November 1, 2020: ALL SAINTS
November 1, 2020: COMMEMORATION OF ALL SAINTS
“But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was taken for misery: And their going away
from us, for utter destruction: but they are in peace.”
(Wisdom, iii. 1-3)
“I saw a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne, and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands: and
they cried with a loud voice, saying: Salvation to our God!”
(Apoc, vii. 9, 10)
O Almighty and eternal God, by whose favour we honour, on one solemnity, the merits of all thy saints; grant we may obtain a plentiful blessing of thy so much desired mercy, since we have so many petitioner on our behalf. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
O Jesus, let thy anger cease:
Thy Virgin-mother for our peace
At thy tribunal pleading stands,
And mercy earnestly demands.
And ye, O Angels, who in nine
Distinguish’d orders glorious shine,
Preserve our minds, our hearts and wills,
From present, past, and future ills.
Ye Prophets and Apostles plead
Before our judge, and intercede
For sinners, that by tears unfeign’d
His pard’ning grace may be obtain’d.
Ye crimson troops of Martyrs bright,
And Confessors array’d in white,
Let us no longer exil’d roam,
But call us to our heavenly home.
and ye truly wise,
Who from the deserts fill’d the skies,
For us an everlasting reign
With Christ among his saints obtain.
From Christian lands those miscreants chase,
Who Christian truths and faith deface;
That all mankind united may
One pastor of our souls obey.
To God the Father and the Son,
And Holy Spirit, three in one,
Be equal glory, equal praise,
For an eternal age of days. Amen.
V. Rejoice in the Lord and exult ye righteous ones.
R. And praise him all you upright of heart.
I saw a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne, and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands: and they cried with a loud voice, saying: Salvation to our God! (Apoc, vii. 9, 10)
TIME is no more; it is the human race eternally saved that is thus presented in vision to the prophet of Patmos [St. John the Apostle & Evangelist]. Our life of struggle and suffering on earth is, then, to have an end. Our long-lost race is to fill up the angelic ranks thinned by Satan's revolt; and, uniting in the gratitude of the redeemed of the Lamb, the faithful spirits will sing with us: ‘Thanksgiving, honour, and power, and strength to our God for ever and ever!’ (Apoc, vii. 12)
And this shall be the end, as the Apostle says; (I Cor, xv. 24) the end of death and suffering; the end of history and of its revolutions, which will then be explained. The old enemy, hurled down with his followers into the abyss, will live on only to witness his own eternal defeat. The Son of Man, the Saviour of the world, will have delivered the kingdom to God His Father; and God, the last end of creation and of redemption, will be all in all. (I Cor, xv. 24-28)
Long before the seer of the Apocalypse, Isaias sang: I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and elevated, and his train filled the temple. And the Seraphim cried one to another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of his glory (Isaias, vi. 1-3). The train and the fringes of God’s vesture are the elect, who are the adornment of the Word, the splendor of the Father. For since the Word has espoused our human nature, that nature is his glory, as he is the glory of God. The Bride herself is clothed with the justifications of the Saints; and when this glittering robe is perfected, the signal will be given for the end of time. This feast announces the ever-growing nearness of the eternal nuptials; for on it we annually celebrate the progress of the Bride’s preparations.
Blessed are they that are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb! (Apoc, xix. 9) Blessed are we all, who have received in Baptism the nuptial robe of holy charity, which entitles us to a seat at the heavenly banquet! Let us prepare ourselves for the unspeakable destiny reserved for us by love. To this end are directed all the labours of this life: toils, struggles, sufferings for God’s sake, all adorn with priceless jewels the garment of grace, the clothing of the elect. Blessed are they that mourn! (St. Matth, v. 5)
They that have gone before us, wept as they turned the furrows and cast in the seed; but now their triumphant joy overflows upon us as an anticipated glory in this valley of tears. Without waiting for the dawn of eternity, the present solemnity gives us to enter by hope into the land of light, whither our fathers have followed Jesus the divine forerunner. Do not the thorns of suffering lose their sharpness, at the sight of the eternal joys into which they are to blossom? Does not the happiness of the dear departed cause a heavenly sweetness to mingle with our sorrow? Let us hearken to the chants of deliverance sung by those for whom we weep; little and great, this is the feast of them all, as it will one day be ours. At this season, when cold and darkness prevail, nature herself, stripping off her last adornments, seems to be preparing the world for the passage of the human race into the heavenly country. Let us, then, sing with the psalmist: ‘I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord. Our feet as yet stand only in thy outer courts; but we see thy building ever going on, O Jerusalem, city of peace, compacted together in concord and love. To thee do the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, praising the name of the Lord; thy vacant seats are being filled up. May all good things be for them that love thee, O Jerusalem; may peace be in thy strength, and abundance in thy towers. For the sake of my brethren and of my neighbours, who are already thy inhabitants, I take pleasure in thee; because of the Lord our God, whose dwelling thou art, I have placed in thee all my desire.’ (Ps, cxxi)
When Rome had completed the conquest of the world, she dedicated to all the gods, in token of her gratitude, the Pantheon, the most durable monument of her power. But when she herself had been conquered by Christ, and invested by Him with the empire over souls, she withdrew her homage from vain idols and offered it to the Martyrs; for they, praying for her as she slew them, had rendered her truly eternal. To the Martyrs, then, and to Mary their Queen, she consecrated for ever, on the morrow of her merciful chastisement, the now purified Pantheon.
“Come forth from your dwellings, ye Saints of God, hasten to the place prepared for you.” (Pontificate Rom. Ant. in Eccl. dedicatione) For three centuries the catacombs were the resting-place of our Lord's athletes, when they were borne from the arena. These valiant warriors deserved the honours of a triumph far better than did the great victors of old. In 312, however, Rome, disarmed but not yet changed in heart, was not at all disposed to applaud the men who had conquered the gods of Olympus and of the Capitol. While the Cross surmounted her ramparts, the white-robed army still lay entrenched in the subterranean crypts that surrounded the city like so many outworks. Three centuries more were granted to Rome, that she might make satisfaction to God's justice, and take full cognizance of the salvation reserved for her by His mercy. In 609 the patient work of grace was completed; the Sovereign Pontiff Boniface IV uttered the word for the sacred crypts to yield up their treasures. It was a solemn moment, a forerunner of that wherein the Angel's trumpet-call shall sound over the sepulchres of the world. The successor of St. Peter, in all his apostolic majesty and surrounded by an immense crowd, presented himself at the entrance of the catacombs. He was attended by eighteen chariots magnificently adorned for the conveyance of the Martyrs. The ancient triumphal way opened before the Saints; the sons of the Quirites sang in their honour: “You shall come with joy and proceed with gladness; for behold, the mountains and the hills exult, awaiting you with joy. Arise, ye Saints of God, come forth from your hiding-places; enter into Rome, which is now the holy city; bless the Roman people following you to the temple of the false gods, which is now dedicated as your own church, there to adore together with you the majesty of the Lord.” (Cf. Pontifical. Rom. Ant. in Eccl. dedicat.)
Thus, after six centuries of persecution and destruction, the Martyrs had the last word; and it was a word of blessing, a signal of grace for the great city hitherto drunk with the blood of Christians. More than rehabilitated by the reception she was giving to the witnesses of Christ, she was now not merely Rome, but the new Sion, the privileged city of the Lord. She now burned before the saints the incense they had refused to offer to her idols; their blood had flowed before the very altar on which she now invited them to rest, since the usurpers had been hurled back into the abyss. It was a happy inspiration that induced her, when she dedicated to the holy Martyrs the temple built by Marcus Agrippa and restored by Severus Augustus, to leave upon its pediment the names of its original constructors and the title they had given it; for then only did the famous monument truly merit its name, when Christian Rome could apply to the new inhabitants of the Pantheon those words of the psalm: ‘I have said, you are gods.’ (Ps, lxxxi. 6) The thirteenth of May was the day of their triumphant installation.
Every dedication on earth reminds the Church, as she herself tells us, of the assembly of the Saints, the living stones of the eternal dwelling which God is building for Himself in Heaven. It is not astonishing, then, that the dedication of Agrippa's Pantheon, under the above-mentioned circumstances, should have originated the Feast of today. Its anniversary, recalling the memory of the Martyrs collectively, satisfied the Church's desire of honouring year by year all her blessed sons who had died for the Lord; for, at an early date it became impossible to celebrate each of them on the day of his glorious death. In the age of peace there was added to the cultus of the Martyrs that of the other just, who daily sanctified themselves in all the paths of heroism opened out to Christian courage. The thought of uniting these with the former in one common solemnity, which would supply for the unavoidable omission of many of them, followed naturally upon the initiative given by Boniface IV.
In 732, in the first half of that eighth century which was such a grand age for the Church, Gregory III dedicated, at St. Peter's on the Vatican, an oratory in honour of the Saviour, of His blessed Mother, of the holy Apostles, of all the holy Martyrs, Confessors, and perfect Just, who repose throughout the world. A dedication under so extensive a title did not, it is true, imply the establishment of our feast of All Saints by the illustrious pontiff; yet from this period it began to be celebrated by divers churches, and that, too, on November 1, as is attested, with regard to England, by Venerable Bede's Martyrology and the pontifical of Egbert of York. It was far, however, from being universal, when in the year 835 Louis le Débonnaire, at the request of Gregory IV, and with the consent of all the bishops of his realm, made its celebration obligatory by law. This decree was welcomed by the whole Church and adopted as her own, says Ado, with reverence and love.
The councils of Spain and Gaul, as early as the sixth century, mention a custom then existing, of sanctifying the commencement of November by three days of penance and litanies, like the Rogation days which precede the Feast of our Lord's Ascension. The fast on the Vigil of All Saints is the only remaining vestige of this custom of our forefathers [omitted since 1955 by Pope Pius XII], who, after the institution of the Feast, advanced the triduum of penance, so as to make it a preparation for the solemnity itself. “Let our devotion be complete,” is the recommendation of a contemporaneous author; “let us prepare ourselves for this most holy solemnity by three days of fasting, prayer, and almsdeeds.”
When extended to the entire world, the feast became complete; it was made equal to the greatest solemnities, and widened its horizon till it reached the infinite, embracing uncreated as well as created sanctity. Its object was now, not only Mary and the Martyrs; not only all the just children of Adam; but, moreover, the nine choirs of Angels, and above all the Holy Trinity itself, God Who is all in all, the King of kings, that is, of the Saints, the God of gods in Sion. Hear how the Church awakes her children on this day: “Come let us adore the Lord, the King of kings, for He is the crown of all the Saints.” (Invitatory of the Feast) Such was the invitation addressed by our Lord Himself to St. Mechtilde, the chantress of Helfta, the privileged one of His Divine Heart: “Praise Me, for that I am the crown of all the Saints.” The virgin then beheld all the beauty of the elect and their glory drawing increase from the Blood of Christ, and resplendent with the virtues practiced by Him; and, responding to our Lord's appeal, she praised with all her might the blissful and ever-adorable Trinity, for deigning to be to the Saints their diadem and their admirable dignity.
Ancient documents referring to this day inform us that on the Calends of November the same eagerness was shown as at Christmas to assist at the Holy Sacrifice. However general the Feast was, or rather because of its universality, was it not the special joy of every one, and the honour of Christian families? Taking a holy pride in the persons whose virtues they handed down to posterity, they considered the heavenly glory of their ancestors, who had perhaps been unknown in the world, to be a higher nobility than any earthly dignity.
Faith was lively in those days; and Christians seized the opportunity of this feast to make amends for the neglect, voluntary or involuntary, suffered during the year by the blessed inscribed on the general Calendar. In the famous Bull Transiturus de hoc mundo, by which he established the feast of Corpus Christi, Urban IV mentions this as one of the motives that had led to the prior institution of All Saints; and expresses a hope that the new solemnity may in like manner compensate for the distractions and coldness of the rest of the year towards this Divine Sacrament, wherein He resides Who is the crown and glory of all Saints.
At the time of his birth, the Man-God, through the instrumentality of Cæsar Augustus, took a census of the world; it was fitting that on the eve of the Redemption the statistics of the human race should be officially registered. And now it is time to make a fresh enrollment, and to enter in the Book of Life the results of the work of Redemption.
“Wherefore this numbering of the world at the time of our Lord's birth,” says St. Gregory in one of the Christmas homilies, “save for this manifest reason, that He was appearing in the Flesh, Who is to enregister the elect in eternity?” But, many having withdrawn themselves by their own fault from the benefit of the first enrollment, which included all men in the ranks of those to be redeemed, there was need of a second and definitive registration, which should cancel the names of the guilty. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and with the just let them not be written (Ps, lxviii. 29); such are the words of the Psalmist, quoted by St. Gregory in the above homily.
LESSON. The Apocalypse of St. John, vii. 2
In those days; Behold I, John, saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, who had received power to hurt the earth and the sea, and said; hurt not the earth, nor the sea, nor the trees, till we have marked the servants of our God on their foreheads. And I heard the number of those that were marked, to be an hundred forty-four thousand out of all the tribes of the children of Israel. There were marked of the tribe of Juda twelve thousand, twelve thousand of the tribe of Ruben, twelve thousand signed of the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand of the tribe of Aser, twelve thousand of the tribe of Nephthali, twelve thousand of the tribe of Manasses, twelve thousand of the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand of the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand of the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand of the tribe of Zabulon, twelve thousand of the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand of the tribe of Benjamin. After this I saw a great multitude, which no one could number, of all nations, and tribes, and people, and tongues, standing before the throne, and in sight of the lamb, clothed in white robes, and palms in their hands: and they cried out with a loud voice, saying: Salvation to our God, that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb. And all the Angels stood round about the throne, and about the Elders and the four living creatures, and they fell before the throne on their faces, and adored God, saying: Amen. Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, honour, power, and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen.
Today, however, the Church is too full of joy to think of any but the elect; they alone take part in the glorious close of human history described in the Epistle. Indeed, they alone are reckoned before God; the reprobate are but the waste of a world where sanctity alone responds to the Creator's advances, to the ventures of His infinite love. Let our souls be supple to receive the Divine stamp, which is to render us conformable to the image of the only-begotten Son, and mark us out as God's coin. Whoever is unwilling to receive the Divine impress will inevitably be marked with the character of the beast (Apoc, xiii. 16); and when the Angels come to make the final settlement, every coin unfit to bear the Divine stamp will fall into the furnace where the dross will burn eternally.
Fear the Lord, all ye his Saints: for there is no want to them that fear him. But they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good (Gradual of All Saints). Let us then, as the Gradual recommends, live in fear; not that of the slave, who dreads punishment; but that filial fear, which is anxious never to displease Him from Whom are all good things, and Whose kindness deserves all our love in return. Without losing aught of their beatitude, or diminishing their love, the angelic Powers and all the Saints in Heaven prostrate with a holy trembling beneath the gaze of God's awful majesty.
Earth is so near to Heaven today that the one thought which fills all hearts is happiness. The Friend, the Bridegroom, the Divine Brother of Adam's children, comes and sits down among them, and talks of blessedness: “Come to Me all you that labour and suffer,” sang the Alleluia-verse, that sweet echo from our fatherland reminding us withal of our exile. And immediately in the Gospel appears the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour. Let us listen to Him, teaching us the ways of blessed hope, the holy delights which are at once an assurance and a foretaste of the perfect bliss of Heaven.
GOSPEL according to St. Mathew, Ch, v. 1-12.
At that time: Jesus seeing the multitudes, he went up a mountain, and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: and opening his mouth, he taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall have their fill. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peace-makers: for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you untruly, on my account: be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven.
On Sinai Jehovah held the Jew at a distance, giving him precepts under pain of death. On the summit of this other mountain where the Son of God is seated how differently the Law of love is promulgated! In the New Testament, the eight beatitudes have taken the place occupied in the Old by the Decalogue graven on stone. Not that the beatitudes repeal the Commandments; but their superabundant justice goes far beyond all prescriptions. It is from His Heart that Jesus brought them forth in order to imprint them, more lastingly than on stone, in the hearts of His people. They are the portrait of the Son of Man, the summary of our Redeemer's life. Look then, and do according to the pattern that was shown thee in the mount (Exodus, xxv. 40)
Poverty was the first mark of our God in Bethlehem; and who ever appeared so meek as Mary's Child? Who wept for more noble causes than he in his crib, where he was already expiating our sins and appeasing His Father? They that hunger after justice, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers: where, save in Him, will they find the incomparable ideal, never attained yet ever imitable? And by His death He became the leader of all those who are persecuted for justice’ sake. In this the highest beatitude on earth the Incarnate Word takes delight, returning upon it, detailing it, and closing with it in today's Gospel as with a song of ecstasy. The Church has never had any other ideal; she has ever walked in the footsteps of her Spouse, and her history throughout the ages has been but the prolonged echo of the Beatitudes. Let us also understand; that we may be blessed both in this world and in the next, let us follow our Lord and the Church.
Feast of All Saints.
The church in this great festival honours all the saints reigning together in glory; first, to give thanks to God for the graces and crowns of all his elect: secondly, to excite ourselves to a fervent imitation of their virtues by considering the holy example of so many faithful servants of God of all ages, sexes, and conditions, and by contemplating the inexpressible and eternal bliss which they already enjoy, and to which we are invited: thirdly, to implore the divine mercy through this multitude of powerful intercessors: fourthly, to repair any failures or sloth in not having duly honoured God in his saints on their particular festivals, and to glorify him in the saints which are unknown to us, or for which no particular festivals are appointed. Therefore our fervour on this day ought to be such, that it may be a reparation of our sloth in all the other feasts of the year; they being all comprised in this one solemn commemoration, which is an image of that eternal great feast which God himself continually celebrates in heaven with all his saints, whom we humbly join in praising his adorable goodness for all his mercies, particularly for all treasures of grace which he has most munificently heaped upon them. In this and all other festivals of the saints, God is the only object of supreme worship, and the whole of that inferior veneration which is paid to the saints is directed to give sovereign honour to God alone, whose gifts their graces are: and our addresses to them are only petitions to holy fellow creatures for the assistance of their prayers to God for us. When, therefore, we honour the saints, in them and through them we honour God, and Christ, true God and true man, the Redeemer and Saviour of mankind, the King of the Saints, and the source of all their sanctity and glory. In his blood they have washed their robes: from him they derive all their purity, whiteness, and lustre. We consider their virtues as copies taken from him, the great Original, as streams from his fountain, or as images of his virtues produced by the effusion of his spirit and grace in them. His divine life is their great exemplar and prototype, and in the characteristical virtues of each saint, some of his most eminent virtues are particularly set forth; his hidden life in the solitude of the anchorets; his spotless purity in the virgins; his patience or charity in some; his divine zeal in others; in them all in some degree his plenitude of all virtue and sanctity. Nor are the virtues of the saints only transcripts and copies of the life or spirit of Christ; they are also the fruit of his redemption; entirely his gifts and graces. And when we honour the saints we honour and praise him who is the Author of all their good; so that all festivals of saints are instituted to honour God and our Blessed Redeemer.
In all feasts of saints, especially in this solemn festival of All Saints, it ought to be the first part of our devotion to praise and thank God for the infinite goodness he has displayed in favour of his elect. A primary and most indispensable homage we owe to God, is that of praise, the first act of love and complacency in God and his adorable perfections. Hence the Psalms, the most perfect and inspired model of devotions, repeat no sentiments so frequently or with so much ardour as those of divine adoration and praise. This is the uninterrupted sweet employment of the blessed in heaven to all eternity; and the contemplation of the divine love, and other perfections, is a perpetual incentive inflaming them continually afresh in it, so that they cannot cease pouring forth all their affections, and exhausting all their powers; and conceive every moment new ardour in this happy function of pure love. So many holy solitaries of both sexes in this life have renounced all commerce and pleasures of the world, to devote themselves wholly to the mixed exercises of praise and love, and of compunction and humble supplication. In these, all servants of God find their spiritual strength, refreshment, advancement, delight, and joy. If they are not able here below to praise God incessantly with their voice or actual affections of their hearts, they study to do it always by desire, and by all their actions strive to make the whole tenour of their life an uninterrupted homage of praise to God. This tribute we pay him, first, for his own adorable majesty, justice, sanctity, power, goodness, and glory; rejoicing in the boundless infinitude of his perfections we call forth all our own faculties and all our strength; summon all the choir of the creation to praise him, and find it our delight to be vanquished and overwhelmed by his unexhausted greatness, to which all our praises are infinitely inadequate, and of which all conceptions fall infinitely short; so as not to bear the least degree of proportion to them. To aid our weakness, and supply our insufficiency, in magnifying the infinite Lord of all things, and exalting his glory, we have recourse to the spotless victim, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, put into our hands for us to offer a holocaust of infinite price, equal to the majesty of the Godhead. We also rejoice in the infinite glory which God possesses in himself, and from himself. Deriving from himself infinite greatness and infinite happiness, he stands not in need of our goods, and can receive no accession from our homages as to internal glory; in which consists his sovereign bliss. But there is an external glory which he receives from the obedience and praise of his creatures, which, though it increase not his happiness, is nevertheless indispensably due to him, and an external homage with which all beings are bound to sound forth his sovereign power and sanctity. Nor do we owe him this only for his own greatness and glory, which he possesses in himself, but also for the goodness, justice, wisdom, and power which he manifests in all his works. Compounds of the divine mercies, as we are, we are bound to give to God incessant thanks for all the benefits both in the order of nature and of grace, which he has gratuitously conferred upon us. We owe him also an acknowledgment of praise and thanksgiving for all his creatures from the beginning, and for all the wonders he has wrought in them or in their behalf. For this the psalmist and the prophets so often rehearse his mighty works, and invite all beings to magnify his holy name for them.
It is in his saints that he is wonderful above all his other works (Ps, lxvii. 36). For them was this world framed: for their sakes is it preserved and governed. In the revolutions of states and empires, and in the extirpation or conservation of cities and nations, God has his elect chiefly in view. By the secret unerring order of his most tender and all-wise providence, “All things work together for good to them.” (Rom, viii. 28) For their sake will God shorten the evil days in the last period of the world. (St. Mark, xiii. 20) For the sanctification of one chosen soul he often conducts innumerable second causes and hidden springs. Nor can we wonder hereat, seeing that for his elect his coeternal Son was born and died, has wrought so many wonders, performed so many mysteries, instituted so many great sacraments, and established his church on earth. The justification of a sinner, the sanctification of a soul is the fruit of numberless stupendous works, the most wonderful exertion of infinite goodness and mercy, and of Almighty power. The creation of the universe out of nothing is a work which can bear no comparison with the salvation of a soul through the redemption of Christ. And with what infinite condescension and tenderness does the Lord of all things watch over every one of his elect! With what unspeakable invisible gifts does he adorn them! To how sublime and astonishing a dignity does he exalt them, making them companions of his blessed angels, and co-heirs with his Divine Son! Weak and frail men, plunged in the gulf of sin, he, by his omnipotent arm, and by the most adorable and stupendous mercy, has rescued from the slavery of the devil and jaws of hell; has cleansed them from all stains; and by the ornaments of his grace, has rendered them most beautiful and glorious. And with what honour has he crowned them. To what an immense height of immortal glory has he raised them! and by what means? His grace conducted them by humility, patience, charity, and penance, through ignominies, torments, pains, sorrows, mortifications, and temptations to joy and bliss, by the cross to their crowns. Lazarus, who here below was covered with ulcers, and denied the crumbs of bread which fell from the rich man's table, is now seated on a throne of glory, and replenished with delights, which neither eye hath seen nor ear hath heard. Poor fishermen, here the outcast of the world, are made assessors with Christ in judging the world at the last day; so great will be the glory and honour with which they will be placed on thrones at his right hand, and bear testimony to the equity of the sentence which he will pronounce against the wicked. “Thy friends are exceedingly honoured, O God.” (Ps, cxxxviii. 16) These glorious citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem he has chosen out of all the tribes of the children of Israel, (Apoc, vii. 3, 4, &c) and out of all nations, without any distinction of Greek or barbarian; persons of all ages, showing there is no age which is not ripe or fit for heaven; and out of all states and conditions; in the throne amidst the pomp of worldly grandeur; in the cottage; in the army; in trade; in the magistracy; clergymen, monks, virgins, married persons, widows, slaves, and freemen. In a word, what state is there that has not been honoured with its saints? And they were all made saints by the very occupations of their states, and by the ordinary occurrences of life; prosperity and adversity; health and sickness; honour and contempt; riches and poverty; all which they made the means of their sanctification by the constant exercise of patience, humility, meekness, charity, resignation, and devotion. This is the “manifold grace of God.” (I Pet, iv. 10) He has employed all means, he has set all things at work “to show in ages to come the abundant riches of his grace.” (Eph, ii. 7) How do these happy souls, eternal monuments of God's infinite power and clemency, praise his goodness without ceasing! “I will sing to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously,” &c (Exod, xv. 1, 2, 11, 13, 18). And casting their crowns before his throne they give to him all the glory of their triumphs. (Apoc, iv. 11; Ps, cxv. 1) “His gifts alone in us he crowns.” We are called upon with the whole church militant on earth to join the church triumphant in heaven in praising and thanking our most merciful God for the graces and glory he has bestowed on his saints. Shall we not, at the same time, earnestly conjure him to exert his omnipotence and mercy in raising us from all our spiritual miseries and sins, healing the disorders of our souls, and conducting us through the paths of true penance to the happy company of his saints, to which he has vouchsafed most graciously to invite us?
Nothing can more powerfully incite us to aspire with all our strength to the incomparable happiness and blessed company of the saints than their example. Nor can anything more strongly inflame us with holy emulation than the constant meditation on that glory of which they are even now possessed, and in which they earnestly wait for us to join them. How does their immortality inspire us with a contempt of the inconstant, perishable, and false honours of this world! How does the unspeakable joy of that state, which satisfies all the desires and fills the whole capacity of the heart, make us sovereignly despise the false, empty pleasures of this life, and trample under our feet the threats and persecutions of a blind world, with all that we can suffer from it or in it! Are we not transported out of ourselves at the thought that, by the divine mercy and grace, we are capable of attaining to this state of immense and endless bliss? And do we not from our hearts this moment bid adieu for ever to all pursuits, occupations, and desires which can be an impediment to us herein, and embrace all means which can secure to us the possession of our great and only good. Do we not burn with a holy desire of being admitted into the society of the friends of God, and being crowned by him in this blessed company with eternal joy and glory.
Do we complain of our frailty? The saints were made of the same mould with us. But being sensible of their weakness, they were careful to retrench all incentives of their passions, to shun all dangerous occasions of sin, to ground themselves in the most profound humility, and to strengthen themselves by the devout use of the sacraments, prayer, an entire distrust in themselves, and other means of grace. It was by the strength they received from above, not by their own, that they triumphed over both their domestic and their external enemies. We have the same succours by which they were victorious. The blood of Christ was shed for us as it was for them; the all-powerful grace of our Redeemer is not wanting to us, but the failure is in ourselves. If difficulties start up, if temptations affright us, if enemies stand in our way like monsters and giants, which seem ready to devour us, (Num, xiii. 34) let us not lose courage, but redouble our earnestness, crying out with Josue, (Num, xiv. 9) “The Lord is with us. Why do we fear?” If the world pursue us, let us remember that the saints fought against it in all its shapes. If our passions are violent, Jesus has furnished us with arms to tame them, and hold them in subjection. How furious assaults have many saints sustained in which they were supported by victorious grace! Many, with the Baptist, happily prevented the rebellion of these domestic enemies by early watchfulness, abstinence, and retirement. Others God suffered for their own advantage to feel their furious buffets; but animated them to vigilance and fervour, and crowned them with victories by which they at length brought these enemies into subjection. Of this many are instances who had had the misfortune formerly to have fortified their passions by criminal habits. St. Austin, after having been engaged many years in irregular courses, conquered them. How many other holy penitents broke stronger chains than ours can be, by courageously using violence upon themselves, and became eminent saints! Can we, then, for shame think the difficulties we apprehend an excuse for our sloth, which, when we resolutely encounter them, we shall find to be more imaginary than real? Shall we shrink at the thought of self-denial, penance, or prayer? Shall not we dare to undertake or to do what numberless happy troops of men and women have done, and daily do? So many tender virgins, so many youths of the most delicate complexion and education, so many princes and kings, by many of all ages, constitutions, and conditions have courageously walked before us! “Canst not thou do what these and those persons of both sexes have done?” said St. Austin to himself. Their example wonderfully inspires us with resolution, and silences all the pretexts of pusillanimity. To set before our eyes a perfect model of the practice of true virtue, the Son of God became man, and lived amongst us. That we may not say the example of a Godman is too exalted for us, we have that of innumerable saints, who, inviting us to take up the sweet yoke of Christ, say to us with St. Paul, “Be you imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” (I Cor, xi. 1) They were men in all respects like ourselves, so that our sloth and cowardice can have no excuse. They form a cloud of witnesses, demonstrating to us, from their own experience, that the practice of Christian perfection is easy and sweet. They will rise up and condemn the wicked at the last day, covering them with inexpressible confusion; “Thou raisest up thy witnesses against me.” (Job, x. 17) To animate and encourage ourselves in the vigorous pursuit of Christian perfection, and in advancing towards the glory of the saints, we ought often to lift up our eyes to heaven, and contemplate these glorious conquerors of the world, clothed with robes of immortality, and say to ourselves, These were once mortal, weak men, subject to passions and miseries as we are now; and if we are faithful to our sacred engagements to God, we shall very shortly be made companions of their glory, and attain to the same bliss. But for this we must walk in their steps; that is to say, we must with them take up our cross, renounce the world and ourselves, and make our lives a course of labour, prayer, and penance. We are lost if we seek any other path. We must either renounce the world and the flesh with the saints, or we renounce heaven with the wicked.
There is but one Gospel, but one Redeemer and divine Legislator, Jesus Christ, and but one heaven. No other road can lead us thither but that which he has traced out to us: the rule of salvation laid down by him is invariable. It is a most pernicious and false persuasion, either that Christians in the world are not bound to aim at perfection, or that they may be saved by a different path from that of the saints. The torrent of example in the world imperceptibly instils this error into the minds of many, that there is a kind of middle way of going to heaven; and under this notion, because the world does not live up to the gospel, they bring the gospel down to the level or standard of the world. It is not by the example of the world that we are to measure the Christian rule, but by the pure maxims of the gospel. All Christians are commanded to labour to become holy and perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect, and to bear his image, and resemble him by spotless sanctity, that we may be his children. We are obliged by the law of the gospel to die to ourselves by the extinction of inordinate self-love in our hearts, by the crucifixion of the old man, and the mastery and regulation of our passions. It is no less indispensable an injunction laid on us than on them, that we be animated with, and live by, the Spirit of Christ; that is, the spirit of sincere and perfect humility, meekness, charity, patience, piety, and all other divine virtues. These are the conditions under which Christ makes us his promises, and enrols us among his children, as is manifest from all the divine instructions which he has given us in the gospel, and those which the apostles have left us in their inspired writings. Here is no distinction made between the apostles, or clergymen, or religious and secular persons. The former, indeed, take upon themselves certain stricter obligations, as means of accomplishing more easily and more perfectly these lessons; but the law of sanctity and of a disengagement of the heart from the world is general, and binds all the followers of Christ, all who can be entitled to inherit his promises. Now, what marks do we find in the lives of Christians of this crucifixion of their passions, and of the Spirit of Christ reigning in their hearts and actions? Do not detraction, envy, jealousy, anger, antipathies, resentments, vanity, love of the world, ambition, and pride discover themselves in their conversation and conduct, and as strongly as in the very heathens? It is in vain to plead that these are sins of surprise. It is manifest that they are sins of habit, and that these passions hold the empire in their hearts. An interior disposition of charity, meekness, and other virtues, would give a very contrary turn to their conversation and behaviour, and would make them like the saints, humble, peaceable, mild, obliging to all, and severe only to themselves. The dirt lies always lurking in their hearts; the provocation and occasion only stirs it up, and shows it to be there. It is in vain that such persons shelter themselves under a pretended course of a pious life, and allege that they are regular in their prayers, in frequenting the sacraments, and in other duties, and are liberal in their alms; all this is imperfect so long as they neglect the foundation, which is the mortification of their passions. They are unacquainted with the very soul of a Christian spirit, which was that of all the saints.
What, then, is the first duty of one who desires to become a disciple of Christ? This is a most important point which very few sufficiently attend to. The first thing which a Christian is bound to study is, in what manner he is to die to himself and his passions. This is the preliminary article or condition which Christ requires of him before he can be admitted into his divine school. For this such a practice of the exterior mortification of the senses is necessary that they may be kept under due government; but the interior denial of the will and restraint of the passions is the most essential part, and is chiefly effected by extirpating pride, vanity, revenge, and other irregular passions, and planting in the heart the most perfect spirit of humility, meekness, patience, and charity. The motives and rules of these virtues ought to be studied and meditated upon, according to every one's capacity; both interior and exterior acts of each must be frequently and fervently exercised, and the contrary vices diligently watched against and vigorously curbed. By diligent self-examination all the foldings of the heart must be laid open, every vicious inclination discovered, and the axe laid to the root, that the disorder may be cut off. Thus must we study to die to ourselves. By the frequent use of the sacraments, assiduous prayer, pious reading or meditation, and the practice of devout aspirations, we must unite our souls to God. This crucifixion of self-love and union of our hearts to God are the two general means by which the Spirit of Christ must be formed and daily improved in us, and by which we shall be imitators of the saints. This task requires earnest application, and some consideration and leisure from business. How much time do we give to every other improvement of mind or body! the student to cultivate his understanding in any art or science; the artisan to learn his trade; and so of every other profession. And shall we not find time to reform our hearts, and to adorn our souls with virtue? which is our great and only business, upon which the good use of all other qualifications, and both our temporal and eternal happiness, depend. In virtue consists the true excellence and dignity of our nature. Against this great application to the means of our sanctification some object the dissipation and hurry of the world in which they live; they doubt not but they could do this if they were monks or hermits. All this is mere illusion. Instead of confessing their own sloth to be the source of their disorders, they charge their faults on their state and circumstances in the world. But we have all the reason in the world to conclude that the conduct of such persons would be more scandalous and irregular in a monastery than it is in the world. Everything is a danger to him who carries the danger about with him.
But, can anyone pretend that seculars can be excused from the obligation of subduing their passions, retrenching sin, and aiming at perfection? Are they not bound to save their souls—that is, to be saints? God, who commands all to aim at perfection, yet whose will it is at the same time that to live in the world should be the general state of mankind, is not contrary to himself. That all places in the world should be filled, is God's express command; also that the duties of every station in it be faithfully complied with (I Cor, vii. 20). He requires not, then, that men abandon their employs in the world, but that by a disengagement of heart, and religious motive or intention, they sanctify them. Thus has every lawful station in the world been adorned with saints. God obliges not men in the world to leave their business; on the contrary, he commands them diligently to discharge every branch of their temporal stewardship. The tradesman is bound to attend to his shop, the husbandman to his tillage, the servant to his work, the master to the care of his household and estates. These are essential duties which men owe to God, to the public, to themselves, and to their children and families; a neglect of which, whatever else they do, will suffice to damn them. But then, they must always reserve to themselves leisure for spiritual and religious duties; they must also sanctify all the duties of their profession. This is to be done by a good intention. It is the motive of our actions upon which, in a moral and Christian sense, the greatest part, or sometimes the whole of every action depends. This is the soul of our actions; this determines them, forms their character, and makes them virtues or vices. If avarice, vain glory, sensuality, or the like inordinate inclinations influence the course of our actions, it is evident to what class they belong; and this is the poison which infects even the virtuous part of those who have never studied to mortify their passions. Thus the very virtues of the foolish drudgers for popular fame among the ancient philosophers were false; they have already received their reward, the empty applause of men. The Christian who would please God, must carefully exclude in his actions all interested views of self-love, and direct all things he does purely to the glory of God, desiring only to accomplish his holy will in the most perfect manner. Thus a spirit of divine love and zeal, of compunction, penance, patience, and other virtues, will animate and sanctify his labour, and all that he does. In the course of all these actions he must watch against the dangerous insinuation of his passions, must study on all occasions to exercise humility, meekness, charity, and other virtues, the opportunities of which continually occur; and he ought from time to time, by some short fervent aspiration, to raise his heart to God. Thus the Isidores and Homobons sanctified their employs. Did the Pauls or Antonies do more in their deserts? unless, perhaps, the disengagement of their hearts, and the purity and fervour of their affections and intentions were more perfect; upon which a soul's progress in sanctity depends.
But slothful Christians allege the difficulty of this precept; they think that perfectly to die to themselves is a severe injunction. God forbid any one should widen the path which the Saviour of the world has declared to be narrow. It is doubtless difficult, and requires resolution and courage. Who can think that heaven will cost him nothing which cost all the saints so much? What temporal advantage is gained without pains? The bread of labourers, the riches of misers, the honours of the ambitious, cost much anxiety and pains; yet, what empty shadows, what racking tortures, what real miseries are the enjoyment which worldlings purchase at so dear a rate! But it is only to our inordinate appetites (which we are bound to mortify, and the mortification of which will bring us liberty and true joy) that the doctrine of self-denial appears harsh. And its fruits in the soul are the reign of divine love; and the sweet “peace of God which passeth all understanding,” (Phil, iv. 7) which springs from the government of the passions, and the presence of the Holy Ghost in the soul, and is attended with a pure and holy joy which fills the whole capacity of the heart, and which the whole world can never take from the servant of God. This precious gift and comfort does not totally forsake him under the severest interior trials, with which God suffers his servants to be sometimes visited in this life for their greatest advantage; under which they are also supported by the prospect of eternal glory. And even in this present life their sufferings are often repaid by the inexpressible consolations which the Holy Ghost infuses into their hearts, so that they receive a hundred fold for all that they have forsaken for God. “The wicked have told me their fables; but not as thy law, O Lord.” (Ps, cxviii. 85) “A voice of joy and salvation rings in the tabernacles of the just.” (Ps, cxvii. 15)
Have we not then reason to conclude, with St. Chrysostom, that happiness is not to be sought in the gratification of pride and worldly passions, which the oracles of eternal truth clearly confirm? But we are assured by the same unerring authority, that it is to be found in a steady practice of virtue. Hence the virtues in which the renunciation of ourselves consist, as humility, compunction, meekness, and the rest, (St. Matth, v) are by our divine Redeemer himself styled Beatitudes, because they not only lead to happiness, but also bring with them a present happiness, such as our state of trial is capable of. This Christ gives in the bargain, as an earnest of his love and promises. But the recompense of the saints reserved in the kingdom of God's glory is such as alone to make everything that can be suffered here, for so great a crown, light and of no consideration. The examples of the saints show us the path; and their glory strongly animates our hope, and excites our fervour. “It is our interest,” says St. Bernard, “to honour the memory of the saints, not theirs. Would you know how it is our interest? From the remembrance of them I feel, I confess, a triple vehement desire kindled in my breast—of their company, of their bliss, and of their intercession. First, of their company. To think of the saints is in some measure to see them. Thus we are in part, and this the better part of ourselves, in the land of the living, provided our affection goes along with our thoughts or remembrance: yet not as they are. The saints are there present, and in their persons; we are there only in affection and desires. Ah! when shall we join our fathers? when shall we be made the fellow-citizens of the blessed spirits, of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and virgins? when shall we be mixed in the choir of the saints? The remembrance of each one among the saints is, as it were, a new spark, or rather torch, which sets our souls more vehemently on fire, and makes us ardently sigh to behold and embrace them, so that we seem to ourselves even now to be amongst them. And from this distant place of banishment we dart our affections sometimes towards the whole assembly, sometimes towards this, and sometimes that happy spirit. What sloth is it that we do not launch our souls into the midst of those happy troops, and burst hence by continual sighs! The church of the first-born waits for us; yet we loiter. The saints earnestly long for our arrival; yet we despise them. Let us with all the ardour of our souls prevent those who are expecting us; let us hasten to those who are waiting for us.” Secondly, he mentions the desire of their bliss; and, lastly, the succour of their intercession, and adds, “Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you, my friends. You know our danger, our frail mould, our ignorance, and the snares of our enemies; you know our weakness, and the fury of their assaults. For I speak to you who have been under the like temptation; who have overcome the like assaults; have escaped the like snares, and have learned compassion from what yourselves have suffered.—We are members of the same Head.—Your glory is not to be consummated without us,” &c.
This succour of the saints' intercession is another advantage which we reap by celebrating their festivals, of which the same St. Bernard writes: “He who was powerful on earth is more powerful in heaven, where he stands before the face of his Lord. And if he had compassion on sinners, and prayed for them whilst he lived on earth, he now prays to the Father for us so much the more earnestly as he more truly knows our extreme necessities and miseries; his blessed country has not changed, but increased his charity. Though now impassible, he is not a stranger to compassion: by standing before the throne of mercy, he has put on the tender bowels of mercy,” &c.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. VI, Edition 1903;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
Ye Angels, Archangels, Thrones and Dominations, Principalities and Powers, Virtues of the heavens, Cherubim and Seraphim, Patriarchs and Prophets, holy Doctors of the law, and Apostles; all ye Martyrs of Christ, Confessors and Virgins of the Lord, Anchorets, and all ye saints make intercession for us.