Consider first, that meditating on the sufferings and death of our Redeemer ought to be a principal part of the Christianís devotion during the time of Lent. For the season approaches in which we celebrate the yearly memory of our Lordís passion, and therefore the Church, which at no time can forget the sufferings and death of her heavenly Spouse, at this time particularly recommends to her children to set before their eyes their crucified Saviour, and to make him the great object of their devotion. His passion is the ever-flowing source of all mercy, grace, and salvation to us; all our good must be derived from his cross; therefore, the more we approach to him in his sufferings, and station ourselves near the cross, by pious meditations on his passion, the more plentifully shall we partake of the mercy and grace which flow continually from those fountains of life, his precious wounds. The great design of Lent is that the sinner should now return to God, and sue for pardon and mercy; and what better means can he have for this, than by taking along with him to the throne of mercy the blood of Christ, by daily meditating on his passion.
Consider 2ndly, that the passion of Christ has been always from the beginning of the world, the great object of the devotion of the children of God: in all their bloody sacrifices of old, of oxen and sheep, they celebrated beforehand the death of the Lamb of God, slain in figure from the beginning of the world. And as, from the time of the fall of Adam, no grace could ever be derived to any man, but through the channel of the merits of the death and passion of our Redeemer, whose future coming was revealed to man immediately after his fall; so no sacrifices could ever be acceptable to God, but such as had relation to him, and through faith in him. Much more now under the new law, are all the faithful obliged to make the passion of Christ the great object of their devotion, since he has instituted the eucharistical sacrifice and sacrament, and left us therein the sacred mysteries of his body and blood; for this very end, that in our most solemn worship, we should have always before our eyes his passion and death. See, my soul, how much thy God desires thou shouldest remember what he has suffered for thee! And why? Doubtless that by this means thou mightest be confirmed in his love. O blessed be his goodness for ever!
Consider 3rdly, how ungrateful all such Christians are, as forget the suffering and death of their Redeemer; may they not all be reckoned in the number of those of whom he complained of old, by the Royal Prophet, that they left him alone in his passion, and took no notice of him. 'I looked on my right hand, and beheld, and there was no one that would know me,' Ps. cxli. 5. Had the meanest man upon earth suffered but the tenth part of what our Lord has suffered for the love of one of us, we should be basely ungrateful if we ever forgot his sufferings and his love. What then must we think of ourselves, if we forget the unspeakable sufferings and infinite love of the Son of God himself, nailed to a cross, to deliver us by his death from the eternal torments of hell? Ah, Christians, let us never be so ungrateful.
Conclude, O my soul, at this holy time at least, daily to accompany thy crucified Jesus by meditations on his sufferings. 'With Christ I am nailed to the cross,' said St. Paul, Gal. ii. 12. 'My love is nailed to the cross,í said St. Ignatius, the martyr. O that like these generous lovers, we could always adhere to our crucified God.
Consider first, that the consideration of the passion of Christ is the sovereign means of all good to Christian souls. 'As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up,' saith our Lord to Nicodemus, John iii. 14, 15, 'that whosoever believeth in him may not perish, but may have everlasting life.' As then the looking at the brazen serpent, (which was a figure of the death of Christ,) was the means of divine appointment to heal the Israelites, who were bitten by the fiery serpents sent among them for their sins, and to rescue them from temporal death; so the contemplation of the passion of Christ, is the great means to heal Christian souls from the bites of the infernal serpent, and to deliver them from everlasting death. Every sinner that looks for mercy, must return to God with his whole heart, and that by faith, hope, love, and repentance. Now it is in meditating on the passion of Christ we contemplate the great object of our faith the chiefest ground of our hope; the most pressing motive of divine love; and the strongest and most effectual inducement to repentance for our sins. O! let us embrace then this great means of bringing us to God, and to all good.
Consider 2ndly, that as the belief of Christ crucified is the most fundamental article of the Christianís faith, so it has the greatest influence of all other articles on our justification; according to that of the Apostle, Rom. iii. 23, 24, 25, 'that we all have sinned and need the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God had proposed to be A PROPITIATION THROUGH FAITH IN HIS BLOOD,' &c. ĎTis then through faith in his blood we are to be introduced to the divine mercy and Ďtis by meditation on his passion we are to be introduced to a lively faith in his blood. So that the devotion to the passion of Christ is the shortest way to come at justifying faith. It has no less influence on our hope, by setting before our eyes how much God has loved us in giving his only Son, and the great grounds we have to look for all good through him. For as the Apostle writes, Rom. viii. 32, 'He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, hath he not also with him given us all things.' O what an earnest indeed has God given us of all mercy, grace, and salvation in the blood of his Son! O what may not poor sinners hope for from such and so great a Redeemer, if they apply to this sacred passion by daily meditations, and offer up their humble supplications to his Father, through him, and his infinite merits.
Consider 3rdly, that as nothing contributes so effectually to our justification and sanctification as the love of God; so nothing contributes more effectually to excite this heavenly love in our souls than the devotion to the passion of Christ. For there he must clearly discover the incomprehensible goodness of God, and the inexhaustible treasures of his divine love for us. This excites in us a desire of returning love for love; life for life. This attracts us, like Magdalene, to the feet of our crucified Saviour, with an earnest desire to wash them with penitential tears, flowing from, and enlivened by, divine love. This makes us grieve for our past ingratitude, in having had hitherto so little sense of his goodness and love; this makes us lament the share our sins have had in nailing him to the cross; this teaches us to offer our whole hearts to him, in order to make him the best amends we are capable of by loving him henceforward, both in time and eternity. Thus the devotion to the passion of Christ introduces that penitential love to which our Lord attributes the remission of sins, when he says of Magdalene, Luke vii. 47, 'Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much.'
Conclude to station thyself at the foot of the cross, and by the daily contemplation of the sufferings of thy Redeemer, so to exercise thy soul in faith, hope, love, and repentance, as to secure to thyself mercy, grace, and salvation.
Consider first, that the devotion to the passion of our Lord brings with it other great advantages to the soul, inasmuch as it teaches us many excellent lessons for the regulating our lives according to his blessed example. The Son of God came down from heaven, not only to shed his blood for us to pay our ransom, but also to give himself to us as a perfect pattern of all virtues for us to follow in the practice of our lives; that so the image of God in man, which had been disfigured by sin, might be repaired and reformed according to this great original. Now, although the whole life of Christ was full of admirable examples of all Christian virtues, yet they nowhere shine forth more brightly than in his passion, in which he has drawn, as it were, under one view, all the great lessons of virtue he had taught in his life, both by his words and his works. So that the passion of Christ is the great school that the Christian must frequent by devout meditations, if he desire to learn the virtues of his Redeemer. He must look on by contemplation, and execute in work what he sees in this devout pattern, which his Lord here shows him, on Mount Calvary, if he desire to make his soul a living tabernacle for the living God. And it was said to Moses when he was to make the tabernacle of the covenant:- 'See that thou make all things according to the pattern which was shown thee on the Mount,' Heb. viii. 5.
Consider 2ndly, what the lessons are that Christ more particularly desires to teach us in his passion. The Apostle informs us, Phil. ii. 5, 8, that they are principally his obedience and his humility. 'He humbled himself, become obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross;' and this, that we might learn to be of the like mind. O let us study well these great lessons. Adam fell from God by disobedience; to gratify himself, he transgressed the holy law of God; and so entailed both sin and death upon all his offspring. By the obedience of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, we are delivered from sin and death, but upon articles of learning and practising his obedience, and that also unto death; by a constant and perpetual will of sticking close to the commandments of God at all events, and of rather dying than transgressing his holy law. This is the obedience that Christ expects we should learn from his cross, so as to be ever willing to part even with our dearest affections, rather than offend our God; and to submit to any sufferings whatsoever rather than to disobey. This is true Christian obedience, and nothing less will bring us to God. My soul, thou must learn this lesson at the foot of the cross.
Consider 3rdly, what a lesson of humility Christ has given us in the whole course of his passion; becoming therein, 'as a worm and no man; the reproach of men and the outcast of the people,' Ps. xxi. 7. See how he humbled himself, under the malediction of our sins, in his prayer in the garden. How he humbled himself, in suffering with silence, all manner of calumnies, affronts, and disgraces. How he humbled himself under those ignominious and infamous torments of scourging at the pillar, crowning with thorns, and his carriage of the cross. In fine, how he humbled himself, in his being crucified between two thieves, and in dying that most disgraceful death of the cross. But who is this, my soul, that thus humbles himself, and makes himself thus mean and contemptible for thee? Why it is the Lord of Glory; it is the Most High; it is the great King of heaven and earth. And why does he thus debase himself? It is to teach thee his humility; a lesson so necessary, that without learning it thou canst never please God, nor have any part with him.
Conclude to study well these necessary lessons, by a daily attendance upon our Lord in his passion. He came down from heaven to be our teacher; and his cross is the pulpit from which he most feelingly and effectually preaches to our souls.
Consider first, that in the passion of Christ his meekness is no less admirable than his humility. These two he jointly recommended in life to be learned of him, Matt. xi. 29. And these two he jointly taught in death by his great example. 'He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer he opened not his mouth.' Isai liii. 7. 'The Lord God hath opened my ear,' saith he, Isai l. 5, 6, 'and I do not resist - I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them; I have turned not away my face from them that rebuke me, and spit upon me.' And why all this? But 'to leave us an example that we should follow his steps,' 1 Pet. ii. 21, 23. 'Who when he was reviled did not revile; when he suffered he threatened not; but delivered himself to them that judged him unjustly.' O let us learn from the consideration of the behaviour of our Lord in his sufferings to suppress all the risings of our passion and pride, and to imitate his meekness and silence; who in the midst of affronts and injuries of all kinds, 'became as a man that heareth not, and as a dumb man not opening his mouth.'
Consider 2ndly, that the devotion to the passion of Christ is the great means to teach a Christian patience under all the crosses and sufferings we are exposed to during our mortal pilgrimage. We cannot live without crosses and sufferings; and 'in our patience' under them, 'we are to possess our souls.' Luke xxi. 19. Patience both sweetens and sanctifies all our sufferings; 'patience is necessary for us, that doing the will of God, we may receive the promise.' Heb. x. 36. 'Patience hath a perfect work; that we may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing.' James i. 4. As none hath ever gone to heaven but by the way of the cross, so none can ever come thither without patience. Now, this all-necessary virtue of patience is best learned in the school of the passion of Christ by the consideration of the multitude and variety of his sufferings; and the manner in which he endures all for the love of us. How shall a sinner (who has deserved hell for his crimes) pretend to complain, or think much of any sufferings in life or death, when by a serious meditation he sets before his eyes the far greater sufferings of the innocent Lamb of God, endured with an unwearied patience, for his sins?
Consider 3rdly, what further lessons are to be learned from the contemplation of the passion of Christ. 1. Of charity for our enemies; by considering the Son of God, praying for them that crucified him, and dying for his enemies. 2. Of perfect resignation, and conformity in all things to the holy will of God; by the great example of the prayer of our Lord in his agony, 'not my will but thine be done;' and the consideration of the great sacrifice that he made of himself to his Father upon the cross, without the least reserve. 3. Of the spirit of voluntary mortification and self-denial; by seeing how the Son of God allows himself no ease or comfort in his sufferings; but both in life and death makes choice of what is most disagreeable to natural inclination. O my soul, these are necessary lessons indeed. See thou study them well at the foot of the cross, sitting under the shadow of thy beloved. O dear Jesus, do thou, by thy eternal grace, teach me effectually these virtues, by that mercy and love that nailed thee to the cross.
Conclude by loving and blessing thy God for having sent thee so excellent a master from heaven to teach thee the way thither by his sufferings and death. Let these be always before thy eyes, and thou shalt never miss thy way.
Consider first, those words of our Saviour, St. John xxii. 13, 'Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' And indeed history scarce furnishes any instances of a friendship so perfect, as that one friend should be willing to lay down his life for another. But, O divine Saviour of our souls, how imperfect is all human friendship compared with thine. What love between man and man could ever bear the least resemblance to that divine charity which burned in thy sacred breast, and which obliged thee to offer up thyself in sacrifice, in the midst of all kinds of ignominies, and the very worst of torments, for thy very enemies; for those very wretches that crucified thee, for us miserable sinners, who were like to make no better return for all thy love, and for all thy sufferings, than sin and ingratitude; and this to such a degree as scarce ever to think of thy sufferings, or thank thee for them; but rather by repeated treasons, to be daily treading under foot thy precious blood. O blessed by all creatures for evermore be this infinite goodness and love of our dearest Redeemer! O my dear Saviour, I beseech thee, by all this love and by all this precious blood which thou hast so lovingly shed for me, that thou wouldst never more suffer me to be thus ungrateful to thee.
Consider 2ndly, what the world would think of a prince, the only son and heir of some great monarch, who should entertain such love and friendship for one of the meanest of his slaves, as to offer himself to die a cruel and ignominious death, to rescue his slave from the just punishment of his crimes. Would not all mankind stand amazed at such an extraordinary love? And much more, if the crime for which this slave was condemned to die, were no less than a treasonable conspiracy against this prince, by whom he was so tenderly beloved. All Christian souls, this is but a faint resemblance, a very imperfect image of that inconceivable and inexpressible love, which our Saviour has shown to us, in laying down his life upon a cross, to rescue us his ungrateful creatures - rebels and traitors to him and his Father - from the eternal torments of hell, which we have a thousand times deserved by our treasons against him. For as there is an infinite distance between the sovereign majesty of God and any of his creatures, how dignified soever; so there is between that love which our God has shown in dying for us worms of the earth and slaves of hell, and that love which would oblige one mortal to die for another. O dear Jesus, never suffer me to forget this love which thou hast shown me! O give me grace to return thee love for love.
Consider 3rdly, how truly sweet our Lord has shown himself to us in his passion, and how rich in mercy. For supposing it was his pleasure to deliver us from sin and hell, he could have brought this about with the same ease with which he created all things out of nothing; only one word, one act of his would have been sufficient; or if he must needs suffer and shed his blood for our redemption, one drop alone of his sacred blood, by reason of the infinite dignity of his divine person, would have been abundantly enough to atone for all the sins of ten thousand worlds. But this infinite love for us, and the desire he had to gain our hearts, and to oblige us to love him, would not be content with this, nor with any thing less than with pouring out the last drop of his most sacred blood by suffering for us the worst of torments, and the worst of deaths. O infinite goodness, how little art thou considered h us here! O how astonishing shalt thou appear to the Saints and Angels for all eternity!
Conclude with astonishment at the ingratitude and insensibility of Christians, who make professions of believing this infinite goodness, mercy, and love, and yet are so little touched with it, or restrained by the consideration of it, from going on, daily crucifying their Lord by their sins. O divine love, let me never be so unhappy! O let me never forget thee! O come and take full possession at least of my soul and let nothing in life or death ever separate me from thee.
Consider first, how affectionate is the love that Christ bears us in his passion. It is stronger than deaths; he loves us more than his own life, since he parts with his life for the love of us. It is more tender than the love of the tenderest mother, since he voluntarily embraces the pangs of death to give us life; he sheds his blood to cleanse our souls from sin; he offers his own body in sacrifice to be our victim, our ransom, and our food. At the very time he is suffering amid dying for us, he has every one of us in his heart; he embraces each with an incomparable affection; weeps over each one, prays for each one, and pours out his blood for each one, no less than if he had suffered for that one alone. O my soul, had we then a place in the heart of our Jesus, when he was hanging upon the cross? and shall we ever refuse him a place in our heart? No, dear Saviour, my heart is thine; it desires nothing better than to be for ever a servant of thy love.
Consider 2ndly, how effectual is the love that Christ shows us in his passion; it contents not itself with words or professions of affection, nor with such passing sentiments of tenderness as we imagine we have for him in certain fits of devotion, at times when nothing occurs for us to suffer for his sake; but it shows itself by its effects, by his taking upon himself all our evils, to procure effectually all good for us. His love has made him divest himself of all his beauty and comeliness, and hide all his glory and majesty, that he might become for us, 'despised and the most abject of men, a man of sorrow and acquainted with infirmity.' Isaia iii. 'He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows' out of pure love. He has made himself for the love of us, 'as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. He was wounded for our iniquities, and bruised for our sins. For we like sheep have gone astray, and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was offered because it was his own will.' And it was his own will, because he loved us, and desired to transfer to himself the punishment due to us, that he might deliver us from the wrath to come, and open to us the fountains of mercy, grace, and life. This was an effectual love indeed. Does our love for him show itself by the like effects? Are we willing to renounce our own will, to mortify our inclinations and passions, to suffer and to bear our crosses for him? A generous lover is as willing to be with him on mount Calvary, as on mount Thabor. Is this our disposition?
Consider 3rdly, how disinterested is the love that Christ shows us in his passion. He loves us without any merit on our side; we deserved nothing from him but hell. He loves us without any prospect of gain to himself from us, or any return that we can make to him; we can give him nothing but what he must first give us; we can offer him no good thing but what his love has purchased for us; we can have nothing but what is his. He stands in no need at all of us, or our goods. O how truly generous is this love of our Redeemer in his passion! How bountiful is he to us! He makes over to us the infinite treasures of his merits; he wants them not for himself, but bequeaths them all to us. His love for us knows no bounds. It hath possessed his heart from the first instant of his conception: it burned there for every moment of his life; it carried him through all his sufferings, even to death. It is without beginning or end; it endures from eternity to eternity. O bright fire, mayest thou take possession of my soul, for time and eternity!
Conclude, since thou canst make no better return, to offer at least daily thy heart with all its affections to thy loving Saviour. But that it may be worthy of his acceptance, beg that he would cleanse it by his precious blood, and inflame it with his love.
Consider first, how truly did the devout author of the 'Following of Christ,' say:- 'The whole life of Christ was a Cross and a Martyrdom. He came into this world to be a victim for our sins; and from the first instant of his conception in his motherís womb, he offered himself for all the sufferings he was to undergo in life and death.' Hear how he then addresses himself to his Father, Ps. xxxiv. 7, 'sacrifice and oblation thou didst not desire, but thou hast pierced ears for me. Burnt-offering and sin-offering thou didst not require: then said I, behold I come. In the head of the book it is written of me, that I should do thy will. O my God, I have desired it, and thy name is in the midst of my heart.' And what was this will and this law, which from his first conception he embraced in the midst of his heart; but that instead of all other sacrifices he should become himself both our priest and victim, and through his sufferings should mediate our peace, and reconcile us to his Father? Thus he accepted beforehand all that he was afterwards to endure; and by the clear and distinct foresight, which he had all along of his whole passion, suffered in some measure all his lifetime, what afterwards he endured at his death. O how early did my Jesus embrace his cross for the love of me! O how early did I prefer my pleasures before his love!
Consider 2ndly, divers other sufferings which our Lord went through in the course of his mortal life. His nine months confinement in his motherís womb, most sensible to him, who from his first conception had the perfect use of reason, and who by a violence which he offered to his zeal and love, was kept so long from action. The hardships he endured at his birth, from the rigour of the season and the poverty of his accommodations; his circumcision; his flight into Egypt; the sense that he had of the murder of the Innocents; the austerity of his life; his frequent hunger, thirst, and want of necessaries; his labours and fatigues. But all this was nothing to what his boundless charity and his zeal for the honour of his Father and the salvation of souls, made him continually suffer, from the sight and knowledge of the sins of men. He had all the sins of the world always before his eyes, for the whole time of his life, with all their enormity and opposition to the infinite majesty and sanctity of God, and his divine honour and glory, and the dreadful havoc they did, and would make in the souls of men, with all the dismal consequences of them both in time and eternity; and this sight which was always present to him, was infinitely more grievous to his soul than the very pangs of death. For if St. Paul had such a sense of the evil of sin, as to be quite on fire when he saw any one fall into sin, 2 Cor. xi. 29, how much more did this fire devour our Saviour?
Consider 3rdly, how much our Lord suffered from being obliged to live and converse amongst men, whose manners were so widely different from and so infinitely opposite to his; how sensibly he was touched with the crying disorders of the people of the Jews, amongst whom he lived; with their malice, their violences, their injustices, their deceits, their blasphemies, and the licentiousness of their lives; the pride, ambition, covetousness, and hypocrisy of their priests, scribes, and Pharisees; their oppressions of the poor; their contempt of virtue and of truth; and their general forgetfulness of God and their salvation. Add to this, how sensibly he must have been afflicted with the hardness of their hearts, with which they resisted his graces; their obstinacy in their evil ways; their ingratitude; the opposition they made to his heavenly Gospel; their blasphemous judgments of his person and miracles; their slanders and murmurings against him; and their continually laying snares for him, and persecuting him even unto death. O, who can sufficiently apprehend how much our Saviourís soul was affected by all these evils; with this reception and treatment he met with from his chosen people, and with those dreadful judgments they were thereby drawing down upon their own heads, instead of that mercy, which he came to purchase for them by his blood! Death itself was not so sensible to him.
Conclude, if thou wouldíst be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, to conform thyself to a life of crosses and sufferings: thus shalt thou wear his livery, and shalt be entitled to a share in his heavenly kingdom.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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