Happy Low Sunday or Divine Mercy Sunday! The anime Erased has got me thinking about the topic of salvation, as you know from my last article on the show. In the finale, Yashiro was given a final chance of salvation by Satoru on the hospital roof: the statute of limitations had expired on Yashiro’s attempted murders. He could have continued his ordinary and law-abiding life because Satoru had prevented his evil deeds. Yet, Yashiro could not give up his evil obsession and was caught in the very trap he set: “They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down; they dug a pit for me; they themselves have fallen into the midst of it” (Psalms 57:6). Like the reprobate soul I described in the past article, Yashiro pursued his own destruction despite all the help Satoru gave him. (After all, if Socrates’ dictum that the one doing harm is harmed more than the one harmed is true, Yashiro himself received more benefit from Satoru’s acts than the children Satoru saved!) Yashiro refused to be deterred from sin and must now repent of it.
For this post, my dear readers, I’ll let you into the workings of my scrupulous mind. You see, for a long time now, I worried whether manga like Akame ga Kiru and Silencer actually carry a benefit to the reader. In general, a fascination with blood and violence for their own sakes obviously manifests a disorder of the soul. At the opposite extreme, squeamishness at the sight of blood and the refusal to countenance the existence of violence must also count as defects. So, do Akame ga Kiru and Silencer fall in the mean between these two extremes? And if they are in the mean, what is their particular virtue?
A couple of quotes I found recently appear to show the value of such works. One derives from Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s Leftism: from de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse and the second from one of Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries. After describing a horrific and monstrous scene from the French Revolution. Kuehnelt-Leddhin writes the following:
Akatsuki no Yona, with all its talk of Tenmei–literally, “the Will of Heaven”–has got me thinking about the Will of God. This is often difficult to determine in our lives, and I have heard one Catholic commentator state: “The Will of God is inscrutable.” But, not everything which happens by God’s Will or permission outstretches our understanding; otherwise, we should simply not understand God in the slightest and not be able to have a relationship with Him. In general, He commands all people to follow the moral law and exercise charity towards each other. On a more particular level, the Will of God may be communicated to us through our talents and desires. Do you have an extraordinary talent for the most abstract arithmetic imaginable? Perhaps, God wishes for you to become a university professor. Do you love someone of the opposite sex profoundly? Do not be surprised if God wishes you to marry that person.
Yet, desires can be a very tricky thing, and people are often mislead. The particular Will of God for us is based in the individuality which God gave us. It subsists in the core of our being. Only by being true to ourselves can we be true to God and find happiness. However, we are surrounded by many happy people in the world, and we might think that by having what they have we shall also be made happy. Besides this, the world itself offers many things–especially money–which it claims will make us happy. But, you cannot serve God and mammon! The more you listen to the noise of the world the less you shall discern the whisper of God. To one who has become too worldly, God can no longer whisper: He must shout!
As C. S. Lewis tells us, pain is often the means by which God tells us something is wrong. We suffer anxiety, depression, and vague feelings of unhappiness. Should our response to these feelings be seeking worldly distractions, God may sever us forcibly from the pleasures of the world with the blade of poverty. Impoverished, we lack the means of spoiling or distracting ourselves with external goods. All we have left are those talents and desires which we ignored in our prosperity. In running away from our talents, our individuality, and our specific manner of serving our brothers and sisters, we have become less human. We struggle for a while in attempting to regain our status, but the Mercy of God prevents it while we yet ignore God’s voice and rely solely upon ourselves. At last accepting our fate, the vanity of worldly pleasures (many perhaps good in themselves but evil when they stand in the place of God) becomes apparent and the memory of them bitter.
Despite these many pains, poverty or very frugal circumstances are not signs that God hates us. Instead, God calls the poor blessed–both the materially poor and the spiritually poor. The fact that religious orders often include a vow of poverty indicates the link between the two. Why are the poor blessed? Because they contend less with the noise of the world and focus more on the Will of God and the intrinsic goods God has given them to share with others. The poor in spirit are capable of great things because their only concern is the Will of God.
Though, I could use the example of many saints to show the sanctifying effects of poverty, I’d like to instead use the example of Ulysses S Grant. Who can doubt that the man was born to be a soldier? He was the only Union general with the competency to avoid losing ground to General Lee and the dogged tenacity to make a war of attrition successful. The happiest times of his life coincided with his military service. After resigning from his first period of service, he relied on the charity of his father-in-law until the outbreak of the Civil War. After the Civil War, his name was smeared by the presiding over the most corrupt administration in history until modern times. Afterwards, he did the unthinkable action of trying to break with Washington’s precedent in order to run for a third term! A sore loser, Grant bore a grudge against James A. Garfield for winning the nomination–even though Garfield not only did not seek the nomination but even was horrified to gain it!
Compared to the humble, frank, and unambitious man of prior times, Grant the politician seems a different man–a monster! Here is a description of Grant just after the Civil war by General Richard Taylor from Destruction and Reconstruction:
The officers of the army on duty at Washington were very civil to me, especially General Grant, whom I had known prior to and during the Mexican war, as a modest, amiable, but by no means promising lieutenant in a marching regiment. He came frequently to see me, was full of kindness, and anxious to promote my wishes. His action in preventing violation of the terms of surrender, and a subsequent report that he made of the condition of the South – a report not at all pleasing to the radicals – endeared him to all Southern men…His bearing and conduct at this time were admirable, modest and generous; and I talked much with him of the noble and beneficent work before him. While his heart seemed to respond, he declared his ignorance of and distaste for politics and politicians, with which and whom he intended to have nothing to do, but confine himself to his duties of commander-in-chief of the army.
That is exactly the man who commanded the Army of the Potomac and the one who wrote the most famous memoir of any participant in the Civil War–a memoir which a friend tells me affected modern American prose more than any other work! (Grant’s memoirs do read like something our of the 20th century rather than the 19th.) But, politics, power, and fame almost ruined Grant for good. When Grant wrote his memoirs, he had been reduced to desperate poverty, which I have no doubt was God’s method of restoring Grant’s character. The Hound of Heaven will resort to any means to prevent people baptized in His name from perishing everlastingly.
So, people suffering from want or various forms of misery need not despair. Pain is often the sign that one is still united to Christ Crucified and often purifies the soul to a salutary poverty. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” The share of the Kingdom of God we have on earth is performing the Will of God, which, though it may be a gentle whisper, rings loud and clear to the poor in spirit.
The more I read the Mushibugyo manga and watch the anime based on it the more fond of it I become. One of its greatest moments occurs in chapter 33 of the manga–covered within episode 8 of the anime. Our hero, Jinbee, discovers that Mitsuki has abducted Haru, his love interest, in order to draw him into a trap. Once Mitsuki has him inside a cavern crawling with giant bugs and lined with debris and buildings from a destroyed village, Haru finds a way to escape her bounds. But, Mitsuki still intends to crush both of them by bringing down the house on them–literally dropping houses from the cavern’s ceiling! Rather than lament his predicament, Jinbee quickly hits upon the plan of using the houses as a means to ascend to the top and escape! Not only does he not utter a single lamentation for his situation, but he even excuses Mitsuki of any wrongdoing–claiming that she must be being manipulated somehow!
How many lessons this short chapter holds for a Christian! Those of you familiar with the series know that Jinbee and Haru are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, but their very simplicity allows them to act without hesitation. Curiously, intelligence can actually produce barriers to right action. Dostoyevsky’s underground man states that a truly intelligent man would never do anything. A man of action must be stupid. Why? The intelligent man tends to overanalyze and complain because their very intelligence allows them to see more difficulties. The knowledge of these difficulties stymies action. In Jinbee’s case, on the other hand, he seizes upon what he considers the best course of action and follows it without hesitation.
Some of the best Christian saints were also some of the simplest people. Sure, Christ has need of intelligent people, and the ranks of the Doctors of the Church are filled with them. Also, few religions have placed the same emphasis on learning as Christianity. However, when God needs something done, he often turns to the simplest individuals. Once God showed St. Francis of Assisi a room filled with thousands of swords and spears, and told him that he should win as many swords for God. The next day, St. Francis immediately bought some armor and set about to raise a company of soldiers for the Crusades! Fortunately, another dream that evening described that St. Francis would be responsible for raising spiritual warriors rather than Crusaders to the Holy Land. Like the good and single-hearted man St. Francis was, he returned to Assisi and set about creating the foundations for the Order of Friars Minor.
Neither St. Francis nor Jinbee allowed the struggles to daunt them from achieving their purpose. Haru also immediately consents to the plan of house climbing. If we take houses to symbolize temptations and difficulties, should not their ascent indicate walking the royal road to paradise? Temptations and obstacles ought to be met with cheer because overcoming them causes growth and sanctification. God permits temptations and obstacles in our lives so that we can triumph over them. As much as it may appear to the contrary, God would never permit temptations so great that we could never overcome them. We have no reason to be angry with God for the difficulties in our lives–though God is understanding of our frustration.
For that matter, we should avoid becoming angry at the people who place stumbling blocks and temptations before us. As Mitsuki sends houses crashing down on him and giant bugs after him, Jinbee claims that she must be being forced against her will. Flabbergasted by these excuses and the cheerful attitude of Haru and Jinbee–they essentially treat the attempts to kill them as a game, she vehemently asserts her malevolence, which produces more resolute denials of her wickedness from Jinbee. In a like fashion, Christians should make excuses for the people that wrong them and remember both that Christ died for that person and that their enemies possess the spark of divinity as creatures made in the image and likeness of God.
Lastly, we cannot ascend to heaven on our own strength. No one is saved alone. At times, we must like Haru accept help; at other times, we must like Jinbee help others for the increase of our charity. John Donne puts it very well in his seventeenth Meditation:
…for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath afflicion enough, that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction…Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction, digs out, and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger, I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.
But, other people and our own efforts can only help us along so far. Our good deeds and patient suffering increase our merit and fortify our good will, but God Himself must draw us up to heaven as heaven is so far above our deserts. We often sin and must have recourse to God in straightening out our crookedness or indeed even infusing supernatural charity back in our souls after we do a grave wrong. And, we might say that that ever-present need of God’s salvation is symbolized by Jinbee’s associates breaking into that chasm to rescue Jinbee and Haru from Mitsuki, who would surely have killed them had not the warriors of Mushibugyo dropped in at the right time.
Sometimes, samurai anime can be remarkably fruitful for contemplation!
St. Thomas Aquinas’ fourth proof for the existence of God has always struck me as his weakest. The fourth way of the Quinque Via states that we see various degrees of perfection in created beings. These perfections must have a highest exemplar from which they gain all their perfections, and this highest exemplar with every perfection must be God. However, the argument already assumes the existence of God: because we know that God is the greatest thing which can be thought, he must also be the highest exemplar of every perfection we find in creatures. But, one cannot reason for the existence of God from such an argument. You’re free to dispute this point if you like.
To use an example from Gokukoku no Brynhildr, Valkyria cannot reason from the beauty of the sunset, the tender kindness of Kuroneko, or the courageous rescue by Chisato to the infinitely beautiful, infinitely loving, and saving God. Part of the reason Valkyria cannot reason thus lies in her being trapped in a world of evil: Vingulf’s laboratory which experiments on and tortures human beings until they expire or displease their superiors. The belief that human beings hold intrinsic value stands as a moot point. Chisato even frankly admits that all lives are not equal.
This causes a big problem for Valkyria. Valkyria’s experience of goodness seems limited to Chisato and Kuroneko for the most part. She loves Kuroneko because Kuroneko’s almost an exact clone of her, and she looks at Chisato as her god. Instead of a God who calls every creature good and created human beings as the very image of himself, Valkyria believes in Chisato, who sees everyone and everything as either useless or potentially useless–except for his dead sister anyway. Valkyria believes Chisato can do no wrong and follows him blindly.
Her obedience even extends to killing Kuroneko, her other self. She does attempt several times to dissuade Chisato from demanding Kuroneko’s death; but, when push comes to shove, she’s willing even to kill her twin for Chisato’s sake. Thus, her limited perception of the good constricts to a solitary and morally corrupt individual. Though, Kuroneko escapes death, Kuroneko might as well be an infidel with a fatwa on her head at that point.
However, a pivotal moment occurs when Chisato dies while saving Valkyria one more time. (The spark of divine goodness reignited in him at the end.) Valkyria decides to annihilate the entire city and everyone in it at that point. In her mind, the present situation is none other than Nietzsche’s proclamation on the theological state of the world–though with a slight twist: “God is dead…And you have killed him!” Valkyria believes that Chisato was the sole good in her life. Without him, she wants to destroy the entire worthless world. Fortunately, Kuroneko defeats her, which leads to one of the most perplexing scenes in the manga.
Upon her death, Valkyria sees Chisato one more time and pronounces his name before disappearing. Are we to understand this as Valkyria’s salvation at the end? (Elfen Lied, Okamoto’s prior manga, is patently Christian, and the same ethos is present in Gokukoku no Brynhildr, though more hidden.) One wonders if it is really Chisato she sees–having been granted salvation though doing the greatest good one friend can do for another–or is it in fact Jesus Christ? When we think of the genus savior, Jesus Christ stands at the pinnacle. But, the only example of salvation Valkyria knew was of Chisato; hence, at the brink of eternal damnation, she could only recognize the Savior, who desires to rescue all souls from eternal death, as Chisato. In light of the ultimate Goodness, the last movement of her soul is toward repentance for her evils–which must appear truly detestable in the full light of God–and toward love of God. Thus, she is saved.
Would this movement of soul would be enough for salvation? Love of the good which God placed in Chisato and which Valkyria could only recognize as Chisato? As a Catholic, even if this were enough, I cannot but believe that her crimes would keep Valkyria in purgatory until the end of the world. Though, the abyss of ignorance Valkyria has concerning God and goodness might indeed be invincible enough for Valkyria to escape the full penalty for her crimes. May we all be so excused from our sins!
Several of my readers may have come across Mardock Scramble and been dissuaded from watching it by reading descriptions of this show. In that case, retain your original resolution not to watch it, because it does contain scenes which are downright gruesome and characters representing the worst levels to which a human being can fall. At the same time, the evolution of Rune Balot from a prostitute leading a miserable existence to a woman capable of great compassion and virtue stands among the most beautiful anime has to offer.
The anime describes this transition from prostitute to heroine as the same as from slave to free. That these three OVAs focus on freedom as their main topic makes itself apparent in the three ending songs. (Yes, I loved this anime so much that I listened to the ending songs so that I might get every drop of it out.) The first OVA plays “Amazing Grace,” the second “Ave Maria for Balot,” and the third Megumi Hayashibara’s (Rune Balot’s voice actress, by the way) “Tsubasa,” which means “Wings” in English. These songs point to the three steps of salvation: 1) Christ finds us and saves us from hell; 2) we struggle for righteousness through the grace of God–especially sought through prayer; and 3) we fully realize the freedom found in abiding in God’s will. The very highest freedom exists in heaven, where we shall no longer be tempted by evil choices and only chose from several goods.
Yet, people often look at things like the commandments and religious obligations, which lead them to come to the opinion that religion represses freedom. But, let us examine these “strictures.” The commandments order us not to do evil. Constantly doing evil leads to vices forming on the soul. What is a vice except a form of slavery on the soul? Whether one looks at pride, envy, anger, greed, lust, gluttony, or sloth, it will become evident that these things limit a person. Pride blinds us to truth, envy prevents us from loving others, anger prevents rational thought and action, greed blinds us to what we really need, lust prevents us from seeing persons as persons, gluttony produces a body unfit for strenuous activity, and sloth prevents us from developing our talents. In essence, by God telling us to be good, He tells us to be free.
In the case of religious obligations like attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation, receiving the Eucharist at least once a year, or going to confession at least once a year during Easter if we have committed a mortal sin, these merely oblige us to do what we should decide to do on our own initiative if we were not so ignorant. Eating the Body of Christ and drinking the Blood of Christ is our very salvation. And can one complain about having to go to confession if one is in a state of mortal sin–a condition where a sudden death might deprive them of eternal life? Do not people who decline to go to confession out of fear or laziness rather than run into the arms of their merciful Father and steadfast Brother strike one as foolish? Certain people have enough leisure that they receive the Eucharist daily or the Sacrament of Reconciliation weekly or even daily–ever dwelling in the Mercy of God imparted in the sacraments. To wisely fulfill one’s obligations is not slavish but free.
To take the case of Rune Balot, she has obligations to Dr. Easter, who saves her from certain death through his medical technology, to help him testify against the man who used her as a concubine before attempting to burn her alive. She is given Oeufcoque, a golden, talking mouse who can change into practically any tool–from computerized gloves to a hand cannon, as a partner. Her acceptance of this duty leads to many violent confrontations, and she does have one major fall from grace. When she realizes the extent of her fault due to Oeufcoque suffering from his aversion to her evil deeds, she comes to herself and repents straightway. She had determined to love Oeufcoque earlier, but she had not taken into account her obligations to her new partner. Without meeting these obligations, she cannot be free.
Freedom is not without structure. The order to which freedom adheres derives from moral law. When we fit into this order, we bring our freedom to perfection. The struggle of overcoming ourselves and conforming to virtue leads to us gaining true freedom. And to what end ought we put our freedom? Love. Toward the end of the series, Balot tells Oeufcoque that she has known many men whom she wished would love her, but he is the first being she wished to love of her own initiative. As conformity to the moral law leads to us becoming more at home in the universe, we become the persons we were meant to be and our desires are met in ways we never dreamed possible. The ending of Mardock Scramble indicates that Balot, despite the pain of her recent experiences, has found happiness and rejoices in living–something which would never have happened had she not been providentially rescued from her wayward lifestyle.
This is a last reminder that this Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday, offers the Faithful a chance to gain a plenary indulgence. The conditions are described as follows:
The plenary indulgence is granted (under the usual conditions of a sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and a prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on Divine Mercy Sunday, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, recite the Our Father and the Creed, and also adding a devout prayer (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!).
So, go to confession this Saturday or that Sunday if your Church offers it then, receive communion, have a strong resolution to turn from sin, pray the Our Father, the Apostles’ Creed, and “Jesus, I trust in you.” Should you die immediately after that, you’ll go straight to heaven without a moment of Purgatory.
How many of my dear readers balked at this bold assertion? A villain becomes a saint in the space of one or two days? And quite painlessly? No, they should have to suffer more! Forgiveness should be more difficult! But, we are forgetting the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, where those who worked one hour are given the same reward as those who bore the day and the heat.
We forget one more thing: mercy is unearned. At least, mercy was not earned by us. It was earned by Jesus Christ for all that would receive His mercy. Either through the instrument of His Church or without the instrumentality of His Church, Our Lord can apply mercy to whomever He wishes. Our very willingness to receive mercy, our tenderness of heart, is something Jesus Christ earned for us. Therefore, we have no right to be like the Prophet Jonah and sulk because Our Lord shows mercy in a manner which doesn’t meet with our human values.
But, we are so quick to doubt God’s Mercy and Love for us! In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father does not have the wayward son weep for a week outside of his door and fast on bread and water before taking him into His house. Rather, He does so immediately. To use an example from the life of St. Gertrude, she once wished to gain a plenary indulgence, but illness or business kept her from being able to obtain it. The Lord asked her if she wished to have it, to which she responded yes. After the Lord’s blessing, she doubted the very purity which she felt in her soul. Knowing her doubts, Our Lord recalled to her that the sun can bleach dyed cloth to a pure white. Our Lord said to her: “If I have given such power to a creature, how much more can I purify souls?”
And so, let us allow the Lord to shine down as much mercy as He wishes upon us two days from now on Divine Mercy Sunday.
Well, my dear readers, we have come to the most important time of the year: the time when God’s mercy is celebrated far and wide. Tomorrow, we recall the painful suffering Our Lord endured for our salvation. Holy Saturday recalls His descent into hell so that the fruits of His Passion might be poured upon all the dead including Adam and Eve. How can one neglect the eagerness with which Our Lord must have rushed to Adam’s side to proclaim to him that all was forgiven? The second reading from the Holy Saturday Office of Readings makes for an edifying read. In my own case, I am not sure whether anything more profound has been said of God’s mercy outside of the Scriptures. Indeed, the Magnificence and Magnanimity of God toward us who are burdened by our sins, failings, and the thought that heavy punishment awaits us makes the heart rejoice!
One of the terrible things about this life is that we are constantly tempted to doubt God’s goodness. There is evil in the world; we suffer evil done to ourselves; and we suffer through evil done by ourselves. We barely make the slightest progress to amend our wicked ways and often find ourselves becoming worse. We shout with St. Paul: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) We see our sins reflected in the wounds of Christ. These wounds reflect Our Savior’s undying love for us, but how often does our wickedness crush our souls such that we are tempted to say with St. Peter: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).
But, God does not want to leave us. When Peter first said that to Christ, Christ responded: “Fear not: from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Then, after Peter could not keep his eyes open to comfort our Lord in His agony in the garden, after Peter denied Him three times, and after Peter avoided Him during His three hours of agony on the cross, Jesus Christ says to St. Peter and the rest of the disciples:
36 …”Peace be to you; it is I, fear not.”
37 But they being troubled and frightened, supposed that they saw a spirit.
38 And He said to them: “Why are you troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
39 “See my hands and feet, that it is I myself; handle and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as you see me to have.” (Luke 24)
This is as if to Our Lord is saying: “Be at peace and don’t fear to come to me. I have really taken your nature upon myself and endured the agony of the cross to bind you to me forever. Look upon my wounds! Touch these wounds which I boast of because they redeemed you. I did not come to condemn you. I am not angry with you. Do not be slow to believe that God is Love. On that painful cross, mercy triumphed over justice so that I can show mercy to whoever comes to me.”
But, God’s mercy did not stop with forgiving us and saving us from eternal death. He raised humanity above the angels and promised us a glorified body like the one in which He rose on Easter Sunday. And by the indwelling of His grace, we can come to imitate His divine perfections and His most divine life. All the above is accomplished through God’s grace. The sole thing God asks from us is a good will, which He Himself grants and strengthens, to correspond with these graces.
And yet, we are sometimes more willing to suffer for our sins than receive mercy for them. When life turns difficult, we get the impression that God is punishing us for our sins–how do we know that we suffered X, Y, and Z because of our sins? Such thoughts only impress upon us the idea that God is a wrathful judge! Jesus Christ did not undergo the crucifixion so that He can be wrathful, but so that he can show mercy in super-abundance.
Hence, I should like to remind my Catholic readers that, besides our Easter duty to confess if we have committed a mortal sin in the past year and to receive Holy Communion at least once during Lent, we ought to gain a plenary indulgence on Divine Mercy Sunday (April 27). This is how Our Lord’s revelation to St. Faustina describes it:
Ask of my faithful servant [Father Sopocko] that, on this day, he will tell the world of My great mercy; that whoever approaches the Fount of Life on this day will be granted complete remission of sins and punishment.
Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to my mercy.
Oh, how much I am hurt by a soul’s distrust! Such a soul professes that I am Holy and Just, but does not believe that I am Mercy and does not trust in My Goodness. Even the devils glorify my Justice but do not believe in My Goodness. My heart rejoices in this title of Mercy. (Divine Mercy in My Soul, paragraph 300)
These are the instructions for the indulgence:
The plenary indulgence is granted (under the usual conditions of a sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and a prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on Divine Mercy Sunday, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, recite the Our Father and the Creed, and also adding a devout prayer (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!).
So, go to confession again on Saturday, April 26th, and follow the rest of the instructions. What do you have to lose? Don’t say to yourself: “It sounds like cheating. I deserve to be punished for my sins.” Such hardness of heart! Do you think that God prefers seeing you suffer for your sins over seeing you as clean as new fallen snow? That He rejoices in your pain? Of course not! Rather, He would much rather bring you straight into heaven without judgment! So, focus on God’s Mercy this Easter and celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy in all its fullness.
While reading Yvain: the Knight of the Lion by Chrétien de Troyes, the more numerous references to the Holy Spirit than to any other person of the Trinity struck me. As a matter of fact, the author seems to refer to the Holy Ghost 90% of the time when referring to a Person of the Trinity, even a Mass is held “for the honor of the Holy Ghost.” Modern Christians do not as often ponder the relationship they have to the Holy Ghost as much as the kind we have with the Father or the Son. Medievals seem more attuned to the role of the Spirit in their lives than moderns.
Once when St. Ignatius of Loyola pondered why he prayed to the separate persons of the Trinity since all the prayers went to same God, he received a miraculous understanding that praying to the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit was like playing three beautiful notes which came together in a brilliant harmony. We ought to recognize the role of each Person of the Trinity in our lives so that we might cultivate a stimulating and beautiful understanding of God. Nothing higher, more sublime, more beautiful, more virtuous, more noble, or more holy may be thought that God Himself. When I consider the role of God the Father in my life, I imagine that He works mainly through Providence: leading me away from physical and spiritual harm, providing my daily necessities, and in other ways guiding the course of my life. God the Son stands the model of the most perfect life, the highest wisdom, and the example of and source of mercy. Our Crucified Lord gives me the grace to turn away from sin and be made into His image and likeness. The Holy Spirit I view as the Person inspires us to every good deed and invigorates us with every virtue.
We can only live our Christian lives through the indwelling and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I once read an atheist’s vexation with Christians, because Christians attribute every good deed to God and refuse to take credit themselves. There is credit in saying yes to God, but we could not even have thought to do any good work without God’s grace. We can neither fear God nor believe the most basic precepts of the faith without the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them…” (John 6:44). At the same time, the agency of the Holy Spirit draws men to the Truth.
Not only does the Holy Spirit act through Christians, in whom the Spirit acts to bring us “to the whole measure and fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13), but also in people ignorant of the True Faith. The gifts of the Holy Spirits are fear of God, piety, knowledge, fortitude, counsel, understanding, and wisdom. Whenever these are manifested in a human being, I cannot but believe that the Holy Spirit produces these effects. We can only pray that the Holy Spirit will find the conditions right to add faith to these persons now living outside the fold.
If anything has made our relationship with the Holy Spirit less evident in modern times, I would say that it is due to the emphasis on justification over sanctification. The modern man is so burdened by sin that he feels like he cannot overcome vice, but Jesus Christ must save him from the very mouth of hell. It is true that we require God’s salvation lest we perish everlastingly, but part of our salvation is to see the divine likeness growing in us every day. The Holy Spirit through the merits of Christ and under the Providence of the Father accomplishes this without fail in those that seek Him. Here are a couple of prayers to the Holy Spirit which you might find useful this Lent in considering the action of the Holy Spirit in your life.
St. Augustine’s Prayer to the Holy Spirit
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.
St. Bonaventure’s Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
O Lord Jesus,
through You I humbly beg the merciful Father
to send the Holy Spirit of grace,
that He may bestow upon us His sevenfold gifts.
May He send us the gift of WISDOM,
which will make us relish the Tree of Life
that is none other than Yourself;
the gift of UNDERSTANDING,
which will enlighten us;
the gift of COUNSEL,
which will guide us in the way of righteousness;
and the gift of FORTITUDE,
which will give us the strength to vanquish
the enemies of our sanctification and salvation.
May He impart to us the gift of KNOWLEDGE,
which will enable us to discern Your teaching
and distinguish good from evil;
the gift of PIETY,
which will make us enjoy true peace;
and the gift of FEAR,
which will make us shun all iniquity
and avoid all danger of offending Your Majesty.
To the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit
be given all glory and thanksgiving forever.
Interestingly, people sometimes become nervous when they hear about God’s will. Perhaps because they expect it will take a great sacrifice or they associate this term with misfortunes–e.g. “It was just God’s will.” Yet, who is it that is willing for us to follow His will? A perfect and infinitely good God who is absolutely merciful and just. He wishes all things to come to perfection, which for human beings is nothing other than our happiness.
So, God wishes us to be happy and to be perfectly happy with Him for all eternity, sharing in God’s own happiness. Therefore, God’s will cannot be other than His Glory and our complete happiness. Indeed, if we should all become happy in the way that God wished, like the blessed Virgin Mary–the only human being to perfectly follow God’s will in all respects (Of course, Jesus Christ followed His Father’s will perfectly too, but He was also God), then we should all be saints and the happiness of one would increase our own happiness. How greatly would God’s glory be revealed! The saints dwell in perfect happiness in heaven and were more joyful on earth than us ordinary sinners.
Yet, why this hesitation and fear of following God’s will if it leads us to perfect happiness? The great crosses in the lives of the saints might deter us; yet, is there a life without a cross–that gift from a most loving God? If suffering be our lot whether we are saints or sinners, why not suffer for the sake of virtue and our happiness rather than going against God’s will? Is it possible that we shall have a lighter cross by doing what ultimately makes us unhappy, even if it might seem the easier route?
I should like to compare three lives for you, all of which seemed to have been lived by God’s will: St. Padre Pio, Louis Martin, and J. R. R. Tolkien. One does find crosses therein, but these same people seem to be happier than most.
On one hand, the life of Padre Pio seems to have been stuffed with crosses: demonic persecutions, persecution by church authorities, people maligning his good name, much pain, and many severe physical illnesses. On the other hand, he delighted to suffer because suffering increased his likeness and closeness to Our Lord and Master–to the degree that he was marked with the Stigmata. Furthermore, he was able to help people reconcile with Christ through his ministry of the Confessional and his example of a life dedicated to Jesus Christ. Doing so brought him so many spiritual children than he could have had as the father of a family. No other kind of life would have made Padre Pio happier.
You might know that Louis Martin was the father of St. Therese of Lisieux. If I remember rightly, he owned a jewelry business and delighted in his family: a loving wife, who has also entered the process of canonization, and five daughters who became religious sisters. He strictly observed the sabbath, exercised patience toward all, was always the first to respond to the village fire alarm, made time for quiet meditation, and loved his daughters dearly. If he had gone into religion, as he had planned, we would never have had St. Therese of Lisieux, and he would never have enjoyed the love of his family and been an example to all his neighbors. And despite his illnesses toward the end of his life, he actually seemed to grow happier and holier and edified people even by his death.
Lastly, Tolkien’s early life also contained suffering: his mother was disowned by her family after converting to Catholicism and she died a widow while Tolkien was in his teens, he was forced to separate from his fiancee for years without contact (save once) and almost lost her to another man, and suffered many illnesses and wounds while at the front lines in World War I–losing all save one friend in the war. Yet, his mother’s sacrifices increased his fervor for the Faith, his separation and reunion with his beloved purified and strengthened their love, and his suffering in the war increased his understanding.
Suffering does increase understanding. How well could Tolkien have written The Lord of the Rings without this experience? Could he have written the romance of Luthien and Beren? How much less penetrating his academic articles? Truth and wisdom are great possessions. Can anyone doubt that Tolkien was anything less than happy in dramatically reading the first fifty lines of Beowulf before new classes?
All these lives are happy and according to God’s will. One might judge Padre Pio’s life to have been more according to God’s will because he’s a canonized saint, but that is speculation: we shall not know until we have arrived in heaven, and I am certain that we shall see all three of them there! What we can be sure that Padre Pio would not have been happy as a teacher of Old English, Tolkien as a jeweler, or Louis Martin as a monk. Each person was made to be happy in a different fashion, but all of these lives are focused on Christ and following the Will of God: your salvation and happiness.
Hello, dear readers! I just want to remind you to say the Novena of the Divine Mercy Chaplet this year. It starts on Good Friday and includes saying a prayer intention for a different group on each day: All the World especially poor sinners, Priests and Religious, Pagans, Heretics and Schismatics, Faithful Christians, Meek and Humble souls, those who glorify God’s mercy by meditating on the Sacred Passion, the Souls in Purgatory, and those who have become lukewarm. We are all in need of God’s mercy, and praying for others both increases our charity and obtains mercy for ourselves.
I was thinking to myself how God’s mercy, love, and our faith are so important. Unless we show mercy, mercy shall not be shown to us. Unless we love others, we cannot love God. Unless we live in both love and mercy, we cannot have faith. For, faith is trusting that God loves us to death and that His mercy is without limit. But, if we ourselves don’t show mercy or love others as unconditionally as possible, if we’re selective in who we love or who we’ll forgive, then we may begun to think that God is selective or that limitations are placed on His love. But, this is false. God is unconditional love, constantly looking for the least excuse to bring each and every one of us into His kingdom.
Ultimately, love is unitive: one wishes to be united to all, to suffer when they suffer, to rejoice when they rejoice, to know everything they know, and even to be punished when they are punished. One would not go wrong if they loved the very worst people imaginable, felt themselves guilty of the sins committed by these people, and did penance for them. That is the highest state of the Christian vocation. Love, forgive all offenses, strive to remain pure, honestly admit one’s failings, don’t fear to love, and show mercy to everyone you meet. Try to imitate the Heart of the Master, and contemplate on the lengths he went to redeem you so that you may take some of His Love with you in order to share it with others. Then, God will take you up into Heaven and place your head upon the very Heart you strove to imitate.
Lest the obstacles which are sure to sprout up thwart you, have recourse to prayer. Don’t overdo it, but be sure to pray enough for your needs. In this way, you may feel fatigued, but not discouraged. Plagued by sins and defects, but not despairing. Perhaps the greatest prayer for this goal is to meditate on the Passion of Christ while praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Just pray the Sorrow Mysteries as if doing the rosary or concentrate on one mystery, on certain wounds, on the Stations of the Cross, or on Our Lord’s Sacred Heart. You might just find your favorite devotion and will certainly please the Divine Master.