ON THE RULES PRESCRIBED BY JESUS CHRIST TO HIS FOLLOWERS
Consider first, the laws of the military discipline which Jesus Christ prescribes to all that desire to be soldiers, Matt. xvi 24, 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.' The observance of these three articles makes a complete soldier of Christ. We must renounce ourselves, we must bear our crosses, and we must walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. The corruption of man by sin, the wounds that sin has left in all the faculties of the soul, the violence of our disorderly passions, and the bent of our natural inclinations to evil, infer a necessity of renouncing ourselves, of fighting against ourselves, and of hating our natural inclinations, if we hope to be happy either here or hereafter. We have not a more dangerous enemy than ourselves, the devil himself cannot hurt us half so much as we hurt ourselves, when we follow our own will, and indulge our own inclinations. The denying, therefore, of ourselves, is the first article of unhappy self-love, the root of all our evils, and its three principal branches, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The Son of God came down from heaven to engage us in the holy warfare. The humility, the poverty, the voluntary sufferings of his birth, of his life, and of his death, were all levelled against these enemies.
Consider 2ndly, that the soldier of Jesus Christ must stand to his colours, he must not run from the cross; he must bear and forbear; he must endure many conflicts; he must patiently submit to, and courageously go through, the labours and hardships of this short campaign of his mortal life. He must not pretend to fare better than his captain and his king. All sufferings and hardships appear nothing to a brave soldier, when he is following his prince, and is happy in his company. The Christian soldier then, must be willing to carry his cross after Jesus Christ, who opened heaven to us by the cross, and conducts his soldiers thither by the way of the cross. Embrace then, O my soul, this happy instrument of thy salvation, in which, if thou bearest it in a proper manner, thou wilt find an inexhaustible source of grace and comfort. Embrace the holy will of God, which lays the cross upon thee, to bring thee to himself. He knows what is best for thee, because he is infinitely wise, and he sends thee what he knows is for the best, because he is infinitely good, and good to thee. Thou canst not be in a safer or better way than in the way of the cross, by which Jesus Christ and all his saints have gone to heaven. Even in this life, the true soldiers of Christ find often a greater sweetness in the cross, than in all the pleasure of this world.
Consider 3rdly, that the soldiers of Christ are all called, even as his first disciples were, to follow him; that is to walk in his footsteps by an imitation of his life. He came down from heaven to be our teacher, and our model, and it is the great duty of all that desire to belong to him, to copy after this blessed original, and to show forth in themselves the life of Jesus Christ; to learn of him to be meek and humble of heart; to learn of him poverty of spirit, a contempt of the honours, riches, and pleasures of this world, and a disengagement of the heart from all earthly things; to learn of him a horror of sin, and an obedience even unto death; in fine, to learn of him a perpetual conformity to the will of God, and an unbounded charity to every neighbour. Such was the life of Jesus Christ, and such ought to be the life of all his soldiers.
Conclude to embrace henceforward this discipline of Jesus Christ, in all its parts. It is a heavenly discipline indeed since he came down from heaven to teach it, and the observance of it is to bring us to heaven.
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 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.
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. Concludethen 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.
Consider first, that besides the great business of doing penance for the sins of the year, and of our whole lives, which is the main design of Lent, it is also instituted to be, in a particular manner, a time of devotion, in which we may worthily commemorate the sufferings and death of our Redeemer, and make them the subject of our daily meditation; in which also we may, by more than ordinary recollection and prayer, dispose our souls for duly celebrating the great Paschal solemnity, and imitating therein the resurrection of the Son of God, and in which we may in such manner cleanse and purify our souls by spiritual exercises as to be fit to approach worthily (as the Church commands us) to the divine mysteries at Easter. See, my soul, thou keep Lent in such a manner as to answer these ends.
Consider 2ndly, that Lent is a time which God particularly claims for himself as being the tithe of the year, which therefore ought to be set aside for him; and in the law he appointed that the tithes of all things should be sanctified to him, Levit. xxvii. And surely nothing could be more just than that we should offer our tithes at least to him that gives us all. How justly then, does he require of us the tithes of our years, by our dedicating these forty days, in a special manner, to his service? How religiously, then, and how holily, ought we to spend this time of Lent, that our performances may answer the great design of consecrating the tithe of the year to the divine service? An offering made to God ought to be without blemish: let our Lent offering be such.
Consider 3rdly, that the time of Lent ought to be for people that live in the world what a spiritual retreat is for regular communities; that is, a time in which, retiring as much as can be from the noise and distractions of the world, they may enter into themselves, and take a serious view of the whole state of their interior. Now is the time for them to see and examine how the soul stands affected, with relation to her God, to her neighbours, and to herself; how she acquits herself of all her duties, as well those incumbent on all Christians as those that are proper to her respective calling, or those relative to those under her charge. Now is the time to search diligently after such secret sins as are apt to lie lurking in the soul, disguised by some pretext of good, or wrapt up under the folds of self-love. In a word, now is the time to acquire a true knowledge of ourselves, in order to apply a proper remedy to all our evils, and to lay a solid foundation of a good life for the future.
Conclude to answer, in the best manner thou art able, all these ends of the institution of Lent, and particularly apply thyself at this time to take as it were in pieces the whole method of thy life, and to reform all that thou findest amiss.