Feast of the Annunciation by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger.
“And the angel Gabriel was sent by God into a city of Galilee called Nazareth,
and the name of the virgin was Mary.”–Luke 1.
Athwart the somber season of Lent, the deepening shadows of which grow darker still until the bright dawn of the resurrection morn dispels their gloom, there flashes the glory of a divine fact which gives to this festival of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary a rank equal to that of the greatest feast of the Church. This divine fact may well inspire our hearts with the most tender, the most exquisite, the most joyful, affections of thanksgiving, for to its existence we are indebted for the inestimable grace of Redemption.
It was upon this day, beloved in Christ, that the angel Gabriel–to whom God had given in charge the precious soul of her whom He had from all eternity chosen to be the Mother of the Word Incarnate–bore to the tender Virgin, whose purity had never been tarnished by the slighest breath of evil, the joyful tidings that she was, while preserving the pearl of virginity, to become the Mother of God.
It was upon this day, then, that the Son of God assumed our human nature for the redemption and salvation of fallen man; and yet there is, in general, but too little attention devoted to the consideration of the mystery we commemorate thereon; for, by the greater number of Christians, it is regarded and celebrated simply as a feast in honor of Mary. But, in fact, it is the very corner-stone upon which rest all the other feasts,–commemorating, as it does, an event which can not fail to fill the human heart with adoration, gratitude, and the most intense consolation.
Every thing depended upon the decree of God whether, in His infinite mercy, He would be pleased to stretch forth His arm and rescue the human race from the abyss of a wretchedness too profound almost to be conceived. But, since “the angel of the Lord declared unto Mary” the message of salvation, and the Son of God assumed on that very day her flesh, everything was changed; and from the Feast of the Annunciation came forth Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and the eternal triumph of the Church.
Let us consider today the message of the angel to Mary in its divine sublimity, as well as in the importance with which it is invested for the children of men. O Mary, who was already full of grace when the angel saluted thee, and elected thee not only to become the Mother of God, but also Mother of all the children of God, accept us today as thy children! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
If, my beloved Christians, the words of the holy gospels–whenever we open the pages of the inspired volume, but especially when we hear them from the lips of the priest on the occasion of the celebration of the feasts of the Church–tend ever to inspire us with joy, and to elevate our hearts to God, this is especially true of the gospel which is set apart for this joyous day.
“At that time the angel Gabriel was sent to a town named Nazareth, to a Virgin called Mary.” Blessed words! for, as often as we hear them, the happy event which we commemorate today arises immediately before our eyes, clear and distinct, as if we had been present when the glory of the angel irradiated the humble little room at Nazareth. In spirit, we behold the Immaculate Virgin, united with her God in fervent prayer, oblivious of all but Him, when, lo! an angel of the Lord appeared before her. We can almost hear his voice, in the tones of which still linger the sweetness of that celestial music to which it were bliss to list.
We have every reason to learn and to ponder deeply upon the signification of this angelic message, which was a most holy, a most solemn, a most momentous, a most consoling, and joyful message, both for the Blessed Virgin and for her devoted children.
In every message the importance is increased or lessened according to the dignity of the sender. A message is brought to us by a relative, acquaintance, or inferior, and produces but little effect upon us; we may not even delay the messenger long enough to hear what he has to say.
But suppose a person of high rank has something to say to us,–a Prince, a King, an Emperor, the President, the Pope! With what consideration we treat the messenger! How very attentively we listen, that we may know precisely what he has to impart! Imagine, then, how important, and, at the same time, how holy, was the message of the angel! It came from the Most Holy Trinity–God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! It was the message of the Infinite Majesty, the most merciful sanctity of God to Mary, and, through her, to the entire human race!
It was a most solemn message. What invests a message with significance, is the form and manner in which it is transmitted. Here we behold an archangel–one of the seven princes of heaven–declaring the will of the Most High; and who can conceive what myriads of angels attended Gabriel when he presented himself before Mary, Queen of angels! Who can picture the profound respect with which he saluted her, in whom he already beheld the Mother of the Son of God made man! With what deep veneration he addressed her, the chosen one of all the daughters of Eve,–destined from all eternity to be exalted as mistress above the whole celestial choir!
It was a most momentous message, for the subject of a message is what constitutes its importance. It made known to the world, to the human race, that the possessions lost through Adam would be restored; it heralded a great victory gained over the enemy of souls; it announced that the foe, from whom death and destruction would surely come, was shorn of his terrible strength. Let us suppose that, being under sentence of death, we had been granted a reprieve, or rather that the sentence had been entirely revoked, and that we had come into the possession of a great fortune, by which our happiness is forever secured: would we not consider the message which brought us the news glad tidings of great joy?
Apply not one but all of these circumstances to the message conveyed to Mary by the angel, and we shall realize in some degree its stupendous character. Adam listened to the voice of the seducer, and his fall deprived his hapless posterity of their promised happiness,–that of being one day permitted to behold God face to face, in the possession and enjoyment of His beatitude and all the exquisite joys of heaven.
All this was lost. However, amid the gloom which, for four thousand years, hung over a world groveling in darkness and in sin, there glimmered one ray of light in the promise of a coming Redeemer; but the time set apart for the expected and desired event was yet unknown.Then, when the fullness of time was accomplished, Gabriel appeared and announced unto Mary that she had been appointed or chosen to become the Mother of the Messiah,–of that child whose birth was heralded to the watching shepherds by strains of angelic music, as the celestial choir adored the Infant God. Humanly speaking, mankind had indeed reason to be alarmed; for, although the promise of a Redeemer had already been made in paradise to our first parents, yet the wickedness which prevailed over the whole earth was so terrible, that man might well tremble lest the Lord should declare it to be forfeited entirely. He might well apprehend that it was a conditional promise; the more so since four thousand years had already rolled down the stream of time, and the Redeemer did not appear, while man, through his own fault, sank deeper and deeper into the abyss of sin! The word of the angel to Mary relieved the faithful few from this harrowing anxiety.
“The Saviour cometh!” We are rescued from sin and hell! From this day the heart of the Redeemer will throb beneath the loving heart of the Virgin Mother, who will present His first petition for the salvation of mankind to the eternal Father.
Joyful message, which brought such happy tidings to us! To regain, through Christ, the precious gift of heavenly grace; to become again, through Him, children of God; to behold the gates of heaven open for us, and to have it in our power to enjoy the delights of that celestial paradise for an eternity which will never, never end,–Mary for our Mother, and the Lord for our portion forever!
It is true that our individual sins had opened still wider the infernal gates, and made deeper far the yawning pit of hell; but, through the merits of Christ, the hope of a blessed pardon was held out to all “men of good will.”
The terrestrial paradise was lost, it is true; but in its place the kingdom of God on earth–the Church– would henceforth become for man a garden of delights. The sorrow, the pain, the anguish of earthly trouble must still encompass us, no longer, however, as punishments for sin, but to serve as occasions of merit for the increase of our eternal joy and happiness. The concupiscence of the flesh, indeed, should still remain a constant cause of warfare; but, as a compensation, the measure of grace would be so multiplied as to enable the Christian to valiantly combat and bear away the victor’s crown, and exalt his glory in heaven.The penalty of death had been pronounced upon man; but, through that dread decree, he can attain to the possession of a glory and delight which would never have been his had not Adam sinned in paradise.
In a word, infinitely more was conferred upon man through Christ, the Son of Mary, the heavenly Adam, than he lost through Adam, our first parent. We not only became again children of God, and gained once more the right to call Him Father; but we were permitted to call His Incarnate Son our Brother. For, since the Son of God assumed our flesh and blood from Mary, He is, therefore, true Man, even as from all eternity, in His own divine Person, He was and is God. Oh, what an important, what a welcome and consoling message!
All that can bring to the human heart the sweetest joy and solace is comprised in this message of the angel to Mary, as we will see if we take to heart all that has been said,–not merely hearing and believing it with a dead or dying faith, but also considering, and applying it to ourselves. In this, unfortunately, we are often wanting. Too many Christians are prone to celebrate the mysteries commemorated by the festivals of the Church only in their general relation, and not by reflecting what influence those articles of faith and divine truths should individually effect for us.
Yes, beloved in Christ, be ye who ye may, the message of salvation directed by Gabriel to Mary bears an individual relation to every one of you, even as if there had been but the one soul on earth for whose salvation the Saviour came. You were sunk deep in the abyss of woe, not only through the disobedience of Adam, but through innumerable personal sins, which threatened you with destruction for time and eternity. But the Saviour was conceived in the chaste womb of the Virgin Mary, and the lovely dawn of a blessed hope brightened the darkened world. This hope has a more secure foundation for you, since, without any merit of your own, you have been called to be members of the true Church.
Try, therefore, before you leave this holy place, to excite in your hearts all those affections which animated the heart of Mary on receiving the message of the angel. First, adore and thank God for having created you to His own image and likeness, and for having spared you when you were yet in a state of sin; but, above all, for having sent His only-begotten Son to redeem and save you. Renew your resolution to live as true children of God, as if Christ had been received into your hearts also as the pledge of a better life.
Thus you will become strong; and, although you may not have the happiness enjoyed by the Immaculate Virgin and Mother–of walking by the side of the Incarnate Son of God–you may, while living as her faithful children, enter one day into the communication of her glory and beatitude as children of God, also rescued through the incarnation of His eternal Son.–Amen!
“Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord;
be it done to me according to Thy word.”–Luke i, 38.
The glorious festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from one point of view, refers expressly and solemnly to the message of the angel to Mary; for that message contains precisely what, properly speaking, renders life valuable for us. As the Church entones in the Easter preface on Holy Saturday: “Of what use would it be to have been born, had we not had the happiness to be redeemed?”
The work of the redemption and delivery of man was destined to be accomplished through the incarnation of the Son of God. This divine truth, the personal union of our human nature with the second person of the Blessed Trinity, is the most stupendous fact which the omnipotence of God ever effected or could effect. Though He might call into existence myriads of worlds, the splendor of which would far surpass this globe of ours, such a proof of His power would never appear so incomprehensible to us, as, that God, in the might of His immutable and eternal nature, united Himself, in the course of time, with a creature–a created nature–and entered this world in suffering, and all for us!
This article of faith also points to the great mystery of the freedom of the will, which, however, without the concurrence of God, can do nothing, entirely nothing, absolutely nothing in the order of salvation; and this co-operation is required by God to enable us to participate in the fruits of the redemption. This will be understood when I say that the will remains perfectly free in spite of its total dependence upon God; and, therefore, man must, of his own voluntary choice, embrace the service of God.
Even from the Blessed Virgin Mary, God required consent before the incarnation of His divine Son took place; therefore, If we wish to participate in the fruits of incarnation, we must, with the dispositions of her most obedient heart, confess before God: “Behold the servant of the Lord; be it done to me according to His word!”
O Mary, obtain for us today from Jesus, the blessed Fruit of thy womb, the grace of perfect submission to the will of God! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
Christ was, upon one occasion, in company with Mary His mother, and other relatives according to the flesh, when His benign gaze rested suddenly upon them, and He gave utterance to the following words: “Whosoever doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven is my mother, my brother.” By these words Christ instructs us that there is a spiritual union regarding the effects of nature and grace, and that it depends on the co-operation of our free will as to how far we victoriously complete the great affair of our salvation, and, according to this measure, obtain a higher or lower degree of glory in heaven. I apply this truth to the event we celebrate today, and say: “As the Lord sent an angel to Mary with the message of salvation, so God sends to every human soul that same message, through a call to the Holy Catholic Church, through the interior encouragement of grace, and through exterior circumstances; and, as He looked for the consent of Mary from the angel, so does He require our consent to follow the call of grace by a free decision of will.” In this way, beloved in Christ, we shall spiritually receive Christ, as if He had been indeed born therein, and, by the continued co-operation of our will, He will grow in our hearts to the perfection of the life of grace. In this regard every thing depends on the sincerity, firmness, and fidelity of the will.
When the angel addressed Mary desiring her consent to become the mother of God–of the Son of God made man–it was not alone honor and glory which he offered her; for when that radiant being stood before her, she saw in spirit all the sacrifices, renunciations, mortifications, sufferings the most intense, and anguish the most bitter, which she would have to undergo in the days of her earthly pilgrimage, by becoming the mother of Jesus. She beheld the eve of the first Christmas, when she and her holy spouse, St. Joseph, two homeless wanderers, sought refuge in the stable at Bethlehem, because there was no room for them in the inn. The flight into Egypt, the weary, toilsome life which she, with her dear ones, led both there and at Nazareth, arose before her. And the vail of futurity was withdrawn that she might see the terror and grief which would overwhelm her soul when, later on, she would accompany her Son on His apostolic journeys through the land. All that the malice, obstinacy, and falsehood of His persecutors would cause that divine Son to suffer, she saw; and more than all, her spirit well nigh fainted within her when, in anticipation, her maternal heart was rent with the anguish of that dread day on which her Son would die. Ah! then indeed she felt the sharpness of that sword of grief which, according to holy Simeon, was to pierce her heart when she would receive the lacerated body of her beloved Son after He had expired upon the cross: and thus would be Mary the Queen of martyrs, the mother of Jesus, who is the King of martyrs!
The sacrifice which God required of her rose up in its might on that Feast of the Annunciation–in ages past and gone–and yet she hesitated not one moment in her submissive acceptance, but gave an immediate and decided consent, in those words which millions of devout Christians, her loving children, repeat whenever the Angelus bell peals forth at morning, noon, and eve: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Thy word.”
Let me make the application, and say that invitations are given to every human soul to enter into the bonds of fraternal relationship with Christ; but we must take special care to know how we can fulfill the holy will of God in the most perfect manner, that we may act ever as His own true children, and derive the richest fruits from the mystery we commemorate today. We must keep ever in view the important truth that if we would belong to Christ, imitate Him and secure our eternal salvation, we must live in a manner wholly different from the children of this world. We have not been placed upon earth to care for its perishable treasures, empty honors, and transitory joys. The watchword of our efforts to attain eternal life, whether we be wealthy or poor, blessed with health or afflicted with sickness, whether God in His goodness grants us “length of days,” or early calls us to Himself, should be: “Thy will be done.” “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to Thy word.” Beloved Christians, if, in accordance with this declaration the most holy will of God should please to deprive you of worldly wealth, or of what is more precious still, your honor, that fair fame which is so justly dear to your hearts; if you should even be covered with ignominy, and treated as the last of your kind, your unfaltering reply, when the bitter cup is held to your quivering lips, should be: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Thy word.”
Finally, if God should demand that in the performance of your daily duties your health and strength give way, and that you languish a helpless sufferer for years; nay, if He require the sacrifice of life itself, and that under the most painful circumstances, you should be ready to say with willing heart: “Father, Thy will be done.” “I am Thy servant, Thy handmaid; be it done to me according to Thy word.”
O happy, thrice happy the Christian whose heart is thus disposed; for the Saviour has indeed chosen it for his abiding-place, and Jesus will lead him on to the perfection of spiritual life! But take care lest Satan assume the garb of an angel of light, and deceive you, as he so often does, with those over whom he fears he has lost his power, and whom he tries to delude by such diabolical arts.
Mary, the most prudent Virgin, as she is styled by the Church, evinced, indeed, an eminent degree of prudence by her manner of testing the truth of the angelic message. “How can this be?” she said, “for I know not man; “and not until the satisfactory reply of the celestial guide was given did she utter the words which saved us from sin and hell. She had every reason to believe that it was an angel from heaven who appeared before her, and yet she was alarmed, and distrusted his address. What an example for us!
Those by whom we are surrounded, to whom we go for counsel, are men, frail and sinful men, liable to err,–wearing an appearance of zeal; but perhaps inwardly, they are devouring wolves. Prudence! Oh, how essential it is to the fulfillment, not of our own will but of the most holy will of God. True prudence we need; for there is no greater bar to our sanctification, and to the salvation of the Church in general, than its counterfeit which prevails to such an extent; that worldly prudence which, in all that concerns the salvation of our souls, means ruin. To one who has only earthly motives in view many things will seem but folly, and yet they are the very acme of prudence.
Many Christians, through human respect, or a fear lest others should be unwilling to assist them, refrain from soliciting their aid in some work for the honor of God; for example, the propagation of His kingdom on earth, the Holy Church. The angel who delivered the message to Mary, might well teach us a lesson of faith; for the miracle which he announced to the holy Virgin shows us that nothing is impossible with God. O children of the Holy Catholic Church! in this, our nineteenth century, millions of wonders effected by God are placed before our spiritual vision; if, then, we are convinced that this or that is truly the holy will of God, our own weakness should never for a moment be a cause of dejection or discouragement. The more unworthy we are in ourselves, the more resplendent will be the glorification of God, if, in spite of all impediments, the work is accomplished by us, and accomplished well. Therefore, in every event of life our watchword should be those words of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so touching in their humility, so admirable in their submission to the divine will: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done unto me according to Thy divine will!”–Amen!
“And the angel said to her: Hail full of grace: the Lord is with thee.”–Luke i, 28.
The beautiful festival which we celebrate today is called the Feast of the Annunciation; yet it might as fittingly be known as that of the Redemption of the World. The angel salutes Mary as the chosen Mother of the promised Messiah, who is now about to accomplish visibly on earth the work of the most merciful love of God for mankind, “in the fullness of time,” as the prophets of old predicted it centuries before.
To understand clearly the signification of this feast we must earnestly consider the aim and end of the whole creation, and what relation the grace of redemption bears to the fallen human race. The aim and end of the creation, my dearest Christians, is the exterior glorification of God.
The various relations of His infinite perfections toward creatures should serve as reflections of the different attributes of these infinite perfections.
We behold in the angelic world of heaven the infinite sanctity of God, while those fallen spirits who suffer in the abyss of hell reflect the infinite justice of their Sovereign Lord. The whole exterior visible world proclaims with many tongues His omnipotence, wisdom, benignity, and solicitude for the vast universe, and for every individual creature therein; but man was marked out as the object on which the infinite mercy of God was to celebrate His triumph. And this, indeed, was accomplished through Christ by His entrance into the world, by the welcome message which Gabriel on this blessed day brought to the Immaculate Virgin Mary.
This sublime truth affords a subject for the most consoling meditation if we but realize it in all its perfections. This, however, is the case with so few that I may venture to doubt whether one single child of the Church, among the many who listen to my words today, has ever considered, in its deepest meaning, the divine assurance and blessed hope with which this message is replete. Oh, how sweetly it whispers to our hearts that, by the redemption of the human race, the triumph of God’s infinite mercy has been achieved!
O Mary, Mother of mercy, pray for us that the triumph of this loveliest of God’s attributes may be celebrated in our hearts also! I speak in the most holy Name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
Is God merciful? Does He grant to the sinner a gracious pardon? To this none of us can give a final answer. Certainly He is, in the abstract, Infinite Mercy; and from the dark and drear abyss of chaos He has called the world into existence, and wishes to confer happiness upon those who will dwell therein. But should rational creatures, upon whom He has bestowed the precious gift of faith, dare to oppose His will and venture to transgress His divine commands, they have no right to expect forgiveness from an offended Majesty Who is under no obligation to evince His mercy to them. God is free. Of all the radiant angels who defied His wrath in heaven not one received forgiveness; nay, not one grace, which might have led them back, was vouchsafed to those rebel spirits–not one moment in which to repent and return to God; but when that daring thought of pride, which would fain have disturbed the peace of heaven, was consented to, the doom was sealed; the fiery sword of the sovereign justice flashed over the defiant host, and from the bliss of heaven they were hurled into the fathomless depths of hell. Therefore I say that, in regard to those sins which stain the hearts of the human race, we naturally ask the question: “Does God forgive our sins?” God alone can answer, and He has answered, and that more explicitly than is the case with any of His other divine attributes. Open the pages of the inspired volume, and read the assertions of Moses and the prophets,–those of the psalmist in the Old, and of Christ and His Apostles in the New Testament. In proof of this, I need only mention some of these solemn declarations of the Lord: “In that same hour when the sinner returns to Me his injustice shall no longer be remembered.” So says the Lord through the prophet Ezekiel. And again: ”Though your sins be red as scarlet, they shall become whiter than snow.” So has the Lord spoken by the prophet Isaias: “The wise man shall not glory in his wisdom.” So we read in another place: “Nor the strong one in his strength, only that he acknowledge Me, who am merciful and forgiving towards the sinner.” “As sure as I live,” says God the Lord, “I will not the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live.” “Praise the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever.” This we read in the one hundred and thirty-fifth psalm, and, indeed, throughout all the psalms we trace similar eulogies of the mercy of God; while in regard to the other divine attributes no such frequent praise ascends on high. And surely every Christian, especially every child of the Church, has had ample reason, in the course of his life, to be reminded of this boundless mercy; chiefly, however, when he intended to seek reconciliation with God in the Sacrament of Penance.
But how few have ever realized and considered in their hearts that the message of the angel declared the triumph of the infinite mercy of God in the redemption of man! To understand this clearly we must think well on the following questions, and consider the answers in every light. The first question is, “Who pardons?” The second, ” Who is pardoned?” The third, “What is pardoned?” and the fourth, “How is it pardoned?” To assign to the principal thought the most prominent place, I will say, that God wished to confer the gracious boon of pardon, but man seemed only anxious to thrust back the munificent bounty of the divine hand. Nevertheless, infinite mercy triumphed, and changed the poisonous stream of sin to a health-giving fountain, wherein the sinner may find balm for the most deadly wounds of the soul. Deny me not your closest attention to every word I may utter. Even as the sun, in his onward course, shines ever with more resplendent brilliancy until he has reached the zenith of his glory, so will you, if you follow the course of my remarks, obtain at their close a clear and luminous insight into what I wish to prove.
Now, then, the first question: “Who pardons?” God, the offended One; God, the infinite Majesty, Who has no need of us, whom He called into existence from nothing.
Second Question: “Whom does he pardon?” Man, the lowest of all the rational creatures, who offends again and again. From each of the nine celestial choirs some angels fell; yes, even Cherubim and Seraphim, and Lucifer himself, the brightest of all, was buried in darkness and despair. Not one of them found mercy, and yet they sinned but once, and that in thought.
Third Question: What does God pardon? Every sin, no matter how great; to every sinner who responds to the call of grace, and returning with heartfelt sorrow to the path of right, fulfills the conditions necessary for reconciliation with Him. Christians, consider for a moment all that is implied in the words: Every sin. There have lived on earth men who have outraged Christ in His own divine person, and this not upon Good Friday only, but over and over again in the long period of nineteen centuries. There have been wretches, so lost to every feeling of good, that they threw the Most Holy Sacrament on the ground, and trampling upon it with their unholy feet, outraged this precious legacy of Christ. Yet had they turned to God with truly repentant hearts, they would have found a loving welcome from Him Whom they had so deeply offended. No matter, then, how grievous or how numerous the sins, it is an article of faith that God is always ready to forgive the contrite sinner who has recourse to the Sacrament of Penance; for has He not said: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven?” “What sins ?” says St. Bernard. “No matter what! And what sinners?” The Lord makes no exceptions. But even that does not yet prove the triumph of the infinite mercy of God.
Listen to the fourth question and its answer: “How does God pardon?” God longed to forgive, but man arrayed himself against that infinite goodness, so that the offended One must make the advances, since, of himself, the offender can do nothing meritorious for eternal life. Infinite praise to infinite mercy! So full of love and compassion was the Lord that He took the first step towards rescuing us from everlasting woe. “When we were His enemies He loved us, and drew us mercifully to Himself,” as St. John assures us. But man did not respond. Bethlehem rejects Him, the symbolical meaning of which is this: In consequence of original sin every human being, from the moment of its conception, bears a heart fast closed against the Lord.
But, my dearest Christians, man’s ingratitude did not stop there; for St. Paul says: “We seized Him, dragged Him out of the city, and nailed Him to the cross,” that is, by our sins; for He, the Lamb of God, took upon Himself all the sins of the world; and the avenging arm of the justice of His heavenly Father was stayed. He sweats blood, He is scourged, crowned with thorns, spit upon, and treated in the most insulting manner; His sacred shoulders shrink from the weight of the cross, as amid the jeers and cries of the cruel mob His faltering steps go on to Calvary; He bends beneath the heavy load–He falls; a second, yes, even a third time, He sinks to the ground, and the avenging justice of His eternal Father is stayed; He is trampled under foot, they lay violent hands upon Him, and nail Him to the cross and as it is raised aloft, new torture is inflicted on the suffering Lamb of God, His wounds are opened afresh, until all that is human in Him can scarcely bear the pain. The angelic hosts are hovering near, and look with the tenderest compassion on the Son of God made man. They contemplate with deepest pity the awful sufferings by which the redemption of the human race is won. “O children of Adam!” they fain would cry–“for the sinful thought of a single moment the justice of God refused to spare our companions, and hurled them to the black abyss of a hell enkindled by the avenging breath of an outraged Deity; what then will become of you?”
Lucifer, surrounded by the infernal hosts, is at the foot of the cross. In their diabolical joy, what may have been their thoughts? Probably these:
“If we, for one single offense, were cast out of heaven, and doomed to burn forever in hell; if, for a rebellious thought, we have been punished by neverending torments, what will be the torture of that hell prepared for you, O recreant children of men?” Angels and devils look upon Jesus and are silent, awaiting the punishment which will surely be adjudged to the human race, and at last the livid lips of the Crucified One part to speak. Then do angels and demons expect to hear the words: “Father, I came to save, not only the just, but sinners, yet they rejected my bounty; they would not be saved, and now I give them over to you–to your infinite justice–punish them as you will.” But, no! such feelings had no place in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He prays for His enemies. He cries aloud: “Father, forgive!” Ah, then, what a grand triumphant cry breaks forth from the whole celestial choir, as the vail which had until now concealed the greatness of God’s mercy was removed, and they beheld it in all its infinity! When God created the visible world, holy Job tells us that the angels rejoiced at the result of His goodness, power, wisdom, and benignity; joyous was also the “Gloria” which floated over the midnight air when Christ was born; but beyond all these was the hymn of praise which the angels entoned in gratitude for God’s enduring mercy.
But Lucifer, and his fallen band retreat, and, frantic with rage and despair, bury themselves in the lowest depths of hell.
Then Jesus prays: “My God! my God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?” He, as it were, suffers the neverending pain which should be endured by every sinner, instead of by Him, the innocent Lamb of God. “I thirst.” Jesus offers Himself for the salvation of every soul that has been, or ever will be born, until the end of time. He longs for it. He thirsts for it upon the gibbet of the cross. “It is consummated! Father, into thy hands I commend My spirit.” The soul is about to leave that sacred body, the face assumes the livid hue of death; a soldier rushes up the mountain side and thrusts his spear into the Sacred Heart of Jesus; it opens, and, under the symbol of blood and water, rises from this precious wound the Holy Catholic Church. Even as from the side of the sleeping Adam, Eve came forth, so, from the heart of the heavenly Adam, as he fell asleep in death, there came forth this one true Church.
St. Peter compares her to the saving Ark. The very summits of the loftiest mountains were hidden beneath the surging waters of the deluge; from which we are to understand that, while God is willing to pardon man, He permits him to fall into an abyss of sin, such as no devil was ever guilty of. Lucifer, in his arrogant pride, said: “I will make myself like unto the Most High;” but St. Peter says in his first discourse on Pentecost: “But the Author of life you killed.” Deicide–attempted Deicide–is the crime of the human race against God. Oh, what a terrible crime! Yet, children of Adam, you still may hope. St. Paul says that Christ, in dying upon the cross, has destroyed sin through sin; which means that this atrocious crime, deicide, parricide, and fratricide combined, of which all sinners have been guilty–became for us, through God’s infinite mercy, the very source of Pardon! This is the infinite Triumph of the Divine Mercy.
“But Thou, O Lord, what dost Thou require from us that we may participate in the fruits of redemption? Is it not meet that we should suffer even as you have suffered; for “if such things be done in the green wood, what shall be done in the dry?” Listen to the sweet and loving reply from the Sacred Heart of Jesus: “Nothing!”–” Gratis redempti estis!” “Nothing– you are redeemed.” So it is. And if one of the murderers of our Lord had fallen at the feet of St. Peter on Pentecost and asked the prince of the Apostles: “What penalty must I suffer for that horrible crime?” the answer would have been: “No penalty! Offer to your crucified Lord the sorrow of a truly contrite heart.” “I baptize thee; ego te baptizo;” and in the same moment the soul of that sinner would have been pure and bright as the fairest angel of heaven, through the merits of Christ the Saviour. And even if, later on, that ungrateful man should crucify anew, in his forgetful heart, the Son of God, even then I say he need not despair.
ANd upon what conditions may the baptized sinner hope for pardon? The very same which earthly justice demands and requires to have a criminal delivered up to the law,– Confession. This self-accusation, joined to an act of sincere contrition, before the priest, as the representative of God, can rescue even the most abandoned sinners. This, beloved in Christ, is the triumph of the infinite mercy of God. The message which the Angel, on this auspicious day, brought to the Blessed Virgin Mary, reminds us of this glorious triumph, and three times a day does the Church recall it to our minds, with the wish that this threefold remembrance at morn, at noon, at eventide, should instill into our hearts a tender reverence and devotion for the great mystery which is commemorated by the feast we celebrate today. And with this devotion will spring up a feeling of the most intense gratitude to the Triune God, the Father who created us, the Son who redeemed us, and the Holy Ghost who sanctified us. Amen!
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