Saturday, 10 September 2016

The Paths of Goodness part 8.

Some Helpful Thoughts on Spiritual Progress BY REV. EDWARD F. GARESCHE, SJ.



EVERY day, somewhere within an easy distance of your home, occurs the most stupendous event, the most precious happening, in the history of the world. To this great occurrence all the nations of the earth looked forward either with blind longing or with ardent faith from the very beginning. To this all future generations shall look back, so long as the world lasts, deriving from its efficacy whatever they have of holiness or of salvation. For the Sacrifice of the Mass offered every morning in your parish church, as in so many Catholic churches throughout the world, is the true though unbloody repetition of the sacrifice of Calvary. When you assist at that holy sacrifice it is as though you stood beneath the cross with the Blessed Mother and with St. John, the beloved disciple, and offered, in union with the Sacred Heart, that oblation of the life and blood of God made man which is made for the salvation of the entire world.
There are certain points in secular history to which all after ages look back with breathless interest and immense attention. They are the turning-points of human affairs, the places where the great stream of human events swerves aside from its course and makes a new bed in its way down the ages. Sometimes it is the birth of a great nation that so changes the current of events for all time, as when Athens came out into the sunlight of history, or the mythical twins began to raise the walls of Rome. Sometimes it is the victory of one people over another which decides the lordship of the world and alters the flow of customs and thought, as when Rome conquered Carthage or the free Greek people beat back the invading hosts of Asia. Sometimes it is the rise of a great leader or the writing of an epoch-rnaking book, as when Augustus came to rule or Homer or Dante began to sing. Such events shine forever in the history of the world and become known to all men who have any claim to culture or to learning. Precious moments, they acquire an immortality of memory, and their fame is handed down from generation to generation.
What a privilege it is, by common consent of men, to be present at one of these cardinal points of history! Men write records of their participation in such stirring scenes. They hand down in their family as an heirloom of memory that at such and such a time an ancestor of that stock was present at the battle of Agincourt, or fought with Washington, or carried a rifle or a sword at Lexington or Bunker Hill. One such moment of glory as to have been present and have assisted at an event like this is thought enough for an entire lifetime, and it gives distinction, by common consent, not only to the fortunate individual himself but to his successors and descendants.
Yet how few of mankind ever have the good fortune even to be witnesses- of such stirring crises in history! They happen only very seldom, from the very nature of things. Those only witness them who chance to be at hand, and it is impossible to foresee just when their time will come. Indeed, it is for this reason that the witnessing of great events brings distinction with it. What only the few can boast of is all the more prized and envied by the many. We have societies of an exclusive kind whose membership is limited to those whose ancestors fought in the American Revolution. Were this not an unusual distinction, what sense would one see in making it a condition of membership or in beginning a new society to celebrate its possession ?
But these great crises in history, important as they are in the esteem of men, dwindle into insignificance when they are compared with that stupendous and unique event which is repeated by the exercise of God's almighty power, at your very doors and every day. For the holy sacrifice of the cross, which is truly and literally repeated day by day in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, makes pale and insignificant by comparison all events in secular history. It is incomparably more important, more sublime, more fruitful in consequences, of more influence on the history of the world, than all the acts of princes or the victories of nations from the beginning of days.
From the moment when the sin of Adam ruined our human kind, deprived us of sanctifying grace, of the sonship of God and of our title to heaven, and so deplorably injured our nature by depriving it of the friendship of God—from that dire moment all the human race looked forward, knowingly or with blind desire, to the coming of a Saviour who would undo what Adam had done, win back for us the friendship of God, atone for all our transgressions, and redeem us from the power of the evil one. This immense yearning of the whole human race for a Saviour finds its most touching expression in the writings of the prophets of Israel, who both foretold and prayed for, with unspeakable longing, the advent of the Redeemer of mankind. They even described, with a vividness that is amazing, the precise manner of that redemption by which the Christ was to restore mankind to the friendship of God. It was to be by the bloody death of the cross, by the offering and sacrifice of His blood and His life.
All human history, therefore, led up to and culminated in that solemn and awful moment when, on the bloody altar of Calvary, the eternal Son of God, made man, gave up His life for the salvation of His fellow-men. Before the cross of Christ were gathered all the ages of history, all the generations of the past, all the holy desires of humanity, all the aspirations of the human heart after justice. When the Son of Man bowed His head upon His bosom and breathed forth His soul into the hands of His eternal Father, then the handwriting against us was blotted out forever, and the human race was saved from the power of the devil and brought back into the friendship of God. This redemption was indeed to be applied to the individual soul through the sacraments of Christ's Church. But the great deed was accomplished. Redemption was secured. In the most awful and momentous event of history a God had given His life that God's anger might be appeased.
What a privilege, then, to have been able to assist, as did Mary and the Beloved Apostle and the little group of women who stood about the cross, at the adorable sacrifice which Christ made to His eternal Father on Calvary. All the great turning-points of history are, in comparison with this, mere trivial episodes, inconsiderable and slight events. To have been able to be with Jesus on Calvary, to offer up oneself to God in union with His supreme oblation, is a privilege and favour not to be compared even with the participation in all the other great events of history together. Yet this sublime event was witnessed by only a small part of one obscure nation in the despised country of Judea and at a single moment in history. The vast spiritual riches, the eternal gain of being near and sharing with Christ in His sacrifice of Calvary was, so it appeared to uninitiated eyes, reserved only to those who with loving hearts stood about Him as He died.
But God's goodness would not have it so. He, who is omnipotent, has exerted His omnipotence in an astounding way so to reproduce and multiply and continue that most momentous of all happenings that it is possible for every Catholic, in every age of the world, in a thousand places, day by day and morning after morning, not merely to remember or to commemorate the august sacrifice of Calvary, but truly to assist at its unbloody repetition and to come and stand with Christ and participate in the literal renewal of His sacrifice, being present there as really as were Mary and John and the holy women who assisted at the sacrifice of the cross. This is an astounding truth, an achievement possible only to omnipotence. To be able to recall and renew such a moment of history required a divine power which can accomplish anything that does not involve a contradiction. God alone can renew, in the sacrifice of the Mass, the sacrifice of Calvary. Our faith in God is alone powerful enough to assure us of the truth of this mystery. In assisting at any Mass we become once more sharers in the sacrifice of Calvary. We partake in the true though unbloody repetition of the sacrifice of the cross.
Of only one event in history is it possible to say with truth that all generations can be bodily and really present at its true and real repetition. All other actions of mankind are past forever. They endure indeed in their consequences, in the traces they have left, in the memory of their occurrence. We may be present at them in imagination, in memory, through the written record or the remembered account. But of one event alone is it literally true that it is repeated over and over, really renewed, re-enacted for each succeeding generation. Whoever would assist again at this stupendous sacrifice need only to enter a Catholic church at the hour of the Mass and kneel before the altar while the priest, minister of Christ, offers up again that unbloody sacrifice which is the true and real repetition of the bloody sacrifice of the cross. At the words of the consecration, when the sacrifice of the Mass is consummated, there occurs once more in a mystic manner and without the shedding of blood the offering of that redeeming oblation of the life and blood of Christ which wrought our ransoming on Calvary.
What a motive and what a reason for unwearying effort and continual endeavour to be present as often as we can at the sacrifice of the Mass ! Need one point this moral or urge this conclusion? If Christ's sacrifice is of all events in history the most blessed, the most momentous, the most important to partake in, and if God has thought it worth His while to renew that stupendous sacrifice by a continuous and repeated exercise of His omnipotence, should not we do all possible to apply to ourselves His exceeding bounty and to be present at what He has wrought such marvels to prepared
With this stupendous wonder of God's omnipotence in preserving for us the age-long repetition of the greatest moment of history goes also that other marvel of continuing for us the companionship of Christ's presence and the nourishing of our souls with His precious body and blood. At the moment of the consummation of the sacrifice of the Mass there becomes present on the altar under the forms of bread and wine the body of Christ and His true blood.
He, the incarnate Son of God, is really Emmanuel, God with us, to be our Guest, our Comrade, and our Food. Here again, in His infinite mercy and compassion. Almighty God has brushed away with a gesture of His omnipotence the common boundaries of space, matter, and time. He has secured for us and for all ages participation in that astounding privilege of being intimate companions and bosom friends of the Incarnate Word, which one would have said in all human probability was reserved for the small and favoured group of apostles and disciples who conversed with Him familiarly and partook with Him of the Last Supper before His passion. What would, in the order of nature, have been the astounding privilege of the few is become, in the order of God's extraordinary providence, the common blessing of the many.
History moves on with a relentless flow. Each happening as it comes and goes slips irrevocably into the past. Try as we may we never could recover one moment that is gone. But by God's great mercy and almighty power the two most precious events in the history of the world have been renewed and are perpetuated in so marvellous a manner that in every epoch, every day in every place in the world where the Mass is said and the Blessed Sacrament preserved, it is possible for the poorest and the lowliest of mankind to stand with Mary and the Beloved Disciple and partake in Christ's inestimable sacrifice, to kneel with the apostles in the supper chamber and be fed like them on the true body of the Lord.
Stirred by thoughts like these, who is there who cannot resolve to go more often to communion, to be present daily at Holy Mass. When the great judgment of God shall make vain the wisdom of men it will no longer be an honour to have assisted at the great moments of secular history, the winning of victories or the crowning of kings. At that hour those will be honoured and blessed who have stood oftenest with Christ on Calvary and partaken oftenest of His sacred body. At that time this chapter of the earth's history will be closed and ended. It will be no longer possible for us then to heap up the constant merit of attendance at Mass and the receiving of Christ's body. Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. Let us seize betimes, while He still holds it out to us, the great gift of God.