[2] The many waters are the many sufferings which our spiritual miseries, like storms of hell, let loose on Christ through the instrumentality of the Jews and Gentiles, who represented the dark passions of our heart. Still this deluge of waters, that is of dolours, could not extinguish the fire of charity which burnt in the breast of Christ. Therefore the charity of Christ was greater than this deluge of many waters; and it shone brilliantly in His prayer, "Father, forgive them." And not only were these many waters incapable of extinguishing the charity of Christ, but neither in after ages were the storms of persecution able to overwhelm the charity of the members of Christ. Thus the charity of Christ, which possessed the heart of St. Stephen, could not be crushed out by the stones wherewith he was martyred; it was alive there, and he prayed, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge."[3] In fine, the perfect and invincible charity of Christ which has been propagated in the hearts of many thousands of martyrs and confessors, has so stoutly combated the attacks of visible and invisible persecutors, that it may be said with truth even to the end of the world, that a sea of suffering shall not extinguish the flame of charity.

But from the consideration of the Humanity of Christ let us ascend to the consideration of His Divinity. Great was the charity of Christ as Man towards His executioners, but greater still will be the charity of Christ as God, and of the Father, and of the Holy Ghost, at the last day towards all mankind who have been guilty of acts of enmity towards their Creator, and would, had they been able, have cast Him out of heaven, have nailed Him to a cross, and have slain Him. Who can conceive the charity which God bears towards such ungrateful and wicked creatures ? God did not spare the angels when they sinned, nor did He give them time for repentance, but He often bears patiently with sinful men, with blasphemers, and with those who enrol themselves under the standard of the devil, His enemy; and He not only bears with them, but meanwhile feeds them and nourishes them, even supports and sustains them, for "in Him we live and move and are,"[4] as the Apostle says. Nor does He preserve the good and the just only, but likewise the ungrateful and the wicked, as our Lord informs us in the Gospel of St. Luke. Nor does our good Lord merely feed and nourish, support and sustain His enemies, but He often heaps His favours upon them, gives them talent, increases their riches, makes them honourable, and raises them to temporal thrones, whilst He all the while patiently awaits their return from the path of iniquity and perdition.

And to pass over several characteristics of the charity which God feels towards wicked men, the enemies of His Divine Majesty, each one of which would require a volume if we dwelt upon them singly, we will confine ourselves at present to that singular kindness of Christ of which we were treating. "For has not God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son?"[5] The world is the enemy of God, for "the whole world is seated in wickedness,"[6] as St. John tells us: and " if any man love the world the charity of the Father is not in him,"[7] as he says again in another place. St. James writes, " Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God," and "the friendship of this world is the enmity of God."[8] God therefore in loving this world cherishes His enemy with the intention of making it His friend. For this purpose has He sent His Son, "the Prince of Peace,"[9] that by His means the world might be reconciled to God. Therefore at the birth of Christ the angels sang, " Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace."[10] Thus God has loved the world, His enemy, and has taken the first step towards peace, by giving to it His Son, Who might bring about the reconciliation by suffering the penalty due to His enemy. The world received not Christ, increased its guilt, rebelled against the one Mediator, and God inspired this Mediator to return good for evil by praying for His persecutors. He prayed and " was heard for His reverence.[11] God patiently awaited to see what progress the Apostles would make by their preaching in the conversion of the world; those who did penance received pardon; those who repented not after such patient forbearance were exterminated by God's just judgment. Therefore from this first word of Christ we really learn that the charity of God the Father, Who " so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish but may have life everlasting,"[12] surpasses all knowledge.

ENDNOTES

1. Ephes. iii. 19.

2. Cant. viii. 7.

3. Acts vii. 59.

4. Acts xvii. 28.

5. St. John iii. 16.

6. I St. John v. 19.

7. I St. John ii. I[5].

8. St. James iv. 4.

9. Isaias ii. 6.

10. St. Luke ii. 14.

11. Heb. v. 7.

12. St. John iii. 16.

CHAPTER III. The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the first Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.

If men would learn to pardon without a murmur the injuries they receive, and thus force their enemies to become their friends, we might learn a second and very salutary lesson by meditating on the first word. The example of Christ and the Blessed Trinity ought to be a powerful argument to persuade us to this. For if Christ forgave and prayed for His executioners, what reason can be alleged why a Christian should not act similarly to his enemies? If God, our Creator, the Lord and Judge of all men, Who has it in His power to take instant vengeance on a sinner, awaits his return to repentance, and invites him to peace and reconcilation with the promise of pardoning his treasons against the Divine Majesty, why should not a creature imitate this conduct, particularly if we remember that the pardon of an insult merits a great reward? We read in the history of St. Engelbert, Archbishop of Cologne, who was murdered by some enemies who were Iying in wait for him, that at the moment of his death he prayed for them in the words of our Lord, "Father, forgive them;" and it was revealed that this action was so pleasing to God, that his soul was carried by the hands of angels to heaven, and placed amongst the choir of martyrs, where he received the martyr's crown and palm; and his tomb was rendered famous by the working of many miracles.

Oh, if Christians would learn how easily they can, if they wish, acquire inexhaustible treasures, and merit signal degrees of honour and glory by gaining the mastery over the various agitations of their souls, and magnanimously despising small and trivial insults, they would certainly not be so hardhearted and obstinately set against pardon and forgiveness. They argue that they would act against nature to allow themselves to be unjustly spurned and outraged by word and deed. For wild animals, which merely follow the instinct of nature, fiercely attack their enemies the moment they behold them, and kill them either with their teeth or their claws; so we, at the sight of our enemy, feel our blood beginning to boil, and our desire of revenge is aroused. Such reasoning is false; it does not draw a distinction between self-defence which is lawful, and a spirit of revenge which is unlawful.

No one can find fault with a man who defends himself in a just cause, and nature teaches us to repel force by force, but it does not teach us to take upon ourselves to avenge an injury we have received.

No one hinders us from taking precautions necessary to provide against an attack, but the law of God forbids us to be revengeful. To punish an injustice belongs not to the private individual but to the public magistrate, and because God is the King of kings, therefore does He cry out and say, "Revenge to Me; I will repay."[1]

As to the argument that one animal is carried by its very nature to attack the animal which is the enemy of its species, I answer that this is the result of their being irrational animals, which cannot distinguish between nature and what is vicious in nature. But men, who are endowed with reason, ought to draw a line between the nature or the person which has been created by God and is good, and the vice or the sin which is bad and does not proceed from God. Accordingly, when a man has been insulted, he ought to love the person of his enemy and hate the insult, and should rather have pity on him than be angry with him; just as a physician who loves his patients and prescribes for them with due care, but hates the disease, and endeavours with all the resources at his command to drive it away, to destroy it and render it harmless. And this is what the Master and Physician of our souls, Christ our Lord, teaches when He says, " Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you."[2] Christ our Master is not like the Scribes and Pharisees who sat in the chair of Moses and taught, but did not put their teaching in practice. When He ascended the pulpit of the Cross He practised what He taught, by praying aloud for the enemies whom He loved, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Now, the reason why the sight of an enemy makes the blood boil in the very veins of some people is this, that they are animals who have not yet learnt to bring the motions of the inferior part of the soul, which are common both to mankind and to the brute creation, under the domain of reason; whereas spiritual men are not subject to these motions of the flesh, but know how to keep them in check; are not angry with those who have injured them, but, on the contrary, pity them, and by showing them acts of kindness strive to bring them to peace and unity.

But this it is objected is too difficult and severe a trial for men of noble birth, who ought to be solicitous for their honour. Nay rather, the task is an easy one; for, as the Evangelist testifies, "the yoke" of Christ, Who has laid down this law for the guidance of His followers, "is sweet, and His burden light;"[3] and "His commandments are not heavy," as St. John affirms.[4] And if they appear difficult and severe, they appear so because we have little or no love for God, for nothing is difficult to him who loves, according to the saying of the Apostle: "Charity is patient, is kind, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."[5] Nor is Christ the only one Who has loved His enemies, although in the perfection with which He practised the virtue He has surpassed every one else, for the holy Patriarch Joseph loved with a singular love his brethren who sold him into slavery. And in the Holy Scripture we read how David most patiently put up with the persecutions of his enemy Saul, who for a long time sought his death, and when it was in the power of David to take away the life of Saul he did not slay him. And under the law of grace the proto-martyr, St. Stephen, imitated the example of Christ by making this prayer when he was being stoned to death: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge;"[6] and St. James the Apostle, the Bishop of Jerusalem, who was cast head-long from the battlements of the Temple, cried to heaven in the moment of his death, " Lord, pardon them, for they know not what they do." And St. Paul writes of himself and of his fellow- Apostles: " We are reviled and we bless; we are persecuted and we suffer it; we are blasphemed and we entreat."[7] In fine, many martyrs and innumerable others, after the example of Christ, have found no difficulty in fulfilling this commandment. But there may be some who will further argue: I do not deny that we must pardon our enemies, but I will choose my own time for doing so, when forsooth I have almost forgotten the injustice which has been done me, and have become calm after the first burst of indignation has passed. But what would be the thoughts of these people if in the meantime they were summoned to their last account, and were found without the garment of charity, and were asked, "How come you in hither, not having on a wedding garment?"[8] Would they not be struck dumb with amazement as our Lord pronounces sentence upon them: "Bind him hand and feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."[9] Act rather with prudence now, and imitate the conduct of Christ, Who prayed to His Father, "Father, forgive them," at the moment when He was the object of their scoffs, when the Blood was trickling drop by drop from His Hands and Feet, and His whole body was the prey of exquisite tortures. He is the true and only Master, to Whose voice all should listen who would not be led into error: to Him did the Eternal Father refer when a voice was heard from heaven saying, "Hear ye Him."[10] In Him are "all the treasures of the wisdom and of the knowledge" of God[11] If you could have asked the opinion of Solomon on any point, you might with safety have followed his advice; but "behold a greater than Solomon here."[12]

Still I hear some further objecting. If we resolve to return good for evil, a kindness for an insult, a blessing for a curse, the wicked will become insolent, scoundrels will become bold, the just will be oppressed, and virtue will be trodden under foot. This result will not follow, for often, as the Wise Man says, "A mild answer breaketh wrath."[13] Besides, the patience of a just man not unfrequently fills his oppressor with admiration, and persuades him to proffer the hand of friendship. Moreover, we forget that the State appoints magistrates, kings, and princes, whose duty it is to make the wicked feel the severity of the law, and provide means for honest men to live a peaceful and quiet life. And if in some cases human justice is tardy, the Providence of God, which never allows a wicked act to go unpunished or a good deed to pass unrewarded, is continuallywatching over us, and is taking care in an unforeseen way that the occurrences which evil men think will crush them, shall tend to the exaltation and the honour of the virtuous. So at least St. Leo says, " Thou hast been furious, O persecutor of the Church of God; thou hast been furious with the martyr, and thou hast augmented his glory by increasing his pain. For what has thy ingenuity devised which has not turned to his honour, when even the very instruments of his torture have been carried in triumph?" The same may be said of all martyrs, as well as of the saints of the old law. For what brought more renown and glory to the Patriarch Joseph than the persecution of his brethren? Their selling him in their envy to the Ishmaelites was the occasion of his becoming lord of the whole of Egypt, and prince of all his brothers.

But omitting these considerations, we will pass in review the many and great inconveniences those men suffer who, to escape merely a shadow of dishonour before men, are obstinately determined to have their revenge on those who have done them any wrong. In the first place, they act the part of fools by preferring a greater evil to a lesser. For it is a principle acknowledged on all sides, and declared to us by the Apostle in these words: "Let us not do evil that there may come good."[14] It follows by consequence that a greater evil is not to be committed in order to obtain any compensation for a lesser one. He who receives an injury receives what is called the evil of a hardship: he who avenges an injury is guilty of what is called the evil of crime. Now, beyond a doubt, the misfortune of committing a crime is greater than the misfortune of having to endure a hardship; for though a hardship may make a man miserable, it does not necessarily make him wicked; a crime, however, makes him both miserable and wicked; a hardship deprives a man of temporal good, a crime deprives him of both a temporal and an eternal good. Accordingly he who would remedy the evil of a hardship by committing a crime is like a man who would cut off a part of his foot to make a pair of very small shoes fit him, which would be a sheer act of madness. Nobody is guilty of such folly in his temporal concerns, yet there are some men so blind to their real interests as not to fear to offend God mortally in order to escape that which has the appearance of disgrace, and maintain a semblance of honour in the eyes of men. For they fall under the displeasure and the ývrath of God, and unless they amend in time and do penance, will have to endure eternal disgrace and torment, and will forfeit the everlasting honour of being a citizen of heaven. In addition to this they perform an act most agreeable to the devil and his angels, who urge on this man to do an unjust thing to that man with the purpose of sowing discord and enmity in the world. And each one should calmly reflect how disgraceful it is to please the fiercest enemy of the human race, and to displease Christ. Besides it occasionally happens that the injured man who longs for revenge mortally wounds his antagonist and slays him, for which murder he is ignominiously executed, and all his property is confiscated by the State, or at least he is forced to go into exile, and both he himself and all his family drag out a miserable existence. Thus it is that the devil sports with and mocks those who choose to be fettered with the manacles of a false honour, rather than become the servants and friends of Christ, the best of Kings, and be reckoned as the heirs of a kingdom the most vast and the most enduring. Wherefore, since the foolish men who, in spite of the command of God, refuse to be reconciled with their enemies, expose themselves to such a total shipwreck, all who are wise will listen to the doctrine which Christ, the Master of all, has taugllt us in the Gospel by His words, and on the Cross by His deeds.

ENDNOTES

1. Rom. xii. 19.

2. St. Matt. v. 44.

3. St. Matt, xi. 39.

4. I St. John v. 3.

5. I Cor. xiii. 4-7.

6. Acts vii. 59.

7. I Cor. iv. 12, 13.

8. St. Matt. xii. 12.

9. St. Matt. xxi. 13.

10. St. Matt. xvii. 5.

11. Coloss ii. 3.

12. St. Matt. xii. 42.

13. Prov. xv. 1.

14. Rom. iii. 8.

CHAPTER IV: The literal explanation of the second Word, "Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise."

The second word or the second sentence pronounced by Christ on the Cross, was, according to the testimony of St. Luke, the magnificent promise He made to the thief who was hanging on a cross beside Him. The promise was made under the following circumstances. Two thieves were crucified along with our Lord, one on His right hand, the other on His left, and one of them added to his past crimes the sin of blaspheming Christ, and of taunting Him for His want of power to save them, saying--"If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us."[1] St. Matthew and St. Mark, indeed, accuse both the thieves of this sin, but it is more probable that the two Evangelists used the plural for the singular number, as is frequently done in the Holy Scriptures, as St. Augustine observes in his work on the Harmony of the Gospels. Thus St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews, says of the Prophets: "They stopped the mouths of lions, they were stoned, they were cut asunder, they wandered about in sheepskins and in goatskins."[2] Still there was only one Prophet, namely Daniel, who stopped the mouths of lions; there was only one Prophet, namely Jeremias, who was stoned, and there was only one Prophet, namely Isaias, who was cut asunder. Moreover, neither St. Matthew nor St. Mark are so explicit on the point as St. Luke, who says most distinctly, " And one of those robbers who were hanged, blasphemed Him."[3] However, even granted that both reviled our Lord, there is no reason why the same man should not at one moment have cursed Him, and at another have proclaimed His praises.

Nevertheless, the opinion of those who maintain that one of the blaspheming thieves was converted by Christ's prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," is manifestly at variance with the Gospel narrative. For St. Luke says that the thief first began to blaspheme Christ after He had made this prayer; we are consequently driven to adopt the opinion of St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, who say that only one of the thieves reviled Him, whilst the other extolled and defended Him; and on this account the good thief rebuked the blasphemer: "Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation?"[4] Happy was the thief from his fellowship with Christ on the Cross. The rays of Divine light which were beginning to penetrate the darkness of his soul, made him eager to rebuke the companion of his wickedness, and convert him to a better life; and this is the full meaning of his rebuke." Thou, indeed, wishest to imitate the blasphemy of the Jews, who have not yet learnt to fear the judgments of God, but boast of the victory they fancy they have achieved by nailing Christ to a cross. They consider themselves free and safe and are under no apprehension of punishment. But dost not thou, who art being crucified for thy enormities, dread God's avenging justice? Why addest thou sin to sin?" Then proceeding from virtue to virtue, and helped on by the increasing grace of God, he confesses his sins and proclaims Christ to be innocent. "We, indeed," he says, are "justly" condemned to the death of the cross, "for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man hath done no evil."[5] Finally, the light of grace still increasing in his soul, he adds: "Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom."[6] Admirable, indeed, was the grace of the Holy Spirit which was poured into the heart of the good thief. The Apostle St. Peter denied his Master, the thief confessed Him when He was nailed to His Cross. The disciples going to Emmaus said, "We hoped that it was He that should have redeemed Israel."[7] The thief asks with confidence, " Remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom." The Apostle St. Thomas declares that he will not believe in the Resurrection until he shall have beheld Christ; the thief gazing on Christ Whom he saw fastened to a gibbet, never doubts but that He will be a King after His death.

Who has instructed the thief in mysteries so profound? He calls that man Lord whom he perceives to be naked, wounded, in grief, insulted, despised, and hanging on a Cross beside him: he says that after His death He will come into His kingdom. From which we may learn that the thief did not picture to himself the kingdom of Christ to be a temporal one, as the Jews imagined it to be, but that after His death He would be a King for ever in heaven. Who has been his instructor in secrets so sacred and sublime? No one, forsooth, unless it be the Spirit of Truth, Who awaited him with His sweetest benedictions. Christ after His Resurrection said to His Apostle: "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so enter into His glory?"[8] But the thief miraculously foreknew this, and confessed Christ to be a King at the time when not a semblance of royalty surrounded Him. Kings reign during their lifetime, and when they cease to live they cease to reign; the thief, however, proclaims aloud that Christ, by means of His death would succeed to a kingdom, which is what our Lord signifies in the parable: "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return."[9] Our Lord spoke these words a short time previous to His Passion, to show us that by His death He would go into a far country, that is to another life; or in other words, that He would go to heaven which is far removed from the earth, to receive a great and eternal kingdom, but that He would return at the last day, and would repay every man according to his conduct in this world, either with reward or with punishment. Concerning this kingdom, therefore, which Christ would receive immediately after His death, the thief wisely said: "Remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom." But it may be asked, Was not Christ our Lord a King before His death? Beyond a doubt He was, and therefore the Magi continually inquired, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?[10] And Christ Himself said to Pilate: "Thou sayest that I am a King. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth.[11] Yet He was a King in this world like a traveller amongst strangers, therefore He was not recognized as a King except by a few, and was despised and illreceived by the majority. And so in the parable we have just quoted, He said that He would go "into a far country to receive for Himself a kingdom." He did not say He would gain it as it were from another, but would receive it as His own, and would return, and the thief wisely remarked, "When Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom." The kingdom of Christ is not synonymous in this passage with regal power or sway, for this He exercised from the beginning according to these verses of the Psalms. "But I am appointed King by Him over Sion, His holy mountain."[12] "He shall rule from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth."[13] And Isaias says, " A Child is born to us, and a Son is given to us, and the government is upon His shoulders."[14] And Jeremias, "I will raise up to David a just branch: and a King shall reign and shall be wise, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth."[15] And Zacharias, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold thy King will come to thee, the just and Saviour; He is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass."[16] Therefore in the parable of receiving a kingdom, Christ did not refer to sovereign power, nor indeed did the good thief in his petition, "Remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom," but both spoke of that perfect bliss which delivers man from the servitude and anxiety of temporal matters, subjects him to God alone, to serve Whom is to reign, and by Whom he is constituted over all His works. This kingdom of unspeakable bliss of soul Christ enjoyed from the moment of his conception, but bliss of body which was His by right He did not actually enjoy until after His Resurrection. For whilst He was a sojourner in this vale of tears, He was subject to fatigues, to hunger and to thirst, to injuries, to wounds, and to death. But because His Body ought always to have been glorious, therefore immediately after death He entered into the enjoyment of the glory which belonged to Him: and in these terms He referred to this after His Resurrection: "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to have entered into His glory?" This glory He calls His own, since it is in His power to make others participators of it, and for this reason He is called the "King of glory," and "Lord of glory," and "King of kings,"[17] and He Himself says to His Apostles: "I dispose to you a kingdom."[18] He, indeed, can receive glory and a kingdom, but we can bestow neither one nor the other, and we are invited to "enter into the joy of thy Lord,"[19] and not into our own joy. This then is the kingdom of which the good thief spoke when he said, "When Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom."

But we must not pass over the many excellent virtues shadowed forth in the prayer of the holy thief. A brief review of them will prepare us for Christ's answer to the petition; "Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom." In the first place he calls Him Lord, to show that he regards himself as a servant, or rather as a redeemed slave, and acknowledges Christ to be his Redeemer. He then subjoins a simple request, but one full of faith, hope, love, devotion, and humility--"Remember me." He does not say, Remember me if Thou canst: for he firmly believes Christ can do all things. He does not say, Please, Lord, remember me, for he has the fullest confidence in His charity and compassion. He does not say, I desire, Lord, to reign with you in your kingdom, for his humility forbade him. In fine, he solicits no special favour, but simply prays, "Remember me," as though he would say, All I desire, Lord, is that you would deign to remember me, and cast your benignant eyes upon me, for I know that you are all-powerful and all-wise, and I put my entire trust in your goodness and love. It is clear from the concluding words of his prayer, "When Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom," that he seeks nothing perishable and vain, but aspires after something eternal and sublime.

We will now give ear to the answer of Christ: "Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise." The word "Amen" was used by Christ whenever He wished to make a solemn and serious announcement to His followers. St. Augustine has not hesitated to affirm that this word was, in the mouth of our Lord, a kind of oath. It could not indeed be an oath, according to the words of Christ: "But I say to you not to swear at all, but let your speech be yea, yea; no, no; and that which is over and above these is evil."[20] We cannot, therefore, conclude that our Lord swore an oath as often as He used the word Amen. Amen was a term frequently on His lips, and sometimes He not only prefaced His remarks with Amen, but with Amen, amen. So the remark of St. Augustine that the word Amen is not an oath, but a kind of oath, is perfectly just, for the meaning of the word is truly, verily, and when Christ says: Verily I say to you, He seriously means what He says, and consequently the expression has almost the same force as an oath. With great reason, therefore, did He thus address the thief; " Amen I say to you," that is, I assure you in the most solemn manner I can short of an oath; for the thief might have refused on three pleas to have given credit to the promise of Christ unless He had solemnly asseverated it. First, he might have refused credence on account of his unworthiness to be the recipient of so great a reward, and so high a favour. For who could have imagined that the thief would have been transferred on a sudden from a cross to a kingdom? Secondly he might have refused credence by reason of the person who made the promise, seeing that He was at the moment reduced to the extreme of want, weakness, and misfortune, and the thief might thus have argued to himself: If this man cannot do a favour to His friends during His lifetime, how will He be able to assist them after His death? Lastly, he might have refused credence by reason of the promise itself. Christ promised Paradise. Now the Jews interpreted the word Paradise in reference to the body and not to the soul, since they always used it in the sense of a terrestial Paradise. If our Lord had meant to say: This day thou shalt be with Me in a place of repose with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the thief might easily have believed Him; but as He did not mean this, He therefore prefaced His promise with this assurance: "Amen I say to you."

"This day." He does not say I will place you on My Right Hand amongst the just at the Day of Judgment. Nor does He say, I will bring you to a place of rest after some years of suffering in Purgatory. Nor again, I will console you in a few months or days hence: but this very day, before the sun sets, you shall pass with Me from the gibbet of the cross to the delights of Paradise. Wonderful is the liberality of Christ: wonderful also is the good fortune of the sinner. St. Augustine, in his work on the Origin of the Soul, considers with St. Cyprian that the thief may be accounted a martyr, and that his soul went direct to heaven without passing through Purgatory. The good thief may be called a martyr because he publicly confessed Christ when not even the Apostles dared say a word in His behalf, and on account of this spontaneous confession, the death which he suffered in the company of Christ deserved as great a reward before God as if he had suffered it for the name of Christ. If our Lord had made no other promise than, " Thou shalt be with Me," this alone would have been an unspeakable blessing for the thief, since St. Augustine writes: " Where can there be anything evil with Him, and without Him where can there be anything good?" Christ indeed did not make any trivial promise to those who follow Him when He said, " If any man minister to Me, let him follow Me: and where I am there also shall My minister be."[21] To the thief. however. He promised not only His companionship, but likewise Paradise.

Although some people have disputed about the meaning of the word Paradise in this text, there seems to be no ground for the discussion. For it is certain, since it is an article of faith, that on the very day of His death the Body of Christ was placed in the sepulchre, and His Soul went down into Limbus, and it is equally certain that the word Paradise, whether we talk of the clestial or terrestirial Paradise, cannot be applied either to the sepulchre or to Limbus. It cannot be applied to the sepulchre, because that was a most sorry place, the fir abode of corpses, and Christ was the only one buried in the sepulchre: the thief was buried elsewhere. Moreover, the words, "Thou shalt be with Me," would not have been accomplished, if Christ had spoken merely of the sepulchre. Nor can the word Paradise be applied to Limbus. For Paradise is a garden of delights, and even in the earthly paradise there were flowers and fruits, limpid waters, and a delicious mildness in the air. In the celestial Paradise there were delights without end, glory unfailing, and the seats of the blessed. But in Limbus, where the souls of the just were detained, there was no light, no cheerfulness, no pleasure; not indeed that these souls were in suffering, since the hope of their redemption and the prospect of seeing Christ was a subject of consolation and rejoicing to them, but they were kept like captives in prison. And in this sense the Apostle, expounding the Prophets, says, "Ascending on high, He led captivity captive."[22] And Zacharias says, " Thou also, by the blood of Thy testament, hast sent forth Thy prisoners out of the pit, wherein is no water,"[23] where the words, "Thy prisoners, and the pit wherein is no water," evidently point not to the delightfulness of Paradise but to the obscurity of a prison. Therefore in the promise of Christ the word Paradise could mean nothing else than the beatitude of the soul, which consists in the vision of God, and this is truly a paradise of delights, not a corporeal and a local paradise, but a spiritual and a heavenly one. For which reason, to the request of the thief, "Remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom," our Lord did not reply, "This day thou shalt be with Me" in My kingdom, but, "Thou shalt be with Me in Paradise," because on that day Christ entered not into His kingdom, and did not enter it till the day of His Resurrection, when His Body became immortal, impassible, glorious, and was no longer liable to any servitude or subjection. And He will not have the good thief for His companion in this kingdom until the resurrection of all men at the last day. Nevertheless, with great truth and propriety He said to him: "This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise," since on this very day He would communicate both to the soul of the good thief and to the souls of the saints in Limbus that glory of the vision of God which He had received in His conception; for this is true glory and essential felicity; this is the crowning joy of the celestial Paradise. The choice of words used by Christ on this occasion is also greatly to be admired. He did not say; This day we shall be in Paradise, but, "This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise;" as though He wished to explain Himself more fully, thus: This day thou art with Me on the Cross, but thou art not with Me in the Paradise in which I am in respect to the superior part of My Soul. But in a little while, even to- day, thou shalt be with Me, not only liberated from the arms of the cross, but embraced in the bosom of Paradise.

ENDNOTES

1. St. Luke xxiii. 39.

2. Heb. xii. 33-37.

3. St. Luke xxiii. 39.

4. St. Luke xxiii. 40.

5. St. Luke xxiii. 41.

6. St. Luke xxiii. 42.

7. St. Luke xxiv. 21.

8. St. Luke xxiv. 26.

9. St. Luke xix. 12.

11. St. John xviii. 37.

12. Psalm ii. 6.

13. Psalm lxx.

14. Isaias ix. 6.

15. Jer. xxiii. 5.

16. Zach. ix. 9.

17. Apoc. xix. 16.

18. St. Luke xxii. 29.

19. St. Matt. xxv. 21.

20. St. Matt. v. 34-37

21. St. John xii. 26.

22. Ephes. iv. 8.

23. Zach. ix. 11.

CHAPTER V. The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the second Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.

We can gather some chosen fruits from the second word spoken from the Cross. The first fruit is the consideration of the immense mercy and liberality of Christ, and how good and useful a thing it is to serve Him. The many pains He was suffering might have been urged as an excuse by our Lord for not hearing the petition of the thief, but in His charity He preferred to forget His own grievous pains rather than not listen to the prayer of a poor penitent sinner. This same Lord answered not a word to the curses and reproaches of the priests and soldiers, but at the cry of a confessing sinner His charity forbade Him to be any longer silent. hen He is reviled He opens not His mouth, because He is patient: when a sinner confesses his guilt, He speaks, because He is benign. But what shall we say of His liberality? Those who serve temporal masters frequently gain but a slight recompense for many labours. Even at this very day we see not a few who have spent the best years of their life in the service of princes, and retire in their old age on a small pittance. But Christ is a truly liberal Prince, a truly magnanimous Master. He receives no service at the hands of the good thief, except a few kind words and a hearty desire to assist Him, and behold with how great a reward He repays him! On this very day all the sins which he had committed during his life are forgiven: he is also ranked with the princes of his people, to wit, with the patriarchs and the prophets: and finally Christ raises him to the companionship of His table, of His dignity, of His glory, and of all His goods. "This day," He says, "thou shalt be with Me in Paradise." And what God says, He does. Nor does He defer this reward to some distant day, but on this very day He pours into his bosom "a good measure, and pressed down, and shaken together, and running over."

The thief is not the only one who has experienced the liberality of Christ. The Apostles, who left either a ship, or a counting-house, or a home to serve Christ, were made by Him "princes over all the earth,"[1] and the devils, serpents, and all kinds of diseases were made subject to them. If any man has given food or clothing to the poor as an alms in the name of Christ, he shall hear these consoling words at the Day of Judgment--"I was hungry, and you gave Me to eat; naked and you covered Me:"[2] receive therefore, and possess My eternal kingdom. In fine, to pass over many other promises of rewards, could any man believe the almost incredible liberality of Christ, if it had not been God Himself Who promised that "every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for My name's sake, shall receive a hundred-fold, and shall possess life everlasting."[3] St. Jerome and other holy Doctors interpret the above-quoted text in this way. If any man, for the love of Christ, abandons any thing in this present life, he shall receive a two- fold reward, together with a life of incomparably more value than the trifle which he has left for Christ. In the first place, he shall receive a spiritual joy or a spiritual gift in this life, a hundred times more precious than the temporal thing he forsook for Christ's sake; and a truly spiritual man would choose rather to keep this gift than exchange it for a hundred houses or fields, or other like things. Secondly, as though Almighty God considered this reward of little or no value, the happy merchant who barters earthly things for heavenly ones shall receive in the next world life eternal, in which one word is contained an ocean of everything good.

Such, then, is the manner in which Christ, the great King, shows His liberality to those who give themselves to His service without reserve. And are not those men foolish who, forsaking the standard of such a Monarch, desire to become the slaves of mammon, of gluttony, and of luxury? But those who know not what things Christ considers to be real riches, may say that these promises are mere words, since we often find His cherished friends to be poor, squalid, abject, and sorrowful, and on the other hand, we never behold this hundred-fold reward which is proclaimed to be so truly magnificent. So it is: the carnal man will never see the hundred-fold which Christ has promised, because he has not eyes wherewith he can see it; nor will he ever participate in that solid joy which a pure conscience and a true love of God begets. I will adduce, however, one example to show that even a carnal man can appreciate spiritual delights and spiritual riches. We read in a book of examples about the illustrious men of the Cistercian Order, that a certain noble and rich man, named Arnulph, left the whole of his fortune and became a Cistercian monk, under the authority of St. Bernard. God tried the virtue of this man by the bitter pains of many kinds of diseases, particularly towards the end of his life; and on one occasion, when he was suffering more acutely than usual, he cried out with a loud voice: "Everything Thou hast said, O Lord Jesus, is true." Those who were present asking him what was the reason of this exclamation, he replied: "The Lord, in His Gospel, says that those who forsake their riches and all things else for His sake, shall receive a hundred-fold in this life, and afterwards life eternal. I at length understand the force and import of this promise. and I acknowledge that I am now receiving the hundred-fold for everything which I left. Indeed, the immense bitterness of this grief is so pleasing to me through the hope of the Divine mercy which will be extended to me on account of my sufferings, that I would not consent to be liberated from my pains for a hundred times the value of the worldly substance I have left. For, indeed, spiritual joy which is centred in the hope of what is to come surpasses a hundred thousand times all worldly joy, which springs from the present." The reader, by pondering these words, may judge how great an esteem is to be set on the heavenly-derived virtue of the certain hope of eternal felicity.

ENDNOTES

1. Psalm xliv. 17.

2. St. Matt. xxv. 35, 36.

3. St. Matt. xix. 29.

CHAPTER VI: The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the second Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.

A knowledge of the power of Divine grace, and of the weakness of the human will, is the second fruit to be gathered from the consideration of the second word, and this knowledge is equivalent to saying that our best policy is to place all our confidence in the grace of God, and distrust entirely our own strength. If any man wishes to know the power of the grace of God, let him cast his eyes on the good thief. He was a notorious sinner, who had persevered in his wicked course of life to the moment when he was fastened to the cross--that is, almost to the last moment of his life; and at this critical period, when his eternal salvation was at stake, there was no one present to counsel or assist him. For although he was in close proximity to his Saviour, nevertheless he only heard the chief priests and the Pharisees declaring that He was a seducer, and an ambitious man who was aiming at sovereign power. He likewise heard his companion in wickedness taunting him in similar terms. There was no one to say one good word for Christ, and even Christ Himself did not rebut these blasphemies and maledictions. Nevertheless, by the assistance of God's grace, when the gates of heaven seemed shut against him, the jaws of hell open to receive, and the sinner himself as far removed as possible from life eternal, he was suddenly illuminated from on high, his thoughts were directed into the proper channel, and he confessed Christ to be innocent and the King of the world to come, and, like a minister of God, rebuked his fellow-thief, persuaded him to repent, and commended himself humbly and devoutly to Christ. In a word, his dispositions were, so perfect as to make the pains of his crucifixion compensate for what sufferings were in store for him in Purgatory, so that immediately after death he entered into the joy of his Lord. From which circumstance it is evident that no one should despair of salvation, since the thief who entered the Lord's vineyard almost at the twelfth hour received his reward with those who had come at the first hour. On the other hand, in order to let us see the extent of human weakness, the bad thief is not converted either by the immense charity of Christ, Who so lovingly prayed for His executioners, or by the force of his own sufferings, or by the admonition and example of his companion, or by the unusual darkness, the splitting of rocks, or the conduct of those who, after the death of Christ, returned to the city striking their breasts. And all these things took place after the conversion of the good thief, to show us that whilst one could be converted without these adjuncts, the other, with all these helps, could not, or rather would not be converted.

But you may ask, why has God given the grace of conversion to the one and denied it to the other? I answer that both had sufficient grace given them for their conversion, and if one perished, he perished through his own fault, and if the other was converted, he was converted by the grace of God, though not without the cooperation of his own free will. Still it may be urged, why did not God give to both of them that efficacious grace which would overcome the hardest heart? The reason why He has not done so is one of those secrets which we ought to admire but not pry into, since we ought to rest satisfied with the thought that there cannot be injustice with God, as the Apostle says, for, as St. Augustine expresses it, the judgments of God may be secret, but cannot be unjust. To learn from this example not to postpone our conversion to the approach of death, is a lesson that more nearly concerns us. For if one thief cooperated with the grace of God in that last moment, the other rejected it, and met his final doom. And every reader of history, or observer of what takes place around him, cannot but know that the rule is for men to end a wicked life by a miserable death, whilst it is the exception for the sinner to die happily; and, on the other hand, it seldom happens that those who live well and holily come to a sad and miserable end, but many good and pious people enter, after their death, into the possession of eternal joys. Those persons are too presumptuous and fool-hardy who, in a matter of such import as eternal felicity or eternal torment, dare to remain in a state of mortal sin even for a day, seeing that they may be surprised by death at any moment, and after death there is no place for repentance, and out of hell there is no redemption.

ENDNOTES

1. Rom. ix. 14.

CHAPTER VII: The third fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the second Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.

A third fruit can be drawn from the second word of our Lord by adverting to the fact that there were three persons crucified at the same time, one of whom, namely, Christ, was innocent; another, namely, the good thief, was a penitent; and the third, namely, the bad thief, remained obstinate in his sin: or to express the same idea in different words, of the three who were crucified at the same time, Christ was always and transcendently holy, one of the thieves was always and notably wicked, and the other thief was formerly a sinner but now a saint. From which circumstance we are to infer that every man in this world has his cross and that those who seek to live without having a cross to carry, aim at something which is impossible, whilst we should hold those persons to be wise who receive their cross from the hand of the Lord, and bear it even to death, not only patiently but cheerfully. And that each pious soul has a cross to carry can be deduced from these words of our Lord: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me,"[1] and again, "Whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple,"[2] which is precisely the doctrine of the Apostle: "All that will live godly," he says, "in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."[3] The Greek and Latin Fathers give their entire adhesion to this teaching, and that I may not be prolix I will give but two quotations. St. Augustine in his commentary on the Psalms writes; "This short life is a tribulation: if it is not a tribulation it is not a journey: but if it is a journey you either do not love the country towards which you are journeying, or without doubt you would be in tribulation." And in another place; "If you say you have not yet suffered anything, then you have not begun to be a Christian." St. John Chrysostom, in one of his homilies to the people of Antioch, says, "Tribulation is a chain which cannot be unlinked from the life of a Christian." And again; "You cannot say that that man is holy who has not made trial of tribulation." Indeed this doctrine can be demonstrated by reason. Things of a contrary nature cannot be brought into each other's presence without a mutual opposition; thus fire and water, as long as they are kept apart, will remain quiet; but bring them together, and the water will begin to hiss, to form itself into globules, and pass off into steam until either the water is consumed, or the fire is extinguished. "Good is set against evil," says Ecclesiasticus, "and life against death: so also is the sinner against the just man." Just men are compared to fire. Their light is shining, their zeal is burning, they are ever ascending from virtue to virtue, ever working, and whatever they undertake they efficaciously accomplish. On the other hand sinners are compared to water. They are cold, ever moving on the earth, and forming mire on all sides. Is it therefore strange that wicked men should persecute just souls? But because, even to the end of the world, wheat and cockle will grow in the same field, chaff and corn be collected in the same barn, good and bad fish found in the same net, that is, upright and wicked men in the same world, and even in the same Church; it therefore necessarily follows that the good and the holy shall be persecuted by the bad and the impious.

The wicked also have their crosses in this world. For although they are not persecuted by the good, nevertheless they will be tormented by other sinners, by their own vices, and by their evil consciences. The most wise Solomon, who certainly would have been happy in this world, had happiness been possible here, acknowledged that he had a cross to carry when he said: "I saw in all things vanity and vexation of mind, and therefore I was weary of my life, when I saw that all things under the sun are evil, and all vanity and vexation of spirit."[4] And the writer of the Book of Ecclesiasticus, who was likewise a most prudent man, pronounces this general sentence: "Great labour is created for all men, and a heavy yoke is upon the children of Adam."[5] St. Augustine in his commentary on the Psalms says, that "the greatest of all tribulations is a guilty conscience." St. John Chrysostom in his homily on Lazarus shows at length how the wicked must have their crosses. If they are poor, their poverty is their cross; if they are not poor, cupidity is their cross, which is a heavier one than poverty; if they are stretched on a bed of sickness, the bed is their cross. St. Cyprian tells us that every man from the moment of his nativity is destined to carry a cross and suffer tribulation, which is foreshadowed by the tears shed by every infant. "Each one of us," he writes, "at his birth, and at his very entrance into the world, sheds tears. And although we are then unconscious and ignorant of everything, we nevertheless know, even at our nativity, what it is to cry: by a natural foresight we lament the anxieties and labours of the life we are commencing, and the untutored soul by its moaning and weeping proclaims the bustling commotions of the world which it is entering."

Since such is the case there can be no doubt but that a cross is in store for the good as well as for the wicked, and it only remains for me to prove that the cross of a saint lasts for a short time, is light and fruitful, whilst that of a sinner is eternal, heavy and sterile. In the first place there can be no question as to the fact that a saint suffers for a brief period only, since he can endure nothing when this life has passed. "From henceforth now, saith the Spirit," to the departing just souls, "that they may rest from their labours;"[6] "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."[7] The sacred Scriptures say most positively, that our present life is short, although to us it may appear long. "The days of man are short,"[8] and "Man born of a woman, living for a short time,"[9] and " What is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while, and afterwards shall vanish away."[10] The Apostle, however, who carried a most heavy cross from his youth even to his old age, writes in these terms in his Epistle to the Corinthians, "For that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory;"[11] in which passage he speaks of his sufferings as of no account, and compares them to an indivisible moment, although they had extended over a period of more than thirty years. And his sufferings consisted in being hungry, thirsty, naked, struck, in being thrice beaten with rods by the Romans, five times scourged by the Jews, once stoned, and thrice shipwrecked; in undergoing many journeys, in being often imprisoned, in receiving stripes beyond measure, in being frequently reduced to the last extremity.[12] What tribulations then would he call heavy if he considers these light, as they really are. And what will you, kind reader, say, if I insist that the cross of the just is not only light, but even sweet and agreeable on account of the superabundant consolations of the Holy Spirit? Christ says of His yoke, which may be called a cross: "My yoke is sweet and My burden light:"[13] and elsewhere He says, "You shall lament and weep, but the world shall rejoice, and you shall be made sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.[14] And the Apostle writes: "I am filled with comfort; I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation."[15] In a word, we cannot deny but that the cross of the just is not only light and temporary, but fruitful, useful, and the bearer of every good gift, when we hear our Lord saying: "Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,"[16] St. Paul, exclaiming that, "The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us,"[17] and St. Peter exhorting us to rejoice if "we partake of the suffering of Christ, that when His glory shall be revealed we may also be glad with exceeding joy."[18]

On the other hand there is no need of a demonstration to show that the cross of the wicked is eternal in its duration, most heavy and unmeritorious. Of a surety the death of the wicked thief was not a descent from the cross, as the death of the good thief was, for even now that wretched man is dwelling in hell, and will dwell there for ever, since "the worm" of the wicked, "shall not die, and the fire of hell shall not be quenched."[19] And the cross of the rich glutton, that is the cross of those who store up riches, which are most aptly compared by our Lord to thorns that cannot be handled or kept with impunity, does not cease with this life as the cross of poor Lazarus did, but it accompanies him to hell, where it unceasingly burns and torments him, and forces him to cry out for a drop of water to cool his burning tongue "for I am tormented in this flame."[20] Therefore the cross of the wicked is eternal in its duration, and the lamentations of those of whom we read in the book of Wisdom, testify that it is heavy and rough. "We wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction, and have walked through hard ways."[21] What! are not ambition, avarice, luxury, difficult paths to tread? Are not the accompaniments of these vices, anger, quarrelling, envy, difficult paths to tread? Are not the sins which spring from these accompaniments, treachery, brawls, affronts, wounds and murder, difficult paths to tread? They are certainly such and not unfrequently force men to commit suicide in despair, and thereby seeking to avoid one cross, prepare for themselves a much heavier one.

And what advantage or fruit do the wicked derive from their cross? It can no more bring them an advantage than thorns can produce grapes, or thistles figs. The yoke of our Lord brings peace, according to His own words: " Take up My yoke upon you, and you shall find rest to your souls." 22 Can the yoke of the devil, which is diametrically opposed to that of Christ, bring anything but care and anxiety ? And this is of still greater importance, that whereas the Cross of Christ is the step to eternal felicity, "for it behoveth Christ to suffer and so to enter into His glory,"[23] the cross of the devil is the step to eternal torments, according to the sentence pronounced on the wicked: "Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels."[24] If there be any wise men who are crucified in Christ, they will not seek to come down from the cross, as the impenitent thief foolishly sought, but will rather remain close to His side with the good thief, and will ask pardon of God and not a deliverance from the cross, and thus suffering alone with Him they will likewise reign with Him, according to the words of the Apostle: "Yet so if we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him."[25] If, however, there be any wise amongst those who are weighed down by the devil's cross, they will take care to shake it off at once, and if they have any sense will exchange the five yoke of oxen for the single yoke of Christ. By the five yoke of oxen are meant the labours and weariness of sinners who are the slaves of their five senses; and when a man labours in doing penance instead of sinning, he barters the five yoke of oxen, for the single yoke of Christ. Happy is the soul which knows how to crucify the flesh with its vices and concupiscences, and distributes the alms which might be spent in gratifying its passions, and spends in prayer and spiritual reading, in soliciting the grace of God and the patronage of the Heavenly Court, the hours which might be lost in banqueting and in satisfying the restless ambition of becoming the friends of the powerful. In this manner the cross of the bad thief, which is heavy and barren, may be profitably exchanged for the Cross of Christ, which is light and fruitful.

We read in St. Austin how a distinguished soldier argued with one of his comrades about taking up the cross. "Tell me, I pray, to what goal will all the labours we undertake bring us? What object do we present to ourselves? For whose sake do we serve as soldiers? Our greatest ambition is to become the friends of the Emperor; and is not the road that leads us to his honour full of dangers, and when we have gained our point are we not then placed in the most perilous position of all? And through how many years shall we have to labour to secure this honour. But if I desire to become the friend of God, I can become His friend at this moment." Thus he argued, that since to secure the friendship of the Emperor he must undertake many long and fruitless toils, he would be acting more wisely if he undertook fewer and lighter and more useful labours to secure the friendship of God. Both soldiers made their resolve on the spot, both left the army in order to serve their Creator in earnest, and what increased their joy on taking this step was the fact that the two ladies whom they were on the point of marrying, spontaneously offered their virginity to God.

ENDNOTES

1. St. Matt xvi. 24.

2. St. Luke xiv. 27.

3. 2 Tim. iii. 12.

4.Eccles. ii 11, 17.

5. Ecclus. xl. 1.

6. Apoc. xiv. 13.

7. Apoc. xxi. 4.

8. Job xiv. 5.

9. Job xiv. 1.

10. St. James iv. 15.

11. 2 Cor. iv. 17.

12. 2 Cor. xi. 24.

13. St. Matt. xi. 30.

14. St. John xvi. 20.

15. 2 Cor. vii. 4.

16. St. Matt. v. 10.

17. Rom. viii. 18.

18. 1 St. Peter iv. 13.

19. Isaias lxvi. 24.

20. St. Luke xvi. 24.

21. Wisdom v. 7.

22. St. Matt. xi. 29.

23. St. Luke xxiv. 26.

24. St. Matt. xxv. 41.

25. Rom. viii. 17.

CHAPTER VIII. The literal explanation of the third Word--"Behold thy Mother: Behold thy Son."

The last of the three words, which have special reference to charity for one's neighbour, is, "Behold thy Mother: Behold thy son."[1] But before we explain the meaning of this word we must dwell a little on the preceding passage of St. John's Gospel. "Now there stood by the Cross of Jesus His Mother, and His Mother's sister, Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus, therefore, saw His Mother, and the disciple standing by, whom He loved, He saith unto His Mother: Woman, behold thy son! Then saith He to the disciple: Behold thy Mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own." Two out of the three Marys that stood near the Cross are known, namely, Mary, the Mother of our Lord, and Mary Magdalene. About Mary, the wife of Cleophas, there is some doubt; some suppose her to have been the daughter of St. Anne, who had three daughters, to wit, Mary, the Mother of Christ, Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Salome. But this opinion is almost exploded. For, in the first place, we cannot suppose three sisters to be called by the same name. Moreover, we know that many pious and erudite men maintain that our Blessed Lady was St. Anne's only child; and there is no other Mary Salome mentioned in the Gospels. For where St. Mark[2] says that "Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, had brought sweet spices," the word Salome is not in the genitive case, as if he wished to say Mary, the mother of Salome, as just before he said Mary, the mother of James, but it is of the nominative case and of the feminine gender, as is clear from the Greek version, where the word is written [Salome]. Moreover, this Mary Salome was the wife of Zebedee,[3] and the mother of the Apostles, St. James and St. John, as we learn from the two Evangelists, St. Matthew and St. Mark,[4] just as Mary, the mother of James was the wife of Cleophas, and the mother of St. James the Less and St. Jude. Wherefore the true interpretation is this, that Mary, the wife of Cleophas, was called the sister of the Blessed Virgin because Cleophas was the brother of St. Joseph, the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin, and the wives of two brothers have a right to call themselves and be called sisters For the same reason St. James the Less is called the brother of our Lord, although he was only His cousin, since he was the son of Cleophas, who, we have said, was the brother of St. Joseph. Eusebius gives us this account in his ecclesiastical history, and he quotes, as a trustworthy authority, Hegesippus, a contemporary of the Apostles. We have also St. Jerome's authority for the same interpretation, as we may gather from his work against Helvidius.

There is also an apparent disagreement in the Gospel narratives, which it would be well briefly to dwell upon. St. John says that these three women stood near the Cross of our Lord, whereas both St. Mark[5] and St. Luke[6] say they were afar off. St. Austin in his third book on the Harmony of the Gospels, makes the three texts harmonize in this way. These holy women may be said to have been both a long way from the Cross, and near the Cross. They were a long way from the Cross in reference to the soldiers and executioners, who were in such close proximity to the Cross as to touch it, but they were sufficiently near the Cross to hear the words of our Lord, which the crowd of spectators who were the furthest of all removed, could not hear. We may also explain the texts thus. During the actual nailing of our Lord to the Cross, the concourse of soldiers and people kept the holy women at a distance, but as soon as the Cross was fixed in the ground many of the Jews returned to the city, and then the three women and St. John drew nearer. This explanation does away with the difficulty as to the reason why the Blessed Virgin and St. John applied to themselves the words, "Behold thy Son; Behold thy Mother," when so many others were present, and Christ addressed neither His Mother nor His disciple by name. The real answer to this objection is that the three women and St. John were standing so near the Cross as to enable our Lord to designate by His looks the persons whom He was addressing. Besides, the words were evidently spoken to His personal friends, and not to strangers. And amongst His personal friends who were on the spot there was no other man to whom he could say, "Behold thy Mother," except St. John, and there was no other woman who would be rendered childless by His death except His Virgin Mother. Wherefore He said to His Mother: "Behold thy Son," and to His disciple, " Behold thy Mother." Now this is the literal meaning of these words: I indeed am on the point of passing from this world to the bosom of My Heavenly Father, and since I am fully aware that you My Mother, have neither parents, nor a husband, nor brothers, nor sisters, in order not to leave you utterly destitute of human succour, I commend you to the care of My most beloved disciple John: he will act towards you as a son, and you will act towards him as a Mother. And this counsel or command of Christ, which showed Him to be so mindful of others, was alike welcome to both parties, and both we may believe to have bowed their heads in token of their acquiescence, for St. John says of himself; "And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own," that is, St. John immediately obeyed our Lord, and reckoned the Blessed Virgin, together with his now aged parents Zebedee and Salome amongst the persons for whom it was his duty to care and provide.

There still remains another question which may be asked. St. John was one of those who had said;[7] "Behold we have forsaken all, and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore?" And among the things which they had abandoned, our Lord enumerates father and mother, brothers and sisters, house and lands; and St. Matthew, when speaking of St. John and his brother St. James, said: "And they immediately left their nets and their father and followed Him."[8] Whence comes it then that he who had left one mother for the sake of Christ, should be told by our Lord to look upon the Blessed Virgin in the light of a Mother? We have not far to go for an answer. When the Apostles followed Christ they left their father and mother, in so far as they might be an impediment to their evangelical life, and inasmuch, as any worldly advantage and carnal pleasure might be derived from their presence. But they did not forego that solicitude which a man is justly bound to show for his parents or his children, if they want either his direction or his assistance. Whence some spiritual writers affirm that that son cannot enter a religious order, whose father is either so stricken with age, or oppressed with poverty as to be unable to live without his aid. And as St. John left his father and mother when they stood not in need of him, so when Christ ordered him to take care of and provide for His Virgin Mother, she was destitute of all human succour. God indeed, without any assistance from man, might have provided His Mother with all things necessary by the ministry of angels, just as they ministered to Christ Himself in the desert: but He wished St. John to do this in order that whilst the Apostle took care of the Virgin, she might honour and help the Apostle. For God sent Elias to the assistance of a poor widow, not that He could not have supported her by means of a raven, as He had done before, but in order, as St. Austin observes, that the prophet might bless her. Wherefore it pleased our Lord to intrust His Mother to the care of St. John for the twofold purpose of bestowing a blessing upon him, and to prove that he above all the rest was His beloved disciple. For truly in this transfer of His Mother was fulfilled that text: " Every one that hath forsaken father or mother shall receive a hundred-fold, and shall inherit life everlasting."[9] For certainly he received a hundred-fold, who leaving his mother, the wife of a fisherman, received as a mother, the Mother of the Creator, the Queen of the world, who was full of grace, blessed among women, and shortly to be raised above all the choirs of angels in the heavenly kingdom.

ENDNOTES

1. St. John xix. 26, 27.

2. St. Mark xvi. 1.

3. St. Matt. xxvii. 56.

4. St. Mark xv. 40.

5. St. Mark xv. 40.

6. St. Luke xxiii. 49.

7. St. Matt. xix. 27.

8. St. Matt. iv. 22.

9. St. Matt. xix. 29.

CHAPTER IX. The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the third Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.

If we examine attentively all the circumstances under which this third word was spoken, we may gather many fruits from its consideration First of all, we have brought before us the intense desire which Christ felt of suffering for our salvation in order that our redemption might be copious and plentiful For in order not to increase the pain and sorrow they feel, some men take measures to prevent their relatives being present at their death, particularly if their death is to be a violent one, accompanied by disgrace and infamy But Christ was not satiated with His own most bitter Passion, so full of grief and shame, but wished also that His Mother and the disciple whom He loved, should be present, and should even stand near the Cross in order that the sight of the sufferings of those most dear to Him might augment His own grief. Four streams of Blood were pouring from the mangled Body of Christ on the Cross, and He wished that four streams of tears should flow from the eyes of His Mother, of His disciple, of Mary His Mother's sister, and of Magdalene, the most cherished of the holy women, in order that the cause of His sufferings might be due less to the shedding of His own Blood, than to the copious flood of tears which the sight of His agony wrung from the hearts of those who were standing near. I imagine that I hear Christ saying to me "The sorrows of death surround Me,"[1] for the sword of Simeon rends and mangles My Heart, as cruelly as it passes through the soul of My most innocent Mother It is thus that a bitter death should separate not only the soul from the body, but a mother from a son, and such a Mother from such a Son! For this reason He said, "Woman, behold thy son," for His love for Mary would not permit Him at such a moment to address her by the endearing name of Mother. God has so loved the world as to give His Only-Begotten Son for its redemption, and the Only-Begotten Son has so loved the Father as to shed profusely His very Blood for His honour, and not satisfied with the pangs of His Passion, has endured the agonies of compassion, so that there might be a plentiful redemption for our sins. And that we may not perish but may enjoy life everlasting, the Father and the Son exhort us to the imitation of Their charity by pourtraying it in its most exquisite beauty; and yet the heart of man still resists this so great charity, and consequently deserves rather to feel the wrath of God, than to taste the sweetness of His mercy, and fall into the arms of Divine love We should be indeed ungrateful, and should deserve everlasting torments, if we would not for His love endure the little purging which is necessary for our salvation, when we behold our Redeemer loving us to that extent, as to suffer for our sakes more than was necessary, to endure countless torments, and to shed every drop of His Blood, when one single drop would have been amply sufficient for our redemption The only reason that can be assigned for our sloth and folly is, that we neither meditate on the Passion of Christ, nor consider His immense love for us with that earnestness and attention we ought to do We content ourselves with reading the Passion hastily, or hearing it read, instead of securing fitting opportunities to penetrate ourselves with the thought of it. On that account the holy Prophet admonishes us: "Attend and see if there be sorrow like unto my sorrow."[2] And the Apostle says: "Consider Him that endureth such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds."[3] But the time will come when our ingratitude towards God and listlessness in the affair of our own salvation will be a subject of sincere sorrow to us. For there are many who at the Last Day "will groan for anguish of spirit," and will say: "Therefore we have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice hath not shined upon us."[4] And they will not feel this fruitless sorrow for the first time in hell, but before the Day of Judgment, when their mortal eyes shall be shut in death, and the eyes of their soul shall be opened, will they behold the truth of those things to which during their life they were wilfully blind.

ENDNOTES

1. Psalm xvii.

2. Lament. i. 10.

3. Heb. xii. 3.

4. Wisdom v. 6.

CHAPTER X: The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the third Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.

We may draw another fruit from the consideration of the third word spoken by Christ on the Cross from this circumstance, that there were three women who stood near the Cross of our Lord Mary Magdalene is the representative of the penitent sinner, or of one who is making a first attempt to advance in the way of perfection. Mary the wife of Cleophas is the representative of those who have already made some advance towards perfection; and Mary the Virgin Mother of Christ is the representative of those who are perfect We may couple St. John with our Lady, who was shortly to be, if he were not already, confirmed in grace These were the only persons who were found near the Cross, for abandoned sinners who never think of penance are far removed from the ladder of salvation, the Cross Moreover, it was not without a purpose that these chosen souls were near the Cross, since even they were in need of the assistance of Him Who was nailed thereon. Penitents, or beginners in virtue, in order to carry on the war against their vices and concupiscences require help from Christ, their Leader, and this help to fight with the old serpent they receive in the encouragement which His example gives them, for He would not descend from the Cross until He had gained a complete victory over the devil, which is what we are taught by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians: " Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His Cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it."[1] Mary the wife of Cleophas, and the mother of children who were called the brothers of our Lord, is the representative of those who have already made some progress on the path of perfection These also want assistance from the Cross, lest the cares and anxieties of this world, with which they are necessarily mixed up, choke in them the good seed, and a night of labour will result in the capture of nothing Therefore souls in this stage of perfection must still work and cast many a glance on Christ nailed to His Cross, Who was not satisfied by the great and manifold good deeds He performed during His life, but wished by means of His death to advance to the most heroic degree of virtue, for until the enemy of mankind had been thoroughly vanquished and put to flight, He would not come down from His Cross. To grow weary in the pursuit of virtue, and to cease from performing acts of virtue, are the greatest impediments to our spiritual advancement, for as St. Bernard truly notes in his Epistle to Garinus, "not to advance in virtue is to go back;" and in this same epistle he refers to the ladder of Jacob, whereon all the angels were either ascending or descending, but none were standing still. Moreover, even in the perfect who live a life of celibacy and are virgins, as were our Blessed Lady and St. John, who for this reason was the chosen Apostle of Christ, even these, I say, greatly need the assistance of Him that was crucified, since their very virtue exposes them to the danger of falling through spiritual pride, unless they are well grounded in humility During the course of His public ministry, Christ gave us many lessons in humility, as when He said "Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of Heart."[2] And again "Sit ye down in the lowest place;"[3] and "Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."[4] Still all His exhortations on the necessity of this virtue are not so persuasive as the example He set us on the Cross For what greater example of humility can we conceive than that the Omnipotent should allow Himself to be bound with ropes and nailed to a Cross ? And that He "in Whom are hid all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God"[5] should permit Herod and his army to treat Him as a fool and clothe Him with a white robe, and that "He Who sitteth on the cherubim"[6] should suffer Himself to be crucified between two thieves? Well might we say after this, that the man who should kneel before a crucifix, and should look into the interior of his own soul, and should come to the conclusion that he was not deficient in the virtue of humility, would be incapable of learning any lesson.

ENDNOTES

1. Coloss. ii. 14-15.

2. St. Matt. xi. 29.

3. St. Luke xiv. 10.

4. St. Luke xviii. 14.

5. Coloss. ii. 3.

6. Psalm xcviii. 1.

CHAPTER XI: The third fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the third Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.

We learn in the third place from the words which Christ addressed to His Mother and to His disciple from the pulpit of the Cross, what are the relative duties of parents towards their children, and of children towards their parents We will treat in the first place of the duties which parents owe their children. Christian parents should love their children, but in such a manner that the love of their children should not interfere with their love of God. This is the doctrine that our Lord lays down in the Gospel "He that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me."[1] It was in obedience to this law that our Lady stood near the Cross to her intense agony, yet with great constancy of soul. Her grief was a proof of the great love she bore her Son, Who was dying on the Cross beside her, and her constancy was a proof of her subservience to the God Who was reigning in heaven. The sight of her innocent Son, Whom she passionately loved, dying in the midst of such torments, was enough to break her heart; but even had she been able, she would not have hindered the crucifixion, since she knew that all these sufferings were being inflicted on her Son according to "the determinate council and fore-knowledge of God."[2] Love is the measure of grief, and because this Virgin Mother loved much, therefore was she afflicted beyond measure at beholding her Son so cruelly tortured And how could this Virgin Mother help loving her Son, when she knew that He excelled the rest of mankind in every kind of excellence, and when He was related to her by a closer tie than other children are related to their parents? There is a twofold reason why parents love their offspring; one, because they have begotten them, and the other, because the good qualities of their children redound on themselves There are some parents, however, who feel but a slight attachment to their children, and others who positively hate them if they are deformed or wicked, or have the misfortune of being illegitimate Now for the aforesaid twofold reason, the Virgin Mother of God loved her Son more than any other mother could love her child In the first place, no woman has ever given birth to a child without the cooperation of her husband, but the Blessed Virgin brought forth her Son without any contact with man; as a Virgin she conceived Him, and as a Virgin she brought Him forth, and as Christ our Lord in the Divine generation has a Father without a Mother, so in the human generation He has a Mother without a Father. When we say that Christ our Lord was conceived of the Holy Ghost, we do not mean that the Holy Spirit is the Father of Christ, but that He formed and moulded the Body of Christ, not out of His own substance, but from the pure flesh of the Virgin. Truly then has the Virgin alone begotten Him, she alone can claim Him as her own Son, and therefore has she loved Him with more than a mother's love In the second place, the Son of the Virgin not only was and is beautiful beyond the children of men but surpasses in every way all angels also, and as a natural consequence of her great love, the Blessed Virgin mourned over the Passion and Death of her Son more than others, and St. Bernard does not hesitate to affirm in one of his sermons, that the sorrow our Lady felt at the crucifixion was a martyrdom of the heart, according to the prophecy of Simeon "A sword shall pierce through thy own soul."[3] And since the martyrdom of the heart is more bitter than the martyrdom of the body, St. Anselm in his work on the "Excellence of the Virgin," says that the grief of the Virgin was more bitter than any bodily suffering Our Lord, in His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemani, suffered a martyrdom of the heart by passing in review all the sufferings and torments He was to endure on the morrow, and by opening on to His soul the floodgates of grief and fear He began to be so afflicted, that a Sweat of Blood diffused from His Body, an occurrence which we are not informed ever resulted from his corporal sufferings Therefore, beyond a doubt, our Blessed Lady carried a most heavy cross, and endured most poignant grief, from the sword of sorrow which pierced her soul, but she stood near the Cross the very model of patience, and beheld all His sufferings without manifesting a sign of impatience, because she sought the honour and glory of God rather than the gratification of her maternal love She did not fall to the ground half dead with sorrow, as some imagine; nor did she tear her hair, nor sob and cry aloud, but she bravely bore the affliction which it was the will of God she should bear She loved her Son vehemently, but she loved the honour of God the Father and the salvation of mankind more, just as her Divine Son preferred these two objects to the preservation of His life Moreover, her unwavering faith in the resurrection of her Son increased her confidence of soul to such an extent that she stood in no need of consolation from any man She was aware that the Death of her Son would be like a short sleep, according to what the Royal Psalmist said "I have slept and have taken my rest, and I have risen up, because the Lord hath protected me."[4]

All the faithful should imitate this example of Christ by deferring the love of their children to the love of God, Who is the Father of all, and loves all with a greater and more beneficial love than we can bear ourselves. In the first place, Christian parents should love their children with a manly and prudent love, not encouraging them if they do wrong, but educating them in the fear of God, and correcting them, even chastising and punishing them if they either offend God or neglect their studies For this is the will of God, as it is revealed to us in Holy Writ, in the Book of Ecclesiasticus, "Hast thou children? instruct them, and bow down their neck from their childhood."[5] And we read of Tobias that "from his infancy he taught his son to fear God and to abstain from all sin."[6] The Apostle warns parents not to provoke their children to anger, lest they be discouraged, but to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, that is, to treat them not as slaves, but as children.[7] Parents who are too severe with their children, and who rebuke and punish them even for a small fault, treat them as slaves, and such treatment will discourage them and make them hate the paternal roof; and on the contrary, those parents who are too indulgent will rear up immoral children, who will become victims of hell- fire instead of possessing an immortal crown in heaven.

The right method for parents to adopt in the education of their children is to teach them to obey their superiors, and when they are disobedient to correct them, but in such a manner as to make it evident that the correction proceeds from a spirit of love and not of hatred. Moreover, if God calls a child to the priesthood or to the religious life, no impediment should be offered to his vocation, for parents should not oppose the will of God, but should say with holy Job "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord."[8] Lastly, if parents lose their children by an untimely death, as our Blessed Lady lost her Divine Son, they should trust in the good judgment of God, Who sometimes takes a soul to Himself if He perceives that it may lose its innocence and so perish forever Truly if parents could penetrate into the designs of God in the death of a child, they would rejoice rather than weep: and if we had a lively faith in the Resurrection, as our Lady had, we should no more repine because a person dies in his youth, than we should weep because a person goes to sleep before night-time, since the death of the faithful is a kind of sleep, as the Apostle tells us in his Epistle to the Thessalonians: "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them who are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope".[9] The Apostle speaks rather of hope than of faith, because he does not refer to an uncertain resurrection, but to a happy and glorious resurrection, similar to that of Christ, which was a waking up to true life. For the man who has a firm faith in the resurrection of the body, and trusts that his dead child will rise again to glory, has no cause for sorrow, but great reason for rejoicing, because his child's salvation is secured.

Our next point is to treat of the duty which children owe their parents Our Lord in His Death gave us a most perfect example of filial respect. Now, according to the words of the Apostle, the duty of children is "to requite their parents."[10] Children requite their parents when they provide all necessary conveniences for them in their old age, just as their parents procured food and raiment for them in their infancy. When Christ was at the point of death He entrusted His aged Mother, who had no one to care for her, to the protection of St. John, and told her to look upon him in future as her son, and commanded St. John to reverence her as his mother And thus our Lord perfectly fulfilled the obligations which a son owes his mother. In the first place, in the person of St. John He gave His Virgin Mother a son who was of the same age as Himself, or perhaps a year younger, and therefore was in every way capable to provide for the comfort of the Mother of our Lord. Secondly, He gave her for a son the disciple whom He loved more than the rest, and who ardently returned Him love for love, and consequently our Lord had the greatest confidence in the diligence with which His disciple would support His Mother. Moreover He chose the disciple whom He knew would outlive the other apostles, and would consequently survive His parent Lastly, our Lord was mindful of His Mother at the most calamitous moment of His life, when His whole Body was the prey of sufferings, when His whole Soul was racked by the insolent taunts of His enemies, and He had to drink the bitter chalice of approaching death, so that it would seem He could think of nothing but His own sorrows Nevertheless, His love for His Mother triumphed over all, and forgetting Himself, His only thought was how to comfort and help her, nor was His hope in the promptitude and fidelity of His disciple deceived, for "from that hour he took her unto his own."[11]

Every child has a greater obligation than our Lord had to provide for the temporal wants of his parents, since every man owes more to his parents than Christ owed to His Mother. Each infant receives a greater favour from his parents than he can ever hope to repay, for he has received from their hands what it is impossible for him to bestow on them, namely, a being "Remember," says Ecclesiasticus, "that thou hadst not been born but through them."[12] Christ alone is an exception to this rule He indeed received from His Mother His life as a man, but He bestowed on her three lives; her human life, when with the cooperation of the Father and the Holy Ghost He created her; her life of grace, when He forestalled her in the sweetness of His blessings by creating her Immaculate, and her life of glory when she was assumed into the kingdom of glory, and exalted above all the choirs of angels. Wherefore if Christ, Who gave His Blessed Mother more than He had received from her in His birth, wished to requite her, certainly the rest of mankind are still more obliged to requite their parents Moreover, we only do our duty in honouring our parents, and yet the goodness of God is such as to reward us for this In the Ten Commandments the law is laid down- -"Honour thy father and thy mother, that thou mayst be long-lived upon the land."[13] And the Holy Ghost says: "He that honoureth his father shall have joy in his own children, and in the day of his prayer he shall be heard."[14] And God does not only reward those who reverence their parents, but punishes those who are disrespectful to them, for these are the words of Christ: "God hath said He that curseth father or mother let him die the death."[15] "And he is cursed of God that angereth his mother.[16] Hence we may conclude that a parent's curse will bring ruin in its train, for God Himself will ratify it. This is proved by many examples; and one which St. Augustine relates in his City of God we will briefly narrate. In Caesarea, a town of Cappadocia, there were ten children, namely seven boys and three girls, who were cursed by their mother, and were immediately struck by heaven with such an infliction that all their limbs shook, and, in this pitiable plight, wheresoever any of them went, they were unable to bear the gaze of their fellow-citizens, and thus they wandered throughout the whole Roman world. At last two of them were cured by the relics of St. Stephen the Proto-martyr, in the presence of St. Augustine.

ENDNOTES

1. St. Matt. x. 37.

2. Acts. ii. 23.

3. St. Luke ii. 35.

4. Psalm iii. 6.

5. Ecclus. vii. 24.

6. Tobias i. 10.

7. Coloss. iii. 21; Ephes. vi. 4.

8. Job i. 21.

9. 1 Thess. iv. 12.

10. 1 Tim. v. 4.

11. St. John xix. 27.

12. Ecclus. vii. 30.

13. Exodus xx. 12.

14. Ecclus. iii. 6.

15. St. Matt. xv. 4.

16. Ecclus. iii. 18.

CHAPTER XII: The fourth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the third Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.

The burden and yoke our Lord imposed on St. John, in intrusting to his care the protection of His Virgin Mother, was indeed a yoke that was sweet, and a burden that was light Who indeed would not esteem it a happiness to dwell under the same roof with her, who for nine months had borne in her womb the Incarnate Word, and for thirty years enjoyed the most sweet and happy communication of sentiments with Him? Who does not envy the chosen disciple of our Lord, whose heart in the absence of the Son of God was gladdened by the constant presence of the Mother of God? Yet if I mistake not it is in our power to obtain by our prayers that our most kind Lord, Who became Man for our sakes and was crucified for love of us, should say to us in reference to His Mother, "Behold thy Mother," and should say to His Mother for each one of us "Behold thy son!" Our good Lord is not avaricious of His graces, provided we approach the throne of grace with faith and confidence, with true and open but not dissembling hearts He Who wishes to have us coheirs in the kingdom of His Father, will not disdain to have us coheirs in the love of His Mother Nor will our most benign Lady take it amiss to have a countless host of children, since she has a heart capable of embracing us all, and ardently desires that not one of those sons should perish whom her Divine Son redeemed with His precious Blood and His still more precious Death Let us therefore with confidence approach the throne of the grace of Christ, and with tears humbly beg of Him to say to His Mother for each of us, "Behold thy son," and to us in reference to His Mother, "Behold thy Mother." How secure should we be under the protection of such a Mother! Who would dare to drag us from beneath her mantle? What temptations, what tribulations could overcome us if we confide in the protection of the Mother of God and of our Mother? Nor should we be the first who had secured such powerful patronage. Many have preceded us, many I say have placed themselves under the singular and maternal protection of so powerful a Virgin, and no one has been cast off by her with his soul in a perplexed and despondent state, but all who confide in the love of such a Mother are happy and contented. Of her it is written "She shall crush thy head."[1] Those who trust in her will safely "walk upon the asp and the basilisk, and will trample under foot the lion and the dragon."[2] Let us, however, listen to the words of a few distinguished men out of the vast array who acknowledged that they had placed their hope of salvation in the Virgin, and to whom we may believe our Lord had said "Behold thy Mother," and of whom He had said to His Mother, "Behold thy son."

The first shall be the Syrian, St. Ephrem, an ancient Father of such renown that St. Jerome informs us his works were publicly read in the churches after the Holy Scriptures. In one of his sermons on the praises of the Mother of God, he says, "The undefiled and pure Virgin Mother of God, the Queen of all, and the hope of those in despair." And again "Thou art a harbour for those who are tossed by storms, the comfort of the world, the liberator of those in prison; thou art the mother of orphans, the redeemer of captives, the joy of the sick, and the star of safety for all." And again "Under thy wing, guard and protect me, have mercy on me who am defiled with sin. I have confidence in none other but thee, O Virgin most sincere. Hail peace, joy, and safety of the world!" We will next quote St. John Damascene, who was one of the first to show the greatest honour and place the greatest confidence in the protection of the most holy Virgin. He thus discourses in a sermon on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin: "O daughter of Joachim and Anne, O Lady, receive the prayers of a sinner who ardently loves and honours you, and looks up to you as his only hope of joy, as the priestess of life, and the leader of sinners back to grace and favour with your Son, and the secure depositary of safety, lighten the burden of my sins, overcome my temptations, make my life pious and holy, and grant that under thy guidance I may come to the happiness of heaven." We will now select a few passages from two Latin Fathers. St. Anselm, in his work on the "Excellence of the Virgin," somewhere says: "I consider it a great sign of predestination for any one to have had the favour granted him of frequently thinking of Mary." And again: "Remember that we sometimes obtain help by invoking the name of the Virgin Mother sooner than if we had invoked the Name of the Lord Jesus, her only Son, and this not because she is greater or more powerful than He, nor because He is great and powerful through her, but she is so through Him. How is it then that we obtain assistance sooner by invoking her than by invoking her Son? I say that I think this is so, and my reason is that her Son is the Lord and Judge of all, and is able to discern the merits of each. Consequently when His Name is invoked by any one, He may justly turn a deaf ear to the entreaty, but if the name of His Mother is invoked, even supposing that the merits of the supplicant do not entitle him to be heard, still the merits of the Mother of God are such that her Son cannot refuse to listen to her prayer." But St. Bernard, in language which is truly wonderful, describes on the one hand the holy and maternal affection with which the Blessed Virgin cherishes those who are devout to her, and on the other hand the tender and filial love of those who regard her as their Mother. In his second sermon on the text, "The Angel was sent," he exclaims: "O thou, whoever thou art, that knowest thou art exposed to the dangers of the tempestuous sea of this world more than thou enjoyest the security of dry land, do not withdraw thy eyes from the splendour of this Star, from Mary the Star of the Sea, unless thou wishest to be swallowed up in the tempest. If the winds of temptations arise, if thou art thrown upon the rocks of tribulations, look up to this Star, call upon Mary. If thou art tossed hither and thither on the billows of pride, ambition, detraction, or envy, look up to this Star, call on Mary. If thou, terrified at the enormity of thy crimes, perplexed at the unclean state of thy conscience, and stricken with awe for thy Judge, beginnest to be engulphed in the abyss of sadness or the pit of despair, think of Mary; in all thy dangers, in all thy difficulties, in all thy doubts think of Mary, call upon Mary. Thou wilt not go astray if thou followest her, thou wilt not despair if thou prayest to her, thou wilt not err if thou thinkest of her." The same Saint in his sermon on the Nativity of the Virgin, speaks as follows. "Raise your thoughts and judge with what affection He wishes us to honour Mary, Who has filled her soul with the plenitude of His goodness, so that whatever hope, whatever grace, whatever preservation from sin is ours we may recognize as flowing from her hands." "Let us then venerate Mary with our whole hearts and all our votive offerings, for such is His will Who would have us receive everything through Mary." "My children, she is the ladder for sinners, she is my greatest confidence, she is the whole foundation of my hope." To these extracts from the writings of two holy Fathers, I will add some quotations from two holy theologians. St. Thomas, in his essay on the Angelical salutation, says: "She is blessed among women because she alone has removed the curse of Adam, brought blessings to mankind, and opened the gates of Paradise. Hence she is called Mary, which name signifies 'Star of the Sea,' for as sailors steer their ship to port by watching the stars, so Christians are brought to glory by the intercession of Mary." St. Bonaventure in his Pharetra writes: "O most Blessed Virgin, as every one that hates you and is forgotten by you must necessarily perish, so every one that loves you and is loved by you must necessarily be saved." The same Saint in his Life of St. Francis speaks of that Saint's confidence in the Blessed Virgin in the following terms. "He loved the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ with an unspeakable love, by her our Lord Jesus Christ became our brother, and by her we have obtained mercy. Next to Christ he placed all his confidence in her, he regarded her as his own and his Order's advocate, and in her honour devoutly fasted from the feast of St. Peter and Paul to the Assumption." With these saints we will couple the name of Pope Innocent III, who was eminently distinguished for his devotion to the Virgin, and not only extolled her in his sermons, but built a monastery in her honour, and what is more admirable, in an exhortation he made to his flock to induce them to trust in her, he used words the truth of which was afterwards exemplified in his own person. Thus he spoke in his second sermon on the Assumption: "Let the man who is sitting in the darkness of sin look up to the moon, let him invoke Mary that she may intercede with her Son, and bring him to compunction of heart. For who has ever called upon her in his distress and has not been heard?" The reader should consult cap. ix. book 2, on the "Tears of the Dove," and see what we have there written about Pope Innocent III. From these extracts, and from these signs of predestination, it is abundantly evident that a hearty devotion to the Virgin Mother of God is not a modern introduction. For it seems incredible that that man should perish in whose favour Christ had said to His Mother, "Behold thy son," provided that he has not turned a deaf ear to the words which Christ had addressed to himself, "Behold thy Mother."

ENDNOTES

1. Gen. iii. 15.

2. Psalm xc. 13.


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