Consider first, that if it be so great an evil to defer, for any considerable time, one's conversion to God, and one's reconciliation with him, it must be an evil incomparably greater to form a premeditated design of putting it off to the end of our lives, upon the confidence of a death-bed repentance, because the risk, the presumption, the madness, the outrages offered to God in this case are incomparably greater; so that it is well, if one in a thousand of them that are guilty of such formal designs of putting a cheat upon the divine justice (by indulging themselves in sin all their lifetime, and then only thinking to make their peace with God when they can sin no longer), ever meet with even the poor chance of a death-bed confession, much less with the grace of an effectual conversion. Oh, no; such sinners will find to their loss that 'God is not to be mocked,' Gal. vi. 7. the general rule is, that 'what a man soweth the same shall he reap,' and that as a man lives so shall he die, A rule so general, that in the whole Scripture we have but one instance of a happy death after a wicked life, viz., that of the good thief; an example so singular in all its circumstances as to afford no kind of encouragement to such sinners as design beforehand to give the slip to God's justice by a death-bed conversion.
Consider 2ndly, how very little it is that the sinner is capable of doing on his death-bed towards his conversion; when either the dulness and stupidity caused by his sickness, or by the quality of the medicines or the pains and agonies which he endures in body or in mind, render him quite unfit for prayer, and incapable of attention to reading, or of any serious application of his thoughts to the great business of the soul. Alas! if a little headache, or any other slight indisposition, be enough to hinder us at any time from making any serious meditation, or praying with devotion, how much less shall we be able to attend to prayer, or to do any thing else to the purpose, when we shall be surprised with a mortal illness, and with the pangs of death? O Christians, let not yourselves, then, be imposed upon with vain imaginations of the fine arts of contrition and of the love of God, that you will make upon your death-bed; they will all fly away from you then; 'tis well if you shall then be capable even of one good thought. Thousands that have flattered themselves with the thoughts of doing fine things upon their death-bed have been prevented by sudden death; thousands have been deprived of their senses before they apprehended their danger; thousands have been flattered by those about them into a conceit that they were not dying, when they really were; and what is the most common of all, thousands, in punishment of their forgetting God in their lifetime, have been suffered to forget themselves in death; and thus, generally speaking, these fine projects of death-bed performances turn to smoke, and end in hell.
Consider 3rdly, that the conversion of an habitual sinner is at any time a very difficult task, and required a strong grace, such as may reach, and change the heart, and effectually turn it from the affection of sin to the love of God; so as to make it hate, above all evils, what has been for a long time turned into a second nature by the force of an evil habit; and to love and embrace with the whole soul what has hitherto been loathed or despised. But if this task be very difficult at all times, and seldom brought to effect without long and serious meditations and much prayer, what a poor chance must there be for such sinners as have on set purpose put off this work to the time in which they are neither capable of meditation nor prayer, and which is worst of all, when in punishment of their obstinate impenitence and insupportable presumption, God has withdrawn himself from them? Alas! poor sinner, thou flatteredst thyself in thy sins that it would be easy for thee at any time (how late soever,) to make thy peace with God, and to escape hell, because thou hadst heard, that in whatsoever hour the sinner shall turn to God he will show him mercy; but then the devil hid from thy eyes that this effectual turning to God, especially upon a death-bed, must be the fruit of an extraordinary grace of God, which he has promised to no man; yea, a very great miracle of grace, which he is seldom disposed to work in favour of such presumptuous wretches as have made a practice all their lifetime of mocking him.
Conclude to have no dependence upon the death-bed performance of habitual sinners, no, not even though, like Antiochus, they should shed tears plentifully; these are often influenced by the fear of death, more than the love of God. Take thou care of one at least, by living always for thy own part, as thou desirest to die; and exhort all that belong to thee, to secure their souls by this same method; 'tis the only safe way.
Consider first, and diligently attend to these words of the wise man, Ecclus. ii. 1, 'Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice, and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation,'
and learn from these prescriptions of the Holy Ghost, to enter upon the service of God with a strong resolution of not being discouraged with the opposition thou shalt meet with from the world, the flesh, and the devil; and with a determination to stand thy ground in this spiritual warfare, like a valiant soldier; putting on the armour of Christian justice, and of the fear of God: according to that of the Apostle, Eph. vi. 13, &c., 'Take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil days, and to stand in all things perfect. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, (that is, with sincerity in your intention towards God,)
and having on the breastplate of justice, (that is, of Christian virtue, with a full determination, at all events, to be true to your God,) in all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one,
(by a lively sense of God and eternity;) and take unto you the helmet of salvation,
(that is, an humble confidence in God,) and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God,'
viz., by frequent hearing, reading, or meditating on divine truths. And being thus prepared for the fight, you will not fail of gaining the victory.
Consider 2ndly, what the wise man further prescribes to all that desire to succeed in this glorious enterprise which is to bring us to God, to eternal life. 'Humble thy heart,' says he, 'and endure (that is, suppress and keep under, all the irregular risings of thy pride and passion, that shall offer to oppose thy undertaking;) wait on God with patience, join thyself to God and endure, that thy life may be increased in the latter end. Take all that shall be brought upon thee, and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience. For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.' Excellent lessons, not only for beginners, but for all that are on their journey towards heaven; for crosses, sufferings, and humiliations are the portion of all the servants of God; and patience and courage in adversities, humbling ourselves under the hand of God, and a perfect resignation to his holy will, serve to qualify all our afflictions and to make them light and easy, as well as infinitely advantageous to our souls. O how happy are they who have learnt what it is to join themselves to God in all they have to suffer! O what a happiness is to be found in enduring in his company, and with an entire conformity to his blessed will. What an increase will this give to our life in the latter end, by adding it it a happy eternity!
Consider 3rdly, that one of the most excellent dispositions for attaining to all good, and the most effectual means to begin well, to advance daily, and to continue to the end of the happy service of God, is to conceive, and to nourish in the soul, a great esteem for a virtuous and devout life, an earnest desire of being good, a hunger and a thirst after Christian justice; in a word, an ardent love for true wisdom, which indeed is no other than the knowledge, love, and service of God. 'I wished,' says the wise man, Wisdom vii. 7, 'and understanding was given me, and I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me, and I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison with her; I loved her above health and beauty, and all good things came to me together with her, and innumerable riches through her hands. For she is an infinite treasure to men, which they that use become the friends of God.' O how glorious are the things that are said, both here, and in many other passages of the divine oracles, of this heavenly wisdom! O how lovely, how desirable, is this treasure, this precious pearl of virtue and devotion, which is the truest wisdom. Who would not give all things else to purchase such an inestimable jewel? But behold, the wisest of men, yea, the Spirit of God by him, assures us, that we need but desire it, seek it, and love it with all our hearts, and it shall be our own.
Conclude to observe all these heavenly lessons, and they will not fail to bring thee to God. He earnestly desires to make thee happy by making thee his true servant; if thou desirest the same, how canst thou miscarry provided thy desire be fervent and perseverant?
Consider first, that a devout life is indeed the most happy of lives, and the most secure way to an eternal life. For true devotion is the very perfection of charity and love; she is queen of virtues. But beware, O my soul, of the error of such false devotees as make all devotion consist in certain external exercises, destitute of the internal spirit; or in huddling over a number of prayers, or in frequent fastings, disciplines, or hair shirts; or in giving alms, or in frequenting the sacraments; or in following some other religious practices, which happed to be agreeable to their inclinations; though they remain all the while unmortified in their passions, full of self-love, and void of all true charity, either to God, or to their neighbours; whereas true devotion cannot be without keeping of all the commandments, but more especially these two, of loving God above all things, and our neighbours as ourselves.
Consider 2ndly, that to be truly devout, is to give one's self truly to God, according to the original meaning of the word devotion, which signifies a dedication and consecration of one's self to God. So that true devotion consists in always seeking God, and tending to him; in embracing in all things his holy will, and ever loving and obeying his holy law. He that does this, is truly devout; but he that does not love the will of God, better than his own humour is not devout, although he prays all day long, and sheds floods of tears. Consequently, he that is a slave to any of his passions; he that entertains a rancour to any one of his neighbours; he that sets his heart upon the world, and its toys, more than God, can never be truly devout, because he wants the very foundation of true devotion, which is loving God above all things. As to those other things mentioned above, they are often the attendants of true devotion, or its effects; but then devotion does not consist in any of them, and they may often be found in such as have no true devotion, no true charity, nor even true faith, 'without which no one can please God.' Heb. xi.
Consider 3rdly, that true devotion is not always sensible, nor does it consist in a certain sensible tenderness, which some people experience in prayer: whilst others, who perhaps in the sight of God are better Christians, meet with nothing for a long time but dryness and desolation. Some persons are of a more soft and tender nature and are easily affected even unto tears, and yet withal are very superficial in the love of God; quickly forget their good resolutions of serving him; easily yield in the time of temptation; shrink under every cross, and never arrive at solid virtue - and where is their devotion all this while, since it dries up, like their tears, in a moment, and brings forth no fruit? How much more devout is that Christian who continues constant in prayer, though he finds no sensible comfort therein; who goes not to prayer to seek his own pleasure, but to please his God, and to glorify him; who is willing to take up the cross, and to help his Saviour in the carriage of his cross, by bearing, for the love of him, the dryness and desolation that he endures, without leaving his accustomed exercise: in a word, whose prayer is conformity of his own will to the will of God. O this is devotion indeed; but sensible consolations, without this conformity, deserve not the name of devotion.
Conclude to make no account of any feeling of devotion, that is not accompanied with charity, humility, and conformity to the will of God; and thou wilt be sure not to be imposed upon, as great numbers have been by false appearances, and phantoms of devotion, to the danger of the loss of their precious souls.
Consider first, that 'tis not for nothing that the Son of God, in the Gospel, so often declares against the world, as a capital enemy of him and his; because light and darkness are not more opposite than the world and the Gospel. The maxims and practices of the one are quite contradictory to the other. The world perpetually recommends what the Gospel condemns, and condemns what the Gospel recommends. The world is made up of pride, ambition, and vain-glory; the Gospel breathes nothing but humility, self-contempt, choosing the lowest place, and becoming as little children; assuring us that otherwise there is no heaven for us. The world inspires a covetous spirit, the love of Mammon and a fondness for worldly toys; the Gospel inculcates the necessity of despising all these things, and of quitting all things, at least in affection, to follow Christ. The world is a slave to sensual pleasures, and places its whole happiness in gratifying and indulging its own humours and inclinations; the Gospel requires, as the very first and most necessary condition to be a disciple of Christ that we should deny ourselves, hate our own humours and inclinations, and take up our cross, and follow him. The world imagines them blessed, that abound the most with worldly honours, riches, delicacies, pastimes, and other worldly enjoyments, and have no one to thwart or contradict them. The Gospel, on the contrary, pronounces those blessed that are poor in this world; that suffer injuries and affronts with meekness; that weep and mourn, and are reviled and persecuted by men. In a word, the life of worldlings is a perpetual contradiction of the Gospel of Christ; and the life of Christ, and of all the true children of the Gospel, is a perpetual censure of the world and its maxims. See, my soul, which thou
wouldest rather follow, the world or the Gospel; the road way, or the narrow; the way of perdition, or the way of life.
Consider 2ndly, that Christianity never had a more dangerous enemy than the world; and never yet suffered half so much from all the persecutions of infidels, that have been from the beginning, as it continually suffers from those false brethren, who under the Christian name, are perpetually undermining the Gospel of Christ, and promoting the kingdom of Satan. The persecution of infidels made innumerable Saints, and served very much to purify, and to propagate the church and kingdom of Christ; whereas, this war that is continually carried on by wicked Christians against the morals and maxims of the Gospel, draws away innumerable souls from Christ, corrupts the innocence even of the best inclined, and enslaves them to Satan and sin, and condemns to hell. O let us beware of this mortal enemy of our salvation, this torrent of worldly custom, these pernicious maxims of a deluded and deluding world.
Consider 3rdly, with relation to this very time of Shrove-tide, how wide a distance there is between the true spirit of Christianity and the practice of the children of this World. The Church sets aside this time for a time of devotion and penance, that it may be a suitable preparation for the solemn fast of Lent; therefore she puts on, at this time, her penitential attire, she calls upon her children to enter into a penitential disposition, to renounce now their evil ways, and to confess their sins, that they may be properly prepared for melting with mercy and grace, at this approaching time of mercy and grace. The very name Shrove-tide, in the ancient English signifies the time of confession and sins, because our Catholic ancestors were taught to turn to God at this time with their whole hearts, by humble confession and penance. But how sadly has the spirit of the world perverted this pious institution, and turned this time of devotion and penance into a time of riot and sin, even of such excesses and extravagances, as would much better suit with the heathenish festivals of Bacchus, than with any Christian solemnity, much less with preparation for a penitential fast! Beware then, my soul, of conforming thyself to the world, in any of its extravagances at this time, lest by joining now with this enemy of God and of thy salvation, thou come to lose both thyself and thy God for all eternity.
Conclude to give ear to the divine oracles. 'Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.' 1 John ii. 15. 'The friendship of this world is the enemy of God; whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God,' James iv. 4. and since the word of God thus expressly declares that there can be no such thing as being a friend both to God and the world, keep off from the love of the world, and from its maxims and customs, lest thou make God thy enemy.
Consider first, that there are upon earth, and have been all along, two opposite kingdoms, two opposite interests, two opposite cities; Jerusalem and Babylon, the city of God and the city of the devil - two opposite standards, that of Jesus Christ, and that of Satan. From the time that man unhappily fell from God by sin, Satan set up his tyrannical usurpation; which he has, by all kinds of tricks and lies, endeavoured to maintain ever since, by alluring poor deluded mortals with the glittering show of worldly pomps, riches, and pleasures, to become his slaves, and to fight under his standard, and by establishing among them his law and maxims, calculated for nothing else but to make them miserable both for time and eternity. And ah! how unhappily has he prevailed over millions! what multitudes everywhere join with him against their God! how is this wretched Babylon spread over all the earth!
Consider 2ndly, that Jesus Christ came into this world to set up his standard, in opposition to the standard of Satan, and to invite all men to follow him, promising to deliver his followers from all their evils, and to impart to them all his good. They that duly correspond with his call, and join his royal standard, make up the city of God, the blessed Jerusalem, the Church of the Saints. But see now the immense difference between these two opposite cities and their inhabitants; how happy the one, and how miserable the other. The children of Babylon are miserable indeed; they are slaves to passions that can never be satisfied; to a world that can never be contented; to infernal tyrants that are continually dragging them along with them towards hell: they are slaves to empty vanities, childish toys, and lying follies; labouring under a variety of fears, cares, sorrows, uneasinesses, and innumerable other evils, without enjoying so much as any one, solid or lasting satisfaction. But O, how happy are the children of Jerusalem! what content, what peace, what pure pleasure in the soul, are commonly their portion, even in this life, and immortal joys in the next! and shalt thou, my soul, stand one moment to deliberate which of the two thou wilt choose; the standard of Christ, or that of Satan; Jerusalem or Babylon; all good or all evil; verity or vanity; happiness or misery; heaven or hell?
Consider 3rdly, that all manner of motives, from time and eternity, from our origin and last end, from duty and interest, honour and pleasure, fear and love, all here concur to determine the soul in her choice, and to fix her in the happy resolution of following the standard of Jesus Christ. Turn then, my soul, turn away from this Babel of confusion, noise and disorder; break her chains from off thy neck, O captive daughter of Sion. Renounce, for good and all, the king of pride; the tyrant that has usurped to himself the dominion over this world and its deluded admirers; renounce his works and pomps, together with all his associates, the princes of darkness, and all their slaves, and turn thyself to the blessed Jerusalem, the city of peace; embrace the king of peace, and his glorious standard, with all thy heart; choose him for thy king for ever; pay him irrevocable homage, and promise him inviolable fidelity and obedience.
Conclude, since thou hast now chosen Jesus Christ to be thy king, to fight manfully unto death under his royal standard of the cross; against his and thy enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil. In order to this, learn well the exercise of prayer, and the rules of the Gospel, which are the military discipline which he has fixed for his soldiers.
Consider first, the laws of the military discipline which Jesus Christ prescribes to all that desire to be soldiers, Matt. xvi 24, 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.'
The observance of these three articles makes a complete soldier of Christ. We must renounce ourselves, we must bear our crosses, and we must walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. The corruption of man by sin, the wounds that sin has left in all the faculties of the soul, the violence of our disorderly passions, and the bent of our natural inclinations to evil, infer a necessity of renouncing ourselves, of fighting against ourselves, and of hating our natural inclinations, if we hope to be happy either here or hereafter. We have not a more dangerous enemy than ourselves, the devil himself cannot hurt us half so much as we hurt ourselves, when we follow our own will, and indulge our own inclinations. The denying, therefore, of ourselves, is the first article of unhappy self-love, the root of all our evils, and its three principal branches, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The Son of God came down from heaven to engage us in the holy warfare. The humility, the poverty, the voluntary sufferings of his birth, of his life, and of his death, were all levelled against these enemies.
Consider 2ndly, that the soldier of Jesus Christ must stand to his colours, he must not run from the cross; he must bear and forbear; he must endure many conflicts; he must patiently submit to, and courageously go through, the labours and hardships of this short campaign of his mortal life. He must not pretend to fare better than his captain and his king. All sufferings and hardships appear nothing to a brave soldier, when he is following his prince, and is happy in his company. The Christian soldier then, must be willing to carry his cross after Jesus Christ, who opened heaven to us by the cross, and conducts his soldiers thither by the way of the cross. Embrace then, O my soul, this happy instrument of thy salvation, in which, if thou bearest it in a proper manner, thou wilt find an inexhaustible source of grace and comfort. Embrace the holy will of God, which lays the cross upon thee, to bring thee to himself. He knows what is best for thee, because he is infinitely wise, and he sends thee what he knows is for the best, because he is infinitely good, and good to thee. Thou canst not be in a safer or better way than in the way of the cross, by which Jesus Christ and all his saints have gone to heaven. Even in this life, the true soldiers of Christ find often a greater sweetness in the cross, than in all the pleasure of this world.
Consider 3rdly, that the soldiers of Christ are all called, even as his first disciples were, to follow him; that is to walk in his footsteps by an imitation of his life. He came down from heaven to be our teacher, and our model, and it is the great duty of all that desire to belong to him, to copy after this blessed original, and to show forth in themselves the life of Jesus Christ; to learn of him to be meek and humble of heart; to learn of him poverty of spirit, a contempt of the honours, riches, and pleasures of this world, and a disengagement of the heart from all earthly things; to learn of him a horror of sin, and an obedience even unto death; in fine, to learn of him a perpetual conformity to the will of God, and an unbounded charity to every neighbour. Such was the life of Jesus Christ, and such ought to be the life of all his soldiers.
Conclude to embrace henceforward this discipline of Jesus Christ, in all its parts. It is a heavenly discipline indeed since he came down from heaven to teach it, and the observance of it is to bring us to heaven.
N.B. That as Lent sometimes begins before the 20th of February, sometimes after - when it begins before, the meditations that are not read at this time are to read in June, after the Octave of Corpus Christi; as on the other hand, when Lent begins later than the 20th of February, the meditations that will be wanting here, are to be taken out of the number of those that are placed in the month of June after the aforesaid Octave.
Here follow Meditations for the feasts of St. Matthias, St Patrick, St. Joseph, and the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, which commonly fall in Lent.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
Liturgia Latina Index