A Lenten reflection for Friday after Ash Wednesday from Holy Cross Publications
Prayer Before Meditation
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On the Disciples who Slept when in the Garden of Olives.
Represent to yourself today the three disciples whom our Lord took with Him to the Garden of Olives. While the Redeemer prayed and wrestled in His awful agony, they fell asleep, overcome with weariness, grief and distress. They slept while He watched; they slumbered quietly while He, desolate and alone, engaged in an appalling conflict; they slumbered, while Satan like a roaring lion went about them, and every moment the dangers impending over them and over their Master grew more menacing, more imminent. And when Jesus presently came to them, partly as one who, being sorely distressed, is driven to seek companionship and sympathy by the horror that oppresses him, partly as a faithful shepherd, who although himself agitated to the utmost degree, still keeps watch over his flock when it is in peril: when the Saviour, thus coming to them, found them asleep, in the loneliness of His soul He cried in anguish: “What! could you not watch one hour with Me?” (St. Matt. xxvi. 40.) Keep this sad scene before your mind whilst you meditate on this subject.
1st. The friends of Jesus sleep; His enemies watch. Judas, who betrayed Him, watches; the Pharisees and chief priests, who assembled to judge and condemn Him, watch; the soldiers approaching to apprehend Him also watch, but the apostles are asleep; even the impulsive, warm-hearted Peter, who vowed that he would die with his Master, is no exception. So it ever has been. The enemies of our Lord and of His Church are always more vigilant, more energetic, more active than His friends. Yes, my soul, you cannot deny that you too deserve to hear that sorrowful exclamation from Jesus lips: “What! could you not watch one hour with Me?” Alas! how unwatchful you are over your senses, over the souls entrusted to your care, over the Community you govern. And while you sleep, Judas, far more vigilant than you are, is drawing near; the myrmidons of the devil are drawing near; they will take our Lord, they will take His grace away from your own soul, from your Community, from your flock. Listen to-day to His voice; let it rouse you from your slumber.
2d. Consider how watchful the three disciples who slept during Christ’s agony became at a subsequent period. John, awakened by Jesus, did not again close his eyes in sleep until his Master was laid in the grave. Peter, awakened by Jesus, became later on the bishop, or guardian, the supreme ruler over the whole Church. Finally James, who also slept in the Garden of Olives, distinguished himself as a vigilant and faithful apostle, and was the first to shed his blood for his divine Master. On Mount Olivet we see the disciples still in an imperfect stage. This is the distinction between those who are perfect and those who are imperfect; the latter, when tribulations come upon them, and kicks are their portion, are pusillanimous and downcast, they become careless in their devotional practices, they allow themselves to slumber; whereas the former are only rendered all the more vigilant and zealous. A slight puff of wind will extinguish the feeble flame of a taper, while it fans the flame of a conflagration, and the stronger the blast the more furiously the fire will burn. If you are weak and imperfect the first breath of affliction will suffice to quench the little spark of the love of God; but if you are strong and advanced in sanctity, then that flame will mount up the higher when exposed to the blast of tribulation. In the furnace of temptation and suffering the just will be melted like wax and humble themselves, whereas sinners will only be hardened like clay under the action of heat. Temptation, as St. Augustine says, is a furnace that refines gold and consumes straw. If therefore, my soul, you desire to know what is your spiritual condition, scrutinize your conduct on the mount of suffering and temptation, for as we read in the Imitation (i. 13): “We often know not what we can do; but temptation discovers what we are.”
3d. Consider what our Lord said to the apostles when He came to them for the third time: “Sleep ye now and take your rest.” (St. Matt. xxvi. 45.) Hence we see there comes a time when our Lord no longer says to us “Watch,” but bids us sleep. Observe, however, that our Lord does not say this unto the apostles until the executioners are approaching to lead Him away and put Him to death. Not until the end of life draws near does the time come for us to take our rest, and our rest will then be the sweeter the greater has been our previous watchfulness, our previous labor. But if we think to rest now and sleep, this solemn question may well be asked of us: “If thou seekest rest in this life, how wilt thou then come to the rest eternal?” (Imit. B. iii. ch. 35.) Note that the Lord will in that case not say to you: “Could you not watch one hour with Me?” Could you not watch during the brief period of this earthly existence, which is but as an hour in comparison with eternity; He will on the contrary say to you: Now you shall watch everlastingly, for all eternity you shall find no rest because of the tormenting demons and the gnawing worm of conscience. No, my soul, let not that fate be yours; let us rather obey our Lord’s first injunction in time, in order that in eternity we may hear Him address to us the other exhortation: “Sleep ye now, and take your rest.”
Prayer After Meditation
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
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