Eighteenth Conference on the Most Sacred Heart
Fr. Henry Brinkmeyer
Our Lord's satisfaction was perfect; He atoned for all sins. He suffered for all men. Yet, despite the fullness of His atonement, all men are not forgiven, and, even when sin is forgiven, reparation frequently remains due. Christ's satisfaction, then, must be applied to men in certain ways, under certain conditions. The Holy Scripture renders ample testimony to the truth of this teaching.
In his epistle to the Ephesians (1:23) and again in that to the Colossians, Saint Paul touches upon a profound mystery. He says that the Church is a mystical body of which we are the members, but Christ is the Head, and the Holy Ghost the Soul of that body. The life of the Head becomes the life of the members, and it is the Holy Ghost who transmits to the members this life of the Head, its virtues, its powers, its merits, its graces. The members do not live and cannot live except by reason of the Head, just as the branches cannot live and bear fruit except by reason of the vine and its sap. "Without Me you can do nothing," says our blessed Saviour.
Observe, however, that immediately after comparing the Church to a perfect organism, Saint Paul lays down this other truth: that the members must labor in union with the Head for the growth of the whole body. These are his words:
By doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in Him who is the head, Christ; from whom the whole body being compacted and fitly joined together, by what every joint supplieth, according to the operation in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in charity.
Faith without good works is dead and of no avail; it must be a living faith. The just man liveth by faith. And if, after being justified, he falls into sin, he must repent of his sin and acknowledge it in the tribunal of penance, otherwise life will not be returned to his soul. That is to say, each member of that mystical body must participate in the life of its Head. Jesus prayed, man too must pray; Jesus labored, man too must labor. Ordinarily speaking, on adults the graces of the sacraments will not be bestowed, unless the recipient does his share by way of preparation. Jesus did penance, man too must do works of penance.
Unless you do penance, you shall all likewise perish.
Jesus denied Himself; man, too, must deny himself. Jesus suffered; man, too, must suffer.
If any man will come after Me, let him take up his cross daily, and follow Me.
But must this be voluntary suffering? That is, must every Christian of his own accord, inflict some species of pain upon himself? It is sufficiently evident that we must practice self-denial in order to fortify our souls for temptations, that we must separate ourselves from occasions of sin, that we must fulfill the various duties of our state of life, that we must observe the laws of the Church and of all duly appointed authority, that we must accomplish the penances imposed upon us in Sacramental Confession, that we must endure the annoyances, sicknesses and afflictions which are incident to human life: all this is evident enough: but are we bound under pain of sin to do more,to gain indulgences, for instance, in order to remove the punishment still due to our forgiven sins? I do not know of any theologian who maintains this opinion. We are not bound under pain of sin to make for ourselves a purgatory in this world. God is so good that He does not bind us under penalty of new sin to remove all the punishment remaining due to pardoned sins: yet it is equally true that He wills us to satisfy for our sins, that He wills us to unite our satisfactions to those of His beloved Son, that He is pleased to see us enter into the designs of His justice and seek to satisfy it, and that, though He loves the soul which must wing its flight to purgatory, He necessarily loves more tenderly that soul which owes nothing to His justice, for He loves His justice as He loves His mercy.
He is the God who desires order and harmony, He is the Father who wishes to unite His children to Himself in heaven, and He must necessarily be displeased with all that breathes of disorder and hate every obstacle between Him and those He loves. How true, therefore, these words of Saint Gregory the Great, which the Church requires every priest to read in the office of the fourth Sunday of Advent.
Bring forth worthy fruits of penance. I say worthy fruits of penance, for he who has sinned much should repent much, and in as far as he has allowed himself illicit things, in so far should he deprive himself of licit things.
Whoever, therefore, has once sinned mortally against his Creator, can never punish himself too severely for his crime, and, if he will, he can justly deprive himself of every comfort and pleasure.
So far, we have seen that adults must exert themselves in various ways in order that the merits of Christ's death be applied to their souls. But does this rule also hold, if we wish to benefit the souls of others? Is penance, expiation, reparation, necessary, that we draw down graces upon those who do not repent of their sins and offer atonement for them?
Labor is necessary, that is evident. Even the apostles had to travel from place to place, to preach in season and out of season, to reproach, correct, reprove, without ceasing, to be ridiculed, hated, persecuted, imprisoned. Labor is equally necessary in these latter days. Priests are not only the dispensers of the mysteries of God, they are also preachers, teachers, shepherds, guardians, rulers of their flocks. A ceaseless round of external duties engages the attention of those who are charged with the care of souls.
Prayer likewise is necessary. The apostles ordained deacons that they might give themselves more freely to prayer and preaching. Saint Paul begs for himself the prayers of the faithful. Again and again, the Holy Ghost by the voice of the Scriptures exhorts us to pray for one another, to pray for all men.
Is suffering also necessary that the merits of Christ be applied to our souls? Yes. I prove it, first, from the fact that the Church is a mystical body. We are the members. We must, then, assist one another; the strong must help the weak; the agile must support the lame and the halt, every joint supplieth and maketh increase of the body to the edifying itself unto charity. When one organ of a body suffers, all the other organs do their utmost to relieve the sufferings of the wounded member.
I prove it, secondly, from the words and conduct of Saint Paul. He tells us he makes up for what is wanting of the sufferings of Christ, that the Church may grow and that sinners may be converted. The sufferings of Christ are wanting, are deficient according to the Apostle. He, too, must suffer in many watchings, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness, in prisons, in stripes, In death. Why? To save the souls of Jews and Gentiles.
I prove it, thirdly, from the history of God's dealings with individuals and nations. He required not only prayer, a sorrow for the past and a newness of life, but a prayer and a sorrow that impelled to works of penance, and of steadfast penance. Job did penance in dust and ashes, so did David, Manasses, and the Ninivites. In the prophecy of Joel, "The Lord saith: Be converted to Me with all your heart in fasting, in weeping and in mourning." And you remember when Amalec fought against Israel in Raphidim, Moses prayed with uplifted hands. When he be sought God thus, Israel overcame, but "if he let them down a little, Amalec overcame." All day did Moses pray thus and his arms grew weary, but Aaron and Hur stayed them up on both sides. The prayer of penance was mighty, the enemy fled, and victory crowned the arms of Israel.
Yes, penance was necessary. The same truth may be proved from the constant tradition in the Church, and from the practice and maxims of all the saints. How often do we not read in the lives of the servants of God that when they desired to convert a hardened sinner, to remove a grievous scandal, or to obtain a signal grace, they not only prayed, but fasted, deprived themselves of sleep, scourged themselves to blood, and then imitated the example of our Lord, "Who in the days of His flesh with a strong cry and tears" offered Himself to His Father that for men He might be "the cause of eternal salvation."
He loved us and delivered Himself for us to be our example in time and our blest reward in eternity. Truth is the same yesterday, today and forever: its principles have their source in Him who is the Immutable. The infinite Majesty, having been outraged by sin, must be appeased in every age, and by every man born into the world. God exacts atonement in the Person of His Son, and He exacts it of all upon whom rests the curse in Adam. Penance, reparation is what our Eucharistic Lord requires.
Weep not over Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.
Fill up those things which are wanting of the sufferings of Christ. As of old, so now, do penance. Of old all the people cried to the Lord with great earnestness and they humbled their souls in fastings and prayers, both they and their wives. And the priests put on haircloth and they caused the little children to lie prostrate before the temple of the Lord, and the altar of the Lord they covered with haircloth. And they cried to the Lord, the God of Israel, with one accord, that their children might not be made a prey, and their wives carried off, and their cities destroyed, and their Holy Things profaned, and that they might not be made a reproach to the Gentiles. And God had mercy with regard to the evil which He had said that He would do to them, and He did it not.
If we, too, would avert the evils impending because of our iniquities, we must take up our cross and look out for the Divine footprints as we ascend the mountain of life's sacrifice. We must climb its rugged heights in our day, even as the servants of God have ever done.
The law of suffering is a bitter yoke and its burden is a weary weight to bear, but we may find strength for our faltering steps along our cross-strewn way! Again and again, let us rest our thoughts upon the Sacred Heart; let us study Its hatred of sin, Its devotedness, Its self-sacrifice; let us meditate upon that love which lays down life for a friend; let us understand Its all-absorbing love for the Father and for that Father's will and glory. Devotion to the Sacred Heart will cast a ray of beautiful light through the valleys of grief, tinge with heavenly brightness the rugged mountain paths of self-denial and abnegation, and help us to look out with larger trust for the promised rewards of God. Yes, under the influence of devotion to the Sacred Heart, prayer is a more intimate communion of heart with heart, labor imparts new dignity to our life, and penance becomes a bundle of myrrh precious to him who bears it, and precious and comforting as soothing balm to the Heart pierced for us on Calvary.