The Secret Scripture of the Poor
by Rev. John Henaghan
Imprimi potest - Joannes, Episcopus Midensis, December 21, 1950
TAKEN FROM CATHOLIC TREASURES, ISSUE 79, 1982
Poverty and hardship are the lot of many; suffering and death overtake all. These things provide every man with the opportunity of self-sacrifice and holiness. It is human however to fear them, to be pleased if our lives are sheltered from them, to be rebellious if they come our way. To join issue with our nature is not easy, but we have much to inspire us. The life and teaching of Our Lord are a boundless source of encouragement and strength. Christ asked no man to do or suffer anything that He Himself did not do or suffer. "'He has been through every trial," says St. Paul, "fashioned as we are only sinless." We have also, for our example, the lives of fellow men. How many souls have been stirred and disturbed by the heroism of Damien the Leper! There are thousands of lives cast in the mold of Damien, young lives growing old in wageless service of others. Every day dawns too on the spectacle of poor homes and sick beds in which poverty and suffering are received in peace and joy.
The world sees nothing but the pain and ignominy of such lives; many mistake them for madness. But in fact those souls travel a route to holiness and heaven, charted by the Son of God.
The following pages were written by an Irish missionary priest who was put to death in the Phillipine Islands in the year 1945. They unfold the secret scripture which sustains souls in poverty, in suffering, and in self-sacrifice.
Father John Henaghan was born in Louisburgh, Co. Mayo, Ireland, in the year 1882. He was ordained in St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, in June 1909, and served for seven years in his native diocese: at first in the parish of Annaghdown and later in the cathedral parish of Tuam. His memory is still fresh in those parishes. He was quiet, scholarly and unworldly, with the gift of sympathy in a rare degree.
While still a young curate he became convinced that he should take an active part in preaching the Gospel to pagans, and in October 1916, he was one of five priests who initiated the Maynooth Mission to China. He was the first editor of The Far East, and for fourteen years he wrote and preached on behalf of the foreign missions. In 1931 he was, to his great joy, appointed to a newly established mission in the Phillipine Islands. "I am glad," he said when he received his appointment, "to put on the stole again."
When Japanese troops occupied the Phillipine Islands in 1942, Father Henaghan was superior of the Maynooth Missionaries there. On February 10th, 1945, he was taken with three other priests from their presbytery in Manila. The people watched them as they were marched through the streets between armed guards, but they dared not follow. It is not known how the priests were put to death.
Their bodies lie in an unknown grave somewhere in or near Manila.
THE HOLY NAME
There is something very touching in the Scripture phrase that God knows each of us by name, something that brings Him nearer in delightful intimacy. He named His Son Jesus and sent an Angel from Heaven to earth to announce that name to Mary: "... thou shalt call hHs name Jesus. For che shall save chis people from their sins."
For the Christian this name stands for everything that makes life worth living - for hope, for pardon, for pity, for immortality. It calls up One Who is gentle, merciful, patient, loving; one who faced ignominy, indignities and death, that we might be saved; One Who is all-holy, omnipotent, our Lord and master. By it the Church prays, by it we obtain victories over temptation; by it the Saints triumph and souls are converted; in it Sacraments are administered. It is a name honored in Heaven, on earth and even in Hell: "I know thee who thou art, the holy one of God" cried out the evil spirit.
What a change the name Jesus has brought to human lives. The blind, the lame, the unwanted sick, the souls that had lost hope - all heard it with quickening heartbeats; the leper crawled from his hut when he heard that Jesus was passing by, knowing that there was one who would have pity and who could heal. It was whispered in adoration in the catacombs and gave strength to the huddled Christians as they waited in the Roman circus for the beasts. It is a name that thrills today as in the first day, a sign for attack or for burning loyalty. It is a word of patience on the lips of sufferers, a word that calms storms of temptation within the troubled heart, a word whispered for joy and strength into the ears of the dying, a word of hope and eternal life carved on stone above the graves of our dead. It is the name through which our prayers are heard.
To write one's name in the soul of a child is a human and high ambition, but it is a greater thing to write the name of Jesus there. There are no greater tyrants than those who with a little scratching pen seek to erase His name from the hearts of the poor.
The world is a different place since Jesus came and walked our roads, ate the bread of the poor, and saw life through a workman's eyes.
God decreed that the Holy Family should not be prosperous, nor be situated amongst the most comfortable people of the world, or the most influential. They lived in Nazareth a despised village among the hills. In that village of Galilee one day passed outwardly like another. The people were far removed from the bustle of cities, from political conflicts in the world beyond their hills. They knew nothing save what they heard from a passing traveler who met the Roman army on the march, or who fell in with merchant caravans on their way to the coast towns. They left the village only on the rare occasions of festivals. Joseph was known to them by his trade as The Carpenter, and Jesus as his son. In a rude shed Jesus worked with Joseph at the bench, while Mary kept their poor artisan dwelling. He learned what human life was like day by day with its light and shade, what it was to be poor, to be a laborer's son. Weariness he knew, that cloying feeling of long exhausting work, and the denials accepted and endured which are the lot of the poor man. Jesus accepted all - there was no brooding or longing for any higher occupation. His soul was tranquil, because His will was one with the will of God.
The names of Mary and Joseph are linked for ever with Jesus in the firmament of the soul. We can see Mary during those thirty years treasuring in her heart memories and secrets. She remembered Him as a child in her arms, remembered when she taught Him to stand, to walk, to speak. She remembered Simeon's dark prophecy and she felt the turning of the sword within her heart. She could tell by the lintel of the door His advance in growth each year. Whether she watched Him in her arms, or saw Him bending to some task her heart for ever trembled with joy before her dread, delightful intimacies. In her woman's fears and trials she turned to Joseph, and Joseph never failed her. Joseph gave God the homage of tired honest hands, the love of a heart free from sin.
How poor they must have been, and how hard Joseph must have worked to make ends meet! Mary had to be careful too, for a workman's earnings did not go far. Just imagine Christ and His mother on the border line of poverty and actually dependent on the health and hands of Joseph. It brings a catch in the throat to think that there were times when, as we say in Ireland, they were "short;" when the food was not as plentiful as it might be, and when they fasted because they lacked bread. Our Lord has gone through it all: the privations in a poor man's home, "the going without things," the need for courage and patience when nothing stands between a home and want except the health and labor of a father.
We must not imagine that, because the daily life of the Holy Family was the work of a carpenter's shop and the upkeep of a small home nothing great was achieved. Never were love, worship, and thanksgiving so fully expressed to God. Never was the will of God so completely obeyed. The Holy Family moved calmly and peacefully amidst the unfathomable mysteries of God and their souls rested and grew strong in God.
The world halts at the doorstep of the house of Nazareth, amazed, questioning. Why spend thirty years hidden in a village when Jesus might have overrun the world with his teaching? In our human way we would consider that the best years of his life were wasted. Between the years of twenty and thirty men have led armies, made conquests and mounted thrones. Xavier had not more than ten years for his apostolate, yet see what he did. And what would the Master Himself not have done during so many years? Souls were waiting for Him; for centuries men had been crying out for His coming. There was work to be done, the world to be taught, souls to be saved, and Jesus was planing boards.
What does it all mean? Everything He did or said is of tremendous importance to us, and Nazareth must have its place as well as Calvary in the work He came to do. There must be some mighty lesson there.
The little house at Nazareth is in fact the greatest school of life. Not without meaning did God plan out those thirty years of silence, labor and prayer. They give to humanity its lesson in the art of living. And every man must take that lesson to himself if he is to accept Christ in his fullness. All dreams of human greatness come toppling down. Rank, great success, great wealth, power or pleasure, had no meaning at Nazareth. The great truth that dawns on our minds when we consider those thirty hidden years, is that we must turn away from ourselves, cease making ourselves the center of our lives, and fix our minds and hearts on God. Then our foundations of joy and courage and peace will be established firm as the hills.
Nazareth teaches us that every man counts, that no man and no life is insignificant. Outwardly our lives may be as obscure and as humble as the life of Jesus the carpenter; inwardly we can share His joy and become one with him. He who does what God wills does enough; he who knows God is his father need know no fear.
Jesus knew that the majority of men would pass their lives in monotonous, lowly tasks. That was why He endured in the morning the ache of tired nerves and sinews, the pain of the workman's shoulders. He taught us to sanctify the humdrum labor of the day; He taught us that man's real worth comes not from himself nor from his fellows but from God, that the only thing that matters is God's friendship. He taught us that the secret of peace and of merit before God is work and prayer, the fulfilling of the Father's will, the consciousness of His presence. He has consecrated for all time honest, simple, home life, the life of work and prayer. He has blessed the humble life which demands so much patience, kindliness and forbearance, which is so monotonous and has such few opportunities, and in which it is so necessary to see God's will behind the countless, wearying details of each day. He has built the homes of Christendom.
A man has not accepted Christ, has not surrendered to Him, until he believes in the standards of Nazareth at every point of his life. Hiddenly and humbly does a soul grow in grace and wisdom before God. Befriending' poverty it befriends a servant of God, and its life holds tremendous loyalties and victories known well by God. On the other hand: "A smooth and easy life, an uninterrupted enjoyment of the goods of Providence, full meals, soft raiment, well furnished homes, the pleasure of sense, the feeling of security, the consciousness of wealth - these and the like, if we are not careful, choke up all the avenues of the soul, through which the light and breath of Heaven might come to us." [Emphasis added.]
Amidst the rounds and failures of each day Nazareth is a soothing, calming influence. The common man, the toiler, the man broken and defeated, the silent sufferer, the soul weary of the struggle, the youth looking up towards the height, the old man looking regretfully towards the past, the suffering and laboring world - may all "turn in" to this house, and find themselves at home, welcomed, understood and loved. Nazareth gives serenity, courage, anchorage amidst the changing days. It is the healing-place of all wounds.
A poor tortured mangled body on a cross - such was the ending of the life of the Man-God. On Calvary was wrought the mightiest, the culminating deed of God's love for men. It was this thing, done on a spring day before high Heaven, that St. Paul had always before his eyes, being fascinated and enthralled by the glory and tenderness of such loving kindness. He wondered why the whole world could not see the vision that held his eyes by night and day: "O senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you ... before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been set forth, crucified ... ?"
Before the fact of Calvary every other event in this world shrinks into insignificance. Until Christ came the curse of sin lay heavily on mankind. The world could not save itself. The blood of oxen or of goats could not redeem from sin; none of Adam's race could satisfy the justice of God. Someone was needed Whose innocence was great enough to make full atonement to God, Whose Blood would reach the very heart of God, One Who in some way had the power of extending His action to all men, to all times. God so loved the world as to give such a victim - His Only Son.
Everything has to be paid for, precious things in precious coin. What price did the son of God give in exchange for a soul? Come to the Passion and see.
In the supper room where He was to give us His Body for all time, He began to grow sorrowful and to be sad and the face that had glowed with tenderness over the bread and the chalice grew haggard and aged as He bade his followers farewell. In the garden He prayed that He might not drink the chalice of suffering, yet He immediately added - "Not My will, but Thine be done." Christ was like a broken man Whose hopes were gone. He struggled in pain; in the morning, in the place of His agony, the ground was trampled; and there were dark stains on the blades of grass.
Scourging in ancient times was the punishment reserved for the lowest criminals. A freeman was scourged with rods; a slave with whips; and Christ Who took upon himself the form of a Slave, was scourged with Roman whips, which consisted of four thongs, at the ends of which were attached small pieces of bone. The Victim was stripped; and His hands were bound to a low pillar; He had to bend His back to make it easier for the strikers. Take your place in a corner of that barrack room and watch. There was no squeamishness about those Roman soldiers. The whips hissed in the air; the cruel thongs ran round Christ's virginal flesh in stinging lines of pain. He trembled, while His warm red Blood ran down and trickled along the floor. The soldiers laughed at His pangs and the poor figure He cut. He was loosed from the pillar and staggered to where His clothes were laid; there He put on the seamless robe that Mary's fingers had woven.
A new thought came to the soldiers. He said He was a king - a king should have His purple, so they put on Him a soldier's dirty tunic. A King should have His crown: they made a circlet of rushes from the horses' litter, weaving into it thorn branches from the bivouac fire. A King should have His sceptre, so they placed a reed in His right hand. Here was sport for an army. They did things in the Roman style. A King should have His courtiers and His homage: the ranks retired and marched past in mock respect. He was a prophet, so they covered His head with a cloth, and asked Him to divine who struck Him. And as they went by they bent the knee in mockery, and they spat upon Him. "And many other things they did" - many things. Christ was lonely then; He was thinking of that long procession of souls through the ages who would never know He loved them, of sin that hurt more than soldiers' thongs, of thoughts sharper than His crown, of friends as false as Judas, of foes as fierce as the Jews, of men as indifferent to His suffering as those mocking Roman soldiers.
The crowd outside was growing impatient. He was quickly led to Pilate in the sad finery of His wounds. From the sole of His foot to the top of His head there was no soundness in Him. "Behold the man," said Pilate. He was rejected even by His Own; and a cry of hate broke over the assembly like the growl of an angry sea. Nothing so cows a man, so holds him in a grip of pain, as to read hatred in the faces of his fellows. They were getting angry and restless like a circus crowd anxious for a spectacle.
When Jesus was ordered to march off to Calvary, He was a doomed and dying man. We can see the crowds and hear the shouting of the mob n1ingling with children's voices, while Jesus sick and sore carries the planks that are to be His dying bed. We can see the bleeding figure falling under the Cross. On the way He met his mother - the evangelist does not try to paint that meeting. He grew so weak that they forced a passer-by to carry His Cross - the cruel kindness of men who wanted to see Him nailed upon it. To hang on a Cross for one minute was terrible. He hung for three hours, a mass of pain, suffering in every nerve, hurt in all the secret places of His soul. The least a dying man can ask without refusal is to be left alone to die. There was no privacy in Christ's death. Everything was shameful, cruel and savage. He was hissed and hooted out of life while enemies sat and watched His agony.
A cry broke through the gloom and bowing down His head he died. No words were spoken by His friends at the foot of the gallows of shame; they could not speak while they heard the sighs and gasping breath of the victim.
When all was over on the hill and darkness fell over the troubled city, a woman was sobbing. Let us share her grief and thus atone for the sins which wrought this agony.
Each year the Church takes her children to Gethsemane and Calvary lest they forget the love that brought Christ from Heaven - a love stronger than disgrace and shame, a love that did not shrink from a sea of sorrow, a love as strong as God Himself. What strange power do we hold within our souls that could lure God from Heaven to Calvary? Do we ever realize this for very joy of soul, that we have been and are so mightily loved by Him? See how much He cared: go around your crucifix on a voyage of discovery; search out and count those several wounds on His Body; look into that heart to know how much our ingratitude hurt; study the look of His bleeding body "where men have written hate and sin, and God has written love." The Son of God ... loved me, and delivered Himself for me," cried out St. Paul like one intoxicated. Were we to realize the extent of Christ's love for us, could any humiliation on earth hurt us any more?
The Cross is the great pulpit from which Christ preaches what sin is, what God's mercy is, what a man's soul is worth, what the soul of a dying pagan child means to Him. It is Our Lord's final argument to melt the heart of the sinner and convince him of forgiveness - spoken in the plainest language, through a body crushed and broken. It changes the values of life, places strange worth upon pain that is borne in union with the crucified, and lifts the hearts of men to a kingdom that is not of this world.
The Cross, however, is not meant to be merely a comfort in remorse and suffering. The sight of our crucified Lord has another terrible side. We cannot trifle with such an offering of love. We must answer back with a love that yields pain for pain, life for life, love for love. Each one of us is tested by his attitude to the Divine sufferer. We hesitate to give ourselves without reserve. We haggle and bargain as if all we had were not His: we cower and are afraid to meet His Own extravagance of love upon the Cross, because our hearts are mean. Yet, until we surrender all, until we lay our life at His feet, until we learn to make an act of faith in the value of suffering with Him, until we trust Him so far that our minds can rise to an act of quiet contentment amidst our sorrow and poverty, we shall not have understood the pathos and appeal of those outstretched wounded hands.
THE BLESSED EUCHARIST
Had Jesus Christ come and gone again and left us merely His words and His example there would have been a flaw in the incarnation for men of today. For the world now needs His Presence, His grace and His light as sorely as the people who met Him on the roads of Galilee, as the sick and sinners who were cured of all their ills. Had He departed we would be orphans, living on memories. But he said: "I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you."
And now in His most wonderful Sacrament He abides with us to the end of time.
A threefold problem presented itself to Christ - firstly, He had to die and He wanted to remain on earth; secondly He wished that not only His Apostles but all who, through their word would believe in Him, should be able to enjoy the closest possible union with Him even in this life; thirdly He wished that His oblation on Calvary should not take place merely once, that every life and every land should witness it. Because He was God and could do all things He found a way. Infinite wisdom, omnipotence and love united in the plan that gives mankind the Eucharist. Here are all the good things in Heaven and on earth, for here Jesus Christ Himself comes down from Heaven to be the comrade of each varying day, to be the food of our souls and our sacrifice of pleading before the Father.
Outside the church door are hearts that suffer in stress and toil, in weariness and disillusion. The soul of man sighs for a great understanding and longs for an enduring peace amid the feverish nights and days. Heavy is the silence that falls over the fields as toiling men wearily note the passage of the sun across the sky; hard and cruel are the city streets to the weak, the helpless and the poor. Within the hospital ward the curtains round the sick bed create an island of isolation and of loneliness where the sufferer cries out for help. The spirit of man needs an abiding presence, an all-embracing friendship, a support under the pressure of life. We need companionship in the journey towards eternity. A sob goes up from the heart of humanity, and God looking down in pity answers that cry in God's way by coming Himself to abide in our midst as a friend. He comes down to the tabernacles of earth, down to our towns and villages, down to the cabins of the poor, down to the death beds of the dying, down even to selfish and ungrateful souls. He is Jesus of the Gospel, easy and humble of approach, speaking His message to each heart, capable of rousing a soul that was dead in sin to a life of virtue by the power of His love. He comes with an undiscriminating tenderness which seems blind to all our faults, blind to everything except our need of Him.
Christ came not only to be present among us, but to give us nourishment and life also, food that would be great enough for our immortal souls, tender enough for a bruised and aching heart. If we were of the earth alone, the earth alone would nourish us, but we have greater need than those of the body, heart-hungers that crave to be appeased, illnesses that can be cured only by a Divine physician. It is not enough that we visit Christ. "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man ... you shall not have life in you."
When the Jews first heard that He was to give us His flesh, the announcement shocked them; they refused to believe and walked with Him no more. Our Lord repeated His words and turning to His Apostles waited for their decision. Peter spoke for all and for us: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known, that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God." The Apostles knew the heart of their Master; they knew His power and they waited for the fulfillment of His promise.
Greater than the kindness of His coming, greater than His words, is the means which He, Godlike, has devised to nourish our souls, wearied in the struggle of life. In Holy Communion He enters our bodies to be eaten.
There can be no closer union on earth than that union of the soul with Christ - you "in Me and I in you." He puts all its cravings and worries to rest and only asks the soul to entrust its life to Him, and He will crown it with
In the Blessed Eucharist Christ not only comes among us as our friend and as food for our souls; He comes also to be our victim in daily sacrifice to God. The sacrificial offering of Christ did not cease with His death. The Mass is the offering of Calvary extended and applied to all men until the end of time. At the morning hour of sacrifice, the Lamb that was slain and the body that was broken is again offered up, and His wounds run freely, with life and healing for the souls of men. It is hard to measure one's words when dealing with the astounding realities of the Mass; even the cold definitions of the Church are quivering with the greatness of the message they convey: "there is one and the same victim. He Who offered Himself on the Cross now offers Himself by the ministry of priests, the only difference being the manner of offering." In this Divine Sacrifice ... that same Christ Who offered Himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the Cross, is contained and is immolated in an unbloody manner."
The need for sacrifice is in our very blood. When we contemplate the majesty of God we are conscious of a primal need in the soul to express what we feel, what we are ourselves, and all that God means to us as creator and preserver of life. There is but One Who can praise God enough, One only Who is worthy to be heard. In our daily Mass we offer Him, an adequate victim of praise and love and thanksgiving, to His eternal Father, and we, poor creatures of a day, are brought into closest touch with the infinite realities of God.
The Mass is the greatest action on this earth. It is as holy and as powerful as the dying of Christ on the Cross. It is Christ in His greatest action, giving completest adoration to the Father, satisfying for sins, rendering thanks. Father Charles de Foucauld, a missionary hermit in the Sahara, held it as his greatest joy in life that he was able to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass in the desert, in places where Jesus was never brought down before. During his fifteen years as a priest among the oases he made only one or two converts, and finally was put to death at Tamanrasset on December 1st, 1916, by a band of wandering Arabs. Yet though he saw little fruit for his work, he considered his life well spent in that he, alone there amid the great silence and wastes, was able to offer up the sacrifice of adoration and praise, and he believed that through his Masses God's grace would be poured down some day on the souls of those poor tribesmen. To many this may seem a startling view point, strange satisfaction in a life of stern self-denial, but it is the logic of faith, a vivid realization of the value and power of the Mass. What are the world's restless activities and contention in comparison with the work and action of Christ upon a Catholic altar? Here effects are wrought mightier than the creation of a new firmament or the upheaval of a world. Here is the fount of the great activities of God - conversion of sinners, graces of union for Saints, courage for Martyrs, strength for the daily cross, light, life and peace - everything that Christ means. The Mass lights up our lives with the splendor of Calvary and the Easter dawn.
"Lay up to yourselves treasures in Heaven." The Mass is the Stock Exchange of God where mighty bargains are secured by those of daring faith. Men feverishly wear themselves out to make big deals in the markets of the world, but in the Mass we deal in treasure beyond the dreams of avarice. The patter of feet on the pavement, of men on their way to Mass, is the sign of a Catholic town: they are out early to gather treasures which rust and moth cannot consume - grace and strength and peace.
For us Catholics the Blessed Eucharist, Sacrament and Sacrifice, should be the towering reality in our lives, the source of holiness to which we come for pardon, for blessings, for healing of wounds. In the evening of life, we shall be judged on our attitude and relations towards it.
MARY, OUR MOTHER
The incarnation brought us the man, Christ Jesus, and Mary, His mother. Jesus came to win back a world that had gone astray. For that purpose He laid siege to the citadel of man's heart. He appeared before us as a child in His mother's arms, and as a boy growing up by her side. In His dying hour, we find that mother standing by the Cross to which her Son was nailed. No honest, sincere, human heart can resist such an appeal or fail to be caught up in the impetuosity of such a love. Laws only bring about an outward reform; they do not touch the heart of man or change his nature. Christ achieved a victory, not so much by a renovation of man's intellect, as by an appeal to the heart, to those hidden sympathies that lie deeper than all arguments; and therefore along with Himself he gave us His mother to soften the message of Calvary. Mary is, after Jesus, God's greatest instrument in winning back the truant heart of man.
She is part of the mystery of the incarnation. The true God of true God is her Son. This doctrine keeps us from dreaming and drifting into vagueness about Our Lord: His features become clear and real when we know Him as Mary's Son. Those who today reject the Son began their infidelity by scoffing at the mother. The Church has realized - as has Satan too - that she is essential to emphasize the full humanity and kindliness of God our Saviour. She is the tower to be taken, the tower of ivory; the house of gold for whom men do battle - and around her is the armor of valiant men.
No human words or music could express what must have been her trembling joy when Jesus on her knees, in His child's way, first called her mother. Millions of Catholics bow in loyalty before her, but it is all as naught in comparison with the service and honors He gave in a little house in Nazareth. Between them there flowed a continual stream of love and understanding, so that no two souls were ever more closely knit - one mind, one will, one heart, one agony of desire for the souls of men. With us, human love and sympathy repair the hurts and injuries of life. Many a poor man, misunderstood, contemned, inept, a butt for his companions, gains strength to endure because he knows there is waiting for him across the threshold of his home a love that understands him and crowns him. And in some such human way too was Jesus often consoled by Mary's love, when He was rejected, suspected and laughed at by men, for He knew that He should always find her faithful and true, that there was one soul on earth of whom He could be always sure.
What is Our Lady's place before Heaven and earth? Next to the human nature of Christ she is the most perfect work of God - His masterpiece. To help us in our prayers, to confirm our hope, it is well that we see this truth plainly. No creature, not even the greatest of the angelic spirits before the throne of God, is equal in grandeur and sanctity to her whom we fondly call our mother, who was one of us, one of our flesh and blood. She was in the secret of God, and stood in the full blaze of divinity; the wonder is that any human soul could endure the splendors that beat down upon her. She had the fullest vision of the holiness and majesty of God that a created soul could have, and yet she walked this earth hidden and unknown with her tremendous knowledge buried in her heart. On peaks of honor where Angels had stumbled and fallen, amid intimacies closer than those of Angels, she walked with ease, by reason of her superb humility.
"When Jesus ... had seen His mother and the disciple standing whom He loved, He saith to His mother: Woman, behold thy Son. After that He saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother." In the darkening gloom of Calvary, when His body and soul were racked with pain, Christ gave His Own mother to be our mother - mother of sinners, mother of outcasts, the joy of the world. Men need that touch of a mother: that sympathy that will understand, that pity that will make excuses, that love that will not abandon, that mother-instinct that is alive to the individual needs of every child. Mary mothers the world, her mother's eyes leveling all ranks and human distinctions. She stands for all that we mean by the word home - love, refuge, retreat, sanctuary, pity, understanding. It is a Catholic instinct to look up to her; to love her as our mother is a test of the faith.
As we grow older, we can have no greater refuge against the gathering sorrows of the years than a tender loving trust in Mary. She is the mother of the pitying heart, for there is not a pang that the human heart endures that she has not also suffered. Step by step she followed Jesus up the hill of sacrifice to the foot of the Cross. Therefore she is today the comforter of the afflicted, the consolation of those who have seen all they love torn up by the roots. She is the stay of the old who have nothing to lean upon; she is the comfort of mothers who have lost their joy; the solace of men who have no reason for living on. She understands absolute loneliness. She knows the solitary ones, the destitute. At her name the sinner lying in the deepest pit can lift his head in confidence knowing that he shall find pity within that heart.
Amid the mysteries of life, against the darkness of our own nature, she holds us by the hand. Spotless and innocent among the ruins of a fallen world, her office is to save, to help, to inspire, to bring all within reach of the healing touch of her Son. She is our friend in court. Until we realize her power, her influence, we have not realized all that Jesus meant when He said from the Cross: "Behold thy mother."
What a wonderful vista stretches out before the Catholic mind when it dwells on the gift of sanctifying grace. It is the pearl of great price. By it we share God's nature, we become sons of God and co-heirs with Christ to the Divine life of Heaven.
Real worth in life is not tested by one's fame before men, or one's power of achievement, least of all is it tested by one's happiness here or one's enjoyment of the passing days. God did not create us to make a name or establish ourselves in comfortable ways. The measure of our worth in the sight of God is the measure of grace in our souls. In the great sorrows of life, in the presence of death which is the common doom grace alone counts, grace alone matters. It is the robe of the King's son. It brings the glory of Heaven upon earth; and Heaven will mean nothing else but a continuation and deepening of that life which grace begins here upon earth.
With grace there has come into the world a supernatural force, endowing men with unthought-of powers. It is an energy as real as that which runs invisible through the electric wires. It stamps the thoughts, the life, the very face. It is the power that sends apostles through the world, that gives joy to the Carmelite in her cell, that gives strength to men to carry their cross and face life with undying trust in God. It creates Christlike attitudes of mind, preserves the innocence of childhood, penetrates into the sinner's soul, and gives him strength to break his bonds. By it Damien steeled himself in the island of Molokai; by it Sisters, reared in the refinement of a Catholic home, are living today in the lost islands of the southern seas; it shines from the faces of sufferers in hospitals for the dying, and gives strength to lowly folk to bear their secret sorrows. Take away grace from life, take away its source, the Sacraments, and the remainder is very little. The high towers of man's pride fall into decay, and the mouth that was once greedy for all power is filled with a little dust.
The average soul does not realize how near through grace we are to God - He is within us. When the soul receives sanctifying grace in Baptism the Holy Ghost takes up His abode as our secret guest, our comforter and sanctifier. As gentle as summer airs upon the face, as silent as the coming of light, He brings the soul to peace. Hidden and silent is His working; by His power little deeds, little acts of sacrifice, are coined into rarest treasure. There are daily miracles of the Sanctifier, secret as the ministries that ripen the corn and make the wild flowers grow - wonderful resurrections from sin, recoveries from despair, victories for Christ, rare outpourings of love.
The Gospels tell plainly what the Apostles themselves were before the coming of the Holy Ghost and after it. When the storm broke upon them during the last hours of Christ's life they were scattered and broken and failed Him in His greatest need. After His death they were huddled together hiding for fear of the Jews. They who had known Christ and heard Him speak did not understand what they had been taught. When the Holy Ghost came what a change was wrought in those weak souls! They became as men intoxicated with the wine of the love of God; their eyes were opened so that they understood. Filled with conviction of the worth of a soul, with the reality of the unseen world, with a sense of sin and of the dazzling splendor of their faith, they went forth to preach Jesus Christ crucified. Hitherto dull, heavy-hearted men, they became eager and sensitive to God's surpassing love. The Holy Spirit worked a transformation within their souls; their whole character, aims and affections were changed; they became new men, different men. Gone were their dreams of earthly glory; henceforth their glory was in the cross of suffering and shame.
Twelve country men, "illiterate and of the lower lower sort," from the lakeside of Galilee - what chance had they against the subtle intellects of imperial Rome, against evil rampant and triumphant, against the callousness and selfishness of man? And yet through the power of the Holy Ghost, these men renewed the face of the earth. "You shall be hated ... for My name's sake" - such was the strange encouragement they had received at the commencement of their work. Yet they were not appalled at such a prospect; for their joyous spirit was proof against every despondency. They went forth to conquer the world for their master and today, where once the Caesars sat, the Vicar of Christ reigns.
We too live in the time of the Holy Spirit and are on the verge of wonderful things. A tiny veil separates us from the splendors of God Who at Baptism comes with grace to our souls. We stop short because we do not realize the possibilities that are ours, and how, even in mean streets and in narrow surroundings, a soul may grow to the fullness of the Christian life. How shall I enter fully into God's plans, and grow in the grace of the Holy Ghost? What makes a life holy, saintly? The answer is very simple and comforting. A life takes on the grandeur of sanctity when it is lived in patience and holy endurance, in the light of the will and glory of God. Fidelity to God's will is the sure instinct of sanctity, the mark and the test of sanctity. This is the heart of the teaching of Christ, as true for the man working in the cold wet fields as for the very Vicar of Christ. By bending our faltering wills to union with the will of God we will fulfill our highest destiny.
Our ordinary common life seems unpromising soil for holiness. The life of the Holy Family shows us that that is not so. It is not what we do that matters but what we become in performing the daily task, what hearts we carry within our breasts towards our neighbor and towards God. Within the boundaries of every life there is room for sanctity of the heart: the great question is, are we prepared to lay down our will and obey? Exteriorly one may be a clerk, a laborer, a poor woman worried in her home, a sufferer on a bed of pain; interiorly there is always a human soul which may be giving these deep things to God - courage and loyalty and a love like his own. Holiness is not for a privileged few, it is within the reach of all. The Holy Family took the ordinary things of life, the things we most fear - work, poverty, humiliation and obedience, and out of these
Christ bade us accept our lot and circumstances in joyful, simple conformity to our Father's will, to trust in the goodness of God, to wish for nothing better nor plan for anything more secure than what His Divine heart wills. He bade us not merely to accept God's will, but to desire it, to learn to say "thanks be to God" in all times and in all places, confident that He is close to us and that He is making use of all things to sanctify us. In this way we will compel each passing day to yield up richest treasure. When evils come they will be accompanied by God's help and a blessing, and the end of all striving will be the Father's benediction upon the heart that trusted Him.
Not easily shall one reach this height; it is no child's play or the work of a day to turn our backs upon the world and its pleasures, to cease to make "provision for the flesh," and to set our face towards our Maker. It costs blood. We need courage and generosity to empty our souls of all self-love, to give without stint. We shrink from the sacrifice. We hesitate on the brink of a total surrender to His will and hold back some gift which binds us to life. We give cunningly and meanly to God, withholding the complete oblation, and make bargains as if all we had were not His. We cower and are afraid to meet His Own extravagance of love upon the Cross because our hearts are mean. Yet it is only when we surrender our wills and lay them as a bleeding sacrifice before the living God that sanctity and peace will come to our troubled souls.
The beauty of flowers, of the changing skies; glimpses of distant hills and sea far-stretching views and sunlit spaces - what power there is in these things to uplift and make glad. But a greater beauty on earth is the soul in sanctifying grace, blessed with the gifts of the Holy Ghost; the understanding, obedient mind which views life through the eyes of God; the Catholic heart filled with patience and gentleness and piety. There, in the hidden world of the soul, is the joy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The world has no answer to the question of suffering; its prophets are dumb in the presence of pain. All around us, within and without, suffering takes its daily toll; there is no life sheltered enough, no house secure enough to bar out this unwelcome visitor. It holds its definite place upon the earth. In bidding us flee from grief by plunging into work and pleasure, the world gives such consolations as are idle and passing and do not reach the heart of pain: "My people have done two evils. They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and have digged to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." We must go deeper down and search our hearts, and, in the very throbbing of pain, we shall come upon reality and realize that the hand of the Lord has touched us and that he stands close even though we do not see Him.
"Rabbi, who hath sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus answered - "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." Suffering is not necessarily a punishment. The good and the innocent suffer and in suffering can fulfill the high purposes of God. Believing absolutely in the fatherhood of God we shall find the solution of the problem of suffering. Human parents are at times severe, and often inflict pain on their children. Was it not thus that St. Paul sought to console his converts: "God dealeth with you as with His sons ... if you be without chastisement, whereof all are made partakers, then are you ... not sons." We falter and hesitate before the staggering significance of this thought and we fail to let it work upon our lives because our love hesitates, because we dare not accept the intimacy of such a loving union and such a close paternal guardianship behind the quiet eyes of God. It is because the Saints grasped this truth with quick sense that they accepted, even plunged with eagerness into suffering, just as a swimmer plunges into the sea, knowing that in its waves he will find strength.
It is not too difficult to see how pain is the servant of God. It humiliates. On a sick bed there is only a suffering creature; gone is all the joy, the power, the dash of exuberant life. Everything is in humiliation. A sick person depending on those around for small charities learns obedience and soon attains the proper attitude of mind for a creature towards God. Sickness wears down and breaks the proud spirit and works upon the most hardened soul, and the Divine physician standing by achieves His purpose. We touch reality and lose all our illusions about earth. In the searing light of its revelation the soul stands face to face with its God. We realize the dark things of our own hearts, our waywardness, our weakness and our meanness. We are never the same after some big trial; God did not intend us to be the same. He meant us to learn some wisdom in the meeting, some grace of thought in the contact, some gentleness, some widening of the vision, a surer sense of the nearness of God, a closer clinging to Christ. Thus even when we quiver beneath pain, when our very soul is being examined in the searing, searching sorrows, we must hold on to this, that there is One Who sees clearly, Who knows what He is doing with each of us. Our souls shall achieve a great triumph when sorrow comes knocking at our doors and we do not repel it but welcome it as a friend. [Emphasis added.]
It is Jesus Who solved the problem of pain for mankind. He stood before the world crowned with thorns, and humanity lifted up its head in hope at the spectacle of this Man of Sorrows Who was also the Son of God. Slowly the blinding truth sank into the heart - that He had suffered for us, that He cried out in pain, that He knew sorrow, and that suffering therefore cannot be for us an evil thing. It must be good to be with Him wherever He is, even on a Cross, for He is the Lord and ruler of eternal life.
The farther we are from Christ the more staggering is the problem of suffering. The nearer we come to Him, the better shall we understand the Cross. He suffers the most willingly who knows and loves Christ the best. On every road of life are to be found fugitives from Calvary, wild-eyed and eager, running as if from a plague. Christ comforts them upon their route and beckons them gently back, for it is only on that hill of Calvary, standing with Mary at the foot of the Cross and willingly giving themselves to Him and to her, that they will find rest for their souls.
This is an age of comfort; man's intellect and energies are used to pad the cars and oil the wheels that run the smooth road of life. A third-rate view of life can creep in even among Catholics - the idea of establishing oneself in comfortable ways and of passing without a jolt to eternal life. This may be respectability, but it is not Christianity. If Christianity means anything, it means we can attain to the fullness of life only in Our Savior's way. There is but one Christ - the One Who died on the Cross. There was little comfort in Nazareth and little ease on Calvary. The servant is not greater than his Master, and the law is: to every man his cross. It cannot be avoided. Before we enter into glory we must suffer. It is futile to think we can avoid suffering by running away; it is foolish to wish anyone near and dear to oneself to be spared it. For God has made it a law of our very existence, the means to bring us to Himself.
Our Lord, we know, is full of gentleness and pity. Yet, He Who would not break the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax speaks these words that shiver the very foundations of the soul: "Whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after Me, cannot be my disciple." It is not enough to make acts of loving adoration and of faith before the Cross of Christ; we too must actually go after Him; we must carry a cross. This is a terribly personal affair between Him and us. We show what is in our hearts by the sufferings we are prepared to endure. The greatest work for Christ is done by those who know how to suffer for Him. Those who came closest to Christ have worn the insignia of His royalty, beginning with Mary, the Mother of Sorrows. We should be comforted in our sorrows by remembering hers, and we should cease to question His love in our own trials when we recall how she, the favorite of God, was plunged into unutterable agony.
It is not for us to receive the cross like bondslaves, or even with feelings a little greater than submission, a little higher than resignation. We must really and deliberately, each one of us, in the choice of his own soul, go out and meet that cross for love of Him Who first bore the Cross for love of us. The greatest triumph of Christ is that we carry His Cross as freemen, not as slaves. We give Him the love and homage that He wants when we cling to Him in the dark tortured hour, when we go to Him for shelter, when there is no revolt in our cries of pain, no complaint in our moanings, and we endure looking at Him Who was crucified for us. He purchased us not with gold or silver but by shedding His Precious Blood. We in turn can show our love in no better way than by giving something of ourselves, something living, something warm, something with heart's blood upon it. Our sick bed, its mean surroundings, the sordid common details, the drab monotony of each successive day, will become holy ground, honorable as the Cross of Christ, when we bear them for love of Him.
There are hillsides, little streets and quiet valleys that are made beautiful by the presence of Christlike souls; there are fields and paths that are steeped in tenderest memories because they have been trodden by men who walked with Christ; there are faces of children, of young boys and girls, and of old work-worn people, bearing upon them the lineaments of "the most beautiful of the sons of men." There are lives in lowly places which are lit up with the light of the world. Those hidden ones, those victorious souls, those great and loyal hearts, have known in their own way, one by one, this mysterious suffering which has transformed and transfigured their souls to the likeness of Christ. They have attained to that quality of soul which the world sees but does not understand. Loneliness, failure, pain, misunderstanding, mistrust, injustice - they have known all these things and have become holy.
We foolishly lull ourselves into a dull forgetfulness that we must one day depart from this life, go once and for all, leave the sun, the stars, the fields, the streets, the known for the unknown. But no spell can shut out the Hunter of the Hills.
It is well that we remember in the full flush of health, in the hour of our glorification, the humiliation and degradation that awaits this warm body of ours. It is right that we think of the six feet of earth that will smother our boasting. Gone then will be all the pretense, the pomp and the pride of life, the posturings before high Heaven, the little greatness that makes a man upon this earth. In that hour of devastating truth death will unrobe the body's pride and a man will be then only what he is in his soul.
Death is an alien visitor, coming upon us from a world outside ourselves and man sat helpless in its presence until Christ came and destroyed its power and took away its sting. It still has power to strike the human heart with awe and fear and to emphasize its stern lesson of abandonment. It reminds us that we must not fix our foundations here, that we must be ever ready to strike our tents, to go even as a soldier obeys a command. But we are not undone, helpless and powerless in death's presence. Death now is the servant of God, not the tyrant of man. It is not right that we cower before it like stricken slaves, as if we had not known the Savior, as if there were no risen Christ to gladden the hearts of men.
It was the custom in ancient times at banquets given by a king that an attendant should stand at the head of the table and in the presence of the guests taste the food and wines that were set forth. This was done to inspire confidence, to place the guests at their ease, to assure them that there was no poison in the draught. St. Paul, when speaking of Our Lord's triumph over death, expressed this identical idea: Christ partook of the draught of death in order that we might not be afraid. He drank the chalice to the dregs, its humiliations and its fear; and He who was with us in all things decided to be with us in this last act, to share with us the darkness and the dread. We can trust Him therefore not only through life but through the gates of death and beyond. Nothing on this earth should so unman us that we be afraid while He is with us.
Breaking in upon the tremors of our fears, His words fall upon the soul like a sweet-toned bell in a valley on a quiet autumn evening, bringing a message of peace and trust to the fretful, tortured spirit. "I am the Resurrection and the Life." His Resurrection tells us that death is not an ending but a passage to a further life, to a larger experience of soul. Was not this the message of the Apostles in the streets of Jerusalem? And they ran like men drunk with joy to carry the news to the whole world. The act of dying is only an incident in our life. How calm and peaceful are the words of the Mass: "life is changed, not taken away." There is no break, no lack of continuity. Dying for the Christian soul is the parting of the curtain, the lifting of the fog revealing the eternal hills. It is just standing on the doorstep of a friend's house and being sure of the friend's welcome, remembering Calvary.
A poor old man who spent his life as a serving-man tending cattle and sheep came one day to die. His old parish priest trudged slowly down the village street to bring him everything the Church of Christ brings to the dying - forgiveness of sins, peace for the soul, encouragement and strong food for a long journey, annointing of hands and feet and eyes and ears and lips, like healing balm dropping on sore wounds. When the priest had finished the old man said: "God bless you, Father, I don't care now. So long as I am branded, I will not be lost on the hills." Those very words lit up the darkness of his life. He knew that his Redeemer was alive, that the Shepherd would find him on the hills because he was branded with the Sign of the Cross of Christ. Here spoke out the voice of faith.
We who have the gift of faith can never be grateful enough for our understanding of death. To men without Christ, death means a cruel disillusionment - the end of all schemes and comfortable ways when not a rag of pride or power remains. What must be the fear of a poor pagan caught in the snare of the Hunter of the Hills, when he feels the chill at the heart, the loosening of ties, the slipping away from familiar things, the emptying out of life? He has no one to call on but the gods that human hands have fashioned; he crouches in terror before the demons with which his imagination peoples the earth and air and water. He is a human being with a human heart like ours, and he is utterly helpless now. He can no longer put his trust in the world which grows dim to his glazed eyes; nor in his friends, for they are helpless like himself, stricken with the same doom; nor in himself, for he is setting out on unknown roads. We have Christ; the poor pagan has no one. We have the solace and strength of knowing that our dead are blessed, safe in the all-embracing mercy of Christ; but the little pagan mother turns away from the grave on the hill and has no hope today or any day.
There is no doctrine of the Catholic Church so catholic in its appeal as the doctrine of Purgatory. It is a tonic amid the frivolities of life, a sobering thought of the unspeakable purity and holiness of God. After death the soul becomes vividly conscious of its own utter unworthiness, of God's love, of all the Savior has done; it recalls chances of suffering for Him that were lost, great things left undone. It sees God for a moment, and knowing itself and Him for the first time, shrinks away from His Presence until every stain is purified. Souls are refined in pain. In the purifying pains of Purgatory the soul grows to the full image of Christ, to the loveliness God planned for it at its creation, to the full fruitage of the Precious Blood. Here is finished the work of sanctification begun on earth with suffering. This belief is the most comforting thing in our Catholic faith, for it shows how God can be satisfied with the beginnings of a love stirred to flame in the final act of contrition and absolution. Purgatory will do the rest.
The Souls in Purgatory are willing victims of love. Even so, there is no pain or separation in this life as intense as the pain a soul feels which has seen its God and is separated from Him. There is a straining at the leash, a tugging at the chains. In the intensity of their thought, in the absence of distraction, in the ardors of love unfulfilled and of desire unsatisfied, lie their keenest grief - a grief, says St. Catherine of Genoa, "so extreme that no tongue can tell it, no understanding grasp the least portion of it; and though God in His favor showed me a little spark thereof, yet can I not express it anyway with my words."
Remember this "holy house of toll, this frontier penance place" where earth-wearied spirits pay the last farthing before they can enter into the joy of the Lord. Let us help them. They cannot help themselves, for the night has come upon them when no man can work. In utter loneliness and longing they endure, pleading for our help. By our prayers and sufferings we can reach down helping hands. We can set loose in Purgatory the mightiest forces, the graces of Christ's redemption.
What a change would be wrought in our dealings and relations with one another, how gentle and reverent we should become, if we were to remember the soul that looks out from our neighbor's eyes, and considered the death that lies before us both, its revelations and its aftermath.
Nothing can have so filled the minds of the Apostles with awe as the sight of Our Lord at prayer. They felt that they were witnessing something which was beyond their understanding when this wonderful Person Who worked miracles curing the sick and maimed, withdrew from men into secret communion with God. As they watched Him they were aware of a strange power, of a life hidden from the eyes of men, of an activity and repose which had its roots in God, of depths and reserves which they could never reach.
The Gospels are filled with examples which show us how deeply Jesus impressed His Apostles with His love of prayer. How vivid is the writing of St. Mark: "And rising very early, going out, He went into a desert place: and there He prayed." St. Luke tells us of one occasion when "He passed the whole night in the prayer of God." He prayed in public and in secret, never losing the intimacy of God, standing before God even as a servant in all reverence and love. He interrupted His apostolic labors for prayer. It is easy to multiply striking incidents of this habit from the Gospels: "The fame of Him went abroad the more, and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities and He retired into the desert and prayed." Again "having dismissed the multitude He went up into the mountain alone to pray. And when it was evening He was there alone." He seems to have loved the night, the silence and the hills, for often when the day's work was done He retired into the mountains alone to pray. He left below Him the earth with its human cares, and His Spirit entered the hidden sanctuary where God the Father abides with the Holy Spirit in unspeakable joy.
These are the secrets of Heaven. As God He was lord of all; as Man He bore the burden of our common humanity giving life to us all and leading souls by secret hidden paths. The stars pursued their course, the dawn came at His bidding; He held the whole world like a toy in His hand, yet behold Him on his knees in prayer!
The Gospel tells us that He was once in a certain place praying; when He had ceased one of His disciples said to Him: "Lord, teach us to pray." They wanted to learn His secret so that they too might attain such intimacy with God. Even we who read today the story of His life are subdued, as if under the spell of a stange beauty, by the thought of Christ at prayer. Like the Apostles we are stirred with eagerness to learn the secret of His joy and strength amid tribulation, for the picture of the Man-God, alone, in the night, on the bleak mountain side, praying under the stars, can rouse our souls from lethargy more than the most learned discourses and exhortations. Even as a hungry man cries for bread or a man in the desert for water, or as a caged eagle longs for the freedom of the skies, so do we cry out in our souls' need: "Lord, teach us to pray." For having gained that knowledge we shall fulfill that for which we were created; and our souls shall be at peace.
Prayer is the great link which binds us to God; it is the sap which keeps the life of the spirit within our souls. Before Christ's coming men did not know how to pray because they did not know the true nature of God. Of old, men approached Him in fear and trembling and addressed Him as king of kings and lord of lords; they prayed long prayers as if they could not by any other means make an impression on God and make themselves heard. How sweetly Our Lord revealed the true art of prayer, making it as simple as a child's petition to its father. I t was not in "tumultuous wordiness" or in forced attitudes that men were to appeal to God. How tender were the tones in which He pronounced the words "your heavenly Father" when He bade His followers remember that He takes care of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. "But thou, when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father Who seeth in secret will repay thee. And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens. For they think that in their much speaking they may be heard. Be not you therefore like to them, for your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him." Henceforth prayer is to be a loving and friendly act between a child and its Father, between an adoring creature and a loving creator.
Christ has simplified praying by teaching us the Our Father. "Thus shall you pray," He said. The Our Father contains all that was in His heart, all that He wanted to achieve by His coming, and also includes the heights to which we are called, for it embraces all our aspirations and needs, from the glory of our Father in Heaven down to our daily food. The more we know the heart of Christ, the more we shall love this prayer, for it holds within it the meaning of our lives, the full program of God. This prayer uplifts the soul. Conscious as we are of shortcomings, of our changeableness, our weakness, our nothingness, we are full of hope. We leave the earth behind us seeking strength in God. We go to one Who is our Father, infinite, loving and bountiful. When we have made the petitions of this prayer our own and have fashioned our lives accordingly, when we say it not with the lips only but from the heart, we shall be truly Christlike in prayer.
We must discover for ourselves the riches of this prayer of prayers: it is not enough to accept its explanation even on the testimony of a Saint. We must pause to study it and take it to pieces and learn to dwell on each word and phrase, making its petitions our very own, so that by saying it slowly the soul may take wing. We must receive the Lord's Prayer - like the faith itself of which it is the full voice - as if we heard it from the lips of Christ on the mountain side, as if we alone had come upon its wonders.
Our Father Who art in Heaven. We have a God Who is not far off but close to us, intimate as our very soul, a God giving us His life, holding us in existence from minute to minute. And what we have seen in a human father's eyes, that haunting look of love, one day in Heaven we shall see in the face of God.
Hallowed be Thy name. Such too is the cry of the Angels of Heaven at the eternal newness and glory of their God. Here on earth we can catch traces of His beauty in the flower of the field, in the blade of grass, in the life of all living things, at dawn, at sunset, in the silence of the hills, under a night of stars. And more wonderful than the sight of all these things is the thought of what He is in Himself and what He has wrought in our souls. As we look around us and into our souls, we are breathless and can only say: may Your name be known and loved by all.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. This is prayer at its greatest glow, the highest point to which a soul can aspire. It contains the sure path for the wayward plodder through life who trudges along a common road, and it is also the full expression of the ardors of the Saint who has reached the mountain peaks of sanctity. At once it takes for granted that life has only one meaning - the service of God. This is the first truth we learned in childhood and, today, we know no higher, no more wonderful revelation. So sure are we of the goodness of the heart of God that we ask for nothing better and plan for nothing more secure than that which His Divine heart wills.
Give us this day our daily bread. The final petitions of the Lord's Prayer concern our needs. God does not wish us to forget His Presence, to wander far out of His sight and ignore His claims, so He bids us come to Him every day for each day's needs. He knows the weariness, the anxieties and the cares that press upon the hearts of men. Winningly He pleads with us to leave ourselves in His hands: "What man is there among you, of whom if his son ask bread, will he reach him a stone? Or if he shall ask him a fish, will he reach him a serpent? If you then being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more will your Father Who is in Heaven, give good things to them that ask Him?" On this earth there is only one thing of which we can be sure, namely the love and mercy of our Father, the tenderness of the Sacred Heart. With this mind we shall travel ''as having nothing, and possessing all things."
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them who trespass against us. It is a heart- breaking experience to face one's sins. They weigh like a load upon the heart bringing a sense of loneliness that paralizes the soul against effort and makes it fall back again into despair. In such grief and darkness we must remember that no one can go so far away from God that God's pity cannot reach him. Indeed the quality of Divine mercy makes it to be attracted above all by the least worthy, the least deserving, the most wretched. A spark of heavenly sorrow from us and God will restore to our souls peace and honor and dignity.
There is a strange limitation laid down in this petition of the Our Father - we ask for such forgiveness as we ourselves show to others. If we want to become like Christ and to open the floodgates of God's charity to ourselves, we must pardon as He does, without limit or reserve.
Lead us not into temptation. Our life here is a time of trial, a test to prove us, and therefore we should not be surprised or alarmed to find ourselves subject to temptation. Every Christian realizes this fact in life and realized too that we shall always need protection from on high. For our trial means even more than resisting evil passions, more than enduring patiently the griefs of life; we are brought face to face with another fact, the existence of Satan in the world. We have to deal with an enemy lashed into fury and hatred at the gifts bestowed on man, an enemy that plots against man with an intellect which is strong and cunning and bent on evil. In a thousand different ways he seeks to wrest a soul from Christ. Now he makes sudden attacks, again he lays his careful plans, undermining the very foundations of a Christlike life by stirring up thoughts of ambition, envy and pride. We must go daily to God for strength, for we have no reserves within ourselves. Victory is to be won by distrust of ourselves and by placing all our hope of safety in the power and goodness of God. "Have confidence," Our Lord says, "I have overcome the world."
Deliver us from evil. Amen. This is the closing petition of the Lord's Prayer. There is nothing more to pray for. We ask God to stand between us and all evil. As Christians, followers of the Crucified, we do not ask or wish to be freed from all sorrow - we know and bless the law: to every man his cross. By evil we mean that which Jesus meant when He prayed for His Apostles at the Last Supper: "I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from evil." Sin and Hell - the punishment of sin - are the real, the only evils we dread.
Every soul has its own secret trail of prayer to God, but the Lord's Prayer is suited to all, to the Saint as well as to the sinner. It is the model of all prayers. In great peace and confidence should we come to pray, satisfied with words that are natural and simple - the language of a child. We need not cry loudly or eloquently to reach the ears of God. A gasp of pain, a broken sob, a dazed appeal of agony - these plead to the father of pity, and are often the greatest prayers. In what school did the thief on the cross, after a life packed with crime, learn the eloquence of prayer and dare to seek a place in the kingdom of God - and get it? Thousands of simple hearts command the attention of the Almighty. Thousands tap Divine springs of peace and strength with no other knowledge or lesson in the art of prayer than that obtained through the brown rosary beads.