Yesterday was Passion Sunday, the start of a two-week season known as Passiontide, when Holy Mother Church makes the sufferings of our Redeemer her chief thought. All crucifixes, statues, and other images are enshrouded with violet cloth, a reflection of the Gospel for that day (John 8:46-59), in which Jesus “hid himself” from the people. But it is also the Church gradually taking things away from us, thereby making us more and more aware of what is missing, creating a sense of emptiness and loss. We long for Easter, for a return of the Gloria, the unveiling of our Lord … we long for our Lord.
As Dom Prosper Gueranger noted:
The day will come when sinners, from whose anger He now flees, will pray to the mountains to fall on them and shield them from His gaze; but their prayer will not be granted, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, with much power and majesty.
Which reminds me, You don’t hear much from the pulpit anymore about the Four Last Things — Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell — and more’s the pity, because it is a fact. You will die, and you will have to account for what you’ve done with your life. By His suffering and death on the cross, Christ has given you the opportunity to enter Heaven, but admission is not free, nor is it automatic. And as Father Z noted, “Heaven and Hell are not like going on a really good or really bad cruise;” once you get there, you’re there forever.
Some time ago, I happened across a prayer by a Father Vincent Nagel, which was published in the Magnificat Year of the Priest Companion and excerpted by the Anchoress on her blog. I’ve said my own version of this prayer since early on in my conversion, and trust me, it works. This prayer gets answered — and how:
Lord, you know that I will forget to follow you and depend on you. You know that I will not turn to you anymore as your child if I feel I can make it on my own. So you have to break my heart always, you have to keep me poor and humble, you have to keep me incapable of anything without you. You have to make it clear to me that I can do nothing without your grace, and that will never be clear to me if I think things are going well. You have to break my heart.
Everything I have, I owe to God. It is only given to me by His Grace, without which I would have nothing. I am constantly reminding myself of this. If tomorrow were the start of a successful business venture, it would be not because of my ingenuity or ambition, but because He gave it to me. Yes, “the Lord helps them who help themselves,” but that only means one must get off one’s lazy behind and get going. While I have to make that effort, I mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking that any success I enjoy is by my own hand.
Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell. That’s what those violet veils remind me of. I don’t feel the Lord’s hand on my shoulder right now, telling me everything’s going to be all right. I haven’t heard His voice lately, either. But I have heard the cry of the angel at Fatima:
Penance! Penance! Penance!