THE SEVEN WORDS ON THE CROSS
EDWARD A. CERNY, S.S., D.D.
FRANCIS P. KEOUGH, D.D
Archbishop of Baltimore
Behold me, now, for the fourth year, preparing for my death. Having
withdrawn from the business of the world to a place of repose, I give
myself up to the meditation of the Sacred Scriptures, and to writing the
thoughts that occur to me in my meditations; so that if I am no longer able
to be of use by word of mouth, or the composition of voluminous works, I
may at least be of some use to my brethren, by these pious little books.
Whilst then I was reflecting as to what would be the most eligible subject
both to prepare me to die well, and to assist others to live well, the
Death of our Lord occurred to me, together with the last sermon which the
Redeemer of the world preached from the Cross, as from an elevated pulpit,
to the human race. This sermon consists of seven short but weighty
sentences, and in these seven words is comprised everything of which our
Lord spoke when He said: "Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and all things
shall be accomplished which were written by the Prophets concerning the Son
of Man." The things which the Prophets foretold about Christ may be
reduced to four heads: His sermons to the people; His prayer to His Father;
the great torments He endured; and the sublime and admirable works He
performed. Now these things were verified in a wonderful manner in the Life
of Christ, for our Lord was ever most diligent in preaching to the people.
He preached in the Temple, in the synagogues, in the fields, in deserts, in
private houses, nay, He preached even from a ship to the people who were
standing on the shore. It was His wont to spend nights in prayer to God:
for so says the evangelist "He passed the whole night in the prayer of
God." His admirable works of casting out devils, of curing the sick, of
multiplying loaves, of allaying storms, are to be read in every page of
the Gospels. Again, the injuries that were heaped upon Him, in return for
the good He had done, were many. They consisted not only in contumelious
words, but also in stoning and in casting Him down headlong. In a word,
all these things were truly consummated on the Cross. His preaching from
the Cross was so powerful that "all the multitude returned striking their
breasts," and not only the hearts of men but even rocks were rent asunder.
He prayed on the Cross, as the Apostle says, "with a strong cry and tears,"
so that He "was heard for His reverence." He suffered so much on the
Cross, in comparison to what He had suffered during the rest of His life,
that suffering seems only to belong to His Passion. Finally, He never
wrought greater signs and prodigies than when on the Cross He seemed to be
reduced to the greatest weakness and infirmity. He then not only showed
signs from heaven, which the Jews had previously asked of Him even to
importunity, but a little while after He showed the greatest of all signs.
For after He was dead and buried He rose again from the dead by His own
power, recalling His Body to life, even to an immortal life. Truly then may
we say that on the Cross was consummated everything that had been written
by the Prophets concerning the Son of Man.
But before I begin to write on the words which our Lord spoke from the
Cross, it seems proper that I should say something of the Cross itself,
which was the pulpit of the Preacher, the altar of the Sacrificing Priest,
the arena of the Combatant, the workshop of the Wonder-worker. The ancients
commonly agree in saying that the Cross was made of three pieces of wood;
one upright, along which the body of the crucified person was stretched;
another transverse, to which the hands were fastened; and the third was
attached to the lower part of the cross, on which the feet of the condemned
rested, but fastened by nails to prevent their moving about. The ancient
Fathers of the Church agree in this opinion, as St. Justin and St.
Irenaeus. These authors, moreover, clearly indicate that each foot rested
on the foot-board, and that one foot was not placed over the other. Hence
it follows that Christ was nailed to the Cross with four nails, and not
with three, as many imagine, who in pictures represent Christ, our Lord, as
nailed to the Cross with one foot over the other. Gregory of Tours,
distinctly says the contrary, and confirms his view by an appeal to ancient
pictures. I, for my part, have seen in the Royal Library at Paris, some
very ancient manuscripts of the Gospels, which contained many pictures of
Christ crucified, and these all had the four nails.
St. Augustine, and St. Gregory of Nyssa, say that the upright piece of
the Cross projected a little from the transverse piece. It would seem that
the Apostle also insinuates the same, for in his Epistle to the Ephesians
St. Paul writes: "That you may be able to comprehend with all the saints,
what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth." This is clearly
a description of the figure of the Cross, which has four extremes; breadth
in the transverse piece; length in the upright piece; height in that part
of the Cross which stood out and projected from the transverse part; and
depth in the part which was buried in the earth. Our Lord did not endure
the torments of the Cross by chance, or unwillingly, since He had chosen
this kind of death from all eternity, as St. Augustine teaches from the
testimony of the Apostle: "Jesus of Nazareth being delivered up, by the
determinate counsel and fore-knowledge of God, you by the hands of wicked
men have crucified and slain." And so Christ, at the beginning of His
preaching, said to Nicodemus: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the
desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in
Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting." He often spoke to His
Apostles about His Cross, and encouraged them to imitate Him by the words:
" If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his
cross and follow Me."
Our Lord alone knows the reason that induced Him to choose this manner of
death. The holy Fathers, however, have thought of some mystical reasons,
and have left them to us in their writings. St. Irenaeus, in the work of
his to which we have referred, says that the words, "JESUS OF NAZARETH,
KING OF THE JEWS," were written over that part of the Cross where the two
arms meet, to give us to understand, that the two nations, of Jew and
Gentile, which had up to that time been estranged from each other, were
henceforth to be united into one body under the one Head, Christ. St.
Gregory of Nyssa, in his sermon on the Resurrection, says that the part of
the Cross which looked towards heaven, shows that heaven is to be opened by
the Cross as by a key; that the part which w as buried in the earth shows
that hell was despoiled by Christ when He descended thither; and that the
two arms of the Cross, which stretched towards the cast and west, show the
regeneration of the whole world by the Blood of Christ. St. Jerome, on the
Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Augustine, in his Epistle to Honoratus, St.
Bernard, in the fifth book of his work on "Consideration," teach that the
principal mystery of the Cross was briefly touched upon by the Apostle in
the words: "What is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth." The
primary signification of these words points to the attributes of God; the
height signifies His power; the depth, His wisdom; the breadth, His
goodness; the length, His eternity. They have reference also to the virtues
of Christ in His Passion; the breadth, His charity; the length, His
patience; the height, His obedience; the depth, His humility. They signify,
moreover, the virtues which are necessary for those who are saved through
Christ. The depth of the Cross means faith; the height, hope; the breadth,
charity; the length, perseverance. From this we gather that only charity,
the queen of virtues, finds a place everywhere, in God, in Christ, and in
ourselves. Of the other virtues, some are proper to God, others to Christ,
and others to us. Consequently it is not wonderful that in His last words
from the Cross, which we are now going to explain, Christ should give the
first place to words of charity.
We shall therefore begin by explaining the first three words which were
spoken by Christ about the sixth hour, before the sun was obscured and
darkness overspread the earth. We shall then consider this eclipse of the
sun, and finally come to the explanation of the other words of our Lord,
which were spoken about the ninth hour, when the darkness was
disappearing, and the Death of Christ was at hand.
1. St. Luke xviii. 31.
2. St. Luke vi. 12.
3. St. Matt. viii.; St. Mark iv.; St. Luke vi.; St. John vi.
4. St. John viii.
5. St. Luke iv.
6. St. Luke xxiii. 48.
7. Heb. v. 7.
8. In "Dial. cum Thyphon," lib. v.
9. "Advers. haeres. Valent."
10. "Lib. de Gloria Martyr." c. vi.
11. Epist i.
12. Serm. i "De Ressur."
13. Ephes. iii. 18.
14. Epist. 120.
15. Acts ii 23.
16. St. John iii. 14, 15.
17. St. Matt. xvi. 24.
18. Epist. 120.
19. Ephes. iii. 18.
20. St. Matt. xxvii.
BOOK I: On the First Three Words spoken on the Cross.
I. The literal explanation of the first Word, "Father, forgive them, for
they know not what they do"
II. The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the first Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
III. The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the first Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
IV. The literal explanation of the second Word, "Amen, I say to thee, this
day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise "
V. The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the second Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
VI. The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the second Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
VII. The third fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the second Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
VIII. The literal explanation of the third Word, "Behold thy Mother: behold
IX. The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the third Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
X. The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the third Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
XI. The third fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the third Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
XII. The fourth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the third Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
BOOK II: On the Last Four Words spoken on the Cross.
I. The literal explanation of the fourth Word, "My God, My God, why hast
Thou abandoned Me."
II. The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the fourth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
III. The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the fourth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
IV. The third fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the fourth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
V. The fourth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the fourth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
VI. The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the fourth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
VII. The literal explanation of the fifth Word, "I thirst"
VIII. The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the fifth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
IX. The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the fifth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
X. The third fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the fifth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
XI. The fourth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the fifth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
XII. The literal explanation of the sixth Word, "It is consummated"
XIII. The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the sixth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
XIV. The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the sixth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
XV. The third fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the sixth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
XVI. The fourth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the sixth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
XVII. The fifth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the sixth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
XVIII. The sixth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the sixth Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
XIX. The literal explanation of the seventh Word, "Father, into Thy Hands I
commend My Spirit"
XX. The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the seventh Word
spoken by Christ upon the Cross
XXI. The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the seventh
Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross
XXII. The third fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the seventh
Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross
XXIII. The fourth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the seventh
Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross
XXIV. The fifth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the seventh
Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross
BOOK ONE: ON THE FIRST THREE WORDS SPOKEN ON THE CROSS
CHAPTER I: The literal explanation of the first Word, "Father, forgive
them, for they know not what they do."
Christ Jesus, the Word of the Eternal Father, of Whom the Father Himself
hath spoken, "Hear ye Him," and Who hath said of Himself, "For One is your
Master, Christ," in order to perform the task He had undertaken, never
ceased from instructing us. Not only during His life, but even in the arms
of death, from the pulpit of the Cross, He preached to us words few in
number, but burning with love, most useful and efficacious, and in every
way worthy to be engraven on the heart of every Christian, to be preserved
there, meditated upon, and fulfilled literally and in deed. His first word
is this, "And Jesus said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they
do." Which prayer, as though it were altogether new and unheard of before,
the Holy Spirit wished to be foretold by the Prophet Isaias in these words:
"And He prayed for the evil doers." And the petitions of our Lord on the
Cross prove how truly the Apostle St. Paul spoke when he said: " Charity
seeketh not her own," for of the seven words our Redeemer spoke three were
for the good of others, three for His own good, and one was common both to
Himself and to us. His first care, however, was for others. He thought of
Of the first three words which He spoke, the first was for His enemies, the
second for His friends, the third for His relations. Now, the reason why He
thus prayed, is that the first demand of charity is to succour those who
are in want: and those who were then most in want of spiritual succour were
His enemies; and what we also, the disciples of so great a Master, stand
most in need of is to love our enemies, a virtue which we know is most
difficult to be obtained and rarely to be met with, whereas the love of our
friends and relations is easy and natural, increases with our years, and
often predominates more than it ought. Wherefore the Evangelist wrote, "And
Jesus said:" where the word and shows the time and the occasion of this
prayer for His enemies, and places in contrast the words of the Sufferer
and the words of the executioners, His works and their works; as though the
Evangelist would explain himself more fully thus: they were crucifying the
Lord, and in His very presence were dividing His garments amongst them,
they mocked and defamed Him as a seducer and a liar; whilst He, seeing what
they were doing, hearing what they were saying, and suffering the most
acute pains in His Hands and Feet, returned good for evil and prayed; "
Father, forgive them."
He calls Him "Father," not God or Lord, because He wished Him to exercise
the benignity of a Father and not the severity of a Judge; and as He
desired to avert the anger of God, which He knew was aroused at their
enormous crimes, He uses the tender name of Father. The word Father appears
to contain in itself this request: I, Thy Son, in the midst of all My
torments have pardoned them; do you likewise, My Father, extend your pardon
to them. Although they deserve it not, still pardon them for the sake of
Me, your Son. Remember, too, that you are their Father, since you have
created them, and made them to your own image and likeness. Show them
therefore a Father's love, for although they are wicked, they are
nevertheless your children.
"Forgive." This word contains the chief petition which the Son of God, as
the advocate for His enemies, made to His Father. The word Forgive may be
referred both to the punishment due to the crime, and also to the crime
itself. If it be referred to the punishment due to the crime, then was the
prayer heard: for since this sin of the Jews demanded that its perpetrators
should be instantly and condignly made to feel the wrath of God, by either
being consumed with fire from heaven, or drowned in a second deluge, or
extirpated with famine and the sword, still the infliction of this
punishment was postponed for forty years, during which period, if the
Jewish people had done penance they would have been saved and their city
preserved, but because they did not perform penance, God sent against them
the Roman army, which, in the reign of Vespasian, destroyed their
metropolis, and partly by famine during the siege, and partly by the sword
in the sack of the city, slew a vast multitude of its inhabitants, whilst
the survivors w ere sold into slavery and scattered throughout the world.
All these misfortunes were foretold by our Lord in the parables of the
householder who hired labourers for his vineyard; of the king who made a
marriage for his son; of the barren fig-tree; and more clearly when He wept
over the city on Palm Sunday. Our Lord's prayer was also heard if it had
reference to the crime of the Jews, since it obtained for many the grace of
compunction and reformation of life. There were some who " returned
striking their breasts." There was the Centurion, who said, "Truly this
was the Son of God." And there were many who a few weeks afterwards were
converted by the preaching of the Apostles, and confessed Him Whom they
denied, adored Him Whom they had despised. But the reason why the grace of
conversion was not granted to all is that the will of Christ was
conformable to the wisdom and the will of God, which St. Luke shows us when
he says in the Acts of the Apostles, "As many as were ordained to life
"Them." This word applied to all for whose pardon Christ prayed. In the
first place it is applied to those who really nailed Christ to the Cross,
and cast lots for His garments. It may also be extended to all who were the
cause of our Lord's Passion: to Pilate who pronounced the sentence; to the
people who cried out, " Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him;" to
the chief priests and the scribes who falsely accused Him; and, to proceed
still farther, to the first man and all his posterity who by their sins
occasioned Christ's death. And thus from His Cross our Lord prayed for the
forgiveness of all His enemies. Each one, however, may reckon himself
amongst the enemies of Christ according to the words of the Apostle, " When
we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.
Therefore our High Priest Christ made a commemoration for all of us, even
before our birth, in that most holy "Memento," if I may so speak, which He
made in the first Sacrifice of the Mass which He celebrated on the altar of
the Cross. What return then, O my soul, wilt thou make to the Lord for all
that He hath done for thee, even before thou hadst a being? Our dear Lord
saw that thou also wouldst one day rank thyself with His enemies, and
though thou askedst not, nor besoughtest Him, He prayed for thee to His
Father not to lay to thy charge the fault of folly. Does it not therefore
behove thee to bear in mind so sweet a Patron, and to make every effort to
serve Him faithfully in all things? Is it not just that with such an
example before thee thou shouldst learn not only to pardon thy enemies with
ease, and to pray for them, but even bring as many as thou canst to do the
same? It is just, and this I desire and purpose to do, provided that He Who
has set me so brilliant an example would also in His goodness give me
sufficient help to accomplish so great a work.
For they know not what they do. In order that His prayer might be
reasonable, Christ extenuates, or rather gives what excuse He could for the
sins of His enemies. He certainly could not excuse either the injustice of
Pilate, or the cruelty of the soldiers, or the ingratitude of the people,
or the false testimony of those who perjured themselves. It only remained
for Him then to excuse their fault on the plea of ignorance. For with truth
does the Apostle observe, "If they had known it, they would never have
crucified the Lord of glory." Neither Pilate, nor the chief priests, nor
the people knew that Christ was the Lord of glory, still Pilate knew Him to
be a just and holy man, Who had been delivered up through the envy of the
chief priests; and the chief priests knew Him to be the promised Christ, as
St. Thomas teaches, because they neither could nor did they deny that He
had wrought many of the miracles which the prophets foretold the Messias
would work. In fine, the people knew that Christ had been unjustly
condemned, since Pilate publicly told them, "I find no cause in this
Man:" and, "I am innocent of the Blood of this just Man."
But although the Jews, both priests and people, knew not the fact that
Christ was the Lord of glory, nevertheless, they would not have remained in
this state of ignorance if their malice had not blinded them. According to
the words of St. John: "And whereas He had done so many miracles before
them, they believed not in Him, because Isaias said: He hath blinded their
eyes, and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes,
nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal
them." Blindness is no excuse for a blind man, because it is voluntary,
accompanying, not preceding, the evil he does. Similarly those who sin in
the malice of their hearts may always plead their ignorance, which is
nevertheless not an excuse for their sin since it does not precede it but
accompanies it. Wherefore the Wise Man says, " They err who work
iniquity." The Philosopher likewise with truth proclaims every evil-doer
to be ignorant of what he does, and consequently it may ingeniously be said
of sinners in general, "They know not what they do." For no one can desire
that which is wicked on the ground of its wickedness, because the will of
man does not tend to what is bad as well as what is good, but solely to
what is good, and for this reason those who make choice of what is bad do
so because the object is presented to them under the aspect of something
good, and may thus be chosen. This results from the disquietude of the
inferior part of the soul which blinds the reason and renders it incapable
of distinguishing anything but what is good in the object it seeks. Thus
the man who commits adultery or is guilty of a theft perpetrates these
crimes because he looks only to the pleasure or the gain which may result,
and he would not perpetrate them if his passions had not blinded him to the
shameful infamy of the one and the injustice of the other. Hence a sinner
is like to a man who wishes to throw himself from an eminence into a river;
he first shuts his eyes and then casts himself headlong; so he who does an
evil act hates the light, and labours under a voluntary ignorance which
does not exculpate him, because it is voluntary. But if voluntary ignorance
does not exculpate the sinner, why did our Lord pray, "Forgive them, for
they know not what they do?" To this I answer that the most straightforward
interpretation to be put to our Lord's words is that they were spoken for
His executioners, who were probably entirely ignorant not only of our
Lord's Divinity, but even of His innocence, and simply performed the
hangman's duty. For those, therefore, our Lord most truly said, "Father,
forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Again, if our Lord's prayer be interpreted as applicable to ourselves who
had not then a being, or to that multitude of sinners who were His
contemporaries, but had no knowledge of what was being enacted in
Jerusalem, then did our Lord most truly say, "They know not what they do."
Lastly, if He addressed His Father in behalf of those who were present, and
knew that Christ was the Messias and an innocent Man, then must we confess
the charity of Christ to be such as to wish to palliate as far as possible
the sin of His enemies. If ignorance cannot justify a fault, it may
nevertheless serve as a partial excuse, and the deicide of the Jews would
have worn a more heinous aspect had they known the character of their
Victim. Although our Lord was aware that this was not so much an excuse as
a shadow of an excuse, He urged it, forsooth, to show us how kindly He
feels towards the sinner, and how eagerly He would have used a better
defence even for Caiphas and Pilate, had a better and more reasonable
apology presented itself.
1. St. Matt. xvii. 5.
2. St. Matt. xxiii. 10.
3. St. Luke xxiii. 34.
4. Isaias liii. 12.
5. I Cor. xiii. 5.
6. St. Luke xxiii. 34.
7. St. Luke xxiii. 48.
8. St. Matt. xxvii. 54.
9. Acts xiii. 48.
10. St. Matt. xxvii. 22.
11. Rom. v. 10.
12. I Cor. ii. 8.
13. St. Luke xxiii. 14.
14. St. Matt. xxvii. 24.
15. St. John xii. 37-40.
16. Prov. iv. 22.
CHAPTER II: The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the first
Word spoken by Christ on the Cross.
Having given the literal meaning of the first word spoken by our Lord on
the Cross, our next endeavour must be to gather some of its most eligible
and advantageous fruits. What strikes us most in the first part of Christ's
sermon on the Cross is His ardent charity, which burns with a more
brilliant lustre than we can either know or conceive, according to that
which St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, saying, "To know also the charity of
Christ which surpasseth all knowledge." For in this passage the Apostle
informs us by the mystery of the Cross how the charity of Christ surpasseth
our understanding because it extends beyond the compass of our limited
intellect. For when we suffer any grievous pain, as for example a
toothache, or a headache, or a pain in the eyes, or in any other member of
our body, our mind is so rivetted on this as to be incapable of any
exertion; hence we are in no humour either to receive our friends, or carry
on our business. But when Christ was nailed to the Cross He wore His diadem
of thorns, as is clearly shown in the writings of the ancient Fathers; by
Tertullian amongst the Latin Fathers in his book against the Jews, and
amongst the Greek Fathers by Origen in his work upon St. Matthew, and hence
it followed that He could neither lean His Head back, nor move it from side
to side without additional pain. Rough nails held fast His Hands and Feet,
and from the manner in which they tore their way through His flesh
occasioned a most acute and lasting torment. His Body was naked, worn out
with the cruel scourging and the journeyings to and fro, ignominiously
exposed to the gaze of the vulgar, and by its weight was widening with a
barbarous and continual agony the wounds in His Hands and Feet; all which
things combined were the source of much suffering, and as it were of
additional crosses. Yet, O charity! truly surpassing our understanding, He
thought no more of His torments than if He were suffering nothing, and is
solicitous only for the salvation of His enemies; and desiring to screen
them from the penalty of their crimes, cries aloud to His Father, "Father,
forgive them." What would He have done if these wretches had been the
victims of an unjust persecution, or had been His friends, His relations,
or His children, and not His enemies, His betrayers and abandoned
parricides? Truly, O most benign Jesus! your charity surpasses our
understanding. I behold your Heart in the midst of such a storm of injuries
and sufferings, like a rock in the midst of the ocean which remains
immovable and at rest, though the billows dash themselves in fury against
it. For you see your enemies are not satisfied with inflicting mortal
wounds on your Body, but must scoff at your patience, and howl in triumph
at your ill-treatment; you look upon them, I say, not as a foe scans his
antagonists, but as a father regards his wandering children, as a doctor
listens to the ravings of a delirious patient. Wherefore you are not angry
with them but pity them, and intrust them to the care of your all-powerful
Father, that He would cure them and make them whole. This is the effect of
true charity, to be on good terms with all men, to consider no one your
enemy, and to live at peace with those who hate peace.
This is what is sung in the Canticle of love about the virtue of perfect
charity. "Many waters cannot quench charity, neither can the floods drown
it." The many waters are the many sufferings which our spiritual miseries,
like storms of hell, let loose on Christ through the instrumentality of the
Jews and Gentiles, who represented the dark passions of our heart. Still
this deluge of waters, that is of dolours, could not extinguish the fire of
charity which burnt in the breast of Christ. Therefore the charity of
Christ was greater than this deluge of many waters; and it shone
brilliantly in His prayer, "Father, forgive them." And not only were these
many waters incapable of extinguishing the charity of Christ, but neither
in after ages were the storms of persecution able to overwhelm the charity
of the members of Christ. Thus the charity of Christ, which possessed the
heart of St. Stephen, could not be crushed out by the stones wherewith he
was martyred; it was alive there, and he prayed, "Lord, lay not this sin to
their charge." In fine, the perfect and invincible charity of Christ which
has been propagated in the hearts of many thousands of martyrs and
confessors, has so stoutly combated the attacks of visible and invisible
persecutors, that it may be said with truth even to the end of the world,
that a sea of suffering shall not extinguish the flame of charity.
But from the consideration of the Humanity of Christ let us ascend to the
consideration of His Divinity. Great was the charity of Christ as Man
towards His executioners, but greater still will be the charity of Christ
as God, and of the Father, and of the Holy Ghost, at the last day towards
all mankind who have been guilty of acts of enmity towards their Creator,
and would, had they been able, have cast Him out of heaven, have nailed Him
to a cross, and have slain Him. Who can conceive the charity which God
bears towards such ungrateful and wicked creatures ? God did not spare the
angels when they sinned, nor did He give them time for repentance, but He
often bears patiently with sinful men, with blasphemers, and with those who
enrol themselves under the standard of the devil, His enemy; and He not
only bears with them, but meanwhile feeds them and nourishes them, even
supports and sustains them, for "in Him we live and move and are," as the
Apostle says. Nor does He preserve the good and the just only, but likewise
the ungrateful and the wicked, as our Lord informs us in the Gospel of St.
Luke. Nor does our good Lord merely feed and nourish, support and sustain
His enemies, but He often heaps His favours upon them, gives them talent,
increases their riches, makes them honourable, and raises them to temporal
thrones, whilst He all the while patiently awaits their return from the
path of iniquity and perdition.
And to pass over several characteristics of the charity which God feels
towards wicked men, the enemies of His Divine Majesty, each one of which
would require a volume if we dwelt upon them singly, we will confine
ourselves at present to that singular kindness of Christ of which we were
treating. "For has not God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten
Son?" The world is the enemy of God, for "the whole world is seated in
wickedness," as St. John tells us: and " if any man love the world the
charity of the Father is not in him," as he says again in another place.
St. James writes, " Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world,
becometh an enemy of God," and "the friendship of this world is the enmity
of God." God therefore in loving this world cherishes His enemy with the
intention of making it His friend. For this purpose has He sent His Son,
"the Prince of Peace," that by His means the world might be reconciled to
God. Therefore at the birth of Christ the angels sang, " Glory to God in
the highest, and on earth peace." Thus God has loved the world, His
enemy, and has taken the first step towards peace, by giving to it His Son,
Who might bring about the reconciliation by suffering the penalty due to
His enemy. The world received not Christ, increased its guilt, rebelled
against the one Mediator, and God inspired this Mediator to return good for
evil by praying for His persecutors. He prayed and " was heard for His
reverence. God patiently awaited to see what progress the Apostles would
make by their preaching in the conversion of the world; those who did
penance received pardon; those who repented not after such patient
forbearance were exterminated by God's just judgment. Therefore from this
first word of Christ we really learn that the charity of God the Father,
Who " so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in Him may not perish but may have life everlasting," surpasses
1. Ephes. iii. 19.
2. Cant. viii. 7.
3. Acts vii. 59.
4. Acts xvii. 28.
5. St. John iii. 16.
6. I St. John v. 19.
7. I St. John ii. I.
8. St. James iv. 4.
9. Isaias ii. 6.
10. St. Luke ii. 14.
11. Heb. v. 7.
12. St. John iii. 16.
CHAPTER III. The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
first Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
If men would learn to pardon without a murmur the injuries they receive,
and thus force their enemies to become their friends, we might learn a
second and very salutary lesson by meditating on the first word. The
example of Christ and the Blessed Trinity ought to be a powerful argument
to persuade us to this. For if Christ forgave and prayed for His
executioners, what reason can be alleged why a Christian should not act
similarly to his enemies? If God, our Creator, the Lord and Judge of all
men, Who has it in His power to take instant vengeance on a sinner, awaits
his return to repentance, and invites him to peace and reconcilation with
the promise of pardoning his treasons against the Divine Majesty, why
should not a creature imitate this conduct, particularly if we remember
that the pardon of an insult merits a great reward? We read in the history
of St. Engelbert, Archbishop of Cologne, who was murdered by some enemies
who were Iying in wait for him, that at the moment of his death he prayed
for them in the words of our Lord, "Father, forgive them;" and it was
revealed that this action was so pleasing to God, that his soul was carried
by the hands of angels to heaven, and placed amongst the choir of martyrs,
where he received the martyr's crown and palm; and his tomb was rendered
famous by the working of many miracles.
Oh, if Christians would learn how easily they can, if they wish, acquire
inexhaustible treasures, and merit signal degrees of honour and glory by
gaining the mastery over the various agitations of their souls, and
magnanimously despising small and trivial insults, they would certainly not
be so hardhearted and obstinately set against pardon and forgiveness. They
argue that they would act against nature to allow themselves to be unjustly
spurned and outraged by word and deed. For wild animals, which merely
follow the instinct of nature, fiercely attack their enemies the moment
they behold them, and kill them either with their teeth or their claws; so
we, at the sight of our enemy, feel our blood beginning to boil, and our
desire of revenge is aroused. Such reasoning is false; it does not draw a
distinction between self-defence which is lawful, and a spirit of revenge
which is unlawful.
No one can find fault with a man who defends himself in a just cause, and
nature teaches us to repel force by force, but it does not teach us to take
upon ourselves to avenge an injury we have received.
No one hinders us from taking precautions necessary to provide against an
attack, but the law of God forbids us to be revengeful. To punish an
injustice belongs not to the private individual but to the public
magistrate, and because God is the King of kings, therefore does He cry out
and say, "Revenge to Me; I will repay."
As to the argument that one animal is carried by its very nature to attack
the animal which is the enemy of its species, I answer that this is the
result of their being irrational animals, which cannot distinguish between
nature and what is vicious in nature. But men, who are endowed with reason,
ought to draw a line between the nature or the person which has been
created by God and is good, and the vice or the sin which is bad and does
not proceed from God. Accordingly, when a man has been insulted, he ought
to love the person of his enemy and hate the insult, and should rather have
pity on him than be angry with him; just as a physician who loves his
patients and prescribes for them with due care, but hates the disease, and
endeavours with all the resources at his command to drive it away, to
destroy it and render it harmless. And this is what the Master and
Physician of our souls, Christ our Lord, teaches when He says, " Love your
enemies; do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute
and calumniate you." Christ our Master is not like the Scribes and
Pharisees who sat in the chair of Moses and taught, but did not put their
teaching in practice. When He ascended the pulpit of the Cross He practised
what He taught, by praying aloud for the enemies whom He loved, "Father,
forgive them, for they know not what they do." Now, the reason why the
sight of an enemy makes the blood boil in the very veins of some people is
this, that they are animals who have not yet learnt to bring the motions of
the inferior part of the soul, which are common both to mankind and to the
brute creation, under the domain of reason; whereas spiritual men are not
subject to these motions of the flesh, but know how to keep them in check;
are not angry with those who have injured them, but, on the contrary, pity
them, and by showing them acts of kindness strive to bring them to peace
But this it is objected is too difficult and severe a trial for men of
noble birth, who ought to be solicitous for their honour. Nay rather, the
task is an easy one; for, as the Evangelist testifies, "the yoke" of
Christ, Who has laid down this law for the guidance of His followers, "is
sweet, and His burden light;" and "His commandments are not heavy," as St.
John affirms. And if they appear difficult and severe, they appear so
because we have little or no love for God, for nothing is difficult to him
who loves, according to the saying of the Apostle: "Charity is patient, is
kind, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth
all things." Nor is Christ the only one Who has loved His enemies,
although in the perfection with which He practised the virtue He has
surpassed every one else, for the holy Patriarch Joseph loved with a
singular love his brethren who sold him into slavery. And in the Holy
Scripture we read how David most patiently put up with the persecutions of
his enemy Saul, who for a long time sought his death, and when it was in
the power of David to take away the life of Saul he did not slay him. And
under the law of grace the proto-martyr, St. Stephen, imitated the example
of Christ by making this prayer when he was being stoned to death: "Lord,
lay not this sin to their charge;" and St. James the Apostle, the Bishop
of Jerusalem, who was cast head-long from the battlements of the Temple,
cried to heaven in the moment of his death, " Lord, pardon them, for they
know not what they do." And St. Paul writes of himself and of his fellow-
Apostles: " We are reviled and we bless; we are persecuted and we suffer
it; we are blasphemed and we entreat." In fine, many martyrs and
innumerable others, after the example of Christ, have found no difficulty
in fulfilling this commandment. But there may be some who will further
argue: I do not deny that we must pardon our enemies, but I will choose my
own time for doing so, when forsooth I have almost forgotten the injustice
which has been done me, and have become calm after the first burst of
indignation has passed. But what would be the thoughts of these people if
in the meantime they were summoned to their last account, and were found
without the garment of charity, and were asked, "How come you in hither,
not having on a wedding garment?" Would they not be struck dumb with
amazement as our Lord pronounces sentence upon them: "Bind him hand and
feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and
gnashing of teeth." Act rather with prudence now, and imitate the conduct
of Christ, Who prayed to His Father, "Father, forgive them," at the moment
when He was the object of their scoffs, when the Blood was trickling drop
by drop from His Hands and Feet, and His whole body was the prey of
exquisite tortures. He is the true and only Master, to Whose voice all
should listen who would not be led into error: to Him did the Eternal
Father refer when a voice was heard from heaven saying, "Hear ye Him." In
Him are "all the treasures of the wisdom and of the knowledge" of God If
you could have asked the opinion of Solomon on any point, you might with
safety have followed his advice; but "behold a greater than Solomon
Still I hear some further objecting. If we resolve to return good for evil,
a kindness for an insult, a blessing for a curse, the wicked will become
insolent, scoundrels will become bold, the just will be oppressed, and
virtue will be trodden under foot. This result will not follow, for often,
as the Wise Man says, "A mild answer breaketh wrath." Besides, the
patience of a just man not unfrequently fills his oppressor with
admiration, and persuades him to proffer the hand of friendship. Moreover,
we forget that the State appoints magistrates, kings, and princes, whose
duty it is to make the wicked feel the severity of the law, and provide
means for honest men to live a peaceful and quiet life. And if in some
cases human justice is tardy, the Providence of God, which never allows a
wicked act to go unpunished or a good deed to pass unrewarded, is
continuallywatching over us, and is taking care in an unforeseen way that
the occurrences which evil men think will crush them, shall tend to the
exaltation and the honour of the virtuous. So at least St. Leo says, " Thou
hast been furious, O persecutor of the Church of God; thou hast been
furious with the martyr, and thou hast augmented his glory by increasing
his pain. For what has thy ingenuity devised which has not turned to his
honour, when even the very instruments of his torture have been carried in
triumph?" The same may be said of all martyrs, as well as of the saints of
the old law. For what brought more renown and glory to the Patriarch Joseph
than the persecution of his brethren? Their selling him in their envy to
the Ishmaelites was the occasion of his becoming lord of the whole of
Egypt, and prince of all his brothers.
But omitting these considerations, we will pass in review the many and
great inconveniences those men suffer who, to escape merely a shadow of
dishonour before men, are obstinately determined to have their revenge on
those who have done them any wrong. In the first place, they act the part
of fools by preferring a greater evil to a lesser. For it is a principle
acknowledged on all sides, and declared to us by the Apostle in these
words: "Let us not do evil that there may come good." It follows by
consequence that a greater evil is not to be committed in order to obtain
any compensation for a lesser one. He who receives an injury receives what
is called the evil of a hardship: he who avenges an injury is guilty of
what is called the evil of crime. Now, beyond a doubt, the misfortune of
committing a crime is greater than the misfortune of having to endure a
hardship; for though a hardship may make a man miserable, it does not
necessarily make him wicked; a crime, however, makes him both miserable and
wicked; a hardship deprives a man of temporal good, a crime deprives him of
both a temporal and an eternal good. Accordingly he who would remedy the
evil of a hardship by committing a crime is like a man who would cut off a
part of his foot to make a pair of very small shoes fit him, which would be
a sheer act of madness. Nobody is guilty of such folly in his temporal
concerns, yet there are some men so blind to their real interests as not to
fear to offend God mortally in order to escape that which has the
appearance of disgrace, and maintain a semblance of honour in the eyes of
men. For they fall under the displeasure and the ùvrath of God, and unless
they amend in time and do penance, will have to endure eternal disgrace and
torment, and will forfeit the everlasting honour of being a citizen of
heaven. In addition to this they perform an act most agreeable to the devil
and his angels, who urge on this man to do an unjust thing to that man with
the purpose of sowing discord and enmity in the world. And each one should
calmly reflect how disgraceful it is to please the fiercest enemy of the
human race, and to displease Christ. Besides it occasionally happens that
the injured man who longs for revenge mortally wounds his antagonist and
slays him, for which murder he is ignominiously executed, and all his
property is confiscated by the State, or at least he is forced to go into
exile, and both he himself and all his family drag out a miserable
existence. Thus it is that the devil sports with and mocks those who choose
to be fettered with the manacles of a false honour, rather than become the
servants and friends of Christ, the best of Kings, and be reckoned as the
heirs of a kingdom the most vast and the most enduring. Wherefore, since
the foolish men who, in spite of the command of God, refuse to be
reconciled with their enemies, expose themselves to such a total shipwreck,
all who are wise will listen to the doctrine which Christ, the Master of
all, has taugllt us in the Gospel by His words, and on the Cross by His
1. Rom. xii. 19.
2. St. Matt. v. 44.
3. St. Matt, xi. 39.
4. I St. John v. 3.
5. I Cor. xiii. 4-7.
6. Acts vii. 59.
7. I Cor. iv. 12, 13.
8. St. Matt. xii. 12.
9. St. Matt. xxi. 13.
10. St. Matt. xvii. 5.
11. Coloss ii. 3.
12. St. Matt. xii. 42.
13. Prov. xv. 1.
14. Rom. iii. 8.
CHAPTER IV: The literal explanation of the second Word, "Amen I say to
thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise."
The second word or the second sentence pronounced by Christ on the Cross,
was, according to the testimony of St. Luke, the magnificent promise He
made to the thief who was hanging on a cross beside Him. The promise was
made under the following circumstances. Two thieves were crucified along
with our Lord, one on His right hand, the other on His left, and one of
them added to his past crimes the sin of blaspheming Christ, and of
taunting Him for His want of power to save them, saying--"If Thou be
Christ, save Thyself and us." St. Matthew and St. Mark, indeed, accuse
both the thieves of this sin, but it is more probable that the two
Evangelists used the plural for the singular number, as is frequently done
in the Holy Scriptures, as St. Augustine observes in his work on the
Harmony of the Gospels. Thus St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews, says
of the Prophets: "They stopped the mouths of lions, they were stoned, they
were cut asunder, they wandered about in sheepskins and in goatskins."
Still there was only one Prophet, namely Daniel, who stopped the mouths of
lions; there was only one Prophet, namely Jeremias, who was stoned, and
there was only one Prophet, namely Isaias, who was cut asunder. Moreover,
neither St. Matthew nor St. Mark are so explicit on the point as St. Luke,
who says most distinctly, " And one of those robbers who were hanged,
blasphemed Him." However, even granted that both reviled our Lord, there
is no reason why the same man should not at one moment have cursed Him, and
at another have proclaimed His praises.
Nevertheless, the opinion of those who maintain that one of the blaspheming
thieves was converted by Christ's prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they
know not what they do," is manifestly at variance with the Gospel
narrative. For St. Luke says that the thief first began to blaspheme Christ
after He had made this prayer; we are consequently driven to adopt the
opinion of St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, who say that only one of the
thieves reviled Him, whilst the other extolled and defended Him; and on
this account the good thief rebuked the blasphemer: "Neither dost thou fear
God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation?" Happy was the thief
from his fellowship with Christ on the Cross. The rays of Divine light
which were beginning to penetrate the darkness of his soul, made him eager
to rebuke the companion of his wickedness, and convert him to a better
life; and this is the full meaning of his rebuke." Thou, indeed, wishest to
imitate the blasphemy of the Jews, who have not yet learnt to fear the
judgments of God, but boast of the victory they fancy they have achieved by
nailing Christ to a cross. They consider themselves free and safe and are
under no apprehension of punishment. But dost not thou, who art being
crucified for thy enormities, dread God's avenging justice? Why addest thou
sin to sin?" Then proceeding from virtue to virtue, and helped on by the
increasing grace of God, he confesses his sins and proclaims Christ to be
innocent. "We, indeed," he says, are "justly" condemned to the death of the
cross, "for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man hath done
no evil." Finally, the light of grace still increasing in his soul, he
adds: "Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom."
Admirable, indeed, was the grace of the Holy Spirit which was poured into
the heart of the good thief. The Apostle St. Peter denied his Master, the
thief confessed Him when He was nailed to His Cross. The disciples going to
Emmaus said, "We hoped that it was He that should have redeemed Israel."
The thief asks with confidence, " Remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy
kingdom." The Apostle St. Thomas declares that he will not believe in the
Resurrection until he shall have beheld Christ; the thief gazing on Christ
Whom he saw fastened to a gibbet, never doubts but that He will be a King
after His death.
Who has instructed the thief in mysteries so profound? He calls that man
Lord whom he perceives to be naked, wounded, in grief, insulted, despised,
and hanging on a Cross beside him: he says that after His death He will
come into His kingdom. From which we may learn that the thief did not
picture to himself the kingdom of Christ to be a temporal one, as the Jews
imagined it to be, but that after His death He would be a King for ever in
heaven. Who has been his instructor in secrets so sacred and sublime? No
one, forsooth, unless it be the Spirit of Truth, Who awaited him with His
sweetest benedictions. Christ after His Resurrection said to His Apostle:
"Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so enter into His
glory?" But the thief miraculously foreknew this, and confessed Christ to
be a King at the time when not a semblance of royalty surrounded Him. Kings
reign during their lifetime, and when they cease to live they cease to
reign; the thief, however, proclaims aloud that Christ, by means of His
death would succeed to a kingdom, which is what our Lord signifies in the
parable: "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself
a kingdom and to return." Our Lord spoke these words a short time previous
to His Passion, to show us that by His death He would go into a far
country, that is to another life; or in other words, that He would go to
heaven which is far removed from the earth, to receive a great and eternal
kingdom, but that He would return at the last day, and would repay every
man according to his conduct in this world, either with reward or with
punishment. Concerning this kingdom, therefore, which Christ would receive
immediately after His death, the thief wisely said: "Remember me when Thou
shalt come into Thy kingdom." But it may be asked, Was not Christ our Lord
a King before His death? Beyond a doubt He was, and therefore the Magi
continually inquired, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews? And
Christ Himself said to Pilate: "Thou sayest that I am a King. For this was
I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to
the truth. Yet He was a King in this world like a traveller amongst
strangers, therefore He was not recognized as a King except by a few, and
was despised and illreceived by the majority. And so in the parable we have
just quoted, He said that He would go "into a far country to receive for
Himself a kingdom." He did not say He would gain it as it were from
another, but would receive it as His own, and would return, and the thief
wisely remarked, "When Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom." The kingdom of
Christ is not synonymous in this passage with regal power or sway, for this
He exercised from the beginning according to these verses of the Psalms.
"But I am appointed King by Him over Sion, His holy mountain." "He shall
rule from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth." And
Isaias says, " A Child is born to us, and a Son is given to us, and the
government is upon His shoulders." And Jeremias, "I will raise up to
David a just branch: and a King shall reign and shall be wise, and shall
execute judgment and justice in the earth." And Zacharias, "Rejoice
greatly, O daughter of Sion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold
thy King will come to thee, the just and Saviour; He is poor, and riding
upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass." Therefore in the
parable of receiving a kingdom, Christ did not refer to sovereign power,
nor indeed did the good thief in his petition, "Remember me when Thou shalt
come into Thy kingdom," but both spoke of that perfect bliss which delivers
man from the servitude and anxiety of temporal matters, subjects him to God
alone, to serve Whom is to reign, and by Whom he is constituted over all
His works. This kingdom of unspeakable bliss of soul Christ enjoyed from
the moment of his conception, but bliss of body which was His by right He
did not actually enjoy until after His Resurrection. For whilst He was a
sojourner in this vale of tears, He was subject to fatigues, to hunger and
to thirst, to injuries, to wounds, and to death. But because His Body ought
always to have been glorious, therefore immediately after death He entered
into the enjoyment of the glory which belonged to Him: and in these terms
He referred to this after His Resurrection: "Ought not Christ to have
suffered these things, and so to have entered into His glory?" This glory
He calls His own, since it is in His power to make others participators of
it, and for this reason He is called the "King of glory," and "Lord of
glory," and "King of kings," and He Himself says to His Apostles: "I
dispose to you a kingdom." He, indeed, can receive glory and a kingdom,
but we can bestow neither one nor the other, and we are invited to "enter
into the joy of thy Lord," and not into our own joy. This then is the
kingdom of which the good thief spoke when he said, "When Thou shalt come
into Thy kingdom."
But we must not pass over the many excellent virtues shadowed forth in the
prayer of the holy thief. A brief review of them will prepare us for
Christ's answer to the petition; "Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come
into Thy kingdom." In the first place he calls Him Lord, to show that he
regards himself as a servant, or rather as a redeemed slave, and
acknowledges Christ to be his Redeemer. He then subjoins a simple request,
but one full of faith, hope, love, devotion, and humility--"Remember me."
He does not say, Remember me if Thou canst: for he firmly believes Christ
can do all things. He does not say, Please, Lord, remember me, for he has
the fullest confidence in His charity and compassion. He does not say, I
desire, Lord, to reign with you in your kingdom, for his humility forbade
him. In fine, he solicits no special favour, but simply prays, "Remember
me," as though he would say, All I desire, Lord, is that you would deign to
remember me, and cast your benignant eyes upon me, for I know that you are
all-powerful and all-wise, and I put my entire trust in your goodness and
love. It is clear from the concluding words of his prayer, "When Thou shalt
come into Thy kingdom," that he seeks nothing perishable and vain, but
aspires after something eternal and sublime.
We will now give ear to the answer of Christ: "Amen I say to thee, this day
thou shalt be with Me in Paradise." The word "Amen" was used by Christ
whenever He wished to make a solemn and serious announcement to His
followers. St. Augustine has not hesitated to affirm that this word was, in
the mouth of our Lord, a kind of oath. It could not indeed be an oath,
according to the words of Christ: "But I say to you not to swear at all,
but let your speech be yea, yea; no, no; and that which is over and above
these is evil." We cannot, therefore, conclude that our Lord swore an
oath as often as He used the word Amen. Amen was a term frequently on His
lips, and sometimes He not only prefaced His remarks with Amen, but with
Amen, amen. So the remark of St. Augustine that the word Amen is not an
oath, but a kind of oath, is perfectly just, for the meaning of the word is
truly, verily, and when Christ says: Verily I say to you, He seriously
means what He says, and consequently the expression has almost the same
force as an oath. With great reason, therefore, did He thus address the
thief; " Amen I say to you," that is, I assure you in the most solemn
manner I can short of an oath; for the thief might have refused on three
pleas to have given credit to the promise of Christ unless He had solemnly
asseverated it. First, he might have refused credence on account of his
unworthiness to be the recipient of so great a reward, and so high a
favour. For who could have imagined that the thief would have been
transferred on a sudden from a cross to a kingdom? Secondly he might have
refused credence by reason of the person who made the promise, seeing that
He was at the moment reduced to the extreme of want, weakness, and
misfortune, and the thief might thus have argued to himself: If this man
cannot do a favour to His friends during His lifetime, how will He be able
to assist them after His death? Lastly, he might have refused credence by
reason of the promise itself. Christ promised Paradise. Now the Jews
interpreted the word Paradise in reference to the body and not to the soul,
since they always used it in the sense of a terrestial Paradise. If our
Lord had meant to say: This day thou shalt be with Me in a place of repose
with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the thief might easily have believed Him;
but as He did not mean this, He therefore prefaced His promise with this
assurance: "Amen I say to you."
"This day." He does not say I will place you on My Right Hand amongst the
just at the Day of Judgment. Nor does He say, I will bring you to a place
of rest after some years of suffering in Purgatory. Nor again, I will
console you in a few months or days hence: but this very day, before the
sun sets, you shall pass with Me from the gibbet of the cross to the
delights of Paradise. Wonderful is the liberality of Christ: wonderful also
is the good fortune of the sinner. St. Augustine, in his work on the Origin
of the Soul, considers with St. Cyprian that the thief may be accounted a
martyr, and that his soul went direct to heaven without passing through
Purgatory. The good thief may be called a martyr because he publicly
confessed Christ when not even the Apostles dared say a word in His behalf,
and on account of this spontaneous confession, the death which he suffered
in the company of Christ deserved as great a reward before God as if he had
suffered it for the name of Christ. If our Lord had made no other promise
than, " Thou shalt be with Me," this alone would have been an unspeakable
blessing for the thief, since St. Augustine writes: " Where can there be
anything evil with Him, and without Him where can there be anything good?"
Christ indeed did not make any trivial promise to those who follow Him when
He said, " If any man minister to Me, let him follow Me: and where I am
there also shall My minister be." To the thief. however. He promised not
only His companionship, but likewise Paradise.
Although some people have disputed about the meaning of the word Paradise
in this text, there seems to be no ground for the discussion. For it is
certain, since it is an article of faith, that on the very day of His death
the Body of Christ was placed in the sepulchre, and His Soul went down into
Limbus, and it is equally certain that the word Paradise, whether we talk
of the clestial or terrestirial Paradise, cannot be applied either to the
sepulchre or to Limbus. It cannot be applied to the sepulchre, because that
was a most sorry place, the fir abode of corpses, and Christ was the only
one buried in the sepulchre: the thief was buried elsewhere. Moreover, the
words, "Thou shalt be with Me," would not have been accomplished, if Christ
had spoken merely of the sepulchre. Nor can the word Paradise be applied to
Limbus. For Paradise is a garden of delights, and even in the earthly
paradise there were flowers and fruits, limpid waters, and a delicious
mildness in the air. In the celestial Paradise there were delights without
end, glory unfailing, and the seats of the blessed. But in Limbus, where
the souls of the just were detained, there was no light, no cheerfulness,
no pleasure; not indeed that these souls were in suffering, since the hope
of their redemption and the prospect of seeing Christ was a subject of
consolation and rejoicing to them, but they were kept like captives in
prison. And in this sense the Apostle, expounding the Prophets, says,
"Ascending on high, He led captivity captive." And Zacharias says, " Thou
also, by the blood of Thy testament, hast sent forth Thy prisoners out of
the pit, wherein is no water," where the words, "Thy prisoners, and the
pit wherein is no water," evidently point not to the delightfulness of
Paradise but to the obscurity of a prison. Therefore in the promise of
Christ the word Paradise could mean nothing else than the beatitude of the
soul, which consists in the vision of God, and this is truly a paradise of
delights, not a corporeal and a local paradise, but a spiritual and a
heavenly one. For which reason, to the request of the thief, "Remember me
when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom," our Lord did not reply, "This day
thou shalt be with Me" in My kingdom, but, "Thou shalt be with Me in
Paradise," because on that day Christ entered not into His kingdom, and did
not enter it till the day of His Resurrection, when His Body became
immortal, impassible, glorious, and was no longer liable to any servitude
or subjection. And He will not have the good thief for His companion in
this kingdom until the resurrection of all men at the last day.
Nevertheless, with great truth and propriety He said to him: "This day thou
shalt be with Me in Paradise," since on this very day He would communicate
both to the soul of the good thief and to the souls of the saints in Limbus
that glory of the vision of God which He had received in His conception;
for this is true glory and essential felicity; this is the crowning joy of
the celestial Paradise. The choice of words used by Christ on this occasion
is also greatly to be admired. He did not say; This day we shall be in
Paradise, but, "This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise;" as though He
wished to explain Himself more fully, thus: This day thou art with Me on
the Cross, but thou art not with Me in the Paradise in which I am in
respect to the superior part of My Soul. But in a little while, even to-
day, thou shalt be with Me, not only liberated from the arms of the cross,
but embraced in the bosom of Paradise.
1. St. Luke xxiii. 39.
2. Heb. xii. 33-37.
3. St. Luke xxiii. 39.
4. St. Luke xxiii. 40.
5. St. Luke xxiii. 41.
6. St. Luke xxiii. 42.
7. St. Luke xxiv. 21.
8. St. Luke xxiv. 26.
9. St. Luke xix. 12.
11. St. John xviii. 37.
12. Psalm ii. 6.
13. Psalm lxx.
14. Isaias ix. 6.
15. Jer. xxiii. 5.
16. Zach. ix. 9.
17. Apoc. xix. 16.
18. St. Luke xxii. 29.
19. St. Matt. xxv. 21.
20. St. Matt. v. 34-37
21. St. John xii. 26.
22. Ephes. iv. 8.
23. Zach. ix. 11.
CHAPTER V. The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the second
Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
We can gather some chosen fruits from the second word spoken from the
Cross. The first fruit is the consideration of the immense mercy and
liberality of Christ, and how good and useful a thing it is to serve Him.
The many pains He was suffering might have been urged as an excuse by our
Lord for not hearing the petition of the thief, but in His charity He
preferred to forget His own grievous pains rather than not listen to the
prayer of a poor penitent sinner. This same Lord answered not a word to the
curses and reproaches of the priests and soldiers, but at the cry of a
confessing sinner His charity forbade Him to be any longer silent. hen He
is reviled He opens not His mouth, because He is patient: when a sinner
confesses his guilt, He speaks, because He is benign. But what shall we say
of His liberality? Those who serve temporal masters frequently gain but a
slight recompense for many labours. Even at this very day we see not a few
who have spent the best years of their life in the service of princes, and
retire in their old age on a small pittance. But Christ is a truly liberal
Prince, a truly magnanimous Master. He receives no service at the hands of
the good thief, except a few kind words and a hearty desire to assist Him,
and behold with how great a reward He repays him! On this very day all the
sins which he had committed during his life are forgiven: he is also ranked
with the princes of his people, to wit, with the patriarchs and the
prophets: and finally Christ raises him to the companionship of His table,
of His dignity, of His glory, and of all His goods. "This day," He says,
"thou shalt be with Me in Paradise." And what God says, He does. Nor does
He defer this reward to some distant day, but on this very day He pours
into his bosom "a good measure, and pressed down, and shaken together, and
The thief is not the only one who has experienced the liberality of Christ.
The Apostles, who left either a ship, or a counting-house, or a home to
serve Christ, were made by Him "princes over all the earth," and the
devils, serpents, and all kinds of diseases were made subject to them. If
any man has given food or clothing to the poor as an alms in the name of
Christ, he shall hear these consoling words at the Day of Judgment--"I was
hungry, and you gave Me to eat; naked and you covered Me:" receive
therefore, and possess My eternal kingdom. In fine, to pass over many other
promises of rewards, could any man believe the almost incredible liberality
of Christ, if it had not been God Himself Who promised that "every one that
hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or
children, or lands for My name's sake, shall receive a hundred-fold, and
shall possess life everlasting." St. Jerome and other holy Doctors
interpret the above-quoted text in this way. If any man, for the love of
Christ, abandons any thing in this present life, he shall receive a two-
fold reward, together with a life of incomparably more value than the
trifle which he has left for Christ. In the first place, he shall receive a
spiritual joy or a spiritual gift in this life, a hundred times more
precious than the temporal thing he forsook for Christ's sake; and a truly
spiritual man would choose rather to keep this gift than exchange it for a
hundred houses or fields, or other like things. Secondly, as though
Almighty God considered this reward of little or no value, the happy
merchant who barters earthly things for heavenly ones shall receive in the
next world life eternal, in which one word is contained an ocean of
Such, then, is the manner in which Christ, the great King, shows His
liberality to those who give themselves to His service without reserve. And
are not those men foolish who, forsaking the standard of such a Monarch,
desire to become the slaves of mammon, of gluttony, and of luxury? But
those who know not what things Christ considers to be real riches, may say
that these promises are mere words, since we often find His cherished
friends to be poor, squalid, abject, and sorrowful, and on the other hand,
we never behold this hundred-fold reward which is proclaimed to be so truly
magnificent. So it is: the carnal man will never see the hundred-fold which
Christ has promised, because he has not eyes wherewith he can see it; nor
will he ever participate in that solid joy which a pure conscience and a
true love of God begets. I will adduce, however, one example to show that
even a carnal man can appreciate spiritual delights and spiritual riches.
We read in a book of examples about the illustrious men of the Cistercian
Order, that a certain noble and rich man, named Arnulph, left the whole of
his fortune and became a Cistercian monk, under the authority of St.
Bernard. God tried the virtue of this man by the bitter pains of many kinds
of diseases, particularly towards the end of his life; and on one occasion,
when he was suffering more acutely than usual, he cried out with a loud
voice: "Everything Thou hast said, O Lord Jesus, is true." Those who were
present asking him what was the reason of this exclamation, he replied:
"The Lord, in His Gospel, says that those who forsake their riches and all
things else for His sake, shall receive a hundred-fold in this life, and
afterwards life eternal. I at length understand the force and import of
this promise. and I acknowledge that I am now receiving the hundred-fold
for everything which I left. Indeed, the immense bitterness of this grief
is so pleasing to me through the hope of the Divine mercy which will be
extended to me on account of my sufferings, that I would not consent to be
liberated from my pains for a hundred times the value of the worldly
substance I have left. For, indeed, spiritual joy which is centred in the
hope of what is to come surpasses a hundred thousand times all worldly joy,
which springs from the present." The reader, by pondering these words, may
judge how great an esteem is to be set on the heavenly-derived virtue of
the certain hope of eternal felicity.
1. Psalm xliv. 17.
2. St. Matt. xxv. 35, 36.
3. St. Matt. xix. 29.
CHAPTER VI The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
second Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
A knowledge of the power of Divine grace, and of the weakness of the human
will, is the second fruit to be gathered from the consideration of the
second word, and this knowledge is equivalent to saying that our best
policy is to place all our confidence in the grace of God, and distrust
entirely our own strength. If any man wishes to know the power of the grace
of God, let him cast his eyes on the good thief. He was a notorious sinner,
who had persevered in his wicked course of life to the moment when he was
fastened to the cross--that is, almost to the last moment of his life; and
at this critical period, when his eternal salvation was at stake, there was
no one present to counsel or assist him. For although he was in close
proximity to his Saviour, nevertheless he only heard the chief priests and
the Pharisees declaring that He was a seducer, and an ambitious man who was
aiming at sovereign power. He likewise heard his companion in wickedness
taunting him in similar terms. There was no one to say one good word for
Christ, and even Christ Himself did not rebut these blasphemies and
maledictions. Nevertheless, by the assistance of God's grace, when the
gates of heaven seemed shut against him, the jaws of hell open to receive,
and the sinner himself as far removed as possible from life eternal, he was
suddenly illuminated from on high, his thoughts were directed into the
proper channel, and he confessed Christ to be innocent and the King of the
world to come, and, like a minister of God, rebuked his fellow-thief,
persuaded him to repent, and commended himself humbly and devoutly to
Christ. In a word, his dispositions were, so perfect as to make the pains
of his crucifixion compensate for what sufferings were in store for him in
Purgatory, so that immediately after death he entered into the joy of his
Lord. From which circumstance it is evident that no one should despair of
salvation, since the thief who entered the Lord's vineyard almost at the
twelfth hour received his reward with those who had come at the first hour.
On the other hand, in order to let us see the extent of human weakness, the
bad thief is not converted either by the immense charity of Christ, Who so
lovingly prayed for His executioners, or by the force of his own
sufferings, or by the admonition and example of his companion, or by the
unusual darkness, the splitting of rocks, or the conduct of those who,
after the death of Christ, returned to the city striking their breasts. And
all these things took place after the conversion of the good thief, to show
us that whilst one could be converted without these adjuncts, the other,
with all these helps, could not, or rather would not be converted.
But you may ask, why has God given the grace of conversion to the one and
denied it to the other? I answer that both had sufficient grace given them
for their conversion, and if one perished, he perished through his own
fault, and if the other was converted, he was converted by the grace of
God, though not without the cooperation of his own free will. Still it may
be urged, why did not God give to both of them that efficacious grace which
would overcome the hardest heart? The reason why He has not done so is one
of those secrets which we ought to admire but not pry into, since we ought
to rest satisfied with the thought that there cannot be injustice with God,
as the Apostle says, for, as St. Augustine expresses it, the judgments of
God may be secret, but cannot be unjust. To learn from this example not to
postpone our conversion to the approach of death, is a lesson that more
nearly concerns us. For if one thief cooperated with the grace of God in
that last moment, the other rejected it, and met his final doom. And every
reader of history, or observer of what takes place around him, cannot but
know that the rule is for men to end a wicked life by a miserable death,
whilst it is the exception for the sinner to die happily; and, on the other
hand, it seldom happens that those who live well and holily come to a sad
and miserable end, but many good and pious people enter, after their death,
into the possession of eternal joys. Those persons are too presumptuous and
fool-hardy who, in a matter of such import as eternal felicity or eternal
torment, dare to remain in a state of mortal sin even for a day, seeing
that they may be surprised by death at any moment, and after death there is
no place for repentance, and out of hell there is no redemption.
1. Rom. ix. 14.
CHAPTER VII. The third fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
second Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross. A third fruit can be drawn
from the second word of our Lord by adverting to the fact that there were
three persons crucified at the same time, one of whom, namely, Christ, was
innocent; another, namely, the good thief, was a penitent; and the third,
namely, the bad thief, remained obstinate in his sin: or to express the
same idea in different words, of the three who were crucified at the same
time, Christ was always and transcendently holy, one of the thieves was
always and notably wicked, and the other thief was formerly a sinner but
now a saint. From which circumstance we are to infer that every man in this
world has his cross and that those who seek to live without having a cross
to carry, aim at something which is impossible, whilst we should hold those
persons to be wise who receive their cross from the hand of the Lord, and
bear it even to death, not only patiently but cheerfully. And that each
pious soul has a cross to carry can be deduced from these words of our
Lord: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his
cross, and follow Me," and again, "Whosoever doth not carry his cross and
come after Me cannot be My disciple," which is precisely the doctrine of
the Apostle: "All that will live godly," he says, "in Christ Jesus shall
suffer persecution." The Greek and Latin Fathers give their entire
adhesion to this teaching, and that I may not be prolix I will give but two
quotations. St. Augustine in his commentary on the Psalms writes; "This
short life is a tribulation: if it is not a tribulation it is not a
journey: but if it is a journey you either do not love the country towards
which you are journeying, or without doubt you would be in tribulation."
And in another place; "If you say you have not yet suffered anything, then
you have not begun to be a Christian." St. John Chrysostom, in one of his
homilies to the people of Antioch, says, "Tribulation is a chain which
cannot be unlinked from the life of a Christian." And again; "You cannot
say that that man is holy who has not made trial of tribulation." Indeed
this doctrine can be demonstrated by reason. Things of a contrary nature
cannot be brought into each other's presence without a mutual opposition;
thus fire and water, as long as they are kept apart, will remain quiet; but
bring them together, and the water will begin to hiss, to form itself into
globules, and pass off into steam until either the water is consumed, or
the fire is extinguished. "Good is set against evil," says Ecclesiasticus,
"and life against death: so also is the sinner against the just man." Just
men are compared to fire. Their light is shining, their zeal is burning,
they are ever ascending from virtue to virtue, ever working, and whatever
they undertake they efficaciously accomplish. On the other hand sinners are
compared to water. They are cold, ever moving on the earth, and forming
mire on all sides. Is it therefore strange that wicked men should persecute
just souls? But because, even to the end of the world, wheat and cockle
will grow in the same field, chaff and corn be collected in the same barn,
good and bad fish found in the same net, that is, upright and wicked men in
the same world, and even in the same Church; it therefore necessarily
follows that the good and the holy shall be persecuted by the bad and the
The wicked also have their crosses in this world. For although they are not
persecuted by the good, nevertheless they will be tormented by other
sinners, by their own vices, and by their evil consciences. The most wise
Solomon, who certainly would have been happy in this world, had happiness
been possible here, acknowledged that he had a cross to carry when he said:
"I saw in all things vanity and vexation of mind, and therefore I was weary
of my life, when I saw that all things under the sun are evil, and all
vanity and vexation of spirit." And the writer of the Book of
Ecclesiasticus, who was likewise a most prudent man, pronounces this
general sentence: "Great labour is created for all men, and a heavy yoke is
upon the children of Adam." St. Augustine in his commentary on the Psalms
says, that "the greatest of all tribulations is a guilty conscience." St.
John Chrysostom in his homily on Lazarus shows at length how the wicked
must have their crosses. If they are poor, their poverty is their cross; if
they are not poor, cupidity is their cross, which is a heavier one than
poverty; if they are stretched on a bed of sickness, the bed is their
cross. St. Cyprian tells us that every man from the moment of his nativity
is destined to carry a cross and suffer tribulation, which is foreshadowed
by the tears shed by every infant. "Each one of us," he writes, "at his
birth, and at his very entrance into the world, sheds tears. And although
we are then unconscious and ignorant of everything, we nevertheless know,
even at our nativity, what it is to cry: by a natural foresight we lament
the anxieties and labours of the life we are commencing, and the untutored
soul by its moaning and weeping proclaims the bustling commotions of the
world which it is entering."
Since such is the case there can be no doubt but that a cross is in store
for the good as well as for the wicked, and it only remains for me to prove
that the cross of a saint lasts for a short time, is light and fruitful,
whilst that of a sinner is eternal, heavy and sterile. In the first place
there can be no question as to the fact that a saint suffers for a brief
period only, since he can endure nothing when this life has passed. "From
henceforth now, saith the Spirit," to the departing just souls, "that they
may rest from their labours;" "And God shall wipe away all tears from
their eyes." The sacred Scriptures say most positively, that our present
life is short, although to us it may appear long. "The days of man are
short," and "Man born of a woman, living for a short time," and " What is
your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while, and
afterwards shall vanish away." The Apostle, however, who carried a most
heavy cross from his youth even to his old age, writes in these terms in
his Epistle to the Corinthians, "For that which is at present momentary and
light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an
eternal weight of glory;" in which passage he speaks of his sufferings as
of no account, and compares them to an indivisible moment, although they
had extended over a period of more than thirty years. And his sufferings
consisted in being hungry, thirsty, naked, struck, in being thrice beaten
with rods by the Romans, five times scourged by the Jews, once stoned, and
thrice shipwrecked; in undergoing many journeys, in being often imprisoned,
in receiving stripes beyond measure, in being frequently reduced to the
last extremity. What tribulations then would he call heavy if he
considers these light, as they really are. And what will you, kind reader,
say, if I insist that the cross of the just is not only light, but even
sweet and agreeable on account of the superabundant consolations of the
Holy Spirit? Christ says of His yoke, which may be called a cross: "My yoke
is sweet and My burden light:" and elsewhere He says, "You shall lament
and weep, but the world shall rejoice, and you shall be made sorrowful, but
your sorrow shall be turned into joy. And the Apostle writes: "I am
filled with comfort; I exceedingly abound with joy in all our
tribulation." In a word, we cannot deny but that the cross of the just is
not only light and temporary, but fruitful, useful, and the bearer of every
good gift, when we hear our Lord saying: "Blessed are they that suffer
persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," St.
Paul, exclaiming that, "The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be
compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us," and St.
Peter exhorting us to rejoice if "we partake of the suffering of Christ,
that when His glory shall be revealed we may also be glad with exceeding
On the other hand there is no need of a demonstration to show that the
cross of the wicked is eternal in its duration, most heavy and
unmeritorious. Of a surety the death of the wicked thief was not a descent
from the cross, as the death of the good thief was, for even now that
wretched man is dwelling in hell, and will dwell there for ever, since "the
worm" of the wicked, "shall not die, and the fire of hell shall not be
quenched." And the cross of the rich glutton, that is the cross of those
who store up riches, which are most aptly compared by our Lord to thorns
that cannot be handled or kept with impunity, does not cease with this life
as the cross of poor Lazarus did, but it accompanies him to hell, where it
unceasingly burns and torments him, and forces him to cry out for a drop of
water to cool his burning tongue "for I am tormented in this flame."
Therefore the cross of the wicked is eternal in its duration, and the
lamentations of those of whom we read in the book of Wisdom, testify that
it is heavy and rough. "We wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and
destruction, and have walked through hard ways." What! are not ambition,
avarice, luxury, difficult paths to tread? Are not the accompaniments of
these vices, anger, quarrelling, envy, difficult paths to tread? Are not
the sins which spring from these accompaniments, treachery, brawls,
affronts, wounds and murder, difficult paths to tread? They are certainly
such and not unfrequently force men to commit suicide in despair, and
thereby seeking to avoid one cross, prepare for themselves a much heavier
And what advantage or fruit do the wicked derive from their cross? It can
no more bring them an advantage than thorns can produce grapes, or thistles
figs. The yoke of our Lord brings peace, according to His own words: " Take
up My yoke upon you, and you shall find rest to your souls." 22 Can the
yoke of the devil, which is diametrically opposed to that of Christ, bring
anything but care and anxiety ? And this is of still greater importance,
that whereas the Cross of Christ is the step to eternal felicity, "for it
behoveth Christ to suffer and so to enter into His glory," the cross of
the devil is the step to eternal torments, according to the sentence
pronounced on the wicked: "Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting
fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels." If there be any
wise men who are crucified in Christ, they will not seek to come down from
the cross, as the impenitent thief foolishly sought, but will rather remain
close to His side with the good thief, and will ask pardon of God and not a
deliverance from the cross, and thus suffering alone with Him they will
likewise reign with Him, according to the words of the Apostle: "Yet so if
we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him." If, however,
there be any wise amongst those who are weighed down by the devil's cross,
they will take care to shake it off at once, and if they have any sense
will exchange the five yoke of oxen for the single yoke of Christ. By the
five yoke of oxen are meant the labours and weariness of sinners who are
the slaves of their five senses; and when a man labours in doing penance
instead of sinning, he barters the five yoke of oxen, for the single yoke
of Christ. Happy is the soul which knows how to crucify the flesh with its
vices and concupiscences, and distributes the alms which might be spent in
gratifying its passions, and spends in prayer and spiritual reading, in
soliciting the grace of God and the patronage of the Heavenly Court, the
hours which might be lost in banqueting and in satisfying the restless
ambition of becoming the friends of the powerful. In this manner the cross
of the bad thief, which is heavy and barren, may be profitably exchanged
for the Cross of Christ, which is light and fruitful.
We read in St. Austin how a distinguished soldier argued with one of his
comrades about taking up the cross. "Tell me, I pray, to what goal will all
the labours we undertake bring us? What object do we present to ourselves?
For whose sake do we serve as soldiers? Our greatest ambition is to become
the friends of the Emperor; and is not the road that leads us to his honour
full of dangers, and when we have gained our point are we not then placed
in the most perilous position of all? And through how many years shall we
have to labour to secure this honour. But if I desire to become the friend
of God, I can become His friend at this moment." Thus he argued, that since
to secure the friendship of the Emperor he must undertake many long and
fruitless toils, he would be acting more wisely if he undertook fewer and
lighter and more useful labours to secure the friendship of God. Both
soldiers made their resolve on the spot, both left the army in order to
serve their Creator in earnest, and what increased their joy on taking this
step was the fact that the two ladies whom they were on the point of
marrying, spontaneously offered their virginity to God.
1. St. Matt xvi. 24.
2. St. Luke xiv. 27.
3. 2 Tim. iii. 12.
4.Eccles. ii 11, 17.
5. Ecclus. xl. 1.
6. Apoc. xiv. 13.
7. Apoc. xxi. 4.
8. Job xiv. 5.
9. Job xiv. 1.
10. St. James iv. 15.
11. 2 Cor. iv. 17.
12. 2 Cor. xi. 24.
13. St. Matt. xi. 30.
14. St. John xvi. 20.
15. 2 Cor. vii. 4.
16. St. Matt. v. 10.
17. Rom. viii. 18.
18. 1 St. Peter iv. 13.
19. Isaias lxvi. 24.
20. St. Luke xvi. 24.
21. Wisdom v. 7.
22. St. Matt. xi. 29.
23. St. Luke xxiv. 26.
24. St. Matt. xxv. 41.
25. Rom. viii. 17.
CHAPTER VIII. The literal explanation of the third Word--"Behold thy
Mother: Behold thy Son."
The last of the three words, which have special reference to charity for
one's neighbour, is, "Behold thy Mother: Behold thy son." But before we
explain the meaning of this word we must dwell a little on the preceding
passage of St. John's Gospel. "Now there stood by the Cross of Jesus His
Mother, and His Mother's sister, Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and Mary
Magdalene. When Jesus, therefore, saw His Mother, and the disciple standing
by, whom He loved, He saith unto His Mother: Woman, behold thy son! Then
saith He to the disciple: Behold thy Mother! And from that hour that
disciple took her unto his own." Two out of the three Marys that stood near
the Cross are known, namely, Mary, the Mother of our Lord, and Mary
Magdalene. About Mary, the wife of Cleophas, there is some doubt; some
suppose her to have been the daughter of St. Anne, who had three daughters,
to wit, Mary, the Mother of Christ, Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and Mary
Salome. But this opinion is almost exploded. For, in the first place, we
cannot suppose three sisters to be called by the same name. Moreover, we
know that many pious and erudite men maintain that our Blessed Lady was St.
Anne's only child; and there is no other Mary Salome mentioned in the
Gospels. For where St. Mark says that "Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the
mother of James, and Salome, had brought sweet spices," the word Salome is
not in the genitive case, as if he wished to say Mary, the mother of
Salome, as just before he said Mary, the mother of James, but it is of the
nominative case and of the feminine gender, as is clear from the Greek
version, where the word is written [Salome]. Moreover, this Mary Salome was
the wife of Zebedee, and the mother of the Apostles, St. James and St.
John, as we learn from the two Evangelists, St. Matthew and St. Mark, just
as Mary, the mother of James was the wife of Cleophas, and the mother of
St. James the Less and St. Jude. Wherefore the true interpretation is this,
that Mary, the wife of Cleophas, was called the sister of the Blessed
Virgin because Cleophas was the brother of St. Joseph, the Spouse of the
Blessed Virgin, and the wives of two brothers have a right to call
themselves and be called sisters For the same reason St. James the Less is
called the brother of our Lord, although he was only His cousin, since he
was the son of Cleophas, who, we have said, was the brother of St. Joseph.
Eusebius gives us this account in his ecclesiastical history, and he
quotes, as a trustworthy authority, Hegesippus, a contemporary of the
Apostles. We have also St. Jerome's authority for the same interpretation,
as we may gather from his work against Helvidius.
There is also an apparent disagreement in the Gospel narratives, which it
would be well briefly to dwell upon. St. John says that these three women
stood near the Cross of our Lord, whereas both St. Mark and St. Luke say
they were afar off. St. Austin in his third book on the Harmony of the
Gospels, makes the three texts harmonize in this way. These holy women may
be said to have been both a long way from the Cross, and near the Cross.
They were a long way from the Cross in reference to the soldiers and
executioners, who were in such close proximity to the Cross as to touch it,
but they were sufficiently near the Cross to hear the words of our Lord,
which the crowd of spectators who were the furthest of all removed, could
not hear. We may also explain the texts thus. During the actual nailing of
our Lord to the Cross, the concourse of soldiers and people kept the holy
women at a distance, but as soon as the Cross was fixed in the ground many
of the Jews returned to the city, and then the three women and St. John
drew nearer. This explanation does away with the difficulty as to the
reason why the Blessed Virgin and St. John applied to themselves the words,
"Behold thy Son; Behold thy Mother," when so many others were present, and
Christ addressed neither His Mother nor His disciple by name. The real
answer to this objection is that the three women and St. John were standing
so near the Cross as to enable our Lord to designate by His looks the
persons whom He was addressing. Besides, the words were evidently spoken to
His personal friends, and not to strangers. And amongst His personal
friends who were on the spot there was no other man to whom he could say,
"Behold thy Mother," except St. John, and there was no other woman who
would be rendered childless by His death except His Virgin Mother.
Wherefore He said to His Mother: "Behold thy Son," and to His disciple, "
Behold thy Mother." Now this is the literal meaning of these words: I
indeed am on the point of passing from this world to the bosom of My
Heavenly Father, and since I am fully aware that you My Mother, have
neither parents, nor a husband, nor brothers, nor sisters, in order not to
leave you utterly destitute of human succour, I commend you to the care of
My most beloved disciple John: he will act towards you as a son, and you
will act towards him as a Mother. And this counsel or command of Christ,
which showed Him to be so mindful of others, was alike welcome to both
parties, and both we may believe to have bowed their heads in token of
their acquiescence, for St. John says of himself; "And from that hour that
disciple took her unto his own," that is, St. John immediately obeyed our
Lord, and reckoned the Blessed Virgin, together with his now aged parents
Zebedee and Salome amongst the persons for whom it was his duty to care and
There still remains another question which may be asked. St. John was one
of those who had said; "Behold we have forsaken all, and followed Thee;
what shall we have therefore?" And among the things which they had
abandoned, our Lord enumerates father and mother, brothers and sisters,
house and lands; and St. Matthew, when speaking of St. John and his brother
St. James, said: "And they immediately left their nets and their father and
followed Him." Whence comes it then that he who had left one mother for
the sake of Christ, should be told by our Lord to look upon the Blessed
Virgin in the light of a Mother? We have not far to go for an answer. When
the Apostles followed Christ they left their father and mother, in so far
as they might be an impediment to their evangelical life, and inasmuch, as
any worldly advantage and carnal pleasure might be derived from their
presence. But they did not forego that solicitude which a man is justly
bound to show for his parents or his children, if they want either his
direction or his assistance. Whence some spiritual writers affirm that that
son cannot enter a religious order, whose father is either so stricken with
age, or oppressed with poverty as to be unable to live without his aid. And
as St. John left his father and mother when they stood not in need of him,
so when Christ ordered him to take care of and provide for His Virgin
Mother, she was destitute of all human succour. God indeed, without any
assistance from man, might have provided His Mother with all things
necessary by the ministry of angels, just as they ministered to Christ
Himself in the desert: but He wished St. John to do this in order that
whilst the Apostle took care of the Virgin, she might honour and help the
Apostle. For God sent Elias to the assistance of a poor widow, not that He
could not have supported her by means of a raven, as He had done before,
but in order, as St. Austin observes, that the prophet might bless her.
Wherefore it pleased our Lord to intrust His Mother to the care of St. John
for the twofold purpose of bestowing a blessing upon him, and to prove that
he above all the rest was His beloved disciple. For truly in this transfer
of His Mother was fulfilled that text: " Every one that hath forsaken
father or mother shall receive a hundred-fold, and shall inherit life
everlasting." For certainly he received a hundred-fold, who leaving his
mother, the wife of a fisherman, received as a mother, the Mother of the
Creator, the Queen of the world, who was full of grace, blessed among
women, and shortly to be raised above all the choirs of angels in the
1. St. John xix. 26, 27.
2. St. Mark xvi. 1.
3. St. Matt. xxvii. 56.
4. St. Mark xv. 40.
5. St. Mark xv. 40.
6. St. Luke xxiii. 49.
7. St. Matt. xix. 27.
8. St. Matt. iv. 22.
9. St. Matt. xix. 29.
CHAPTER IX. The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the third
Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
If we examine attentively all the circumstances under which this third word
was spoken, we may gather many fruits from its consideration First of all,
we have brought before us the intense desire which Christ felt of suffering
for our salvation in order that our redemption might be copious and
plentiful For in order not to increase the pain and sorrow they feel, some
men take measures to prevent their relatives being present at their death,
particularly if their death is to be a violent one, accompanied by disgrace
and infamy But Christ was not satiated with His own most bitter Passion, so
full of grief and shame, but wished also that His Mother and the disciple
whom He loved, should be present, and should even stand near the Cross in
order that the sight of the sufferings of those most dear to Him might
augment His own grief. Four streams of Blood were pouring from the mangled
Body of Christ on the Cross, and He wished that four streams of tears
should flow from the eyes of His Mother, of His disciple, of Mary His
Mother's sister, and of Magdalene, the most cherished of the holy women, in
order that the cause of His sufferings might be due less to the shedding of
His own Blood, than to the copious flood of tears which the sight of His
agony wrung from the hearts of those who were standing near. I imagine that
I hear Christ saying to me "The sorrows of death surround Me," for the
sword of Simeon rends and mangles My Heart, as cruelly as it passes through
the soul of My most innocent Mother It is thus that a bitter death should
separate not only the soul from the body, but a mother from a son, and such
a Mother from such a Son! For this reason He said, "Woman, behold thy son,"
for His love for Mary would not permit Him at such a moment to address her
by the endearing name of Mother. God has so loved the world as to give His
Only-Begotten Son for its redemption, and the Only-Begotten Son has so
loved the Father as to shed profusely His very Blood for His honour, and
not satisfied with the pangs of His Passion, has endured the agonies of
compassion, so that there might be a plentiful redemption for our sins. And
that we may not perish but may enjoy life everlasting, the Father and the
Son exhort us to the imitation of Their charity by pourtraying it in its
most exquisite beauty; and yet the heart of man still resists this so great
charity, and consequently deserves rather to feel the wrath of God, than to
taste the sweetness of His mercy, and fall into the arms of Divine love We
should be indeed ungrateful, and should deserve everlasting torments, if we
would not for His love endure the little purging which is necessary for our
salvation, when we behold our Redeemer loving us to that extent, as to
suffer for our sakes more than was necessary, to endure countless torments,
and to shed every drop of His Blood, when one single drop would have been
amply sufficient for our redemption The only reason that can be assigned
for our sloth and folly is, that we neither meditate on the Passion of
Christ, nor consider His immense love for us with that earnestness and
attention we ought to do We content ourselves with reading the Passion
hastily, or hearing it read, instead of securing fitting opportunities to
penetrate ourselves with the thought of it. On that account the holy
Prophet admonishes us: "Attend and see if there be sorrow like unto my
sorrow." And the Apostle says: "Consider Him that endureth such
contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in
your minds." But the time will come when our ingratitude towards God and
listlessness in the affair of our own salvation will be a subject of
sincere sorrow to us. For there are many who at the Last Day "will groan
for anguish of spirit," and will say: "Therefore we have erred from the way
of truth, and the light of justice hath not shined upon us." And they will
not feel this fruitless sorrow for the first time in hell, but before the
Day of Judgment, when their mortal eyes shall be shut in death, and the
eyes of their soul shall be opened, will they behold the truth of those
things to which during their life they were wilfully blind.
1. Psalm xvii.
2. Lament. i. 10.
3. Heb. xii. 3.
4. Wisdom v. 6.
CHAPTER X: The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the third
Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
We may draw another fruit from the consideration of the third word spoken
by Christ on the Cross from this circumstance, that there were three women
who stood near the Cross of our Lord Mary Magdalene is the representative
of the penitent sinner, or of one who is making a first attempt to advance
in the way of perfection. Mary the wife of Cleophas is the representative
of those who have already made some advance towards perfection; and Mary
the Virgin Mother of Christ is the representative of those who are perfect
We may couple St. John with our Lady, who was shortly to be, if he were not
already, confirmed in grace These were the only persons who were found near
the Cross, for abandoned sinners who never think of penance are far removed
from the ladder of salvation, the Cross Moreover, it was not without a
purpose that these chosen souls were near the Cross, since even they were
in need of the assistance of Him Who was nailed thereon. Penitents, or
beginners in virtue, in order to carry on the war against their vices and
concupiscences require help from Christ, their Leader, and this help to
fight with the old serpent they receive in the encouragement which His
example gives them, for He would not descend from the Cross until He had
gained a complete victory over the devil, which is what we are taught by
St. Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians: " Blotting out the handwriting
of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it
out of the way, nailing it to His Cross; and having spoiled principalities
and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it."
Mary the wife of Cleophas, and the mother of children who were called the
brothers of our Lord, is the representative of those who have already made
some progress on the path of perfection These also want assistance from the
Cross, lest the cares and anxieties of this world, with which they are
necessarily mixed up, choke in them the good seed, and a night of labour
will result in the capture of nothing Therefore souls in this stage of
perfection must still work and cast many a glance on Christ nailed to His
Cross, Who was not satisfied by the great and manifold good deeds He
performed during His life, but wished by means of His death to advance to
the most heroic degree of virtue, for until the enemy of mankind had been
thoroughly vanquished and put to flight, He would not come down from His
Cross. To grow weary in the pursuit of virtue, and to cease from performing
acts of virtue, are the greatest impediments to our spiritual advancement,
for as St. Bernard truly notes in his Epistle to Garinus, "not to advance
in virtue is to go back;" and in this same epistle he refers to the ladder
of Jacob, whereon all the angels were either ascending or descending, but
none were standing still. Moreover, even in the perfect who live a life of
celibacy and are virgins, as were our Blessed Lady and St. John, who for
this reason was the chosen Apostle of Christ, even these, I say, greatly
need the assistance of Him that was crucified, since their very virtue
exposes them to the danger of falling through spiritual pride, unless they
are well grounded in humility During the course of His public ministry,
Christ gave us many lessons in humility, as when He said "Learn of Me, for
I am meek and humble of Heart." And again "Sit ye down in the lowest
place;" and "Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he that
humbleth himself shall be exalted." Still all His exhortations on the
necessity of this virtue are not so persuasive as the example He set us on
the Cross For what greater example of humility can we conceive than that
the Omnipotent should allow Himself to be bound with ropes and nailed to a
Cross ? And that He "in Whom are hid all the treasures of the wisdom and
knowledge of God" should permit Herod and his army to treat Him as a fool
and clothe Him with a white robe, and that "He Who sitteth on the
cherubim" should suffer Himself to be crucified between two thieves? Well
might we say after this, that the man who should kneel before a crucifix,
and should look into the interior of his own soul, and should come to the
conclusion that he was not deficient in the virtue of humility, would be
incapable of learning any lesson.
1. Coloss. ii. 14-15.
2. St. Matt. xi. 29.
3. St. Luke xiv. 10.
4. St. Luke xviii. 14.
5. Coloss. ii. 3.
6. Psalm xcviii. 1.
CHAPTER XI: The third fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the third
Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
We learn in the third place from the words which Christ addressed to His
Mother and to His disciple from the pulpit of the Cross, what are the
relative duties of parents towards their children, and of children towards
their parents We will treat in the first place of the duties which parents
owe their children. Christian parents should love their children, but in
such a manner that the love of their children should not interfere with
their love of God. This is the doctrine that our Lord lays down in the
Gospel "He that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me."
It was in obedience to this law that our Lady stood near the Cross to her
intense agony, yet with great constancy of soul. Her grief was a proof of
the great love she bore her Son, Who was dying on the Cross beside her, and
her constancy was a proof of her subservience to the God Who was reigning
in heaven. The sight of her innocent Son, Whom she passionately loved,
dying in the midst of such torments, was enough to break her heart; but
even had she been able, she would not have hindered the crucifixion, since
she knew that all these sufferings were being inflicted on her Son
according to "the determinate council and fore-knowledge of God." Love is
the measure of grief, and because this Virgin Mother loved much, therefore
was she afflicted beyond measure at beholding her Son so cruelly tortured
And how could this Virgin Mother help loving her Son, when she knew that He
excelled the rest of mankind in every kind of excellence, and when He was
related to her by a closer tie than other children are related to their
parents? There is a twofold reason why parents love their offspring; one,
because they have begotten them, and the other, because the good qualities
of their children redound on themselves There are some parents, however,
who feel but a slight attachment to their children, and others who
positively hate them if they are deformed or wicked, or have the misfortune
of being illegitimate Now for the aforesaid twofold reason, the Virgin
Mother of God loved her Son more than any other mother could love her child
In the first place, no woman has ever given birth to a child without the
cooperation of her husband, but the Blessed Virgin brought forth her Son
without any contact with man; as a Virgin she conceived Him, and as a
Virgin she brought Him forth, and as Christ our Lord in the Divine
generation has a Father without a Mother, so in the human generation He has
a Mother without a Father. When we say that Christ our Lord was conceived
of the Holy Ghost, we do not mean that the Holy Spirit is the Father of
Christ, but that He formed and moulded the Body of Christ, not out of His
own substance, but from the pure flesh of the Virgin. Truly then has the
Virgin alone begotten Him, she alone can claim Him as her own Son, and
therefore has she loved Him with more than a mother's love In the second
place, the Son of the Virgin not only was and is beautiful beyond the
children of men but surpasses in every way all angels also, and as a
natural consequence of her great love, the Blessed Virgin mourned over the
Passion and Death of her Son more than others, and St. Bernard does not
hesitate to affirm in one of his sermons, that the sorrow our Lady felt at
the crucifixion was a martyrdom of the heart, according to the prophecy of
Simeon "A sword shall pierce through thy own soul." And since the
martyrdom of the heart is more bitter than the martyrdom of the body, St.
Anselm in his work on the "Excellence of the Virgin," says that the grief
of the Virgin was more bitter than any bodily suffering Our Lord, in His
Agony in the Garden of Gethsemani, suffered a martyrdom of the heart by
passing in review all the sufferings and torments He was to endure on the
morrow, and by opening on to His soul the floodgates of grief and fear He
began to be so afflicted, that a Sweat of Blood diffused from His Body, an
occurrence which we are not informed ever resulted from his corporal
sufferings Therefore, beyond a doubt, our Blessed Lady carried a most heavy
cross, and endured most poignant grief, from the sword of sorrow which
pierced her soul, but she stood near the Cross the very model of patience,
and beheld all His sufferings without manifesting a sign of impatience,
because she sought the honour and glory of God rather than the
gratification of her maternal love She did not fall to the ground half dead
with sorrow, as some imagine; nor did she tear her hair, nor sob and cry
aloud, but she bravely bore the affliction which it was the will of God she
should bear She loved her Son vehemently, but she loved the honour of God
the Father and the salvation of mankind more, just as her Divine Son
preferred these two objects to the preservation of His life Moreover, her
unwavering faith in the resurrection of her Son increased her confidence of
soul to such an extent that she stood in no need of consolation from any
man She was aware that the Death of her Son would be like a short sleep,
according to what the Royal Psalmist said "I have slept and have taken my
rest, and I have risen up, because the Lord hath protected me."
All the faithful should imitate this example of Christ by deferring the
love of their children to the love of God, Who is the Father of all, and
loves all with a greater and more beneficial love than we can bear
ourselves. In the first place, Christian parents should love their children
with a manly and prudent love, not encouraging them if they do wrong, but
educating them in the fear of God, and correcting them, even chastising and
punishing them if they either offend God or neglect their studies For this
is the will of God, as it is revealed to us in Holy Writ, in the Book of
Ecclesiasticus, "Hast thou children? instruct them, and bow down their neck
from their childhood." And we read of Tobias that "from his infancy he
taught his son to fear God and to abstain from all sin." The Apostle warns
parents not to provoke their children to anger, lest they be discouraged,
but to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, that is, to
treat them not as slaves, but as children. Parents who are too severe with
their children, and who rebuke and punish them even for a small fault,
treat them as slaves, and such treatment will discourage them and make them
hate the paternal roof; and on the contrary, those parents who are too
indulgent will rear up immoral children, who will become victims of hell-
fire instead of possessing an immortal crown in heaven.
The right method for parents to adopt in the education of their children is
to teach them to obey their superiors, and when they are disobedient to
correct them, but in such a manner as to make it evident that the
correction proceeds from a spirit of love and not of hatred. Moreover, if
God calls a child to the priesthood or to the religious life, no impediment
should be offered to his vocation, for parents should not oppose the will
of God, but should say with holy Job "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath
taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord." Lastly, if parents lose
their children by an untimely death, as our Blessed Lady lost her Divine
Son, they should trust in the good judgment of God, Who sometimes takes a
soul to Himself if He perceives that it may lose its innocence and so
perish forever Truly if parents could penetrate into the designs of God in
the death of a child, they would rejoice rather than weep: and if we had a
lively faith in the Resurrection, as our Lady had, we should no more repine
because a person dies in his youth, than we should weep because a person
goes to sleep before night-time, since the death of the faithful is a kind
of sleep, as the Apostle tells us in his Epistle to the Thessalonians: "But
I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them who are
asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope". The Apostle
speaks rather of hope than of faith, because he does not refer to an
uncertain resurrection, but to a happy and glorious resurrection, similar
to that of Christ, which was a waking up to true life. For the man who has
a firm faith in the resurrection of the body, and trusts that his dead
child will rise again to glory, has no cause for sorrow, but great reason
for rejoicing, because his child's salvation is secured.
Our next point is to treat of the duty which children owe their parents Our
Lord in His Death gave us a most perfect example of filial respect. Now,
according to the words of the Apostle, the duty of children is "to requite
their parents." Children requite their parents when they provide all
necessary conveniences for them in their old age, just as their parents
procured food and raiment for them in their infancy. When Christ was at the
point of death He entrusted His aged Mother, who had no one to care for
her, to the protection of St. John, and told her to look upon him in future
as her son, and commanded St. John to reverence her as his mother And thus
our Lord perfectly fulfilled the obligations which a son owes his mother.
In the first place, in the person of St. John He gave His Virgin Mother a
son who was of the same age as Himself, or perhaps a year younger, and
therefore was in every way capable to provide for the comfort of the Mother
of our Lord. Secondly, He gave her for a son the disciple whom He loved
more than the rest, and who ardently returned Him love for love, and
consequently our Lord had the greatest confidence in the diligence with
which His disciple would support His Mother. Moreover He chose the disciple
whom He knew would outlive the other apostles, and would consequently
survive His parent Lastly, our Lord was mindful of His Mother at the most
calamitous moment of His life, when His whole Body was the prey of
sufferings, when His whole Soul was racked by the insolent taunts of His
enemies, and He had to drink the bitter chalice of approaching death, so
that it would seem He could think of nothing but His own sorrows
Nevertheless, His love for His Mother triumphed over all, and forgetting
Himself, His only thought was how to comfort and help her, nor was His hope
in the promptitude and fidelity of His disciple deceived, for "from that
hour he took her unto his own."
Every child has a greater obligation than our Lord had to provide for the
temporal wants of his parents, since every man owes more to his parents
than Christ owed to His Mother. Each infant receives a greater favour from
his parents than he can ever hope to repay, for he has received from their
hands what it is impossible for him to bestow on them, namely, a being
"Remember," says Ecclesiasticus, "that thou hadst not been born but through
them." Christ alone is an exception to this rule He indeed received from
His Mother His life as a man, but He bestowed on her three lives; her human
life, when with the cooperation of the Father and the Holy Ghost He created
her; her life of grace, when He forestalled her in the sweetness of His
blessings by creating her Immaculate, and her life of glory when she was
assumed into the kingdom of glory, and exalted above all the choirs of
angels. Wherefore if Christ, Who gave His Blessed Mother more than He had
received from her in His birth, wished to requite her, certainly the rest
of mankind are still more obliged to requite their parents Moreover, we
only do our duty in honouring our parents, and yet the goodness of God is
such as to reward us for this In the Ten Commandments the law is laid down-
-"Honour thy father and thy mother, that thou mayst be long-lived upon the
land." And the Holy Ghost says: "He that honoureth his father shall have
joy in his own children, and in the day of his prayer he shall be heard."
And God does not only reward those who reverence their parents, but
punishes those who are disrespectful to them, for these are the words of
Christ: "God hath said He that curseth father or mother let him die the
death." "And he is cursed of God that angereth his mother. Hence we
may conclude that a parent's curse will bring ruin in its train, for God
Himself will ratify it. This is proved by many examples; and one which St.
Augustine relates in his City of God we will briefly narrate. In Caesarea,
a town of Cappadocia, there were ten children, namely seven boys and three
girls, who were cursed by their mother, and were immediately struck by
heaven with such an infliction that all their limbs shook, and, in this
pitiable plight, wheresoever any of them went, they were unable to bear the
gaze of their fellow-citizens, and thus they wandered throughout the whole
Roman world. At last two of them were cured by the relics of St. Stephen
the Proto-martyr, in the presence of St. Augustine.
1. St. Matt. x. 37.
2. Acts. ii. 23.
3. St. Luke ii. 35.
4. Psalm iii. 6.
5. Ecclus. vii. 24.
6. Tobias i. 10.
7. Coloss. iii. 21; Ephes. vi. 4.
8. Job i. 21.
9. 1 Thess. iv. 12.
10. 1 Tim. v. 4.
11. St. John xix. 27.
12. Ecclus. vii. 30.
13. Exodus xx. 12.
14. Ecclus. iii. 6.
15. St. Matt. xv. 4.
16. Ecclus. iii. 18.
CHAPTER XII: The fourth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
third Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
The burden and yoke our Lord imposed on St. John, in intrusting to his care
the protection of His Virgin Mother, was indeed a yoke that was sweet, and
a burden that was light Who indeed would not esteem it a happiness to dwell
under the same roof with her, who for nine months had borne in her womb the
Incarnate Word, and for thirty years enjoyed the most sweet and happy
communication of sentiments with Him? Who does not envy the chosen disciple
of our Lord, whose heart in the absence of the Son of God was gladdened by
the constant presence of the Mother of God? Yet if I mistake not it is in
our power to obtain by our prayers that our most kind Lord, Who became Man
for our sakes and was crucified for love of us, should say to us in
reference to His Mother, "Behold thy Mother," and should say to His Mother
for each one of us "Behold thy son!" Our good Lord is not avaricious of His
graces, provided we approach the throne of grace with faith and confidence,
with true and open but not dissembling hearts He Who wishes to have us
coheirs in the kingdom of His Father, will not disdain to have us coheirs
in the love of His Mother Nor will our most benign Lady take it amiss to
have a countless host of children, since she has a heart capable of
embracing us all, and ardently desires that not one of those sons should
perish whom her Divine Son redeemed with His precious Blood and His still
more precious Death Let us therefore with confidence approach the throne of
the grace of Christ, and with tears humbly beg of Him to say to His Mother
for each of us, "Behold thy son," and to us in reference to His Mother,
"Behold thy Mother." How secure should we be under the protection of such a
Mother! Who would dare to drag us from beneath her mantle? What
temptations, what tribulations could overcome us if we confide in the
protection of the Mother of God and of our Mother? Nor should we be the
first who had secured such powerful patronage. Many have preceded us, many
I say have placed themselves under the singular and maternal protection of
so powerful a Virgin, and no one has been cast off by her with his soul in
a perplexed and despondent state, but all who confide in the love of such a
Mother are happy and contented. Of her it is written "She shall crush thy
head." Those who trust in her will safely "walk upon the asp and the
basilisk, and will trample under foot the lion and the dragon." Let us,
however, listen to the words of a few distinguished men out of the vast
array who acknowledged that they had placed their hope of salvation in the
Virgin, and to whom we may believe our Lord had said "Behold thy Mother,"
and of whom He had said to His Mother, "Behold thy son."
The first shall be the Syrian, St. Ephrem, an ancient Father of such renown
that St. Jerome informs us his works were publicly read in the churches
after the Holy Scriptures. In one of his sermons on the praises of the
Mother of God, he says, "The undefiled and pure Virgin Mother of God, the
Queen of all, and the hope of those in despair." And again "Thou art a
harbour for those who are tossed by storms, the comfort of the world, the
liberator of those in prison; thou art the mother of orphans, the redeemer
of captives, the joy of the sick, and the star of safety for all." And
again "Under thy wing, guard and protect me, have mercy on me who am
defiled with sin. I have confidence in none other but thee, O Virgin most
sincere. Hail peace, joy, and safety of the world!" We will next quote St.
John Damascene, who was one of the first to show the greatest honour and
place the greatest confidence in the protection of the most holy Virgin. He
thus discourses in a sermon on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin: "O
daughter of Joachim and Anne, O Lady, receive the prayers of a sinner who
ardently loves and honours you, and looks up to you as his only hope of
joy, as the priestess of life, and the leader of sinners back to grace and
favour with your Son, and the secure depositary of safety, lighten the
burden of my sins, overcome my temptations, make my life pious and holy,
and grant that under thy guidance I may come to the happiness of heaven."
We will now select a few passages from two Latin Fathers. St. Anselm, in
his work on the "Excellence of the Virgin," somewhere says: "I consider it
a great sign of predestination for any one to have had the favour granted
him of frequently thinking of Mary." And again: "Remember that we sometimes
obtain help by invoking the name of the Virgin Mother sooner than if we had
invoked the Name of the Lord Jesus, her only Son, and this not because she
is greater or more powerful than He, nor because He is great and powerful
through her, but she is so through Him. How is it then that we obtain
assistance sooner by invoking her than by invoking her Son? I say that I
think this is so, and my reason is that her Son is the Lord and Judge of
all, and is able to discern the merits of each. Consequently when His Name
is invoked by any one, He may justly turn a deaf ear to the entreaty, but
if the name of His Mother is invoked, even supposing that the merits of the
supplicant do not entitle him to be heard, still the merits of the Mother
of God are such that her Son cannot refuse to listen to her prayer." But
St. Bernard, in language which is truly wonderful, describes on the one
hand the holy and maternal affection with which the Blessed Virgin
cherishes those who are devout to her, and on the other hand the tender and
filial love of those who regard her as their Mother. In his second sermon
on the text, "The Angel was sent," he exclaims: "O thou, whoever thou art,
that knowest thou art exposed to the dangers of the tempestuous sea of this
world more than thou enjoyest the security of dry land, do not withdraw thy
eyes from the splendour of this Star, from Mary the Star of the Sea, unless
thou wishest to be swallowed up in the tempest. If the winds of temptations
arise, if thou art thrown upon the rocks of tribulations, look up to this
Star, call upon Mary. If thou art tossed hither and thither on the billows
of pride, ambition, detraction, or envy, look up to this Star, call on
Mary. If thou, terrified at the enormity of thy crimes, perplexed at the
unclean state of thy conscience, and stricken with awe for thy Judge,
beginnest to be engulphed in the abyss of sadness or the pit of despair,
think of Mary; in all thy dangers, in all thy difficulties, in all thy
doubts think of Mary, call upon Mary. Thou wilt not go astray if thou
followest her, thou wilt not despair if thou prayest to her, thou wilt not
err if thou thinkest of her." The same Saint in his sermon on the Nativity
of the Virgin, speaks as follows. "Raise your thoughts and judge with what
affection He wishes us to honour Mary, Who has filled her soul with the
plenitude of His goodness, so that whatever hope, whatever grace, whatever
preservation from sin is ours we may recognize as flowing from her hands."
"Let us then venerate Mary with our whole hearts and all our votive
offerings, for such is His will Who would have us receive everything
through Mary." "My children, she is the ladder for sinners, she is my
greatest confidence, she is the whole foundation of my hope." To these
extracts from the writings of two holy Fathers, I will add some quotations
from two holy theologians. St. Thomas, in his essay on the Angelical
salutation, says: "She is blessed among women because she alone has removed
the curse of Adam, brought blessings to mankind, and opened the gates of
Paradise. Hence she is called Mary, which name signifies 'Star of the Sea,'
for as sailors steer their ship to port by watching the stars, so
Christians are brought to glory by the intercession of Mary." St.
Bonaventure in his Pharetra writes: "O most Blessed Virgin, as every one
that hates you and is forgotten by you must necessarily perish, so every
one that loves you and is loved by you must necessarily be saved." The same
Saint in his Life of St. Francis speaks of that Saint's confidence in the
Blessed Virgin in the following terms. "He loved the Mother of our Lord
Jesus Christ with an unspeakable love, by her our Lord Jesus Christ became
our brother, and by her we have obtained mercy. Next to Christ he placed
all his confidence in her, he regarded her as his own and his Order's
advocate, and in her honour devoutly fasted from the feast of St. Peter and
Paul to the Assumption." With these saints we will couple the name of Pope
Innocent III, who was eminently distinguished for his devotion to the
Virgin, and not only extolled her in his sermons, but built a monastery in
her honour, and what is more admirable, in an exhortation he made to his
flock to induce them to trust in her, he used words the truth of which was
afterwards exemplified in his own person. Thus he spoke in his second
sermon on the Assumption: "Let the man who is sitting in the darkness of
sin look up to the moon, let him invoke Mary that she may
intercede with her Son, and bring him to compunction of heart. For who has
ever called upon her in his distress and has not been heard?" The reader
should consult cap. ix. book 2, on the "Tears of the Dove," and see what we
have there written about Pope Innocent III. From these extracts, and from
these signs of predestination, it is abundantly evident that a hearty
devotion to the Virgin Mother of God is not a modern introduction. For it
seems incredible that that man should perish in whose favour Christ had
said to His Mother, "Behold thy son," provided that he has not turned a
deaf ear to the words which Christ had addressed to himself, "Behold thy
1. Gen. iii. 15.
2. Psalm xc. 13.
BOOK II: ON THE LAST FOUR WORDS SPOKEN ON THE CROSS.
CHAPTER I. The literal explanation of the fourth Word, "My God, My God, why
hast Thou forsaken Me?"
We have explained in the preceding Part the three first words which were
spoken by our Lord from the pulpit of the Cross, about the sixth hour, soon
after His crucifixion. In this Part we will explain the remaining four
words, which, after the darkness and silence of three hours, this same Lord
from this same pulpit proclaimed with a loud voice. But first it seems
necessary briefly to explain what, and whence, and for what end arose the
darkness which intervened between the three first and the four last words,
for thus does St. Matthew speak: "Now from the sixth hour there was
darkness over the whole earth, until the ninth hour; and about the ninth
hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani?
that is, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" And that this
darkness arose from an eclipse of the sun is expressly told us by St. Luke:
"And the sun was darkened," he says.
But here three difficulties present themselves. In the first place, an
eclipse of the sun takes place at new moon, when the moon is between the
earth and the sun, and this could not be at the death of Christ, because
the moon was not in conjunction with the sun, as it is when there is a new
moon, but was opposite to the sun as at full moon, as the Passion occurred
at the Pasch of the Jews, which, according to St. Luke, was on the
fourteenth day of the lunar month. In the second place, even if the moon
had been in conjunction with the sun at the time of the Passion, the
darkness could not have lasted three hours, that is, from the sixth to the
ninth hour, since an eclipse of the sun does not last long, particularly if
it is a total eclipse, when the sun is so entirely hidden that its
obscuration is called darkness. For as the moon moves quicker than the sun,
according to its own proper motion, it consequently darkens the whole
surface of the sun for a short time only, and, being constantly in motion,
the sun, as the moon recedes, begins to give its light to the earth.
Lastly, it can never happen that through the conjunction of the sun and
moon the whole earth should be left in darkness. For the moon is smaller
than the sun--smaller even than the earth, and therefore by its
interposition the moon cannot so obscure the sun as to deprive the universe
of its light. And if any one should maintain the opinion that the
Evangelists speak of the whole land of Palestine, and not of the whole
world absolutely, he is refuted by the testimony of St. Dionysius the
Areopagite, who, in his Epistle to St. Polycarp, declares that in the city
of Heliopolis, in Egypt, he himself saw this eclipse of the sun, and felt
this horrid darkness. And Phlegon, a Greek historian and a Gentile, refers
to this eclipse when he says: " In the fourth year of the two hundred and
second Olympiad, there took place a greater and more extraordinary eclipse
than had ever happened before, for at the sixth hour the light of day was
changed into the darkness of night, so that the stars appeared in the
heavens." This historian did not write in Judaea, and he is quoted by
Origen against Celsus, and Eusebius in his Chronicles for the thirty-third
year of Christ. Lucian the martyr bears witness to the fact thus: "Look
into our annals, and you will find that in the time of Pilate the sun
disappeared, and the day was invaded by darkness." Ruffinus quotes these
words of St. Lucian in the Ecclesiastical history of Eusebius, which he
himself translated into Latin. Tertullian, also, in his "Apologeticon," and
Paul Orosius, in his history--all, in fact, speak of the whole globe, and
not of Judaea only. Now for the solution of the difficulties. What we said
above, that an eclipse of the sun happens at new moon, and not at full
moon, is true when a natural eclipse takes place; but the eclipse at the
death of Christ was extraordinary and unnatural, because it was the effect
of Him Who made the sun and the moon, the heaven and the earth. St.
Dionysius, in the passage to which we have just referred, asserts that the
moon at mid-day was seen by himself and Apollophanes to approach the sun by
a rapid and unusual motion, and that the moon placed itself before the sun
and remained in that position till the ninth hour, and in the same manner
returned to its own place in the east. To the objection that an eclipse of
the sun could not last three hours, so that throughout that time darkness
should overspread the earth, we may reply, that in a natural and ordinary
eclipse this would be true; this eclipse, however, was not ruled by the
laws of nature, but by the will of the Almighty Creator, Who could as
easily make the moon remain, as it were, stationary before the sun, moving
neither quicker nor slower than the sun, as He could bring the moon in an
extraordinary manner and with great velocity from its position in the east
to the sun, and after three hours make it return to its proper place in the
skies. Finally, an eclipse of the sun could not be perceived at the same
moment in every part of the world, since the moon is smaller than the earth
and much smaller than the sun. This is most true if we regard the
interposition of the moon alone; but what the moon could not of itself do,
the Creator of the sun and moon did, merely by not cooperating with the sun
in illuminating the globe. Nor, again, can it be true, as some suppose,
that this universal darkness was caused by dense and dark clouds, as it is
evident, on the authority of the ancients, that during this eclipse and
darkness the stars shone in heaven, and dense clouds would obscure not only
the sun, but also the moon and stars.
Various are the reasons given why God desired this universal darkness
during the Passion of Christ. There are two special ones. First, to show
the very great blindness of the Jewish people, as St. Leo tells us in his
tenth sermon on the Passion of our Lord, and this blindness of the Jews
lasts till this moment, and will last, according to the prophecy of Isaias:
"Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory
of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and a mist the people:" darkness, forsooth, the most dense shall cover the
people of Israel, and a mist which is lighter and easily dissipated shall
cover the Gentiles. The second reason, as St. Jerome teaches, was to show
the enormity of the sin of the Jews. Formerly, indeed, wicked men were wont
to harass, and persecute, and kill the good; now impious men have dared to
persecute, and crucify God Himself, Who had assumed our human nature.
Formerly men disputed with one another; from disputes they came to oaths;
from oaths to blood and slaughter; now servants and slaves have risen up
against the King of men and angels, and with unheard-of audacity have
nailed Him to a Cross. Therefore the whole world is filled with horror, and
in order to show its detestation of such a crime, the sun has withdrawn its
rays and has covered the universe with a terrible darkness.
Let us now come to the interpretation of the words of our Lord: "Eli, Eli,
lamma sabacthani." These words are taken from the twenty-first Psalm: "O
God, my God, look upon me; why hast Thou forsaken me?" The words "look
upon me," which occur in the middle of the verse, were added by the
Septuagint interpreters: but in the Hebrew text those words only are found
which our Lord pronounced. We must remark that the Psalms were written in
Hebrew, and the words spoken by Christ were partly Syriac, which was the
language then in use amongst the Jews. These words: "Tabitha cumi--"Damsel,
I say to thee, Arise," and Ephphetha--"Be thou opened," and some other
words in the Gospel are Syriac and not Hebrew. Our Lord then complains that
He has been abandoned by God, and He complains crying out with a loud
voice. Both these circumstances must be briefly explained. The abandonment
of Christ by His Father might be interpreted in five ways, but there is
only one true interpretation. There were indeed five unions between the
Father and the Son: one the natural and eternal union of the Person of the
Son in essence: the second, a new bond of union of the Divine nature with
the human nature in the Person of the Son, or what is the same thing, the
union of the Divine Person of the Son with the human nature: the third was
the union of grace and will, for Christ as man was "full of grace and
truth," as He testifies in St. John: "I do always the things that please
Him:" and of Him the Father spoke: "This is My beloved Son in Whom I am
well pleased." The fourth was the union of glory, since the soul of Christ
from the moment of conception enjoyed the beatific vision: the fifth was
the union of protection to which He refers when He says: "And He that sent
Me is with Me, and He hath not left Me alone." The first kind of union is
inseparable and eternal, because it is founded in the Divine Essence, so
our Lord says: "I and the Father are One:" and therefore Christ did not
say: My Father, why hast Thou forsaken Me? but "My God, why hast Thou
forsaken Me?" For the Father is called the God of the Son only after the
Incarnation and by reason of the Incarnation. The second kind of union
never has nor can be dissolved, because what God has once assumed He can
never lay aside and so the Apostle says: "He that spared not His own Son,
but delivered Him up for us all; and, St. Peter, "Christ suffered for
us," and "Christ therefore having suffered in the flesh:" all which
proves that it was not a mere man, but the true Son of God, and Christ the
Lord Who was crucified. The third kind of union also still exists and ever
will exist: "Because Christ also died once for our sins, the just for the
unjust," as St. Peter expresses it; for the death of Christ would have
profited us nothing had this union of grace been dissolved. The fourth
union could not be disturbed, because the beatitude of the soul cannot be
lost, since it embraces the enjoyment of every good, and the superior part
of the soul of Christ was truly happy.
There remains then the union of protection only, which was broken for a
short period, in order to allow time for the oblation of the bloody
sacrifice for the redemption of mankind. God the Father indeed could in
many ways have protected Christ, and have hindered the Passion, and for
this reason in His Prayer in the Garden Christ says: "Father, all things
are possible to Thee: remove this chalice from Me, but not what I will, but
what Thou wilt:" and again to St. Peter: "Thinkest Thou that I cannot ask
My Father, and He will give Me presently more than twelve legions of
angels?" Christ also as God could have saved His Body from suffering, for
He says "No man taketh" My life "away from Me, but I lay it down of
Myself and this is what Isaias had foretold: "He was offered because it
was His own will." Finally, the blessed Soul of Christ could have
transmitted to the Body the gift of impassibility and incorruption; but it
was pleasing to the Father, and to the Word, and to the Holy Spirit, for
the accomplishment of the decree of the Blessed Trinity, to allow the power
of man to prevail for a time against Christ. For this was that hour to
which Christ referred when He said to those who had come to apprehend Him:
"This is your hour and the power of darkness." Thus then God abandoned
His Son when He allowed His Human flesh to suffer such cruel torments
without any consolation, and Christ crying out with a loud voice manifested
this abandonment so that all might know the greatness of the price of our
redemption, for up to that hour He had borne all His torments with such
patience and equanimity as to appear almost bereft of the power of feeling.
He did not complain of the Jews who accused Him, nor of Pilate who
condemned Him, nor of the soldiers who crucified Him. He did not groan: He
did not cry out: He did not give any outward sign of His suffering; and now
at the point of death, in order that mankind might understand, and that we,
His servants, might remember so great a grace, and value the price of our
redemption, He wished publicly to declare the great suffering of His
Passion. Wherefore these words: "My God, why hast Thou abandoned Me?" are
not words of one who accuses, or who reproaches, or who complains, but, as
I have said, they are the words of One who declares the greatness of His
suffering for the best of reasons, and at the most opportune of moments.
1. St. Matt. xxvii. 45, 46.
2. St. Luke xxiii. 45.
3. Isaias lx. 1, 2.
4. Psalm xxi. 1.
5. St. John i. 14.
6. St. John viii. 29.
7. St. Matt. iii. 17.
8. St. John viii. 29.
9. St. John x. 30.
10. Romans viii. 32.
11. 1 St. Peter ii. 21; iv. 1.
12. 1 St. Peter iii. 18.
13. St. Thomas, 3. p. q. 46. art 8.
14. St. Mark xiv. 36.
15. St. Matt. xxvi. 53.
16. St. John x. 18.
17. Isaias liii. 7.
18. St. Luke xxii. 53
CHAPTER II: The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
fourth word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
We have briefly explained what has reference to the history of the fourth
word: we must now gather some fruits from the tree of the Cross. The first
thought that presents itself is that Christ wished to drain the chalice of
His Passion even to the dregs. He remained on the Cross for three hours,
from the sixth to the ninth hour. He remained for three full and entire
hours, for even more than three hours, since He was fastened to the Cross
before the sixth hour, and He did not die till the ninth hour, as is proved
thus. The eclipse of the sun began at the sixth hour, as the three
Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke show; St. Mark expressly says: "And
when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole earth until
the ninth hour." Now, our Lord uttered His three first words on the Cross
before the darkness began, and consequently before the sixth hour. St. Mark
explains this circumstance more clearly by saying: "And it was the third
hour, and they crucified Him;" and by adding shortly afterwards; "And when
the sixth hour was come, there was darkness." When he says that our Lord
was crucified at the third hour, he means that He was nailed to the Cross
before the completion of that hour, and therefore before the commencement
of the sixth hour. We must here notice that St. Mark speaks of the three
principal hours, each of which contained three ordinary hours, just as the
householder summoned workmen to his vineyard at the first, the third, the
sixth, the ninth, and the eleventh hours, and as the Church calls the
canonical hours Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones and Vespers, which correspond to
the eleventh hour. Therefore St. Mark says that our Lord was crucified at
the third hour, because the sixth hour had not yet come.
Our Lord wished then to drink the full and overflowing chalice of His
Passion to teach us to love the bitter chalice of penance and labour, and
not to love the cup of consolations and worldly pleasures According to the
law of the flesh and the world we ought to choose small mortifications, but
great indulgences; little labour, but much joy; to take a short time for
our prayers, but a long time for idle conversations. Truly we know not what
we ask, for the Apostle warns the Corinthians: "And every man shall receive
his own reward according to his own labour:" and again: "He is not crowned
unless he strive lawfully." Eternal happiness ought to be the reward of
eternal labour, but because we could never enjoy eternal happiness if our
labour here was to be eternal, so our good Lord is satisfied, if during the
life which passes as a shadow we strive to serve Him by the exercise of
good works; besides those who spend this short life in idling, or what is
still worse, in sinning and provoking their God to anger, are not so much
children as infants who have no heart, no understanding, no judgment." For
if Christ ought to suffer, and so to enter His glory," how can we enter
into a glory which is not our own by losing our time in the pursuit of
pleasures and the gratification of the flesh? If the meaning of the Gospel
was obscure, and could only be understood after great labour, there might
perhaps be some excuse; but its meaning has been rendered so clear by the
example of the life of Him Who first preached it, that the blind cannot
fail to perceive it. And not only has the teaching of Christ been
exemplified by His own life, but there have been as many commentaries on
His doctrine apparent to all, as there are apostles and martyrs and
confessors and virgins and saints whose praises and triumphs we celebrate
every day. And all these proclaim aloud that not through many pleasures,
but "through many tribulations," it behoveth us "to enter into the kingdom
1. St. Mark xv. 33.
2. St. Mark xv. 25.
3. St. Matt. xx.
4. 1 Cor. iii. 8.
5. 2 Tim. ii. 5.
6. St. Luke xxiv. 26.
7. Acts xiv. 21.
CHAPTER III. The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
fourth Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
Another and very profitable fruit may be gathered from the consideration of
the silence of Christ during those three hours which intervened between the
sixth and the ninth hour. For, O my soul, what was it thy Lord did during
those three hours? Universal horror and darkness had overspread the world,
and thy Lord was reposing, not on a soft bed, but on a Cross, naked,
overwhelmed with sorrows, without any one to console Him. Thou, O Lord, Who
alone knowest what Thou sufferedst, teach Thy servants to understand what a
debt of gratitude they owe Thee, to condole with Thee with their tears, and
to suffer for Thy love, if it should so please Thee, the loss of every kind
of consolation in this their place of banishment.
"O My son, during the whole course of My mortal life, which was nothing
else but a continued labour and sorrow, I never experienced such anguish as
during those three hours, nor did I ever suffer with greater willingness
than then. For then through the weakness of My Body, My Wounds became every
moment more open, and the bitterness of My pains increased. Then, too, the
cold, which was intensified by the absence of the sun, made the sufferings
from the head to the foot of My naked Body greater. Then, too, the very
darkness which shut out from view the sky and the earth and all other
things, forced, as it were, My thoughts to dwell on nothing but the
torments of My Body, so that on this account those three hours seemed to be
three years. But because My Heart was inflamed with a longing desire to
honour My Father, to show My obedience to Him, and to procure the salvation
of your souls, and the more the pains of My Body increased the more was
this desire satiated, so these three hours seemed but three short moments,
so great was My love in suffering."
"O dear Lord, if such indeed was the case, we are very ungrateful if we
find it hard to spend one hour in thinking of Thy pains, when Thou didst
not find it hard to hang on a Cross for our salvation for three full hours,
during a frightful darkness, in cold and nakedness, suffering an
intolerable thirst and most bitter pangs. But, O lover of men, I beseech
Thee answer me this. Could the vehemence of Thy sufferings withdraw Thy
Heart from prayer for one moment during those three long and silent hours?
Because when we are in distress, particularly if we suffer any bodily pain,
we find the greatest difficulty in praying."
"It was not so with Me, My son, because in a weak Body I had a Soul ready
for prayer. Indeed during those three hours, when not a word escaped My
lips, I prayed and supplicated the Father for you with My Heart. And I
prayed not with My Heart only, but also with My Wounds and with My Blood.
For there were as many mouths crying out for you to the Father as there
were Wounds in My Body, and My Wounds were many; and there were as many
tongues beseeching and begging for you from this same Father, Who is your
Father as well as Mine, as there were drops of Blood trickling to the
"Now at last, O Lord, Thou hast plainly confounded the impatience of Thy
servant, who if perchance he comes to pray worn out with work, or weighed
down with affliction, can scarcely raise up his mind to God to pray for
himself; or if through Thy grace he does lift up his mind, he cannot keep
his attention fixed, but his thoughts must wander back to his labour or his
sorrow. Therefore, O Lord, have mercy on Thy servant according to Thy great
mercy, that imitating the great example of Thy patience he may walk in Thy
footsteps and learn to despise his slight afflictions, at least during his
CHAPTER IV. The third fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
fourth Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
When our Lord exclaimed on the Cross, "My God, My God, why hast Thou
forsaken Me?" He was not ignorant of the reason why God had forsaken Him.
For what could He be in ignorance of, Who knew all things? And thus St.
Peter, when he was asked by our Lord, "Simon, son of John, lovest thou Me?"
replied, " Lord, Thou knowest all things: Thou knowest that I love Thee."
And the Apostle St. Paul, speaking of Christ, says, "In Whom are hid all
the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Christ therefore asked, not in
order that He might learn anything, but to encourage us to inquire, so that
by seeking and finding we might learn many things that would be useful,
perhaps even necessary for us. Why, then, did God abandon His Son in the
midst of His trials and bitter anguish? Five reasons occur to me, and these
I will mention in order that those who are wiser than I may have the
opportunity of investigating better and more useful ones.
The first reason that occurs to me is the greatness and the multitude of
the sins which mankind have committed against their God, and which the Son
of God undertook to expiate in His own Flesh: "Who His own self," writes
St. Peter, "bore our sins in His Body upon the tree; that we being dead to
sins, should live to justice; by Whose stripes you were healed." Indeed,
the enormity of the offences which Christ undertook to atone for in His
Passion is in a certain sense infinite, by reason of the Person of infinite
majesty and excellence which has been offended; but, on the other hand, the
Person of Him Who atones, which Person is the Son of God, is also of
infinite majesty and excellence, and consequently every suffering willingly
undertaken by the Son of God, even if He spilt but one drop of His Blood,
would be a sufficient atonement. Still it was pleasing to God that His Son
should suffer innumerable torments, and sorrows most severe, because we had
committed not one but manifold offences, and the Lamb of God, Who taketh
away the sins of the world, took upon Himself not the sin of Adam only, but
all the sins of all mankind. This is shown in that abandonment of which the
Son complains to the Father: " Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" The second
reason is the greatness and the multitude of the pains of hell, and the Son
of God shows how great they are by wishing to quench them in the torrents
of His Blood. The prophet Isaias teaches us how terrible they are, that
they are clearly intolerable, for he asks: " Which of you can dwell with
devouring fire? Which of you shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" Let
us therefore return thanks to God with our whole heart, Who was willing to
abandon His Only-Begotten Son to the greatest torments for a time, to free
us from flames which would be eternal. Let us return thanks, too, from the
bottom of our heart to the Lamb of God, Who preferred to be abandoned by
God under His chastising sword than abandon us to the teeth of that beast,
who would ever gnaw and would never be satisfied with gnawing us. The third
reason is the high value of the grace of God, which is that most precious
pearl which Christ, the wise merchant, purchased by the sale of everything
He had, and restored to us. The grace of God, which had been given to us in
Adam, and which we lost through Adam's sin, is so precious a stone that
whilst it adorns our souls, and renders them pleasing to God, it is also a
pledge of eternal felicity. No one could restore to us that precious stone,
which was the gem of our riches, and of which the cunning of the serpent
had deprived us, except the Son of God, Who overcame by His wisdom the
wickedness of the devil, and Who gave it back to us at His own great cost,
since He endured so many labours and sorrows. The dutifulness of that Son
prevailed, Who took on Himself a most laborious pilgrimage to recover for
us that precious gem. The fourth cause was the exceeding greatness of the
kingdom of heaven, which the Son of God opened for us by His immense toil
and suffering, and to Whom the Church gratefully sings, "When Thou hadst
overcome the sting of death, Thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to
believers." But in order to conquer the sting of death it was necessary to
sustain a hard contest with death, and that the Son might triumph the more
gloriously in this contest, He was abandoned by His Father. The fifth cause
was the immense love which the Son had for His Father. For in the
redemption of the world and in the wiping away of sin, He proposed to make
an abundant and a superabundant satisfaction to the honour of His Father.
And this could not have been done if the Father had not abandoned the Son,
that is, had not allowed Him to suffer all the torments which could be
devised by the malice of the devil, or could be endured by a man. If,
therefore, any one asks why God abandoned His Son on the Cross when He was
suffering such an extremity of torments, we can answer that He was
abandoned in order to teach us the greatness of sin, the greatness of hell,
the greatness of Divine grace, the greatness of eternal life, and the
greatness of the love which the Son of God had for His Father. From these
reasons there arises another question: Why, forsooth, has God mixed the
martyrs' chalice of suffering with such spiritual consolation as that they
preferred to drain their chalice sweetened with these consolations, than be
without the suffering and the consolation, and allowed His dearly beloved
Son to drain to the dregs the bitter chalice of His suffering without any
consolation? The answer is, that in the case of the martyrs none of the
reasons which we have given above in reference to our Lord have any place.
1. St. John xxi. 17.
2. Coloss. ii. 3.
3. 1 St. Peter ii. 24.
4. Isaias xxxiii. 14.
CHAPTER V: The fourth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
fourth Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
Another fruit may be gathered, not so much from the fourth word itself, as
from the circumstances of the time in which it was spoken: that is, from
the consideration of the terrible darkness that immediately preceded the
speaking of the word. The consideration of this darkness would be most
proper, not only for enlightening the Hebrew nation, but for strengthening
Christians themselves in the faith, if they would seriously apply their
minds to the force of the truths which we propose to found on it.
The first truth is that whilst Christ was on the Cross the sun was so
totally obscured that the stars were as visible as they are in the night
time. This fact is vouched for by five witnesses, most worthy of
credibility, who were of different nations, and wrote their books both at
different times and in different places, so that their writings could not
have been the result of any comparison or collusion. The first is St.
Matthew, a Jew, who wrote in Judaea, and was one of those who saw the sun
darkened. Now certainly a man of his caution and prudence would not have
written what he has written, and as is probable in the very city of
Jerusalem, unless the fact he described was true. For otherwise he would
have been ridiculed and laughed at by the inhabitants of the city and
country for writing what everybody knew to be false. Another witness is St.
Mark, who wrote at Rome; he also saw the eclipse; for he was in Judaea at
the time with the other disciples of our Lord. The third is St. Luke, who
was a Greek who wrote in Greece: he also saw the eclipse at Antioch. For
since Dionysius the Areopagite saw it at Heliopolis in Egypt, St. Luke
could more easily see it at Antioch, which city is nearer Jerusalem than
Heliopolis. The fourth and fifth witnesses are Dionysius and Apollophanes,
both Greeks, and at the time Gentiles, and they distinctly assert that they
saw the eclipse and were filled with astonishment at it. These are the five
witnesses who bear testimony to the fact because they saw it. To their
authority we may add that of the Annals of the Romans, and Phlegon, the
chronicler of the Emperor Adrian, as we have shown above in the first
chapter. Consequently this first truth cannot without great rashness be
denied either by Jews or Pagans. Amongst Christians it is regarded as part
of the Catholic faith.
The second truth is, that this eclipse could only be brought about by the
Almighty power of God: that therefore it could not be the work of the
devil, or of men through the agency of the devil, but proceeded from the
special Providence and will of God, the Creator and Ruler of the world. The
proof is this. The sun could only be eclipsed by one of three methods:
either by the interposition of the moon between the sun and earth; or by
some vast and dense cloud; or through the absorption or extinction of the
sun's rays. The interposition of the moon could not by the laws of nature
have happened, since it was the Pasch of the Jews, and the moon was at its
full. The eclipse then must have happened either without the interposition
of the moon, or the moon, by some extraordinary and great miracle, must
have passed in a few hours over a space which naturally it would take
fourteen days to accomplish, and then by a repetition of the miracle have
returned to its proper place. Now it is admitted by every one that God
alone can influence the motions of the heavenly spheres, for the devils
have power only in this globe, and so the Apostle calls Satan "The prince
of the power of this air."
The eclipse of the sun could not have happened in the second method, for a
dense and thick cloud could not hide the rays of the sun without at the
same time concealing the stars. And we have the authority of Phlegon for
saying that during this eclipse the stars were as visible in the sky as
they are during the night. As for the third method, we must remember that
the rays of the sun could not be absorbed or extinguished but by the power
of God Who created the sun. Therefore this second truth is as certain as
the first, and cannot be denied without an equal degree of rashness.
The third truth is that the Passion of Christ was the cause of this eclipse
which was brought about by the special Providence of God, and is proved by
the fact that the darkness overshadowed the earth just as long as our Lord
remained alive on the Cross, that is from the sixth to the ninth hour. This
is attested by all those who speak of the eclipse; nor could it happen that
an eclipse which was itself miraculous should by chance coincide with the
Passion of Christ. For miracles are not the result of chance, but of the
power of God. Nor am I aware of any author who could assign another cause
for this so wonderful an eclipse. Those then that know Christ acknowledge
that it was brought about for His sake, and those who do not know Him
confess their ignorance of its object, but remain in admiration of the
The fourth truth is, that so terrible a darkness could only show the
sentence of Caiphas and Pilate to be most unjust, Jesus to be the true and
only Son of God, the Messias promised to the Jews. This was the reason why
the Jews demanded His death. For when in the council of the Priests, the
Scribes, and the Pharisees, the High Priest saw that the evidence produced
against Him proved nothing, he arose and said: "I adjure Thee by the living
God that Thou tell us if Thou be the Son of God."
And on our Lord acknowledging and confessing Himself to be so, he "rent his
garments saying He hath blasphemed what further need have we of witnesses?
Behold, now you have heard the blasphemy; what think you? But they
answering said: He is guilty of death." Again when He was before Pilate,
who wished to liberate Him, the Chief Priests and people cried out: "We
have a law; and according to the law He ought to die, because He made
Himself the Son of God." This was the principal reason why Christ our Lord
was condemned to the death of the Cross, and it was foretold by Daniel the
prophet when he said: "Christ shall be slain: and the people that shall
deny Him shall not be His." For this cause, then, during the Passion of
Christ, God allowed a horrible darkness to overspread the whole world, to
show most clearly that the High Priest was wrong: that the Jewish people
was wrong: that Herod was wrong, and that He Who was hanging on the Cross
was His only Son, the Messias. And when the Centurion saw these heavenly
manifestations he exclaimed, "Indeed this was the Son of God;" and again,
"Indeed this was a just Man." For the Centurion recognized such celestial
signs as the voice of God annulling the sentence of Caiphas and Pilate, and
declaring that this Man was condemned to death contrary to all law, since
He was the author of life, the Son of God, the promised Christ. For what
else could God mean by this darkness, by the secret splitting of the rocks,
and the rending of the veil of the Temple, but that He withdrew Himself
from a people who were once His own, and was wrathful with a great wrath
because they had not known the time of their visitation.
Certainly if the Jews would consider these things, and at the same time
turn their attention to the fact that from that day they have been
scattered through every nation, have had neither kings nor pontiffs, nor
altars, nor sacrifices, nor miracles, nor prophets, they must conclude that
they have been abandoned by God, and what is worse, have been given over to
a reprobate sense, and that that is now being accomplished in them what
Isaias foretold when he introduces the Lord as saying: "Hearing hear and
understand not: and see the vision and know it not. Blind the heart of this
people and make their ears heavy and shut their eyes: lest they see with
their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be
converted and I heal them.
1. Ephes. ii. 2.
2. St. Matt xxvi. 63, 65, 66.
3. St. John xix. 7.
4. Dan. ix. 26.
5. St. Matt. xxvii. 54.
6. St. Luke xxiv. 47.
7. Isaias vi. 9, 10.
CHAPTER VI: The fifth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
fourth Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
In the three first words Christ our Master has recommended to us three
great virtues--charity towards our enemies, kindness to those in distress,
and affection for our parents. In the four last words He recommends to us
four virtues, not indeed more excellent, but still not less necessary for
us, humility, patience, perseverance, and obedience. Of humility, indeed,
which may be called the characteristic virtue of Christ, since no mention
of it has been made in the writings of the wise men of this world, He gave
us examples by His actions through the whole course of His life and in
chosen words showed Himself to be a Master of the virtue when He said--
"Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of Heart." But at no time did
He more clearly encourage us to the practice of this virtue, and along with
it of patience, which cannot be separated from humility, than when He
exclaimed--"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" For Christ shows us
in these words that by the permission of God, as the darkness testified,
all His glory and excellence had been obscured, and our Lord could not have
borne this, had He not possessed the virtue of humility in the most heroic
The glory of Christ, of which St. John writes in the beginning of his
Gospel--"We saw His glory, the glory as it were of the Only-Begotten Son of
the Father, full of grace and truth," consisted in His Power, His Wisdom,
His Uprightness, His royal Majesty, the happiness of His Soul, and His
Divine dignity which He enjoyed as the true and real Son of God. The words,
"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me," show that His Passion threw a
veil over all these gifts. His Passion threw a veil over His power, because
when fastened to the Cross He appeared so powerless, that the Chief
Priests, the soldiers and the thief mocked His weakness by saying--"If Thou
be the Son of God, come down from the Cross; He saved others, Himself He
cannot save." What patience, what humility was necessary for Him Who was
Almighty, to answer never a word to such taunts! His Passion threw a veil
over His Wisdom, because before the High Priest, before Herod, before
Pilate, He stood as one devoid of understanding and answered their
questions by silence, so that "Herod with his army set Him at naught, and
mocked Him, putting on Him a white garment." What patience, what humility,
was necessary for Him Who was not only wiser than Solomon, but was the very
Wisdom of God Himself, to tolerate such outrages! His Passion threw a veil
over the uprightness of His life, since He was nailed to a Cross between
two thieves, as a seducer of the people, and a usurper of another's
kingdom. And Christ confessed that the being abandoned by His Father seemed
to cast a greater gloom over the glory of His innocent live. "Why hast Thou
forsaken Me?" For God is not wont to abandon upright, but wicked men. Every
proud man indeed takes particular care to avoid saying anything which could
lead his hearers to infer that he had been slighted. But humble and patient
men, of whom Christ is the King, eagerly seize every occasion of practising
their humility and patience, provided that in so doing there is no
violation of truth. What patience, what humility was it necessary to
possess, in order to endure such insults, especially for Him of Whom St.
Paul says--"It was fitting that we should have such a High Priest, holy,
innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the
heavens." His Passion cast such a veil over His regal Majesty that He had
a crown of thorns for a diadem, a reed for a sceptre, a gibbet for an
audience chamber, two thieves for His royal attendants. What patience then,
what humility was necessary for Him Who was the true King of kings, Lord of
lords, and Prince of the kings of this world. What shall I say about the
happiness of soul which Christ enjoyed from the very moment of His
conception, and of which, had He wished, He could have made His Body
partaker? What a veil did His Passion throw over the glory of this
happiness, since it made Him as Isaias says--"Despised, and the most abject
of men, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity," so that in the
greatness of His suffering He cried out, "My God, My God, Why hast Thou
forsaken Me?" In fine, His Passion so obscured the mighty dignity of His
Divine Person, that He Who is seated not only above all men, but above the
-very Angels, could say--"But I am a Worm and no man, the reproach of men,
and the outcast of the people."
Christ in His Passion, then, descended to the very abyss of humility, but
this humility had its reward and its glory. What our Lord had so often
promised that "he that shall humble himself shall be exalted," the Apostle
tells us was exemplified in His own Person. " He humbled Himself, becoming
obedient unto death, even to the death of the Cross. For which cause also
God hath exalted Him, and hath given Him a Name which is above all names;
that in the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in
heaven, on earth, and under the earth." So He Who appeared to be the least
of men is declared to be the first, and a short and as it were momentary
humiliation has been followed by a glory which shall be eternal. Thus has
it been with the Apostles and all the Saints. St. Paul says of the
Apostles--"We are made as the refuse of this world, the offscouring of all
even until now;" that is, he compares them to the vilest things that are
trodden under foot. Such was their humility. What is their glory? St. John
Chrysostom tells us that the Apostles now in heaven, are seated close to
the very throne of God, where the Cherubim praise Him and the Seraphim obey
Him. They are associated with the greatest princes of the celestial court.
They shall be there for ever. If men would consider how glorious a thing it
is to imitate in this life the humility of the Son of God, and would
picture to themselves to what a height of glory this humility would lead
them, we should find very few proud men. But since the majority of men
measure everything by their senses and by human considerations, we must not
be astonished if the number of the humble is small, and the number of the
1. St. Matt. xi. 29.
2. John i. 14.
3. St. Mark xxvii. 40-42.
4. St. Luke xxiii.
5. Heb. vii. 26.
7. Psalm xxi. 7.
8. Philip. ii. 8-10.
CHAPTER VII: The literal explanation of the fifth Word, "I thirst."
The fifth word, which is found in St. John, consists of the one only word
"I thirst." But to understand it we must add the preceding and subsequent
words of the same Evangelist. "Afterwards Jesus knowing that all things
were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, I
thirst. Now there was a vessel set there full of vinegar. And they putting
a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, put it to His mouth." The meaning
of which words is, that our Lord wished to fulfil everything, which His
Prophets, inspired by the Holy Ghost, had foretold about His life and
death; and now everything had been accomplished with the exception of
having gall mixed with His drink, according to that of the sixty-eighth
Psalm: "And they gave Me gall for My food, and in My thirst they gave Me
vinegar to drink." Therefore was it that He cried out with a loud voice,
"I thirst;" that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. But why in order that
the Scriptures should be fulfilled? Why not rather because He was really
thirsty and wished to quench His thirst? A prophet does not prophesy for
the purpose of that being accomplished which he foretells, but he
prophesies because he sees that that will be accomplished which he
foretells, and therefore he foretells it. Consequently the foreseeing or
foretelling anything is not the cause of its happening, but the event that
is to happen is the cause why it can be foreseen and foretold. Here we have
a great mystery laid open before us. Our Lord had suffered a most grievous
thirst from the beginning of His Crucifixion, and this thirst kept on
increasing, so that it became one of the greatest pains He endured on the
Cross, for the shedding a great quantity of blood parches a person, and
produces a violent thirst. I myself once knew a man who was suffering from
a serious wound and consequent loss of blood, who asked for nothing else
but drink, as though his wound were of no consideration, but his thirst
terrible. The same is related of St. Emmerammus, the martyr, who was bound
to a stake, and otherwise grievously tortured, yet complained only of
thirst. But Christ had been dragged backwards and forwards through the
city, during the Scourging at the pillar had most copiously shed that Blood
which during His Crucifixion flowed from His Body, as from four fountains,
and this loss of Blood had continued for hours. Must He not then have
suffered a most violent thirst? Yet He endured this agony for three hours
in silence, and could have endured it even to His death, which was so near
at hand. Then why did He keep silent on this point for so long a time, and
at the moment of death, disclose His suffering by crying out, "I thirst!"
Because it was the will of God that we should all know His Divine Son had
suffered this agony, and so our heavenly Father had wished it to be
foretold by His Prophet, and He also wished our Lord Jesus Christ, for the
sake of giving an example of patience to His faithful followers to
acknowledge that He suffered this intense agony by exclaiming, "I thirst;"
that is, all the pores of My Body are closed, My veins are parched up, My
tongue is parched, My palate is parched, My throat is parched, all My
members are parched; if any one longs to relieve Me, let him give Me to
Let us consider now what drink was offered Him by those who stood by the
Cross. "Now there was a vessel set there full of vinegar. And they putting
a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop put it to His mouth." Oh, what
consolation! What a relief! There was a vessel full of vinegar, a beverage
which tends to make wounds smart and hasten death, and for this reason was
it kept in order to make those who were crucified die the quicker. In
treating of this point, St. Cyril says with truth, "Instead of a refreshing
and cooling draught, they offered Him one that was hurtful and bitter." And
if we consider what St. Luke writes in his Gospel, this becomes all the
more probable: "And the soldiers also mocked Him, coming to Him and
offering Him vinegar." Although St. Luke speaks of this as happening to
our Lord as soon as He was nailed to the Cross, still we may piously
believe that when the soldiers heard Him exclaiming, "I thirst," they
offered Him vinegar by means of that same sponge and reed which in their
derision they had previously offered Him. We must conclude then that as at
first a little before His Crucifixion they presented Him with wine mixed
with gall, so at the point of death they gave Him vinegar, a drink most
distasteful to a man in His agony, so that the Passion of Christ was from
first to last a real and genuine Passion which admitted no consolation.
1. St. John xxi. 28, 29.
2. Psalm lxviii. 22.
3. St. Luke xxiv. 36.
CHAPTER VIII: The first fruit to be derived from the consideration of the
fifth Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
The Scriptures of the Old Testament are often to be interpreted by the
Scriptures of the New Testament, but as regards this mystery of our Lord's
thirst the words of the sixty-eighth Psalm may be regarded as a commentary
of the Gospel. For we cannot absolutely decide from the words of the Gospel
whether those who offered our thirsting Lord vinegar did so for the purpose
of affording relief, or for the sake of aggravating His pain, that is
whether they did so from a motive of love or hatred. With St. Cyril we are
inclined to believe that they did so in the latter sense, because the words
of the Psalmist are too clear to require any explanation; and from these
words we may draw this lesson, to learn to thirst with Christ after those
things, for which we may thirst with profit. This is what the Psalmist
says: "And I looked for one that would grieve together with Me, but there
was none: and for one that would comfort Me, and I found none. And they
gave Me gall for My food, and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink."
And so those, who a little before His Crucifixion gave our Lord wine mixed
with gall as well as those who offered our crucified Lord vinegar only,
represent those of whom He complains when He says: "I looked for one that
would grieve together with Me, but there was none; and for one that would
comfort Me, and I found none."
But perhaps some one may ask: Did not His Blessed Virgin Mother, and His
Mother's sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene, and the Apostle St.
John who stood near the Cross truly and heartily grieve together with Him?
Did not those holy women who followed our Lord to Mount Calvary, bewailing
His lot, truly grieve together with Him? Were not the Apostles, during the
whole time of His Passion, in a state of sorrow, according to that
prediction of Christ--"Amen, amen, I say to you, that you shall lament and
weep, but the world shall rejoice?" All these grieved and truly grieved,
but they did not grieve together with Christ, because the cause and reason
of their sorrow was quite different from the cause and reason of Christ's
sorrow. Our Lord says; "I looked for one that would grieve together with
me, and there was none, and for one that would comfort me, and I found
none." They grieved for Christ's corporal suffering and death; but He did
not grieve for this except for a short time in the garden to prove that He
really was Man. Did He not say: "With desire I have desired to eat this
Pasch with you before I suffer," and again: "If you loved Me, you would
indeed be glad, because I go to the Father?" What then was the cause of
that sorrow of our Lord in which He found none to grieve together with Him?
It was the loss of souls for whom He was suffering. And what was the source
of that comfort which He could find none to offer Him, but cooperating with
Him for the salvation of souls after which He so ardently longed? This was
the one comfort He sought after, this He desired, this He hungered for,
this He thirsted for; but they gave Him gall for His food, and vinegar for
His drink. Sin is signified by the bitterness of the gall, than which
nothing can be more bitter to one who has the sense of taste; and obstinacy
in sin is shown by the sharpness and pungency of the vinegar. Christ, then,
had a real cause for sorrow when He saw for the thief who was converted,
not only another remain in his obstinacy but countless others besides; when
He saw that all His Apostles were scandalized at His Passion, that Peter
had denied Him, that Judas had betrayed Him.
If then any one desires to comfort and console Christ hungering and
thirsting on the Cross, and full of sorrow and grief, let him in the first
place show himself truly penitent; let him detest his own sins, and then
along with Christ let him conceive a great sorrow in his heart, because so
great a number of souls daily perish, though all could so easily be saved
would they but use the grace He has purchased for them in redeeming them.
St. Paul was one of those who grieved together with Christ, when in His
Epistle to the Romans he says; "I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not, my
conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost that I have great sadness
and continual sorrow in my heart. For I wished myself to be an anathema
from Christ, for my brethren, who are my kinsmen according to the flesh,
who are Israelites, to whom belongeth the adoption as of children," &c.
The Apostle could not more closely show his longing desire for the
salvation of souls than by this climax; "For I wished myself to be an
anathema from Christ." He means, according to what St. John Chrysostom says
in his work on Compunction of Heart, that he was so exceedingly afflicted
at the damnation of the Jews as to wish, if it were possible, to be
separated from Christ, for the sake of the glory of Christ. He did not
desire to be separated from the love of Christ, as that would be
contradictory to what he elsewhere states in the same epistle; "Who then
shall separate us from the love of Christ?" but from the glory of Christ,
preferring to be deprived of a participation in the glory of his Saviour
rather than that his Lord should be deprived of the additional fruit of His
Passion, which would accrue from the conversion of so many thousands of
Jews. He truly grieved together with Christ and solaced the grief of his
Divine Master. But how few imitators has the great Apostle now-adays? In
the first place, many pastors of souls are more afflicted if the revenues
of the Church are diminished or lost than if a great number of souls
perished through their absence or neglect. "We bear," says St. Bernard,
speaking of some, "we bear the detriment which Christ suffers with more
equanimity than we should bear our own loss. We balance our daily expenses
by a daily entrance of our gains, and we know nothing of the daily loss
which happens to the flock of Christ." It is not enough for a bishop to
lead a holy life, and endeavour in his private conduct to imitate the
virtues of Christ, unless he endeavours to make his subjects, or rather his
children, holy, and tries to lead them, by making them follow in the
footsteps of Christ, to eternal joy. Let those, then, who desire to suffer
with Christ, to mourn with Him and to compassionate Him in His sorrows,
ever watch over His flock, never forsake His lambs, but direct them by
their words, and lead them by their example.
Of the laity too might Christ reasonably complain, for neither sorrowing
with Him, nor affording Him any relief in His sorrow. And if when hanging
on the Cross He complained of the perfidy and obstinacy of the Jews, on
whom His labours were lost, by whom His sorrows were ridiculed, and, as on
so many madmen, the precious medicine of His Blood was wasted, how might He
complain now at beholding, not from the Cross, but from heaven itself,
those who believe in Him, profit nothing by His Passion, tread His precious
Blood under foot, and offer Him gall and vinegar by daily increasing their
sins, without a thought of the Divine judgment or a fear of the fire of
hell! "There shall be joy before the angels of God upon one sinner doing
penance." But is not this joy turned into sorrow, milk into gall, and wine
into vinegar, when he who by faith and baptism has been born as it were in
Christ, and who by the Sacrament of Penance has been resuscitated from
death to life, within a short while after again kills his soul by a relapse
into mortal sin?" A woman when she is in labour hath sorrow, but when she
hath brought forth the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy
that a man is born into the world." But is not the mother afflicted with
a two-fold grief if the child dies immediately after birth, or is still-
born? So many work for their salvation by confessing their sins, perhaps
even by fasting and alms-deeds, but their labour is in vain and they never
obtain pardon for their sins, because they have a false conscience or are
guilty of a culpable ignorance. Do not these labour, and labour uselessly,
and afflict both themselves and their confessors with a double grief? Such
people are like a sick man who accelerates his death by the use of a bitter
medicine which he hoped would cure him; or like a gardener who bestows
great pains on his vinery and grounds, and loses the whole fruit of his
care by a sudden storm. These then are the evils we ought to deplore, and
whosoever mourns and is afflicted thereat really grieves with Christ on the
Cross, and whosoever labours according to his strength in lessening them,
alleviates the sorrows and grief of his crucified Lord, and shall
participate with Him in the joys of heaven, and shall reign for ever with
Him in the kingdom of His heavenly Father.
1. Psalm lxviii. 21, 22.
2. St. John xvi. 20.
3. St. Luke xxii. 15.
4. St. John xiv. 28.
5. Romans ix. 1, 2, 3.
6. Lib. i. hom. 18.
7. Rom. viii. 35.
8. "De Consider." lib. iv. cap. 9.
9. St. Luke xv. 10.
10. St. John xvi. 21.
CHAPTER IX: The second fruit to be derived from the consideration of the
fifth Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
When I attentively meditate on the thirst which Christ endured on the
Cross, another and very useful consideration occurs to me. Our Lord seems
to me to have said, "I thirst," in the same sense as that in which He
addressed the Samaritan woman, "Give Me to drink." For when He unfolded the
mystery contained in these words, He added, "If thou didst know the gift of
God, and Who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink, thou perhaps
wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water."
Now, how could He thirst Who is the fount of living water? Does He not
refer to Himself in saying, "If any man thirst, let Him come to Me and
drink?" And is He not that rock of which the Apostle speaks: "And they
drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ?"
In fine, is it not He Who addresses the Jews by the mouth of Jeremias the
Prophet: "They have forsaken Me the fountain of living water, and have
digged to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water?"
It seems to me, then, that our Lord from the Cross, as from a high throne,
casts a look over the whole world, which is full of men who are athirst and
fainting from exhaustion, and by reason of His parching state He pities the
drought which mankind endures, and cries aloud, "I thirst," that is, I am
thirsty on account of the dried and arid state of My Body, but this thirst
will quickly end. The thirst, however, that I suffer from My desire that
men should begin by faith to know that I am the true fount of living water,
should come to Me and drink, that they may not thirst for ever, is
Oh, how happy should we be if we would but listen with attention to this
address of the Word Incarnate! Does not almost every man thirst, with the
burning and insatiable thirst of concupiscence, after the fleeting and
turbid waters of transitory and perishable things, which are called goods,
such as money, honour, pleasures? And who is there that has listened to the
words of his Master, Christ, and has tasted the living water of heavenly
wisdom, that has not felt a loathing for earthly things, and begun to
aspire after those of heaven, who has not laid aside the desire of
acquiring and accumulating the things of this world and begun to aspire and
long after those of heaven? This living water does not spring out of the
earth, but comes down from heaven, and our Lord, Who is the fount of living
water, will give it to us if we ask Him for it with fervent prayers and
copious tears. Not only will it take away all eager longing for the things
of earth, but will become an unfailing source of food and drink for us in
this our exile. In this strain does Isaias speak: "All you that thirst,
come to the waters," and that we may not think this water is precious or
dear, he adds: "Make haste, buy and eat; come ye, buy wine and milk without
any price." It is called a water that must be bought, because it cannot be
acquired without some effort, and without being in the proper dispositions
for receiving it, but it is bought without silver or any bartering, because
it is freely given, as it is invaluable. What the Prophet in one line calls
water, he calls in the next wine and milk, because it is so efficacious as
to embrace the qualities of water, wine, and milk.
True wisdom and charity is called water, because it cools the heat of
concupiscence; it is called wine because it warms and inebriates the mind
with a sober ardour; it is called milk because it nourishes the young in
Christ with a strengthening food, as St. Peter says: "As new-born babes
desire the rational milk." This same true wisdom and charity--the very
opposite to the concupiscence of the flesh--is that yoke which is sweet,
that burden which is light, which those who take up willingly and humbly
find to be a true and real rest to their souls, so that they no longer
thirst, nor do they labour to draw water from earthly sources. This most
enjoyable rest for the soul has filled deserts, peopled monasteries,
reformed the clergy, restrained the married. The palace of Theodosius the
Younger was not unlike a monastery; the house of Count Elzearius differed
but little from a house of poor religious. Instead of oaths and quarrels,
the Psalms and the sound of sacred music were heard there. All these
blessings we owe to Christ, Who satiated our thirst at the price of His own
suffering, and so watered the arid hearts of men that they will never more
thirst, unless at the instigation of their enemy they wilfully withdraw
themselves from that everlasting spring.
1. St. John iv. 7-I0.
2. St. John vii. 37.
3. 1 Cor. x. 4.
4. Jeremias ii. 13.
5. Isaias lv. 1.
6. 1 St. Peter ii. 2.
CHAPTER X: The third fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the fifth
Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
The imitation of the patience of Christ is the third fruit to be gathered
from the consideration of the fifth word. In the fourth word the humility
of Christ, coupled with His patience, was conspicuous. In the fifth word
His patience alone shines forth. Now, patience is not only one of the
greatest virtues, but is positively the most necessary for us. St. Cyprian
says, "Amongst all the paths of heavenly training, I know of none more
profitable for this life or advantageous for the next, than that those who
strive in fear and devotion to obey the commandments of God, should above
all things practise the virtue of patience." But before we speak of the
necessity of patience we must distinguish the virtue from its counterfeit.
True patience enables us to bear the misfortune of suffering without
incurring the misfortune of sin. Such was the patience of the martyrs, who
preferred to endure the tortures of the executioner rather than deny the
faith of Christ, who preferred to suffer the loss of their earthly goods
rather than worship false gods. The counterfeit of this virtue urges us to
undergo every hardship to obey the law of concupiscence, to risk the loss
of eternal happiness for the sake of a momentary pleasure. Such is the
patience of the slaves of the devil, who put up with hunger and thirst,
cold and heat, loss of reputation, even of heaven itself, in order to
increase their riches, to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh, or to gain a
post of honour.
True patience has the property of increasing and preserving all other
virtues. St. James is our authority for this eulogium of patience. He says,
"And patience hath a perfect work: that you may be perfect and entire,
failing in nothing." On account of the difficulties we meet with in the
practice of virtue, none can flourish without patience, but when other
virtues are accompanied by this one, all difficulties vanish, for patience
renders crooked paths straight, and rough paths smooth. And this is so true
that St. Cyprian, speaking of charity, the queen of virtues, cries out,
"Charity, the bond of fraternity, the foundation of peace, the power and
strength of union, is greater than faith or hope. It is the virtue from
which martyrs derived their constancy, and it is the one we shall practise
for ever in the kingdom of heaven. But separate it from patience, and it
will droop; take away from it the power of suffering and enduring, and it
will wither and die." The same Saint shows the necessity of this virtue
also for preserving our chastity, uprightness, and peace with our
neighbour. "If the virtue of patience is strongly and firmly rooted in your
hearts, your body, which is holy and the temple of the living God, will not
be polluted with adultery, your uprightness will not be sullied with the
stain of injustice, nor after having fed on the Body of Christ will your
hand be imbrued with blood." He means to signify by the contraries to these
words, that without patience neither a chaste man will be able to preserve
his purity, nor a just man be equitable, nor one who has received the Holy
Eucharist be free from the danger of anger and homicide.
What St. James writes of the virtue of patience is taught in other words by
the Prophet David, by our Lord, and His Apostle. In the ninth Psalm, David
says, "The patience of the poor shall not perish for ever," because it has
a perfect work, and consequently its fruit will never decay. Just as we are
wont to say that the labours of the husbandman are profitable when they
produce a good crop, and are useless when they bring forth nothing, so
patience is said never to perish because its effects and rewards will
remain for ever. In the text we have just quoted, the word poor is
interpreted as meaning the humble man who confesses that he is poor, and
can neither do nor suffer anything without the help of God. In his treatise
on patience, St. Austin shows that not only the poor, but even the rich,
may possess true patience, provided they trust not in themselves but in
God, from Whom, as really in want of all Divine gifts, they may ask and
receive this favour. Our Lord seems to imply the same when He says in the
Gospel, " In your patience you shall possess your souls." For they only
really possess their souls, that is, their life as their own, and of which
nothing can deprive them, who endure with patience every affliction, even
death itself, in order not to sin against God. And although by death they
appear to lose their souls, still they do not lose them, but preserve them
for ever. For the death of the just is not death, but a sleep, and may even
be regarded as a sleep of short duration. But the impatient, who in order
to preserve the life of the body, do not hesitate to sin by denying Christ,
by worshipping idols, by yielding to their lustful desires, or by
committing some other crime, appear indeed to preserve their life for a
time, but in reality lose the life both of body and soul for ever. And as
of the really patient it may with truth be said, "A hair of your head shall
not perish," so of the impatient might we with equal truth exclaim: There
is not a single member of your body that shall not be burnt in the fire of
Lastly, the Apostle confirms our opinion: "For patience is necessary for
you, that doing the will of God you may receive the promise." In this text
St. Paul explicitly asserts patience to be not only useful, but even
necessary in order to accomplish the will of God, and by accomplishing it
to feel in ourselves the effect of His promise: "To receive the crown of
glory which God hath promised to them that love Him," and keep His
commandments, for "If any one love Me he will keep My word," and "He that
loveth Me not, keepeth not My words." So we see that the whole of
Scripture teaches the faithful the necessity of the virtue of patience. For
this reason Christ wished in the last moments of His life to declare that
inward, and most bitter, and long endured suffering of His--His thirst--to
encourage us by such an example to preserve our patience in every
misfortune. That the thirst of Christ was a most vehement torture we have
shown in the preceding chapter, that it was a long endured suffering we can
To begin with the Scourging at the pillar. When that took place Christ was
already fatigued by His prolonged prayer and Agony and Sweat of blood in
the Garden, by His many journeys to and fro during the night and the
succeeding morning, from the Garden to the house of Annas, from the house
of Annas to that of Caiphas, from the house of Caiphas to that of Pilate,
from the house of Pilate to that of Herod, and from the house of Herod back
again to Pilate. Moreover, from the time of the Last Supper our Lord had
not tasted food or drink, or enjoyed a moment's repose, but had endured
many and grievous insults in the house of Caiphas, was then cruelly
scourged, which of itself was sufficient to produce a terrible thirst, and
when the scourging was over His thirst, far from being satiated, was
increased, for there followed the crowning with thorns and the mocking Him
in derision. And when He had been crowned, His thirst, far from being
satiated, was increased, for there followed the carrying of the Cross; and
loaded with the instrument of His death, our wearied and exhausted Lord
struggled up the hill of Calvary. When He arrived there they offered Him
wine mixed with gall, which He tasted but would not drink. And so this
journey was over at last, but the thirst that throughout the whole way had
tortured our dear Lord, was undoubtedly increased. Then followed the
Crucifixion, and as the Blood flowed from His four Wounds as from four
fountains, every one may conceive how enormous His thirst must have been.
Finally, for three successive hours, in the midst of a fearful darkness, we
must again try to imagine with what a burning thirst that sacred Body was
consumed. And although those that stood by offered vinegar to His mouth,
still, as it was not wine or water, but a sharp and bitter draught, and
that a very small draught, as He had to suck it up in drops from a sponge,
we may without hesitation assert that our Redeemer from the very
commencement of His Passion even to His death, endured with the most heroic
patience this awful agony. Few of us can know by experience how great this
suffering is, as we can find water anywhere to slake our thirst, but those
who journey many days together in a desert sometimes learn what the torture
of thirst is like.
Curtius relates that Alexander the Great was once marching through a desert
with his army, and that after suffering all the deprivations of the want of
water, they came up to a river, and the soldiers began to drink its waters
with such eagerness, that many died in the very act, and he adds that "he
number of those who perished on that occasion was greater than he had lost
in any battle." Their burning thirst was so insupportable that the soldiers
could not restrain themselves so far as to take breath whilst they were
drinking, and consequently Alexander lost a great part of his army. There
have been others who have suffered so much from thirst as to think muddy
water, oil, blood, and other impure things, which no one would touch unless
reduced by dire necessity, delicious. From this we may learn how great was
the Passion of Christ, and how brilliantly His patience was displayed
throughout. God grant that we may know this, imitate it, and by suffering
together with Christ here, come to reign with Him hereafter.
But I fancy that I hear some pious souls exclaim that they are eager and
anxious to know by what means they can best imitate the patience of Christ,
and be able to say with the Apostle, "With Christ I am nailed to the
Cross," and with St. Ignatius the Martyr, "My Love is crucified." It is
not so difficult as many imagine. It is not necessary for all to lie on the
ground, to scourge themselves to blood, to fast daily on bread and water,
to wear a coarse hair-cloth, an iron chain, or other instruments of penance
for conquering the flesh, and crucifying it with its vices and
concupiscences. These practices are praiseworthy and useful, provided they
are not injurious to one's health, or performed without the sanction of
one's director. But I desire to show my pious readers a means of practising
the virtue of patience, and of imitating our meek and gentle Redeemer,
which all may embrace, which contains nothing extraordinary, nothing new,
and from the use of which no one can be suspected of seeking to gain
applause for his sanctity.
In the first place, then, he who loves the virtue of patience ought
cheerfully to submit to those labours and sorrows with which we are assured
by faith it is the Divine will we should be afflicted, according to those
words of the Apostle: "For patience is necessary for you: that doing the
will of God, you may receive the promise." Now, what God wishes us to
embrace is neither difficult for me to show or for my readers to learn. All
the commandments of our holy mother the Church must be kept with loving
obedience and patience, no matter how hard or difficult they may appear.
What are these commandments of the Church? The fasts of Lent, of the Ember
days, and of certain vigils. To keep these religiously as they ought to be
kept, will require a great amount of patience. Now, suppose a person on a
fast-day sits down to a well spread dinner-table, or in the single meal
that he is allowed eats as much as he would at any two meals on an ordinary
day, or anticipates the time for his collation, or eats more than he is
allowed, such a person will certainly neither hunger nor thirst, nor will
his patience produce fruit. But if he firmly resolves not to take food
before the appointed time, unless sickness or some other necessity obliges
him, and to take food that is coarse and common and suitable to a time of
penance, and does not exceed what he usually takes at a single meal, but
gives to the poor all that he would eat if it were not a fast day, as St.
Leo advises: "Let the poor be fed by what those that fast abstain from;
"and elsewhere," Let us feel hunger for a little time, dearly beloved, and
for a short while let us diminish what we want for our own comfort, in
order to be of service to the poor;" and if at eventide he allows the
collation to be nothing more than a collation; in such a case undoubtedly
patience will be necessary to bear our hunger and thirst, and thus by
fasting we shall imitate as far as we are able the patience of Christ, and
shall be nailed in part at least to the Cross with Him. But some one may
object, all these things are not absolutely necessary. I grant it; but they
are necessary if we desire to practise the virtue of patience, or become
like our suffering Redeemer. Again, our holy Mother the Church orders
ecclesiastics and religious to recite or sing the canonical hours. Now, we
shall require all the assistance which the virtue of patience can give us,
if this sacred reading and prayer is to be performed in the manner in which
it ought to be, as there are few who have not enough to do to keep
themselves free from distractions during prayer. Many hurry through their
prayers as quickly as possible, as though they were undertaking a very
laborious duty, and wished to free themselves from the burden in the
shortest possible time, and then they say their Office, not standing up or
kneeling down, but sitting or walking about, just as if the fatigue of
prayer would be lessened by sitting or lightened by walking. I am speaking
of those who say their Office in private, not of those who sing it in
choir. Again, in order not to break into their sleep, many recite during
the day that part of the Office which the Church has ordered to be said
during the night. I say nothing of the attention and the elevation of mind
that is required whilst God is invoked in prayer, because many think of
what they sing or read less than of anything else. Indeed it is surprising
that many more do not see how necessary the virtue of patience is to take
away the repugnance we feel to spend a long time in prayer, to rise so as
to say the canonical hours at the proper time, to bear the fatigue of
standing or of kneeling, to prevent our thoughts from wandering, and to
keep them fixed on the one thing we are engaged in. Let my readers listen
to an account of the devotion with which St. Francis of Assisi recited his
Breviary, and they will then learn that the Divine Office cannot be said
without the exercise of the greatest patience. In his Life of St. Francis,
St. Bonaventure speaks thus: "This holy man was wont to recite the Divine
Office with no less fear than devotion towards God, and although he
suffered great pains in his eyes, stomach, spleen, and liver, he would
neither lean against any wall or partition whilst he sang, but standing
erect, without his hood, he kept his eyes fixed, and had the appearance of
a person in a swoon. If he was on a journey he would keep to his regular
time, and recite the Divine Office in the usual manner, no matter if a
violent rain was falling. He thought himself guilty of a serious fault, if
during its recital he allowed his mind to be occupied with vain thoughts,
and as often as this happened he hastened to confession to make atonement
for it. He recited the Psalms with such attention of mind as if he had God
present before him, and whenever the Name of the Lord occurred he would
smack his lips from the sweetness which the pronunciation of that Name had
left behind it." As soon as any one endeavours to recite the Divine Office
in this manner, and to rise at night to recite his Matins, Lauds, and
Prime, he will learn by experience that labour and patience are necessary
for the due performance of this duty. There are many other things which the
Church, guided by the Holy Scriptures, lays down for us as the will of God,
and for the due fulfilment of these also we require the virtue of patience;
such as to give to the poor from our superfluity, to pardon those that
injure us, to make satisfaction to those whom we have injured, to confess
our sins at least once a year, and to receive the blessed Eucharist, which
requires no small preparation. All this demands patience, but by way of
example I will explain a few more things at greater length.
Everything which either devils or men do to afflict us is another
indication of the Divine will, and another call for the exercise of our
patience. When bad men and evil spirits try us, their object is to injure
not to benefit us. Still God, without Whom they can do nothing, would not
allow any storm to break upon us, unless He judged it to be useful.
Consequently every affliction may be regarded as coming from the hand of
God, and should therefore be borne with patience and cheerfulness. Holy and
upright Job knew that the misfortunes with which he was stricken, and which
deprived him in one day of all his riches, of all his sons, and then of his
bodily health, proceeded from the hatred of the devil, yet he exclaimed:
"The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the Name of the
Lord," because he knew that his calamities could only happen by the will
of God. I do not say this because I think that when any one is persecuted
either by his fellow creatures or by the devil, he should not, or ought not
to do his best to recover his losses, to consult a physician if unwell, or
to defend himself and his property, but I merely give this advice, not to
bear any revenge against evil men, not to return evil for evil, but to bear
misfortune with patience because our God wishes us to do so, and by
fulfilling His will we shall receive the promise.
The last thing I wish to observe is this. We must all strive to be
intimately convinced that everything which happens by chance or accident,
as a great drought, too much rain, pestilence, famine, and the like, does
not happen without the special Providence and will of God, and consequently
we should not complain of the elements, or of God Himself, but should-
regard evils of this kind as a scourge with which God punishes us for our
sins, and bowing ourselves beneath His Almighty hand, bear everything in
humility and patience. God will thus be appeased. He will scatter His
benedictions upon us. He will chastise us as His sons with a fatherly love,
and will not deprive us of the kingdom of heaven. We may learn what is the
reward of patience from an example which St. Gregory adduces. In the
thirty-fifth homily on the Gospels, he says that a certain man Stephen was
so patient as to consider those that oppressed him his greatest friends; he
returned thanks for insults; he looked upon misfortunes as gains; he
counted his enemies in the number of his well-wishers and benefactors. The
world considered him as a fool and madman, but he turned no deaf ear to the
words of the Apostle of Christ; "If any man among you seem to be wise in
this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise." And St. Gregory
adds that when he was dying many angels were seen assisting round his
couch, who carried his soul straight to heaven, and the holy Doctor did not
hesitate to rank Stephen amongst the martyrs on account of his
1. St. James i. 4.
2. Serm. "De Patientia."
3. Psalm ix. 19.
4. Cap. xv.
5. St. Luke xxi. 19.
6. St. Luke xxi. 18.
7. Heb. x. 36.
8. St. James i. 12.
9. St. John xiv. 23, 24.
10. Gal. ii. 19.
11. "Epist. ad Rom."
12. Heb. x. 36.
13. Job i. 21.
14. 1 Cor. iii. 18.
CHAPTER XI: The fourth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
fifth Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
There remains one fruit more, and that the sweetest of all, to be gathered
from the consideration of this word. St. Austin, in his explanation of the
word "I thirst," which is to be found in his treatise on the sixty-eighth
Psalm, says that it shows not only the desire which Christ had for drink,
but still more the desire with which He was inflamed that His enemies
should believe in Him and be saved. We may advance a step further than St.
Austin, and say that Christ thirsted for the glory of God and the salvation
of men, and we ought to thirst for the glory of God, for the honour of
Christ, for our own salvation, and the salvation of our brethren. We cannot
doubt that Christ thirsted for the glory of His Father, and the salvation
of souls, for all His works, all His preaching, all His sufferings, all His
miracles proclaimed it. We must consider what we have to do not to show
ourselves ungrateful to such a Benefactor, and what means we must take to
become so inflamed as really to thirst for the glory of that God Who "so
loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son; and fervently and
ardently thirst for the honour of Christ, Who "loved us, and delivered
Himself for us an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of
sweetness," and so feelingly compassionate our brethren as zealously to
desire their salvation. Still the most necessary thing for ourselves is so
cordially and earnestly to long for our own salvation, that this desire
should compel us, according to our strength, to think and speak and do
everything that can help us to save our souls. If we care nothing for the
honour of God, or the glory of Christ, and feel no anxiety for our own
salvation or that of others, it follows that God will be deprived of the
honour which is His due, that Christ will lose the glory which is His own,
that our neighbour will not reach Heaven, and that we ourselves shall
perish miserably for eternity. And on this account I am often filled with
astonishment when I reflect that we all know how sincerely Christ thirsted
for our salvation, and we, who believe Christ to be the Wisdom of the
living God, are not moved to imitate His example in a matter so intimately
connected with ourselves. Nor am I less astonished to see men hunt after
worldly goods with such avidity, as though there were no Heaven, and so
little trouble themselves about their salvation, that, far from thirsting
for it, they scarcely give it a passing thought, as though it were a
trivial matter of light importance. Moreover temporal goods, which are not
unmixed pleasures, but are accompanied with many misfortunes, are sought
after with earnestness and anxiety; but eternal happiness, which is an
unalloyed pleasure, is cared for so little, longed for so unconcernedly, as
though it possessed no advantage whatever. Enlighten, O Lord, the eyes of
my soul, that I may find the cause of such a hurtful indifference!
Love produces desire, and desire, when it is excessive, is called a thirst.
Now who is there that cannot love his own eternal happiness, particularly
when that happiness is free from everything that can mar it? And if so
great a prize cannot but be loved, why cannot it be ardently desired,
eagerly sought after, and with all our strength thirsted for ? Perhaps the
reason is that our salvation is not a matter that falls under the senses,
we have never had any experience of what it is like, as we have had in
matters that regard the body, and so we are solicitous for the latter, and
coldly indifferent to the former. But if such is the case, why did David,
who was a mortal man like ourselves, so eagerly long for the vision of God,
and the happiness of heaven consists in the vision of God, as to cry out:
"As the hart panteth after the fountains of water, so my soul panteth after
Thee, O God. My soul hath thirsted after the strong living God; when shall
I come and appear before the face of God?" David is not the only one in
this vale of tears who has desired with such a burning desire the sight of
the vision of God. There have been several others also, who were
distinguished by their holiness, by whom the things of this world were
regarded as mean and insipid, and to whom the thought and the remembrance
of God were alone agreeable and most charming. The reason then why we do
not thirst for our eternal happiness is not because heaven is invisible,
but because we do not think of what is before us with attention, with
assiduity, with faith. And the reason why we do not regard heavenly things
as we ought is that we are not spiritual, but sensual men; "The sensual man
perceiveth not those things that are of the Spirit of God." Wherefore, my
soul, if you desire for your own salvation, and that of your neighbour, if
you have at heart the honour of God and the glory of Christ, listen to the
words of the blessed Apostle St. James: "If any of you want wisdom, let him
ask of God, Who giveth to all men abundantly, and upbraideth not, and it
shall be given him." This sublime wisdom is not to be acquired in the
schools of this World, but in the school of the Holy Spirit of God, Who
changes the sensual man into the spiritual one. But it is not enough to ask
for this wisdom once only and with coldness, but to demand it with much
groaning from our heavenly Father. For if a father according to the flesh
cannot refuse his son when he asks for bread, "how much more will your
Father from heaven give the Good Spirit to them that ask Him."
1. St. John iii. 16.
2. Ephes. v. 2.
3. Psalm xli. 2, 3.
4. 1 Cor. ii. 14.
5. St. James i. 5.
6. St. Luke xi. 13.
CHAPTER XII: The literal explanation of the sixth Word, "It is consummated.
The sixth word spoken by our Lord on the Cross is mentioned by St. John as
being in a manner joined with the fifth word. For as soon as our Lord had
said, "I thirst," and had tasted the vinegar which was offered Him, St.
John adds: "Jesus therefore when He had tasted the vinegar, said: It is
consummated." And indeed nothing can be added to the simple words, "It is
consummated," except that the work of the Passion was now perfected and
completed. God the Father had imposed two duties on His Son: the first to
preach the Gospel; the other to suffer for mankind. Of the first Christ had
already said, "I have glorified Thee on earth: I have finished the work
which Thou gavest Me to do." Our Lord spoke these words after He had
concluded the long and farewell address to His disciples at the Last
Supper. Then He had accomplished the first work which His Heavenly Father
had imposed upon Him. The second task, of drinking the bitter cup of His
chalice, remained. He had alluded to this when He asked the two sons of
Zebedee, "can you drink the chalice that I shall drink?" and again,
"Father, if Thou wilt, remove this chalice from Me;" and elsewhere, "The
chalice which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?" Of this
task, Christ at the point of death could now exclaim, "It is consummated,
for I have drained the chalice of suffering to the dregs: nothing now
remains for Me but to die." And bowing His head He gave up the ghost!"
But as neither our Lord nor St. John, who were both concise in what they
said, have explained what was consummated, we have the opportunity of
applying the word with great reason and advantage to several mysteries. St.
Augustine, in his commentary on this passage, refers the word to the
fulfilment of all the prophecies that had reference to our Lord.
"Afterwards Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the
Scripture might be fulfilled, said, I thirst," and, "when He had taken the
vinegar, said, It is consummated," which means that what remained to be
accomplished has been accomplished, and so we may conclude that our Lord
wished to show that everything which had been foretold by the prophets
concerning His Life and Death had been brought to pass and fulfilled.
Indeed, all the predictions had been verified. His Conception: "Behold, a
Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son." His Nativity at Bethlehem: "And
thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda; out
of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be the ruler in Israel."
The apparition of a new star: "A star shall rise out of Jacob." The
adoration of the Kings: "The Kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer
presents, the Kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring gifts." The
preaching of the Gospel; "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because the
Lord hath anointed Me; He hath sent Me to preach to the meek, to heal the
contrite of heart, and to preach a release to the captives, and deliverance
to them that are shut up." His miracles: "God Himself will come and will
save you. Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the
deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the
tongue of the dumb shall be free." His sitting upon the ass; "Behold thy
King will come to thee, the Just and Saviour: He is poor and riding upon an
ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass." And the whole Passion had been
graphically foretold by David in the Psalms, by Isaias, Jeremias,
Zacharias, and others. This is the meaning of what our Lord said when He
was about to set out for His Passion: "Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and
all things shall be accomplished which were written by the prophets
concerning the Son of Man." Of those things therefore which had to be
accomplished, He now says, "It is consummated;" everything is finished, so
that what the prophets foretold is now found to be true.
In the second place, St. John Chrysostom says that the word, "It is
consummated," shows that the power which had been given to men and devils
over the person of Christ has been taken away from them by the Death of
Christ. When our Lord said to the Chief Priests and masters of the Temple,
"This is your hour and the power of darkness, He alluded to this power.
The whole period of time, then during which, by the permission of God, the
wicked had power over Christ, was brought to a close when He exclaimed, "It
is consummated," for then the peregrination of the Son of God amongst men,
which Baruch had foretold, came to an end: "This is our God, and there
shall no other be accounted of in comparison of Him. He found out all the
way of knowledge, and gave it to Jacob His servant, and to Israel His
beloved. Afterwards He was seen upon earth, and conversed with men." And
together with His pilgrimage that condition of His mortal life was ended,
according to which He hungered and thirsted, He slept and was fatigued, was
subject to affronts and scourgings, to wounds and to death. And so when
Christ on the Cross exclaimed, "It is consummated, and bowing His head He
gave up the ghost," He ended the journey of which He had said, "I came
forth from the Father, and am come into the world, again I leave the world
and I go to the Father." That laborious pilgrimage was ended of which
Jeremias had said, "O expectation of Israel, the Saviour thereof in time of
trouble: why wilt Thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man
turning in to lodge." The subjection of His Human Nature to death was
ended, the power of His enemies over Himself was ended.
In the third place was ended the greatest of all sacrifices, in comparison
to which real and true Sacrifice all the sacrifices of the Old Law were
regarded as mere shadows and figures. St. Leo says, "Thou hast drawn all
things to Thyself, O Lord, for when the veil of the Temple was rent, the
Holy of Holies departed from unworthy priests: figures became truths:
prophecies became manifest: the Law became the Gospel." And a little later,
"By the cessation of a variety of sacrifices in which victims were offered,
the one oblation of thy Body and Blood makes up for the differences of the
victims." For in this one Sacrifice of Christ, the priest is the God-Man,
the altar is the Cross, the victim is the Lamb of God, the fire for the
holocaust is charity, the fruit of the sacrifice is the redemption of the
world. The priest, I say, was the God-Man, than Whom no one is greater:
"Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech;" and
rightly according to the order of Melchisedech, because we read in
Scripture that Melchisedech was without father or mother or genealogy, and
Christ was without a father on earth, without a mother in Heaven, and
without genealogy, for "who shall declare His generation? "from the womb
before the day-star I begot Thee;" "and His going forth is from the
beginning, from the days of eternity." The altar was the Cross. And as
previous to the time when Christ suffered upon it, it was the sign of the
greatest ignominy, so now has it become dignified and ennobled, and on the
Last Day shall appear in the heaven more brilliant than the sun. The Church
applies to the Cross the words of the Evangelist: "Then shall appear the
sign of the Son of Man in Heaven," for she sings: "This sign of the Cross
shall appear in Heaven when the Lord shall come to judge." St. John
Chrysostom confirms this opinion, and observes that when "the sun shall be
darkened, and the moon shall not give her light," the Cross shall be seen
more brilliant than the sun in its mid-day splendour. The victim was the
Lamb of God, all innocent and immaculate, of whom Isaias said, "He shall be
led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before His
shearer, and He shall not open His mouth," and of Whom His Precursor
exclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who taketh away the sin of
the world," and St. Peter: "Knowing that you were not redeemed with
corruptible things as gold or silver, but with the precious Blood of
Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled." He is called also in the
Apocalypse, "The Lamb which was slain from the beginning of the world,"
because the merit of His Sacrifice was foreseen by God, and was of
advantage to those who lived before the coming of Christ. The fire which
consumes the holocaust, and completes the Sacrifice, is the immense love
which, as in a heated furnace, burnt in the Heart of the Son of God, and
which the many waters of His Passion could not extinguish. Lastly, the
fruit of the Sacrifice was the atonement for the sins of all the children
of Adam, or in other words, the reconciliation of the whole world with God.
St. John in his first Epistle says, "He is the propitiation for our sins,
and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world," and this
is only another way of expressing the idea of St. John Baptist: "Behold the
Lamb of God, behold Him Who taketh away the sin of the world." One
difficulty here arises. How could Christ be at one and the same time priest
and victim, since it is the duty of the priest to slay the victim? Now,
Christ did not slay Himself, nor could He do so, for if He had He would
have committed a sacrilege and not have offered a sacrifice. It is true
Christ did not slay Himself, still He offered a real sacrifice, because He
willingly and cheerfully offered Himself to death for the glory of God and
the salvation of men. For neither could the soldiers have apprehended Him,
nor the nails have transfixed His hands and feet, nor death, although He
was fastened to the Cross, have had any power over Him, unless He Himself
had wished it. Consequently, with great truth did Isaias say, "He was
offered, because it was His own will;" and our Lord: "I lay down My life;
no man taketh it away from Me, but I lay it down of Myself;" and more
clearly still St. Paul: "Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered
Himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of
sweetness." In a wonderful manner therefore was it arranged that all the
evil, all the sin, all the crime committed in putting Christ to death was
committed by Judas and the Jews, by Pilate and the soldiers. These offered
no sacrifice, but were guilty of sacrilege, and deserve to be called, not
priests, but sacrilegious wretches. And all the virtue, all the holiness,
all the dutifulness displayed in the Passion, were the virtue and the
holiness and the dutifulness of Christ, Who offered Himself a victim to God
by patiently enduring death, even the death of the Cross, in order to
appease the anger of His Father, to reconcile mankind to God, to make
satisfaction to the Divine justice, and to save the fallen race of Adam.
St. Leo beautifully expresses this thought in a few words: "He allowed the
impure hands of wretches to be turned against Himself, and they became
cooperators with the Redeemer at the time they were committing a heinous
In the fourth place, by the Death of Christ the mighty struggle between
Himself and the prince of the world was brought to a close. In alluding to
this struggle, our Lord made use of these words: "Now this is the judgment
of the world. Now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I
be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself." This
struggle was a judicial, not a military one; it was a struggle between
rival suitors, not between rival armies. Satan disputed with Christ the
possession of the world, the dominion over mankind. For a long time the
devil had unlawfully thrust himself into possession, because he had
overcome the first man, and had made him and all his descendants his
slaves. For this reason St. Paul calls the devils, "the principalities and
powers, the rulers of the world of this darkness." And as we said a
little before, even Christ calls the devil "the prince of this world." Now
the devil did not wish merely to be the prince, but even the god of this
world, and so the Psalmist exclaims: "For all the gods of the Gentiles are
devils, but the Lord made the heavens." Satan was adored in the idols of
the Gentiles, and was worshipped in their sacrifices of lambs and calves.
On the other side, the Son of God, as the true and lawful heir of the
universe, demanded the principality of this world for Himself. This was the
contest which was decided on the Cross, and judgment was pronounced in
favour of our Lord Jesus Christ, because on the Cross He fully atoned for
the sins of the first man and of all His children. For the obedience shown
to the Eternal Father by His Son was greater than the disobedience of a
servant to his master, and the humility with which the Son of God died on
the Cross redounded more to the honour of the Father than the pride of a
servant tended to His injury. So God by the merits of His Son was
reconciled to mankind, and mankind was snatched from the power of the
devil, and "translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love."
There is another reason which St. Leo adduces, and we will give it in his
own words. "If our proud and cruel enemy could have known the plan which
the mercy of God had adopted, he would have restrained the passions of the
Jews, and not have goaded them on by unjust hatred, in order that he might
lose his power over all his captives by fruitlessly attacking the liberty
of One Who owed him nothing." This is an exceedingly weighty reason. For it
is just that the devil should lose his authority over all those who by sin
had become his slaves, because he had dared to lay his hands on Christ, Who
was not his slave, Who had never sinned, and Whom he nevertheless
persecuted even unto death. Now, if such is the state of the case, if the
battle is over, if the Son of God has gained the victory, and if "He will
have all men to be saved," how is it that so many are in the power of the
devil in this life, and suffer the torments of hell in the next? I answer
in one word: They wish it. Christ came victorious out of the contest, after
bestowing two unspeakable favours on the human race, First that of opening
to the just the gates of Heaven, which had been closed from the fall of
Adam to that day, and on the day of His victory He said to the thief who
had been justified by the merits of His Blood, through faith, hope, and
charity, "This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise," and the Church in
her exultation cries out, "Thou having overcome the sting of death, hast
opened to believers the kingdom of Heaven." The second, of instituting the
Sacraments which have the power of remitting sin and of conferring grace.
He sends the preachers of His Word to all parts of the world to proclaim,
"He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved." And so our victorious
Lord has opened a way to all to attain the glorious liberty of the sons of
God, and if there are any who are unwilling to enter on this way, they
perish by their own fault, and not by the want of power or the want of will
of their Redeemer.
In the fifth place, the word, "It is consummated," may rightly be applied
to the completion of the building, that is, the Church. Christ our Master
uses this very word in reference to a building: "Hic homo coepit aedificare
et non potuit consummare"--"This man began to build and was not able to
finish." The Fathers teach that the foundation of the Church was laid
when Christ was baptized, and the building completed when He died.
Epiphanius in his third book against heretics, and St. Augustine in the
last book of the City of God, show that Eve, who was built from a rib of
Adam whilst he was asleep, typifies the Church, which was built from the
Side of Christ whilst He slept in Death. And they remark that not without
reason does the book of Genesis use the word built, not formed. St.
Augustine proves that the building of the Church commenced with the
baptism of Christ, from the words of the Psalmist: "And He shall rule from
sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth." The kingdom
of Christ, which is the Church, began with the baptism He received at the
hands of St. John, by which He consecrated the waters and instituted that
Sacrament which is the gate of the Church, and when the voice of His Father
was clearly heard in the heavens: "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am
well pleased." From that moment our Lord began to preach and to gather
disciples, who were the first children of the Church. And all the
Sacraments derive their efficacy from the Passion of Christ, although our
Lord's Side was opened after His Death, and Blood and water, which typify
the two chief Sacraments of the Church, flowed forth. The flowing of Blood
and water from the Side of Christ after Death was a sign of the Sacraments,
not their institution. We may conclude then that the building of the Church
was completed when Christ said, "It is consummated," because nothing then
remained but death, which immediately followed, and consummated the price
of our redemption.
1. St. John xix. 30.
2. St. John xvii. 4.
3. St. Matt. xx. 22.
4. St. Luke xxii. 42.
5. St. John xviii. 11.
6. St. John xix. 30.
7. St. John xix. 28, 30.
8. Isaias vii. 14.
9. Micheas v. 2.
10. Numbers xxiv. 17.
11. Psalm lxxi 10.
12. Isaias lxi. 1.
13. Isaias xxxv. 4, 5, 6.
14. Zach. ix 9.
15. St. Luke xviii. 31.
16. St. Luke xxii. 53.
17. Baruch iii. 36-38.
18. St. John xvi. 28.
19. Jer. xiv. 8.
20. Serm. 8. De Pass. Dom.
21. Psalm cix. 4.
22. Isaias liii. 8.
23. Psalm cix. 3.
24. Micheas v. 2.
25. St. Matt. xxiv. 30.
26. St. Matt. xxiv. 29.
27. Isaias liii. 7.
28. St. John i. 29.
29. 1 St. Peter i. 18, 19.
30. Apoc. xiii. 8.
31. 1 St John ii. 2.
32. St. John i. 29.
33. Isaias liii. 7.
34. St. John x. 17, 18.
35. Ephes. v. 2.
36. St. John xii. 31, 32.
37. Ephes. vi. 12.
38. Psalm xcv. 5.
39. Coloss. i. 13.
40. 1 Tim. ii. 4.
41. St. Luke xxiii. 43.
42. St. Mark xvi. 16.
43. St. Luke xiv. 30.
44. "De Civit." l. 27, c. 8.
45. Psalm lxxi. 8.
46. St. Matt. iii. 17.
CHAPTER XIII: The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
sixth Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
Whoever attentively ponders on the sixth word must derive many advantages
from his reflections, St. Augustine draws a most useful lesson from the
fact that the word "It is consummated" shows the fulfilment of all
prophecies that had reference to our Lord. For as we are certain from what
has happened that the prophecies regarding our Lord were true, so ought we
to be equally certain that other things which the same Prophets foretold,
and which have not yet come to pass are equally true. The Prophets spoke
not of their own will, but were inspired by the Holy Ghost, and because the
Holy Ghost is God, Who cannot either deceive or mislead, we should be most
confident that everything which they foretold will come to pass, if it has
not done so already. "For as heretofore," says St. Augustine, "everything
has been accomplished, so what has to be fulfilled will assuredly happen.
Let us then stand in awe of the Day of Judgment, for the Lord will come. He
Who came as a lowly Babe will come as a mighty God." We have more reasons
than the saints of old for never wavering in our faith, or in our belief of
what is to come. Those who lived before the coming of Christ were obliged
to believe, without proof, many things for which we have abundant
testimony, and from what has been fulfilled we may easily deduce that the
remaining prophecies will be accomplished. The contemporaries of Noe heard
of the universal Deluge, not only from the lips of the prophet of God, but
from his conduct in working so diligently at the construction of the Ark;
still they were hard to convince, as never before had there been a Deluge,
or anything similar to it, and consequently the Divine wrath overtook them
unawares. As we know that what Noe foretold came to pass, we should have no
difficulty in believing that the world and everything we now esteem so much
will one day be destroyed by fire. Still, there are very few who have such
a lively faith in this as to detach themselves from perishable things, and
fix their hearts on the joys above, which are real and everlasting.
The terrors of the Last Day have been foretold by Christ Himself, so that
those are altogether inexcusable w ho cannot be induced to believe that
because some prophecies have been fulfilled, therefore others will be.
These are the words of Christ: "And as in the days of Noe, so shall also
the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the Flood, they
were eating and drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage, even till that
day in which Noe entered into the ark. And they knew not till the Flood
came and took them all away; so also shall the coming of the Son of Man be.
Watch ye, therefore, because you know not at what hour your Lord will
come." And St. Peter says: "The day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in
which the heavens shall pass away with great violence, and the elements
shall be melted with heat, and the earth, and the works which are in it
shall be burnt up." But some may argue, all these things are a long way
off. Let it be that they are a long way off, and if they are, the day of
death is certainly not far off: its hour is very uncertain, and yet it is
certain that in the particular judgment which is close at hand, an account
will have to be rendered of every idle word. And if of every idle word what
of sinful words, of blasphemies which are so common ? And if an account of
every word is to be rendered, what of actions, of thefts, adulteries,
frauds, murders, injustice, and other mortal sins? Therefore the fulfilment
of some prophecies will render us all the more blameworthy if we do not
believe that the other prophecies will be accomplished. Nor is it enough
merely to believe, unless our faith efficaciously moves our will to do or
to avoid what our understanding teaches us should be done or avoided. If an
architect were to give it as his opinion that a house was about to fall,
and the inhabitants were to acknowledge that they believed the architect's
words, but still would not abandon the house, and were buried in its ruins,
what would people say of such faith? They would say with the Apostle: "They
profess that they know God, but in their works they deny Him." Or what
would be said if a doctor were to order a patient not to drink wine, and
the patient were to own that the advice was good, but were to continue to
drink wine, and be angry if it was not given him? Should we not say that
such a patient was mad and had no confidence in his physician? Would that
there were not so many Christians who profess to believe in the judgments
of God and other things, and by their conduct give a denial to their words!
1. St. Matt. xxiv. 37, 38, 39, 42.
2. 2 St. Peter iii. 10.
3. Titus i. 16.
CHAPTER XIV. The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
sixth Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
Another advantage may be derived from the second interpretation which we
gave of the word "It is consummated." With St. John Chrysostom, we said
that by His Death Christ finished His laborious sojourn amongst us. No one
can deny but that His mortal life was beyond measure bitter, but its very
bitterness was compensated for by its shortness, by its fruit, by its
glory, and its honour. It lasted thirty-three years. What is a labour of
thirty-three years compared to an eternity of rest? Our Lord laboured in
hunger and thirst, in the midst of many griefs, of insults without number,
of blows, of wounds, of death itself. But now He drinks from the fount of
joys, and His joy shall last for ever. Again, He was humbled, and for a
short time was "the reproach of men and the outcast of the people;" but
"God hath exalted Him, and hath given Him a Name which is above all names,
that in the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in
heaven, on earth, and under the earth." On the other hand, the perfidious
Jews for an hour exulted over Christ in His sufferings; Judas for an hour
enjoyed the price of his avarice, a few pieces of silver; Pilate for an
hour gloried because he had not lost the friendship of Tiberius, and had
regained that of Herod. But for nearly two thousand years they have all
been suffering the torments of hell and their cries of despair will be
heard for ever and for ever.
From their misery all the servants of the Cross may learn how good and
profitable a thing it is to be humble, to be meek, to be patient, to carry
their cross in this present life, to follow Christ as their guide, and by
no means to envy those who appear to be happy in this world. The lives of
Christ and of His Apostles and Martyrs are a true commentary on the words
of the Master of masters. "Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek,
blessed are they that mourn; blessed are they that suffer persecution for
justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." And on the other
hand, "Wo to you who are rich, for you have your consolation. Wo to you
that are filled, for you shall hunger. Wo to you that now laugh, for you
shall mourn and weep."
Although neither the words nor the life and death of Christ are understood
or followed by the world, still whoever wishes to leave the bustle of life
and enter into his heart and seriously meditate and say to himself, "I will
hear what the Lord God will speak in me," and importunes His Divine Master
with humble prayer and groaning of spirit, will without difficulty
understand all truth, and the truth shall free him from all errors, and
what before appeared impossible will become easy.
1. Psalm xxi. 7.
2. Philipp. ii. 9, 10.
3. St. Matt. v. 3, 10.
4. St. Luke vi. 24, 25.
5. Psalm lxxxiv. 9.
CHAPTER XV: The third fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the sixth
Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
The third fruit to be gathered from the consideration of the sixth word is,
that we should learn to become spiritual priests, "to offer up to God
spiritual sacrifices," as St. Peter tells us, or as St. Paul advises us,
"to present" our "bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God," our
"reasonable service." For if this word "It is consummated" shows us that
the Sacrifice of our High Priest has been accomplished on the Cross, it is
just and proper that the disciples of a crucified God, who are desirous, as
far as they can, of imitating their Master, should offer themselves as a
sacrifice to God according to their weakness and their poverty. Indeed, St.
Peter says that all Christians are priests, not strictly so indeed as those
who are ordained by bishops in the Holy Roman Church for offering the
Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, but spiritual priests for
offering spiritual victims, not such victims as we read of in the Old
Testament, sheep and oxen, turtles and doves, or the Victim of the New
Testament, the Body of Christ in the Blessed Eucharist, but mystical
victims which can be offered by all, as prayer and praise and good works
and fasts and almsdeeds, as St. Paul says, "Let us offer the sacrifice of
praise always to God, that is to say, the fruit of lips confessing to His
Name." In his Epistle to the Romans, the same Apostle most distinctly
tells us to offer to God the mystical sacrifice of our bodies after the
sacrifices of the Old Law, which were regulated by four decrees. The first
was, that the victim should be something consecrated to God, which it would
be unlawful to turn to any profane use. The second, that the victim should
be a living creature, as a sheep, a goat, or a calf. The third, that it
should be holy, that is, clean; for the Jews considered some animals clean,
others unclean. Sheep, oxen, goats, turtles, sparrows, and doves were
clean; whereas the horse, the lion, the fox, the hawk, the raven, and
others were unclean. The fourth, that the victim should be burnt, and
should send forth an odour of sweetness. All these things the Apostle
enumerates. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that
you present yourselves a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your
reasonable service." As I understand the Apostle he does not exhort us to
offer a sacrifice strictly speaking, as though he wished our bodies to be
killed and burnt, like the bodies of sheep When offered in sacrifice, but
to offer a mystical and reason able sacrifice, a sacrifice that is similar
but not the same, a spiritual and not a corporal one. The Apostle therefore
exhorts us to the imitation of Christ inasmuch as He offered on the Cross
for our advantage the Sacrifice of His Body by a true and real Death, so
we, for His honour, should offer our bodies as a living, a holy and perfect
victim, a victim which is pleasing to God, and which in a spiritual manner
is slain and burnt.
We will now give a few words of explanation concerning the four decrees
which regulated the Jewish sacrifices. In the first place, our bodies
should be victims consecrated to God, which we should use for the honour of
God. For we must not look upon our bodies as our own property, but as the
property of God, to Whom we were consecrated in Baptism, and Who has bought
us at a great price, as the Apostle tells the Corinthians. Nor ought we to
be merely victims, but victims living by the life of grace and of the Holy
Spirit. For those who are dead by sin are not victims of God, but of the
devil, who kills our souls and rejoices in their destruction. Our God, who
always was and is the fountain of life, will not have offered to Him fetid
carcases which are fit for nothing but to be thrown to the beasts. In the
second place, we must take great care to preserve this life of our souls so
that we may offer our "reasonable service." Nor is it enough for the victim
to be living. It must also be holy. "A living" and "holy sacrifice," says
St. Paul. The oblation of clean victims was a holy sacrifice. As we have
said before, some quadrupeds were clean, as sheep, goats, and oxen, and
some birds were clean, as turtles, sparrows, and doves. The former class of
animals typify the active life, the latter the contemplative. Consequently,
if those who lead an active life amongst the faithful desire to offer
themselves as holy victims to God, they must imitate the simplicity and
meekness of a sheep, which knows not revenge; the labours and seriousness
of the ox, which seeks not repose, does not vainly run hither and thither,
but bears its burden and drags its plough and works assiduously in the
cultivation of the earth; and finally, the speed of the goat in climbing
mountains and its quickness in detecting objects from afar. They must not
rest satisfied with meekness only, or with undertaking certain duties. They
must lift up their hearts by frequent prayer and contemplate the things
which are above. For how can they perform their actions for the glory of
God and make them ascend like the incense of sacrifice before Him, if they
seldom or never think of God, seek Him not, and are not by means of
meditation burning with His love? The active life of a Christian should not
be entirely separated from the contemplative, just as the contemplative
should not be entirely separated from the active. Those who do not follow
the example of oxen and sheep and goats in continually and usefully
labouring for their Master, but seek and pursue their own temporal
commodities, cannot offer to God a holy victim. They resemble rather such
ferocious and carnivorous beasts as wolves, dogs, bears, kites, and ravens,
which make a god of their belly, and follow in the tracks of "that roaring
lion" which "goeth about seeking whom he may devour." Those Christians who
lead a contemplative life and desire to offer themselves as living and holy
victims to God must imitate the solitude of the turtle, the purity of the
dove, and the prudence of the sparrow. The solitude of the turtle is
chiefly applicable to monks and hermits, who have no communication with the
world and are wholly intent on the contemplation of God and singing His
praises. The purity and fecundity of the dove is necessary for bishops and
priests, who have intercourse with men and ought to bring forth and nourish
spiritual children, and it will be difficult for them to imitate such
purity and fruitfulness unless they frequently fly up to their heavenly
country by contemplation, and by charity condescend to succour the
necessities of men. There is a danger of their wholly abandoning themselves
to contemplation and being unproductive of spiritual children, or of
becoming so engrossed in external work as to be contaminated with earthly
desires, and whilst they are all anxiety to save the souls of others, may
themselves--which God avert--become castaways. The prudence of the sparrow
is necessary both for contemplatives, and also for those who devote
themselves to the active duties of the ministry. There are both hedge-
sparrows and house-sparrows. Hedge-sparrows show the greatest care in
avoiding the nets and snares set for them, and house-sparrows, which dwell
near men, never become the friends of man, and with difficulty are captured
by men. So Christians, and especially priests and monks, must imitate the
prudence of the sparrow to avoid falling into the nets and snares set for
them by the devil, and when they treat with men, should do so solely for
their neighbours' advantage, should avoid all familiarity with them,
especially with women, should fly from idle conversations, should decline
invitations, and should not be present at plays and theatres.
The last decree regarding sacrifices was that the victim should not only be
living and holy but also pleasing, that is, should send forth a most sweet
odour, according to what the Scriptures say: "And the Lord smelled a sweet
savour," and "Christ delivered Himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice
to God for an odour of sweetness." It was necessary that the victim, in
order to send forth this odour so pleasing to God, should be both killed
and burnt. This takes place in the mystical and reasonable sacrifice of
which we are speaking, when the concupiscence of the flesh is completely
brought into subjection and burnt out by the fire of charity. Nothing more
efficaciously, quickly, and perfectly mortifies the concupiscence of the
flesh than a sincere love of God. For He is the King and Lord of all the
affections of our heart, and all our affections are ruled by Him and depend
upon Him, whether they be those of fear or hope, or desire or hatred, or
anger, or any other inquietude of mind. Now love yields to nothing except
to a stronger love, and consequently when Divine love has complete
possession of the heart of man and sets it wholly in flame, all carnal
desires yield to it, and, being completely subdued, occasion us no
disquiet: and, therefore, ardent aspirations and fervent prayers should
ascend from our hearts like incense before the throne of God. This is the
sacrifice which God demands of us, and which the Apostle exhorts us to be
ever most ready to offer.
St. Paul uses a very strong argument to persuade us to it, as it is of
itself so hard and full of difficulty. His argument is expressed in these
words: "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercy of God that you present your
bodies a living sacrifice." In the Greek text we find the word mercies
used instead of mercy. What and how many are the mercies of God by which
the Apostle beseeches us? In the first place there is creation, by which we
were made something whereas before we were nothing. Secondly, although
Almighty God stood in no need of our service, He has made us His servants,
because He wishes us to do something for which He can reward us. Thirdly,
He made us to His image, and rendered us capable of knowing Him and loving
Him. Fourthly, He made us through Christ His adopted children and coheirs
of His Only-Begotten Son. Fifthly, He has made us members of His Spouse,
and of that Church of which He is the Head. Lastly, He offered Himself on
the Cross, "an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness,"
to redeem us from slavery and wash us from our iniquities, "that He might
present it to Himself a glorious Church not having spot or wrinkle."
These are the mercies of God by which the Apostle beseeches us, as if he
would say: The Lord has showered so many graces upon you, who have neither
deserved them, nor asked for them, and should you think it a hard matter to
offer yourselves as living, holy, and reasonable victims to God? Forsooth,
far from being difficult, it should seem to any one who attentively
considers all the circumstances, light and easy and pleasant and agreeable,
to serve so good a God with our whole hearts throughout all time, and after
the example of Christ to offer ourselves wholly to Him as a victim, an
oblation, and a holocaust in the odour of sweetness.
1. 1 St. Peter ii. 5.
2. Rom. xii. 1.
3. Heb. xiii. 15.
4. Rom. xii. 1.
5. 1 St. Peter v. 8.
6. Genesis viii. 21.
7. Ephes. v. 2.
8. Rom. xii. 1.
9. Ephes. x. 2.
10. Ephes. v. 27.
CHAPTER XVI: The fourth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
sixth Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
A fourth fruit can be drawn from a fourth explanation of the word "It is
finished." For if it is true, as most certainly it is, that God by the
merits of Christ has withdrawn us from the servitude of the devil, and
placed us in the kingdom of His Beloved Son, let us inquire, and not desist
from our inquiry till we have found the reason, why so many men prefer the
slavery of the enemy of mankind to the service of Christ, our most kind
Master, and choose rather to burn for ever in the flames of hell with
Satan, than reign most happy in eternal glory with our Lord Jesus Christ.
The only reason I can find is that the service of Christ begins with the
Cross. It is necessary to crucify the flesh with its vices and
concupiscences. This bitter draught, this chalice of gall, naturally
produces a nausea in frail man, and is often the sole reason why he would
rather be the slave of his passions than be the master of them by such a
remedy. A man without reason, indeed, or rather not a man but a beast, for
a man bereft of his reason is such, might be ruled by his desires and
appetites: but since man is endowed with reason, he certainly knows or
ought to know that he who is commanded to crucify his flesh with its vices
and concupiscences should insist on keeping this precept, particularly as
he is assisted by God's grace to do so, and that our Lord, like a wise
physician, so prepares this bitter potion that it may be drunk without
difficulty. Moreover, if any one of us individually was the first person to
whom these words were addressed, "Take up your cross and follow Me," we
might have an excuse for hesitating and mistrusting our own strength, and
not daring to lay our hands on a cross which we considered ourselves unable
to carry. But since not only men but even children of tender years have
boldly taken up the Cross of Christ, have patiently carried it, and have
crucified their flesh with its vices and concupiscences, why should we
fear, why should we hesitate? St. Augustine was vanquished by this
argument, and at once mastered his carnal concupiscence which for years he
had regarded as unconquerable. He placed before the eyes of his soul many
men and women who had led chaste lives, and said to himself: "Why cannot
you do what so many of both sexes have done who trusted not in their own
strength, but in the Lord their God?" What has been said about the
concupiscence of the flesh, may be said with equal force about the
concupiscence of the eyes--which is avarice, and the pride of life. There
is no vice which with God's assistance cannot be overcome, and there is no
reason to fear that God will refuse to help us. St. Leo says: "Almighty God
justly insists on our keeping His commandments since He prevents us by His
grace." Miserable and mad and foolish, then, are those souls who prefer
rather to carry five yoke of oxen under the command of Satan, and with
labour and sorrow be the slaves of their senses, and at last be tortured
for ever with their leader, the devil, in the flames of hell, than to
submit to the yoke of Christ, which is sweet and light, to find rest for
their souls in this life, and in the life to come an eternal crown with
their King in everlasting glory.
CHAPTER XVII: The fifth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
sixth Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
A fifth fruit may be gathered from this word, since we may apply it to the
building of the Church which was perfected on the Cross. The Church was
formed from the Side of Christ as He was expiring on the Cross, like
another Eve formed from the rib of another Adam. And this mystery should
teach us to love the Cross, to honour the Cross, and to be closely united
to the Cross. For who does not love his mother's birth place? All the
faithful have an extraordinary veneration for the holy house of Loreto,
because it is the birthplace of the Virgin Mother of God, and there in her
virginal womb she conceived Jesus Christ our Lord, as the Angel announced
to St. Joseph: "For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost."
So the Holy Roman Church, mindful of the place of her nativity, has the
Cross planted everywhere and everywhere exhibited. We are taught to make it
on ourselves; we see it in churches and houses; she confers no Sacrament
without the Cross, blesses nothing without the sign of the cross; and we,
the children of the Church, show our love for the Cross when we patiently
endure adversities for the love of our crucified God. This is to glory in
the Cross. This is to do what the Apostle did "when they went from the
presence of the council rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer
reproach for the Name of Jesus." St. Paul plainly gives us to understand
what he means by glorying in the Cross when he says: "We glory also in
tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience
trial, and trial hope, and hope confoundeth not, because the charity of God
is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, Who is given to us." And
again in his Epistle to the Galatians: "God forbid that I should glory,
save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified
to me and I to the world." This is indeed the triumph of the Cross, when
the world with its pomps and pleasures is dead to the Christian soul that
loves Christ crucified, and the soul is dead to the world by loving
tribulations and contempt which the world hates, and hating the pleasures
of the flesh, and the empty applause of men which the world loves. In this
manner is the true servant of God rendered so perfect that it may also be
said of him: "It is finished."
1. St. Matt. i. 20.
2. Acts v. 41.
3. Rom. v. 3-5.
4. Gal vi. 14.
CHAPTER XVIII: The sixth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
sixth Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
The last fruit to be drawn from the consideration of this word is to be
gathered from the perseverance which our Lord exhibited on the Cross. We
are taught by this word, "It is finished," how our Lord so perfected the
work of His Passion from the beginning to the end that nothing was wanting
to it: "The works of God are perfect." And as God the Father completed the
work of creation on the sixth day and rested on the seventh, so the Son of
God completed the work of our redemption on the sixth day and rested in the
sleep of death on the seventh. In vain did the Jews taunt Him, "If He be
the King of Israel let Him come down from the Cross and we will believe
Him." With more truth does St. Bernard exclaim: "Because He is the King of
Israel, He will not desert the ensign of His royalty. He would not give us
an excuse for failing in perseverance, which alone is crowned: He would not
make the tongues of preachers dumb, nor the lips of those who console the
weak mute, nor the words of those void whose duty it is to say to every
one, Do not abandon your cross, for without doubt each individual soul
would answer if it could: I have abandoned my cross, because Christ first
deserted His." Christ then persevered on His Cross even unto His Death, in
order so to perfect His work that nothing should be wanting to it, and to
leave us an example of perseverance in every way worthy of our admiration.
It is easy indeed to stay in places which are agreeable to us, or to
persevere in duties which are pleasant, but it is very difficult to remain
at one's post where there is much grief to be allayed, or to continue in an
occupation where there is much anxiety attached to it. But if we could
understand the reason which induced our Lord to persevere on the Cross, we
should be thoroughly convinced that we ought to bear our cross with
constancy, and if need be, to bear it with courage even unto death. If we
fix our eyes on the Cross alone we cannot but be filled with horror at the
sight of such an instrument of death. But if we fix our eyes on Him Who
bids us carry the Cross, and on the place whither the Cross will lead us,
and on the fruit which the Cross will produce in us, then instead of
appearing full of difficulties and obstacles, it will be easy and agreeable
to persevere in carrying it, and even to remain with constancy nailed to
Why then did Christ hang upon His Cross with such perseverance even unto
death without a sigh and without a murmur? The first reason was the love He
bore His Father: "The chalice which My Father hath given Me, shall I not
drink it?" Christ loved His Father and the Father loved His Only-Begotten
Son, with an equally ineffable love. And when He saw the chalice of
suffering offered to Him by His all-good and all-loving Father in such a
manner that He could not but conclude it was presented to Him for the best
of purposes, we cannot wonder at His drinking it to the dregs with the
utmost readiness. The Father had made a marriage feast for His Son, and had
given Him for His Spouse the Church--disfigured and deformed indeed, but
which He was lovingly to cleanse in the bath of His Precious Blood and
render beautiful, "not having spot nor wrinkle." Christ on His side dearly
loved the Spouse given Him by His Father, and hesitated not to pour out His
Blood to render her fair and comely. Now if Jacob toiled for seven years in
feeding the flocks of Laban, suffered from heat and cold and want of sleep
in order to marry Rachel, and if these seven years of labour passed so
quickly that "they seemed but a few days because of the greatness of his
love," and a second seven years seemed equally as short, we cannot be
surprised that the Son of God desired to hang on the Cross for three hours
for His Spouse, the Church, who was to be the mother of so many thousands
of saints and the parent of so many children of God. Moreover, in drinking
the bitter chalice of His Passion, Christ was influenced not only by His
love for His Father and His Spouse, but also by the exalted glory and the
boundless and never-ending happiness He was to secure by means of His
Cross: "He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death
of the Cross. For which cause God also hath exalted Him, and hath given Him
a Name which is above all names: that in the Name of Jesus every knee
should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and
that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory
of God the Father."
To the example which Christ has set us, let us add also the examples which
the Apostles hold out for our imitation. St. Paul in his Epistle to the
Romans, after enumerating his own crosses and those of his fellow-
labourers, asks: "Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall
tribulation? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or
persecution? or the sword? As it is written: For Thy sake we are put to
death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." And
he answers his own questions. "But in all these things we overcome because
of Him that hath loved us." We must not regard the suffering which crosses
entail if we wish to persevere unflinchingly in bearing them, but rather
encourage ourselves by the love of that God Who so loved us as to give His
only Son for our ransom, or even keep our eyes fixed on that Son of God Who
loved us and "gave Himself for us." In his Epistle to the Corinthians the
same Apostle says: "I am filled with comfort. I exceedingly abound with joy
in all our tribulations." Whence arose this consolation and this joy which
rendered him, so to speak, impassible in every affliction? He supplies us
with the answer. "For that which is at present momentary and light of our
tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of
glory." Thus the contemplation of the crown which awaited him, and the
thought of which he ever kept before him, rendered all the trials of this
life momentary and trivial. "What persecution," cries out St. Cyprian, "can
prevail against such thoughts as these? what torments can overcome such a
vision? As a second model we will take the conduct of St. Andrew, who
looked upon the cross, on which he was to hang for two days, not as a
gibbet, but embraced it as a friend, and when the spectators of his
execution wished to take him down, he would by no means consent to it, as
he desired to remain fastened to his cross even to death. And this is not
the action of a crazy or foolish person, but of an enlightened Apostle and
of a man filled with the Holy Ghost.
All Christians can learn from the example of Christ and His Apostles how to
conduct themselves when they cannot descend from their cross, that is, when
they cannot free themselves from some particular affliction or suffering
without sin. In the first place the life of each religious who is bound by
the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, is compared to a martyrdom
from which he must not shrink. Again, if a husband is wedded to a wife who
is quarrelsome, morose, and peevish, or a wife is married to a husband
whose temper and character is not a whit the less difficult to put up with,
as St. Augustine in his "Book of Confessions" assures us was the
disposition of his father, the husband of St. Monica, the cross must
courageously be borne as the bond is indissoluble. Slaves who have lost
their liberty, prisoners condemned to a life-long servitude, the sick who
are suffering from an incurable disease, the poor who are tempted to secure
a momentary relief by theft or robbery, each and all must turn their
thoughts, not to the cross they are carrying, but to Him Who has placed the
cross upon them, if they wish to persevere in carrying it with internal
peace, and desire to gain the immense reward which is promised to them in
heaven when their sufferings here shall be over. Without doubt it is God
Who afflicts us with crosses, and He is our most loving Father, and without
His concurrence neither sorrow nor joy can befall us. Without doubt, too,
whatever happens to us by His will is the best for us, and ought to be so
agreeable to us as to force us to say with Christ: "The chalice which My
Father has given Me shall I not drink it?" and with the Apostle: "But in
all those things we overcome because of Him that hath loved us."
Consequently those who cannot lay aside their cross without sin must
consider, not their present suffering, but the crown which awaits them, and
the possession of which will more than counterbalance all the afflictions,
all the griefs of this life. "For I reckon that all the sufferings of this
time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be
revealed in us," is what St. Paul said of himself, and the judgment he
passed on Moses was, "Rather choosing to be afflicted with the people of
God, than to have the pleasure of sin for a time, esteeming the reproach of
Christ greater riches than the treasure of the Egyptians. For he looked
unto the reward."
For the consolation of those who are forced to bear the heavy weight of a
cross through a long series of years, it will not be out of place briefly
to relate the story of two souls who failed to persevere, and found a far
heavier and eternal cross awaiting them. When the traitor Judas began to
reflect upon and detest the enormity of his treachery, he felt unable to
bear the shame and confusion of again meeting any one of the Apostles or
disciples of Christ, and he hanged himself with a halter. Far from escaping
the shame which he dreaded, he has only exchanged one cross for a heavier
one. For his confusion will be much greater when, at the Day of Judgment,
he will have to stand before all Angels and men, not only as the convicted
betrayer of his Master, but also as a self-murderer. What folly it was on
his part to avoid a little shame before the then little flock of Christ,
who would all have been meek and kind towards him like their Master, and
would all have had him trust in the mercy of his Redeemer, and not to have
avoided the infamy and the ignominy which he must suffer when he stands
forth in the sight of all creatures as a traitor to his God and a suicide!
The other example is taken from the panegyric of St. Basil on the forty
martyrs. In the persecution of the Emperor Licinius, forty soldiers were
condemned to death for their steadfast belief in Christ. They were ordered
to be exposed naked during the night on a frozen lake, and to gain their
crown by the slow agony of being frozen to death. Beside the frozen lake
there was prepared a hot bath, into which any one who denied his faith had
liberty to plunge. Thirty-nine of the martyrs turned their thoughts to the
eternal happiness which awaited them, regarded not their present suffering,
which would soon be over, persevered with ease in their faith, and deserved
to receive from the hands of Jesus Christ their crown of everlasting glory.
But one pondered and brooded over his torments, could not persevere, and
plunged into the hot bath beside him. As the blood began to flow again
through his frozen limbs, he breathed forth his soul, which, branded with
the disgrace of being a denier of its God, forthwith descended to the
eternal torments of hell. By seeking to avoid death, this unhappy wretch
found it, and exchanged a transitory and comparatively light cross for one
which is unbearable and eternal. The imitators of these two miserable men
are to be found among those who abandon their religious life, who cast from
them the yoke which is sweet and the burden which is light, and when they
least expect it, find themselves bound as slaves to the heavier yoke of
their various appetites which they can never satisfy, and pressed down
under the galling burden of innumerable sins. Those who refuse to carry the
Cross of Christ, are obliged to carry the bonds and the chains of Satan.
1. Deut. xxxii. 24.
2. St. Matt. xxvii. 42.
3. St. John xviii. 11.
4. Ephes. v. 27.
5. Genesis xxix. 20.
6. Philipp. ii. 8-11.
7. Rom. viii. 35-37.
8. Titus ii. 14.
9. 2 Cor. vii. 4.
10. 2 Cor. iv. 17.
11. Cyprian. Lib. de Exhort. Martyr.
12. St. John xviii. 11.
13. Rom. viii. 37.
14. Rom. viii. 18.
15. Heb. xi. 25, 26.
CHAPTER XIX: The literal explanation of the seventh Word, "Father, into Thy
hands I commend My Spirit."
We have come to the last word which our Lord pronounced. At the point of
death Jesus, "crying with a loud voice said, Father, into Thy hands I
commend my spirit." We will explain each word separately. "Father."
Deservedly does He call God His Father, for He was a Son who had been
obedient to His Father even unto death, and it was proper that His last
dying request, which was certain to be heard, should be prefaced by such a
tender name. "Into Thy hands." In the Sacred Scriptures the hands of God
signify the intelligence and will of God, or in other words His wisdom and
power, or, again, the intelligence of God which knows all things, and the
will of God which can do all things. With these two attributes as with
hands, God does all things, and stands not in need of any instruments in
the accomplishment of His will. St. Leo says: "The will of God is His
omnipotence." Consequently, with God to will is to do. "He hath done all
things, whatsoever He would." "I commend." I hand over to your keeping My
life, with the sure faith of its being restored when the time of My
resurrection shall come. "My Spirit." There is a diversity of opinion as to
the meaning of this word. Ordinarily the word spirit is synonymous with
soul, which is the substantial form of the body, but it can also mean life
itself, since breathing is the sign of life. Those who breathe live, and
those die who cease to breathe. If by the word spirit we here understand
the Soul of Christ, we must take care not to think that His Soul at the
moment of it's separation from the Body was in any danger. We are
accustomed to commend with many prayers and much anxiety the souls of the
agonizing, because they are on the point of appearing at the tribunal of a
strict Judge to receive the reward or the punishment of their thoughts,
words, and deeds. The Soul of Christ was in no such need, both because it
enjoyed the Beatific Vision from the time of its creation, was
hypostatically united to the person of the Son of God, and could even be
called the Soul of God, and also because it was leaving the body victorious
and triumphant, an object of terror to the devils, not a soul to be scared
by them. If the word spirit then is to be taken as synonymous with soul,
the meaning of these words of our Lord, "I commend my spirit," is that the
Soul of Christ which was enclosed in the body as in a tabernacle was about
to throw itself into the hands of the Father as into a place of trust until
it should return to the body, according to the words of the Book of Wisdom:
"The souls of the just are in the hand of God." However, the more
generally accepted meaning of the word in this passage is the life of the
body. With this interpretation the word may be thus amplified. I now give
up My breath of life, and as I cease to breathe I cease to live. But this
breath, this life I intrust to you, My Father, that in a short time you may
again restore it to My Body. In your keeping nothing perishes. In you all
things live. By a word you call into existence things which were not, and
by a word you give life to those who had it not.
We may gather that this is the true interpretation of the word from the
thirtieth Psalm, one of the verses of which our Lord was quoting: "Thou
wilt bring me out of this snare which they have hidden for me, for Thou art
my protector. Into Thy hands I commend my spirit." In this verse the
prophet clearly means to signify life by the word spirit, since he
beseeches God to preserve his life, and not to suffer him to be killed by
his enemies. If we consider the context in the Gospel, it is clear that
this is the meaning our Lord also intended to convey. For after He had
said, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit," the Evangelist adds:
"And saying this He gave up the ghost." Now to expire is the same as to
cease breathing, which is the characteristic of those only who live. It
cannot be said of the soul, which is the substantial form of the body, as
it can of the air we inhale, that we breathe it as long as we live, and we
cease breathing it as soon as we die. Lastly, our interpretation is
strengthened by the words of St. Paul: "Who in the days of His flesh with a
strong cry and tears offering up prayers and supplications to Him that was
able to save Him from death, was heard for His reverence." Some authors
refer this passage to our Lord's prayer in the Garden: "Abba, Father, all
things are possible to Thee, remove this chalice from Me." But the
reference is incorrect, as our Lord on that occasion neither prayed with a
loud cry, nor was His prayer heard, and He Himself did not wish to be heard
in order to be delivered from death. He prayed that the chalice of His
Passion might pass from Him to show His natural repugnance to death, and to
prove He was really man whose nature it is to dread its approach. And after
this prayer He added: "But not what I will, but what Thou wilt."
Consequently the prayer in the Garden was not the prayer to which the
Apostle alludes in his Epistle to the Hebrews. Others, again, refer this
text of St. Paul to the prayer which Christ made on the Cross for those who
were crucifying Him. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they
do." On that occasion, however, our Lord did not pray with a loud cry,
and He did not pray for Himself, neither did He pray to be delivered from
death, and both these objects the Apostle distinctly mentions as being the
ends of our Lord's prayer. It remains then, that the words of St. Paul must
refer to the prayer Christ made with His dying breath: "Father, into Thy
hands I commend My spirit." This prayer, St. Luke says, He gave forth
with a loud voice: "And Jesus crying with a loud voice, said." The words of
both St. Paul and St. Luke agree in this interpretation. Moreover, as St.
Paul says, our Lord prayed to be saved from death, and this cannot mean
that He prayed to be saved from death on the Cross, for in that case His
prayer was not heard, and the Apostle assures us it was heard. The true
meaning is that He prayed not to be swallowed up by death, but merely to
taste death and then return to life again. This is the evident explanation
of the words: "With a strong cry and tears offering up prayers and
supplications to Him that was able to save Him from death." Our Lord
could not but know that He must die as He was already so near death, and He
desired to be delivered from death in the sense only of not being held
captive by death. In other words, He prayed for His speedy resurrection,
and this prayer was readily granted, as He rose again triumphant on the
third day. This interpretation of the passage of St. Paul proves beyond
doubt that when our Lord said: "Into Thy hands I commend my Spirit," the
word spirit is synonymous with life and not with the soul. Our Lord was not
anxious about His soul, which He knew to be in safety, as it already
enjoyed the Beatific Vision, and had beheld its God face to face from the
moment of its creation, but He was anxious for His Body, which He foresaw
would soon be deprived of life, and He prayed that His body might not long
be kept in the sleep of death. This prayer was tenderly listened to and
1. St. Luke xxiii. 46.
2. Serm. ii. "De Nativ."
3. Psalm cxiii. 3.
4. Wisdom iii. 1.
5. Psalm xxx. 5, 6.
6. St. Luke xxiii. 46.
7. Heb. v. 7.
8. St. Mark xiv. 36.
9. St. Mark xiv. 36.
10. St. Luke xxiii. 34.
11. St. Luke xxiii. 46.
12. Heb. v. 7.
CHAPTER XX: The first fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
seventh Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
According to the practice we have so far pursued, we will gather a few
fruits from the consideration of the last word spoken by Christ on the
Cross, and from His Death, which immediately followed. And first we will
show the wisdom, the power, and the infinite charity of God from the very
circumstance which seems attended with such weakness and folly. His power
is clearly shown in this, that our Lord died whilst He was crying out with
a loud voice. From this we conclude that had it been His will He need not
have died, but He died because He willed. As a rule, people at the point of
death gradually lose their strength and voice, and at the last gasp are not
able to articulate. And so it was not without reason that the Centurion, on
hearing such a loud cry proceed from the lips of Christ, Who had lost
almost every drop of blood in His veins, exclaimed, "Indeed, this was the
Son of God."
Christ is a mighty Lord, inasmuch as He showed His power even in His Death,
not only by crying aloud with His last breath, but also by making the earth
tremble, by splitting rocks asunder, by opening graves, and rending the
veil of the Temple. We know, on the authority of St. Matthew, that all
these things happened at the Death of Christ, and each and all of these
events has its hidden meaning wherein is manifested His Divine wisdom. The
earthquake and the splitting of the rocks showed that His Death and Passion
would move men to penance, and would soften the hardest hearts. St. Luke
gives this interpretation to these mysterious omens, for after having
mentioned them he adds, that the Jews returned from the sight of the
Crucifixion, "striking their breasts." The opening of the graves
foreshadowed the glorious resurrection of the dead, which was one of the
results of the Death of Christ. The rending of the veil of the Temple,
whereby the Holy of Holies could be seen, was a pledge that Heaven would be
opened by the merits of His Death and Passion, and that all the predestined
should there behold God face to face. Nor was His wisdom exhibited merely
in these signs and wonders. It was exhibited also by producing life out of
death, as was prefigured by Moses producing water from the rock, and by
the simile in which Christ compared Himself to a grain of wheat. For as it
is necessary for the seed to be crushed in order to produce the ear of
corn, so by His Death on the Cross Christ enriched a countless multitude of
all nations by the life of grace. St. Peter expresses the same idea when he
speaks of Jesus Christ as "swallowing down death that we might be made
heirs of life everlasting." As though he would say: The first man tasted
the forbidden fruit and subjected all his posterity to death; the Second
Man tasted the bitter fruit of death, and all who are born again in Him
receive everlasting life. Lastly, His wisdom was manifested in the manner
of His Death, as from that moment the Cross, than which previously nothing
was more ignominious and disgraceful, became an emblem so dignified and
glorious that even kings consider it an honour to wear it as an ornament.
In her adoration of the Cross the Church sings--
"Sweet are the nails, and sweet the wood, That bears a weight so sweet and
St. Andrew, on beholding the cross on which he was to be crucified,
exclaimed: "Hail, precious cross, that hast been adorned by the precious
limbs of my Lord. Long have I desired thee, ardently have I sought thee,
uninterruptedly have I loved thee, and now I find thee ready to receive my
longing soul. Secure and full of joy I come to thee, and do thou receive me
into thy embrace, for I am the disciple of Christ my Lord, Who redeemed me
by hanging upon thee."
Now what shall we say of the infinite charity of God. Previously to His
Death our Lord said, "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay
down his life for his friends." Christ literally laid down His life, for
against His will no one could deprive Him of it. "No man taketh it away
from Me; but I lay it down of Myself." A man cannot show greater love for
his friends than by giving his life for them, since nothing is more
precious or dearer than life, as it is the foundation of every happiness.
"For what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the
loss of his own soul?" that is, his life. Each one instinctively repels
with all his strength an attack made upon his life. We read in Job: "Skin
for skin, and all that a man hath will he give for his life." So far,
however, we have looked upon this fact in a general way; we will now
descend to particulars. In many ways, and in an ineffable manner, Christ
showed His love towards the whole human race, and to each individual, by
dying on the Cross. In the first place, His life was the most precious of
all lives, since it was the life of the Man-God, the life of the most
mighty of Kings, the life of the wisest of Doctors, the life of the best of
men. In the second place He laid down this life for His enemies, for
sinners, for ungrateful wretches. Moreover, He laid down His life in order
that at the price of His own Blood, these sinners, these ungrateful
wretches, should be snatched from the flames of hell. And lastly, He laid
down His life to make these enemies, these sinners, these ungrateful
wretches, His brothers, co-heirs and joint possessors with Him of eternal
happiness in the kingdom of heaven. Shall there now be one soul so callous
and so ungrateful as not to love Jesus Christ with its whole heart? Shall
there be one Christian soul unwilling to bear any affliction to secure His
grace and live? O God, turn our hardened stony hearts to Thee, and not our
hearts only, but the hearts of all Christians, the hearts of all men, even
the hearts of infidels who have never known Thee, and of atheists who have
1. St. Matt. xxvii. 54.
2. St. Luke xxiii. 48.
3. Numb. xx. 11.
4. St. John xii. 24.
5. 1 Peter iii. 22.
6. St. John xv. 13.
7. St. John x. 18.
8. St. Matt. xvi. 26.
9. Job ii. 4.
CHAPTER XXI: The second fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
seventh Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
Another and most profitable fruit would be gathered from the consideration
of this word if we could form the habit of frequently repeating to
ourselves the prayer which Christ our Master taught us on the Cross with
His dying breath; "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit." Our Lord was under
no such necessity as we are for making such a prayer. He was the Son of God
and the Most Holy. We are servants and sinners, and consequently our holy
Mother and Mistress the Church, teaches us to make a constant use of this
prayer, and to repeat not only the part which our Lord used, but the whole
of it as it is found in the Psalms of David: "Into Thy hands I commend my
spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, the God of truth." Our Lord omitted
the last part of the verse because He was the Redeemer and not one of the
redeemed, but we who have been redeemed with His precious Blood must not
omit it. Moreover, Christ, as the Only-Begotten Son of God, prayed to His
Father, we, on the other hand, pray to Christ as our Redeemer, and
consequently we do not say: "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit,"
but, "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit, Thou hast redeemed me, O
Lord, the God of truth." The Proto-martyr St. Stephen was the first to use
this prayer when at the point of death he exclaimed: "Lord Jesus, receive
Our holy Mother the Church teaches us to make use of this ejaculation on
three different occasions. She teaches us to say it daily at the beginning
of Complin, as those who recite the Divine Office can bear me out.
Secondly, when we approach the Holy Eucharist, after the "Domine non sum
dignus," the priest says first for himself and then for the other
communicants, "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit." Lastly, at the
point of death, she recommends all the faithful to imitate their dying Lord
in the use of this prayer. There can be no doubt that we are ordered to say
this versicle at Complin, because that part of the Divine Office is recited
at the end of the day, and St. Basil in his rules explains how easy it is
when darkness first comes on, and night sets in to commend our spirit to
God, so that if a sudden death overtake us we may not be found unprepared.
The reason why the same ejaculation should be used at the moment we receive
the Blessed Eucharist is clear, for the reception of the Blessed Eucharist
is perilous and at the same time so necessary that we cannot approach too
often nor altogether absent ourselves without danger: "Whoever shall eat
this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of
the Body and of the Blood of our Lord," and "eateth and drinketh judgment
to himself." And he who does not receive the Body of Christ our Lord does
not receive the bread of life, even life itself. So we are surrounded with
perils like starved and famished men who are uncertain whether the food
that is offered them is poisoned or not. With fear and trembling then ought
we to exclaim, Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my
roof, unless Thou in Thy goodness makest me worthy, and therefore say only
the word and my soul shall be healed. But since I have no reason to doubt
whether Thou wouldst deign to heal my wounds, I commend my spirit into Thy
hands, so that in an affair of such moment Thou mayest be near and assist
my soul which Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious Blood.
If some Christians would seriously think of these things they would not be
so eager to receive the priesthood with the object of gaining their
livelihood from the stipends they receive for their Masses. Such priests
are not as anxious to approach this great Sacrifice with a fitting
preparation, as they are anxious to obtain the end they propose to
themselves, which is to secure food for their bodies and not for their
souls. There are others also, attendants at the palaces of prelates or
princes, who approach this tremendous mystery through human respect, lest
perchance they should incur the displeasure of their masters by not
communicating at the regularly constituted times. What then is to be done?
Is it more advantageous seldom to approach this Divine Banquet? Certainly
not. Far better is it to approach often but with due preparation, for, as
St. Cyril says, the less often we approach the less prepared are we to
receive the heavenly manna.
The approach of death is a time when it behoves us with great ardour to
repeat over and over again the prayer: "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend
my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, the God of truth." For if our
soul when it leaves the body falls into the hands of Satan, there is no
hope of salvation; if on the contrary, it falls into the paternal hands of
God, there is no longer any cause for fearing the power of our enemy.
Consequently with intense grief, with true and perfect contrition, with
unbounded confidence in the infinite mercy of our God we must at that dread
moment over and over again cry out: "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my
spirit." And as in that last moment, those who during life thought little
of God are most severely tempted to despair, because they have now no
longer time for repentance, they must take up the shield of faith, by
remembering that it is written, "The wickedness of the wicked shall not
hurt him in what day soever he shall turn from his wickedness," and the
helmet of hope, by trusting in the goodness and compassion of God, and
continually repeat, "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit," nor fail
to add that part of the prayer which is the foundation of our hope, "for
Thou hast redeemed us, O Lord, the God of truth." Who can give back to
Jesus Christ the innocent Blood He has shed for us? Who can repay the
ransom with which He purchased us? St. Augustine, in the ninth book of his
Confessions, encourages each Christian soul to place unlimited confidence
in our Redeemer, because the work of redemption being once accomplished can
never be useless or invalid, unless we place an unsurmountable barrier to
its effect by our impenitence and despair.
1. St. Luke xxiii. 46.
2. Psalm xxx. 6.
3. Acts vii. 58.
4. 1 Cor. xi. 27, 29.
5. Ezech. xxxiii. 12.
CHAPTER XXII: The third fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
seventh Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
The third fruit to be gathered is this. At the approach of death we must
not rely too much on the alms, the fastings, and the prayers of our
relations and friends. Many during life forget all about their souls, and
think of nothing else and do nothing else than heap up money so that their
children or nephews may abound in riches. When death approaches they begin
for the first time to think of their own souls, and as they have left all
their worldly substance to their relatives, they also commend to them their
souls to be assisted by their alms, their prayers, the Sacrifice of the
Mass, and other good works. The example of Christ does not teach us to act
in this manner. He commended His Spirit not to His relations but to His
Father. St. Peter does not tell us to act in this manner, but to "commend"
our "souls in good deeds to the faithful Creator."
I do not find fault with those who order or seek or desire that alms should
be given and the holy Sacrifice offered for the repose of their souls, but
I blame those who place too much confidence in the prayers of their
children and relatives, since experience shows us the dead are soon
forgotten. I complain also that in an affair of such moment as eternal
salvation Christians should not work for themselves, should not themselves
bestow their alms, and secure friends by whom according to the Gospel they
may be received "into everlasting dwellings." Lastly I severely reprehend
those who do not obey the Prince of the Apostles, who orders us to commend
our souls to our faithful Creator not by our words only but by our good
deeds. The deeds which will be of advantage to us in the sight of God are
those which efficaciously and truly render us pious Christians. Let us
listen to the voice from Heaven which sounded in the ears of St. John: "And
I heard a voice from Heaven, saying to me: Write, blessed are the dead who
die in the Lord. From henceforth now, saith the Spirit, that they may rest
from their labours, for their works follow them." The good works therefore
that are done whilst we are living, and not those which are done for us
after death by our children and relatives, are the good works which will
follow us, particularly if they are not only good in themselves, but, as
St. Peter not without a hidden meaning expresses it, are well done. Many
can enumerate countless good works of their own--many sermons, daily
Masses, recitation of the Divine Office for years, the annual fast of Lent,
frequent almsgiving; but when these are weighed in the Divine scales, and
there is a rigid scrutiny whether they have been well done, with a right
intention, with due devotion, at their proper time and place, with a heart
full of gratitude to God, oh, how many things which appeared meritorious
will turn to our detriment? how many things which to the judgment of men
appeared gold and silver and precious stones, will be found to be wood and
straw and stubble fit only for the fire? This consideration alarms me not a
little, and the nearer I approach death, for the Apostle warns me, "That
which decayeth and groweth old is near its end," the clearer do I see the
necessity of following the advice of St. John Chrysostom. That holy doctor
tells us not to think much of our good works, because if they are really
good, that is well performed, they are written by God in the Book of Life,
and there is no danger of our being defrauded of our just merits, but he
encourages us to think rather of our evil deeds, and endeavour to make
atonement for them with a contrite heart and a humble spirit, with many
tears and a serious penance." Those who follow this advice may exclaim
with great confidence at the moment of death: "Into thy hands, O Lord, I
commend my spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, the God of truth."
1. 1 St. Peter iv. 19.
2. St. Luke xiv. 9.
3. Apoc. xiv. 13.
4. Heb. viii. 13.
5. Hom. xxxviii. "Ad Popul. Antioch."
CHAPTER XXIII: The fourth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
seventh Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
There follows a fourth fruit to be gathered from the most happy manner in
which this prayer of Jesus Christ was heard, which should animate us to
greater fervour in commending our spirits to God. With great truth does the
Apostle say that our Lord Jesus Christ "was heard for His reverence."
Our Lord prayed to His Father, as we have shown above, for the speedy
resurrection of His Body. The prayer was granted, for the resurrection was
not prolonged longer than was necessary to establish the fact that the Body
of our Lord was really separated from His Soul. Unless it could be proved
that His Body had been really deprived of life, the resurrection and the
structure of Christian faith which is built upon that mystery would fall to
the ground. Christ ought to have laid in the tomb for at least forty hours
to accomplish the sign of the Prophet Jonas which He Himself said was a
figure of His own Death. In order that the resurrection of Christ might be
hastened as much as possible, and that it might be evident His prayer had
been heard, the three days and the three nights which Jonas spent in the
whale's belly, were, as regards the resurrection of Christ, reduced to one
full day and parts of two other days. So the time our Lord's Body was in
the tomb cannot properly, but by a figure of speech only, be called three
days and three nights. God the Father not only heard the prayer of Christ
by accelerating the time of His resurrection, but by giving to His dead
Body a life incomparably better than it enjoyed before. Before His Death
the life of Christ was mortal; the life restored to Him was immortal.
Before His Death the life of Christ was passible, and subject to hunger and
thirst, fatigue and wounds; the life restored to Him was impassible. Before
His Death the life of Christ was corporeal; the life restored to Him was
spiritual, and the Body was so subject to the spirit that in the twinkling
of an eye it could be borne wherever the Soul wished. The Apostle gives the
reason why the prayer of Christ was so readily granted by saying that "He
was heard for His reverence." The Greek word conveys the idea of
reverential fear which was a distinguishing trait of the regard which
Christ felt for His Father. Thus Isaias in enumerating the gifts of the
Holy Ghost which were to adorn the Soul of Christ says: "And the Spirit of
the Lord shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of
godliness, and He shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the
Lord." In proportion as the Soul of Christ was filled with a reverential
fear for His Father, the Father was filled with complacency in His Son:
"This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased." And as the Son
reverenced the Father, so the Father ever heard His prayer and granted what
It follows then that if we desire to be heard by our Heavenly Father, and
have our prayers granted, we must imitate Christ in approaching our Father
Who is in heaven with great reverence, and prefer His honour before all
things else. It will thus come to pass that our petitions will be heard,
and especially the one on which our lot for eternity depends, that at the
approach of death God should preserve our souls, which have been commended
to His keeping, from the roaring lion which is standing ready to receive
its prey. Let no one think, however, that reverence to God is shown merely
in genuflections, in uncovering the head, and such external marks of
worship and honour. In addition to all this, reverential fear implies a
great dread of offending the Divine Majesty, an intimate and continual
horror of sin not from the fear of punishment, but from the love of God. He
was endowed with this reverential fear who dared not even to think of
sinning against God: "Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, he shall
delight exceedingly in His commandments." Such a man truly fears God, and
may consequently be called blessed, since he strives to observe all His
commandments. The holy widow Judith "was greatly renowned among all because
she feared the Lord very much." She was both young and rich but never gave
or yielded to any occasion of sin. She remained with her maidens secluded
in her chamber, and " wore haircloth upon her loins, and fasted every day
except on the feasts of the House of Israel." Behold with what zeal, even
under the Old Law, which allowed greater freedom than the Gospel, a young
and rich woman avoided sins of the flesh and for no other reason than "
because she feared the Lord very much." The Sacred Scripture mentions the
same of holy Job who made a compact with his eyes not to look at a virgin,
that is, he would not look at a virgin lest any shadow of an impure thought
should cross his mind. Why did Holy Job take such precautions? "I made a
covenant with my eyes that I would not so much as think upon a virgin. For
what part should God from above have in me, and what inheritance the
Almighty from on high?" Which means that if any impure thought should
defile him he would no longer be the inheritance of God, nor would God be
his portion. If I wished to mention the examples of the saints of the New
Law I should never finish. This, then, is the reverential fear of the
saints. If we were filled with the same fear there would be nothing which
we could not easily obtain from our Heavenly Father.
1. Heb. v. 7
2. Isaias xi. 2, 3.
3. St. Matt. xvii. 5.
4. Psalm cxi. 1.
5. Judith viii. 8.
6. Judith viii. 6.
7. Job xxxi. 1, 2.
CHAPTER XXIV: The fifth fruit to be drawn from the consideration of the
seventh Word spoken by Christ upon the Cross.
The last fruit is drawn from the consideration of the obedience shown by
Christ in His last words and in His Death upon the Cross. The words of the
Apostle: "He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death
of the Cross," received their complete fulfilment when our Lord expired
with these words upon His lips: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My
Spirit." In order to gather the most precious fruit from the tree of the
holy Cross it must be our endeavour to examine everything that can be said
about the obedience of Christ. He, the Master and the Pattern of every
virtue, tendered to His heavenly Father an obedience so ready and so
perfect as to render it impossible to imagine or conceive anything greater.
In the first place, the obedience of Christ to His Father began with His
Conception and continued uninterruptedly to His Death. The life of our Lord
Jesus Christ was one perpetual act of obedience. The Soul of Christ from
the moment of its creation enjoyed the exercise of its free will, was full
of grace and wisdom, and consequently, even when inclosed in His Mother's
womb, was capable of practising the virtue of obedience. The Psalmist
speaking in the Person of Christ says: "In the head of the book it is
written of Me that I should do Thy will. O My God, I have desired it, and
Thy law in the midst of My Heart." These words may be thus simplified: "
In the head of the book"--that is from the beginning to the end of the
inspired writings of Scripture--it is shown that I was chosen and sent into
the world "to do Thy will. O My God, I have desired it," and freely
accepted it. I have placed "Thy law," Thy commandment, Thy desire, "in the
midst of My Heart," to ponder upon it constantly, to obey it accurately and
promptly. The very words of Christ Himself mean the same. "My meat is to do
the will of Him that sent Me, that I may perfect His work." For as a man
does not take food now and again and at distant intervals during life, but
daily eats and takes a pleasure in it, so Christ our Lord was intent upon
being obedient to His Father every day of His life. It was His joy and His
pleasure. "I came down from Heaven not to do My own will, but the will of
Him that sent Me." And again. "He that sent Me is with Me, and He hath not
left Me alone; for I do always the things that please Him." And since
obedience is the most excellent of all sacrifices, as Samuel told Saul, so
every action which Christ performed during His life was a sacrifice most
pleasing to the Divine Majesty. The first prerogative then of our Lord's
obedience is that it lasted from the moment of His Conception to His Death
upon the Cross.
In the second place, the obedience of Christ was not confined to one
particular kind of duty, as is sometimes the case with other men, but it
extended to everything which it pleased the Eternal Father to order. From
this arose the many vicissitudes in our Lord's life. At one time we see Him
in the desert neither eating nor drinking, perhaps even depriving Himself
of sleep, and living "with the beasts." At another time we see Him mixing
up with men, eating and drinking with them. Now He is living in obscurity
and silence at Nazareth. Now He appears before the world endowed with
eloquence and wisdom, and working miracles. On one occasion He exerts His
authority and drives those from the temple who were defiling it by
bartering within its precincts. On another occasion He hides Himself, and
like a weak powerless man withdraws from the crowd. All these different
actions required a soul devoid of self, and devoted to the will of another.
Unless He had previously set the example of renouncing everything which
human nature cherishes, He would not have said to His disciples: "If any
man will come after Me let him deny himself," let him give up his own
will, renounce his own judgment. Unless He had been prepared to lay down
His life with such willingness as to make it appear He really hated it, He
would not have encouraged His disciples with such words as, "If any man
come to Me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and
brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be My
disciple." This renunciation of self, which was so conspicuous in our
Lord's character, is the true root and, as it were, mother of obedience,
and those who are not prepared for this self-sacrifice will never acquire
the perfection of obedience. How can a man promptly obey the will of
another if he prefers his own will and judgment to that of another? The
vast orbs of heaven obey the laws of nature both in their rising and in
their setting. The Angels are obedient to the will of God. They have no
will of their own in opposition to that of God, but are happily united with
God, and are one spirit with Him. And so the Psalmist sings: "Bless the
Lord, all ye His Angels: you that are mighty in strength and execute His
word, hearkening to the voice of His orders."
In the third place, the obedience of Christ was not only infinite in its
length and breadth, but in proportion as by suffering it was humble in the
lowest degree, so as to its reward is it exalted. The third characteristic
then of the obedience of Christ is that it was tried by suffering and
humiliations. To accomplish the Will of His heavenly Father, the Infant
Christ, with the full use of every faculty, consented to be inclosed for
nine months in the dark prison of His Mother's womb. Other infants feel not
this privation as they have not the use of reason, but Christ had the use
of reason and must have dreaded the confinement in the narrow womb, even of
her whom He had chosen to be His Mother. Through obedience to His Father,
and from the love He bore to man, He overcame this dread, and the Church
says: "When Thou didst take upon Thee to deliver Man, Thou didst not abhor
the Virgin's womb." Again, our dear Lord needed no small amount of patience
and humility, to assume the manners and the weaknesses of a child, when He
was not only wiser than Solomon, but was the Man " in Whom are hid all the
treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
Consider, moreover, what must have been His forbearance and meekness, His
patience and humility, to have remained for eighteen years, from His
twelfth to His thirtieth year, hidden in an obscure house at Nazareth, to
have been regarded as the son of a carpenter, to have been called a
carpenter, to have been thought an ignorant uneducated man, when at the
same time His wisdom surpassed that of all Angels and men together. During
His public life He acquired great renown by His preaching and miracles, but
He suffered great wants and endured many hardships. "The foxes have holes,
and the birds of the air nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay
His Head." Footsore and fatigued He would sit Himself down at the side of
a well. And yet He could easily have surrounded Himself with an abundance
of all things by the ministry of men or Angels, had He not been restrained
by the obedience He owed His Father. Shall I dwell on the contradictions He
suffered, on the insults He endured, on the calumnies which were spoken
against Him, on the scourges and the crown of thorns of His Passion, on the
ignominy of the Cross itself? His humble obedience has taken such deep root
that we can only wonder at it and admire it; we cannot perfectly imitate
There is yet a deeper depth to His obedience. The obedience of Christ
finally reached this stage, that with a loud voice He cried out: "Father
into Thy hands I commend My Spirit. And saying this He gave up the
ghost." It would appear that the Son of God wished to address His Father
in this wise: "This commandment have I received of you, My Father," to
lay down My life in order to receive it again from Your hands. The time has
now come for Me to execute this last commandment of Yours. And although the
separation of My Soul and Body will be a bitter separation, because from
the moment of their creation they have remained united in great peace and
love, and although death found an entrance into this world through the
malice of the devil, and human nature rebels against death, nevertheless
Thy commandment is fixed deep in the inmost recesses of My Heart, and shall
prevail even over death itself. Therefore am I prepared to taste the
bitterness of death, and drink to the dregs the chalice you have prepared
for Me. But as it is your wish that I should lay down My life in such a
manner as to receive it back again from You, so "into Your hands I commend
My Spirit," in order that You may restore it to Me at Your pleasure. And
then, having received His Father's permission to die, He bowed down His
Head in token of His obedience, and gave up the ghost. His obedience
conquered and prevailed. Not only did it receive its reward in the Person
of Christ, Who, because He humbled Himself beneath all, and obeyed all for
the sake of His Father, has been assumed into heaven, and from His throne
there governs and rules all, but it has its reward also in this, that all
who imitate Christ shall ascend the highest heavens, shall be placed as
masters over all the goods of their Lord, and shall be sharers of His royal
dignity and possessors of His kingdom for ever. On the other hand, the
virtue of obedience has gained such a signal victory over rebellious,
disobedient, and proud spirits, as to make them tremble and fly from the
sight of the Cross of Christ.
Whosoever desires to attain to the glory of heaven, and to find true peace
and rest for his soul, must imitate the example of Christ. Not only
religious who have bound themselves by a vow of obedience to their
Superior, who holds the place of God in their regard, but all men who wish
to be the disciples and brothers of Christ must aspire to gain this
spiritual victory over themselves, otherwise they will be miserable for
ever with the proud demons of hell. Inasmuch as obedience is a Divine
precept, and has been imposed upon all, it is necessary for all. To all
without exception were the words of Christ addressed: "Take up My yoke upon
you." To all preachers of the Gospel does He say; "Obey your prelates and
be subject to them." To all kings does Samuel say: "Doth the Lord desire
holocausts and victims, and not rather that the Voice of the Lord should be
obeyed? For obedience is better than sacrifices." And to show the
enormity of the sin of disobedience he added: "Because it is like the sin
of witchcraft to rebel "against the commands of the Lord, or the commands
of those who hold the place of the Lord.
For the sake of those who voluntarily devote themselves to the practice of
obedience, and submit their wills to that of their Superior, I will say a
few words on their happy state of life. The prophet Jeremias, inspired by
the Holy Ghost, says: "It is good for a man, when he hath borne the yoke
from his youth. He shall sit solitary and hold his peace, because he hath
taken it up upon himself." How great is the happiness contained in these
words: "It is good!" From the rest of the sentence we may conclude that
they embrace everything that is useful, honourable, agreeable, in fact,
everything in which happiness may consist. The man that has been accustomed
from his youth to the yoke of obedience, will be free throughout life from
the crushing yoke of carnal desires. St. Augustine, in the eighth book of
his Confessions, acknowledges the difficulty which a soul, that for years
had obeyed the concupiscence of the flesh, must experience in shaking off
the yoke, and on the other hand he speaks of the facility and of the bliss
we experience in carrying the yoke of the Lord if the snares of vice have
not entrapped the soul. Moreover, it is no inconsiderable gain to obtain
merit for every action in the sight of God. The man who performs no action
of his own free will, but does everything through obedience to his
Superior, offers to God in each action a sacrifice most pleasing to Him,
because as Samuel says: "Obedience is better than sacrifices." St.
Gregory gives a reason for this. "In offering victims," he says, "we
sacrifice the flesh of another; by obedience our own will is sacrificed."
And what is still more admirable in this is, that even if a Superior
commits a sin in giving any order, a subject not only does not sin, but
even obtains merit by his obedience provided the command itself is not
manifestly against the law of God. The Prophet goes on to say; "He shall
sit solitary and hold his peace." The words mean that the solitary or the
obedient man is at rest because he has found peace for his soul. He who has
renounced his own will, and has devoted himself entirely to accomplish the
Divine will which is manifested to him by the voice of his Superior,
desires nothing, seeks for nothing, thinks of nothing, longs for nothing,
but is free from all anxious cares, and "with Mary sits at the Lord's feet
hearing His word." The solitary sits down, both because he dwells with
those who "have but one heart and one soul," and because he loves none
with a private, individual love, but all in Christ and for the sake of
Christ. He is silent because he quarrels with no one, disputes with no one,
has litigation with no one. The reason of this great tranquillity is
"because he hath taken it up upon himself" and is translated from the ranks
of men to the ranks of Angels. There are many who busy themselves about
themselves, and act like animals devoid of reason. They seek after the
things of this world, esteem only those things which delight the senses,
feed their carnal desires, and are avaricious, impure, gluttonous, and
intemperate. Others lead a purely human life, and remain entirely shut up
within themselves, such as those who endeavour to peer into the secrets of
nature, or rest satisfied with delivering precepts of morals. Others,
again, raise themselves above themselves, and with the special help and
assistance of God lead a life that is rather angelical than human. These
abandon all they possess in this world, and by denying their own wills can
say with the Apostle: "Our conversation is in heaven." Emulating the
purity, the contemplation, and the obedience of the Angels, they lead the
life of Angels in this world. The Angels are never sullied with the stain
of sin, "always see the face of My Father, Who is in heaven," and,
disengaged from all things else, are wholly intent on accomplishing the
will of God. "Bless the Lord, all ye His Angels, you that are mighty in
strength, and execute His word, hearkening to the voice of His orders."
This is the happiness of religious life. Those who on earth imitate as far
as possible the purity and obedience of the Angels, shall undoubtedly
become partakers of their glory in Heaven, especially if they follow
Christ, their Lord and Master, Who "humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto
death, even the death of the Cross:" and "whereas indeed He was the Son
of God, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered:" that is,
He learned by His own experience that genuine obedience is tried by
suffering, and consequently His example not only teaches us obedience, but
teaches us that the foundation of true and perfect obedience is humility
and patience. It is no proof that we are truly and perfectly obedient in
obeying in things that are honourable and pleasant. Such commands do not
prove whether it is the virtue of obedience or some other motive that
impels us to act. But a man who shows a promptitude and alacrity in obeying
in all things that are humiliating and laborious, proves that he is a true
disciple of Christ, and has learnt the meaning of true and perfect
St. Gregory skilfully shows what is necessary to the perfection of
obedience in different circumstances. He says: "Sometimes we may receive
agreeable, at other times disagreeable commands. It is of the greatest
importance to remember that in some circumstances, if anything of self-love
creeps into our obedience, our obedience is null; in other circumstances
our obedience is less virtuous in proportion as there is less self-
sacrifice. For example: a religious is placed in some honourable post, is
appointed Superior of a monastery; now if he undertakes this office through
the mere human motive of liking it, he will be altogether wanting in
obedience. That man is not directed by obedience, who in undertaking
agreeable duties is the slave of his own ambition. Again, a religious
receives some humiliating order, if, for example, when his self-love urges
him to aspire to superiority he is ordered to fulfil some office to which
neither distinction nor dignity is attached, he will lessen the merit of
his obedience in proportion as he fails in forcing his will to desire the
post, because unwillingly and by constraint he obeys in a matter which he
considers unworthy of his talents or his experience. Obedience invariably
loses some of its perfection if the desire for lowly and humble occupations
does not in some manner or another accompany the forced obligation of
undertaking them. In commands, therefore, which are repugnant to nature,
there must be some self-sacrifice, and in commands which are agreeable to
nature there must be no self-love. In the former case obedience will be the
more meritorious the closer it is united to the Divine will by desires; in
the latter case obedience will be the more perfect the more it is separated
from any longing for worldly renown. We shall better understand the
different marks of true obedience by considering the actions of two saints
who are now in Heaven. When Moses was pasturing sheep in the desert, he
was called by the Lord, Who spoke to him through the mouth of an Angel from
the burning bush, to command the Jewish people in their exodus from the
land of Egypt. In his humility Moses hesitated about accepting so glorious
a command. 'I beseech Thee, Lord,' he said, 'I am not eloquent from
yesterday and the day before, and since Thou hast spoken to Thy servant I
have more impediment and slowness of tongue.' He wished to decline the
office himself, and begged that it might be given to another. 'I beseech
Thee, Lord, send Whom Thou wilt send.' Behold! he urges his want of
eloquence as an excuse to the Author and Giver of speech, to be exonerated
from an employment which was honourable and authoritative. St. Paul, as he
tells the Galatians, was Divinely admonished to go up to Jerusalem. On
his journey he meets the Prophet Agabus, and learns from him what he will
have to suffer in Jerusalem. 'Agabus, when he was come to us, took Paul's
girdle, and binding his own feet and hands he said: Thus saith the Holy
Ghost: The man whose girdle this is, the Jews shall bind in this manner in
Jerusalem, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'
Whereupon St. Paul immediately answered, 'I am ready not only to be bound,
but to die also in Jerusalem for the Name of the Lord Jesus.' Undaunted
by the revelation he received of the sufferings in store for him, he
proceeded to Jerusalem. He really longed to suffer, yet as a man he must
have felt some dread; but this very dread was overcome, and rendered him
more courageous. Self-love, then did not find a place in the honourable
duty which was imposed upon Moses, because he had to overcome himself in
order to assume the command of the Jewish people. Voluntarily did St. Paul
set out to meet adversity. He was aware of the persecutions which awaited
him, and his fervour made him long for still heavier crosses. The one
wished to decline the renown and glory of being the leader of a nation,
even when God visibly called him; the other was prepared and willing to
embrace hardships and tribulations for the love of God. With the example of
these two saints before us, we must resolve, if we desire to obtain the
perfection of obedience, to allow the will of our Superior only to impose
honourable employments upon us, and to force our own will to embrace
difficult and humiliating offices." Thus far St. Gregory. Christ our
Lord, the Master of all, had previously approved by His conduct the
doctrine which St. Gregory here lays down. When He knew the people were
coming to take Him away by force and make Him their King, "He fled into the
mountains Himself alone." But when He knew that the Jews and soldiers
with Judas at their head were coming to make Him a prisoner and to crucify
Him, according to the command which He had received from His Father, He
willingly went forth to meet them, and allowed Himself to be captured and
bound. Christ, therefore, our good Master, has given us an example of the
perfection of obedience, not by His preaching and words only, but by His
deeds and in truth. He reverenced His Father by an obedience which was
founded on suffering and humiliations. The Passion of Christ exhibits the
most brilliant example of the most exalted and ennobling of virtues. It is
a model which they should ever have before their eyes, who have been called
by God to aspire to the perfection of obedience and the imitation of
1. Philipp. ii. 8.
2. Psalm xxxix. 8, 9.
3. St. John iv. 34.
4. St. John vi. 38.
5. St. John viii. 29.
6. 1 Kings xv. 22.
7. St. Mark i. 13.
8. St. Matt. xvi. 24.
9. St. Luke xiv. 26.
10. Psalm cii. 20.
11. Coloss. ii. 3.
12. St. Luke ix. 58.
13. St. Luke xxiii. 46.
14. St. John x. 18.
15. St. Matt. xi. 29.
16. Heb. xiii. 17.
17. 1 Kings xv. 22, 23.
18. Lament. iii. 27, 28.
19. 1 Kings xv. 23.
20. "Lib. Mor." xxxv. c. x.
21. St. Luke x. 39.
22. Acts iv. 32.
23. Philipp. iii. 20.
24. St. Matt. xviii. 10.
25. Psalm cii. 20.
26. Philipp. ii. 8.
27. Heb. v. 8.
28. Exod iii.
29. Exod. iv. 10.
30. Exod. iv. 13.
31. Gal. ii. 2.
32. Acts xxi. 11.
33. Acts xxi. 13.
34. "Lib. Mor." xxxv. c. x.
35. St. John vi. 15.