Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Dramatic Conversion of Alphonsus de Liguori

He had just come from an argument with his father, who wished his son to appear with him at a function of the Neopolitan Court. It was to be a reception attended by the high nobility of Naples, of which the esteemed de Liguori family was a part. His father begged his son to accompany him, and after repeated requests, the young Alphonsus replied, “What would you have me to do at the Court? All that is only vanity.” Finally his father left in indignation. He had been in vain trying to persuade this, his oldest son, to resume his successful career as a lawyer. The events of the remainder of that day, August 28, 1723, are chronicled in the words of the saint's most eminent biographer, Austin Berthe:

After this incident Alphonsus became a prey to the most distressing perplexity. With grace on the one hand drawing him from the world, and his father on the other endeavoring with might and main to lead him back to it, how was he to act without doing violence to his conscience? “If I resist my father's authority, I am doing wrong,” he argued. “But if I follow my father against the will of God, shall I not be doing worse? Who will show me the road I ought to take.” In great agitation he set out for the Hospital of the Incurables, where he was to hear God's answer.

He had begun his usual visit to the patients when suddenly he found himself surrounded by a mysterious light. At the same time the house seemed to him to rock as if under the shock of an earthquake. Then he heard an interior voice distinctly pronounce these words: “Leave the world and give thyself to Me.” Though he was moved to the very depths of his soul, Alphonsus still preserved sufficient calmness to go on with his work of charity. The visit ended, he was going down the hospital stairs when the dazzling light suddenly reappeared; again the house seemed to rock, and the same voice repeated with even greater force: “Leave the world and give thyself to Me.” He stood still in amazement and cried out: “Lord, too long have I resisted Thy grace; do with me what Thou wilt.”

With the impression of this strange occurrence still upon him he wended his way, not to the Liguori palace, but towards a building he had much frequented during those last fifteen days. This was the church of the Redemption of Captives, dedicated to Our Lady of Ransom. A novena had lately been celebrated there in preparation for the feast of the Assumption, and Alphonsus had attended the devotions with great fervor. The celebrated statue of the Madonna was still adorned for the feast.
Maria de Mercede, fresco by Ghirlandaio
Instinctively he went and threw himself at his Mother's feet to ask, through her, for grace to know and do the will of God. That same moment he found himself, for the third time, filled with a heavenly light, and rapt as it were out of himself. The hour had come for the great holocaust. Drawn by divine grace Alphonsus consecrated himself to the service of God, and bound himself irrevocably to enter the ecclesiastical state. Furthermore he took the resolution to join the Congregation of the Oratory as soon as possible, and as a pledge of his promise he ungirded his sword, and laid it on Our Lady's altar.

Thus did God complete in this church of the Redemption of Captives the conquest of him who was himself to help to redeem so many souls from the slavery of Satan. Alphonsus never forgot that memorable day, nor this sanctuary of Mary, nor did he ever in later days return to Naples without visiting his heavenly benefactress. “She it was,” he said one day, pointing to the picture of Our Lady of Ransom, “who drew me from the world and made me enter the service of the Church.”

Within two months, on October 23 in the year 1723, at the age of twenty-seven, Alphonsus laid aside his secular dress to put on the livery of his heavenly Master. It was a Saturday. Our Lady of Ransom, who had called him, wished herself on her own day to offer him to her Divine Son.
Chiesa di Santa Maria della Mercede e Sant'Alfonso Maria de' Liguori, Naples
We have this history of the Saint's call to leave the world from his own lips. Being one day, in after years, in recreation with his students at Ciorani, on a certain 27th of August, he said to them: “To-morrow is the anniversary of my conversion.” Then at their earnest request, and by the wish of Father Villani his director, he told them the story of what happened in the Hospital of the Incurables, as related above.

Life of Alphonsus De Liguori, Austin Berthe, J. Duffy & Co. Dublin, 1905, from Chapter IV.
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Monday, March 23, 2020

St. Alphonsus on the Scourging of Jesus Christ.

Let us enter into the praetorium of Pilate, one day made the horrible scene of the ignominies and pains of Jesus; let us see how unjust, how shameful, how cruel was the punishment there inflicted on the Savior of the world. Pilate, seeing that the Jews continued to make a tumult against Jesus, as a most unjust judge condemned him to be scourged: Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him [John 19:1]. The iniquitous judge thought by means of this barbarity to win for him the compassion of his enemies, and thus to deliver him from death: I will chastise Him (he said) and let Him go [Luke 23:22].

Scourging was the chastisement inflicted on slaves only. Therefore, says St. Bernard, our loving Redeemer willed to take the form, not only of a slave, in order to subject himself to the will of others, but even of a bad slave in order to be chastised with scourges, and so to pay the penalty due from man, who had made himself the slave of sin: “Taking not only the form of a slave, that he might submit, but even of a bad slave, that he might be beaten and suffer the punishment of the slave of sin.”
As soon as he had arrived at the praetorium (as was revealed to St. Bridget), our loving Savior, at the command of the servants, stripped himself of his garments, embraced the column, and then laid on it his hands to have them bound. O God, already is begun the cruel torture. O angels of heaven, come and look on this sorrowful spectacle; and if it not be permitted you to deliver your king from this barbarous slaughter which men have prepared for him, at least come and weep for compassion. And thou, my soul, imagine thyself to be present at this horrible tearing of the flesh of Thy beloved Redeemer. Look on him, how he stands, thy afflicted Jesus, with his head bowed, looking on the ground, blushing all over for shame, he awaits this great torture.

Flagellation of Christ, by Michael Pacher, c. 1495-98. Austrian Gallery Belvedere, Vienna, Austria.
Behold these barbarians, like so many ravening dogs, are already with the scourges, attacking this innocent lamb. See how one beats him on the breast, another strikes his shoulders, another smites his loins and his legs; even his sacred head and his beautiful face cannot escape the blows. Ah me! Already flows that divine blood from every part; already with that blood are saturated the scourges, the hands of the executioners, the column, and the ground. “He is wounded,” mourns St. Peter Damian, “over his whole body, torn with the scourges; now they twine round his shoulders, now round his legs – streaks upon streaks, wounds added to fresh wounds.” Ah, cruel men, with whom are you dealing thus? Stay – stay; know that you are mistaken. This man whom you are torturing is innocent and holy; it is myself who am the culprit; to me, to me, who have sinned, are these stripes and torments due. But you regard not what I say.

And how canst Thou, O Eternal Father, bear with this great injustice? How canst Thou behold Thy beloved Son suffering thus, and not interfere in his behalf? What is the crime that he has ever committed, to deserve so shameful and so severe a punishment? For the wickedness of My people have I struck Him [Isaias 53:8]. I well know, says the Eternal Father, that this my Son is innocent; but inasmuch as he has offered himself as a satisfaction to my justice for all the sins of mankind, it is fitting that I should so abandon him to the rage of his enemies. 

Hast Thou, then, my adorable Savior, in compensation for our sins, and especially for those of impurity – that most prevalent vice of mankind, – been willing to have Thy most pure flesh torn to pieces? And who, then, will not exclaim with St. Bernard, “How unspeakable is the love of God towards sinners!”

Ah, my Lord, smitten with the scourge, I return Thee thanks for so great love, and I grieve that I am myself, by reason of my sins, one of those who scourge Thee. O my Jesus! I detest all those wicked pleasures which have cost thee so much pain. Oh how many years ought I not already to have been in the flames of hell! And why hast Thou so patiently awaited me until now? Thou hast borne with me, in order that at length, overcome by so many wiles of love, I might give myself up to love thee, abandoning sin. O my beloved Redeemer!

St. Bonaventure sorrowfully exclaims, “The royal blood is flowing; bruise is superadded to bruise, and gash to gash. That divine blood was already issuing from every pore; that sacred body was already become but one perfect wound; yet those infuriated brutes did not forebear to add blow to blow, as the Prophet had foretold: And they have added to the grief of my wounds [Ps. 68: 27]. So that the thongs not only made the whole body one wound, but even bore away pieces of it into the air, until at length the gashes in that sacred flesh were such that the bones might have been counted. “The flesh was torn away, that the bones could be numbered.” Cornelius a' Lapide says that in this torment Jesus Christ ought, naturally speaking, to have died; but he willed, by his divine power, to keep himself in life, in order to suffer yet greater pains for love of us. And St. Laurence Justinian had observed the same thing before: “He evidently ought to have died. Yet he reserved himself unto life, it being his will to endure heavier sufferings.”

Column of the Flagellation in the Church of St. Praxedes in Rome (Wikipedia)
 Cruel in excess to our Redeemer was this torture of his scourging in the first place, because of the great number of those by whom it was inflicted; who, as was revealed to St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, were not fewer than sixty. And these, at the instigation of the devils, and even more so of the priests, who were afraid lest Pilate should, after this punishment, be minded to release the Lord, as he had already protested to them, saying, I will therefore scourge him, and let him go [Luke 23:22], aimed at taking away his life by means of this scourging. Again, all theologians agree with St. Bonaventure that, for this purpose, the sharpest implements were selected, so that, as St. Anselm declares, every stroke produced a wound; and that the number of strokes amounted to several thousand, the flagellation being administered, as Father Crasset says, not after the manner of the Jews, for whom the Lord had forbidden that the number of strokes should never exceed forty; Yet so, that they exceed not the number of forty, lest thy brother depart shamefully torn [Deut. 25:3], but after the manner of the Romans, with whom there was not measure.

And so it is related by Josephus, the Jew, who lived shortly after our Lord, that Jesus was torn in his scourging to such a degree that the bones in his ribs were laid bare; as it was also revealed by the most Holy Virgin to St. Bridget, in these words: “I, who was standing by, saw his body scourged to the very ribs, so that his ribs themselves might be seen. And what was even yet more bitter still, when the scourges were drawn back, his flesh was furrowed by them.” To St. Teresa, Jesus revealed himself in his scourging, so that the saint wished to have him painted exactly as she had seen him, and told the painter to represent a large piece of flesh torn off, and handing down from the left elbow; but when the painter inquired as to the shape in which he ought to paint it, he found, on turning round again to his picture, the piece of flesh already drawn.

Ah, my beloved and adored Jesus, how much hast Thou suffered for love of me! Oh, let not so many pangs, and so much blood be lost for me!

But from the scriptures alone it clearly appears how barbarous and inhuman was the scourging of Jesus Christ. For why was it that Pilate should, after the scourging, have shown him to the people, saying, Behold the man! [John 19;5], were it not that our Savior was reduced to so pitiable a condition that Pilate believed the very sight of him would have moved his enemies themselves to compassion, and hindered them from any longer demanding his death?

Why was it that in the journey that Jesus, after this, made to Calvary, the Jewish women followed him with tears and lamentations? But there followed Him a great multitude of people, and women, who bewailed and lamented Him [Luke 23:27]. Was it, perhaps, because those women loved him and believed him to be innocent? No, the women, for the most part, agree with their husbands in opinion; so that they, too, esteemed him guilty. But the appearance of Jesus after his scourging, was so shocking and pitiable, as to move to tears even those who hated him; and therefore it was that the women gave vent to their tears and sighs.

The prophet Isaias has described more clearly than all the pitiable state to which he foresaw our Redeemer reduced. He said that his most holy flesh would have to be not merely wounded, but altogether bruised and crushed to pieces: But He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our transgressions [Isaias 53:5]. For, as the prophet goes on to say, the Eternal Father, the more perfectly to satisfy his justice, and to make mankind understand the deformity of sin, was not contented without beholding his Son pounded piecemeal, as it were, and torn to shreds by the scourges: And the Lord willed to bruise Him in infirmity [Isaias 53:10]. So that the blessed body of Jesus had to become like the body of a leper, all wounds from head to foot: And we esteemed Him as a leper, and one smitten of God [Isaias 53:4].

I love Thee my Jesus, thus wounded and torn to pieces for me; and would that I could see myself too torn to pieces for Thee, like so many martyrs whose portion this had been! But if I cannot offer Thee wounds and blood, I offer Thee at least all the pains which it will be my lot to suffer. I offer Thee my heart; with this I desire to love Thee more tenderly even than I am able. And who is there that my soul should love more tenderly than a God, who had endured scourging and been drained of his blood for me? I love Thee, O God of Love! I love Thee O infinite goodness! I love Thee, O my love, my all!

Excerpts from The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, by St. Alphonsus de Liguori.  

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Does God Hear the Prayers of Sinners?

In St. John's Gospel, the man born blind said, “Now we know that God doth not hear sinners: but if a man be a server of God, and doth his will, him he heareth.” So is it true that the Bible teaches that God does not hear sinners? No, this is not true, according to St. Alphonsus Liguori:

But a person might say, I am a sinner, and God does not hear sinners, as we read in St. John's Gospel: God does not hear sinners [Jn, 9:31]. I answer, that these words were not spoken by our Lord, but by the man who had been born blind. And the proposition, if taken absolutely, is false; there is only one case in which it is true, as St. Thomas says, and that is when sinners pray as sinners, that is, ask something that they require to assist them in their sin. As, for instance, if a man asked God to help him to take vengeance on his enemy; in such cases God certainly will not hear.

But when a man prays and asks for those things that are requisite for his salvation, what matters it whether he is a sinner or not? Suppose he were the greatest criminal in the world, let him only pray, he will surely obtain all that he asks. The promise is general for all men, everyone that seeks, obtains: Everyone that asketh receiveth [Luke:11;10]. “It is not necessary,” says St. Thomas, “that the man who prays should merit the grace for which he asks. By prayer we obtain even those things which we do not deserve.”

In order to receive, it is enough to pray. The reason is (in the words of the same holy Doctor), “merit is grounded on justice, but the power of prayer is grounded on grace.” The power of prayer to obtain what we ask does not depend on the merit of the person who prays, but on the mercy and faithfulness of God, who has gratuitously, and of his own mere goodness, promised to hear the man who prays to him. When we pray it is not necessary that we should be friends of God in order to obtain grace; indeed, the act of prayer, as St. Thomas says, makes us friends” “Prayer itself makes us of the family of God.”

And Jesus Christ, to give us more encouragement to pray, and to assure us of obtaining grace when we pray, has made us that great and special promise: Amen, amen I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you [John 16:23]. As though he had said, come sinners you have no merits of your own for which My Father should listen to you. But this is what you must do, when you want grace, ask for it in My name, and through My merits, and I promise you (“Amen, amen I say to you,” amounts to a kind of oath) you may depend on it, that whatever you ask you shall obtain from My Father: Whatever you ask He will give it to you.

Oh what a sweet consolation for a poor sinner, to know that his sins are no hindrance to his obtaining every grace he asks for, since Jesus Christ has promised that whatever we ask of God, through his merits, he will grant it all!

Ask for temporal goods profitable to our souls.

It is, however, necessary to understand that Our Lord's promise to hear our prayers does not apply to our petitions for temporal goods, but only to those for spiritual graces necessary, or at any rate, useful, for the salvation of the soul; so that we can only expect to obtain the [profitable] graces which we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, as we said just now. “But,” as St. Augustine says, “if we ask anything prejudicial to our salvation, it cannot be said to be asked in the name of the Savior.” That which is injurious to salvation cannot be expected from the Savior; God does not and cannot grant it. And why? Because he loves us.

Many people ask for health or riches, but God does not give them, because he sees they would be an occasion of sin, or at least of growing lukewarm in his service. So when we ask these temporal gifts, we ought always to add this condition, if they are profitable to our souls. And when we see that God does not give them, let us rest assured that he refuses them because he loves us, and because he sees that the things which we ask would only damage our spiritual well-being.

So, I repeat, all temporal gifts which are not necessary for salvation ought to be asked conditionally; and if we see that God does not give them, we must feel sure that he refuses them for our greater good. But with regard to spiritual graces, we must be certain that God gives them to us when we ask him. St. Teresa says that God loves us more than we love ourselves. And St. Augustine has declared that God has a greater desire to give us his grace, than we have to receive it. And after him, St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi said that God feels a kind of obligation to the soul that prays, and, as it were, says to it, “Soul, I thank thee that thou askest me for grace.” For then the soul gives him an opportunity of doing good to it, and of thus satisfying his desire of giving his grace to all.

Perseverance in Prayer.

Let us pray then, and let us always be asking for grace, if we wish to be saved. Let prayer be our most delightful occupation; let prayer be the exercise of our whole life. And when we are asking for particular graces, let us always pray for the grace to continue to pray in the future, because if we leave off praying we shall be lost. Let us pray, then, and let us always shelter ourselves behind the intercession of Mary: “Let us seek for grace, and let us seek it through Mary, “ says St. Bernard. And when we recommend ourselves to Mary, we can be sure she hears us and obtains for us whatever we want. Let us then in our prayers always invoke Jesus and Mary, let us never neglect to pray. If you pray you will be certainly saved.

Eternal Father, I humbly adore thee, and thank thee for having created me, and for having redeemed me through Jesus Christ. If Thou does not constantly guard and succor me with thy aid, I, a miserable creature, shall return to sin, and shall certainly lose thy grace. I beseech Thee, for the love of Jesus Christ, to grant me holy perseverance until death. Through the merits, then, of Jesus Christ, I beg for myself and for all the just, the grace never again to be separated from Thy love, but to love thee forever, in time and eternity. Mary, Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me.

Excerpts from “A short treatise on Prayer”, pp. 440-447, in the book by St. Alphonsus de Liguori, The Way of Salvation and Perfection.

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Thursday, March 12, 2020

Time is a Treasure. St. Alphonsus on the Value of Time.

If God calls you today to do good, do it; for tomorrow it may happen that for you time will be no more, or that God will call you no more. Selections from two of the saint's meditations on the value of time:
Time is a treasure of inestimable value, because in every moment of time we may gain an increase of grace and eternal glory. In hell the lost souls are tormented with the thought, and bitterly lament, that now there is no more time for them in which to rescue themselves by repentance from eternal misery. What would they give but for one hour of time to save themselves by an act of true sorrow from destruction! In heaven there is no grief, but if the blessed could grieve, they would do so for having lost so much time during life, in which they might have acquired greater glory, and because time is now no longer theirs.

A deceased Benedictine nun appeared in glory to a certain person, and said that she was perfectly happy, but that if she could desire anything, it would be to return to life, and to suffer pains and privations in order to merit an increase of glory. She added, that, for the glory which corresponds to a single Ave Maria, she would be content to endure till the day of judgment the painful illness which caused her death.

Time is a treasure which is found only in this life; it is not found in the next, either in hell or in heaven. The very pagans knew the value of time. Seneca said that no price is an equivalent for it. But the saints have understood its value still better. According to St. Bernadine of Siena, a moment of time is of as much value as God; because in each moment a man can, by acts of contrition or of love, acquire the grace of God and eternal glory.

I give thee thanks O God for giving me time to bewail my sins! And to make amends by my love for the offenses I have committed against thee.

Nothing is so precious as time; and yet how comes it that nothing is so little valued? Men will spend hours in jesting, or standing at a window or in the middle of the road, to see what passes; and if you ask them what they are doing, they will tell you they are passing away the time. O time, now so much despised! Thou will be of all things else the most valued by such persons when death shall have surprised them. What will they then be willing to give for one hour of so much lost time. But time will remain no longer for them when it is said to each of them, “Go forth, Christian soul, out of this world.”

My brother, how do you spend your time? Why do you always defer till tomorrow what you can do today? Remember that the time which is past is no longer yours; the future is not under your control; you have only the present for the performance of good works. “Why, O miserable man,” says St. Bernard, “do you presume on the future, as if the Father had placed time in your power?” St. Augustine asks: “How can you, who are not sure of an hour, promise yourself tomorrow?” “If then,” says St. Teresa, “you are not prepared for death today, tremble lest you die an unhappy death.”
Salvadore Dali: The Persistence of Memory

Walk whilst you have the light [John 12: 35]. The time of death is the time of night when nothing can any longer be seen, nor anything be accomplished. The night cometh in which no man can work [John 9:4]. Hence the holy spirit admonishes us to walk in the way of the Lord, whilst we have the light and the day before us. Can we reflect that the time is near approaching in which the cause of our eternal salvation is to be decided, and still squander away time? Let us not delay, but immediately put our accounts in order, because when we least think of it, Jesus Christ will come to judge us. At what hour ye think not, the Son of man will come [Luke 12:40].

On the day of judgment, Jesus Christ will demand an account of every idle word. All the time that is not spent for God is lost time. “Believe,” says St. Bernard, “that you have lost all the time in which you have not thought of God.” Hence, the Holy Ghost says, “Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly, for neither work nor reason shall be in hell, whither thou art hastening” [Eccles. 9:10]. The Venerable Sister Jane of the Most Holy Trinity, of the Order of St. Teresa, used to say that, in the lives of the saints, there is no tomorrow. Tomorrow is found in the lives of sinners, who always say: hereafter, hereafter; and in this state they continue till death. Behold, now is the acceptable time [2 Cor. 6:2]. If today you should hear His voice, harden not your hearts [Ps. 4:8]. If God calls you today to do good, do it; for tomorrow it may happen that for you time will be no more, or that God will call you no more.

Hasten then, my Jesus, hasten to pardon me. And shall I delay? Shall I delay until I am cast into that eternal prison, where with the rest of the condemned souls, I must forever lament, saying “The summer is past, and we are not saved [Jer. 8:20]. No my Lord, I will no longer resist thy loving invitations. I desire never more to offend thee, but to forever love thee. I ask two graces: give me perseverance in Thy grace, give my Thy love; and then do with me what Thou pleasest. O Mary refuge of sinners, in thee do I place my confidence. Most Holy Mary my mother, obtain for me the grace always to recommend myself to God, and to ask him for perseverance and for his holy love.

Selections from The Way of Salvation and of Perfection, pp. 53-55; and from Preparation for Death, pp. 122.125.

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Monday, March 9, 2020

How to Arrive at the Perfect Love of Jesus

From the Introduction by St. Alphonsus Liguori to his book The Passion and the Death of Jesus Christ. 
The lover of souls, our most loving Redeemer, declared that he had no other motive in coming down upon earth to become man than to enkindle in the hearts of men the fire of his holy love: I am come to cast fire on earth; and what will I but that it be kindled? [Luke 12:49.] And, oh, what beautiful flames of love has he not enkindled in so many souls, especially by the pains that he chose to suffer in his death, in order to prove to us the immeasurable love which he still bears to us!

Oh, how many souls, happy in the wounds of Jesus, as in the burning furnaces of love, have been so inflamed with his love that they have not refused to consecrate to him their goods, their lives, and their whole selves, surmounting with great courage all the difficulties which they had to encounter in the observance of the divine law, for the love of that Lord who, being God, chose to suffer so much for love of them!

Wherefore St. Augustine, all inflamed with love at the sight of Jesus nailed on the cross, prayed thus sweetly: “Imprint, O Lord, Thy wounds in my heart, that I may read therein suffering and love: suffering, that I may endure for Thee all suffering; love, that I may despise for Thee all love.” “ Write,” he said, “my most loving Savior, write on my heart Thy wounds, in order that I may always behold therein Thy sufferings and Thy love. Yes, because having before my eyes the great sufferings that Thou, my God, didst endure for me, I may bear in silence all the sufferings that it may fall to my lot to endure; and at the sight of the love which Thou didst exhibit for me on the cross, I may never love or be able to love any other than Thee.”

Who, then, can ever complain that he suffers wrongfully, when he considers Jesus, who was bruised for our sins? [Isa 53:5.] Who can refuse to obey, on account of some inconvenience, when Jesus became obedient unto death? [Phil 2:8.] Who can refuse ignominies, when they behold Jesus treated as a fool, as a mock king, as a disorderly person, struck, spit upon his face, and suspended upon an infamous gibbet?

Who could love any other object besides Jesus when they see him dying in the midst of so many sufferings and insults, in order to captivate our love? A certain devout solitary prayed to God to teach him what he could do in order to love him perfectly. Our Lord revealed to him that there was no more efficient way to arrive at the perfect love of him than to meditate constantly on his Passion.

St. Teresa lamented and complained of certain books which had taught her to leave off meditating on the Passion of Christ, because this might be an impediment to the contemplation of his divinity; and the saint exclaimed, “O Lord of my soul, O my Jesus crucified, my treasure! I never remember this opinion without thinking that I have been guilty of great treachery. And is it possible that Thou, my Lord, couldst be an obstacle to me in the way of a greater good? Whence, then, do all good things come to me, but from thee?” And she then added, “I have seen that, in order to please God, and to induce him to grant us great graces, he wills that they should all pass through the hands of his most sacred humanity, in which his divine majesty declared that he took pleasure.”

For this reason, Father Balthasar Alvarez said that ignorance of the treasures that we possess in Jesus was the ruin of Christians; and therefore his most favorite and usual meditation was on the Passion of Jesus Christ. He meditated especially on three of the sufferings of Jesus – his poverty, contempt, and pain; and he exhorted his penitents to meditate frequently on the Passion of our Redeemer, telling them that they should not consider that they had done anything at all, until they had arrived at retaining Jesus crucified continually present in their hearts.

“He who desires,” says St. Bonaventure, “to go on advancing from virtue to virtue, from grace to grace, should meditate continually on the Passion of Jesus.” And he adds that “there is no practice more profitable for the entire sanctification of the soul than the frequent meditation on the sufferings of Jesus Christ.”

St. Augustine also said that a single tear shed at the remembrance of the Passion of Jesus is worth more than a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, or a year of fasting on bread on water. Yes, because it was for this end that our Savior suffered so much, in order that we should think of his sufferings; because if we think on them it is impossible not to be inflamed with divine love: The charity of Christ presseth us, says St. Paul [2 Cor. 5: 14.] Jesus is loved by few because few consider the pains he suffered for us; but he that frequently considers them cannot live without loving Jesus. “The charity of Christ presseth us.” He will feel so constrained by his love that he will not find it possible to refrain from loving a God so full of love, who has suffered so much to make us love him.

Therefore the Apostle said that he desired to know nothing but Jesus, and Jesus crucified; that is, the love that he has shown us on the cross: I judged not myself to know anything among you but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified [1 Cor 2:2]. And, in truth, from what books can we better learn the science of the saints – that is the science of loving God – than from Jesus crucified?

St. Thomas Aquinas was one day paying a visit to St. Bonaventure, and asked him from what book he had drawn all the beautiful lessons he had written. St. Bonaventure showed him the image of the Crucified, which was completely blackened by all the kisses that he had given it, and said, “This is my book whence I receive everything that I write; and it has taught me whatever little I know.”

In short, all the saints have learned the art of loving God from the study of the crucifix. Brother John of Alvernia, every time that he beheld Jesus wounded, could not restrain his tears. Brother James of Tuderto, when he heard the Passion of our Redeemer read, not only wept bitterly, but broke into loud sobs, overcome with the love with which he was inflamed toward his beloved Lord.

It was this sweet study of the crucifix which made St. Francis become a great seraph. He wept so continually in meditating on the sufferings of Jesus Christ, that he almost entirely lost his sight. On one occasion, being found crying out and weeping, he was asked what was the matter with him. “What ails me?” answered the saint. “I weep over the sorrows and insults inflicted on my Lord; and my sorrow is increased when I think of those ungrateful men who do not love him, but live without any thought of him.” Every time that he heard the bleating of a lamb, he felt himself touched with compassion at the thought of the death of Jesus, the Immaculate Lamb, drained of every drop of blood upon the cross for the sins of the world. And therefore this loving saint could find no subject on which he exhorted his brethren with greater eagerness than the constant remembrance of the Passion of Jesus.

This, then is the book – Jesus crucified – which, if we constantly read it, will teach us, on the one hand, to have a lively fear of sin, and, on the other hand, will inflame us with love for a God so full of love for us; while we read in these wounds the great malice of sin, which reduced a God to suffer so bitter a death in order to satisfy the divine justice, and the love which our Savior has shown us in choosing to suffer so much in order to prove to us how much he loved us.

Let us beseech the divine Mother Mary to obtain for us from her Son the grace that we also may enter into these furnaces of love, in which so many loving hearts are consumed, in order that, our earthly affections being there burned away, we also may burn with those blessed flames, which render souls holy on earth and blessed in heaven. Amen. 

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