In three days you are going to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and these days of retreat are intended to prepare you for the worthy reception thereof. I need not tell you how you are to make this little retreat as you have already made two retreats, one before your first Confession and another before your first Communion. I want you to do some thinking and much praying. You are older than you were on the two preceding occasions, and therefore better able to use your mind and because of that you ought to be better able to pray. You ought to pray better because you know how to use your reason in a more perfect manner. Thinking and praying go hand in hand.
Thinking makes you understand better what you are doing. It makes you understand who God is to whom you pray, and how much you who pray stand in need of His assistance. You will always find that when you have to accuse yourselves of praying in an unbecoming way, it is because you did not realize either the majesty of God or your own need of the favors which you asked. To make proper use of your mind you must, if possible, be alone. If you are with others, they are in your way. Silence is necessary for thought. I recommend, therefore, that you keep yourselves in silence as much as it is in your power. If you follow this recommendation you will edify all your companions. Your parents, moreover, will be gratified, for they will see that you appreciate the greatness of the Sacrament which the bishop will administer to you, as well as the necessity of doing your very best to be ready for that day which I am sure will rank alongside the day of your first Communion as among the happiest days of your life, be that life of yours short or long.
Pray much as well as think seriously.
No matter how earnestly you engage your thoughts about that which for the moment is of chief concern, it all will avail nothing without divine grace, which you can not obtain without asking for it. Prayer, as you know, is the asking of God what we desire. Many powerful minds, yes many geniuses have spent much of their leisure in the study of the things which bear upon man's relation to God, and God's relation to man. Yet all their study resulted so frequently in the most pitiful errors. There were many reasons for this, but I am inclined to think that one reason is that they did not pray, either because they did not know how, or because they were too proud to go down on their knees in submission to the Almighty. You know how to pray, and, certainly, you are not too proud to beseech heaven.
As we advance in the exercises of this retreat you will find how urgent it is for you to fit yourselves for Confirmation. The motive which is among the most powerful to induce you to put forth every effort during this precious time, is that you can not receive the Sacrament of the Holy Ghost a second time. If you make a failure now, the fact that your Confirmation was made unworthily can never be changed. You may obtain pardon for the sin, but it will ever be true that your Confirmation was not what it should be. It is something like life. You have only one life. If you bankrupt that life, no matter how you try or how you lament, that life can not be lived over again, and you must stand all the grave consequences of your mistake.
I do not wish you to think that it is impossible to repair the evil effects of an unworthy Confirmation. If I made you think that, I would be making you think wrong, I would be a false teacher; but in any case you would have to admit that there had happened in your life such an awful accident as a worthless and guilty reception of the Holy Ghost, in the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Let me explain here why this Sacrament, like Baptism and Holy Orders, can be received only once. The three Sacraments just mentioned can not be administered more than once because each of them leaves a mark on the soul which can not by any means be made to disappear. Confirmation makes you soldiers of Christ. To do this it places upon you a mark which is also called a character. It puts you aside from and distinguishes you from every one who is not a soldier. Once a soldier of Christ always His soldier. You may be a bad soldier or a cowardly one, you may even be a deserter, but still you are a soldier. As St. Augustine says: "Shall the Christian Sacraments do less than the badge or uniform of the soldier?" The mark is not stamped on his person anew, as often as he resumes the military service, but he is recognized as an old and approved soldier.
The character spoken of as stamped on the soul by Confirmation, is stamped so indelibly that it can never be effaced and therefore never will a new impression be needed. You can readily see how indescribable is the condition of one who bears this stamp of Confirmation and who fails in his loyalty to his commander. But what are we to think of a soldier of the army of Christ taken prisoner by the enemies of Christ, and taken through his own fault and condemned to wear the badge of the Lord throughout all eternity in the dark dungeon of hell? What shame and what confusion and what disgrace will be his forever and forever? Such a lot is not going to be yours, my children. You are going to prevent such a doom by living as true and brave soldiers of Christ from now until the end of your lives. You are going to prevent it by preparing during these days of recollection so to receive Confirmation that not only will the stamp of the Sacrament remain with you always here and hereafter--but remain in all its vigor, constantly imparting to your souls the grace of the Holy Spirit and imparting it so abundantly that not for a single moment in thought, word or deed will you prove yourselves anything but courageous fighters in the good cause of the Lord.
You know now what you have to do these three days, which are days of thinking and praying; you know, moreover, that the best reason why you should profit by them is that you can not be confirmed but once in your lives. To think well you need light, and to pray well you want faith and confidence. You will hence beg of the Holy Ghost, who is coming to you in Confirmation as Christ came to you in Communion, for light in the first place and for strength. With His grace you can do all things and the gracious spirit of God who is ever ready to assist you will, if you ask in the proper manner, pour into your souls the sanctity which is so necessary to receive Him in the fulness of His fruits and His gifts.
A thought most useful just now, is the thought of what this Sacrament is. When you know something about its nature, its institution, and its effect's, you will feel more impelled to put yourselves in readiness for receiving it, the more, too, you will be convinced, that it is of the greatest moment to receive it with all the fervor possible. It is a pity that so many are found in the Church of God who take no pains whatever to benefit by Confirmation, and who neglect it altogether. Though it is not so necessary as Baptism and Penance and the Eucharist, yet you are told in your Catechism that whoever can receive this Sacrament and refuse to do so, not only commit a grievous sin, but, moreover, subject themselves to lose their faith, to abandon the practice of their religion and thus to risk the salvation of their souls. This is why the Council of Trent insists upon having its nature, its efficacy and its dignity explained frequently to the faithful so as to make them sensible that not only is it not to be neglected, but that it is to be approached with the greatest reverence and devotion.
The word Confirmation, which is the name of this Sacrament, means that, by which one is made firm, made strong, made robust, made stable. And in reality this Sacrament does give one all these qualities of firmness, of strength, of vigor, of stability. It is something sacred which endows one with all the essentials of a good soldier of Christ. In fact everything belonging to the Sacrament, everything used and done and said while this Sacrament is being given, confers hints at fighting a good fight for a good cause and with courage and intrepidity. Everything in it promises not only strength to fight but security of victory. This is clear from the words employed by the bishop (who, except in rare cases, is the only one who confers this Sacrament), when he anoints with the Sacred Chrism: "I sign thee with the sign of the cross, and confirm thee with the Chrism of Salvation, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost," and thus gives a new virtue to the recipient who in this manner is made a perfect soldier of Christ.
Later on during these instructions each word used by the bishop will be explained in order that you may the better understand how grand this Sacrament is, and be moved to excite in your souls those emotions which will render you more and more fit to receive in their entirety all the graces which the spirit of God will impart to you on the day of your Confirmation.
The definition of your Catechism, properly comprehended, will allow you a clearer perception of the wonderful richness of the Sacrament. The definition you have learned is as follows: Confirmation is a Sacrament through which we receive the Holy Ghost to make us strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ. Recall all that you have heard about the meaning of the term Sacrament. This word as you are aware has many significations. It is always something sacred. It is a very old expression and is found in the very earliest days of the Church. To use the language of many Doctors and Fathers it signifies "a sacred thing which lies concealed." Our eyes never see what is hidden, they behold only the sign which lets us know that there is more than comes to our vision.
If Confirmation is an outward sign of inward grace, if it is a sacred or mysterious sign, if it has been instituted by Christ, then it has a right to a rank among the Seven Sacraments of our holy religion.
Confirmation is all this. What is the sign, or rather what are the outward signs? They are the chrism, the anointing, the laying on of hands, and the slight blow given by the hand of the bishop. All these we can notice with our senses whenever we assist at the administration of the Sacrament. They are, therefore, outward signs. The chrism with which the bishop anoints the forehead, and which is made up of olive oil and sweet smelling balsam, which mixture is consecrated by the bishop and can not be consecrated by any one else, is a sign that lets you know that there is produced on the soul of the one confirmed an effect similar to the effect caused by oil on the bodies of those who use it on their limbs before they enter into contests in which they propose to display that they are more supple, and stronger, than those who are their opponents. Just as oil prepares the body for conflict, so the chrism strengthens souls and adds, too, the vigor to overthrow all those who may oppose, in the constant struggles they have to make in order to win the fight in which the Christian soldier is constantly engaged as he marches under the leadership of his Redeemer, Christ.
As you were told, in the chrism there is not only oil but there is balsam which is healing and soothing and fragrant. How often will the soldier of Christ find himself weary and worn and wounded as he struggles in the onward and upward march of life! How often will he not stand in need of something soothing to restore his will and his mind to their elasticity and vigor and unconquerable determination! How often will not his spirit, in its moments of battle in which scars are received, how often will not his spirit cry out for some healing to pour into his hurts! This soothing, this healing, is always at hand and ready to be poured upon him by the divine spirit whom he received in other years with such devout preparation, with a preparation as devout as yours is going to be. Balsam is fragrant too, its odor is most grateful, and it means that the faithful, made perfect by the grace of Confirmation, spread around them, by reason of their many virtues, such a sweet odor that they may say with the apostle "we are the good odor of Christians to God."
All this and more will the day of Confirmation bring to you. In prayer, therefore, to the Holy Spirit: ask that there remain nothing in your souls to stand in the way of your becoming, through His help, strong soldiers and perfect Christians, whose lives will bring many by their beauty and fragrance to love Christ and to follow all the inspirations of the Paraclete.
II. THE GRACES BESTOWED IN THIS SACRAMENT.
You are endeavoring to get a clear notion of the Sacrament of Confirmation, in order to understand its importance as well as the necessity of being so well fitted for its reception, that there will be no hindrance to the Holy Spirit's entering and taking complete possession of your souls. You saw in the last instruction that the holy chrism signifies many of the effects of Confirmation, its strengthening power as well as the perfume of the many virtues which it produces, or sows the seeds of in the soul. It is a sign of other results. It brings to our mind, this oil and this balsam, the fulness of divine grace "which flows from Christ, the head, through the Holy Ghost, like the precious ointment on the head of Aaron, whom God anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows." Some say that balsam preserves whatever it embalms, and thus is a sign of the preservation of the soul from sin and its corruption.
There is no doubt that Confirmation is an exterior sign, and in this much preserves the first essential of every Sacrament. We can not say of this Sacrament, as we can of the Eucharist, just at what time it was instituted, but that Christ did institute it is beyond all doubt. It was given as a Sacrament in the time of the apostles. "When the apostles, who were in Jerusalem, had heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John, who when they were come, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost. For He was not yet come upon any of them, but they were only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands upon them and they received the Holy Ghost" (Acts viii, 14).
This shows that Baptism was not enough to make one a perfect follower of Christ, but that the imposition of hands was also required by the apostles in order to finish what was begun in Baptism. Besides, the apostles themselves were confirmed, when the Holy Ghost came down upon them on Pentecost Sunday in the form of tongues of fire, and sat on the head of each. Here we find what may be considered as another sensible or outward sign--that is the imposition of hands. Christ by the imposition of His hands healed diseases. The fathers of the Church tell us that when Christ imposed or laid His hands upon little children He gave His apostles a figure of Christian Confirmation. We find also that since the very beginning, Confirmation was deemed a Sacrament, so that, though nowhere in Scripture is there mention of the time the Sacrament was instituted, we can not for a moment doubt that it was given to the Church by Our Lord, just as He left to His Church the other Sacraments which our holy faith professes to have been given for the salvation of mankind.
Confirmation then is a Sacrament on these two counts. It is an outward sign and Christ is its author.
Does it convey grace? This is the last question to be answered to determine that Confirmation is really a Sacrament. The reply is easy. In this Sacrament the Holy Ghost is received, the Holy Spirit of God, who is the fountain of grace and the sanctifier of souls. One might say that this Sacrament contains within itself all grace, since all grace comes from Christ through the Holy Spirit. Who says Holy Ghost, says holiness, and what holiness can there be without grace?
So you have arrived at the conclusion that Confirmation has everything necessary for a Sacrament, and you are ready to make an act of faith, on the authority of the Church and of Scripture, that it is a Sacrament, one of the seven of the new dispensation or of the New Law.
The doctrine of our holy faith in this matter is summed up in these words of St. Clement, a father of the primitive Church: "All should hasten," he says, "without delay to be born again of God, and then to be sealed by the bishop, that is, to receive the sevenfold gift of the Holy Ghost; for as we have learned from St. Peter, and as the other apostles taught in obedience to the command of Our Lord, he who through contempt and not from necessity, but voluntarily neglects to receive this Sacrament can not possibly become a perfect Christian."
You see how early the importance of Confirmation was impressed upon the minds of the faithful. All the grace of this Sacrament finds expression in the words "perfect Christian." You are not expected to remain always children in the faith. The Church sees to it that in your very young days the Holy Spirit fashions you into manly Christians. The fight for heaven begins with the dawn of your reason, and as soon as you are ripe enough, when you have reached say, the age of twelve, in fact as soon as you are admitted to Holy Communion, your holy Religion sees to it, that by another Sacrament you are strengthened, and arms are placed in your possession. This strength and these weapons, weapons made for attack as well as defense, are manufactured in heaven and are put in your hands by the Divine Spirit. Your soul is in danger from the moment you are able to reason, and the sooner you are equipped for the great battle in which, your whole life long, you must stand up and combat for your salvation, the more courageous will your fighting be. The goodness of your religion is manifest in this, that not only are you taught how to fight, but everything is given you to make that fight a series of victories, which end in your being crowned forever among the angels and the saints.
Dangers will always beset you. You will soon discover, if you heed, that you are never far away from the edge of the precipice. In fact the dangers grow as you grow, for temptations become more violent and more numerous. Your Church does not forget her children. Confirmation will support your trembling steps. It affords you all the needed help. It gives you the courage to confess God, and whosoever confesses Him will necessarily practise virtue under all circumstances. For what is sin but the denial in some or other way of the Creator? It is rebellion against heaven. Now no perfect Christian denies the Creator, and no genuine soldier ever commits treason, and all rebellion is treason.
You must notice, dear children, that every idea which comes, as you consider the blessings of Confirmation, but shows how you can never sufficiently appreciate it, and that these days of silence and thought and prayer are not lost time, since they are spent in preparing for an event which means so much for you, not only in this, but in the next world as well. You have had put before you the signs with some notion of what is signified, some notion of the things of which they are the signs. You have reflected on the necessity of Confirmation. You have been told why it is called Confirmation, that it was instituted by Christ, that it can be received once only, that while in some respects it bears a resemblance to Baptism, it is a totally different Sacrament, and given to the Church for another purpose altogether. It is not so necessary for salvation as is Baptism, but yet it might be said that in many cases Baptism without it would be of little avail.
It will be just as well to point out here that, as in Baptism, a sponsor, that is a god-parent, is required. Generally speaking, some one man is taken to be the godfather of all the boys and some one woman is selected to be the godmother of all the girls. These sponsors take upon themselves, in a measure, the same obligations toward those who are confirmed as is the case in Baptism.
Nor must it be forgotten that each boy and each girl receives a name in Confirmation, just as in Baptism. The name is always that of some Christian who has under the guidance of the Holy Ghost fought the good fight, and fought so valiantly as to be numbered among the saints whom it delights the Church to honor. The name you take ought to be very dear to you. It should animate you often to reflect upon the one who bears it now in heaven, to fly to that saint for protection, and to ask the grace that, as you are struggling under his patronage here, you may one day be a partner of his happiness in eternity.
The bounty of the Holy Spirit shines very brightly in Confirmation. Not only He gives Himself, and in giving Himself deluges you with grace, but He places Himself at the disposal of all. It is not thus with all the Sacraments. Holy Orders, for example, can not be conferred upon all. Many are excepted and prevented and disqualified, but Confirmation is a world open to every one who is able to grasp its significance, and is willing to enter it. The liberality of the Holy Spirit in this Sacrament is almost equal to the generosity of Our Lord in the Blessed Eucharist, and you know now how boundless that generosity is. Christ holds back nothing from you in Communion. He gives Himself entirely. The Holy Spirit gives you all it is in His power to give, and only keeps back those spiritual favors which are destined for those who are called, as bishops and priests, to His special service.
Everything about this more than excellent Sacrament strikes one with an idea of his own unworthiness. In fact, like all the sacred mysteries of the Church, the more one thinks, the more one is awed to learn that he is allowed to approach it. Yet so it is. Not only are you admitted to partake of it, you are actually commanded to do so. If there is any explanation of this, it lies in the fact that God, while He loves us, knows even better than we do, how frail we are and how requisite His assistance is, and in spite of our ingratitude comes to our rescue in so many marvelous ways.
How wisely and how beautiful the Sacraments succeed each other! In the first of the Sacraments you are made children of God, you are reborn into His kingdom. When the real fight of life begins, you are armed, in Confirmation, from head to foot, armed to meet all the attacks of the devil and to repel them. If you are wounded in the struggle you have Penance, a Sacrament which, by the remission of sins, heals all wounds and removes all the scars of the soul. Lest you grow faint as the road becomes more and more difficult, and your enemies wax fiercer and fiercer, there is ready for you at almost any moment that splendid banquet at which you can restore your famished souls with divine food, with manna from heaven, in the adorable Eucharist. Then comes Holy Orders, a Sacrament which furnishes the Church with its ministers, its priests, and its bishops. Matrimony blesses husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and enables them to love each other and to bring up their children in the affectionate fear of God. Lastly succeeds Extreme Unction, which brings divine aid to the dying man, and administers consolation and strength in that moment when the world and all its vanities are to be left forever, and he is to appear to give an account of every instant of his existence to his Creator.
Can you think of anything that God could have done for us which He has not done? God is present in all His Sacraments, and there is not a moment of our life in which we do not find Him ready to help us in any need or danger which may be ours. He is with us always, you have already met Him and how often! You met Him in Baptism, in Penance, and in the Holy Eucharist. You may have neglected Him, but has He ever forsaken you? Do you think for one single second that He will ever abandon you, that you will look for Him and be unable to find Him? Now you are to receive Him and to meet Him in a new way. It will be the same God, but not the same divine Person. In two short days the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity will greet you, and enrich you with His favors. Let your prayers be: Come, Holy Ghost--come and fill us with that grace without which we are and we can do nothing.
III.--SOLDIERS OF CHRIST.
You are beginning, dear children, the second day of your Confirmation retreat. You were most attentive yesterday and, no doubt, you have already learned to appreciate how much it is in your power to do when you make up your minds to reflect and pray. You have perceived that by reflection and by prayer your souls will take on those conditions without which, even if you received the Imposition of Hands worthily, you can not obtain the fulness of the Holy Ghost. Today, most certainly, you will continue to behave in the spirit which was yours yesterday.
Perhaps you will do even better. It is worth your while. In after years, when things may be clearer than they are at present, you will grasp more completely what an unspeakable blessing this Sacrament is. Not one of the effects of Confirmation must you miss. They are so laden with strength and light and courage. In a general way something has been hinted about them all, but more needs to be said. As you study these effects, you will increase your efforts to make every one of them yours. They all may be summed up in the expression so frequently used: perfect Christian.
Do you know of anything that can come into your life, any gift, any honor, any wealth, any distinction which may be compared with the gift, with the honor, with the wealth which is included in the meaning of that term? Do you know of anything you would sooner be than perfect Christians? Remember, besides, that being perfect Christians does not stand in the way of reaching any eminence to which your ambition may aspire. After all, what is anything you may acquire worth to you, if you are not perfect members of our Church? Is it worth so much after all to be a Christian if you are not a perfect one? If you are not a perfect Christian what are you? All your resolutions of this retreat may be reduced to one which is: "With the help of the Holy Ghost I am going to be a perfect Christian."
The help of the Holy Ghost is always with you and after Confirmation will be more abundantly with you. The Holy Ghost never has and never will desert you. If you fail in living the only life worth living, the life of the perfect Christian, it is the fault of yourselves and of yourselves only. Ask yourselves once more what kind of boys and what kind of girls, what kind of youths and what kind of maidens, what kind of men and what kind of women are you going to be if you are not perfect Christians? If you are not, how much good will you do in the world? If you are not, is it not true that the world would be better without you? If you are not, do you not cause rather harm than good in the world? There is a possibility of your being a curse to yourselves and to all those with whom you come in contact. Surely there will not be much consolation for you in your hour of death, if you are obliged to smite your breast and say: My whole life has been a wretched failure, and it were better for me and perhaps for others on my account, that neither they nor I were born. There have been and there are and alas! there will be, such lives even among those who call themselves Christians.
Do you not see how much the resolution spoken of above means for you? Do you not see that such a resolution, taken with all your strength combined, with the strength which will be added to your human, your natural power by the Holy Ghost, means days passed in the Spirit of Christ, and all of these days leading to a final, blessed day, when, in all confidence, you will commend your souls, as Christ commended His on the Cross, into the hands of your heavenly Father!
The life of the perfect Christian is such a life as Christ lived, and the death of the perfect Christian is such a death as Christ died. Since to be a perfect Christian means all this, it is no wonder that you are so frequently asked to bear it in mind during these days of preparation. The sacred and mysterious signs exhibited in Confirmation do not merely show what is the nature of the graces conveyed, but these begin in a way which is beyond our comprehension to produce these graces. Besides perfecting the grace of Baptism, which is the first grace which all Christians receive, this Sacrament remits sin if after Confession made in the Catholic spirit any sin remains. It confirms you in your faith and makes you strong and proud to confess and glorify the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It also increases the store of grace which your souls may already possess.
A proof that Confirmation does everything that is claimed for it, is found in the history of those who were the first to have administered unto them, by way of the Sacrament, the Holy Ghost. Remember how weak were the Apostles during the Passion and after the Ascension of the Lord. They were afraid, while their Master was enduring the terrible agony and sufferings in the garden, as He carried His Cross, and while He hung on the Cross. They forsook Him when He needed them most, they fled; and Peter denied, actually and cravenly denied Him three times. When He ascended into heaven they hid themselves through fear of the Jews and concealed themselves for ten days, behind closed doors. But at last, on the glorious day of Pentecost, they were confirmed. Immediately on receiving the Holy Ghost what changed men they became! "Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting; and there appeared to them parted tongues, as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak" (Acts ii). The whole of Jerusalem was in amazement. They could not recognize that these men, now so bold, were the men who were known as the chosen followers of Christ. Peter, undismayed, stood up and spoke to them. He was a new man. He faced the whole city and did not hesitate to tell those assembled what they were and what manner of crime they had committed in putting to death Christ. He proclaims, as if he impeached fearlessly the whole nation of the Jews and all the authorities of the great empire of Rome, that they were wicked men, and were made more wicked because they had slain and crucified Jesus of Nazareth. He stirred all those who heard him to sorrow for the sin in which they had participated and he bade them save themselves from this perverse generation, to do penance, to be baptized, and to receive the Holy Ghost.
This courage was found among all to whom the gift of the Holy Spirit was imparted. Not one of the twelve upon whom at Pentecost the Holy Ghost came down, but traveled here and there, to the furthest points of the known world, preaching Christ, living like Christ, and in the end dying for Him. Were they not perfect Christians and were they not made so by their Confirmation? Many holy men and women since, holy men and women without number, have followed in the footsteps of the Apostles, have sold all they had and lived for Christ only and thought it the highest glory that could be theirs, to suffer and to die for their Redeemer. Once more they were perfect Christians, Christians made strong and courageous and generous by the grace they received through the Holy Ghost in Confirmation. You must reflect that the Holy Ghost who strengthened the Apostles, who made brave the martyrs and virgins and confessors of the Church, is the same Holy Spirit who the day after tomorrow will give Himself with all His gifts to you. Think well of this, my dear children.
Consider what a rich opportunity is before you to renew your souls, to cast out of your heart every affection that inclines you to prize the things of the world, to purify your thoughts and actions so that the Holy Spirit will perform in some degree the wonders operated by Him among the Apostles and disciples of Christ and among Christians in all ages even up to the present time.
As you were told all that belongs to this Sacrament impresses you with the necessity of approaching it with piety and devotion. True piety and true devotion are nothing else than a sinless soul, a conscience free from all reproach, a heart and a will ready to answer to all the suggestions of the divine spirit. The signs tell us much, the words teach us more.
There are some acts performed by the bishop which are not to be forgotten. Kneeling, you will receive the unction from the hands of the bishop who will sign your forehead with the sacred chrism. Notably on the forehead is this unction made, because henceforward you are to walk fearlessly and unashamed, declaring to the whole world that you have been made soldiers of Christ, and that you are going to rally around Him undeterred by fear or human respect. On the contrary, it is going to be your proudest pride to be known always and everywhere, by everybody, as belonging to the army of which Christ is the Commander.
The spirit inspired by Confirmation is the soldier spirit and hence anything that savors of weakness or timidity or cowardice or treason is absolutely banished from the whole tenor of your lives. It is thought a distinction to enlist for the defense and the protection of one's country. But is it not more signally honorable to enter the ranks to fight for the Church and for Christ? Not only is the honor a more distinguished one, but the soldier of Christ who is the Christian made perfect by Confirmation enjoys advantages which no other soldier enjoys. Consider the leaders of battalions, what are they compared to the one who commands the warriors of the Cross? They all make mistakes. Christ makes none. They are never certain of victory. Christ is always sure. What a difference between the causes which are headed by Christ and by those who command in the contests of this earth!
How insignificant the end in view in all the wars that mortals have been engaged in, alongside of the purpose of Christ?
In one case there is question of a smaller or larger extent of territory here below; in the other of the vast and everlasting kingdom of heaven. In one case there is a struggle for what belongs to time and passes with time; in the other, for what is immortal.
In one case you have souls, in the other the perishable things of the world.
Christ, moreover, rewards every one engaged under Him, the whole field of battle, every phase of the struggle is clearly before Him. He sees every blow struck, every wound received, so that when the hour comes for summing up the results of the combat, He places on every faithful bosom the badge of honor and whispers into every ear words of approval and praise. He forgets no one because He sees every one and has been a witness of every detail. He forgets nothing because everything has been visible to His all seeing eye. Then, no matter how many wounds, no matter how many deaths, there is always victory with Christ.
Is it so with the armies of the nations? It is really an insult to ask the question. The commanders know not everything that takes place on the fields where their soldiers are fighting. In spite of the best laid plans many a deed of valor is unremembered, and many a soldier lies in a nameless grave. This is not said with a desire of censuring, it is said simply because so it is, and it can not be helped because the greatest commanders in history are, taken at their best, men only and can do only what it is in the power of man to do.
It is not necessary to push the comparison any further. Every one is able to do that for himself. After the unction with the chrism and the sign of the cross, the one confirmed receives a gentle slap on the cheek from the hand of the bishop to remind him, as says the Catechism, "that as a courageous champion he should be prepared to brave with unconquered resolution, all adversities for the name of Christ." In another instruction there will be given a brief explanation of the words used by the bishop.
Enough has been said to make you at least begin to realize the grace of graces which is in store for you. Somebody's soldier you must be. What chieftain then will you choose? What kind of a soldier do you wish to become? A brave and loyal one or a cowardly and faithless one? Ask the Holy Spirit to make you perfect Christians, that is, courageous champions of the Cross.
IV. THE SIGN OF THE CROSS.
The prayers said during the administration of the Sacrament, for which you are endeavoring with piety and devotion to prepare, are full of instruction and furnish you with many inspiring thoughts.
The Catechism tells you that the bishop gives Confirmation in the following manner. He extends his hands over those who are to be confirmed, prays that they may receive the Holy Ghost and anoints the forehead of each with holy chrism in the form of the cross. While he anoints he says: "I sign thee with the sign of the cross, and I confirm thee with the chrism of salvation, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
You understand, without doubt, the meaning of each word of the invocation of the bishop. You are signed on the forehead, as you have already been informed, to bring home to you the lesson that you must openly profess and practice your faith, never be ashamed of it and rather die than deny it. This open profession does not mean that you should everywhere publicly announce that your religion is that of the Catholic Church. You are always under the obligation of acknowledging your creed whenever it is necessary. You should never neglect to perform any work that would indicate your religion when that work is a work of precept. By going to Mass on Sundays and holydays of obligation, by abstinence on Friday you declare to all who see you that you are a Catholic. To refuse to observe either of these laws, because others might come to know what Church you are a member of, would be a sin against the very end of the grace of Confirmation. Many are tempted to be in this way ashamed of their faith. Such a temptation you must resist with all your might and, no matter how hard it may sometimes be, be sure that the Holy Ghost in His special Sacrament will pour into your soul the strength sufficient to overcome.
Besides, my dear children, why should any Catholic be ashamed of being recognized as a Catholic, or be ashamed of obeying the laws of his religion? Is there anything disgraceful in being a Catholic? Is there anything in the history of your religion to be ashamed of? The greatest men, the greatest minds, the greatest monarchs, belonged to it and it worked no dishonor either to their dignity, or their minds, or their wonderful deeds. In fact their lives were beautiful and grand in proportion to their fidelity to their faith. A few centuries ago nearly all the kings, princes, and great men of the earth were Catholics. All the saints were Catholics. All the popes were Catholics. At present over two hundred and fifty million people are Catholics. This Church was founded when Christ, Our Lord, was on earth, and is nearly two thousand years old. All the other churches are only a few hundred years old.
"We ought, therefore, to be proud of our religion for which and in which so many noble persons died. We should feel proud that we are Catholics, while Protestants should feel ashamed in our presence for they have deserted the true standard of Christ, and followed some other leader who set up a religion of his own in opposition to the true Church of Our Lord. They will not have the cross or crucifix, the standard of Christ, in their churches, or houses, or about their persons, and yet they claim to be Christians redeemed by the Cross." (Kinkead.) You are signed with the cross. Consider all that it means to kneel and be signed with the cross by the touch of the bishop. How much that sign means for you! You have been making that sign upon yourselves ever since you can remember, but on your Confirmation day it will, when made upon your forehead by the minister of the Sacrament, mean more than ever it did in the past.
Once more it will be your confession, in the face of all who behold, indeed of the whole world, in the mysteries of the Trinity and of the Redemption. It will be as if you said I believe in the Trinity of God as well as in His Unity. I believe in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Please linger fondly now and on the day of your Confirmation, and ever after, please linger fondly on the name of the Third Person, on the name of the Holy Ghost, who is soon to make you perfect Christians, that is soldiers of Him whom the same Spirit divine descended upon, and whom the Father sent to redeem a sinking world by the ignominy and the passion of the Cross. The Cross on that day will be handed to you by the Holy Ghost, as your flag to love and die under. Think of all the Cross means for you.
The Cross is the banner or standard of Christianity, just as the stars and stripes is the flag of your country. Your flag shows what country you belong to, the Cross what religion you belong to. You are willing to die for your flag and you should be glad, if called upon, to die for the Cross. You would allow no one to insult your flag, you should allow no one to insult the Cross, above all you should not offer it any outrage yourselves. But the Cross is more than the flag of your country. It is a reminder of all that has been done for you by your Redeemer. It is a memento of His wonderful love for each one of you, a love so great that He hesitated at no sacrifice in order to save you. He died on the Cross to build your Church, to give you all its treasures, especially the Sacraments. He went through all the ignominy of the thirty-three years in order to pass through human death and the grave, and thus ascend into heaven, where His first visible proof of His solicitude for you was the sending down the Holy Ghost for whose advent in your souls you are now so earnestly preparing.
After doing all that He did as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made man, it was as if He thought He had not done enough and so sent the Third Person of that adorable Trinity, to complete and make perfect the work of your sanctification.
Of all this and of much more that can not be detailed you are reminded by the sign of the Cross.
This is so at all times, but in a very particular manner will it be so during the ceremony of your Confirmation. It will have a particular signification on that occasion. You are receiving the Holy Ghost, but it does not mean that for the rest of your days you are going to be free from danger and temptation. God, the maker and monarch of all things, is coming to you in the person of His Divine Spirit, and He is coming laden with gifts. In spite of all this, however, He is not going to promise you a long life, or a life of ease and pleasure, or one of fame and wealth, or even freedom from cares and tribulations. These may all come to you, in a measure, but you can not be sure of them, and you may rather be confident that this existence of yours may be full of risks, and trials, and sorrows. Yes, you may take it for granted that, as you live on after your Confirmation, difficulties of many kinds will harass you.
This is why you are made soldiers. What use is a soldier if he is never going to be engaged in battle? You may accept it as very probable that your way will be beset by obstacles of all kinds. Of this, on that day, will the Cross remind you. It will admonish you that there is only one way heavenward, and that is the way of the Cross. Your Captain was crowned with thorns; is it reasonable for you to expect that you are going to wear garlands of roses, with the thorns withdrawn?
"Perfect Christians" is your motto and your resolution. You will be cautioned, no matter how hard the saying may be, you will be cautioned to deny yourselves, to take up your Cross and to follow Christ. This is a hard saying, truly, but, as the author of the "Imitation" (II, 12) remarks, it will be much harder to hear that last word, "Depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire." Read when you go home today the twelfth chapter of the Second Book of the "Following of Christ." The author's words will come home to you on the day you are awaiting so impatiently:
"They who now love to hear and follow the Word of the Cross shall not then fear the sentence of eternal condemnation. The sign of the Cross shall be in heaven when the Lord shall come to judge. Then all the servants of the Cross, who in their lifetime have conformed themselves to Him that was crucified, shall come to Christ, their judge, with great confidence. Why then art thou afraid to take up thy cross which leadeth to the kingdom? In the Cross is salvation; in the Cross is life; in the Cross is protection from enemies."
Yes, read that chapter as attentively as you can. It will explain in simple language that the road of the Cross is really royal. It will show that in the Cross there is heavenly sweetness, strength of mind, joy of spirit; that there is no health of soul nor hope of eternal life but in the Cross. It will encourage you to take, from your young years, the way of the Cross, for "He is gone before thee, carrying his Cross and he died for thee upon the Cross, that thou mayest also bear thy Cross and love to die on the Cross." You will learn that everywhere in this world you will meet the Cross. "Go where thou wilt, seek what thou wilt, and thou shalt not find a highway above, nor a safer way below, than the way of the Cross. Dispose and order all things as thou wilt, and as seems best to thee, and thou wilt still find something to suffer, either willingly or unwillingly, and so thou shalt always find the Cross."
Young as you are, you will be obliged to confess that all this is true. Young as you are you have had experience enough to prove to you that no one escapes trials of body, or of mind, or of both-- that is, no one can fly from the Cross. It is well then to carry it willingly, it will then carry thee. "Dost thou think to escape the cross which no mortal ever could avoid? If thou flung away one cross, without doubt thou wilt find another and perhaps a heavier."
It is a long chapter, but it is so true and comes home to each one of us so closely, that one is tempted to read on to the end. This much has been said about the Cross because it is your all. All living is a success or a failure as we fail or succeed in carrying our cross. When we recall that the road we have to travel unto salvation is really bristling with crosses we feel inclined to ask ourselves how will it be possible for us to go on to the end without being overcome. Of ourselves we would be powerless, but our Father who is in heaven promised through His Son that He would not leave us orphans, and hence do we discover ready for us at every step of our existence some other Sacramental grace, on which we may rely for the strength necessary for us to get the best of our enemies. Among those graces is eminently that grace that the Holy Spirit, on a day that is coming nearer to you the whole time, will arm you with according to the measure of your fervor.
Is there any need to make any further remarks on the words of the ceremony? Most of you remember them from your Catechism, and all that you need do is to repeat and repeat them, and while repeating them to take into your hearts and your minds all their significance. There remains but one day more of your little retreat. Because tomorrow is the last day, let it be the best. No matter how well you have done so far, and indeed you have done famously, never be satisfied. You have thought well, think even more seriously. You have prayed well, pray even more earnestly.
Send up all your petitions to the Spirit of light and strength. Ask Him to penetrate every corner of your souls so that you may detect the slightest obstacle to His influence. Ask Him to fortify you with that strength which is the strength of God and which, if you do not oppose it, must make you strong enough to bear any cross that may be sent you. Bear it as long as the Master wishes it, bear it cheerfully, live on it and above all die embracing it and thanking your Maker for His mercies without number.
V. THE OFFERING.
With this instruction, children, you begin the last day of preparation for the great tomorrow. Needless to tell you how important it is that this be the most fruitful day of your little retreat. It must be a day full of desires and prayer. It must also be a day of resolution. Certainly the Holy Spirit, who in a few hours is going to give Himself to you with all His gifts and fruits, expects and has every right to expect something from you in return. What does He ask of you? Is it something which can be purchased only at a great price? Is it something that you will have to travel long distances to procure? Is it something which you have or have not in your own possession? Does He call for gold or silver or precious stones?
What He is eager to have you give Him can be bought by no money. You will have no journey to make to procure it. It is something over which each one of you has entire ownership, something which you can do with as you please. It is not gold nor silver nor precious stones. You have all guessed what it is, what that is which the Holy Spirit esteems more highly than anything else here below, for which He would give everything that the earth holds, for which He has done so much already and which if you do not surrender to Him you will, to use the strong words of St. Paul, grieve Him exceedingly. It is something He made out of nothing, made beyond the reach of death, something glorious, something splendid. It is that which Our Lord says is worth more than the universe. It is that which He made for Himself and yearns to have for Himself in happiness for all eternity.
You have conjectured that the only return you can make to Him for all the favors He intends bestowing upon you tomorrow is your soul. Your soul is yours to do as you wish with. You may lose or you may save it. It is of so much value that if you lose it, everything is lost; if you save it, everything is saved. "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" That it is yours to bestow is clear to you.
What will happen if you refuse your soul to the Holy Ghost? What will become of it? To some one it must be surrendered. If the Holy Ghost has it not in His keeping, then it is in the keeping of the devil, or of the world, or of the flesh. The devil wants it and ardently desires it, only to destroy it, only to imprison it away from God forever. The world can not do much for it save fill it with vain and unholy desires, and in the end neither care for it, nor save it, nor pray for it, nor even think of it. The flesh only degrades, loads it with impure wishes and foul thoughts. The flesh can only reduce it to the slavery of the body. So that when the body dies, the soul will die with it and die an everlasting death.
Study this out, to somebody in this life, and in the next, your soul must belong. To whom will you give it? What do you say, now that you are in your sane minds and are trying to weigh things as they should be weighed? Will it pay to hand that immortal soul over to your most bitter enemies? Will it in any way pay?
Let us suppose that you have a long life of success and pleasure, that the world smiles on you continually. Will it pay if in the end you are lost? Not only it will not pay, but it will be enormous and irreparable loss. At once you see that there can be no hesitation for you. At once you see that the thing for you to do is to deliver up your souls unconditionally to the Spirit of God.
Your soul, your Catechism tells you, was made to the image and likeness of God, it tells you that your soul is like God because it is a spirit, that it will never die, it will last as long as God Himself, that it has understanding and free will. Your soul is like to God, and therefore reflects the image of the Holy Ghost, and because of that likeness the Holy Ghost loves your soul and wishes it entirely for Himself, and He will confirm you in order that He may prove to you His astonishing affection for your soul, in order that He may prove to you that He has done all that He could to secure it, so that if He holds it not, the fault is yours and yours alone.
When you are asked to give up your soul to the Holy Ghost it means that you abandon it to Him to fashion as He pleases. He will give light to your understanding, whereas the world and the devil and the flesh can do nothing but fill it with the gloom of error and the foulness of impurity. He will take your free will and restore it to you with all its liberty untouched, but strong to will what is right and to reject with contempt what is wrong. Your heart He will enthrone Himself within, and there will reign supreme and you will love what He loves and hate what He hates. You will be renewed by His embrace, and you will go down from the touch of the bishop new boys and new girls.
You went up children, you will come down men and women, or rather you will come down soldiers of the Lord, that is, perfect Christians.
Now examine yourselves. Go down into your souls. What are they like today? Are they white? Without sin? Above all are they without habits of sin?
Be not discouraged, whatever you may see in those souls of yours. One wave of grace and though they were as scarlet they will be washed whiter than the driven snow.
Penetrate your hearts. What find you therein? You discover wishes, desires of all kinds, do you not? You perceive that there are some things you love, some things you hate. That is as it should be.
Your hearts are made to love and to hate. As you love and as you hate, so you live. Your lives are colored beautifully or hideously according to the objects your hearts go out to, or steel themselves against. Be not easy with yourselves. What do you love, what do you hate? Do you love anything that is liable to turn you against the law of God? Do you desire anything which, if you obtain, may imperil the salvation of your soul?
If there be such a dangerous leaning in your affections, make up your mind to banish it at once. From today begin. You can do it. If it remains there, you may anticipate much vexation of spirit in the future. Today is your golden hour. You are as yet too young to have become slaves to any passion. Still, habits grow stronger by indulging them. Every act which you perform at the dictate of an evil propensity adds but another link wherewith to make the chains that bind you heavier and stronger. There is no slavery like that of sin. Of sin, especially, that becomes a habit. Such a slavery is merciless. It does not care for you, it cares for itself only. When it gets the upper hand it will drive you to every excess, the consequences of which God alone knows. Now is your opportunity. Study yourself. Take your stand. Expel everything in your inclinations which may thwart the operations of the Holy Spirit.
Tomorrow morning, then, present your hearts to the Holy Ghost empty of everything. Leave no nook or corner of them unsearched. The presentation must be entire, and then when the Spirit of God comes to you He will take possession of everything. With that Divine Spirit there will come not only strength, but also sweetness. You will understand the meaning of the words that the yoke of the Lord is sweet and His burthen light.
You can not think today too frequently of all this, for you can not think too frequently just now that this is the time which the Lord has placed within your reach, which more than any other time is peculiarly fitted for commencing a new life--the life of perfect Christians--in such a way, in such a determined way, that even your arch enemy himself will feel that you are not going to be numbered among his victims.
What is well begun, you have heard many a time, is half done. This is very true of the Christian life. Start in boldly, generously, and your march through this earthly pilgrimage will be undoubtedly victorious. Be brave soldiers from the very start. Tell your own souls that life is real, life is earnest. Be ambitious. Be on the look out for promotion. Promotion here means going higher and higher in virtue, means becoming more and more vigilant, more and more courageous. Tell your own souls that you are not going to be laggards, cowards. You will not run needlessly into danger, but being in peril you will make your opponents fear you. If you approach Confirmation in these dispositions there will be no apprehension about the future.
Suppose that all our Catholic boys and girls would go out from their Confirmation animated by this spirit. How strong, and yet more glorious than she is, would Mother Church become in the eyes of the world! Children newly confirmed and filled with such sentiments would be young apostles. The world would be astonished at them, would wonder, then admire, and then proclaim that the religion which can shape such men and such women must assuredly be divine, and the only religion that can save the world. Think of all this, children! Consider how much tomorrow can do for you, and through you, for the honor and glory of God, and the rescue of souls. Certainly motives sufficient have been put before you to induce you to make of yourselves a complete offering to the divine Spirit.
Enough has been said to make it clear to you that Confirmation is a stupendous Sacrament, a Sacrament of the greatest moment to you, a Sacrament which can effect so much for you during all your career, a Sacrament for which no preparation is adequate. After this instruction you will begin to prepare for Confession. You know how much a good Confession can do for you toward rendering you disposed for the reception of the Holy Ghost. You know that a good Confession depends on a searching examination of your conscience, on an honest avowal of all your sins, their degree and their number, on a sincere, that is a heartfelt contrition, and on a determined and unconquerable purpose of amendment. The absolution of the priest will do the rest.
Some time when you go to Confession you have no feeling of sorrow. It is not at all necessary at any time to feel sorrow. We can not control, we can not command our feelings. They come to us unbidden. The best proof that your regret is real, lies in your purpose of amendment. Can any proof that you hate sin be stronger than that which you manifest every time that, with all the force of your will, you repudiate every wrong thought, word, or deed, of which you may be guilty, and your resolve with the same firmness never to repeat those offenses against the law of God? Worry, therefore, not about your feelings, but rather about the fixity of your purpose.
Your best preparation will be your Confession of today. Spend all your energy on ridding yourselves of every stain, so that tomorrow when the Holy Spirit contemplates your soul, He will find it a place in which He will delight to take up His abode. Not only will He be delighted to dwell therein, but He will enrich it with the abundance of His fortifying grace. Does it not seem strange that it is only the Holy Ghost from whom you can expect the help to confess well, as well as the assistance necessary to receive Him in a Christian spirit? Strange as it may seem, it is true, for that august Person alone can prepare you for Himself. Remember you are going to entertain a God and only a God is rich enough to furnish you with the means of entertaining such majesty in a becoming manner.
Pray to the Holy Spirit. Let your soul speak out to Him all that is in it. Beg of Him, through the intercession of the saint whose name you are going to take, through the heart of the Immaculate Mother who received Him more perfectly than any mere creature ever did or ever will, through the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, to come to you, to cleanse you, to enlighten you, and to strengthen you and impart to you the courage to be, not only tomorrow, but forever, perfect Christians and valiant soldiers of the Church.
VI. GOD THE HOLY GHOST.
This is your last instruction before Confirmation. Much has been said about the nature and effects of that Sacrament, but very little of that third Person of the Blessed Trinity whom it contains. The Holy Ghost is mentioned by name very frequently, but how few stop to ask themselves who that august Person is. In fact they think very little about Him and they know very little. Some are like those people mentioned in the New Testament, who, when they were asked if they had received the Holy Ghost, answered that they did not even know there was a Holy Ghost. This should not be the case.
The Holy Ghost is God, and therefore has had to do in some way or other with us, not only since we were born, but also from the beginning of the world and even before. In fact we have been in His mind during all eternity. Besides, we Catholics make so frequently the sign of the Cross. There is hardly a prayer of the Church which does not include Him by name. Then there is that feast of the Church, the feast of Pentecost, a feast as memorable as the Easter festival. It may be said that Christ laid the foundation and built the walls, but the Holy Ghost completed and beautified the structure of the Church of which you are members.
We never can know much about the Holy Ghost, but the little we do know is enough, when dwelt upon seriously, to enable us to learn His infinite love for us and to apprehend what our duties toward Him are. What does your Catechism say about Him? Enough, be sure, to make us wonder that we have been so careless in trying to realize His divinity and His majesty.
We never pray so well as when we pay undistracted attention to the words we use when we pray. How many times you have made the sign of the Cross, and what little meaning the words Holy Ghost had for you! You must not fancy that the sign of the Cross is of no consequence, that it makes little difference whether you make it or not, or how you make it. It is not to be regarded as a mere gesture. You sign yourselves at the beginning of your prayers. Does it mean that that sign is not a part of your prayers? Why, it is an important part. Its purpose is to make you pause and reflect upon what you are about to do. You are going to pray or do some other work, and you are going to proceed in the name of each Person of the adorable Trinity. In their Name, that is with their blessing, their command, their help. It is a call upon the Blessed Three to bend down and listen to you. It is an admonition to you that They are looking upon you, see all your thoughts and all your most hidden motives. It is a warning to you that the prayer you are going to make must be worthy of them, that is, as worthy of them as it is possible for a limited creature to render it. All this and more is the sign of the Cross to you.
With what reverence you should utter those holy Names and now, from this moment forward, you are to name the Holy Ghost with more fervor than ever before. You are going to be devout, hence-forward, with a special piety to the Holy Spirit who tomorrow will bestow Himself upon you, will arm you for the battle of life, will send you forth to fight and be with you in all your encounters with the foes of your soul.
Again go back to the teaching of your Catechism. The eighth article of your creed is: "I believe in the Holy Ghost." What is the meaning of the words Holy Ghost? They mean Holy Spirit. But God the Father is a Holy Spirit and likewise God the Son. True, but in virtue of what we learn in the Old and in the New Testament, and in the doctrine of the Church, this name which is common to the first and to the second Persons is used exclusively to designate the third. So much for the name. But the Holy Ghost is God--God of God, true God of true God. There is only one God, but in that one God there are three Persons. They are distinct from each other. The Father is truly God, the Son is truly God, the Holy Ghost is truly God. Yet there is only one God. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost is neither Father nor Son. This is a mystery. We can not understand, we can only adore.
It is enough for you to know that He is God and therefore created you and baptized you, and is going to sanctify you, if you place no hindrance to His workings. If you could read the beautiful things said of the Holy Spirit by the Doctors and the Fathers and the Saints of the Church! You sing sometimes a hymn to the Holy Ghost. How have you sung it? Did you remember that a hymn is a prayer. Do you recall now any part of that hymn? Yet that hymn, which so many grown-up people delight to hear the children chant, is full of pious and affectionate appeals to the Holy Ghost. If you do not think of any particular prayer to make to the Holy Spirit, repeat the words of that chant.
Though your Catechism does not say much about the Holy Spirit of God, it teaches you enough to make you consider yourselves as highly favored in being allowed to receive Him as He is coming to you tomorrow. You remember that the first Confirmation occurred on the Sunday we call Pentecost. The Paraclete, or Consoler or Comforter, as the Holy Ghost is sometimes called, was sent by Christ to sanctify His Church, to enlighten and to strengthen the Apostles, and to enable them to preach the Gospel. This shows you the particular office of the Holy Ghost among men. He is the gift of Christ to His Church. He enlighteneth every one who cometh into the Church. He is constantly working throughout that Church--He is with the rulers and the ministers of our holy religion and with all the faithful. The Supreme Pontiff, ever since the beginning, has been under His special protection. Guided by Him, the Pope can not err. Through Him he is infallible in everything that he teaches Catholics concerning faith and morals. Through Him all sacramental power is given to bishops and priests. Every pious thought comes from Him. He inspires every good resolution and fortifies every one who makes appeal to Him. You, my dear children, have never performed an act of faith or of hope or of love or of contrition, you have never conceived a holy thought or framed a virtuous resolution save through Him. He it is who has suggested every idea to you during these days of retreat, every idea of self-amendment, every desire to approach Him fully prepared.
Could more be urged to make you realize what a sublime function is exercised by this divine Spirit in keeping the gates of hell from prevailing against the faith of Christ, and He will be with that faith of ours until the consummation of ages? Is it not highly proper to style Him God's gift to the world? He is in the world all the time and is stirring up thoughts in minds outside the Church which if followed will bring them to the way, the truth, and the life. He is a gift which includes all gifts that are worth having. Hence He is the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and fortitude, the Spirit of knowledge and of piety, and the Spirit of the fear of the Lord. He is as a flourishing tree which casts its shadow over the whole world and from which are hanging, for men to pluck, those fruits that are so refreshing and without which this world would be a desert indeed, those fruits of charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, constancy, chastity.
These gifts and these fruits have all been explained to you. What are all the presents, which it is in the power of the world to bestow, compared with these? Indeed what would the world be were it not possible for a man at some time or other in his life to reach out his hand and take them? What would the world be without them while we live, and above all what would existence be without them when we come to die? These fruits, my dear children, are yours to gather tomorrow, yours to keep and brighten your lives with, and to be nourished thereby and strengthened against any and every calamity which may overtake you. Do try and understand this. Do try and realize the good things tomorrow has in store for you. Once more cast out from your souls everything that may prevent you from possessing all this wealth in its marvelous abundance. Beg and beg again the great Spirit to come even now, not in a sacramental way, but by the way of His grace, and make you so ready that all His magnificent wealth may be yours and forever yours.
You have been drilled in all that you have to do during the ceremony. You know the hour you are to come. Be here on the minute. You know when you have to kneel and rise and go up, and take your place at the feet of the bishop. All that is needful has been shown you and no doubt your execution of these directions will be perfect. Before you are confirmed, that is before you approach the altar, keep yourselves in prayer. Busy yourselves with all the thoughts that have come into your minds during these days of meditation and prayer. Chiefly employ that brief space before your Confirmation in acts of faith, of contrition, and desire. Continue these sentiments while you are being confirmed and when you have returned to your places give thanks to the Holy Spirit for His infinite condescension in coming with such divine munificence to poor unworthy you. Let your gratitude be from the very depths of your hearts. Let it show itself in your promises, your resolution. No need of many words, no need of many resolutions. One resolution is sufficient--the resolution so constantly insisted on during these days--the resolution "I am going to become, with Thy help, a perfect Christian." But in that resolution put all your will, all your character. Pledge yourself to the Holy Spirit. Be ashamed to fail Him.
Nearly two thousand years ago the Sacrament of Confirmation was administered in an amazing and a peculiar manner. It was administered to the Apostles and to their queen, our beloved mother, and it was administered publicly, so that all Jerusalem saw it and wondered. It may be said that the minister of that Confirmation was the Holy Spirit, just as Christ was the first minister of the adorable Eucharist. Recall that scene tomorrow. Try to enter into the thoughts of Mary as she was awaiting the great advent. Make the thoughts of the Apostles your own.
Two sentiments should be yours while you are waiting. A sentiment of surrender and a sentiment of fearless confidence. Tell the Paraclete in the words of a saint, "Take, O Holy Ghost, all my liberty. Take my memory, understanding, and will. Whatever I have Thou hast given me, and to Thee I restore it, and deliver it to be governed by Thy will only. Grant me Thy love and Thy grace, and I am rich enough, nor will I ask for aught else." Then make an act of absolute trust. Say to your benefactor: Beloved Father of my being and yet my Master, I put myself into Thy care today and forever. Come weal, come woe, sickness or health, fame or infamy, suffering or pleasure, life or death, confiding in Thee I am not afraid. Let me but feel the clasp of Thy arm, but see the light of Thy smile and I will sleep on Thy bosom in peace. Do what Thou wilt for and with me. How canst Thou harm me, loving me as Thou dost with an infinite eternal and unselfish love? Holy Spirit, even though Thou shouldst slay me still shall I trust in Thee. May these be your sentiments, children, and may the Holy Ghost bless and love and keep you all forever.
VII. THE SEVEN FRUITS.
This morning, dear children, your happy day arrived. It is nearly over now, and very shortly it will be a thing of the past. You must never let the memory of it die. It has too much significance for you. It has been a day of too much gain for you to forget it altogether. The Holy Ghost came to you just as really as, so many years ago, He came to the Apostles. You received the same Holy Ghost, the same Holy Ghost with the same gifts and the same fruits. He imparted of His grace much more abundantly to them than to you, because their mission was a sublimer one than yours and their work more difficult. Otherwise there is no difference. It was the same Holy Ghost who gave courage to the martyrs, young and old. Remember, there were many boy and girl martyrs. It was the same Holy Ghost who preserved the Virgins in their purity. It was the same Holy Ghost who fortified the Confessors and all the Saints who are honored on the altars of your Church.
You are not saints, you are not martyrs, nor are you apostles as Peter and Paul and the others were. Yet, in a way you have a mission and a work. Your mission is to prove by the virtues you practise how much the Sacrament can do for human nature in elevating it and making it stronger than all the temptations of the world. Your work is to forge ahead through difficulties of every kind, until you reach the kingdom of which Baptism made you heirs and Confirmation made you soldiers. Besides, who knows what particular task may be yet yours to perform? Some of you may in future years become priests. Perhaps one or two of you may be consecrated Bishops. Some of the girls may become nuns. Both nuns and priests are in their degree apostles since it is their appointed duty in life to glorify the Church and bring salvation to souls. A vocation may spring up on a day like this. The Spirit of God makes His own choice, and it could easily be that a call to the priesthood or to the religious life may have been heard by some of you today.
Confirmation Day is a wonderful one, and on it the Holy Spirit does marvelous things with souls and lays down the foundations of many saintly and eminently useful lives. It is a day full of suggestions, full of inspirations. It is, as you have been so often informed, the real commencement of the Christian life. Spiritually you are grown now. You can utter no complaint if life grows full of trials heavy and sore, trials which shake souls. You can utter no complaint, because not only have you been forewarned, but you have also been forearmed. Heaven can do no more for you. You know where you can always repair for light and strength. The Divine Spirit, with all His power, has come to you and He will abide with you until you bid Him away. Even after you have rejected Him, again He will come back to you, if you beseech with a humble and contrite heart.
The gifts which became yours today are numerous and are priceless. They are valuable beyond all reckoning. So much so that it would be impossible to say which is of more worth than another. It will not be amiss to think over those seven invaluable possessions which were made yours this morning, to think over what they are and how rich they will make you. You will need every one of them as you proceed along the journey of life. There is wisdom which makes you wise in the things of God, gives you a distaste for the vain things of the world and teaches you to direct your whole life and all your actions to the honor and glory of God. Understanding enables you to know more clearly the mysteries of your faith. Counsel is a warning against all the deceits of the devil as well as all the dangers to salvation. Fortitude makes you strong to do the will of God in all things. Knowledge helps you to discover the will of God in all things. Piety inclines you to love Him as a Father and to obey Him because you love. Lastly, the fear of God implants in you a dread of sin and the desire to suffer anything rather than to displease Him even in the slightest degree.
Wondrous gifts these are certainly. It is very hard to make a distinction between them and to say which excels the other. Certainly you must cultivate them all, that is, use them all to the best advantage. The two mentioned last are piety and the fear of the Lord. Perhaps it would not be exaggerating to say that these two embrace all the rest. Most surely it is true that if you exercise piety and the fear of the Lord you will in all your acts so plan your life that it will be a life of wisdom and knowledge and understanding and counsel and fortitude.
You have been told many and many a time that the surest way of never offending God is to love Him. There are so many reasons why you should love God, the chiefest of which is that He has loved you from all eternity with an infinite love. "Behold," says the Lord in Holy Writ, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love" (Jer. xxxi). He has never grown tired of you. His loving arms have been about you day and night since the hour of your birth, and nothing in heaven or earth can harm you as long as He holds you in His embrace.
More than father or mother has He loved you. His love has been so unselfish. Yes, He yearns for our hearts, but in reality what doth it profit the Almighty to be the object of the most ardent human love? Whatever we do for Him through love, while it testifies to our obedience and thus honors Him, means very little, if anything, to Him, but only renders Him more lavish of His favors to His creatures.
So, my children, let love for the great, good, infinitely bountiful Maker prompt you during your whole life, not only in a general way, but in the minutest details of your activity. The Holy Ghost has sown richly in Confirmation today the seeds of that love in bestowing upon you the gift of piety. But notice well that while conferring piety He also endowed you with another gift--the gift of the fear of the Lord. So you must love and fear at the same time. There must be love in your fear and there must be fear in your love. You must love in such a way that with all your love you are afraid by some fault of yours to lose God. You are to fear Him, but in all your fear there must be mingled love. Hence is it said the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It is only the beginning. It is not the whole wisdom. To fear God so as to lose all trust in Him is no wisdom at all, but on the contrary, is extreme folly. The two gifts must go hand in hand, otherwise the results will be either overweening confidence or utter servility.
You must never forget that you are God's children and not His slaves. You have been brought here this afternoon in order to recapitulate profitably the gift accorded you this morning, in order to impress more deeply upon your minds the memories of this eventful day. In earlier days there were some customs which formed part of the Confirmation ceremony. They were not essential and today have been dropped altogether. There was given a kiss of peace to signify that one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit was that peace which is a foretaste of heaven and surpasseth all understanding. They used to bind a fillet or band which covered the forehead in order to keep untouched the spot blessed by the Sacred Chrism. There was one intention in all this, which was to keep vividly before the minds of those confirmed the significance of the Sacrament.
After your first Communion you were called together in order to renew your promises of Baptism. We will renew them again today. No need to tell you that if you are faithful to those promises you will be in very deed perfect Christians. You are committed now, in the sight of men, and by the very nature of your Confirmation grace, to prove yourselves Catholics not in name merely, but in reality. You have taken a pledge to obey your Church in all its laws. If you accustom yourselves while young to a careful compliance with the precepts of your religion in every detail, there will be great reason to hope that as you advance in life you will still be faithful.
There are some practices which are recommended to you in a very special manner, and according as you adhere to them is your Catholicity beyond doubt, or under suspicion. There is the Sunday Mass and the Mass on holidays of obligation. Resolve now never to miss Mass. Put everything else aside in order that this precept may be fulfilled. Make no excuse for yourselves. To absent yourselves from the Mass on days on which the hearing is obligatory, you must have a grave, a very grave reason indeed. What is your week going to be if you do not bring down upon it the blessing of the Holy Sacrifice? It will be a week begun in sin, and God alone knows how it will end. You can not calculate the immensity of the benediction which will come to you and yours by fidelity to this law of the Church. There are, thank God, men and women who will travel any distance and face any weather rather than miss Mass. There is no doubt that God will favor at the hour of death in a particular manner whoever is in a position to say that never in all his life did he willingly absent himself from the Mass of obligation.
**As with all prayers, sermons, and teachings provided on Catholic Harbor, these instructions predate the great Apostasy of Vatican II. All references to the obligation to attend Mass refer to the Church as it was in 1909, the year of publication, and should not be taken as refering to the Novus Ordo Missae of Paul VI. which is invalid and non-binding on the faithful.
Then there is the abstinence on Fridays. Abstain always, my dear children. Never take it upon yourselves to excuse yourselves. Let no human respect deter you. People will not think any the less of you if you are scrupulous on this point. They may smile or even laugh at you, but in their heart of hearts they will respect you. The Mass and the Friday abstinence afford you many opportunities of manifesting yourselves true Catholics.
Can you doubt, while showing yourselves brave for the sake of your religion and your conscience, that God will remember your generosity? God will never be outdone in liberality. So, whether at home or abroad, with friends or with strangers, during the working year or during vacation, be steadfast in your determination to go to Mass when obliged by the Church, and to abstain from meat on Fridays. No surrender on this point, anywhere or at any time or before anybody.
There is another resolution which you must add to the foregoing two--the resolution, namely, to say your morning and evening prayers. Not only are you to say them regularly, but you are to say them with attention, with piety and with devotion. They are prayers and not recitations. They must be said with the heart as well as with the lips. They need not be long prayers. Kneel down, make the sign of the Cross, then quietly recite the "Our Father," the "Hail Mary," the Creed. In the morning you might add an invocation to St. Joseph in which you will ask him for the grace of a happy death. Then raise your Confirmation Flag--resolve that all day long you are going to be perfect Christian soldiers, that there will be no sin in thought, word or deed. Another sign of the Cross and go cheerfully to the business of the new day. At night you may say the same prayers, only closing with an act of contrition for all the sins of your life as well as of the day just closed.
How long do you think these prayers will take, even when said with all attention and devotion. Just one hundred and twenty seconds, that is, just two minutes, in all four minutes a day. Four minutes daily! Is that too much time to give to God? Is that too big a price to pay for your everlasting happiness? Yet heaven will be yours if you keep to those resolutions, to those promises which, in addition to your baptismal vows, you are now going to make by way of some small return for the signal favor of your Confirmation.
May the Holy Ghost, who is in you, strengthen you in these purposes and thus make you perfect Christian soldiers and in the end crown you with the glory which never fades.
ST. MAURILLUS AND THE DYING CHILD.
St. Martin, the Apostle of Gaul, had consecrated Maurillus Bishop of Angers, a man revered by all for his holy life. One day a lady went to him asking him to come at once to confirm her little boy, who was dying, because she did not want him to appear before God without the seal of Confirmation. The bishop, who was preparing to say Mass, answered that as soon as the Holy Sacrifice was ended he would attend to her request. But when it was ended, and when he had reached the house where the child was, he found that it had just died.
The holy man was filled with grief as he gazed on the body of the boy, not only on account of his death, but principally because it had left this life without having received the precious grace of Confirmation before entering eternity, and he bitterly reproached himself for not having gone at the moment he had been sent for.
To do penance for this fault--for he considered it a great one, though in itself no blame for neglect could have been attributed to him--he took the resolution to leave Angers and live in some unknown place, to weep before God for this offense:
The people of the town and diocese of Angers, having discovered his flight, caused a diligent search to be made for him throughout the country, and having at length discovered him, would not leave him until he consented to return with them. He had scarcely reached the town, his mind still troubled at the result of his negligence, when, urged by the Spirit of God, he went to the place where the remains of the boy were interred, and when he reached it, he fell prostrate on the ground and, shedding abundant tears, poured forth the most fervent prayers that God might not deprive the child of the graces specially given to those who have received the Holy Ghost, since it was by no fault of the boy, but only by his own, that he was deprived of them.
And as he continued for a long time to pray in this manner, God was pleased to work a miracle in his favor. The dead child suddenly came forth from the grave, and, kneeling at his feet, waited there in silence, as if he expected to receive some favor. Maurillus, whose heart now overflowed with happiness, went with all haste for the Sacred Chrism, and, returning to the grave, instantly confirmed him, imposing on him the name of Remigius.
Instead of returning again to the grave, the boy, raising up his eyes towards those of the bishop, thanked him for the blessing he had bestowed on him. At the same time he told him that it was the will of God that he should live for many more years in this world.
His mother, full of joy and gratitude, took him home with her, and under her care he grew up in piety, leading so perfect a life that, when he was of age, he was ordained priest, and finally, when St. Maurillus was called to receive his reward, he was chosen to succeed him in the See of Angers.
GOD OR MAMMON? HE CHOSE TO SERVE GOD.
Saturnus held the high office of majordomo in the palace of Hunericus, King of the Vandals. He and his family were Christians, but practised their religion in secret, because of the hatred of the king for all who were not Arians.
When it was told the king that Saturnus was a Catholic, he was filled with great fury at the thought that one who held so high a position in his house and kingdom should profess the Catholic faith. So, calling him into his presence, he threatened, not only to deprive him of his position and wealth, but even to reduce his wife and children to the state of slavery, if he would not renounce the Catholic faith and become an Arian.
Saturnus bravely replied that he must obey God rather than man, and that nothing the king could do to him would ever make him unfaithful to his duty to God. His wife, hearing of this noble resolution, was filled with dismay; for although she too was a Catholic, she was like many in the world, and thought more of the present life than of that which is to come. Going to her husband, she threw herself on her knees at his feet, and begged of him by all that he held dear not to bring ruin on himself and her and on their children. "I beseech you," she said, "not to cast at your feet the noble position in which you are placed. What will become of us if you thus throw away the wealth we now possess? And think, too, of the awful degradation of being made slaves, and of our children being deprived of an alliance with the noble families to which they aspire. Oh! God can not want of us so great a sacrifice! He can not be so cruel! He can not be angry with you for doing through force and necessity what so many have done of their own free will and without remorse."
But the faithful servant of Christ answered her in the words of Job to his wife: "You speak like one of the foolish women. I would have cause to fear, O woman, if, for the sake of the comforts of this life I would lose the happiness of Heaven. If you really loved me, your husband, as you say you do, you would never have dared to bring about my eternal ruin by such words as you have spoken, and by these treacherous caresses you have lavished on me.
Let the king take away from me my wife," he continued, as if speaking to himself, "and my children, and my possessions; I resign myself to God's holy will, remembering the words of Jesus Christ, Who said: 'If a man forsake not his wife and his children, and his fields and his house, he can not be My disciple.''
His wife went away shedding tears. Saturnus was deposed from his office, deprived of all his wealth, and after undergoing many bodily sufferings from the hands of the cruel king, was cast out into the world to beg his bread.
ST. FIDELIS, MARTYR.
In the town of Sigmaringen, which is situated in one of the provinces of Germany, St. Fidelis was born in the year of our Lord 1577.
At the time of his birth it was thought that either the mother or the child would certainly die. When the mother heard this, she fervently prayed to God in these words: "O my God, if it is necessary that one of us must die, take me to Thyself, and spare my child, that it may be born again to Thee by Baptism, and may thus one day inherit the Kingdom of Heaven."
As a reward for this generous self-sacrifice the child was safely brought into the world, and the mother recovered.
But this was not the only favor she received from God for her child, for the Holy Ghost bestowed on him the gift of wisdom in a high degree, and made him one of the most learned men of his time, and also the gift of understanding, which showed him how to become a great saint.
At his Baptism he received the name of Mark.
When he grew up he chose the profession of a lawyer, in which he gained for himself much distinction; he was accounted to be the most just, the most successful, and the most learned lawyer in the whole country. The poor loved him because he pleaded their cause with so much earnestness, and the wealthy esteemed him because he sought in his pleadings only the prosperous issue of whatever was entrusted to him, instead of wishing to heap up riches for himself at their expense.
This made the other members of the profession entertain feelings of animosity towards him. "Why do you always try to finish so soon the causes you take in hand?" they used to say to him. "You will never make a fortune in that way; besides, in acting thus, you do injury to us, as well as to yourself."
Mark answered: "To act in the manner you suggest, by prolonging causes without reason, is to be guilty of injustice. How can you conscientiously charge against others even the errors which your carelessness may have caused, much less retain for yourselves what you may have acquired by unnecessary delays? No, I will never sully my conscience by such sinful conduct."
These words, spoken with such firmness, only served to increase their animosity; they persecuted him without ceasing, and did everything their jealousy could suggest to injure him.
"O wicked world!" he exclaimed, when he perceived their malice; "what a dangerous thing it is for an upright man to live in the midst of such iniquity! How impious are your maxims! How difficult it is to be at the same time a rich advocate and a good Christian!" From that moment he formed the resolution of forsaking it altogether to consecrate himself to God in religion.
The Order he chose was that of the Capuchins on account of its poverty and severity. On entering it, he adopted the name of Fidelis. When those who had known him in the world had learned of the step he had taken, and that the eloquent lawyer had put on the dress of the poorest Order in the Church, they were filled with amazement, and thought that he had suddenly become demented.
"Ah, my friends," he replied to them, "what more glorious exchange could I have made? I have sacrificed for God's sake the perishable things of this world, and in return He has promised me the eternal joys of Heaven. Judge for yourself whether or not I have made a bad bargain!"
St. Fidelis, after a holy life, shed his blood in testimony of his love of God, and now reigns among the white-robed army of the martyrs in Paradise.
THE CHILDREN'S MARTYRDOM.
Maximian hated the very name of Christian, and determined to put to death every one who professed the religion of Jesus Christ. Many martyrs sealed their faith with their blood in the terrible persecution he raised up against the Church. He did not spare even little children, but put them also to death without mercy. The historians of those terrible times have recorded the following story:
There were two brothers belonging to a noble Christian family whom the emperor resolved to deprive of their Faith. They were only little children when he caused them to be brought to his palace.
At first he gave them sweetmeats and other things which delight the hearts of children, and they received them with the greatest pleasure. As they were beginning to grow up he gave them some food to eat which they had seen him offer to idols, but they both at once immediately refused to touch it.
"Our parents told us," they said., "that we must never eat anything that has been offered to idols."
At this unexpected resistance to his wishes on the part of mere infants the emperor became exceedingly angry, and ordered them to be cruelly beaten; yet they would not yield.
He next ordered a great fire to be kindled and a caldron full of water to be placed upon it. When the water began to boil, he commanded the children to be stripped of their clothing and thrown into it.
As soon as this was done the younger boy died. His brother, seeing that he was dead, cried out: "O my brother, thou hast conquered!" Then, throwing his arms around him, he also fell down and expired.
Thus was the cruel emperor vanquished by little children in whom the Holy Ghost dwelt, and by whose mouth He spoke, according to those words of the Sacred Scriptures: "Out of the mouths of infants and of sucklings Thou has perfected praise."
The Christians of Nicomedia secretly buried their bodies, and every year on the anniversary of their triumph they celebrated a joyous festival under the name of "The Children's Martyrdom."
ST. IGNATIUS' TEMPTATIONS.
When Satan saw the great fervor of St. Ignatius of Loyola he began to tempt him, that he might make him fall into sin. The first temptation was one of pride. He put into his heart the thought that he was already a great Saint, and that God must be pleased because he was so holy, and because he had performed so many penances, and had said so many prayers, and had done so many works of charity.
St. Ignatius knew that such thoughts could not come from God. He remembered also that he had been at one time a great sinner, and that all his good works were but little when compared with his former sins. By this thought he put away the temptation.
When Satan saw himself thus defeated, he tried another kind of temptation, by which he hoped to turn him away from his holy life. "How can you imagine that you shall be able to continue this kind of life to the end?" he whispered in his heart. "You are young, and have at least fifty years to live. How could you live so austere a life for so long a time?"
The saint saw that this also was a temptation; so he raised up his mind to Heaven, and asked God for help to overcome it, and God heard his prayer. "Begone, Satan!" he said. "How can you promise me fifty years more of life, since it is not in your power to give me even one day? And even although it were certain that I was to live all those years, what are they when compared to eternity? God, who supports me today by His grace, will also support me tomorrow, and every day till the end of my life."
It was in this way, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that the saint overcame these temptations of the Devil, and persevered in his holy life.
TOMORROW NEVER CAME.
There was once a father of a family who lived in the neglect of his religious duties. He led a blameless life in the eyes of the world because he was honest and kind, and was most attentive to his business. People called him an excellent man.
He had a daughter who was well instructed in her religion, and she knew that, though the world had so high an esteem for her father, he was at enmity with God; and because she loved him, the sad state of his soul made her very uneasy.
One evening, when they were sitting alone, she gently said to him, "Father, would you not be much happier if you went to the Sacraments and lived a holy life?"
"Oh! I am quite happy as I am," he answered; "my conscience does not trouble me. Am I not honest, and beloved by everyone around me? What more could I desire?"
"Ah, yes, my father, that is true; but of what avail will the esteem of the world be to you when you come to the hour of your death if you have not pleased God?"
"God is good," replied her father, "and He will have mercy on me, and take me to Heaven. Oh, no, God would never send me to Hell. He is too good to do that. Besides, I intend to serve God better when I have more time; but, at present, I have no time to think about these things."
The poor girl's words had no effect on him. He continued, as before, to seek the esteem of the world and the good favor of men, and to neglect his religious duties.
But the hour of death came to him. It came when he was least expecting it; it came one day when he was busy with his worldly affairs, and it came suddenly. He died without the priest and without the Sacraments, because, when in health, he had put off till tomorrow--a tomorrow that never came--and had lived for the world, and not for God.
But that is not the way in which the Saints lived. They lived for God alone.
HEROIC FAITH OF A CHILD.
In the year 1833 a violent persecution was raised against the Church by the King of Cochin China, and many of the Christians were cruelly tortured and put to death for the Faith.
These good people showed the greatest joy in the midst of their sufferings, and even the little children nobly confessed the Faith, and offered themselves to the judge to receive the crown of martyrdom.
One day a little boy presented himself before the tribunal of the judge. He threw himself on his knees before him and asked permission to speak.
When he obtained permission, he said: "Mandarin, cut off my head with the sword, that I may go to my own country."
"Where is your country?" asked the judge.
"It is Heaven," replied the child.
"And where are your parents?"
"They are gone home to Heaven, and I want to follow them. Oh, sir, give me a stroke with the sword and send me there too."
The mandarin was struck with admiration at the faith and courage of the boy, but refused to grant him his request. But this child received from God the glory of the martyrs on account of his great desire of being a martyr.
We may not be able to shed our blood for the Faith; but if we live for Heaven and for God as the martyrs did, God will give us Heaven as our reward in His own good time.
THE RESOLUTE OFFICER.
An officer, illustrious for his birth and fortune, was on the point of obtaining a very lucrative situation, when he was accused of being a Christian, that religion excluding him, by the laws, from all offices and dignities. The governor gave him four hours for consideration, and told him to weigh well what he was going to do. During the interval which had been given him, he was visited by the bishop, who took him by the hand, led him to the Church, and begged of him to enter the sanctuary. Here, at the foot of the altar, the bishop pointed to the sword which the officer wore, and presenting him, at the same time, with a copy of the Gospels, asked him which he would choose. The officer, without hesitation, with his right hand took hold of the Sacred Book. "Adhere, then, to God," said the holy Bishop, "be faithful to Him, and He will fortify you, and recompense your choice. Depart in peace." The officer went from the church, and presenting himself before the governor, made a generous confession of his faith in Jesus Christ. Sentence of death was then pronounced upon him, and he, by expiring for his faith in sharp but passing torments, merited eternal and ineffable joys.
FORTITUDE OF A MARTYR.
Among the numerous confessors of the Faith who, during this present century, have courageously undergone torments and death in the kingdom of Tonkin, the name of Michael Mi is deserving of special mention. He was arrested, along with his aged father-in-law, Anthony, on the charge of being concerned in the concealment of a priest, who was taken, and who suffered with them. The poor old Anthony, who was on the verge of seventy, shuddered at the sight of the instruments of torture which were displayed before the tribunal, but Michael encouraged him by reminding him of the eternal reward which they were about to purchase so cheaply, at the price of a few short and passing sufferings. "And as to the stripes which you dread, fear not, father," said he, "I will offer myself to endure them in your place." Accordingly, after he himself had been flogged without mercy, so that his whole body was a mass of wounds and blood, he, of his own accord, lay down again upon the ground, saying to the judge, "My father is aged and infirm; take pity on him, and suffer me to be flogged in his stead." And when this was permitted, he with the greatest joy endured a second scourging, nor did a groan or sigh escape him while his wounds were being re-opened, and his flesh again torn and rent asunder. After many examinations and cruel torments, the three confessors of the Faith were at length condemned to be beheaded, and set out with serene and joyful countenances for the place of execution. Michael Mi distinguished himself especially by his undaunted courage. "Give me some money," said the executioner to him, "and I will promise to cut off your head at a single blow, so that you may have less to suffer." Cut it into a hundred pieces if you like," said the Christian hero, "it matters not, provided that you manage somehow to cut it off. As for money, I have plenty at home, but I would rather that it should be given to the poor." So saying, he bent his head to receive the fatal stroke, and went to receive the triple crown of faith, charity, and filial piety.
ST. MARTIN AND THE ROBBER.
St. Martin, of Tours, while yet a youth, was traveling over the Alps, when he fell into the hands of robbers, one of whom drew his sword and held it suspended over his head, as if about to inflict a mortal blow. He would, indeed, have done so, had not his companion stayed his hand. The holy youth showed no symptom of fear, but recommended himself entirely to the protection and disposal of Divine Providence. The robbers, struck with astonishment at his calmness and self-possession in so imminent a danger, asked him who he was, and whether he was not filled with fear at the sight of the sword uplifted to slay him? He replied that he was a Christian, and that he had no fear, because he knew that the Divine Goodness is always most ready to protect us both in life and death, and that it is never nearer to us than when we are exposed to the greatest danger. He added that his only subject of grief was, that they, by the lives they led, deprived themselves of the mercy of God. The robbers listened to him with astonishment, and admired the courage and confidence in God which virtue inspires. His fervent words made a deep impression upon their hearts, and he who had attempted to kill him became a Christian, and, entering into a monastery, led henceforth a life of devotion and penance.
JULIAN AND HIS PAGE.
It is related by the historian Prudentius, that the Roman Emperor Julian, who had been brought up a Christian, but abandoned his religion upon ascending the throne, determined to make public profession of his impiety by a solemn sacrifice to the idols. He accordingly repaired to the temple, attended by all his court, among whom was a Christian page, who had a short time previously been admitted to the Sacrament of Confirmation. Everything being ready for the sacrifice, the Emperor ordered the priests to commence the sacred rites. They endeavored to do so, and raised their knives to strike the victims prepared for the sacrifice; but what was their astonishment when they found themselves unable to proceed! Their knives became suddenly blunted and incapable of inflicting a wound; while, to add to their consternation, the fire on the altar was suddenly extinguished. Thereupon the presiding priest exclaimed, "Some unknown power prevents our sacrifice. There must be some Christian present, who has been baptized or confirmed." The Emperor, on hearing these words, immediately ordered search to be made, when behold! one of his own pages stood forth and thus addressed him: "Know, O Emperor, that I am a Christian, and have been baptized. A few days ago I was anointed with the holy oil to strengthen me for the combat. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, who has redeemed me by His Cross. It was I, or rather the God whom I serve, who prevented the impiety you were on the point of committing. I invoked the sacred name of Jesus, and the demons had no longer any power. In the name of Jesus Christ, who is the true God, they have been put to flight." At these words the Emperor, who, though an apostate through malice and self-interest, knew well the power of the name of Jesus, was struck with terror, and fearing the Divine vengeance, retired from the temple in confusion. The Christians, on the other hand, were filled with courage at seeing the admirable effects produced in the soul by the strengthening grace of Confirmation.
THE CHINESE CHILD.
A Chinese girl of ten met with a missionary, and entreated him to give her Confirmation. "And if the mandarin puts you into prison for your faith, what will you say?" asked the priest. "I will say I am a Christian." "And if he bids you renounce your faith, what will you do?" I will say: 'never.'" "And if he brings the executioners to cut off your head, what will you say?" "I will say: 'Cut it off.'" Delighted at seeing the child so firm and resolute, the missionary acceded to her wishes, in spite of her tender years, and shortly she was confirmed.
The body of the Emperor Caligula was taken to be burnt, according to the Roman custom. It was all soon reduced to ashes, except the heart, which the fire seemed unable to affect. It was found to contain a certain poison which neutralized the action of the fire. When that was extracted, the heart was consumed like the rest of the body. It was not the fire that failed, but all depended on the state of the heart.--Wo to us if the fire of the Holy Spirit takes no hold on us! The poison of sin in the heart can alone paralyze that divine and powerful flame.
Devotions for the Sacrament of Confirmation
Before Confirmation, it is proper to make a.preparation of some days by frequent and fervent prayer, especially by devout acts of sorrow and contrition (for which purpose the
Psalm Miserere may be also used), and by repeated invocations of the Holy Ghost in the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, or Veni Sancte Spiritus.
The Litany of the Holy Ghost may be also used daily.
Prayer for Obtaining Right Dispositions for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation
O my God, through thy great mercy, I have received three of thy most holy sacraments; the first to make me thy child, the second to efface the stains which sin had made in my soul, the third to unite me with Thy Divine Son. Grant, then, I beseech thee, that the sacrament which I am now preparing to receive, may avail to making me a perfect Christian; that it may give me strength and courage to combat my evil habits, to overcome all my temptations, to conform myself perfectly to thy law, and to become a true soldier of Jesus Christ, ready to suffer any thing rather than renounce His holy religion, and to maintain it, if need be, even at the peril of my life. This I most earnestly beseech thee, O my God, through the merits of Thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee for ever and ever. Amen.
Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost
O almighty and eternal God, Thou hast vouchsafed to adopt me for Thy child in the holy sacrament of Baptism; Thou hast granted me the remission of my sins at the tribunal of penance; Thou hast made me to sit at Thy holy table, and hast fed me with the bread of angels; perfect in me, I beseech thee, all these benefits. Grant unto me the spirit of Wisdom, that I may despise the perishable things of this world, and love the things that are eternal; the spirit of Understanding, to enlighten me and to give me the knowledge of religion; the spirit of Counsel, that I may diligently seek the surest ways of pleasing God and obtaining heaven; the spirit of Fortitude, that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation; the spirit of Knowledge, that I may be enlightened in the ways of God; the spirit of Piety, that I may find the service of God both sweet and amiable; the spirit of Fear, that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God, and may dread in any way to displease Him. Seal me, in Thy mercy, with the seal of a disciple of Jesus Christ, unto everlasting life ; and grant that, carrying the cross upon my forehead, I may carry it also in my heart, and confessing Thee boldly before men, may merit to be one day reckoned in the number of thy elect. Amen.
Prayer for the Twelve Fruits of the Holy Ghost
O Holy Spirit, Eternal Love of the Father and the Son, vouchsafe to grant unto me, I beseech Thee, the fruit of Charity, that I may be united to Thee by divine love; the fruit of Joy, that I may be filled with a holy consolation; the fruit of Peace, that I may enjoy inward tranquillity of soul; the fruit of Patience, that I may endure humbly every thing that may be opposed to my own desires; the fruit of Benignity, that I may willingly relieve the necessities of my neighbour; the fruit of Goodness, that I may be benevolent towards all; the fruit of Longanimity, that I may not be discouraged by delay, but may persevere in prayer; the fruit of Mildness, that I may subdue every rising of evil temper, stifle every murmur, and repress the susceptibilities of my nature, in all my dealings with my neighbour; the fruit of Fidelity, that I may rely, with assured confidence, on the word of God; the fruit of Modesty, that I may order my exterior regularly; the fruits of Continency and Chastity, that I may keep my body in such holiness as becometh Thy temple, so that, having, by Thy assistance, preserved my heart pure on earth, I may merit, in Jesus Christ, according to the words of the Gospel, to see God eternally in the glory of His kingdom. Amen.
Acts before Confirmation
An Act of Faith.--O Holy Spirit, I firmly believe that I am about to receive Thee in the sacrament of Confirmation. I believe it because Thou hast said it, and Thou art the Truth itself.
An Act of Hope.--Relying on Thy infinite goodness, O Holy and Sanctifying Spirit, I confidently hope, that, receiving Thee in the sacrament of Confirmation, I shall receive the abundance of Thy graces. I trust in Thee that Thou wilt make me a perfect Christian, and that Thou wilt give me strength to confess the faith, even at the peril of my life.
An Act of Charity.--I love Thee, O Holy Spirit, with all my heart, and with all my soul, above all things, because Thou art infinitely good and worthy to be loved. Kindle in my heart the fire of Thy love; and grant that, having received Thee in the sacrament of Confirmation, I may faithfully perform all the duties of my state, to the end of my life.
A Prayer before Confirmation
O God of infinite goodness, receive, I beseech Thee, my most humble and hearty thanks, for all the favours which Thou hast bestowed upon me, from the very moment of my birth; particularly for that thou hast been pleased to rank me among those who are now about to be set apart and consecrated to Thee by the sacrament of Confirmation. Thou offerest me the greatest of Thy gifts; thou art about to seal my soul with the sacred character of a soldier of Jesus Christ, and to send Thy Holy Spirit down upon me, that he may abide within me continually. O my good and merciful Father, encouraged by such special marks of predilection, I venture to implore, with humble confidence, that Thou wouldst Thyself infuse into my heart all the dispositions necessary for its becoming the habitation of such a guest.
Alas! O my God, I am far from possessing those sentiments of faith, love, humility, and fervour, which ought now to animate my soul; but all things are possible with Thee, and Thou hast promised to give to them that ask. I most sincerely detest all the sins of my whole life; every fault, every imperfect inclination, which may be an obstacle to the graces which Thou desirest to bestow on Thy unworthy child. Vouchsafe, O my God, to purify my soul from every stain, by the infinite merits of the death and passion of Thy dear Son. I most sincerely resolve to serve Thee faithfully all the days of my life; but, of myself, I am unable to do that which I desire and resolve to do; therefore I beseech Thee to impart to me the graces of Thy Holy Spirit, that, like the Apostles, I may be endued with strength from on high, and inspired with courage and resolution, to prove myself the disciple of Thy Son. I ardently desire to receive this most precious gift; but do Thou, O God, render my desire still stronger and more ardent, and accept, I beseech Thee, on my behalf, the fervent desires that animated the heart of the Blessed Virgin and the holy Apostles on the day of Pentecost, and let their perfect dispositions supply in all things my deficiencies, through Christ our Lord, who, with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.
Psalm 50 (Miserere Mei Deus)
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy. And according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies: blot out my iniquity. Wash me more yet from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my iniquity, and my sin is always before me. Against Thee only have I sinned, and done evil in Thy sight: that Thou mayst be justified in Thy words, and mayst overcome when Thou art judged. For behold, I was conceived in iniquities: and in sins did my mother conceive me. For behold, Thou hast loved truth: the uncertain and hidden things of Thy wisdom Thou hast made manifest unto me. Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: and the bones that were humbled shall rejoice. Turn away Thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within my bosom. Cast me not away from Thy presence: and take not Thy holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and strengthen me with a perfect spirit. I will teach the unjust Thy ways: and the wicked shall be converted unto Thee. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall extol Thy justice. Thou wilt open my lips, O Lord: and my mouth shall declare Thy praise. For if Thou hadst desired sacrifice, I would surely have given it: with burnt offerings Thou wilt not be delighted. The sacrifice of God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humble heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise. Deal favourably, O Lord, in Thy good-will with Sion; that the walls of Jerusalem may be built up. Then shalt Thou accept the sacrifice of justice, oblations, and whole burnt offerings: then shall they lay calves upon Thine altars.
Hymn: Veni, Creator Spiritus
O Come, Creator Spirit, visit
our souls; and with Thy heavenly
grace fill the hearts that
were made by Thee.
Thou art called the Paraclete,
the Gift of the Most High
God, the Living Fountain,
Fire, Love, and Spiritual Unction.
Thou art seven fold in Thy
gifts; the Finger of the
Father's hand; the Father's
solemn Promise, that enrichest
men with the gift of tongues.
Enkindle thy light in our
minds; infuse thy love into
our hearts; and strengthen
the weaknesses of our flesh
by Thine unfailing power.
Repel the enemy far from us,
and delay not to give us
peace; by Thou our guide,
that we may shun all that
could bring us harm.
Grant that, through Thee,
we may know the Father and
the Son; and that we may evermore
confess Thee the Spirit
of them both.
Glory be to God the Father,
and to the Son Who rose from
the dead, and to the Paraclete,
for everlasting ages! Amen.
Litany of the Holy Ghost the Paraclete
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of heaven,
Have mercy on us.
God, the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete and Sanctifier,
Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God,
Have mercy on us.
Come, Holy Spirit, send down from heaven the rays of Thy divine light.
Come, Thou Who art the Father of the poor, the Author of all good things, and
the Light of our hearts.
Come, Thou of all consolers best, delightful Guest and sweet Refreshment of
In our labor Thou art rest, coolness in the heat of passion, solace in our woe. O blessed Light, come, penetrate the very center ot the hearts of the faithful.
Without Thy grace what can man do? How can he guiltless be? Wash, therefore, Lord, our polluted souls, water our barren clay, and heal our wounds.
Soften our stubborn wills, inflame our tepid hearts, guide our wandering steps.
Grant to Thy faithful, who trust in Thee, the treasure of Thy sevenfold gift.
Grant us a virtuous life, a happy death, and a happy eternity.
Send then, O God, we beseech Thee, the Holy Ghost into our hearts; and by His sacred Presence and almighty power, may He banish thence the spirit of the world, and of a disorderly life,
We beseech Thee, hear us.*
The spirit of sloth, of self-love, of the love of ease, *
The spirit of hatred and contention, *
The spirit of intemperance and impurity, *
The spirit of pride and vanity, *
The spirit of envy and contention, *
The spirit of detraction, calumny, and uncharitableness, *
The spirit of dissembling, flattering, and lying, *
The spirit of revenge, passion, impatience, *
The spirit of incredulity and profaneness, *
The spirit of immoderate solicitude and worldly care, *
The spirit of tepidity and impiety, *
The spirit of prodigality and covetousness, *
The spirit of frivolity and inconstancy, *
And may He give us the spirit of universal charity by which we may love God above all things, and our neighbors as ourselves,*
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world:
Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world:
Hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world:
Have mercy on us.
V. Create in us a clean heart, O God.
R. And renew a right spirit within us.
V. Send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created.
R. And Thou shall renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray:
O God, Who hast taught the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit: grant that, by the gift of the same Spirit, we may be always truly wise, and ever rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
O Holy Spirit, divine Spirit of light and love, I consecrate to Thee my understanding, heart, and will, my whole being for time and for eternity. May my understanding be always submissive to Thy heavenly inspirations and to the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church of which Thou art the infallible Guide; may my heart be ever inflamed with love of God and of my neighbor; may my will be ever conformed to the Divine Will, and may my whole life be a faithful imitation of the life and virtues of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to Whom with the Father and Thee be honor and glory forever. Amen.