A Lenten Reflection for Passion Sunday 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 Obduracy of Heart.
Today’s Gospel presents Christ to us in His indescribable grandeur. Calm, composed, majestic, He stands among the angry, excited Jews and utters those sublime words: “Which of you shall convict Me of sin?” (St. John viii. 46.) Never since the world was made has any one dared to speak thus, and not one of all the human beings who have inhabited the earth could assert himself to be without sin, as Jesus did. Realize to yourself how great, how imposing He was at the moment that He thus spoke, and then see how the Jews took up stones to cast at Him, to kill Him, the model of perfection, the mirror of holiness. His sanctity makes no more impression on them than did His teaching and His miracles, commanding as it should respect and reverence. What terrible hardness of heart they manifested!
1st. Consider what a deplorable condition this state of obduracy is. As a flower unfolds her petals as soon as the sun appears, and turns towards the rising luminary, because without the light and warmth of the sun no plant can live, much less produce fair blossoms, so our souls cannot live without the spiritual Sun, without Christ and His grace. Whenever we commit a mortal sin it is as if a coating of ice forms over our heart, beneath which our spiritual life grows numb and gradually dies out. But so long as we do not withdraw ourselves entirely from the influence of the Sun of divine grace, if we do but return to it with penitence and penance, then that Sun of grace is powerful enough to melt the glacial covering and infuse fresh life into the frozen soul. But woe betide those who fall into the state of obduracy in which to-day’s Gospel shows the Jews to have been! It is as if a man voluntarily returned to and took up his abode in the regions of eternal snow and ice, whither no ray of sunshine can penetrate, so that everlasting numbness and eternal death must be his sad portion. Souls who are thus impenitent, souls created by God and for God, are irretrievably lost, for to them may be applied the words of Holy Writ: “They have eyes and see not, they have ears and hear not.” (Ps. cxiii. 13.)
2d. Consider this truth as we see it exemplified in that living impersonification of obduracy, King Pharao. He did not believe in the true God although he continually saw with his own eyes the effects of His power and majesty. See how that monarch resisted conviction, how he struggled to the death against the influence of divine grace. God caused the most wonderful and striking miracles to be worked by Moses; He sent ten plagues upon the land of Egypt one after another, one more terrible than another, but Pharao remained obdurate till at length the divine judgment overtook him himself, and he perished in the waters of the Red Sea. Behold in him a type of all those unhappy persons whom neither the greatest miracles nor the most terrible chastisements avail to convert; those adversaries of the Church whose animosity is only intensified the more signal are the proofs God gives of the protecting care He extends over His Church; those who mock at religion and persistently close their eyes, like the Jews in the Gospel, to the series of incontrovertible marvels whereby Christian Faith has been upheld during nineteen centuries. And since these hardened sinners cannot deny the obvious truth, they take up stones to cast at Christ, at His Church, at His servants. But our Lord hides Himself from them, as we read in the Gospel that He did; He departs and does not manifest Himself to them again until—O appalling thought!—they appear before His judgment-seat. My soul, pray for these deluded individuals; they are your brethren, possibly members of the flock committed to your charge, your relatives perhaps. Offer your penances for them, that God may have mercy upon them; but see that you do this in a spirit of humility.
3d. Consider that no one is secure against falling into this awful state. Cain was brother to Abel, the special object of divine love, yet his heart was hardened. King Saul was the elect of God, chosen out of the thousands of Israel, anointed by the divinely commissioned prophet, yet he lapsed into a state of obduracy. Judas was even an apostle, he lived in the enjoyment of intimate intercourse with our Lord, yet he ended in impenitence. Ponder this attentively: One single sin concealed in confession, one single Mass celebrated in mortal sin, one obstinate refusal to listen to the gentle rebuke of your Superior, or the loving admonition of one of your fellow Religious, may lead you on to the path which ends in the Red Sea of final impenitence. Ought not this thought to alarm you? It ought at least to be a warning to you to make a good and faithful use of the many graces which are daily placed within your reach in the sacerdotal and Religious state; for every time that you receive one such grace, it is as if our Lord stood before you, as He is represented as doing in to-day’s Gospel, full of mercy and compassion. If you carelessly turn a deaf ear to Him, if you neglect to use those graces He offers you, and He departs from you, who can tell whether He will ever return? And if He returns no more—then alas! my soul, you will fall into the deplorable condition exemplified in the case of Saul and Pharao.
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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