BY Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey, SS.CC.
“The Son of Man is come to save that which is lost.”
(Luke xix, 11.)
“It is I: fear not.”
(Luke xxiv, 36.)
THESE are most consoling words. Have confidence, “it is I,” your Father, your Friend! Nolite timere, “be not afraid!” — But how can I help being afraid, miserable as I am? — “Ego sum!” because “it is I.” If I were an angel, or a prophet, or a saint, you might fear, for even the holiest creatures can neither know, judge nor love you as I do. Fear not, for I am Jesus.
Therefore, He said: “My peace I give unto you.” (John xiv, 27.) His peace, not ours which is so liable to illusions; His, not that of the world which is but a dangerous counterfeit. Through His mercy we may have peace. Not because we think ourselves holy or confirmed in grace, but because we believe, with an immense faith, in His love, the remedy and reparation of our failings.
What should we do without the supernatural and divine courage which we find in trusting Jesus? Truly, the summit of sanctity is reached by the road of confidence and there is no other. For, being what we are — an abyss of miseries and sins — we should be hurled into another abyss — that of a final and irremediable discouragement — if we were asked to fly without first being given the wings of confidence. But with them we can aspire to. be saints, and rise to the heights, de profundis, from the depths of our fallen state, from the abyss of our iniquities.
Do not tell me it is a pretension or an illusion. I well know it would indeed be folly and pride to think I could reach the summit of sanctity by relying on my own strength, but in the “lift” formed by the arms of Jesus, on His Heart, I am certain to succeed, precisely because I am of less account than a tiny ant. He likes to transform ants into royal eagles when they trust Him. If He, the God of pardon and grace, the God of mercy and tenderness, the Word made Flesh to redeem us, the God crucified and hidden in the Sacrament does not inspire me with a blind, immense and unbounded confidence, who will ever be able to do so?
He did not come down to earth to bring us the sword of His justice, the flames of divine wrath, the sentence of eternal death, so well deserved! No! a thousand times no! Open the Gospel at random; even in His moments of indignation and in His anathemas you will find the Heart of Jesus compassionate and irresistibly captivating. He came to pardon, to save, to give peace and heaven even to those who prepared for Him the gibbet of the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”(Luke xxiii, 34.) To redeem us “He emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave” (Phil. ii, 7.); He clothed Himself with the garment of our sins and because of this the Father sentenced Him to death. He took our sins upon Him as it is written: ”He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Is. liii, 4.); He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity.” (Is. liii, 3.) In the Holy Scripture we read: “Deep calleth upon deep.” (Ps. xli, 8.) These words may be applied to Him, but in a figurative sense. The deep of our iniquity and corruption may be said to call on the deep of His pity and mercy.
Bethlehem, with its poverty, is hardly even a poetical picture of that other poor, unworthy and living cradle, which is the heart of one who receives Him in Holy Communion. However, Jesus Who knows this, commands that we should receive Him and, when we approach the Altar with contrition and humility, Jesus casts a veil over this poor cradle. He delights in and longs to stay on this dismantled altar. To deny Him this right would be to wound His Heart.
Do you know which Transfiguration most entrances me? It is not that of Thabor where, for a moment, He appeared to recover the mantle of His radiant Majesty which He had laid aside for love of me. The transfiguration which touches and delights me is that of Bethlehem, where I see the Creator wrapped in the swaddling-clothes of my nature; that of Nazareth, where I contemplate my Judge shrouded in obscurity, and that of Calvary where I adore, beneath the bloodstained winding sheet of death, Him Who is Life Itself. (“O Jesus, in Thy desire to make Thyself like unto us, Thou dost not appear to be like Thyself”. – Msgr. Gay) This triple transfiguration, which makes Him my own Possession, my own Brother, where in His condescension He so deigns to resemble me, teaches me more than the glories of Thabor how much I ought to love Him, and with what infinite confidence I ought to approach His Heart. It is precisely the prodigious contrast between what He shows us for a moment on Thabor and what He is and remains in Bethlehem, in Nazareth and on Calvary, that preaches to me, with overwhelming eloquence, the folly of His love and the truth of that passage of Scripture: “I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ezech. xxxiii, 11.) And again: “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.” (Luke xix, 10.)
Note for your consolation that the love which Jesus has for you is not quite the same as the love He has for His Mother, who is all pure, holy, perfect, and immaculate. This is, we may say, a unique love. Nor is it the love with which He loves His angels, those pure, perfect and ever faithful spirits. Remember that the Shepherd left those ninety and nine faithful ones for the little lamb that had gone astray, and which figures each one of you, my readers. I may even say that the love of which I speak is not the love He has for that little band of souls pure as snow and aflame with fervor. These souls, dear to Him because of their heroic and constant fidelity, have been and always will be the oasis of His Heart, the little flock which is forever singing a canticle no other man can sing (Apoc. xiv, 3.); they have merited the caresses of the King of Love. But the love He lavishes on the majority of miserable and ungrateful sinners is a Merciful Love, or rather an infinite condescension. The Word, the God-Savior, descends into the morass in order to convert a little “mud” into stars, if only the “mud” is humble and believes in the mercy of the Lord.
We have set out these differences because it was necessary to bring into relief what the “Little Flower” called the merciful Love of Jesus, and to make you appreciate it, as far as possible, at its real worth. The love which enriches and sanctifies pure souls is one thing, the love which by the Precious Blood purifies and uplifts sinful souls is quite another. We can never merit the condescension of this Merciful Love. We have sinned, we have loaded Him with our iniquities, we have crucified and put to death the Lord of Life, and are more guilty than His executioners.
We have all laid hands on Him, hands stained with His blood, all of us! And He stretches out His arms to us and offers His pardon, His friendship, and His Heart. This is the highest point of God’s passionate love for us. Therefore, the sin of fear, the sin of mistrust, is inexplicable. I was going to say that it is almost unpardonable. Is it possible that His Heart should eagerly seek ours — the two deeps calling to one another — and that, from the depth of our iniquity and for want of trust, we should refuse to give entrance to Him Who seeks and pleads to fill up our abyss of death with His Heart, the Abyss of pardon and life?
To His entreaties, some oppose the argument of unworthiness and respect, as if He could not offer freely all the treasures of His tenderness, or as if He were the monopoly of the just, or of those who think themselves worthy of His graces. One would say that such Christians have the pretension to set right a God Who appears guilty of exaggeration in seeking to associate His immortal life with ours. When He advances, these souls retreat; when He says, “Come to Me all ye that labor and are burdened,” they seem to repeat the cry of the demoniac in the Gospel: “What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Son of God? Art Thou come hither to torment us?” (Matt. viii, 29.) And the hapless souls flee from Him. They forget that, between the Father sitting in judgment, and us the rebels, the Merciful Son has interposed Himself as a bridge of hope, by which we who are guilty may be pardoned and drawn near our God and Father. “My little children,” He is saying, “cross by this bridge, for I am the Crucified; fear not, cross by it, for I am the Way. Why are you trembling? Pass over it, meditating on My Cross, My Calvary and My Eucharist. Go forward in peace and with full trust. I wish to fill the abyss of your fear with the abyss of My tenderness; but, I beseech you, do not re-open the abyss of suspicion and reserve which I have suppressed by My Incarnation and My Eucharist.”
Souls of little faith, do you not see that the greatest of your faults, the source of so many others and that which most offends Me is your lack of trust?
And you, trembling souls, who are never satisfied with your confessions, ever doubting the pardon for sins already confessed, listen to the following story.
One of the many souls who regard Jesus as a tyrant was preparing to make a general Confession for the hundredth time. Restlessly, she spent the days of her retreat writing down the sins of her whole life. She neither meditated nor prayed, she was entirely absorbed in an examination which stifled her. At last she went into the Confessional. She read out the list of her sins, repeating and explaining over and over again, in fear and trembling. When at length she thought she had finished, a voice was heard which gently and very sadly said: “You have forgotten something very important.”
“I thought I must have,” she answered, terror stricken, and hastily prepared to read it all again. “Your sin is not in your notes,” continued the Voice, “and it offends me much more than all that you have said. Accuse yourself of lack of trust!” That voice moved her to the depths and she sought to ascertain if it was really her confessor’s. The confessional was empty! Jesus had come to give her a supreme lesson. We are not, certainly, censuring general confessions, for they are most profitable on definite occasions, but we do condemn that lack of trust, that spirit of fear and exaggerated nervousness which are an outrage to the mercy of the Savior. If the blind, the leprous, the paralytic, cured by Him, had reasoned in this way and doubted of their cure because of their unworthiness, they would have deserved to relapse info their infirmities and even into a worse state, as a punishment for their ingratitude, as well as for their pride, which is always the root of the sin of mistrust. The chief crime of Judas, greater even than his betrayal or his suicide, was his refusal to believe in that mercy which Jesus offered him, on His knees, when He washed his feet at the Last Supper!
Let us not alter the Gospels, no one has ever the right to do that. The Lord came down “not for the just but for sinners, not for the whole but for the sick,” (Mark ii, 17.) and the payment He asks in exchange for such condescension is a trusting love, which is ever the most sincere and humble form of repentance. He who does not understand this fails to understand what is most delicate and beautiful in the Heart of Jesus!
Nothing should ever prevent you from approaching His Wounded Side. Your sins, do you say? He has cleansed them in His Blood. Your unworthiness? He knows that a thousand times better than you do. He only asks of you to believe with humility and confidence in His Love.
Lastly, do not abuse the term “respect”; the most repugnant and odious Jansenism has ever hidden itself under the cover of this word. Trust in Him Who is to you Father, Mother and Savior. To trust is not and never will be to fail in respect, neither is it a lack of reverence to obey His call, when He offers us His Heart. To resist that call on the pretext that you are, as yet, not sufficiently purified and worthy is the refinement of pride. If such be your case, be frank and confess that what you have an abundance of is self-love and what is lacking in you is love of Jesus. If you loved you would think otherwise, for humility –the twin sister of trust – does not assume such an attitude. Not without reason St. Augustine said: “Love and do what thou wilt.” Yes, whatever you wish, for, when true charity is your counsellor, there is no danger of your offending the object of your love.
How beautiful is the thought that while before Pentecost St. Peter said: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke v, 8.) — yet Peter fell! — after the great light of Pentecost had shown him the depth of infinite mercy, joined to that of his frailty, he must often have thought and exclaimed: “Depart not from me, O Lord! Come yet closer to me, much closer, just because I am a very sinful man.”
Ask a St. Francis of Assisi, a St. John of the Cross, a St. Francis of Sales, a St. Paul, where they found the secret of life, sanctity and love; it was certainly not far from Jesus, but in the eager desire to attain to intimacy with Him, by the road of simplicity and trust. Where, save in the Gospel, did Little Teresa learn that marvelous theology with which, as serious authors assert, she is bringing about a spiritual renaissance in souls; that theology of children, of those fearless little ones, who, seated on the Master’s knees (Matt. xix, 13, 15.) and greedy for His caresses, learnt long before the Little Flower that love leads to union, and predicates boundless trust? Is not this the pure celestial fragrance of the Gospel? Who loved most, the little ones or Jesus? If there was an excess it was in the tenderness and condescension of Jesus. Children’s souls in their simplicity have always been privileged to understand the demands and the sublimities of love. I side with the children who contended for the place of honor on His knee, listening to the heartbeats of their Friend, rather than with the Apostles who rebuked such great familiarity, which they did not understand and from which they kept aloof. In life and in death I desire their simplicity, their trust, their place!
You cannot imagine how artful is the cunning of the enemy in separating you from our Lord by the obsession of your sins. There is but a step between discouragement and your sinking even lower. Ponder for a moment, before the Tabernacle, the kindness of Jesus towards the woman of Samaria. (John iv. 4-26) Did He refuse to talk with this great sinner? Was His tone or were His Words such that she departed abashed at having been so close to Him Who is Sanctity itself?
What was the immediate fruit of that proximity? The confusion and flight of the Samaritan woman, or an expansion of trust, contrition and conversion? Let us take the lesson to heart for our own good and the good of souls. Every serious evil begins with and is consummated by separation from Jesus and every virtue, especially those of repentance and humility, brings us, as if by instinct, to the Heart of the Redeemer.
And if at times when seeking this intimacy you do not see or feel any progress in the correction of your defects, do not attribute this apparent sterility to the proximity of Jesus, for spiritual progress cannot always be felt. It even happens that, after having spent long years in this life of love and trust, you see more clearly than before the infirmities of your nature. This does not mean that you have become worse by living close to Jesus; far from that — I should rather say the divine light from His Heart has grown more intense and is now showing you those “microbes” of your soul whose existence, a few years back, you had not identified in a fainter light. Still more, He allows you to feel the discomfort of your sin even after you have been cured, in order that you may expiate it and that your soul may be restored to perfect health through humiliation. As I already told you, in order to know yourself, look into the divine mirror of the Eyes of Jesus; (“Guard against looking at thyself anywhere except in My Heart.”) the Sun of His Heart will show you what you are and, at the same time, He will comfort you with the vision of Its mercies. (“He made me see myself as a compound of all the iniquities which He desired to change into a sum of all His infinite Mercy” – St. Margaret Mary.) If we read the Gospel carefully, we must come to believe that Jesus thirsted for the souls of sinners. Let us meditate on the pages which tell us of the Good Shepherd, the Samaritan, the Magdalen, the woman taken in adultery, the meals with the publicans, and wherever we look we find the Merciful Heart of Jesus beating with compassion for them.
Those publicans still exist; we are such ourselves and Jesus seeks us out eagerly, precisely because we are publicans. Let us understand, then, once for all, that the only way in which we may repay the Divine Physician is by giving Him our hearts overflowing with trust. “Our confidence can never be too great,” said Little Teresa.
How many there are who think the devotion to the Sacred Heart a novelty, a pretty little poetical devotion, which originated in Paray-le-Monial. This is anything but the truth. In the Gospel itself I find the whole doctrine of the Heart of Jesus showing me that divine Heart as Life and Mercy, as Center of all hearts. I believe, of course, in the great revelations made to St. Margaret Mary, but what moves and convinces me most (next to the authority of the Church) is precisely that I find the Gospel and the writings of St. Margaret Mary in perfect accord with one another. Moreover, I need neither her words nor any other help to know the Heart which revealed Itself so marvelously in Bethlehem, in Nazareth, on Calvary and which continues to dwell with us in the Sacrament of the Altar. Paray has shed a great light and it is, in all truth, a revelation, for the petitions and promises are a Divine mark which bring the doctrine into relief. But that doctrine is to be found in every line of the Gospel, this supreme and definitive revelation of the Heart of Jesus. And all He said in Paray may be condensed. into these words: “Believe in My Love, fear not, it is I, Jesus. … Love Me, give Me your whole heart, and make Me loved, for I am Jesus.”
* * *
Before the Apostles were taught by their Divine Master they said: “Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from Heaven and consume them” (Luke ix, 54.) They had not yet fully understood the spirit and the Heart of their Teacher. But when the Holy Ghost enlightened them and filled their hearts with divine love, they commanded the fire of charity to come down in order to set ablaze the souls of men and nations with the love of Jesus Christ.
There are some who say that for them God has but one single attribute, that of an ever-terrible justice. Evidently God, since He is God, must be infinitely just. But, precisely because He is just and knows the clay from which He has fashioned us, He must, while we are traveling this rugged path of ours, here below, be much more kind than rigorous, the Savior and Father rather than the inexorable Judge. He came on earth, and still remains in the Eucharist and in the Church, in order to save us. It is we, unfortunately, who force Him to condemn and to show us His severity. If there were nothing but justice in the providential government of souls, or if there were more justice than mercy, or exactly as much justice as mercy, what would be the good of the Confessional, the priesthood, the Eucharist and the whole of that system, marvelous beyond words, of our merciful redemption? For any one who has the slightest experience of souls the practical and daily application of that system constitutes an ever-enduring miracle of miracles.
Again, Our Lord must be much more a Father and Mother than a dreadful Judge, because He knows where our evil intentions end and where our weakness and ignorance begin. Hence that saying of Little Teresa: “I have absolute trust in the justice of God and I hope as much from It as I do from His mercy.” And this is in perfect accord with theology. As for me, the more firmly I believe in the justice and equity of the King of Glory, the more do I believe in the Mercy which I preach. For justice does not always — and still less exclusively — mean severity and punishment, but equity. Therefore, because God is just He must needs give me sometimes tenderness and compassion and, at other times, show severity and rigor. But, as a matter of fact, this Crucified God is much more inclined to pity than to anger whilst we are in this our earthly exile.
Do you want a simple and eloquent proof of this? Let us suppose that the reader of these lines has committed a single mortal sin. If, here below, God were inexorably strict and severe why is not this soul already in Hell, which it so justly deserves? Why is it still enjoying all the sweet blessings which this doctrine of redemption offers? But it will be another thing when death closes our eyes and we stand on the other side of the eternal river, before the Judgment Seat of the Most High. There the work, of mercy is consummated and strict justice will be our share but, meanwhile, here below, “where sin abounds, grace doth more abound,” (Rom. v, 20.) and mercy.
There is a very beautiful story, or legend, of a miraculous crucifix. At its foot, a great but sincerely repentant sinner was making his confession. He was so guilty that the Confessor hesitated for a moment to give him absolution, but, moved by the man’s tears, he said: “I will absolve you, but take care not to fall again!”
After some time the penitent returned. “I have struggled bravely, Father, but, in a moment of weakness, I have relapsed, and I come at once humbly to reconcile myself with God.” “No,” said the Confessor, “this time I cannot give you absolution.” “But, Father, have pity on me! Remember that my soul is still very weak after a long and serious illness. Have pity, I am truly sincere!” With great hesitation, and after severely censuring him, the priest, once more, gave him absolution.
The penitent was truly contrite, but, after a long period of perseverance, the habit of so many years of sin, and his whole nature, corrupted and deadened by vice, combined to break down his good resolutions. He hastened to his confessor with simplicity and confidence in order to regain the grace of God. “This time, I cannot absolve you,” said the Confessor, “you are not sorry.” In vain the poor man wept, implored, argued: “I am weak, not wicked,” he said, “I want to be faithful … but to that end I need the pardon for which I beg.” “I cannot,” said the priest, and he rose up to go away, trying to break loose from the penitent who was holding him with both hands.
At this moment, a sigh of immense love and compassion was heard. Both at once looked up. What did they see? The breast of the Crucified heaving with emotion, His Eyes full of tears, and, oh miracle! His Right Hand unnailed. Then, they heard His gentle Voice saying, as He made the sign of the Cross: “I myself forgive thee, for thy soul is the gem for which I shed My Blood.” Needless to enquire if this really happened or is only a legend. What enchants me is the lesson and the doctrine. The Lord is gentle and kind, compassionate and merciful to a degree past our imagining, for He shed His Blood for us!
Want of trust is great ingratitude and a lack of simplicity and self-abandonment. Be more childlike with your Father Who is in Heaven. You may certainly acknowledge your failings, but do not let yourselves be crushed and disheartened by them; imitate our Lord, Who turns even your sins to His glory and your good. With the exception of the Immaculate Virgin, what saint has there ever been without defects? Throw them into the furnace of the Heart of Jesus and let yourself be consumed with them. Do you know the beautiful dialogue between Jesus and St. Jerome? “Jerome,” said our Lord, “dost thou want to make Me a present?” “But, lord,” replied the Saint, “have not I already given Thee everything? My life: my possessions, my faculties, my griefs, my joys, my soul, all are Thine and Thine alone.” “Jerome, give Me something else.” “But what, Lord, what? … Is there anything, any single fiber of my heart which does not belong to Thee?” “Jerome, Jerome, give Me something which is not yet Mine; something which thou keepest to thyself and which ought to be Mine.” “Speak, Lord, ask what Thou wilt, what is it?” “Jerome, give Me thy sins!” Yes, give them to Him, abandon all of them to Him; they are the leprosy He seeks with the solicitude of a Physician and a Redeemer. Say to Him, “Lord, take them away entirely and for ever! I believe in Thy love. I cast myself on Thy Heart. May Thy kingdom come!”
In speaking thus you must know that I do not claim to lessen your defects, whether in their hideousness or their number. Humility should be the truth. I will say more: Commit yourselves to Him, because that Jesus Who invites you to His intimacy sees more clearly than you. Where you notice a hundred defects He will find a thousand and, yet, He loves you and calls you to Him. His love is not, and cannot be, like that of a friend or a lover, based on illusion, but is grounded on the truth. He does not love you because He imagines you to be what you are not, since for Him there can be no pretense. He loves you such as you are. That is why St. Teresa said boldly but rightly: “What bad taste You have, Lord, to love me, hideous as I am; but do not, on any account, change that bad taste, lest I be exposed to the danger of your putting an angel in my place.”
In earthly friendship, excess of familiarity reveals defects before unnoticed. Hence it is that so many affections founded on illusion gradually cool off. “Jesus loves and forgives you as no one else does,” says Father Faber, “precisely because no one knows you as He does.” For Him alone there can never be any surprises since, even in the saint who works miracles, He still sees an abyss of frailty. It follows then that He Who knows everything is satisfied with great and holy desires, since many of them, however sincere, cannot always be realized. And these great desires are considered as a real work of love by our Indulgent Savior, provided they are true and not mere passing fancies. “Peace to men of good will. (Luke ii, 14.) Peace to those who have understood and tasted how good the Lord is! Peace to those who have experienced that His yoke is sweet and His burden light!” (Matt. xi, 30.) Therefore, be much more concerned for His glory than for the curing of your ills, however legitimate this desire may be. “Think of Me and only Me,” said Jesus to St. Margaret Mary, “and I will think of thee and all that concerns thee.”
Apostles who do not understand this waste both time and energy in making many petitions and it is only when they have tired themselves out that they will add: “Thy Kingdom come.” Do not follow their example; begin the work of your sanctification and apostolate with this prayer from your very heart: “Thy Kingdom come, the Reign of Thy Heart, of Thy Love.” And at once He will say: “I Myself will see to all your interests!” You see, now, how ample, sure, solid and beautiful is the doctrine of the Heart of Jesus. How good it is to live, to struggle, to labor in that refuge in which all is truth, peace, strength, and joy in the Holy Spirit! Drink your fill of that Heart, the unfailing fountain of life and of merciful love. In Him I wish to have my abode, my school, my resting place, my heaven. That Heart suffices me. I am the poorest of the poor, but in that Heart I have no fear.
There are many who think it is arduous and most difficult to be saved. I believe, on the contrary, that it is not so easy to lose one’s soul, for, to do so, we should have to break loose from the Savior’s arms and escape from that citadel of redemption which is His Heart. Steep yourselves, zealous apostles, in this grand doctrine, which is assuredly not new — for there has been nothing new since the Gospel — but which, by the explicit will of heaven, is today as it were a spiritual atmosphere embracing the whole world under the title of “the Reign of the Heart of Jesus.” Nourish yourselves on this bread of love and unbounded trust, in order to give this manna to the many souls who have but a mean and false conception of Christ our Lord. Be yourselves aglow with love that you may set other souls aflame with Charity. Speak to the weak, the perverse, to sinners, as the Sacred Heart would do. Hearken to Him as He passes judgment on the sinner crouching at His Feet: “Neither will I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.” (John viii, 11.) You who are His disciples, form your ideas and your language on the pattern of that Teacher!
I will end with one of Little Teresa’s most admirable sayings both in doctrine and eloquence: “It is not merely because I have been preserved from mortal sin that I lift up my heart to God in trust and love. I am certain that, even if I had committed every imaginable crime, I should lose nothing of my confidence, but would throw myself broken-hearted into the arms of my Savior. I know how He loved the Prodigal Son; I recall His words to St. Mary Magdalen, to the woman taken in adultery, to the Samaritan woman, and no one could ever discourage me, for I abide by His mercy and His Love. I know that the multitude of my sins would vanish in the twinkling of an eye, like a drop of water dropped into a blazing crucible.”
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