The life of a faithful Christian, like that of a patriarch Abraham, is neither more nor less than a courageous journeying onwards to the place destined for him by his Creator. He must put aside everything that could impede his progress, nor must he look back. This is, undoubtedly, hard doctrine; but if we reflect for a moment on the dangers which surround fallen man during his earthly pilgrimage, and on what our own sad experience has taught us, we shall not think it hard or strange that our Savior has made the renouncing and denying of ourselves an essential condition of our salvation. But independently of this, is it not far better to put our life under God’s guidance than to keep it in our own? Are we so wise or so strong as to be able to guide ourselves? We may resist as we please, but God is our sovereign Lord and Master; and by giving us free will, whereby we may either resist His will or follow it, He has not abdicated His own infinite rights to His creatures’ obedience. Our refusal to obey would not make Him less our Master.
Had Abraham, after receiving the divine call, chosen to remain in Chaldea, and refused to break up the home which God had bade him leave, God would then have selected some other man to be the patriarch of His chosen people, and father of that very family which was to have the Messias as one of its children. This substitution of one for another in the order of grace is frequently forced upon divine justice; but what a terrible punishment it is for him that caused the substitution! When a soul refuses salvation, heaven does not therefore lose one of its elect: God, finding that He is despised by the one He called, offers the grace to another, until His call is followed.
The Christian life consists in this untiring, unreserved obedience to God. The first effect of this spirit of submission is that it takes the soul from the region of sin and death wherein she was wasting away her existence; it takes her from the dark Chaldea, and places her in the promised land of light. Lest she should faint on her way along the narrow path, and fall a victim to the dangers which never leave her because they are within herself, God asks her for sacrifices, and these brace her. Here again, we have Abraham for our model. God loves him, and promises him the richest of blessings; He gives him a son as pledge of the promise; and then, shortly after, tests the holy patriarch’s devotedness by commanding him to slay with his own hand this dear child on whom he was told to build his hopes!
Man’s path on earth is sacrifice. We cannot go out from evil except by the way of self-resistance, nor keep our footing on good ground but by constant combating. Let us imitate Abraham: fix our eyes steadfastly on the eternal hills, and consider this world as a mere passing dwelling, a tent, put up for a few days. Our Jesus has said to us: “I came not to send peace, but the sword; for I came to separate.” Separation, then, and trial are sure to be sent us; but we are equally sure that they are for our good, since they are sent us by Him who so loved us that He became one of ourselves. But this same Jesus has also said: “Where thy treasure is, there too is thy heart.” Christians! can our treasure be in this wretched world? No, it must be in that fair land above. There, then, must we be, in desire and affection.
These are the thoughts the Church would have us meditate upon during these days, which immediately precede the forty of Lent. They will help to purify our hearts and make them long to be with their God. The noise of the world’s sins and scandals reaches our ears: let us pray that the kingdom of God may come to us and to those poor sinners; for God’s infinite mercy can change them, if He will, into children of Abraham. Not a day passes but He so changes many a sinner. He has, perhaps, shown that miracle of His mercy to us, and those words of the apostle may be applied to us: “You, who some time were afar off, are now made nigh (to God) by the Blood of Christ.”
Let us pray for ourselves and for all sinners, in these beautiful words of the Mozarabic breviary.
Dum te, omnipotens Deus, nostræ delinquentiæ reddunt adversum, tua inspiratione, quæsumus, nostra te invocatio propitium et confessio faciat esse placatum: ut, te miserante, nec tribulatio secularis nostram mentem dejiciat, nec persuasio nociva possideat, nec infidelitas tenebrosa concludat; sed vultus tui super nos signato lumine fulgeamus, semperque in eodem splendore stabilitate veræ fidei gradiamur. Amen.
We beseech thee, O almighty God! that whereas our sins have angered thee against us, our prayers and praise, which thou inspirest, may propitiate and please thee: that thus, by thy mercy, the vexations of this world may not cast down our soul, nor hurtful delusion possess her, nor the darkness of unbelief surround her; but may we gleam with the light of thy countenance, wherewith thou hast signed us, and ever, by firmness in the true faith, walk in the brightness of the same. Amen.