(LifeSiteNews) — We have seen with what fidelity the Holy Ghost has fulfilled, during all these past ages, the mission He received from our Emmanuel, of forming, protecting and maintaining His spouse the Church. This trust given by a God has been executed with all the power of a God, and it is the sublimest and most wonderful spectacle the world has witnessed during the eighteen hundred years of the new covenant.
This continuance of a social body – the same in all times and places – promulgating a precise symbol of faith which each of its members is bound to accept – producing by its decisions the strictest unity of religious belief throughout the countless individuals who compose the society – this, together with the wonderful propagation of Christianity, is the master-fact of history.
These two facts are not, as certain modern writers would have it, results of the ordinary laws of providence; but miracles of the highest order, worked directly by the Holy Ghost, and intended to serve as the basis of our faith in the truth of the Christian religion. The Holy Ghost was not, in the exercise of His mission, to assume a visible form; but He has made His presence visible to the understanding of man, and thereby He has sufficiently proved His own personal action in the work of man’s salvation.
Let us now follow this divine action, not in its carrying out the merciful designs of the Son of God, who deigned to take to Himself a spouse here below, but in the relations of this spouse with mankind. Our Emmanuel willed that She should be the mother of men; and that all whom He calls to the honor of becoming His own members should acknowledge that it is She who gives them this glorious birth. The Holy Ghost, therefore, was to secure to this spouse of Jesus what would make Her evident and known to the world, leaving it, however, in the power of each individual to disown and reject Her.
It was necessary that this Church should last for all ages, and that She should traverse the earth in such wise that Her name and mission might be known to all nations; in a word, She was to be Catholic, that is, universal, taking in all times and all places. Accordingly, the Holy Ghost made Her Catholic. He began by showing Her, on the day of Pentecost, to the Jews who had flocked to Jerusalem from the various nations; and when these returned to their respective countries, they took the good tidings with them. He then sent the apostles and disciples into the whole world, and we learn from the writers of those early times that a century had scarcely elapsed before there were Christians in every portion of the known earth. Since then, the visibility of this holy Church has gone on increasing gradually more and more.
If the divine Spirit, in the designs of His justice, has permitted Her to lose Her influence in a nation that had made itself unworthy of the grace, He transferred Her to another where She would be obeyed. If, at time, there have been whole countries where She had no footing, it was either because She had previously offered Herself to them and they had rejected Her, or because the time marked by providence for Her reigning there had not yet come. The history of the Church’s propagation is one long proof of Her ever living and of Her frequent migrating. Times and places, all are Hers; if there be one when or where She is not acknowledged as supreme, She is at least represented by Her members; and this prerogative, which has given Her the name of Catholic, is one of the grandest of the workings of the Holy Ghost.
But His action does not stop here; the mission given Him by the Emmanuel in reference to His spouse obliges Him to something beyond this; and here we enter into the whole mystery of the Holy Ghost in the Church. We have seen His outward influence, whereby He gives Her perpetuity and increase; now we must attentively consider the inward direction She receives from Him, which gives Her unity, infallibility, and holiness – prerogatives which, together with Catholicity, designate the true Spouse of Christ.
The union of the Holy Ghost with the humanity of Jesus is one of the fundamental truths of the mystery of the Incarnation. Our divine mediator is called “Christ” because of the “anointing” which He received; (Psalm 44:8) and His anointing is the result of His humanity’s being united with the Holy Ghost. (Acts 10:38) This union is indissoluble: eternally will the Word be united to His humanity; eternally, also, will the Holy Spirit give to this humanity the anointing which makes “Christ.” Hence it follows, that the Church, being the body of Christ, shares in the union existing between its divine head and the Holy Ghost. The Christian, too, receives, in baptism, an anointing by the Holy Ghost, who, from that time forward, dwells in Him as the pledge of His eternal inheritance: (Ephesians 1:13) but, whilst the Christian may, by sin, forfeit this union which is the principle of his supernatural life, the Church Herself never can lose it. The Holy Ghost is united to the Church for ever; it is by Him that She exists, acts, and triumphs over all those difficulties to which, by the divine permission, She is exposed while militant on earth.
St. Augustine thus admirably expresses this doctrine in one of his sermons for the feast of Pentecost:
The spirit, by which every man lives, is called the soul. Now, observe what it is that our soul does in the body. It is the soul that gives life to all the members; it sees by the eye, it hears by the ear, it smells by the nose, it speaks by the tongue, it works by the hands, it walks by the feet. It is present to each member, giving life to them all, and to each one its office. It is not the eye that bears, nor the ear and tongue that see, nor the ear and eye that speak; and yet they all live; their functions are varied, their life is one and the same.
So is it in the Church of God. In some saints, She works miracles; in other saints, she teaches the truth; in others, She practices virginity; in others, She maintains conjugal chastity: She does one thing in one class, and another in another; each individual has his distinct work to do, but there is one and the same life in them all. Now, what the soul is to the body of man, that the Holy Ghost is to the body of Christ, which is the Church: the Holy Ghost does in the whole Church what the soul does in all the members of one body. (Sermon 267, In die Pentecostes)
Here we have given to us a clear exposition by means of which we can fully understand the life and workings of the Church. The Church is the body of Christ, and the Holy Ghost is the principle which gives Her life. He is Her soul – not only in that limited sense in which we have already spoken of the Soul of the Church, that is, of Her inward existence, and which, after all, is the result of the Holy Spirit’s action within Her – but He is also Her soul, in that Her whole interior and exterior life, and all Her workings, proceed from Him. The Church is undying because the love which has led the Holy Ghost to dwell within Her will last forever: and here we have the reason of that perpetuity of the Church, which is the most wonderful spectacle witnessed by the world.
Let us now pass on, and consider that other marvel, which consists in the preservation of unity in the Church. It is said of Her in the Canticle: “One is my dove; my perfect one is one.” (Song of Solomon 6:8) Jesus would have but one, and not many to be His Church, His spouse: the Holy Ghost will therefore see to the accomplishment of His wish. Let us respectfully follow Him in His workings here also. And firstly; is it possible, viewing the thing humanly, that a society should exist for eighteen hundred years and never change? Nay, could it have continued all that time, even allowing it to have changed as often as you will? And during these long ages, this society has necessarily had to encounter, and from its own members, the tempests of human passions, which are ever showing themselves, and which not infrequently play havoc with the grandest institutions.
It has always been composed of nations, differing from each other in language, character, and customs; either so far apart as not to know each other, or when neighbors, estranged one from the other by national jealousies and antipathies. And yet, notwithstanding all this – notwithstanding, too, the political revolutions which have made up the history of the world – the Catholic Church has maintained Her changeless unity: one faith – one visible head –one worship (at least in the essentials) – one mode for the deciding every question, namely, by tradition and authority. Sects have risen up in every age, each sect giving itself out as “the true Church:” they lasted for a while, short or long, according to circumstances, and then were forgotten.
Where are now the Arians with their strong political party? Where are the Nestorians, and Eutychians, and Monothelites, with their interminable cavillings? Could anything be imagined more powerless and effete than the Greek schism, slave either to Sultan or czar? What is there left of Jansenism, that wore itself away in striving to keep in the Church in spite of the Church? As to Protestantism – the produce of the principle of negation – was it not broken up into sections from its very beginning, so as never to be able to form one society? And is it not now reduced to such straits that it can with difficulty retain dogmas which, at first, it looked upon as fundamental – such as the inspiration of the Scriptures, or the divinity of Christ?
While all else is change and ruin, our mother the holy Catholic Church, the one spouse of the Emmanuel, stands forth grand and beautiful in Her unity. But how are we to account for it? Is it that Catholics are of one nature, and sectarians of another? Orthodox or heterodox, are we not all members of the same human race, subject to the same passions and errors? Whence do the children of the Catholic Church derive that stability which is not affected by time, nor influenced by the variety of national character, nor shaken by those revolutions that have changed dynasties and countries? Only one reasonable explanation can be given – there is a divine element in all this. The Holy Ghost, who is the soul of the Church, acts upon all the members; and as He Himself is one, He produces unity in the body He animates. He cannot contradict Himself: nothing, therefore, subsists by Him which is not in union with Him.
Tomorrow, we will speak of what the Holy Ghost does for the maintaining faith, one and unvarying, in the whole body of the Church; let us today limit our considerations to this single point, namely, that the Holy Spirit is the source of external union by voluntary submission to one center of unity. Jesus had said: “Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church.” (Matthew 16:18) Now, Peter was to die; the promise, therefore, could not refer to His person only, but to the whole line of His successors, even to the end of the world. How stupendous is not the action of the Holy Ghost, who thus produces a dynasty of spiritual princes, which has reached its two hundred and fiftieth pontiff, and is to continue to the last day!
No violence is offered to man’s free will; the Holy Spirit permits Him to attempt what opposition He lists; but the work of God must go forward. A Decius may succeed in causing a four years’ vacancy in the See of Rome; antipopes may arise, supported by popular favor, or upheld by the policy of emperors; a long schism may render it difficult to know the real pontiff amidst the several who claim it: the Holy Spirit will allow the trial to have its course, and, whilst it lasts, will keep up the faith of His children; the day will come when He will declare the lawful pastor of the flock, and the whole Church will enthusiastically acknowledge Him as such.
In order to understand the whole marvel of this supernatural influence, it is not enough to know the extrinsic results as told us by history; we must study it in its own divine reality. The unity of the Church is not like that which a conqueror forces upon a people that has become tributary to Him.
The members of the Church are united in oneness of faith and submission, because they love the yoke She imposes on their freedom and their reason. But who is it that thus brings human pride to obey? Who is it that makes joy and contentment be felt in a life-long practice of subordination? Who is it that brings man to put his security and happiness in the having no individual views of his own, and in the conforming his judgment to one supreme teaching, even in matters where the world chafes at control? It is the Holy Ghost who works this manifold and permanent miracle, for He it is who gives soul and harmony to the vast aggregate of the Church, and sweetly infuses into all these millions a union of heart and mind which forms for our Lord Jesus Christ His one dear bride.
During the days of His mortal life, Jesus prayed His Eternal Father to bless us with unity: “May they be one, as we also are.” (John 17:11) He prepares us for it, when He calls us to become His members; but, for the achieving this union, He sends His Spirit into the world, that Spirit, who is the eternal link between the Father and the Son, and who deigns to accept a temporal mission among men, in order to create on the earth a union formed after the type of the union which is in God Himself.
We give thee thanks, O Blessed Spirit! who, by thy dwelling thus within the Church of Christ, inspirest us to love and practice unity, and suffer every evil rather than break it. Strengthen it within us, and never permit us to deviate from it by even the slightest want of submission. Thou art the soul of the Church; oh! give us to be members ever docile to thy inspirations, for we could not belong to Jesus who sent thee, unless we belong to the Church, His spouse and our mother, whom He redeemed with His blood, and gave to thee to form and guide.
Next Saturday, the ordination of priests and sacred ministers is to take place throughout the whole Church. The sacrament of orders is one of the principal workings of the Holy Ghost, who comes into the souls of those who are presented for ordination, and impresses upon them, by the bishop’s hands, the character of priesthood or deaconship. The Church prescribes a three days’ fast and abstinence; with the intention of obtaining from God’s mercy that the grace thus given may fructify in those who receive it, and bring a blessing upon the faithful. This is the first of the three days.
At Rome the station is in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. It was but right that on one of the days of this great octave, the faithful should meet together under the protection of the Mother of God, whose sharing in the mystery of Pentecost was both a glory and a blessing to the infant Church.
We will close this day with one of the finest of Adam of Saint Victor’s Sequences on the mystery of the Holy Ghost.
The glad and glorious light – wherewith the heaven-sent Fire filled the hearts of Jesus’ Disciples and gave them to speak in divers tongues – invites us now to sing our hymns with hearts in concord with the voice.
On the Fiftieth day, Christ revisited His Spouse, by sending her the pledge He had promised. After tasting the honied sweetness, the Rock (Peter), now the firmest of Rocks, pours forth the unction of His preaching.
The Law, of old, was given on the Mount to the people, but it was written on tablets of stone, and not on fiery tongues: but in the Cenacle, there was given to a chosen few newness of heart and knowledge of all tongues.
O happy, O festive Day, whereon was founded the primitive Church! Three thousand souls! – oh! how vigorous the first-fruits of the but just born Church!
The two Loaves commanded to be offered in the ancient Law pre-figured the two adopted people now made one; the Stone, the head of the corner, set Himself between the two, and made both one.
New wine may not be put in bottles that are old, but in them that are new: the Widow prepares her vessels, and Eliseus fills them with oil: so, too, our God gives us His heavenly dew, if our hearts be ready.
If our lives be disorderly, we are not fit to receive the Wine, nor Oil, nor Dew. The Paraclete can never dwell in dark or divided hearts.
O dear Comforter, come! govern our tongues, soften our hearts: where thou art, must be no gall or poison. Nothing is joyous, nothing pleasant, nothing wholesome, nothing peaceful, nothing sweet, nothing full, save by thy grace.
Thou art light and unction; thou the heavenly Savior that enrichest the element of water with mysterious power. We praise thee with hearts made pure; we that have been made a new creature; we that once, by nature, were children of wrath, but now Children of Grace.
O thou, the Giver and the Gift. O thou the Creator of all that is good! make our hearts eager to praise thee, and teach our tongues to sound forth thy glory. Do thou, O Author of purity, purify us from sin! Renew us in Christ; and then, give us the full joy of perfect Newness! Amen.
THE GIFT OF FORTITUDE
The gift of knowledge has taught us what we must do and what we must avoid in order that we may be such as Jesus, our divine master, wishes us to be. We now need another gift of the Holy Ghost, from which to draw the energy necessary for our persevering in the way He has pointed out to us. Difficulties we are sure to have; and our need of support is proved enough by the miserable failures we are daily witnessing. This support the Holy Ghost grants us by the gift of fortitude, which, if we but faithfully use it, will enable us to master every difficulty, yea, will make it easy for us to overcome the obstacles which would impede our onward march.
When difficulties and trials of life come upon Him, man is tempted, sometimes to cowardice and discouragement, sometimes to an impetuosity, which arises either from His natural temperament or from pride. These are poor aids to the soul in her spiritual combat. The Holy Ghost, therefore, brings her a new element of strength—it is supernatural Fortitude, which is so peculiarly His gift, that when our Savior instituted the seven Sacraments, He would have one of them be for the special object of giving us the Holy Ghost as a principle of energy. It is evident that having to fight during our whole lives against the devil, the world, and ourselves, we need some better power of resistance than either pusillanimity or daring. We need some gift which will control both our fear and the confidence we are at times inclined to have in ourselves. Thus gifted by the Holy Ghost, man is sure of victory; for grace will supply the deficiencies and correct the impetuosities of nature.
There are two necessities which are ever making themselves felt in the Christian life;—the power of resistance, and the power of endurance. What could we do against the temptations of Satan if the Fortitude of the Holy Spirit did not clad us with heavenly armor and nerve us to the battle? And is not the World, too, a terrible enemy? Have we not reason to dread it when we see how it is every day making victims by the tyranny of its claims and its maxims? What, then, must be the assistance of the Holy Ghost, which is to make us invulnerable to the deadly shafts that are dealing destruction around us?
The passions of the human heart are another obstacle to our salvation and sanctification; they are the more to be feared, because they are within us. It is requisite that the Holy Ghost change our heart, and lead it to deny itself as often as the light of grace points out to us a way other than that which self-love would have us follow. What supernatural Fortitude we need in order to hate our life, (John 12:25) as often as our Lord bids us make a sacrifice, or when we have to choose which of the two Masters we will serve. (Matthew 6:24) The Holy Spirit is daily working this marvel by means of the Gift of Fortitude: so that, we have but to correspond to the Gift, and not stifle it either by cowardice or indiscretion—and we are strong enough to resist even our domestic enemies. This blessed Gift of Fortitude teaches us to govern our passions and treat them as blind guides; it also teaches us never to follow their instincts, save when they are in harmony with the law of God.
There are times when the Holy Spirit requires from a Christian something beyond interior resistance to the enemies of His soul:—He must make an outward protestation against error and evil, as often as position or duty demands it. On such occasions, one must bear to become unpopular, and console one’s self with the words of the Apostle: If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10) But the Holy Ghost will be on His side; and finding Him resolute in using His Gift of Fortitude, not only will He give Him a final triumph, but He generally blesses that soul with a sweet and courageous peace, which is the result and recompense of a duty fulfilled.
Thus does the Holy Ghost apply the gift of Fortitude, when there is question of a Christian’s making resistance. But, as we have already said, it imparts also the energy necessary for bearing up against the trials, which all must go through who would save their souls. There are certain fears, which damp our courage, and expose us to defeat. The gift of Fortitude dispels them, and braces us with such a peaceful confidence, that we ourselves are surprised at the change. Look at the martyrs; not merely at such an one as St. Mauritius, the leader of the Theban Legion, who was accustomed to face danger on the battle-field, but at Felicitas, a mother of seven children, at Perpetua, a high-born lady with everything this world could give her, at Agnes, a girl of thirteen, and at thousands of others like them; and say, if the gift of Fortitude is not a prompter to heroism? Where is the fear of death—that death, the very thought of which is sometimes more than we can bear? And what are we to say of all those lives spent in self-abnegation and privation, with a view to make Jesus their only treasure and be the more closely united with Him? What are we to say of those hundreds and thousands of our fellow creatures who shun the sight of a distracted and vain world, and make sacrifice their rule? whose peacefulness is proof against every trial, and whose acceptance of the cross is as untiring as the cross itself is in its visit? What trophies are these of the Spirit of Fortitude! and how magnificent is the devotedness He creates for every possible duty! Oh! truly, man, of Himself, is of little worth; but how grand when under the influence of the Holy Ghost!
It is the same Divine Spirit who also gives the Christian courage to withstand the vile temptation of human respect, by raising Him above those worldly considerations which would make Him disloyal to duty. It is He that leads man to prefer, to every honor this world could bestow, the happiness of never violating the law of His God. It is the Spirit of Fortitude that makes Him look upon the reverses of fortune as so many merciful designs of Providence; that consoles Him when death bereaves Him of those who are dear to Him; that cheers Him under bodily sufferings, which would be so hard to bear but from His taking them as visits from His heavenly Father. In a word, it is He, as we learn from the Lives of the Saints, that turns the very repugnances of nature into matter for heroic acts, wherein man seems to go beyond the limits of His frail mortality and emulate the impassible and glorified spirits of heaven.
O divine Spirit of Fortitude! take full possession of our souls, and keep us from the effeminacies of the age we live in. Never was there such lack of energy as now, never was the worldly spirit more rife, never was sensuality more unbridled, never were pride and independence more the fashion of the world. So forgotten and unheeded are the maxims of the Gospel, that when we witness the Fortitude of self-restraint and abnegation, we are as surprised as though we beheld a prodigy. O Holy Paraclete! preserve us from this anti-Christian spirit, which is so easily imbibed! Suffer us to present to thee, in the form of prayer, the advice given by St. Paul to the Christians of Ephesus: Give us, we beseech thee, “the armor of God, that we may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect. Gird our reins with truth; arm us with the breastplate of justice; let our feet be shod with the love and practice of the Gospel of peace; give us the shield of Faith, wherewith we may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one; cover us with the helmet of the hope of salvation; put into our hand the spiritual sword, which is the Word of God,” (Ephesians 6:11-17) and by which we, as did our Jesus in the Desert, may defeat all our enemies! O Spirit of Fortitude! hear, we beseech thee, and grant our prayer!