The Necessity of the
Precious Blood of Jesus
What would the world be without Jesus? We may perhaps have sometimes pictured to ourselves the Day of Judgment. We may have imagined the storms above and the earthquakes below. Yet the misery and confusion of earth on that day will have less of real horror in it than the earth without Jesus would have, even though the sun were shining, and the flowers blooming, and the birds singing. An earth without hope or happiness, without love or peace, the past a burden, the present a weariness, the future a shapeless terror – such would the earth be, if by impossibility there were no Jesus.
There is not a circumstance of life, in which we could do without Jesus. When sorrow comes upon us, how should we bear it without Him? What feature of consolation is there about the commonest human grief, which is not mitigated by faith, or hope, or love? We cannot exaggerate the utter moral destitution of a fallen world without redeeming grace. Sorrow without Christ is not to be endured. Such a lot would be worse than that of the beasts of the field, because the possession of reason would be an additional unhappiness. The same is true of sickness and of pain. What is the meaning of pain, except the purification of our soul? Who could bear it for years, if there were no significance in it, no future for it, no real work which it was actually occupied in doing?
In poverty and hardship, in the attacks of temptation, in the intemperate ardors of youth or the cynical fatigue of old age, in the successive failures of our plans, in the disappointments of our affections, in every crisis and revolution of life, Jesus seems so necessary to us that it appears as if He grew more necessary every year. But if He is thus indispensable in life, how much more will He be indispensable in death! Who could dare to die without Him? What would death be, if He had not so graciously shed His Precious Blood and died Himself? Yet what is death compared with judgment? Surely most of all He will be wanted then. Wanted! Oh, it is something more than a want, when so unspeakable a ruin is inevitably before us! Want is a poor word to use, when the alternative is everlasting woe. Dearest Lord! the light of the sun and the air of heaven are not so needful to us as Thou art; and our happiness – not merely our greatest, but our only happiness – is in this dear necessity!
Think of the poor heathen. There are some, whose sweetest social relations are embittered by the terrors and panics of their own false religions; and the innocent sunshine of delightful climates is not infrequently polluted by diabolical rituals. Yet these people dwell, saviorless, in some of the loveliest portions of man's inheritance. What if we were like to them?
There are many who call themselves after the name of Christ, who are yet outside the true Church of Christ. Theirs is a woeful lot. To be within reach of His unreachable riches, and yet to miss them; to be so blessed by His neighborhood, and yet not to be savingly united to Him – this is indeed a desolation. Their creed is words; it is not life. They know not the redeeming grace of Jesus rightly. They understand not the mysterious dispositions of His Sacred Heart. They disesteem His hidden Sacraments. They know God only wrongly and partially. Their knowledge is neither light nor love. Everything about Jesus, the merest accessory of His Church, the faintest vestige of His benediction, the very shadow of His likeness is of such surpassing importance, that for the least of these things the whole world would be but a paltry price to pay. The gift of being in the true Church is the greatest of all God's gifts which can be given out of Heaven. We cannot exaggerate its value. It is the pearl beyond price. Hence also the woefulness of being out of the Church is not be told in words, perhaps not even to be compassed in thought. What, then, if we had so far lost Jesus, as to be out of His Church? Unbearable thought! yet not without some sweetness, as it makes us feel more keenly how indispensable He is to us, and what a merciful good fortune He has given us to enjoy.
But even inside the Church there are wandering Cains, impenitent sinners who have gone out from the presence of God and willfully abide there. They have lived years in sin, and the chains of sinful habits are heavy upon them. They have resisted grace a thousand times, and it looks as if the divine inspirations were weary of whispering to hearts so deaf. Nothing seems to rouse them. They never advert to God at all. Their conversion must be a perfect miracle. They are obdurate. It is only by God's mercy, and through the merits of the Precious Blood of Jesus, that we are any better than these obdurate sinners. Yet we rightly thank God, even while we tremble at the possibility, that He has prevented our falling into such a state. What then if we were like to these? What if we were numbered among the hardened and impenitent? What if we were now even what we ourselves may have been in past years, before the strong arm of the Sacraments was held out to us, and we had the grace to lay hold of it and let it draw us safely to the shore? Yet if we were any of these – heathens, heretics, or obdurate sinners – we should still be far better off than if there were no Jesus in the world; for all these classes of men are blessed by Jesus, are visited by His grace continually, and are for His sake surrounded by hopeful possibilities of which they themselves are not aware. How unspeakably dreadful then our life would be without Jesus, when to be a heathen or a heretic is a misery so terrible!
It is plain that millions of sins in a day are hindered by the Precious Blood; and this is not merely a hindering of so many individual sins, but it is an immense check upon the momentum of sin. If then, the action of the Precious Blood were withdrawn from the world, sins would not merely increase incalculably in number, but the tyranny of sin would be fearfully augmented, and it would spread among a greater number of people. It would wax so bold that no one could be secure from the sins of others. It would be a constant warfare, or an intolerable vigilance, to preserve property and rights. Falsehood would become so universal as almost to dissolve society; and the homes of domestic life would be turned into the wards either of a prison or a madhouse. We cannot be in the company of an atrocious criminal without some feeling of uneasiness. We should not like to be left alone with him, even if his chains were not unfastened. But without the Precious Blood, such men would abound in the world. They might even become the majority. We know of ourselves, from glimpses God has once or twice given us in life, what incredible possibilities of wickedness we have in our souls. Civilization increases these possibilities. Education multiplies and magnifies our powers of sinning. Men would thus become more diabolically and unmixedly bad, until at last earth would be a hell on this side of the grave.
The increase of sin, without the prospects which the Faith lays open to us, must lead to an increase of despair, and to an increase of it upon a gigantic scale. With despair must come rage, madness, violence, tumult, and bloodshed. Yet from what quarter could we expect relief in this tremendous suffering? We would be imprisoned in our own planet. Without the Precious Blood there is no intercourse between Heaven and earth. Prayer would be useless. Our hapless lot would be irremediable.
We have thought of the world without the Precious Blood; let us think of it now with only partial or intermitting access to Its saving fountains. No miracle can be more complete, or more instantaneous, or more gratuitous, than the grace of Baptism. The most ardent and expansive of the angelic intelligences might have contemplated God for ages and ages, and yet their unassisted science would never have dreamed of such a mystery as the Incarnation, of such a Redemption as the price of the Precious Blood. Yet does it not make us tremble to think of no more grace after Baptism? Munificent as is that justifying grace, an invention only possible to a goodness which is simply infinite, what, with our experience of ourselves and our knowledge of others, would be our dismay if that one glorious access to the Precious Blood were the only one allowed to us! Surely a more frequent access to It, while it is on God's side a marvelous extension of a gratuitous indulgence, is on our side nothing less than an imperious necessity.
It would be a great thing to be forgiven once more after Baptism; whereas we are being endlessly forgiven, and with as much facility the thousandth time as we were the first. It would be a huge mercy if almost all sins were capable of absolution, but some few were reserved as unpardonable after Baptism. Even this would seem to the angels a wonderful stretch of the Divine Forbearance. What then must it be to have no sins, and no reiteration of sins, exempted from the jurisdiction of that dear ransom of our souls? Accustomed as we are to the free participation of the Blood of Jesus, how terrible seems the idea of men going about the world, visible portions of Hell, because they have committed some sin exempted from absolution! To have met Cain upon his wanderings over the unpeopled earth would have been less terrible; since even he was not beyond hope. But here again, this incessant pardoning, this repetition of absolution, this endless sprinkling of our souls with the Precious Blood – is it not a necessity to our happiness, a necessity to our salvation? Astonishing as is the prodigality of the Blood of Jesus, could any conceivable restriction have been endured? It would have been something more than a diminution of our privileges: it would have been a bar to our salvation.
But let us suppose no sins were exempted from the pardon of the Precious Blood, but only that the price of our Redemption was hard to get. God might have willed that it should only be obtained in Jerusalem, and that distant nations must seek it by long and painful pilgrimage. What would become of the sick, the aged, the poor, the imprisoned? Or again, we might have to gain access to the Blood of our Redeemer by going though considerable bodily pain, or passing through some severe ordeals. No one could complain of this. It would be a mercy beyond the uttermost mercies of human law. Oh, does it not make us weep to think then of our own carelessness and indifference to that most dear Blood, which we can have always and everywhere? We slight God's mercies because His amazing goodness has made them to be so common. We have not even to seek the Blood of Jesus. It comes to us; It pleads with us; It entreats us to accept It; It complains; It waits; It knocks; It cries out to us; It all but forces Itself upon our acceptance.
What if the Precious Blood had been shed, and yet we had no Priesthood, no Sacraments, no jurisdiction, no sacramentals, no mystical life of the visible unity of the Church? Life, so it seems, would be almost intolerable. This is the condition of those outside the true Church; and certainly as we grow older, as our experience widens, as our knowledge of mankind increases, the less hopeful do our ideas become regarding the possibility of those outside the true Church attaining to union with Her through baptism of desire and perfect contrition, and thence to salvation. We might make the most we can of the infinite mercy of God, of the doctrine of invincible ignorance, and of the appearance of natural goodness in certain men; and yet what are these but straws in our own estimation, if our own chances of salvation had to lean their weight upon them? They wear out, or they break down. They are fearfully counter-weighted by other considerations. We have to draw upon our imaginations in order to fill up the picture. They are but theories at best, theories unhelpful except to console the anxious – theories often very fatal by keeping our charity in check and interfering with that restlessness of converting love and that impetuous agony of prayer, upon which God may have made the salvation of our non-Catholic friends depend. Alas! the more familiar we ourselves become with the operations of grace, the further we advance in the spiritual life, the more we meditate on the attributes of God, and taste in contemplation the savor of His holiness, the more to our eyes does grace magnify itself inside the Church, and the more dense and forlorn becomes the darkness which is spread over those outside. Yet not indeed to this state – God forbid! – but to a painful partial resemblance of it, should we be brought, if God's tender considerate love had not, as it were, attached the Precious Blood to His stupendous Sacraments. Truly the Sacraments are an invention of love, yet are they not also as truly a necessity of our salvation, not only as applying the Precious Blood to our souls, but as enabling faith to ascertain its application? Would not the divine assurance of our salvation be a very heaven begun on earth? Yet the Sacraments are the nearest approach to such a sweet assurance as the love of our heavenly Father saw to be expedient for the multitude of His children.
St. Teresa of Avila tells us of visions, in which she saw souls falling constantly into the gates of Hell, like the rabble of autumnal leaves swept into thick eddies by the wind. Yet not a single soul gets there before whom the Precious Blood has not stood again and again, and tried to drive it back. If then, when all access to the Precious Blood is so easy, and when Its persuasion mounts almost to compulsion, souls are so backward in having recourse to It, what would be the case if any of these imaginary difficulties were really allowed to come in the way? Indeed, all this mysterious condescension of the Precious Blood is not the needless outburst of the excessive love of God for us. Alas – for our shame that we should have to say it! – it is a downright necessity for our salvation.
Lessons from the Roman Breviary for the Feast of
Our Lady of Mount Carmel – July 16th
"When on the holy day of Pentecost the Apostles, inspired by Heaven, spoke in diverse tongues, and performed many miracles by the invocation of the most august Name of Jesus, it is said that many men who had followed in the footsteps of the holy Prophets Elias and Eliseus, and had been prepared by the preaching of John the Baptist for Christ's coming, saw and were confirmed in the truth. They immediately embraced the Faith of the Gospel, and began to venerate the Blessed Virgin (whose conversation and company was so readily possible for them to enjoy) with such affection that before anyone else they erected a sanctuary to that purest of Virgins on that very spot of Mount Carmel where Elias had seen the little cloud rising, a significant figure of the Virgin.
"Therefore, coming together in the new oratory several times a day, they honored the Blessed Virgin as the special protectress of their Order. For this reason, they began to be called everywhere the friars of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. Supreme Pontiffs not only confirmed this title, but also granted special indulgences to whoever should call by this name either the whole Order or individual friars. Together with her name and protection, the Blessed Virgin also bestowed upon them her holy Scapular, which she gave to Blessed Simon Stock, an Englishman, that the Order might be distinguished from others by this holy Habit and be preserved from all evil. And finally, since this Order was unknown in Europe, and on this account many were insistently asking Honorius III for its suppression, the Most Pious Virgin Mary appeared by night to Honorius and expressly ordered him to benignly receive both the Institute and its members.
"Not only in this world has the Blessed Virgin wished to honor an Order so dear to her with special privileges, but also in the next world. For it is piously believed that any of her children who, having been enrolled as members in the Confraternity of the Scapular and have practiced abstinence, have said the prayers prescribed and have observed chastity according to their state of life, will assuredly be consoled by her maternal affection while in Purgatory, and, through her intercession, be delivered from there as soon as possible and taken to the heavenly fatherland. Enriched with such great favors, the Carmelite Order, therefore, instituted a solemn commemoration in honor of the Most Blessed Virgin, to be perpetually celebrated every year, to the glory of the self-same Virgin."
The Ascetical Doctrine of Saint Alphonsus Maria Liguori
I. Detachment from Creatures. The first of these means is the detachment of one's self from earthly affections. In a heart that is full of earth there is no room to be found for the love of God; and the more the earthly element predominates, the less does the divine love bear sway. Wherefore, he who desires to have his heart filled with divine love should study to remove out of it all that is of earth. In order to become saints, we must follow the example of St. Paul, who, that he might gain the love of Jesus Christ, despised as so much dung all the good things of this world: I count all things as dung, that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3, 8). Oh, let us pray the Holy Ghost to enkindle within us His holy love; for then we too shall despise and reckon as mere vanity, smoke, and dirt all this world's riches, pleasures, honors, and distinctions, for the sake of which mankind in general involve themselves so miserably in destruction.
Ah! whenever holy love enters the heart, it no longer regards as of any value all that the world holds in esteem: If a man should give all the substance of his house for love, he shall despise it as nothing (Cant. 8, 7). St. Francis de Sales observes that when a house is in flames the goods are all thrown out of the windows; meaning to say that when the heart is on fire with divine love, a man sets himself to work to divest himself of the good things of this world, of its honors, of its riches, and of all earthly things, in order that he may love nothing but God. St. Catherine of Genoa used to say that she did not love God for the sake of His gifts, but that she loved the gifts of God in order that she might love Him the more.
We must, then, be on our guard against setting our affections on creatures, lest they steal from us a portion of the love which God wishes to be wholly for Himself. We ought to endeavor to make ourselves "gardens enclosed," as the Sacred Spouse in the Canticles was styled by her Lord: My Spouse is a garden enclosed (Cant. 4, 12). The title of "a garden enclosed" applies to the soul that keeps itself closed against the entrances of all mere earthly affections. Let us not cease to pray continually to God, that He would bestow upon us the gift of His pure love.
II. Meditation on the Passion. Meditation on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the second means for acquiring divine love. It is certain that the fact of Jesus Christ being so little loved in the world arises from the negligence and ingratitude of mankind, and from not considering, at least occasionally, how much He has suffered for us, and the love wherewith He suffered for us. "To mankind it has appeared foolish," as St. Gregory observes, "that God should die for us." Nevertheless, it is of faith that He has done so. He has loved us and delivered Himself for us (Eph. 5, 2). Besides, He has yet further willed that He Himself should be our food in Holy Communion. And here the Angelic Doctor St. Thomas, speaking of this Most Holy Sacrament, says that God has so humbled Himself with us, that it is as if He were our servant, and each of us were His God.
Hence it is that the Apostle St. Paul says, For the charity of Christ presseth us (2 Cor. 5, 14). The love which Jesus Christ has borne us constrains us, and in a certain sense forces us, to love Him. What is there that men will not do out of love for some creature on which they have set their affections! And how little is their love for God, whose goodness and loveliness are infinite, and who has even gone so far as to die upon a cross for each one of us! Ah, let us all follow the example of the Apostle, who said, But God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 6, 14). This is what everyone who has faith must say, and if he has faith, how will it be possible for him to love any other than God? How can a soul, contemplating Jesus crucified, not perceive itself drawn, and as it were constrained, to love Him with all its powers?
Let a soul be as cold as it can be in the divine love; if it have faith, I know not how it be possible for it not to perceive itself urged to love Jesus Christ, upon even the most hasty consideration of what the Holy Scriptures tell us of the love which He has manifested toward us in His Passion, and in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. As regards His Passion, we read in Isaias: Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows... But He was wounded for our iniquities; He was bruised for our sins (Is. 53, 4). So that it is of faith that Jesus Christ has willed to suffer in His own Person pains and afflictions, which were justly due to ourselves. And why is it that He has done so, if it be not for the love which He has borne toward us? St. John says: Who hath loved us and washed us from our sins with His own Blood (Apoc. 1, 5). With respect to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, it was Jesus Himself who said to us all: He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood abideth in Me, and I in him (John 6, 57). How can anyone who has faith read this without feeling himself, as it were, forced to love his Redeemer, who, after having sacrificed His Blood and life out of love for him, has left him His own Body in the Sacrament of the Altar, to be the food of his soul, and the means of uniting Him wholly to Himself in Holy Communion?
Why is it that Jesus manifests Himself to us on the Cross in such a pitiable condition? It is not so much to gain our compassion, as to become the object of our love, that He has reduced Himself to so miserable a state.
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