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THE HISTORY OF THE PRECIOUS BLOOD

PART 7

  By night and by day all over the earth is the Precious Blood engaged in this occupation of Conversion. It is going on in thousands of souls at once. In all of them is all this supernatural machinery at work, and at work all at once. In each case there is the same apparently exclusive concentration of Divine love upon the single soul, which makes all God's dealings with us seem so inexpressibly tender. This has been going on for centuries. It will go on still for many centuries: for the end of the world does not yet seem near, unless its not seeming so be indeed a sign that it is so. Who can mistake the character and office of the Precious Blood, when he studies this work of Conversion which is its work of predilection? It is the one question of life and death with each one of us, whether this change has been wrought in us, either at our baptism or since. Who then can calculate the debt he owes to the Precious Blood? Is there a joy in life more invigorating than an overwhelming sense of our obligations to the Blood of Jesus? Who does not long to pay Him back in love, and long all the more ardently the more he sees how the greatness of his debt makes the payment of it impossible? To be in debt to God is the light-heartedness of life. The grace He gives us is even sweeter to us as an obligation than as a gift. The weight of our obligations is the delightful pressure of His love; and the sweet feeling of it is in proportion to the weight.

  This leads me to another matter, on which, for the sake of our dearest Lord, I would that I could speak with more than usual persuasion. We are considering the life of the Precious Blood in the Church. Its supernatural works of benignity are wrought in the Church and through the Church. The Church is in an especial manner, and in strict scriptural phraseology, the creation of the Precious Blood. It is its visible edifice, the house it has built for itself, the home where it hides itself, the bride it has espoused and then dowered with its Sacraments, the mother of its children, the monument it has erected and hung round with trophies of its victories. It is the living palace of the Precious Blood, built with the Blood itself as with cement, and beautified by it as by the brightness of very heaven. It is the life and love of the Precious Blood, made visible to men by an institution invented by God Himself, and which copies upon earth the order and the hierarchies of Heaven. Hence it follows that all true devotion to the Precious Blood must be accompanied by a hearty devotion to the Church. Heresies, which have done despite to the Precious Blood by narrowing its sphere or by limiting its prodigality, have also been distinguished by a want of loyalty to the Church. In all
times we have seen that those who take a rigid view about the easiness of salvation also take a lax view about the exclusive privileges of communion with the Church; while, on the other hand, those who dwell more strongly on the doctrine of exclusive salvation in the true Church are also most given to magnify the abundance of redeeming grace within its pale. At first sight it seems a strange inconsistency, that those who make it hard to be saved in the Church should make it comparatively easy to be saved out of it. It is indeed curious that such men should regard what they must at the least admit to be one of God's chief means of grace, namely, the Church, as adding very little to the chances of a man's salvation. If two men, born in one country, the one in the Church with all the Sacraments, the other not in the Church at all, have, as some say, nearly the same chances of salvation, it must follow, either that God has one standard for the forgiveness of sin in the one case, and another in the other, which is surely an impiety, or that the Sacraments are of very little consequence or efficacy, which would be hardly a less impiety. That Jesus, God and Man, should be truly received in the Blessed Sacrament. and yet that this should not make simply an incalculable difference between the religious state of those who enjoy this privilege and of those who do not, is a supposition highly dishonorable to our Blessed Lord. Yet so it is that a light esteem of the overwhelming advantages of the Church, and a want of appreciation of the Sacraments, go along with the most rigid and harsh views regarding the easiness of salvation and the number of the saved; and these errors go together for want of a true and tender devotion to the Precious Blood. The doctrine of the Sacraments is the touchstone of all the theology of the day. He who constantly and devoutly adores the Precious Blood of Jesus will not think lightly of the Sacraments which are the vases to hold it and the channels to convey it. He who magnifies the glory of the Sacraments will make much of the Church whose especial possession and characteristic they are. It is thus, through the doctrine of the Sacrament, that the apparent contradiction of making salvation very difficult in the Church, and yet holding that the being out of the Church does not put a man at such a great disadvantage as regards salvation, comes from a want of devotion to the Precious Blood.

  Hence it follows that all lovers of the Precious Blood should have a cordial devotion to the Church, and should immensely honor, revere, and prize the Sacraments. Scripture calls the Church the Body of Christ; and the chief of the Sacraments is precisely the Body of Christ; and St. Paul speaks wonderful things of the mysterious union between Christ and the Church. It is one of our greatest dangers of the present day to think lightly of the Church. Now that the world is overrun with heresy, and that in social life almost all distinctions between the faithful and others are obliterated, it is convenient to men's ease and acceptable to their cowardice to regard the faith as one of many saving opinions, and the Church as one of many saving institutions. Men will make light of the enormous privileges and of the exclusive rights of the Church, either out of human respect, or as an easy way of diminishing the difficulties of a problem which they are unable to solve and do not like to face. A disesteem of the Sacraments follows upon this with a very speedy and disastrous logic. The practical consequences soon work themselves out. Such men destroy the souls of others by discouraging the frequentation of the Sacraments, and they destroy their own by that laxity of worldly, comfort-loving lives, which in almost all cases are found in conjunction with very rigorous views. Such men either rest in the very rigor of their view, as if its rigorousness were meritorious enough of itself to save them, or they put feelings and sensible devotions in the place of mortifications, and so make their whole spirituality a delusion. They will be found restive and uneasy under the praise of the great Sacraments; and this shows how far they have drifted from the instincts of the Church. They will be found to consider the chances of salvation for the poor as almost less, even in the point of unworldliness, than those of the rich; and this shows how far they have drifted from the mind of our Lord, Who blessed the poor precisely as entering the kingdom of Heaven more easily than the rich. A man who thinks lightly of the really inestimable privileges of the Church lets go of every thing,
and must ultimately either end in active heresy or settle down into a wearied irreligiousness. The Church is a kingdom, not a literature - a life, not a congeries of doctrines; it is a rule and a sovereignty, a royalty which belongs to the royalty of the Precious Blood.

Let us then cultivate with the most jealous care a fervent devotion to the Church. Love of the Church was part, and a great part, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Jansenists, who made so light of the maternal authority of the Church, turned away with instinctive displeasure from the devotion to the Sacred Heart. We must look at the Church habitually as the sole ark in the deluge of the world, the sole mistress of salvation. We do not bind God further than He has been pleased to bind Himself. We do not limit the far-reaching excesses of His mercy. But we remember that His ordinary law is, that there is no salvation whatever outside the Roman Church. It is His ordinary institution that no accurate beliefs, no right sympathies, no generous views, nonear approaches, no sensible devotions, no felt actual graces, will make a man a living member of Jesus Christ, without communion with the Holy See. We must be jealous of the uncompromising simplicity of this old-fashioned doctrine. We must be suspicious of all the fine words, and specious theories, and ingenious abatements, which the spirit of the day would suggest. We must be misled by no circumstances of time or place, by no prevalence of heresy, by no arguments drawn from consequences, which are
the affair of God's government of the world, not ours. The sins of men cannot change the truth of God. They are at His mercy, not He at theirs. In the days of Antichrist, when two-thirds even of the faithful shall fall away from the Church, their apostasy will not make it less the exclusive mistress of salvation.

We must be loyal to the Church in our least thoughts of it, nor even talk lightly of its majesty. We must put faith in it in all its contacts and concussions with the world, and in all its contradictions of the assumed grandeur of this nineteenth century, which is more than half spent, and has done nothing yet to justify its boasting. We must not measure the Church by unsupernatural standards, which it is the world's great object to persuade us to do. We must not be ashamed of it because it holds back when it seems grander to go forward. We must not be discontented with it when its action intersects some little favorite anticipations of our own. We must merge our own selves and our own views in its consciously or unconsciously Spirit-guided policy. When we are perplexed, we must stand still and believe. Silence makes us great-hearted, and judging makes us little-minded. We must do all we can to get ourselves infected with the instincts of the Church. We must like its ways, as well as obey its precepts and believe its doctrines. We must not theorize; for, if we once begin to theorize,
we shall soon come to sneer. A mind not under authority always lies under a necessity of being pert. We must esteem all that the Church blesses, all that the Church affects. When the Church suffers, or souls suffer, we must not be content with the selfish consolation that, after all, the Church is eternal, and must conquer in the long run; but we must have an active sympathy with all its present vicissitudes, and an untiring zeal and an unquenchable thirst for souls; and the salvation of souls is a matter of the present; it cannot wait for a future, because men are dying daily.

  We must even fear the Church with a filial reverence. If we are converts, we must never cease to dread the underground action of heretical habits of mind and heretical methods of controversy in ourselves. There is a leaven of inherent lawlessness in every man who has once been a heretic. We must be as afraid of these things as Scripture tells us to be afraid of forgiven sin. In some cases we should abstain from using all the liberty of speculation which the Church allows us, because we humbly distrust the strength or the genuineness of the principle of obedience within us, to stop us before we go too far. Neither must we allow ourselves to be discontented with the state of things anywhere or at any time. Discontent breeds in us the base and sour spirit of reformers. The chief discontent of the Saints was with themselves. So should ours be. We read of Saints being downcast and discontented about the sin that is in the world. We even read of their being discontented with political matters, when they concerned the free action and unhindered sovereignty of the Holy See. But I never read of any Saint being discontented with the intellectual, or philosophical, or literary state of things in the Church. I doubt if such a discontent is compatible with true loyalty to the Church.
  Our attitude must be always one of submission, not of criticism. He, who is disappointed with the Church, must be losing his faith, even though he does not know it. I hear of some foreign countries where the precepts of the Church are now thought lightly of, and a marked distinction made between them and other obligations; and I feel sure that the faith of those countries is failing, although there may be a show to the contrary. When I meet with new Catholics careless about these same precepts, careless of the Masses and abstinences of obligation, I see in this, not so much a negligent spirit, as a downright want of faith.
HOLY CARD
   A man's love of the Church is the surest test of his love of God. He knows that the whole Church is informed with the Holy Ghost. The Divine life of the Paraclete, His counsels, His inspirations, His workings, His sympathies, His attraction, are in it everywhere. There is nothing in the Church or about it, however seemingly trivial, transient, or indirect, which is not more likely than not to contain some of the fire of the Holy Ghost; and this likelihood is the cause of a perpetual and universal reverence for the Church to the good Catholic. The gift of infallibility is but a concentration, the culminating point, the solemn official outspeaking, of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the Church. While it calls, like revelation, for absolute submission of heart and soul, all the minor arrangements and ways and dispositions of the Church call for general submission, docility, and reverence, because of the whole Church being a shrine fulfilled with the life of the Holy Ghost. St. Philip Neri's special devotion to the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity was part of that intense loyalty to the Church, which raised him to the rank and title of an apostle, and the apostle of the Holy City. In a word, our feeling toward the Church should be a devotion. A grandeur faded from the page of history, when the loyalty to the old monarchies went out; but even that loyalty was not enough for our feelings toward the Church. The Church is full of God, haunted by spiritual presences, informed with a supernatural life, instinct with Jesus. Our love of the Church is one form of our love of Jesus, the form on which the Saints were molded. It is our love of our Lord's love of us. It is the enthusiasm of our devotion to His Precious Blood. Surely it were a shame, if we did not love the Church more than the Jews of old loved their dear Jerusalem!

  From this cultivation of a great devotion to the Church we should gain many of those graces of which we stand in especial need. It would bring with it the grace of simplicity, because it would be founded on the virtue of obedience, and because it would foster the gift of faith. In these days it is a huge evil to be inconsistent; and we are inconsistent as much from want of simplicity as want of courage. Simplicity makes a quiet spirit; and a quiet spirit is the true home of heavenly love. But times when we want simplicity are also times when we especially require prudence; and prudence is another grace which will come out of devotion to the Church. They, who have the habit of leaning upon authority, distrust themselves, and they distrust themselves, not timidly, but bravely. They are not precipitate. There is a maturity about their promptitude, and a security about their speed, and a vigorousness even in their delays, which are caught from the spirit and conduct of the Church itself. Moreover, devotion to the Church is a loyalty, and, further, it is a supernatural loyalty.
But loyalty makes a man generous. It causes him to dare great things, to be forgetful of himself, to be disinterested, to love hard work, to delight in sacrifices, and always to be aspiring to something higher and more arduous. It makes a man genial; and it is only a genial mind which is creative, fertile, or successful. How many hearts are daily telling God that their want of wants is generosity! They will find it through devotion to the Church.

Stability is another grace which the men of our day have need to covet. Multiplicity makes men vacillating. Those, who are always catching at things, grasp nothing. To be really earnest we must be constant. But the earnest man is the man who takes every thing in earnest. He is not merely the persistent man. True stability must be elastic while it is constant; or rather it will be constant precisely because it is elastic. This is an exact description of that changeful uniformity of which the whole history of the Church is an example. Lastly, a certain grace comes from secret union with the Church, just as unction comes from union with God. This grace of union with the Church gives us a winningness in the eyes of others, a sort of inward equable sweetness, which first fills our own souls with light and gladness, and then draws the souls of others into the light and gladness which are within ourselves. Each man knows how far he needs these things as helps to him in his spiritual life. To many of us in these days they are special needs.





BACKE-MAILNEXT



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