John Henry Newman: “O God, Be Merciful to Me, a Sinner” Saturday, Feb 19 2011 

“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Luke 13:13.

These words set before us what may be called the characteristic mark of the Christian Religion…. They are a confession of sin and a prayer for mercy.

[…] What is peculiar to our divine faith, as to Judaism before it, is this, that confession of sin enters into the idea of its highest saintliness, and that…the very heroes of its history … carry with them into heaven the rapturous avowal of their being, redeemed, restored transgressors.

[…] Whatever be their advance in the spiritual life, they never rise from their knees, they never cease to beat their breasts, as if sin could possibly be strange to them while they were in the flesh.

Even our Lord Himself, the very Son of God in human nature, and infinitely separate from sin

– even His Immaculate Mother, encompassed by His grace from the first beginnings of her existence, and without any part of the original stain

– even they, as descended from Adam, were subjected at least to death, the direct, emphatic punishment of sin.

And much more, even the most favoured of that glorious company, whom He has washed clean in His Blood.

They never forget what they were by birth.

They confess, one and all, that they are children of Adam, and of the same nature as their brethren, and compassed with infirmities while in the flesh, whatever may be the grace given them and their own improvement of it.

Others may look up to them, but they ever look up to God; others may speak of their merits, but they only speak of their defects.

The young and unspotted, the aged and most mature, he who has sinned least, he who has repented most, the fresh innocent brow, and the hoary head, they unite in this one litany, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner”.

So it was … with St. Rose, the youngest of the saints, who, as a child, submitted her tender frame to the most amazing penances.

So was it with St. Philip Neri, one of the most aged, who, when someone praised him, cried out, “Begone! I am a devil, and not a saint”.

[…] Such utter self-prostration, I say, is the very badge and token of the servant of Christ – and this indeed is conveyed in His own words, when He says, “I am not come to call the just, but sinners”.

And it is solemnly recognized and inculcated by Him, in the words which follow the text, “Every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled, and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted”.

John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890): Sermons Preached on Various Occasions 2: The Religion of the Pharisee, the Religion of Mankind.

Benedict XVI on Angela of Foligno (3): The More We See the God and Man Jesus Christ, the More we are Transformed in Him through Love Thursday, Oct 14 2010 

Continued from previous post

Understand that, in her mystical journey, Angela understood profoundly the central reality:

What would save her from her “unworthiness” and from “deserving hell” will not be her “union with God” and her possessing the “truth,” but Jesus crucified, “his crucifixion for me,” his love.

In the eighth step, she says: “However I did not yet understand if my deliverance from sin and hell and conversion to penance was a greater good, or his crucifixion for me”.

And the unstable balance between love and sorrow, perceived in all her difficult journey toward perfection.

Precisely because of this she contemplated by preference the crucified Christ, because in this vision she saw realized the perfect balance:

On the Cross is the man-God, in a supreme act of suffering, which is a supreme act of love.

In the third Instruction the blessed insists on this contemplation and affirms: “The more perfectly and purely we see, the more perfectly and purely we love.

“That is why the more we see the God and man Jesus Christ, the more we are transformed in him through love.”

“What I have said of love…I say also of sorrow: The more the soul contemplates the ineffable sorrow of the God and man Jesus Christ, the more it sorrows and is transformed in sorrow”.

To be immersed, to be transformed in love and in the sufferings of Christ crucified, is to be identified with him.

Angela’s conversion, begun with that confession of 1285, came to maturity only when God’s forgiveness appeared to her soul as the free gift of love of the Father, source of love:

“There is no one who can give excuses,” she affirms, “because each one can love God, ad He does not ask the soul other than that He wills it good, because He loves it and is its love”.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): On Medieval Mystic Blessed Angela of Foligno (translation byZenit)


F.W. Faber: Five Signs of Spiritual Progress (Part 2) Monday, Oct 11 2010 

Continued from previous post…

But it is a still greater sign that we are making progress, if we have a strong feeling on our minds that God wants something particular from us.

We are sometimes aware that the Holy Spirit is drawing us in one direction rather than in another, that He desires some fault to be removed, or some pious work to be undertaken.

This is called by spiritual writers an attraction. Some have one persevering attraction all their lives long. With others it is constantly changing.

With many it is so indistinct that they only realize it now and then; and not a few seem to be without any such special drawing at all.

It implies of course an active self-knowledge, as well as a quiet inward eye of prayer; and it is a great gift, because of the immense facilities which it gives for the practice of perfection; for it almost resembles a special revelation.

To feel then, with all sober reverence, this drawing of the Holy Ghost, is a sign that we are making progress.

Yet it must be carefully remembered that no one should be disquieted because of the absence of such a feeling. It is neither universal nor indispensable.

I will venture also to add that an increased general desire of being more perfect is not altogether without its value as a sign of progress: and that, in spite of what I have said of the importance of having a definite object in view.

I do not think we esteem this general desire of perfection sufficiently. Of course we must not stop at it nor be satisfied with it. It is only given us to go on with.

Still, when we consider how worldly most good Christians are, and their amazing blindness to the interests of Jesus, and their almost incredible impenetrability by supernatural principles, we must see that this desire of holiness is from God, and a great gift, and that much which is of surpassing consequence is implied in it.

God be praised for every soul in the world which is so fortunate as to possess it! It is almost inconsistent with lukewarmness, and this is no slight recommendation in itself:

and although there is much beyond it and much above it, yet it is indispensable both to what is beyond and what is above.
Nevertheless we must not be blind to its dangers.

All supernatural desires, which we simply enjoy without practically corresponding to them, leave us in a worse state than they found us.

In order to be safe we must proceed without delay to embody the desire in some act or other, prayer, penance, or zealous deed: yet not precipitately, or without counsel.

Frederick William Faber (1814—1863): Growth in Holiness, pp. 23-36.

John Henry Newman: “O God, be Merciful to Me, a Sinner” Friday, Oct 1 2010 

“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

Had we…any real apprehension of God as He is, of ourselves as we are, we should never dare to serve Him without fear, or to rejoice unto Him without trembling.

And it is the removal of this veil which is spread between our eyes and heaven, it is the pouring in upon the soul of the illuminating grace of the New Covenant, which makes the religion of the Christian so different….

The Catholic saints alone confess sin, because the Catholic saints alone see God. That awful Creator Spirit…brings into religion the true devotion, the true worship, and changes the self-satisfied Pharisee into the broken-hearted, self-abased Publican.

It is the sight of God, revealed to the eye of faith…, in His infinite gloriousness, the All-holy, the All-beautiful, the All-perfect, which makes us sink into the earth with self-contempt…, contented with ourselves till we contemplate Him.

[…] This was the feeling of St. Peter, when he first gained a glimpse of the greatness of his Master, and cried out, almost beside himself, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

It was the feeling of holy Job, though he had served God for so many years, and had been so perfected in virtue, when the Almighty answered him from the whirlwind: “With the hearing of the ear I have heard Thee,” he said; “but now my eye seeth Thee; therefore I reprove myself, and do penance in dust and ashes.”

So was it with Isaias, when he saw the vision of the Seraphim, and said, “Woe is me … I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people that hath unclean lips, and I have seen with my eyes the King, the Lord of Hosts.”

So was it with Daniel, when, even at the sight of an Angel, sent from God, “there remained no strength in him, but the appearance of his countenance was changed in him, and he fainted away, and retained no strength.”

This then, my Brethren, is the reason why every son of man, whatever be his degree of holiness, whether a returning prodigal or a matured saint, says with the Publican, “O God, be merciful to me;”

it is because created natures, high and low, are all on a level in the sight and in comparison of the Creator, and so all of them have one speech, and one only, whether it be the thief on the cross, Magdalen at the feast, or St. Paul before his martyrdom:

—not that one of them may not have, what another has not, but that one and all have nothing but what comes from Him, and are as nothing before Him, who is all in all.

John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890): Sermons Preached on Various Occasions, 2: The Religion of the Pharisee, the Religion of Mankind.

Francis de Sales: This Height of Burning and Re-Uniting the Heart to God Monday, May 3 2010 

We must not therefore think it strange if penitence, according to the Holy Scripture, blots out sin, saves the soul, makes her grateful to God and justifies her, which are effects appertaining to love, and which apparently should only be attributed to love.

For though love itself be not always found in perfect penitence, yet its virtue and properties are always there, having flowed into it by the motive of love whence it springs.

[…] The Holy Ghost casts into our understanding the consideration of the greatness of our sins, in that by them we have offended so sovereign a goodness.

At the same time, our will receives the reflection of this knowledge, and, little by little, repentance grows stronger, with a certain affective heat and desire to return into grace with God.

Finally it grows so strong that…it burns and unites even before the love be fully formed, though love, as a sacred fire, is always at once lighted, at this point.

So that repentance never comes to this height of burning and re-uniting the heart to God, which is her utmost perfection, without finding herself wholly converted into fire and flame of love.

The end of the one gives the other a beginning; or rather, the end of penitence is within the commencement of love.

[…] This loving repentance is ordinarily practised by elevations and raisings of the heart to God, like to those of the ancient penitents:

I am thine, save thou me.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me: for my soul trusteth in thee!

Save me, O God; for the waters are come in even unto my soul!

Make me as one of thy hired servants!

O God be merciful to me a sinner!

Accordingly, it is not without reason that some have said, that prayer justifies.

For the repentant prayer, or the suppliant repentance, raising up the soul to God and re-uniting it to his goodness, without doubt obtains pardon in virtue of the holy love, which gives it the sacred movement.

And therefore we ought all to have very many such spontaneous prayers, made in the sense of a loving repentance and of sighs which seek our reconciliation with God.

For it is by these laying our tribulation before Our Saviour, we may pour out our souls before and within his pitiful heart, which will receive them to mercy.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Treatise on the Love of God, 2, 20.

Francis de Sales: Repentance and the Sacred Fire of God’s Love in the Heart Monday, Mar 29 2010 

Among the tribulations and remorse of a lively repentance God often puts in the bottom of our heart the sacred fire of his love.

This love is converted into the water of tears, which by a second change are converted into another and greater fire of love.

Thus, when the famous penitent lover first loved her Saviour, her love was converted into tears, and these tears into an excellent love.

Whence Our Saviour told her that many sins were pardoned her because she had loved much (Lk. 7:47).

And as we see fire turns wine into a certain water which is called almost everywhere aquavitæ (“the water of life”), which so easily takes and augments fire that in many places it is also termed ardent; so the amorous consideration of the Goodness which, while it ought to have been sovereignly loved, has been offended by sin, produces the water of holy penitence.

And from this water the fire of divine love issues, thence properly termed water of life or ardent.

Penitence is indeed a water in its substance, being a true displeasure, a real sorrow and repentance.

Yet is it ardent, in that it contains the virtue and properties of love, as arising from a motive of love, and by this property it gives the life of grace.

So that perfect penitence has two different effects; for in virtue of its sorrow and detestation it separates us from sin and the creature, to which delectation had attached us.

But in virtue of the motive of love, whence it takes its origin, it reconciles us and reunites us to our God, from whom we had separated ourselves by contempt.

So that it at once reclaims us from sin in quality of repentance, and reunites us to God in quality of love.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Treatise on the Love of God, 2, 20.

Anselm of Canterbury: By His Cross Has Our Christ Redeemed Us Tuesday, Mar 9 2010 

Neither did human nature in that Man [Christ] suffer anything through any necessity, but through free will alone.

Neither was it overcome by any violence, but of its own accord, out of goodness unconstrained, it endured to God’s honour and the profit of other men those things which the evil will of others brought upon it not through the compulsion of any obligation, but through the appointment of a wisdom that had power to accomplish its purposes.

For the Father did not by His commandment compel that Man to die, but Christ performed of His own free will that which He knew would be pleasing to the Father and profitable to men.

He had no right to exact of Him; neither could this great act of honour but be pleasing to the Father, which His Son freely offered to Him.

Thus therefore He rendered unto the Father a free obedience, in willing freely to do that which He knew would be pleasing to the Father.

But because the Father bestowed upon Him this good will, though it were free, yet is it rightly said that He received it as the commandment of the Father.

In this manner therefore He was obedient to the Father even unto death (Phil. 2:8). And as the Father gave Him commandment, even so He did (Jn. 14:31). And He drank the cup which His Father had given unto Him (Jn. 18:11).

This is the perfect and free obedience of human nature, when it freely submits its own free will to God’s will, and has then of its own accord carried out in deed that good purpose which God has not exacted but accepted.

Thus this Man redeems all others, in that He reckons that which He hath freely given to God, as the debt which they owed to God.

And by this price man is not only once redeemed from his faults but, so often as he returns to God in worthy penitence, he is received; yet this worthy penitence is not promised to the sinner.

As to that which was done on the Cross, by His Cross has our Christ redeemed us. They therefore who desire to approach unto this grace with a worthy affection are saved.

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109): Meditation Concerning the Redemption of Mankind

Henry Suso: Abyss of Infinite Mercy Sunday, Oct 18 2009 

Eternal Wisdom says: Do you not know me? What! Are you fallen so low, or have you lost your senses, because of your great trouble, my tender child?

And yet it is I, the all-merciful Wisdom, I who have opened wide the abyss of infinite mercy, which is, however, hidden from all the saints, to receive you and all penitent hearts.

It is I, the sweet Eternal Wisdom, who became wretched and poor that I might guide you back again to your dignity. It is I, who suffered bitter death that I might bring you again to life.

Lo, here I am, pale, bloody, affectionate, as when suspended between you and the severe judgment of my Father, on the lofty gibbet of the cross. It is I, your brother. Behold, it is I, your bridegroom!

Everything that you ever didst against me will I wholly forget, as though it had never happened, provided only that you return to me, and never quit me more.

Wash yourself in my precious blood, lift up your head, open your eyes, and be of good cheer. Receive as a token of entire peace and complete expiation my wedding ring on your hand, receive your first robe, shoes on your feet, and the fond name of my bride for ever!

Lo, I have garnered you up with such bitter toil! Therefore, if the whole world were a consuming fire, and there lay in the midst of it a handful of flax, it would not, from its very nature, be so susceptible of the burning flame as the abyss of my mercy is ready to pardon a repentant sinner, and blot out his sins.

Henry Suso (c. 1296 – 1366): The Little Book of Divine Wisdom, 1,5