[Station at St. Mary Major.]
St. Mary Major is always the station church in Rome whenever the scrutinies of the candidates for Holy Orders are to take place.
The Mass today bears a festival character; at one time the Ember fast was postponed for a few weeks. Pope St. Gregory VII re-established the Ember Days in their proper place, but the festal tone of the Office was retained. The contrast between today’s fast and the Gospel lesson in which Jesus offers Himself as the bread of eternal life is very opportune. Man does not live by bread alone, but has an absolute need of the Word of God, without Whom this earthly existence is as a day without light, an empty pretense of life, a gloomy image of death.
The Epistle refers to Solomon’s porch, from which the Gentiles were permitted to enter the temple. In order to open their eyes, God wrought great miracles through the apostles: St. Peter was especially distinguished, because even his shadow healed diseases, and he was the first to receive the Gentiles into the Church. Thus, in the apostles were verified Christ’s words: He that believeth in me, the works that I do, he also shall do, and greater than these shall he do.
The Gift of Fortitude
The gift of Knowledge has taught us what we must do and what we must avoid in order that we may be what Jesus, our divine Master, wishes us to be. We now need another gift of the Holy Ghost, from which to draw the energy necessary for our persevering in the way he has pointed out to us. Difficulties often arise, and we can see by our failures that we are in need of support. The Holy Ghost grants us this support by the gift of Foritude, which, if we faithfully use it, will enable us to master every difficulty—even make it easy for us to overcome the obstacles which would otherwise impede our march forward.
When difficulties and trials of life come upon him, man is tempted, sometimes to cowardice and discouragement, sometimes to an impetuosity, which arises either from his natural temperament or from pride. These are poor aids to the soul in her spiritual combat. The Holy Ghost, therefore, brings her a new element of strength—supernatural Foritude, which is so peculiarly his gift, that when our Savior instituted the seven Sacraments, he would have one of them be for the special object of giving us the Holy Ghost as a principle of energy. It is obvious that, having to fight our whole lives against the devil, the world, and ourselves, we need some better power of resistance than either pusillanimity or daring. We need some gift which will control both our fear and the confidence we are at times inclined to have in ourselves. Thus gifted by the Holy Ghost, man’s victory is assured; grace will supply the deficiencies and correct the impetuosities of nature.
There are two things we need in the Christian life: the power of resistance, and the power of endurance. How could we fight the temptations of Satan if the Fortitude of the Holy Spirit doesn’t clad us with heavenly armor and give us the courage to do battle? The Holy Spirit gives us the Gift of Fortitude so that all we must do is correspond to the Gift and not stifle it either by cowardice or indiscretion, and we will be strong enough to resist even our domestic enemies. This blessed Gift of Fortitude teaches us to govern our passions and treat them as blind guides. It also teaches us nver to follow their instincts, except when they are in harmony with the law of God.
There are times when the Holy Spirit requires from a Christian something beyond interior resistance to the enemies of his soul: he must make an outward protest against error and evil, as often as position or duty demands it. On such occasions, one must bear to become unpopular, and console oneself with the words of the Apostle: If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. But the Holy Ghost will be on his side, and finding him resolute in using his Gift of Foritude, not only will he give him a final triumph, but he generally blesses that soul with a sweet and courageous peace, which is the result and recompense of a duty fulfilled.
Of course there are certain fears which dampen our courage and expose us to defeat. But the gift of Foritude dispels them, and braces us with such a peaceful confidence that we ourselves are surprised at the change. Look at the Martyrs—not just people like St. Mauritius, the leader of the Theban Legion, who was accustomed to face danger on the battlefield, but at Felicitas, a mother of seven children. Or Perpetua, a high-born lady with everything this world could give her. Or Agnes, a girl of thirteen, or a thousand others like them. Do you still think the gift of Fortitude doesn’t give way to heroism? Where is the fear of death?
It is the same Divine Spirit who also gives the Christian courage to rise above those worldly considerations which would make him disloyal to duty. It is He that leads man to prefer, to every honor this world could bestow, the happiness of never violating the law of his God. It is the Spirit of Fortitude that makes him look upon reversals of fortune as the merciful design of Providence; that consoles him when death bereaves him of those who are dear to him; that cheers him under physical sufferings, which would be so hard to bear if he didn’t believe them to be visits from his heavenly Father.