Consider first, that a fast of forty days has been recommended by the law and
the prophets, and sanctified by the example of Christ himself. Moses fasted
forty days, (Exod. xxiv. 18,) whilst he conversed with God in the mountain, when
he received the divine law. And again, when the people had sinned, he returned
to the Lord, to the mountain, and fasted other forty days, Exod. xxxiv. 28. Elias
fasted forty days in the wilderness, before he came to the mountain of God,
where he was favoured with the vision of God, as far as man is capable of seeing
him in this life, 3 Kings xix. 8. Christ our Lord, before he entered upon his
mission of preaching his Gospel, retired into a wilderness and there employed
forty days in prayer and fasting, St. Matt. iv. 2. How happy shall we be, if, by
imitating according to our small ability, these great examples, we may also draw
near to God, by this forty days’ fast of Lent! But then, in order to this, we
must join, as they did, retirement and much prayer with our fasting.
Consider 2ndly, that the forty days fast of Lent amongst Christians, is primitive and apostolical: it began with Christianity itself, and with Christianity has been received by all people and nations which have received the faith and law of Christ. Embrace then, O my soul, this solemn penitential fast, this apostolical practice, this precious remnant of primitive discipline. But see it be with a penitential spirit. 'Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation,' 2 Cor. vi. 2. Take thou care not to receive so great a grace in vain. These forty days, if thou make good use of them, will be happy days to thee. 'O seek the Lord whilst he may be found, call upon him while he is near.' Isaias lv. 6
Consider 3rdly, that the great business of Lent is to do penance for our sins, to go daily with Magdalene to the feet of Christ, to wash them in spirit with penitential tears, to make our confession to him, and to lay down all our sins at his feet, begging that he would cancel them with his precious blood; to renounce them for ever, to detest them, and bewail them in his sight; to offer him our poor hearts with all our affections, in order to make him the best amends we can for our past disloyalties, by loving him with all our power for the time to come, that, as he said of Magdalene, St. Luke vii. 47, 'Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much,' so he may also say of us. In this spirit we should make a daily offering of our fasting, and of all other self-denials and penitential exercises of this time, to be united to the passion and death of the Son of God, and so to be accepted of, through him, in satisfaction for our sins. O do this, my soul, during these forty days, and thou shalt live.
Conclude to make good use of this holy time, in which mercy flows. O admire and adore that mercy which has endured thee so long, and which presses thee now, at least, to return to thy God. O take care lest, provoked by thy impenitence, he cut thee off in thy sins
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.
Consider first, the dreadful mischiefs that follow from our not knowing the true
state of our own souls! Alas! what would it avail us to have all other sciences,
and to know all things else, if we should not know what passes within ourselves,
and so should want this most necessary of all sciences, the knowledge of
ourselves? Ah! how many are there in the world who pass their whole lives in
mortal sin, and yet, for want of looking into themselves, are not aware of it!
How many imagine themselves to be alive, 'and have the name of being alive, and
yet are dead!' Apoc. iii. 1. How many imagine their souls to be rich and
wealthy, and to stand in need of nothing, and they know not that in the very
truth, and in the sight of God, 'they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and
blind, and naked!' Apoc. iii. 17. 'O from my hidden sins cleanse me, O Lord; and
from the sins of others spare thy servants.' Ps. xviii. 13.
Consider 2ndly, that to prevent so great an evil every Christian ought often to examine into the true state of his interior, and consider seriously what are the real dispositions of his soul, especially with regard to his God. He cannot be in the state of grace, or in the way of salvation, if he love not God above all things. Reflect, O my soul, is there nothing thou lovest more than God? Is there nothing that takes place of him in thy affections? How comes it, then, that commonly God is so seldom thought on in the course of the day? How comes it that upon every occasion worldly honour, temporal interest, sensual pleasures, the gratifying thyself or the world, make thee turn thy back on him? The true lover is ever thinking on the subject of his love, and never better content than when in company and conversing with his beloved. Is thy love of God such as this? Art thou resolutely determined, for no consideration whatever, for no honour, no interest, no pleasure, no human respect, no fear, no love - for nothing, in fine, that the world can give or take away, to be disloyal to thy God? If not, the love of God is not in thee, and thou art none of his. This is the best rule by which thou mayest know whether thou really lovest God or not. But then, to know thy true disposition in this regard, examine thy works: 'If you love me,' saith the Lord, 'Keep my commandments.' St. John xiv. 15.
Consider 3rdly, that thou must also examine, how thy soul stands affected with regard to thy neighbour. For here is another great branch of the Christian duty, in which his soul is no less interested, and in which too many deceive themselves; O my soul, art thou just in thy thoughts, words, and works, to thy neighbour? Dost thou live up to the rules of charity in this regard? Art thou not censorious in thy judgments, bitter in thy speeches, hasty and passionate in thy carriage to him? Dost thou never injure him in his reputation by backbiting and detraction, in his honour by affronts, in his friends by tale-bearing, and in the peace of his mind by derision or contempt? Art thou just in all thy dealings with him? Dost thou pay his dues? Dost thou keep any thing from him unjustly? Dost thou do by him, in whatever station of life he may be, as thou wouldest be done by, if thou wert in his place? Is there no rancour in thy heart against any one soul upon earth? No secret hatred, malice, or envy? Examine thyself well upon all these heads, in which millions affect to deceive themselves to their eternal perdition.
Conclude to labour seriously for the knowledge of thyself; that thou mayest effectually amend thy life and secure thy soul. For why shouldest thou suffer thyself to be any longer blindfolded by passion, or affected ignorance, with evident danger of falling down the dreadful precipice which leads to a miserable eternity.
Consider first, that we must also examine the state of our souls as to hidden
sins, as to such sins as we may be guilty of in others; for in these kinds, many
are guilty of great disorders, while they flatter themselves that all goes well
with them. Few indeed are ignorant of their carnal sins; though even in these
sometimes persons deceive themselves, but very many take little or no notice of
their spiritual sins, which are more interior; and though less infamous in the
eyes of men, are more heinous in the sight of God; see then thou examine thyself
thoroughly upon these heads; for spiritual sins are commonly very subtle, and
not easily discerned, without a diligent search. Nay sometimes such as are the
most guilty, will not believe themselves guilty of them. These spiritual sins
are of one of these five kinds, viz,, pride, covetousness, envy, secret malice,
and spiritual sloth. Look into them one by one, and if thy self love will suffer
thee to be impartial in thy search, in all probability thou wilt find thyself
more guilty than thou art aware of.
Consider 2ndly, in particular, how full thou art of thyself; how fond of every thing that flatters thee; how presumptuous of thy own sufficiency; how apt to compare thyself with others in thy thoughts, and to give thyself the preference; how apt to despise others; how unwilling to suffer any reproof or contradiction; how ready to swell with indignation upon every trifling opposition or contempt; how apt to break out into a storm upon every supposed affront; how much concerned at what the world will think or say of thy performances; how much more solicitous for thy worldly honour than for the glory of God. And what is all this but an unhappy pride, which is laying waste thy soul, and corrupting its very vitals, whilst thou art not sensible of it. See also, as to covetousness, whether the love of the mammon of the world does not reign in thy heart. Alas! the greatest miser does nor think himself covetous; but the tree is to be known by its fruit - such as an anxious care and a perpetual solicitude about the things of the world; and upon this account neglecting prayer and other spiritual duties, or being continually distracted in them; thinking more of thy money than of thy God; locking up thy heart in thy chest; losing thy peace upon every loss or disappointment; and a strange unwillingness to part with thy money, even when the honour of God, or thy neighbour's necessities call for it. See if nothing of this be thy case. See if thou art not more afraid of losing thy worldly substance than thy God. If so, thou art not in the way to heaven.
Consider 3rdly, as to the other spiritual sins, whether there be no person for whom thou hast a secret envy? No one whose praises, whose endowments, corporal or spiritual, whose virtues or performances, make thee uneasy, and gnaw thy soul, as if their advantages were a lessening to the honour, praise, and esteem which thou affectest. O how common is this mortal crime, and how many detractions and other evils does it produce! and yet how many take very little notice of it! Is it not thy case? Then as to secret malice, rancour, and hatred how dost thou stand affected? Look well into thyself; for here again we are too apt to deceive ourselves; but we must judge of the tree by its fruits, that is, by our way of thinking, speaking, and acting with relation to our supposed enemies. Now, there is so very wide a difference between the fruits of charity and those of malice, between love and hatred, that if we are sincere in our examination we cannot well be deceived therein. And as to spiritual sloth, which is a clog upon the soul, infinitely opposite to the love of God, to the spirit of prayer, to a due care in frequenting the sacraments and other duties; is not this also a most common evil, which frequently amounts to a mortal sin and yet how seldom do lukewarm souls take notice of it.
Conclude upon declaring an eternal war against all these vices, and particularly against that which thou hast reason to apprehend is thy predominant passion, that is to say, the chiefest and most dangerous of all thy enemies.
Consider first, that in order to know the true state of our souls, we must also
examine how we discharge ourselves of all our duties and not only of all such
duties as are common to all Christians, but also of all such as are particularly
incumbent on us in our station of life. Alas! how many take notice of their sins
of commission, but not of their sins of omission! How many make some account of
such duties as relate to the regulating themselves, but are not concerned to see
that others under their charge serve the Lord! How many examine themselves upon
the commandments of God, and the precepts of the Church, as far as they
appertain to all Christians in general; but pass over the particular duties and
obligations annexed to their calling or state of life, to which, nevertheless,
they are strictly bound either by law, or by covenant, or by oath, or by the
very nature of the calling. Reflect thou my soul, on all these things. The grand
duty of man, the great end for which he came into the world, his whole business
in life, is to dedicate and consecrate his very being and his whole life to the
love and service of his Maker. All thy days, O man, are given thee for this end.
The omission of this great duty is highly criminal; it is usually the first sin
that man falls into. And yet how few sufficiently reflect on it! Alas, how many
millions of souls are lost by this omission, who, though they are neither guilty
of blasphemy, nor murder, nor adultery, nor theft, &c., are justly condemned
for the omission of dedicating themselves in earnest to the love and service of
Consider 2ndly, Christian soul, what care thou takest of thy children, of thy servants, and of all under thy charge. The regularity of thy own life will never bring thee to heaven, if through thy negligence of them their lives be irregular. Reflect ever on this, and see if thou art not guilty of many criminal omissions in this kind. Again, reflect on the particular obligations annexed to thy calling, and how far thou performest what the law of God or man requires of thee in thy station; for example, that of a pastor, a teacher, a lawyer, a physician, a tradesman, a servant, &c. See whether thou makest good thy covenants. And if an oath were required at thy first admission, or afterwards, see what care thou hast taken to discharge thyself of the obligations of it. Alas! how many, in entering upon their respective callings, take certain oaths, and afterwards perhaps think no more of them! And can this be the way to heaven! See then how necessary it is that a Christian, who has a mind to secure his soul, should look well into himself.
Consider 3rdly, whether thou hast nothing to apprehend with regard to thy salvation, from the sins of other men. And this not only from thy omissions or thy neglect of restraining those under thy charge from sin, or of keeping away from them the occasions of sin; but because of thy commissions too, in promoting or encouraging sin by word or work; in enticing or provoking to sin; in flattering or applauding people in their sins; and in contributing to keep up the pernicious maxims of the world, in point of honour, interest, and pleasure, by which numbers of poor souls are enslaved to sin, and dragged into hell. Reflect withal how little guard thou generally hast upon thy words in thy ordinary conversation, and whether thy carelessness therein may not frequently be attended with very bad consequences to the souls of thy neighbours, by giving them some occasion or other of sin, either in thought, word, or deed? Alas! how many sins will be brought to light in the great day, which careless souls, in the time of this life, but little apprehend, and so continue till death in the guilt of them.
Conclude to make such good use of the spiritual exercises of this time; and especially to study so well what passes within thee, as to be no longer blind to thy own sins. O my God! do thou give me grace now at least, perfectly to know myself. O grant that I may renounce, and do penance for all my past sins, and henceforward settle my soul upon a foundation that may stand for eternity.
Consider first, that in order to find mercy we must show mercy. 'Blessed
are the merciful,' said our Lord, 'for they shall obtain mercy,'
Matt. v. 7. And on the other hand 'judgment without mercy,' saith St.
James, 'to him that hath not done mercy,' ch. ii. 13. God expressly rejects
the fast of them that refuse to show mercy to their neighbour, Isai. lviii. He
declares he will neither give ear to their prayers, nor accept of their
sacrifices. Prov. xxi. 13. Isai. i. 11, 15, 16, 17, 18. If then, my soul, thou
desirest at this time effectually to sue for the divine mercy in the forgiveness
of thy sins, see that thy fasting and prayer be accompanied with alms-deeds,
'If thou have much, give abundantly; if thou have little, take care even so
to be willing to bestow a little,' Tob. iv: 9. This mercy and charity exercised
by thee, will recommend thy fasting and prayer to that God who is all charity, and whose tender mercies are above all his works.
Consider 2ndly, how many ways, and upon how many occasions, the word of God recommends almsdeeds to us. It promises an eternal kingdom in heaven to all those who are diligent in this exercise, and threatens with eternal damnation all those who are negligent, Matt. xxv. It shows that the definite sentence which is to decide our eternal doom, is to pass upon each one of us according to his behaviour in this respect. Ibid. It encourages even the greatest sinners 'to redeem their sins by alms, and their iniquities with works of mercy to the poor.' Dan. iv. 24. It assures them that by the means of alms 'all things shall be made clean to them,' Luke xi. 41; that 'alms deliver from all sin and from death, and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness,' Tob. iv. 11; that Christ considers what is done for the poor, as done for himself; and will reward it accordingly, Matt. xxv.; that 'he that hath mercy on the poor, lendeth to the Lord, and he will repay him,' Prov. xix. 17. We pass over many other texts, promising all kind of good, both for this world and the next, to works of mercy; and threatening the hard-hearted and unmerciful, with the worst of God's judgments. O! my soul, attend to these heavenly oracles; embrace with all the affection of the heart this lovely virtue of mercy, the favourite daughter of the great King. It was mercy brought him down from heaven to thee; and mercy must carry thee up to him thither.
Consider 3rdly, the conditions that must accompany our alms, that they may be capable of producing these great effects. 1st. They must be liberal, and proportionable to our ability; 'He that soweth sparely shall reap but sparingly.' What then can the worldling expect, who for every penny he gives to God, in the person of the poor, gives a pound to the devil, and to his own passions and lusts? 2ndly. Our alms must be given with a pure intention; that is, not out of ostentation or vain-glory, or for an other human motive, but for God's sake; otherwise they will have no reward from God. 3rdly. Our alms can never effectually procure for us the remission of our sins except we join with them a sincere repentance for our sins, together with an effectual resolution of loving and serving God for the future. Christians, take good notice of these three articles; and particularly remember, that neither alms nor any thing else can give any manner of security to any man that wilfully persists in mortal sin.
Conclude to esteem, love, and practise, upon every occasion, this blessed virtue of mercy. But see that thy intention be pure, and beware of losing the benefit of it by an impenitent heart.
Consider first, that the spiritual works of mercy, by which we relieve our
neighbours in the necessities of their souls, are of far greater value in the
sight of God, than such as merely relate to their bodies. If, then, he is
pleased to promise such ample rewards to the feeding the hungry, clothing the
naked, and such like good works, which relate only to those corruptible
carcasses, and to the short time of our mortal pilgrimage; how much more will he
esteem and reward those works of mercy and charity, by which immortal souls,
made after God's own image, and redeemed by the blood of Christ, are drawn out
of darkness and sin, rescued from Satan and hell, and brought to God and a happy
eternity 'He that causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way,'
saith the Scripture, 'shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a
multitude of sins,’ James v. 20. 'And they that instruct many to
justice, shall shine as stars for all eternity.' Dan. xii. 3.
Consider 2ndly, that the spiritual works of mercy are principally exercised by reclaiming sinners from their evil ways, even the ways of death and hell, by admonitions, remonstrances, fraternal corrections, &c.; by enlightening and instructing such as, through ignorance, are in danger of losing their precious souls, or by procuring them this light and instruction from other proper persons; by comforting the afflicted, encouraging the pusillanimous, upholding and assisting them that are under temptations, reconciling such as are at variance, bearing with all, forgiving all, overcoming evil with good, and praying for all. O how happy, how precious in the sight of God, is a life spent in such works of mercy and charity as these are! And how happy will that death be that shall conclude such a life! O my soul, that we may lead such a life! O that we may die such a death!
Consider 3rdly, that these spiritual works of mercy, are not only the most acceptable of all, and the most meritorious in the sight of God, but also are of strict obligation, and this not only to pastors, but to all other Christians, according to their circumstances and abilities. Charity is a virtue of universal obligation, and the principal object of that love, which charity obliges us to have for our neighbours, is the eternal welfare of their immortal souls. If then we can unconcernedly see numbers of souls crowding into hell, without affording them all the help that lies in our power, in order to rescue them from that extremity of endless misery, is it not evident that we have no charity for them; and if not, may not our case be one day as bad as theirs? What then must we do? We must gladly lay hold of every opportunity of contributing what lies in us to the conversion and salvation of any one of these poor unhappy souls, and we shall quickly find that opportunities of this nature will not be wanting, if we take the matter to heart. At least there are two ways, and those the most effectual of all, of reclaiming sinners and bringing them to God, which are certainly in the power of every one, and from which no one can be excused, and these are the example of a holy life, and the efficacy of fervent prayer poured out to God in behalf of poor sinners.
Conclude ever to make use of these two, the most effectual ways of bringing sinners to God; yet, so as not to neglect any other means that lie in thy power. What a comfort will it be to thee; what an honour, what a happiness, to be the instrument of God in the salvation of souls in that same great work, which brought the Son of God from heaven. But what dreadful punishments mayest thou not justly apprehend if for want of this charity, any of these souls should perish, because thou wouldst not lend them a helping hand to withdraw them from the precipice to which they were running! Ah! will not their blood one day cry to heaven for vengeance against thee.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
Liturgia Latina Index