Holy Thursday evening places before our eyes in an especial manner two circumstances in the life and sufferings of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The one picture portrays Christ at the Last Supper with His disciples, where, by the institution of the Most Holy Sacrament, He gave Himself unto us for all time, even to the consummation of the world. What a wonderfully sublime spectacle was that presented by our Lord and Saviour when, for the first time, He changed bread and wine into His Body and Blood ! He raised His eyes to heaven and established the Sacrifice of the New Law, then administered Holy Communion to the assembled apostles.
Holy Church teaches us through her prayers in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, that Christ instituted it as a perpetual commemoration of His precious passion and death; the sufferings preceding which began more immediately in the garden of Gethsemane when, at the very thought of the bitter anguish He was in a few short hours to endure, and the certainty that, in spite of it all, millions and millions would be lost, a bloody sweat burst forth from every pore and bathed the ground whereon He knelt.
The passion and death of Christ have consummated for us the work of Redemption, but if we wish to derive the benefits which arise therefrom in all their plenitude, we must, as Christ so often and so solemnly assured His disciples, be willing to bear and suffer patiently whatever sorrows He pleases to send us to try our faith and love in this world, and to intensify the glory of our triumph with Christ in heaven. And that we may be enabled to do this, let us glance at Him, “the Light of the world,” “treading the wine-press” alone on this mournful night of grief and pain.
Let us glance at Christ, the Sun of consolation, in the gloomy night of earthly suffering – of death, and finally the Sun triumphantly reigning in the kingdom of eternal bliss in the joyous feast of Easter.
O Mary, Mother of mercy, Mother of sorrows, who stood beneath the cross, the Queen of martyrs, obtain from thy divine Son for us the grace to suffer patiently for His dear sak !
I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
“Man born of a woman, liveth for a short time and is filled with many miseries,” says holy Job, and experience teaches us the truth of this; Holy Scripture confirms it; so that it were folly indeed to doubt. Of the millions who have dived and died since the creation of the world, not one has been exempt from trouble. Scarce has the little child, be he prince or peasant looked out upon a world both new and strange, than a feeble wail betokens pain or dread. And life goes on, the child becomes a man, and at last the hour of death comes – that hour in which even the mightiest potentate, before whose will his trembling subjects bowed in dread, must bend to the will of a Sovereign mightier far. He must leave the world, and the death struggle will be full of pain, for this is a valley of tears.
Many circumstances conspire to this. Care for the preservation of our lives, care to provide for those whom God has given to us, – and this, as many among you, my dearest Christians, know full well, is often a difficult task, for the means of doing so are wanting, and employment can not be had.
Bodily pain and severe illness often render life miserable. Slights and insults, whether real or fancied, deserved or unmerited, have the same effect, But what can I say of those pangs inflicted by a guilty conscience – that worm which never dies? When the fiercest temptations attack the soul, and man behold his salvation exposed to the greatest danger; when he stands all alone, with no one to whisper words of trust in God, then, indeed, this earth seems like a valley of tears. Yet let us thank our Lord that we possess the light of faith, which is brilliant enough to penetrate the most impenetrable gloom. Let us ascend the Mount of Olives and see what an agonizing god can bear; and behold, amid all the grief and woe and sorrow which well-nigh crushed that loving heart, the glory of a divinity which rose so far above the pain that the wailing cry, “Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me,” was a once followed by the submissive cry, “yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
Among the many rays which emanate from the Sun of justice on Mount Olivet there are five of an especial luster, which will lighten the sorrows of life and strengthen us to unite our sorrows with those of Christ.
We have reached the summit of the Mount; now let us glance devoutly as our suffering Lord. The first ray upon our heart is full of consolation. The thought, the assurance of faith, the certainty that affliction is no misfortune, but, on the contrary, that to suffer in union with the most holy will of God is a happiness for which the angels might indeed envy us, should teach us to say, “Thy will be done.” Suffering this endured is a most precious opportunity to show the extent, fidelity, and sincerity of our love to God. If He shower blessing upon us and enrich us with temporal favors, we can indeed say: “My God, I love Thee – I thanks Thee.” But if His divine hand press heavily upon us, and we bow in humble submission to His will, then may we know that our love is real and true, and we can justly say: “My God, I love Thee. I suffer willingly for Thee. I thank Thee with all my heart.”
The angels never had this sublime opportunity of proving their live for God, and they envy us, for they fain would suffer for Him Who of His own free will took upon Himself sufferings which far exceeded the most intense pain that had been or would be borne by man to the end of time, as we know from the bloody sweat which burst from the Saviour's veins.
Jesus chose to suffer. He could certainly have redeemed us by a simple petition of His Sacred Heart, but it pleased the heavenly father and His eternal Son to bestow, though suffering, the benefits of Redemption; “for,” says a Christian thinker of modern times, “had there been a more glorious way than to suffer innocently through pure love, the Father would have manifested it to His Son rather than that He should endure such anguish.” the words of Holy Scripture verify it: “O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.” therefore Jesus longed with such an n longing for this suffering that He sighed forth: “I must be baptized with a baptism of blood.” Oh, how He yearned for the consummation of His passion! O Christian, when the waves of affliction sweep over your soul, think of all this and be consoled, for Jesus loves you.
The second ray which lighten the sorrowful heart, as it glances at the agonizing Saviour on Mount Olivet, proceeds from the thought: “The trouble which rends my very soul is not from the hand of man, but of God. No angel sent it to me, no devil brought it night.” “Shall I not drink” says Christ, speaking of His passion, “the cup which my father presents to me?” And again: “Not a hair falls from your head with the will of your Father who is in heaven.” What a consolation! God, my Creator – He, the infinite goodness, wisdom, and love – ordains or permits me to suffer, that I may show the sincerity of my love and prove its depth! Think of this, and the ray of consolation will so penetrate your hearts that you will embrace the cross with loving zeal.
As we glance for the third time at the Saviour prostrated in agony and bathed in His own sacred blood, a third ray of light shines forth and brightens with celestial hope the troubled night of the soul. Are you more innocent than He, the Lamb of God, Who taketh away the sins of the world? Had you but committed one sin in the course of your whole life, all the sufferings on earth would not be sufficient reparation for it; and do you not feel that you have been guilty of many, perhaps, mortal and most grievous sins for which you fully deserved to be cast into the flames of hell? And even if you have not the stain of mortal sin upon your souls, this of Purgatory! Suffer patiently, for thus you will lessen the pains you might have to endure in that fiery prison, and shorten the duration of the punishment which may await you there.
By the royal road of the cross Christ your Saviour entered heaven. His blessed Mother and all the saints walked in the steps His sacred feet marked with His precious blood. Look up to that glorious army. You do not suffer alone, for, as Saint Paul tells us, through sorrow and tribulation do we enter the kingdom of heaven. And you, beloved in Christ Jesus, would you wish to enter there by any other that the royal road of suffering? You may say that the path is too narrow, the thorns too sharp, and sigh after the broad and pleasant road fragrant with lovely flowers and cooled by fountain whose waters dance and sparkle in the sun; but, for the love of God, resist the wish to walk therein, for the roses have piercing thorns, and a from the sparkling waters, as you stop to quench your thirst, spring deadly serpents whose venomous sting brings death.
And then, my friends, if you were told that, by passing through a narrow and dangerous road, you would find a princely fortune, would you not persevere until the end? Oh, persevere in the narrow road which leads to eternal life, where a bliss which can not be conceived is in store for you – where a happiness beyond comparison awaits the faithful soul!
The fourth ray which falls upon the troubled and dejected heart, from the Sun of justice, and gilds with celestial hope the night of the soul, is the thought: “The more we endure for God, through pure love of Him, the more exquisite will be our bliss of heaven” There God will reward us for faithfully practicing those virtues so repugnant to human nature; for the Holy Ghost, speaking though saint James, says that patience hath a perfect work. Wherefore? We may easily perceive the reason. All theological and moral virtues are contained in the exercise of this admirable virtue. Truly, an act of patience is the most glorious manner of practicing faith, hope, and charity, and every moral virtue; for trial borne with patience rigidly test the strength of our humility, self-denial, and the four cardinal virtues – Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude – without which there is no true virtue.
Since, then, the only object for which we have been placed on earth is to gain merits for heaven, what comfort must we not find in the thought that trials and troubles come from God, and that every affliction patiently endured will turn to a brilliant gem to adorn our heavenly crown.
In conclusion, the fifth ray of brilliant light which comes from the Sun of justice, and cheers our fainting spirits is the thought that the longest suffering here on earth is but brief. The passion of Christ was brief. It lasted but from one evening until the next and soon He entered the joy of the Lord, the eternal bliss of heaven. The longest life is short compared to eternity. Could man, through one breath of affliction, merit joys for his whole life, and if that life could last a thousand years, nevertheless one breath could be infinitely longer in comparison to a thousand years that would a life of a thousand years be in regard to eternity.
But a little while, O sorrowful hearts ! Saint Peter says the afflicted shall rejoice in joy inexpressible. Do you hear these blessed words? In your deep desolation and abandonment of soul go to Mount Olivet and prostrate yourself near you suffering Saviour, and the lovely radiance of those five celestial rays will cast their consoling light upon your grief and cheer you darkened lives. Then, through Christ, the Sun of justice, the Risen Lord, will your night of sorrows be merged in the brightness of spiritual joy through which you will reach the eternal day. Amen. (Father Francis X. Weninger, S.J., Original, Short and Practical Sermons for Every Feast of the Liturgical Year: Three Sermons for Every Feast, published originally by C. J. H. Lowen, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1882, pp. 272-279.)