IT IS good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing. It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged by men even though we do well and mean well.
These things help us to be humble and shield us from vainglory. When to all outward appearances men give us no credit, when they do not think well of us, then we are more inclined to seek God Who sees our hearts. Therefore, a man ought to root himself so firmly in God that he will not need the consolations of men.
When a man of good will is afflicted, tempted, and tormented by evil thoughts, he realizes clearly that his greatest need is God, without Whom he can do no good. Saddened by his miseries and sufferings, he laments and prays. He wearies of living longer and wishes for death that he might be dissolved and be with Christ. Then he understands fully that perfect security and complete peace cannot be found on earth.
In this days Gospel we read, that wishing to give His disciples a glimpse of the glory of Paradise, in order to animate them to labor for the divine honor, the Redeemer was transfigured, and allowed them to behold the splendor of His countenance. Ravished with joy and delight, St. Peter exclaimed: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Lord, let us remain here; let us never more depart from this place; for, the sight of Thy beauty consoles us more than all the delights of the earth.
Brethren, let us labor during the remainder of our lives to gain Heaven. Heaven is so great a good, that, to purchase it for us, Jesus Christ has sacrificed His life on the cross. Be assured, that the greatest of all the torments of the damned in Hell, arise from the thought of having lost Heaven through their own fault. The blessings, the delights, the joys, the sweetness of Paradise may be acquired; but they can be described and understood only by those blessed souls that enjoy them. But let us, with the aid of the Holy Scripture, explain the little that can be said of them here below.
1. According to the Apostle, no man on this earth, can comprehend the infinite blessings which God has prepared for the souls that love him. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9). In this life we cannot have an idea of any other pleasures than those which we enjoy by means of the senses. Perhaps we imagine that the beauty of Heaven resembles that of a wide extended plain covered with the verdure of spring, interspersed with trees in full bloom, and abounding in birds fluttering about and singing on every side; or, that it is like the beauty of a garden full of fruits and flowers, and surrounded by fountains in continual play. O what a Paradise, to behold such a plain, or such a garden! But, oh! how much greater are the beauties of Heaven!
Speaking of Paradise, St. Bernard says: “O man, if you wish to understand the blessings of Heaven, know that in that happy country there is nothing which can be disagreeable, and everything that you can desire.” Although there are some things here below which are agreeable to the senses, how many more are there which only torment us? If the light of day is pleasant, the darkness of night is disagreeable: if the spring and the autumn are cheering, the cold of winter and the heat of summer are painful. In addition, we have to endure the pains of sickness, the persecution of men, and the inconveniences of poverty; we must submit to interior troubles, to fears, to temptations of the devil, doubts of conscience, and to the uncertainty of eternal salvation.
2. But, after entering into Paradise, the Blessed shall have no more sorrows. “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” The Lord shall dry up the tears which they have shed in this life. “And death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow, shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And He that sat on the throne, said: “Behold, I make all things new”(Apocalypse 21:4-5).
In Paradise, death and the fear of death are no more: in that place of bliss there are no sorrows, no infirmities, no poverty, no inconveniences, no vicissitudes of day or night, of cold or of heat. In that kingdom there is a continual day, always serene, a continual spring, always blooming. In Paradise there are no persecutions, no envy; for all love each other with tenderness, and each rejoices at the happiness of the others, as if it were his own. There is no more fear of eternal perdition; for the soul, confirmed in grace, can neither sin nor lose God.
3. In Heaven you have all you can desire. “Behold, I make all things new.”There everything is new; new beauties, new delights, new joys. There all our desires shall be satisfied. The sight shall be satiated with beholding the beauty of that city. How delightful to behold a city in which the streets should be of crystal, the houses of silver, the windows of gold, and all adorned with the most beautiful flowers. But, oh! How much more beautiful shall be the city of Paradise! The beauty of the place shall be heightened by the beauty of the inhabitants, who are all clothed in royal robes; for, according to St. Augustine, “they are all kings.” How delighted to behold Mary, the Queen of Heaven, who shall appear more beautiful than all the other citizens of Paradise!
But, what it must be to behold the beauty of Jesus Christ! St. Teresa once saw one of the hands of Jesus Christ, and was struck with astonishment at the sight of such beauty. The smell shall be satiated with scent, but with the scents of Paradise. The hearing shall be satiated with the harmony of the celestial choirs. St. Francis once heard, for a moment, an angel playing on a violin, and he almost died through joy. How delightful must it be to hear the saints and angels singing the divine praises!“They shall praise thee forever and ever” (Psalm 83:5). What must it be to hear Mary praising God! St. Francis de Sales says, that, as the singing of the nightingale in the wood surpasses that of all other birds, so the voice of Mary is far superior to that of all the other saints. In a word, there are, in Paradise, all the delights which man can desire.
4. But the delights of which we have spoken are the least of the blessings of Paradise. The glory of Heaven consists in seeing and loving God face to face. The reward, which God promises to us, does not consist altogether in the beauty, the harmony, and other advantages of the city of Paradise. God Himself, Whom the saints are allowed to behold, is, according to the promises made to Abraham, the principal reward of the just in Heaven. “I am thy reward exceeding great”(Genesis 15:1). St. Augustine asserts, that, were God to show His face to the damned, “Hell would be instantly changed into a Paradise of delights” (Lib. de trip, habit., tom. 9). And, he adds that, were a departed soul allowed the choice of seeing God and suffering the pains of Hell, or of being freed from these pains and deprived of the sight of God, “she would prefer to see God, and to endure these torments.”
5. The delights of the soul infinitely surpass all the pleasures of the senses. Even in this life divine love infuses such sweetness into the soul, when God communicates himself to her, that the body is raised from the earth. St. Peter of Alcantara once fell into such an ecstasy of love, that, taking hold of a tree, he drew it up from the roots, and raised it with him on high. So great is the sweetness of divine love, that the holy martyrs, in the midst of their torments, felt no pain, but were on the contrary filled with joy. Hence, St. Augustine says that, when St. Lawrence was laid on a red-hot gridiron, the fervor of divine love made him insensible to the burning heat of the fire. Even on sinners who weep for their sins, God bestows consolations which exceed all earthly pleasures. Hence St. Bernard says: “If it be so sweet to weep for thee, what must it be to rejoice in thee!”
6. How great is the sweetness which a soul experiences, when, in the time of prayer, God, by a ray of his own light, shows to her His goodness and His mercies towards her, and particularly the love which Jesus Christ has borne to her in His Passion! She feels her heart melting, and as it were dissolved through love. But in this life we do not see God as He really is: we see him as it were in. the dark. “We see now through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Here below God is hidden from, our view; we can see Him only with the eyes of Faith: how great shall be our happiness when the veil shall be raised, and we shall be permitted to behold God face to face! We shall then see His beauty, His greatness, His perfection, His amiableness, and His immense love for our souls.
7. “Man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love or hatred” (Ecclesiastes 9:1). The fear of not loving God, and of not being loved by Him, is the greatest affliction which souls that love God endure on the earth; but, in Heaven, the soul is certain that she loves God, and that He loves her; she sees that the Lord embraces her with infinite love, and that this love shall not be dissolved for all eternity. The knowledge of the love, which Jesus Christ has shown her, in offering Himself in sacrifice for her on the cross, and in making Himself her food in the Sacrament of the Altar, shall increase the ardor of her love. She shall also see clearly all the graces which God has bestowed upon her, all the helps which He has given her, to preserve her from falling into sin, and to draw her to His love. She shall see that all the tribulations, the poverty, infirmities, and persecutions which she regards as misfortunes, have all proceeded from love, and have been the means employed by Divine Providence to bring her to glory. She shall see all the lights, loving calls, and mercies, which God had granted to her, after she had insulted Him by her sins. From the blessed mountain of Paradise, she shall see so many souls damned for fewer sins than she had committed, and shall see that she herself is saved and secured against the possibility of ever losing God.
8. The goods of this earth do not satisfy our desires: at first they gratify the senses; but when we become accustomed to them they cease to delight. But the joys of Paradise constantly satiate and content the heart. “I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear” (Psalm 16:15). And though they satiate, they always appear to be as new as the first time when they were experienced; they are always enjoyed and always desired, always desired and always possessed. “Satiety,”says St. Gregory, “accompanies desire” (Lib. 13, Mor., ch. xviii).
Thus, the desires of the saints in Paradise do not beget pain, because they are always satisfied; and satiety does not produce disgust, because it is always accompanied with desire. Hence the soul shall be always satiated and always thirsty: she shall be forever thirsty, and always satiated with delights. The damned are, according to the Apostle, vessels full of wrath and of torments, “vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction” (Romans 9:22).
But the just are vessels full of mercy and of joy, so that they have nothing to desire. “They shall be inebriated with the plenty of thy house” (Psalm 35:9). In beholding the beauty of God, the soul shall be so inflamed and so inebriated with divine love, that she shall remain happily lost in God; for she shall entirely forget herself, and, for all eternity, shall think only of loving and praising the immense good, which she shall possess forever, without the fear of having it in her power ever to lose it. In this life, holy souls love God; but they cannot love Him with all their strength, nor can they always actually love Him. St. Thomas teaches, that this perfect love is only given to the citizens of Heaven, who love God with their whole heart, and never cease to love Him actually (Summa Theologica, 2a 2ae, q. 44, art. 4, ad. 2).
9. Justly, then, has St. Augustine said, that to gain the eternal glory of Paradise, we should cheerfully embrace eternal labor. “Pro æterna requie æternus labor subeundus esset.” “For nothing” says David, “shalt thou save them” (Psalm 55:8). The saints have done but little to acquire Heaven. So many kings, who have abdicated their thrones and shut themselves up in a cloister; so many holy anchorites, who have confined themselves in a cave; so many martyrs, who have cheerfully submitted to torments to the rack, and to red-hot plates, have done but little. “The sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared to the glory to come” (Romans 8:18). To gain Heaven, it would be but little to endure all the pains of this life.
10. Let us, then, brethren, courageously resolve to bear patiently with all the sufferings, which shall come upon us, during the remaining days of our lives: to secure Heaven they are all little and nothing. Rejoice then; for all these pains, sorrows, and persecutions shall, if we are saved, be to us a source of never-ending joys and delights. “Your sorrows shall be turned into joy” (John 16:20). When, then, the crosses of this life afflict us, let us raise our eyes to Heaven, and console ourselves with the hope of Paradise.
At the end of her life, St. Mary of Egypt was asked, by the Abbot St. Zozimus, how she had been able to live for forty-seven years in the desert, where he found her dying. She answered: “With the hope of Paradise” If we be animated with the same hope, we shall not feel the tribulations of this life. Have courage! Let us love God and labor for Heaven. There the saint expects us, Mary expects us, Jesus Christ expects us; He holds in His hand a crown to make each of us a king in that eternal kingdom.
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WE SHOULD enjoy much peace if we did not concern ourselves with what others say and do, for these are no concern of ours. How can a man who meddles in affairs not his own, who seeks strange distractions, and who is little or seldom inwardly recollected, live long in peace?
Blessed are the simple of heart for they shall enjoy peace in abundance.
Why were some of the saints so perfect and so given to contemplation? Because they tried to mortify entirely in themselves all earthly desires, and thus they were able to attach themselves to God with all their heart and freely to concentrate their innermost thoughts.
We are too occupied with our own whims and fancies, too taken up with passing things. Rarely do we completely conquer even one vice, and we are not inflamed with the desire to improve ourselves day by day; hence, we remain cold and indifferent. If we mortified our bodies perfectly and allowed no distractions to enter our minds, we could appreciate divine things and experience something of heavenly contemplation.
The greatest obstacle, indeed, the only obstacle, is that we are not free from passions and lusts, that we do not try to follow the perfect way of the saints. Thus when we encounter some slight difficulty, we are too easily dejected and turn to human consolations. If we tried, however, to stand as brave men in battle, the help of the Lord from heaven would surely sustain us. For He Who gives us the opportunity of fighting for victory, is ready to help those who carry on and trust in His grace.
If we let our progress in religious life depend on the observance of its externals alone, our devotion will quickly come to an end. Let us, then, lay the ax to the root that we may be freed from our passions and thus have peace of mind.
If we were to uproot only one vice each year, we should soon become perfect. The contrary, however, is often the case — we feel that we were better and purer in the first fervor of our conversion than we are after many years in the practice of our faith. Our fervor and progress ought to increase day by day; yet it is now considered noteworthy if a man can retain even a part of his first fervor.
If we did a little violence to ourselves at the start, we should afterwards be able to do all things with ease and joy. It is hard to break old habits, but harder still to go against our will.
If you do not overcome small, trifling things, how will you overcome the more difficult? Resist temptations in the beginning, and unlearn the evil habit lest perhaps, little by little, it lead to a more evil one.
If you but consider what peace a good life will bring to yourself and what joy it will give to others, I think you will be more concerned about your spiritual progress.
St. Gabriel was born in Assisi Italy in 1838 and had great intellectual gifts. As a young man, when by the gift of God’s mercy had already been called to a more perfect life, he fell ill and began to weary of the vanity of this world. Guided by Our Lady, he entered the Passionist congregation and chose the name Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin, in order to keep in mind continually both the Joys and Sorrows of the Virgin Mary. Honoring her in every way, he was accustomed particularly to contemplating here as worn out and afflicted by Jesus’ sufferings, with such sorrow that he shed a flood of tears.
He kept his virginity intact and following the strict usage of his congregation, he lived wholly crucified to the world, and for God alone. Thus he completed his short life in the exercise of all virtues; consumed by the fire of charity rather than by the force of his illness and refreshed by the aid of God’s Mother, he went to heaven at the age of 24.
Prayer To St. Gabriel
O angelic young Gabriel, who, with your ardent love for Jesus Crucified and your compassion for Our Lady of Sorrows, were on earth a mirror of innocence and an example of every virtue; we turn to you full of confidence to implore your aid. Oh! How many evil things and afflictions O how many dangers, assail our young people from every side, seeking to make them lose the faith. You, who lived always a life of faith, who amongst the temptations of the world maintained purity and virginity; turn your eyes to us, cast us a compassionate and pitying glance! Help us to have the grace to persevere in faith; we invoke your name; we cannot doubt the effactiousness of your patronage! In full confidence of our hope in you, we pray, O Sweet Saint, to obtain this particular grace for the greater glory of God and for the good of souls (here mention your request). Finally, obtain for us from Jesus Christ Crucified, through Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, resignation and peace so that we might always live the Christian life, throughout all the times of this present life, so that we might one day be happy with you in the presence of our Heavenly Father. Amen