Now look out upon the great laboring world, the world of human actions
and endurances. It is not possible to measure the influence which is
being exercised upon the world at this moment by the Sacraments. They
are penetrating the great mass of mankind like the network of veins and
arteries in a living body. They are being the causes of millions of
actions, and they are hindering the consequences of millions of other
actions. They are weaving good, and unweaving evil, incessantly. The
roots of great events, which grow up and tower in history, are perhaps
fixed in some secret Sacrament or other. The silent and orderly
revolutions of the Church are often molded in them. Society would
hardly credit to what an extent it is held together by them. The
influence of a single reception of a Sacrament may be handed down for
generations; and the making of the destinies of thousands may be in its
hands. At this instant by far the greatest amount of earth's
intercourse with Heaven is carried on, directly or indirectly, through
the Sacraments. There is a vast wild world of sorrow upon earth. But
over great regions of it the Sacraments are distilling dews of heavenly
peace. In the underground scenery of hidden hearts they are at work,
turning wells of bitterness into springs of freshness and of life. They
are drying the widow's tears, raising up unexpected benefactors for the
orphan, nerving the pusillanimous, softening the desperate, rousing the
torpid, crowning those who strive, and doing all things for those who
die. As the animals came trooping to Adam to be named, so mortal
sorrows are coming in herds at all hours to the Sacraments to receive
the blessing of the second Adam. Somewhere or other at this moment a
Communion may be giving a vocation to some youthful apostle who in
after-years shall carry the Gospel to populous tribes in the
But the world of human joys is not much less vast than the world of human sorrows; and the Sacraments are there also, purifying, elevating, sanctifying, multiplying, supernaturalizing multitudes of these blameless delights. Yet there is a difference between their action upon sorrows and their action upon joys. They make no sorrows. They cause no mourning. They create no darkness. Whereas they are forever creating gladnesses. Splendors flash from them as they move, and their splendors are all jubilees. They are fountains of happiness to all the earth. They cover even the monotonous sands of life with verdure, and make the desert bloom, and crown the hard rocks with flowers, and beautify with their softness the sternest solitudes. Who can tell what songs of human goodness are being sung this hour in the ear of God, because of the joyous inspirations of the Sacraments? Of a truth human joy is a beautiful thing, a very worship of the Creator. Out of Himself there is no beauty like it, unless it be the jubilee of Angels. But the joys which the Sacraments have sanctified, and, still more, the joys which the Sacraments have gendered, who can tell how sweet they are to the complacency of our heavenly Father?
It is to be thought of, also, how the Sacraments embrace and compass
human life in their mysterious number seven. Man's life is a pathetic
thing. There is no dullness in any biography of earth. Each life has
many turns. Within the soul common vicissitudes are not without
romance. Supernatural things greatly increase the romance of life. Even
calmness and uniformity are like sunset skies, full of noiseless plays
of light, and scarce perceptible shiftings of gold-red clouds, which
change the splendor we know not how. Yet is there in all human lives a
like recurrence of like vicissitudes. It is this which blends them into
one, although they are so various. It is like the burden of the song,
which chimes in with equal fitness whether the verse be one of gladness
or of sorrow. The things that are common to all men are more touching
than those which happen only to some. They are fountains of deeper
feeling. They are more touching because they are more natural. They are
diviner visitations, because they are more general. It is these things
upon which the Sacraments fasten with their instincts of love. The
times, the vocations, the states, the crises of human life, these are
all clasped together by the sevenfold band of Sacraments. If we think
of all these things, we shall own that it is no exaggeration to say
that their mere existence makes all creation different from what it
would have been without them.
Moreover, a devotion to the Sacraments is very needful for the times in which we live. The spirit of the age must necessarily affect both our theology and our asceticism. Under its depressing constraints we shall be tempted to sacrifice the supernatural to the natural, the passive to the active, and the infused to the acquired. Theology will be allured to merge into metaphysics. Devotion will be considered a vocation, priests a caste, and theology a private professional training. The substance of the old Condemned Propositions about spiritual direction will be adroitly renewed. Men will sneer at perfection in the world. Education will be bidden to throw off what it will be taught to consider the last relics of its monastic trammels. Men will chafe at the condemnation of books, and indeed at all acts of intellectual authority on the part of the Church. The study of dogmatics will be discouraged. The whole theory of Condemned Propositions will be disliked. A discontent with the existing Church, or at least a want of cordial forward sympathy with it, will grow up, while the wickedness of "the respectful silence of Jansenism will be renewed. The sovereignty of the Church, the pope's temporal power, and the hallowed truths enshrined in canon law, will provoke impatience as obstinate things which will not die although their hour of death has come. The mystical side of the Gospel will become more distasteful while it grows less intelligible. Heroism will have to rank lower than the ordinary attainments of conscientious piety. The privileges of the Church will be less esteemed, and heresy less hated. The Sacraments will count almost for nothing in a man's system. The influence of the Incarnation will be far less recognized and acknowledged in the world; and a modern mixture of Judaism and Pelagianism will take possession of many minds, to the grievous disadvantage of Christian perfection. Such is the spirit which will try to waylay souls on their road to Calvary or to Thabor. Such was not the temper or genius of the Saints. Such, by the blessing of God, will not be ours, if we foster in ourselves a deep, a tender, and an intelligent devotion to the Sacraments. I repeat, as I said before, that, in an ascetical point of view, I hardly know any thing upon which I should lay greater stress in these days, than a fervent devotion to the Sacraments.
Now, these Sacraments are simply the machinery of the Precious Blood. They are the means by which it first conquers, and then keeps what it has conquered. They are, under ordinary circumstances, the conduits by which it is conveyed to the souls for whom it was shed. They are God's system for dispensing it. We should have not only an inadequate but an absolutely wrong notion of the empire of the Precious Blood, if we did not see it as working and circulating through the Sacraments. They are the grand features of its empire. They are its method of government, which expresses its character and suits its disposition. It is the Sacraments which hinder it from being a past historical expiation for sin. By them it is always truly flowing in the Church. Nay, by them it is forever being shed afresh within the Church. Possibly, there might have been Sacraments even if man had needed no redemption. But it seems as if there would hardly have been Sacraments if there had been no Incarnation. The Sacraments, while they express a most wonderful part of the Divine Mind, seem also to imply the Precious Blood. They might have carried the glorious life of the Incarnate Word into the lives of his fellowmen in mysterious comminglings and engraftings, even if there had been no fall. But, if there had been no Precious Blood, we cannot conceive of the Sacraments. The nuptials of matter and spirit might have been celebrated in other ways, yet not in these particular ways which now make up our idea of Sacraments. Anyhow, according to the economy of redemption, the Sacraments form the system by which the Precious Blood traverses the whole Church, gifts it with unity, and informs it with supernatural energy and life. We cannot, even in thought, disjoin the Sacraments from the Precious Blood, or the Precious Blood from the Sacraments, without changing in our minds the order and establishment of God.
But we have not spoken sufficiently of the vastness of the empire of the Precious Blood. Let us look for a moment at its extremes. On the one hand, it includes the first-fruits of creation, and on the other hand, the refuse of creation. The first-fruits of creation are those flowers whom our Lord gathers in the pure fragrance of their first blooming. They are the souls of infants, in whom as yet reason has not dawned, but whom the water of Baptism, our Saviour's Precious Blood, has justified and crowned. These are the successors of the Holy Innocents, those first Christians who, Baptized in blood, went to adorn with their infancy the Church Triumphant, first in Abraham's Bosom, and then in the Heaven of heavens - the first Martyrs, whose blood was at once the prophecy and the prey of the Precious Blood of Jesus, which had already preluded its shedding in the mystery of the Circumcision. Those, who form the refuse of creation, are they whom God has cast off forever. They lie in outer darkness. Their exile is eternal. Yet even there we find the energy of the Precious Blood. Inconceivable as are the severities of Hell, they are less than rigorous justice would exact. They are so, precisely because of the Precious Blood. Before the days of Peter Lombard the generality of theologians held that, as time went on, there were some mitigations of the fierce punishments of Hell. They sank after a while to a lower level. There were expiations which were only temporal and not eternal. There were condonations within certain limits. Peter Lombard, as St. Thomas himself says, innovated upon this teaching, and St. Thomas followed in his steps. In recent times Emery of St. Sulpice revived the older traditions, but without making much impression upon the schools. Suffice it to say that, if, independent of all Hell being below the rigor of justice because of the Precious Blood, there were any such mitigations as the elder theologians believed, they also came without a doubt from the empire of the Precious Blood. To it alone can they be due, if they exist at all.
There are Saints in Heaven. They are the heights of the Church of Christ. There are newly-converted sinners upon earth. These are the lowest depths in the happy land of redeeming grace. But the light upon those mountain-tops is the glory of the Precious Blood, and the sunshine in those valleys is the kindness of the selfsame Blood. There are sufferers in Purgatory, dwelling in a mysterious region of pain and quietude, of patience and of love. They live beneath the earth, yet are upon their road to Heaven. Their land is vast and populous. It is a territory won from Hell by the Precious Blood, and its pain made uneternal. It is a detention, not an exile - a detention which is a marvelous artifice of mercy, one of the many compassionate devices of the Precious Blood. There are sufferings on earth, sufferings by which hearts are cleansed, sins swiftly expiated, merits rapidly accumulated: sufferings in which grace comes, sufferings which are likenesses of Jesus, sufferings which are secret loves of God. These earthly sufferings also the Precious Blood alleviates, illuminates, sanctifies, crowns, glorifies, and knows how to render so delectable that they who have drunk deep of the Precious Blood get a strange new nature, and thirst for more suffering still. Thus both these extremities of suffering, beneath the earth and on it, belong to the empire of the Precious Blood. If we look outside ourselves, we see everywhere the empire of the Precious Blood stretching away in interminable vista. The whole Church is its legitimate inheritance. Her jurisdiction is the law and order of the Precious Blood. The priesthood is its army of officials. The Catholic hierarchy is its venerable administration. The lofty tiara, that most sovereign thing on earth, gleams with it like the polar star of nations. The Blessed Sacrament, multiplied a hundred thousand times, is its own adorable self, its Heart-fountain, and its Five Free Wells, worshipful in its union with the Godhead, the beautiful amazing Created Life of the Uncreated Word. If we look within ourselves, there is still the self-same empire of the Precious Blood. There is the character of Baptism, its still unexhausted grace, its titles unforfeited or re-conferred, its infused habits, its heroic Spirit-gifts. There are the footprints of so many Absolutions, the abiding fragrance of such reiterated Communions, perhaps the character of Order and its fearful powers, perhaps the mysterious traces of Extreme Unction, certainly the signet of the Holy Ghost in Confirmation, and nameless graces, nameless vestiges where Divine Feet have gone, and where Divine Virtue still resides. There also is that most innermost sanctuary of the soul, which so few reach on this side of the grave, the secret cabinet where the Holy Trinity dwells blessedly, in the very centre of our nature, up from whose secret recesses joys shall one day break and flow, such as we never dreamed of, such as would look to us now far beyond the possibilities of our nature. All this, outside us or within us, is the empire of the Precious Blood.
But it is only in Heaven that its supremacy is tranquil and complete. We must mount thither in spirit, where we hope one day to mount in all the jubilee of an incredible reality, if we would see in its full grandeur the royalty of the Precious Blood. Countless saints are there, various in the splendors of their holiness. They are all kings now, who once were serfs, but were redeemed by the Precious Blood. They are the children of many generations, the natives of many lands. They were of all degrees on earth, and in their fortunes the diversity was endless. But they were all bought by the same Blood, and all own the lordship of that Blood in Heaven. When they sing their songs of praise, songs of a human sweetness which the Angels greatly love, they sing of the Lamb slain and of the triumphs of his Blood. When their potent intercessions win hourly graces for their clients who are still struggling upon earth, it is their desire to spread the empire of the Precious Blood, which throws such loyal intensity into their prayers. Shall they forget their Ransom, whose freedom is their endless joy?
Cast your eye over that outspread ocean, whose shores lie so faintly and far off in the almost infinite distance. It gleams like restless silver, quivering with one life and yet such multitudinous life. It flashes in the light with intolerable magnificence. Its unity is numberless. Its life is purest light. Into the bosom of its vastness the glory of God shines down, and the universe is illuminated with its refulgence. It is an ocean of life. Who can count the sum of being that is there? Who but God can fathom its unsearchable caverns? What created eye but is dazzled with the blazing splendor of its capacious surface? It breaks upon its shores in mighty waves; and yet there is no sound. Grand storms of voiceless praise hang over it forever, storms of ecstatic lightning without any roll of thunder, whose very silence thrills the souls of the human Saints, and is one of their celestial joys-that deep stillness of unsound- ing worship. This is the world of angels. There too the Precious Blood reigns supreme. The Angels have needed no ransom. Amid their almost countless graces there is no redeeming grace. But there is not a grace in all that sea of grace which was not merited for them by the Precious Blood. They too owe all they are, and all they have, to its blissful royalty. They too sing anthems in its praise, though not the same anthems as the Redeemed. Jesus is Head of Angels as well as men; and it is as Man that He is Head of Angels. Thus the whole of that marvelous world of glorious intelligence, profound gladness, gigantic power, and beautiful holiness, is a province of the empire of the Precious Blood.
Who can doubt its sweet constraints over the immaculate heart of Mary? She is queen of Heaven and Earth. Far and wide her empire stretches. Its boundaries are scarce distinguishable from those of the Precious Blood itself: so closely and so peacefully do the two sovereignties intertwine. Mary holds sway over the Precious Blood. It does her bidding, and she commands with a mother's right. Yet she too is a subject of the Precious Blood, and rejoices in her subjection. Out of her very heart that Blood first came; and out of that Blood came also her Immaculate Conception. It was the very office of her Divine Maternity to minister that Blood; and it was that Blood which from all eternity had merited for her the Divine Maternity. It was the Precious Blood which made her suffer; but it was the Precious Blood also which turned her suffering into dignities and crowns. She owes all to the Precious Blood, to whom the Precious Blood owes its very self. Yet the river is greater than its fountain. The Precious Blood is greater than Mary; nay, it is greater by a whole infinity, because the waters of the Godhead have assumed its uncommingled stream unto themselves. Mary sits upon her throne to magnify the Precious Blood. Her power is used for the propagation of its empire. Her prayers dispense its grace. Her holiness, which enchants all Heaven, is the monument and trophy of that victorious Blood.
Shall it rule also over the Divine Perfections? Behold that inexorable justice, which an infinite holiness stands by as assessor! Can endless worlds of mere creatures satisfy those claims, or appease that adorable wrath? Yet the Precious Blood has done it. A mercy that is limitless, and a justice that is insatiable - will not sin set these attributes at strife? Who shall be peace-maker in such unspeakable debate? The Precious Blood! Justice and mercy have met together, and have kissed each other in the Precious Blood. How shall the decrees of the Creator comport with the continued liberty of the fallen creature? The Precious Blood, heavenliest of inventions! has found out a way. The unchangeableness of God shall condescend to wait upon the mutabilities of the fickle creature, and yet its own repose be all the more glorified the while; for this too shall be one of the secrets of the Precious Blood. If greater good comes out of evil, it is through the alchemy of the Precious Blood. If all the Divine Perfections combine in some resplendent work of the Most Holy Trinity, whether it be Creation, Redemption, or the Blessed Sacrament, it is the Precious Blood in which the combination has been made, and which the attributes of God delight to magnify, while it with its adoring ministries is magnifying them. If any of the Divine Perfections will come down from Heaven, and walk amidst the nations of men, and give light and scatter peace and healing as it goes, it first puts on the vesture of the Precious Blood, in order that it may not slay but make alive. Justice is occupied in crowning Saints. Mercy is forever traversing its empire as if in pure delight at its immensity. Holiness is adorning its infinite purity with the little sanctities of feeble and imperfect souls. Immutability is hourly adapting itself to the changeful needs of innumerable hearts. Omnipotence is putting itself at the disposal of created weakness, as if it were some generous beast of burden serving a master whom it could so easily destroy. Eternity is busy commuting time into itself. Love changes its eternal name, and only calls itself by the name of the Precious Blood. All these marvels belong to the empire of the Blood of Jesus. The peace of God is all activity to do the work of that dear Blood. The self-sufficiency of God is toiling as if nothing could suffice it, except the salvation of its creatures. All this is the sovereignty of the Precious Blood. Nay, the dread sovereignty of the Everlasting King seems to be forever passing into the created Kingship of the Precious Blood.
Inside the Unity of God, within the life of the Threefold Majesty, even there we find the tokens of the Precious Blood; even there it seems to rule. The Son, Who has assumed it, owns the gladness of its love. The Holy Ghost, Who fashioned it at first, and now works with it His sanctifying work, broods dovelike with complacency upon its deeps. The Eternal Father chose it as the one thing to appease Him; for He too owns the mastery of its exceeding beauty. It seems, if with becoming reverence we may say so, to have widened His Fatherhood. It has added fresh treasures to those inexhaustible treasures which He had in His Eternal Son. But these are thoughts for silence rather than for words. May His infinite Majesty pardon the freedoms which the ignorance of our love has been taking with His perfections! It is of His Own goodness that we cannot help loving, even while we tremble.
There is one corner of creation, where the empire of the Precious Blood
is not what we would have it be. It is our own hearts. Yet is it not
our one work to subject ourselves to it in all things? We desire to
have no instincts, but the instincts of the Precious Blood. We wish to
esteem nothing, but as the Precious Blood esteems it. It desires
nothing so much as to be loved. We desire nothing so much as to love
it. Why then is it that our weakness and our want of courage so sadly
keep our grace in check? Alas! we are inverting the right order of
things. We are ruling the Precious Blood by limiting its empire. It
longs to rule over us; it longs with a masterful sweetness. The day
shall come, when its longing shall be satisfied. Neither shall it be a
distant day. For we will begin this very day to love and serve our
dearest Lord as we have never loved and served Him heretofore. Always
and in all things shall his Blood rule and guide us. Its rule is
blessedness even upon earth. It shall rule, not our spiritual life
only, but all our temporal circumstances. It shall rule our love of
those we love, and it shall make our love of them a doing to them
spiritual good. How shall we die unless at that moment r the Precious
Blood is reigning in our hearts? If it rules us not then, we are lost
forever. But how shall we better secure its empire at our deaths, than
by establishing it over our lives? The past will not do. [Emphasis in bold added.] Jesus must be
more victorious in our souls, more a conqueror, and more a king. Oh
that the Precious Blood might so work in our hearts that life should
seem to have only one possible gladness, the gladness of having Jesus
to reign over us as King! Oh Grace! Grace! would that we were
altogether conquered! But we will be of good cheer; for the time is
coming when we shall be completely and eternally vanquished by
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