N.B. That as Lent sometimes begins before the 20th of February, sometimes after - when it begins before, the meditations that are not read at this time are to be read in June, after the Octave of Corpus Christi; as on the other hand, when Lent begins later than the 20th of February, the meditations that will be wanting here, are to be taken out of the number of those that are placed in the month of June after the aforesaid Octave.
Here follow Meditations for the feasts of St. Matthias, St. Patrick, St. Joseph, and the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, which commonly fall in Lent.
Consider first, how our Lord, rejoicing in the Holy Ghost, Matt. xi. 25, &c., addressed himself to his heavenly Father in these words: 'I give thanks to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things (the great truths of the gospel) from the wise and prudent (of this world), and hast revealed them to little ones.’ And learn thou, my soul, to admire and adore in this, the wonderful ways of the wisdom of God, who ever resists the proud, and gives his grace to the humble, and therefore withdraws and hides himself and his truths from such as are puffed up with the conceit of their own wit or learning, or any other talents, whether natural or acquired; whilst he discovers his secrets to the little and humble, fills their souls with his heavenly light, and works his greatest wonders in them and by them. Thus he did with regard to his Apostles, and thus we shall generally find, that the humble and simple have been instruments in the hand of God, of all the great works he has wrought in the conversion and sanctification of souls. O blessed be his name for ever, who thus delights in showing his power in weak vessels, and chooses the contemptible things of this world to confound our pride! O teach me, dear Lord, to be ever little and humble!
Consider 2ndly, how sweetly our Lord, on the same occasion, invites us to himself; saying, 'Come to Me all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.’ Alas we all labour in this vale of tears: 'The days of this world are short and evil, full of sorrows and miseries, where man is defiled with many sins, ensnared with many passions, assaulted with many fears, disquieted with many cares, dissipated with many curiosities, entangled with many vanities, surrounded with many errors, broken with many hardships and fatigues, troubled with many temptations.’ Kempis. And is not this labouring and being heavy laden? Yes, there is, 'a heavy yoke, indeed, upon the children of Adam, from their coming out of their mother’s womb, until the day of their burial into the mother of all.’ Ecclus. xl. 1. But what remedy then for all these evils? We must run to Christ, and he will refresh us; he will comfort and relieve us. We must take up his yoke upon us, and he will rescue us from the slavery of sin and Satan; he will qualify all our other labours and miseries; he will give us the victory over all our passions and temptations and we shall find rest to our souls. For his yoke is sweet, and his burden light.
Consider 3rdly, that our Lord here invites us also to learn of him, to take him for our master and to become his scholars. A great honour indeed, to have the Son of God come down from heaven to be our teacher! But what then are we to learn of so great a master? Are we to learn of him to make heaven and earth; or to rule and govern the whole universe? Or, are we to learn of him to work all kind of miracles, and to raise the dead to life? O no: but we are to learn of him to be meek and humble of heart. This is the great lesson the King of heaven came down to teach us. In learning this we shall find a remedy for all our evils. No one but he could effectually teach us this lesson. Could we even raise the dead to life, it would be all nothing, without learning to be meek and humble of heart, and overcoming passion and pride.
Conclude, O my soul, to comply henceforward with this sweet summons and invitation of thy dear Lord, and to run to him, and to put thyself in his service: that with his gracious assistance, thou mayest cast off from thy shoulders the heavy yoke of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and take up his light yoke, and rest in him for ever.
Consider first, how much we owe to God for having called this nation, by the ministry of St. Patrick, from darkness and the shadow of death that is, from infidelity, idolatry, and vice, into his admirable light; and from being the seat of the reign of Satan, where he for so many ages had exercised his tyranny without control, to become an island of Saints! O! what ought to be then the devotion of this day! how ought we to glorify God for this inestimable benefit of our vocation, and for all those other unspeakable gifts and graces which have been derived from this source! What veneration do we not owe to this our blessed Apostle, whom our Lord has chosen to be his instrument in this great work; who by his labours, by his preaching, and by his prayers, first brought Christ amongst us, and who first opened to us, through Christ, the fountains of mercy, grace, and salvation, which flow to this day! O! let us praise the Lord in his Saints.
Consider 2ndly, in what manner God prepared St. Patrick for this admirable work, and by what steps he brought him on from virtue to virtue, till he was perfectly qualified for the Apostleship. His Providence ordained that in his tender years he should be carried captive into that very land which he was afterwards to deliver from the slavery of Satan. Here he not only became acquainted with the language and manners of the people, but what was of infinitely more advantage to him, learned to spend his whole time, night and day, whilst he tended his master’s cattle, in the exercises of prayer and penance; by which he laid a solid foundation for an apostolic life. After he was released from his slavery, and received amongst the clergy, he employed many years abroad, under the discipline of the most eminent servants of God, in order to dispose and qualify himself to answer that divine call, by which he had been invited to the conversion of the Irish, which he then took in hand, when after this long preparation, he received both his episcopal consecration and mission from the Vicar of Jesus Christ, St. Celestine, Bishop of Rome. Thus the Spirit of God, by a long course of spiritual exercises, fitted our Saint for the great work for which he designed him; thus he gradually took full possession of that soul, by which he was to bring so many thousand souls to be his eternal temples. See, Christians, by what kind of exercises, of retirement, penance, and long-continued prayer, you ought also to be prepared, if you hope the Spirit of God should do great things by you or for you.
Consider 3rdly, the admirable ways and means by which St. Patrick was enabled to bring over a whole nation from their errors and vices to the faith and light of the Gospel, in spite of all the opposition of the world, the flesh, and the devil. These were, principally, his ardent zeal for the glory of God, and the salvation of souls; his profound humility; his prayer which was most fervent and continual; and the Spirit with which he delivered the word of God. This word of God in his mouth was like a fire, which breaking forth from the great furnace of divine love which possessed his own breast, communicated its bright flames to the hearts of all that heard him, and won them over to Christ; his word was mighty to break in pieces even the hardest rocks, and to bring into captivity every understanding, and every will, to the obedience of Christ. See, ye ministers of God, by this example, by what kind of arms you are to bring souls to God; see by what kind of arms you are to overcome all opposition of the enemy, and effectually to establish the reign of Christ in those souls he has committed to our charge. True zeal, profound humility, a spirit of prayer, and a heart burning with ardent charity, will more effectually enable you to convert sinners, than if you were even to raise the dead to life. See, all ye Christians in general, in this great example of our Saint, what are the principal ingredients of true sanctity, and what are the virtues and exercises that will bring you also to be Saints. The zeal, or desire of pleasing God in all things, a sincere humility, fervent prayer, and true charity in both its branches, are necessary for all: these will surely make us Saints, and nothing less than these can secure the salvation of any one.
Conclude to offer up to God, on this day, a heart full of love and gratitude for the innumerable graces and blessings bestowed upon this island through the ministry of St. Patrick, and of that long train of Saints who have descended from him. Let us never degenerate from these our parents in Christ, or forget the glorious examples of their heroic virtues. O! who shall give us to see Ireland once more an island of Saints!
Consider first, the testimony that the Holy Ghost has given to the virtue and sanctity of St. Joseph, in telling us in the gospel that he was a just man. And doubtless the Almighty would never have made choice of any man to be the chaste bridegroom of the purest of virgins, and the foster-father and guardian of his own divine Son, that was not consummate in purity and sanctity. Learn from hence, Christian Souls, what kind of qualifications will make you also agreeable to Jesus and Mary. You will certainly drive them far away from you by criminal impurity. Admire the command St. Joseph had of his passions, in his joining perfect continency with the state of marriage; and in the evenness of soul, which he preserved under all events, how adverse soever; and learn of him to keep thy passions under subjection, and cheerfully to submit thy will on all occasions, to the appointments of heaven.
Consider 2ndly, the great examples St. Joseph has given us of all other virtues; his lively faith in a ready submission of his soul to the belief of the most difficult mysteries, relating to the incarnation of the Son of God; his ardent love of his dearest Jesus; his concern and tender care for him in his infancy and childhood; and his wonderful diligence in all that belonged to his charge; his meekness and charity to the blessed Virgin, when to his unspeakable surprise, he found her with child; his ready obedience, without demur or reply, to every intimation of the will of heaven, whatsoever hardships or labours it might put him to, as in the case of his flight into Egypt; his patience under afflictions and persecutions; his humble submission, notwithstanding his royal extraction, to the toil and labour of a handicraft, to gain a poor livelihood for himself and for Jesus and Mary, by the sweat of his brow; together with amiable simplicity in his whole comportment, and perpetual attention to God, by divine contemplation. Christians, let us imitate his virtues, whatsoever our station of life may be; we see by his example, that perfect sanctity may be found even in the midst of the distractions of a worldly calling, and that if we are not Saints, it is not the fault of our calling, but of our not corresponding with divine grace. St. Joseph found a great advantage to his soul from his having Jesus always in his company, and working with him. O let us also take care to have Jesus always with us, (wherever we are, or whatever we are doing,) by a spirit of recollection, and a constant attention to him, and never to drive him away by any sinful conversation, by entertaining his enemies in our interior, and we shall quickly be sensible of the fruits his presence will bring to our souls.
Consider 3rdly, and learn from the example of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, how great an error the world lies under, when it flies with so much eagerness from poverty and labour, as conceiving them to be great evils, which the wisdom of God made choice of for himself, for his blessed Mother, and his reputed father, and which they have consecrated by their life and practice. And for thy part, my soul, have another way of thinking; and if thy condition be that of the rich, be not puffed up with it, but rather humble thyself to see thou art so unlike to that blessed family, and fear the many dangers that riches are exposed to; despise not the poor, but ever honour and succour them, as the relations of Christ, or as Christ himself: thou hast his authority for doing so. If thou art poor, remember thou wearest the livery of Christ, and of his family; comfort thyself in the resemblance thou bearest to them; and take care lest, by thy murmuring or impatience, thou lose any of the advantages which thy state entitles thee to. If thou followest any trade or handicraft take St. Joseph for thy patron and for thy pattern. Thou seest, by his example, that sanctity is not inconsistent with thy business. But then take heed, lest by any fraud or injustice, or by any excessive solicitude for the things of this world, to the neglect of thy soul, thou banish Jesus from thy shop or house. Be sure to make him the companion of all thy labours, offer up all thou dost to him, and often entertain thyself with him. If God has blessed thee with children, take care, by an early diligence, to form Christ in them, by constantly instilling into their minds the fear and love of God, and the horror of sin; thus thou mayest, like St. Joseph, bring up Jesus in these little ones.
Conclude to honour St. Joseph, by an imitation of his virtues, and in order to this, implore the assistance of his prayers. His interest is great with our Lord, as St. Teresa declares she frequently experienced. Beg in particular his intercession for the obtaining of a happy death - St. Joseph was happy in death, by having our Lord and the blessed Virgin to attend and assist him. Let us, like him, keep ever close to them in life, and they will be with us in death.
Consider first, how the Angel Gabriel (Luke i. 26, &c.) ‘was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a Virgin, espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the Virgin’s name Mary. And the Angel being come in, said unto her, Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the Angel said to her, Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God: behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord shall give unto him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.’ Christians, give attention to this most sacred and most solemn embassage, sent from the King of heaven, not to any of the great ones or potentates of this world, but to a poor and humble maid, to treat with her upon the highest matters, even upon the great business of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the establishment of his everlasting kingdom, and the redemption and salvation of man. Admire and adore the depth of the wisdom of the ways of God, (so much exalted above the maxims and ways of the worldly wise,) by which he is pleased to bring about such great things, without noise or pomp, in so humble a manner, and by such humble instruments. And give thanks for that infinite goodness and love for us, which he has shown in the mystery of this day.
Consider 2ndly, the great lessons the blessed Virgin teaches us, by her whole comportment on this occasion. She is favoured with an embassage from God; she is greeted by one of the highest of the Angels, as full of divine grace; she is told that the Lord is with her, and that she is blessed among all women; and instead of being puffed up with these high favours, or taking any vain complacency in these titles and encomiums, she is troubled at the words of the Angel, and through the humble sentiments she has of herself, wonders what should be the meaning of such a salutation. She is assured by the Angel that she has found grace with God, and is chosen by him to conceive and bear the Saviour of the world, even the Son of the Most High; and so great is her love for virginal purity, that she is ready to forego the dignity of Mother of God, rather than part with her virginity. How shall this be done, (saith she,) because I know not man? being consecrated by vow to God, and determined to keep my vow. The Angel informs her, that she shall conceive by the Holy Ghost, and be over-shadowed by the power of the Most High, so as still to remain a pure maid. And then with a most profound humility, and a most perfect oblation of herself to God, and an entire conformity to his blessed will, she cries, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord! be it done to me according to thy word!’ Let us study well, and learn of her the practice of these great lessons of humility, love of purity, and perfect resignation of ourselves to the will of God.
Consider 3rdly, how as soon as the blessed Virgin had thus given her consent, she immediately conceived by the Holy Ghost, who by his almighty power, formed a body out of her purest blood, and created an immortal soul for that body; and this body and soul were in that instant assumed, and united to the eternal Word, the Son of God, the second person of the adorable Trinity. And thus we celebrate, in the Virgin’s womb, the sacred wedding of our human nature with the divine person of the Son of God, to the feast of which we are invited, Matt. xxii. - 'Thus the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt amongst us,’ St. John i. 14. This great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God is the original source of all our good; in making God man, it has made man God. The Son of God, by taking upon him our humanity, makes us partakers of his divinity. He comes to be our Saviour and our Redeemer, to deliver us from all our evils; he comes to be our advocate, and our physician; he comes to be our father and our friend; he comes to be our king and our priest, and to make us kings and priests to his Father. He stoops down to our dust, to raise us up from the dust, and to bring us to sit down with him on his throne, Apoc. iii. 21. See then, my soul, in what manner thou oughtest to celebrate this great festival of the conception of the Son of God! what homage and adoration, what praise and thanksgiving thou owest him for these wonders he has wrought in thy favour! what return of love for his love to thee! O welcome him at least to the best of thy power; and since he comes to dwell amongst us, beg he would accept of the lodging of thy heart.
Conclude to keep for ever in thy soul, a faithful, grateful, and loving remembrance of the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, and a sincere affection for his Virgin Mother; and with these dispositions, frequently in the day repeat the angelical salutation, more especially at the regular hours in the morning, noon, and night.
Consider first, how God calls upon us, by his Prophet, in the lesson of this day: 'Be converted to me,’ saith he, 'with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning - and rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God,’ Joel ii. 12,13. Christians, hearken to this summons from heaven. O let it sink deep into your souls; and if this day you hear the voice of God sweetly inviting you, turn to him in good earnest; now at this holy season harden not your hearts, lest provoked by your impenitence he turn away from you, and you die in your sins. O let us repeat and amend, as we are admonished by the Church on this day, whilst we have time, lest being overtaken by death, which is ever following at our heels, we should seek for time of penance, and not be able to find it.
Consider 2ndly, the meaning of the ashes which are put on our heads this day with these words: 'Remember that thou art dust; and into the dust thou shalt return.’ Sackcloth and ashes were the ancient habit of penitents. The Ninevites by fasting in sack-cloth and ashes found mercy. Let these ashes then, which we receive on our heads at the beginning of this penitential fast, be a lesson to us to enter upon it with the like penitential spirit. They are an emblem of contrition and humility; let us receive them with a contrite and humble heart. They are also a remembrance of our mortality, of our frail composition, and of our hasty return to our mother earth. O let us think well on this, and renounce henceforward our unhappy pride and presumption; O let us make good use of this our time, and prepare for that moment which shall ere long send away our souls into another region, and turn our bodies into dirt and dust.
Consider 3rdly, Christian soul, those words, as if, they were addressed to thee: ‘Yet forty days and Nineve shall be destroyed,’ Jonas iii. 4. Alas have not thy sins, like those of Nineve, called to heaven this long time for vengeance? And hast thou not too much reason to fear, lest the mercy which thou hast so long abused should now quickly give place to justice, and should suffer thee to die in thy sins? Perhaps this is the last reprieve that God will grant thee. In all appearance the good use, or the abuse of these forty days, may determine thy lot for an eternity.
Conclude then to spare no pains to avert the judgment that hangs over thy head, and so spend these forty days of reprieve in suing for mercy, after the manner God has appointed, that is, by fasting, weeping, and mourning, that thou mayest effectually find it.
Consider first, how much fasting is recommended to us in the word of God by the great example of Christ and of his Saints, as well of the Old as of the New Testament; how we are there called upon to turn to God with fasting, Joel ii.; how the greatest sinners have there found mercy by fasting, Jonas iii.; how we are there taught that all Christ’s children are to fast during his absence from us, St. Matt. ix. 15; and that the devil is not to be cast out but by prayer and fasting, St. Mark ix. 28. Man fell from God originally by intemperance; he returns to him by fasting. The gratifying of our sensual appetite betrays us both to the flesh and to the devil; we overcome them both by fasting; by which (as the Church daily inculcates in the preface for Lent) God restrains our vices and passions, elevates our souls to himself and bestows upon us his heavenly gifts and graces. O happy fasting which drivest away all our evils, healest both soul and body, and bringest us to our Sovereign God!
Consider 2ndly, that there are three great advantages found in fasting. First, it appeases the wrath of God provoked by our sins; inasmuch as by fasting for them we acknowledge our guilt, and take part with his justice, in condemning and punishing ourselves. For there is nothing sooner moves God to show us mercy than the homage we pay to his justice, by exercising a wholesome severity against the wretch that has dared to offend God. O let us conceive a just indignation against this sinful flesh! Let us not spare the traitor that has so often betrayed us into sin! Let a penitential fast be our regular exercise.
Consider 3rdly, that another great advantage of fasting is that we are enabled by it to overcome our passions and concupiscences. Fasting, when performed with a due spirit, humbles the soul exceedingly, and consequently restrains the irregular motions of all the passions that are the daughters of pride. It keeps the flesh in subjection, by depriving it of the principal nourishment of its rebellions and disorders, and obliges it to submit to the spirit. And, which is a third advantage, in proportion to its weakening the passions of the flesh, it gives strength and vigour to the soul; sets it at liberty from the clogs that hinder its free application to heavenly truths; and enables it to fly upwards towards God, by purer prayer and contemplation.
Conclude to set a due value on this wholesome exercise, which has been the favourite of all the Saints, and has greatly contributed to make them the favourites of heaven. But take care that your fasting be accompanied with its proper attendants, that it may be such a fast as God hath chosen.
Consider first, that fasting, according to the present discipline of the Church, implies three things. First, we are to abstain from flesh meat on fasting days; secondly, we are to eat but one meal in the day; and thirdly, we are not to take that meal till about noon. The ancient discipline of the Church was more rigorous, both in point of the abstinence, and in not allowing the meal in Lent till the evening. These regulations are calculated to mortify the sensual appetite by penance and self-denial. If you find some difficulty in the observance of them, offer it up to God for your sins. Fasting is not designed to please, but to punish. Your diligent compliance on this occasion with the laws of your mother the Church will also give an additional value to your mortifications, from the virtue of obedience.
Consider 2ndly, that we must not content ourselves with the outward observance of these regulations that relate to our diet on fasting days, but we must principally have regard to the inward spirit, and what we may call the very soul of the fast, which is a penitential spirit; without this the outward observance is but like a carcass without life. This penitential spirit implies a deep sense of the guilt of our sins; a horror and a hearty sorrow for them; a sincere desire to return to God, and to renounce our sinful ways for the future; and particularly a readiness of mind to make the best satisfaction we are capable of to divine justice by penancing ourselves for our sins. Fasting, performed in this spirit, cannot fail of moving God to mercy. O my soul, let thy fasting be always animated with this spirit
Consider 3rdly, that fervent prayer and alms-deeds also, according to each one’s ability, ought to be the inseparable companions of our fasting. These three sisters should go hand-in-hand, Tob. xii. 8, to help us in our warfare against our three mortal enemies, the flesh, the world, and the devil. The practice of these three eminent good works we must oppose to that triple concupiscence which reigns in the world, and by means of which Satan maintains his unhappy reign. By fasting we overcome the lusts of the flesh by alms-deeds we subdue the lusts of the eyes, by which we are apt to covet the mammon of the world, and its empty toys; and by fervent and humble prayer we conquer the pride of life, and put to flight the devil, the king of pride. O let us never forget to call in these powerful auxiliaries to help us in our warfare. Let alms-deeds and prayer ever accompany our fasts.
Conclude to follow these rules, if you desire your fast should be acceptable; if you fail in them, it will not be such a fast as God hath chosen.
Consider first, that the great and general fast of a Christian is to abstain from sin. This fast obliges all sorts of persons, young and old, sick and healthy, at all times and in all places. To pretend to fast, and yet to go on in wilful sin, is a mockery rather than a fast. What were the Pharisees the better for their fasting, while their souls were corrupted with pride, covetousness, malice, and hypocrisy? Did not God reject the fast of the Jews, (Isaias lviii.) because on the days of their fasting, they continued to provoke him by their customary sins? And will he be better pleased with us, if we in pretending to fast are guilty of the like disorders? No certainly. If then we would fast to the purpose, ‘Let the wicked man forsake his way, and the unjust man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and then he will have mercy upon him.’ Isaias lv. 7.
Consider 2ndly, that the true Christian fast should not only put a restraint upon the sensual appetite, in point of eating, but also extend itself to a more general mortification of every one of the senses and faculties, in and by which, we have been liable to intemperance or excess. The eyes, the ears, the tongue, and so of all the rest, ought likewise to fast from curiosity, sensuality, vanity, carnal pleasures, idle conversations, theatrical shows, and other worldly and sensual diversions unbecoming a serious Christian penitent at all times, but much more so on days of fasting. But especially we are warned, Isaias lviii. 3, on the days of our fasting, to fast from our own will, humour, and passion, as that which of all things is the most opposite to the fast which God hath chosen. O my soul, see thou take good notice of this lesson; beware lest thou break thy fast, by indulging self-will, pride, and passion.
Consider 3rdly, and weigh well the description given by the prophet Isaias, ch. lviii., of the fast that is acceptable to the Lord, and of its happy effects in the soul. ‘Is not this,’ said the Lord, 'the fast that I have chosen? Loose the bands of wickedness - and break asunder every burden. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house; when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall hear, &c., if thou wilt take away the chain out of the midst of thee, and cease to keep that which is good for nothing. Then thou shalt pour out thy soul to the hungry, and shalt satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy light rise up in darkness: and the Lord will give thee rest continually, and fill thy soul with brightness: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a fountain whose waters shall not fail.’
Conclude ever to make it the great business of thy fast to break thy bonds asunder, and to put away from thee the chains of sin, and then, by exercising works of mercy, thou thyself shalt be entitled to mercy, and to all that is good.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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