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More than eighteen centuries have passed since the Son of God accomplished the great work of Redemption by His bitter Passion and Death. As the time of His sufferings drew nigh, Jesus entered Jerusalem with His disciples; and the people of the city, on learning of His approach, hastened forth to meet Him. In their hands they bore branches of the palm and the olive; they spread their garments on the ground before Jesus; they filled the air which loud hosannas, and with sweet hymns of praise and gladness. But strange to say, amidst the music and rejoicing -- amidst the glory of His triumphant entry, Jesus is sad; Jesus weeps and sobs aloud as if His Heart would break. This is indeed strange beyond expression. Was Jesus sad because He disliked rejoicings? Oh no. For we see Him often present at banquets of the Pharisees. We see Him present at the merry wedding feast of Cana, where, in order to increase the gaiety, He works an unheard-of miracle, and changes water into wine. Jesus was no enemy of innocent rejoicings. Why, then, does He weep midst the rejoicings of His triumphant entry into Jerusalem? Jesus Himself tells us the cause of His tears. He protests that He weeps because Jerusalem does not know Him. "O Jerusalem, didst thou but know, this day, the things that are for thy peace; but now they are hidden from thine eyes." What can this mean? Why, the whole city can scarce contain itself for joy. No sound is heard save that of praise and gladness. "Blessed be the King Who cometh in the Name of the Lord, peace in Heaven, and glory on high." Such is the triumphant hymn with which the people greet Jesus; and yet Jesus weeps and laments because the city does not know Him. "Oh, didst thou but know and understand this day."
Such was the welcome which Jesus received from the Jewish people; such, too, is the welcome which He receives at the present day from so many of His own Christian people. He is welcomed by all, He is known but to few. Like the Jewish people, many Christians welcome Jesus; they hasten to the Sacraments with every outward mark of devotion; but like the Jews, too, though they welcome Jesus, though they receive Jesus, they do not know or care to know Jesus. In spite of the solemnity of the season, in spite of the outward marks of devotion, so many Christians of the present day often approach the Sacraments with such little preparation, with such unworthy dispositions, that instead of being a joy and honor to Jesus, they rather fill His heart with sadness. They load Him with insult.
Let us return to Jerusalem a few days after the triumphant entry of Jesus. Behold this very same Jewish people. They are following an unhappy criminal who is being led to death. Ask them who this criminal is, and they will tell you, "It is Jesus of Nazareth." What?! Jesus of Nazareth? Is it possible? Is not this the same Jesus Who was welcomed only a few days ago with such unparalleled honors? Is not this the same people who but a few days ago cried out, "Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord"; and now their hoarse cry rings wildly through the air, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Yes, it is the very same Jesus; it is the very same people. No wonder, then, that Jesus wept on the day of His triumph. No wonder that He complained that this people did not know Him. O ungrateful people! Could you not dishonor Jesus by a shameful death, without first honoring Him with such a glorious triumph?
But let us turn to ourselves. Were a stranger to pass through the city at the season of Lent, were he to see the churches so well filled, and the confessionals so well crowded with penitents, what a good opinion would he form of the Catholics here. Wherever we turn we behold eyes filled with tears, countenances stamped with contrition -- everywhere signs of sincere devotion. More truly, he would say, Jesus is honored; here He rejoices, here He celebrates a glorious triumph. Yes; but return here in two months, in two weeks even, and the penitent faces will be seen at parties, balls, theatres, frolics, in drinking-saloons; at the gambling-table the very same hands; in families, among relatives and neighbors, the very same quarrels; in the stores the same false weights, the same fraud; the old curses and blasphemies will be heard in the streets and public places. This is indeed a change of scene, and this change of scene is renewed every Easter.
Whence comes this fickleness? The Jewish people, in the impulse of the moment, hastened forth to meet Jesus without well knowing whom they welcomed. So in like manner many Christians, carried away by the devotion of the season, hasten to welcome Jesus without knowing Him; they hasten to be reconciled to Jesus without understanding well whom it is they have offended. The prophet bitterly bewails such blindness: "There is not one who does penance for his sins, not one who asks himself seriously, What have I done?" This is the origin of the sad inconstancy of the greater part of Christians. Did they, like the Prodigal, but fully understand the greatness of their sins, they would, like him, truly repent of them. But such is not the case. They have no true contrition, and, consequently, they soon fall again and again into the very same sins that they have but a short time before confessed.
Now, it is of faith that true sorrow for our sins is absolutely necessary for salvation, for if there is no true sorrow there can be no pardon. The examination of conscience is necessary; but were we to spend a whole year in examining our conscience without sincere sorrow or contrition, we cannot obtain pardon.
Confession is necessary; but it may happen that we forget a sin, or cannot find a confessor, or that we cannot speak the language of the priest, or that we have lost our speech. In such cases it will be sufficient if we make an act of perfect contrition, with the sincere resolution to confess our sins as soon as possible. But were we to confess all our sins with even the minutest accompanying circumstances, if we have no contrition we cannot obtain pardon.
Satisfaction is necessary; but it is sometimes impossible, and may be dispensed with. A person, for instance, may be too poor to make restitution; in that case it will suffice if he have the sincere desire to restore as soon as possible. But though he were to restore everything and had not true sorrow, he could not receive forgiveness.
Absolution is necessary; but sometimes there is no priest at hand. It will be sufficient then to make an act of perfect contrition, and have the sincere desire to confess as soon as possible, and we shall be forgiven; but were we to be absolved by all the bishops and priests of the Church, even by the Pope himself, and had not true sorrow, we should not receive forgiveness.
So important, so necessary is contrition that, though a sinner were guilty of all the crimes that ever have been or ever will be committed on the face of the earth -- if he has but true contrition, he can and ought to be absolved; while, on the contrary, he who has only committed a slight venial sin -- if he has no contrition, cannot and should not receive absolution.
God will not pardon without contrition. "It is," as Tertullian says, "the only price for which God pardons." God cannot pardon without contrition, for to be without sorrow for an offence is to give new and continued offence.
True contrition, then, is absolutely necessary. To have the desire for contrition is good; but the wish is not sufficient. Tears are good, but tears are not sufficient. It is not sufficient to look sad and strike the breast again and again; it is not sufficient to read the act of contrition out of a book; it is not sufficient to mutter the act of contrition with the lips. No! Contrition must be real and heartfelt.
What then is contrition? Contrition is a hearty sorrow for having offended God. It includes a sincere hatred of sin, and the firm resolution to offend God no more. Every sin and vice, as our dear Savior Himself declares, proceeds from the heart and has its seat in the heart. When we sin, it is, properly speaking, not our eyes, or ears, or tongue, the members of our body that sin, but the soul, animating our members. The soul uses the senses as the instruments of sin. It is the soul, the will, that sins, and consequently it is the soul, the will, that must repent. Our contrition then must necessarily be interior and heartfelt. The very word contrition itself implies its true nature. Contrition is derived from the Latin word "conterere," which means to bruise, to crush, to break. To have true, heartfelt contrition, therefore, means to be heartbroken for having offended our dear Lord.
Tears are not necessary as expressions of sorrow for sin: the feeling of pain is not necessary; and yet the sorrow must be real and earnest, proceeding from the heart. Now, if sincere, heartfelt contrition is so necessary, what are we to think of those penitents who approach the confessional and confess their sins with such cool indifference, that one might be tempted to suppose they had come for no other purpose than to relate some interesting anecdote? If the priest tells them to make an act of contrition, he must often observe, to his grief, that they do not know how to make the act. Many of them do not even know what contrition -- true sorrow -- is, or what it has to do with confession. The greater part, however, know indeed, how to make an act of contrition, but unfortunately, even their contrition consists generally in striking the breast a few times, and in muttering a certain formula of prayer which they learned in their childhood. If the priest asks such a penitent whether be is sorry for his sins, the answer is of course "yes"; but it is a "yes" that evidently does not come from the heart -- it is a "yes" that is just about equivalent to "no."
It is not the number and enormity of the sins that fill the priest with pain and anxiety. It is the want of disposition, of true contrition, in the penitent, that causes him often the cruelest martyrdom.
The sorrow for sin must not only be sincere and heartfelt -- it must also be a sorrow above every other sorrow. The sorrow, which we feel at the loss of an object, is proportionate to the value of the object. But God is a good infinitely superior to every other possible good. Consequently the loss of God should cause us greater sorrow than the loss of every other good. Great is the sorrow of a poor orphan as she stands by the deathbed of her beloved mother -- as she gazes on her pale, cold brow, and on those loving eyes, which shall open upon her never more. Yet our sorrow for having lost God by sin must be far greater. Great is the sorrow of a tender mother as she bends over the lifeless body of her only child, the child of her hope and. love. And yet our sorrow for having offended God must exceed even this sorrow. Yes, if we are truly sorry for our sins, we must be willing to lose our health, our riches, and our honor; to lose friends and parents, to endure every pain, and even death itself, rather than lose God by consenting to another mortal sin. It is not necessary that this sorrow for losing God should be sensibly felt. We may indeed experience more sorrow at the loss of our honor -- at the loss of a dear friend or relative; nevertheless we must be ready to lose all rather than lose God. We may feel more terror at the sight of torment and death, and yet we must be ready to suffer the cruelest death rather than consent to a single mortal sin.
Contrition must not only be interior and sovereign, it must also be supernatural. We must be sorry for having sinned, because by sin we have offended and lost so good a God.
Antiochus Epiphanes, King of Syria, committed many enormous crimes. He ordered the faithful Jews to be cruelly massacred; he plundered the Temple, and desecrated the Holy of Holies. But the vengeance of God was swift and terrible. The impious king was stricken down with an incurable disease. A most excruciating pain tortured him; worms devoured his body; his rotten flesh fell piecemeal from his body, and the stench, which proceeded from him, was intolerable. The unhappy tyrant began now to repent of his crimes. He promised God that he would restore everything he had stolen from the Temple; he even promised that he would renounce infidelity, travel all over the world, and preach everywhere the true God. This looked like an extraordinary contrition; yet the Holy Ghost tells us of this man in Holy Scripture: "This wicked man prayed to God, but in vain! He received no mercy." He died in a strange land, miserably in his sins. And why so? Is not God infinitely merciful? Has not God sworn by Himself that "He wills not the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live"? Why then did not God pardon this sinner? Although this wicked man wept bitter tears, though he promised to restore everything, though he promised to change his wicked life -- he, nevertheless, received no pardon, because his sorrow was only natural sorrow. He did not weep for having offended God. He only wept because he suffered such cruel torments and because he saw that he was soon to die. His contrition was not supernatural. Look at many a drunkard: he weeps; he curses the hour in which he first tasted liquor. But why does he weep? Is it because he has offended God? Oh no! He weeps because he has lost his situation -- because he has fallen into disgrace. His sorrow is therefore only natural. He cannot receive pardon on that account.
The swindler and the thief are sorry for what they have done. But is it because they have offended God? No! They are sorry because they have been arrested and put in prison. Such sorrow is vain before God, and can merit no pardon.
The unhappy young man who has wasted his health and happiness in striving to satisfy a brutal passion, laments and curses the day on which he was first led into sin. But does he weep for having offended God? No, he weeps because he has ruined his health, because he finds himself branded with a shameful disease, because he feels that he is a burden to himself, an outcast, and an object of scorn to his fellow men. His contrition is, therefore, not supernatural, and cannot merit pardon.
The unfortunate who sighs and weeps like another repentant Magdalene, weeps not because she has offended God, but because she has lost her honor; because she must now hide her face behind the veil of shame. Her sorrow is therefore only natural sorrow; she can receive no pardon for it.
Contrition, then, in order to be acceptable to God, must be supernatural. It must come from God. We must be sorry for our sins because by them we have offended so good a God, and thereby lost Heaven and deserved Hell.
But contrition must not only be interior, sovereign, and supernatural; it must also be universal. We must be sorry for every sin, every mortal sin, without exception. King Saul was commanded by God to destroy all the wicked inhabitants of Amelec, and not to spare even a single one. Saul obeyed, but his obedience was not perfect. He destroyed everything, he burned down everything, he killed all the common people, but the king, who was the most wicked of all, he spared. God punished Saul for this want of obedience by taking away his crown and his life. There are many Catholics who, when they go to confession, act just as Saul acted. God has commanded them, under pain of eternal damnation, to destroy every mortal sin, and every affection for mortal sin, by a sincere and universal contrition. They obey, indeed, but their obedience is not perfect. By contrition they destroy the slight, everyday failings; but there is one pet sin that they always spare, one wicked passion, their ruling passion, which they do not destroy by a true and earnest contrition. A certain person, for instance, comes to confession. He confesses that he cursed, that he was angry. He is perhaps truly sorry for these sins; but he has also been drunk several times, and for this sin, though he may confess it, he has no real, earnest sorrow. Such a man's confession is a sacrilege; his sins are not forgiven.
Here is another sinner. He confesses that he has eaten meat a few times on Friday, that he has missed Mass and worked a few times on Sunday. But he has also eaten meat without necessity on fast-days, he has also missed Mass and worked on Holydays of obligation without necessity. These sins he hardly remembers, and has no real contrition for them. He has no sorrow for all his mortal sins, and, therefore, he can receive pardon for none. His confession is worthless.
Another confesses that he has stolen and cheated very much; that he has wantonly damaged his neighbor's property. He is sorry for these sins; he is even willing to make restitution to the best of his power. But there is another sin for which he has no real, earnest sorrow. He often takes pleasure in immodest thoughts and desires. For those sins he is not truly sorry. His confession is, therefore, a mockery; lie can receive no pardon from God.
The mother of a family confesses all her sins, and is truly sorry for them. But there are some sins that she scarcely ever mentions in confession, some sins for which she has no true contrition. She allows her children to remain unsupervised; she does not keep them away from dangerous companions; she allows them to read romantic and immoral books -- novels, trashy love poetry, and the like. Her sins are not forgiven.
A young girl confesses that she has been proud and vain, that she has been disobedient to her parents a few times. She is perhaps, sorry for these sins. But there is another sin which she does not mention in confession, and for which she has no true sorrow. She often reads romantic and dangerous books; she keeps dangerous company; she sometimes allows improper liberties; she often harbors wicked thoughts and desires. These sins she does not confess, and, even if she confesses them, she has no true sorrow for them. Such a person's confession is worthless; it is a sacrilege. She does not obtain pardon from God; but the curse of God weighs on her soul; and until she truly repents of these sins, no priest in Christendom, no bishop, no pope, can absolve her.
We must not only confess all our mortal sins, but we must also be truly sorry for them, otherwise we can obtain pardon for none. The reason for this is, that God never has pardoned, and by an unchangeable decree has bound Himself never to pardon, any one unless he first repents of all his sins, and repents of them from motives of a supernatural character.
Again, sorrow for our sins, to be good, must be accompanied by a firm resolve not to fall again into the same sins. To repent truly and sincerely is to grieve over the evil we have done, and to refrain from doing again the evil over which we grieve. In order that our past sins may not be imputed to us, sorrow and tears are not enough; amendment is also necessary.
Cesarius relates a frightful occurrence, which took place at Paris. There was in Paris a certain nobleman who lived as a worldling. Being at the point of death, he entered into himself, acknowledged the wretched state of his soul, and seemed to be a really penitent and entirely changed man. Having sent for his confessor, he accused himself, with abundant tears, of all his sins, and received the holy viaticum and extreme unction with every outward token of piety. He then gently breathed out his soul in peace. After his death a magnificent burial service was prepared, and the day appointed for it was so fine that it looked as if heaven and earth were leagued together in order to enhance the pomp of the funeral obsequies. Every one deemed him the happiest man that had ever appeared on the face of the earth, since, after having enjoyed this world to the full, he had by so happy a death secured for himself the glory of Paradise. Such was the common talk; for man sees what is outside, but God beholds what lies hidden within. After a few days time the man appeared to a servant of God, and brought him the sad news that he was damned. "But how so?" asked the holy man, quite astounded, "you confessed with sorrow and tears, and received the holy sacraments with devotion." "True," said the lost soul, "I did confess, and I was sorry, yet not with an efficacious sorrow, since my will, in the very act of repenting, felt itself spurred on to sin afresh; and I thought it quite impossible that, if restored to health, I should not return to that which I so dearly loved. So that while I detested the evil I had committed, I had no earnest and firm purpose of renouncing it." Having said this, he disappeared.
Sorrow for our sins, moreover, must be accompanied by sincere humility. "God will never despise a contrite heart when he sees that it is humbled." The publican in the Gospel looked upon himself as one of the greatest sinners in the world. He dared not so much as lift up his eyes to Heaven, but held them downcast, and with shame on his countenance fixed them on the ground. He smote his breast, and thus moved God to compassion, appeased His wrath, and obtained His pardon. Such are the sentiments with which we should approach the holy tribunal of penance. For the inward shame which we feel at the sight of our offense has a large share in obtaining our pardon; and it is out of mercy to us that God has decreed that, in order to obtain forgiveness, it should not be enough to repent in secret and be seen by Him alone, but that we must express our sorrow at the feet of the priest, and thus be covered with that most wholesome confusion which is of so great avail to obtain pardon for our sins.
If, like the Prodigal, we sincerely acknowledge before God the evil we have done in sinning, if we consider the greatness of the God whom we have offended, if we consider our own vileness and audacity in daring to insult a God of so great a majesty, we shall naturally feel humbled and shall appear like criminals before the Lord, own our abjection with great confusion, detest our misdeeds, and implore forgiveness: "Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee, I am not now worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants."
The sinner thus humbled before God presents so touching an object in His sight that He is instantly roused to compassionate pity, forgives the transgressions of the culprit, and hastens in all tenderness to clasp Him lovingly to His breast, to treat him not as a criminal, nor as one who has ever been guilty, but as a beloved child. With such humble contrition, with sorrowful confusion, should the sinner draw nigh to the laver of confession. He may then, rest assured that our loving Redeemer, beholding him in these good dispositions, will not fail to shower down His most Precious Blood in such abundance on him as to cleanse him from all stain and render him whiter and purer than the lily.
But let it be observed that this humility, which should ever accompany sorrow for sin, must not be false. Humility is false whenever it is not joined with a strong and firm hope of obtaining forgiveness. There are two sorts of humility: one is the gift of God, the other comes from the devil. The humility which is God's gift brings with it, indeed, a knowledge of our sins and miseries, but has this property, that, while it lowers the soul in its own estimation, it raises it to hope, and finally leaves it all calm and reposing in the arms of the Divine goodness. The humility, however, which is counterfeit, and from the devil, brings with it, in like manner, a knowledge of our own sins and weakness, but it has this most injurious quality, that, while it bends low the soul, it takes away hope, or at least diminishes it, and leaves us full of cowardice, diffidence, and discouragement. The humility, which is God's gift, is holy; that which comes from the devil is wicked. The humility which comes from God disposes us for pardon, whilst the humility that comes from the devil prevents forgiveness. Our confessions, therefore, must be made in a spirit of faith and hope; they should be accompanied with a sorrow not only humble, but full of faith and trust in God. Without such hope we should never obtain pardon, were we to seek it for all eternity; because sorrow for sin, unaccompanied by hope of forgiveness, so far from appeasing, only irritates Divine mercy. Cain repented of his crime after he had murdered his own brother; but because he did not trust in the Divine goodness, his sorrow availed him nothing. "My iniquity," he said in his folly, "is greater than may deserve pardon." Judas Iscariot in like manner repented, and exclaimed, with tears flowing down his cheeks, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." And further, he made restitution of the money for which he had bartered away the precious life of his divine Master. But what did all this avail him? Nothing whatever. His sorrow was devoid of any gleam of hope; and, giving himself up for lost, he went and hanged himself on a tree.
Of such a nature is the repentance of certain persons who, after falling into some serious faults, or seeing that, they relapse constantly into the same sins, are filled with bitterness, distrust, and false humility, and say to themselves: "God will not pardon me; I think He has turned His back upon me, for my weakness is beyond endurance, and I am continually yielding to the same faults." Now, this is the contrition of Judas and Cain, devoid of all trust in God's goodness.
The devil appeared once to Faverius, a disciple of St. Bruno, while he was dangerously ill on his sick bed, and after terrifying him in many ways, began to remind him of his sins, and to throw them in his face with impudent assurance. The servant of God replied that he had already confessed these sins and received absolution, and therefore had every cause to trust that God had pardoned him. "Confessed your sins?! Confessed your sins!" replied the fiend. "You have not told all; you have not made a proper confession; you have not explained the circumstances of your sins. Your confessions are all invalid; they are good for nothing; they will serve only to make your judgment the heavier." The holy monk, thus reminded of his faults, shown to him by the fiend in that accursed light which makes us see things in a false medium, and represents God as always using fire and the knife in His treatment of sick souls, was greatly alarmed, and began to be tortured by the most agonizing scruples, being so horror-stricken and full of dismay that he was on the point of falling headlong into the abyss of despair. But the ever Blessed Virgin, the true Mother of mercy, who never forsakes those who are really devoted to her, appeared to him most opportunely at this terrible moment, with her Divine Infant in her arms, and addressed him as follows: "What fearest thou, Faverius? Wherefore lose heart? Hope and be of good cheer; thou hast all but reached the port. My most winning Child has forgiven thee all thy sins. Of this I give thee my assurance." At these words the racking and anguish felt by the dying man at the thought of his sins gave place to a humble, confiding, peaceful sorrow, and shortly after he breathed his last in great calm of soul. From this we may perceive the difference between contrition, which is God's gift, and that which comes from the devil. This latter is a sorrow full of diffidence and disquiet; the former is a trusting and peaceful repentance. Let every one, then, ever strive after the gift of God, and take care to possess it whenever he goes to confession. This kind of sorrow alone appeases God, obtains pardon for sin, and perfectly reconciles the soul with God.
There are many persons who seem to think that the whole efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance depends on lengthy details, and in saying in many words what could be all said in very few. The sign of a good confession is not the multitude of words, but the sorrow of the heart, and him alone may we judge to be converted, and to have made a good confession, who strives to blot out by heartfelt sorrow those sins of which his tongue makes the outward avowal. The verbal confession of sin is to be valued only inasmuch as it is the expression of a true and heartfelt repentance. Our dear Lord cursed the barren fig tree, which, though full of branches and leaves, yet bore no fruit; so does He reject and abhor such confessions as abound in many unnecessary words, but are barren of the fruit of efficacious contrition. Sorrow, and great sorrow, is what is needed, not long explanations and needless details, if confession is to restore the sinner to grace. The truth of this is confirmed by the following incident.
Caesarius Heisterbach relates that a young student at Paris, having fallen into many very grievous sins, betook himself to the monastery of St. Victor, and, calling the prior, fell at his feet in order to accuse himself of them. Scarce had he began to open his lips when his contrition became so vehement that his utterance was checked, and his confession hindered, by tears, groans, and convulsive sobs. The confessor, seeing that the youth was unable from excessive grief to say another word, bade him write down his sins on a sheet of paper, and come back again when he had done so, hoping that by this means the young man would find it easier to make a confession of all his crimes. He complied, and returned to the same priest; but no sooner did he begin to read from his paper than, overcome anew with sorrow and tears, he was unable to proceed. The confessor then asked him for the paper, and as in reading it a doubt arose in his mind on some point, he begged the penitent's leave to show his confession to the abbot, in order to get his opinion. The contrite youth willingly consented, and forthwith the prior went to see the abbot and put the paper into his hands. The abbot on opening it found nothing but a blank sheet, without so much as a single stroke of the pen upon the page. "How now," said he, "do you want me to read what is not written?" "But," replied the prior, "I have this moment read on that very paper the full confession of this my penitent." Then both began to examine the paper afresh, and found that the sins had been blotted out of it, even as they were already blotted out of the conscience of the sorrowing youth. Behold! This young student had not yet made his confession, and still had already received a full pardon; for though he had said nothing with his tongue, he had spoken much with his heart, and nothing now remained for him to do, save to fulfil the obligation of subjecting his sins to the sacramental absolution.
One day a great sinner went to hear a sermon by St. Anthony of Padua. Immediately after the sermon the sinner approached the saint, and entreated him to hear his confession. Though greatly fatigued, Anthony immediately entered his confessional to console the heart of the penitent. But the latter was so overcome with sorrow as to be quite unable to make his confession, his sobs and groans completely depriving him of the power of speech. As the saint was greatly pressed for time, he told his penitent to go home and write down his sins and then come back. The man obeyed: he went home, wrote down his confession, and then returned to his confessor. Now, when St. Anthony opened the paper, he saw with joy that he held in his hand a blank sheet of such dazzling whiteness that no one would ever suppose it had been written upon. The saint looked upon this prodigy as the happy indication of perfect contrition.
The grace of true and sincere sorrow for our sins is no water of this earth, but of Heaven. "If any assert," says the Council of Trent, "that without a preceding inspiration and grace of the Holy Ghost man can believe, hope; and love, or repent, in such a manner as he ought, let him be anathema." "No one," says the holy Church, "can repent of his sins in such a manner as he ought without a particular grace of God."
Man, it is true, can of himself commit sin and offend God grievously, but to rise again from his fall by heartfelt sorrow he cannot, except by God's grace. Now, this exceedingly great grace will be given to us so much the sooner the more earnestly we pray for it, especially while assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It was through the Blood of Jesus Christ, visibly shed on the cross, that the dying malefactor obtained the grace of conversion, of sincere repentance. In like manner, it is through the same Blood, invisibly shed at Mass, that the heavenly Father will grant us the grace of true contrition for our sins if we offer to Him the Blood of His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in satisfaction for them, and beseech Him, by the merits of this Blood, to have mercy on us.
But as our prayer may not be fervent enough soon to obtain for us this great grace of contrition, let us have recourse to the all-powerful prayer of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the refuge of all poor sinners, and she has obtained this unspeakably great favor for the most abandoned sinners, even in their last hour.
St. Teresa gives an account of a merchant who lived at Valladolid in Spain. He did not live as a good Christian should live; however, he had some devotion to the Blessed Virgin. When St. Teresa came to the town where the merchant was living, she wanted to find a house for her nuns. The merchant heard that the saint was seeking a house; so he went to her, and offered to give her a house that belonged to him. He said he would give her the house in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Teresa thanked him, and took the house. Two months after this the gentleman suddenly became very ill. He was not able to speak or make a confession. However, he showed by signs that he wished to beg pardon of our Lord for his sins, and soon after died. "After his death," St. Teresa says, "I saw our Lord. He told me that this gentleman had been very near losing his soul; but He had mercy on him when he was dying, on account of the service he did to His Blessed Mother by giving the house in her honor." "I was glad," says St. Teresa, "that his soul was saved, for I was very much afraid it would have been lost on account of his bad life." Our Lord told St. Teresa to get the house finished as soon as possible, because that soul was suffering great torments in Purgatory. It would not come out of Purgatory till the convent was finished and the first Mass said there. When the first Mass was said, St. Teresa went to the rails of the altar to receive Holy Communion. At the moment she knelt down she saw the gentleman standing by the side of the priest. His face was shining with light and joy, and his hands were joined together. He thanked St. Teresa very much for getting his soul out of the fire of Purgatory, and the saint then saw him go up into Heaven.
Let us, then, pray; and let us pray to the Mother of God for contrition, and we shall infallibly obtain this grace through her all-powerful intercession; for her Divine Son, Jesus Christ, can refuse nothing to His Beloved Mother.
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