Mary and the Descent of the Holy Ghost
The Apostles and the Disciples gathered in the Cenacle (the room of the Last Supper) in order to prepare themselves there together with their Holy Mother for the coming of the Holy Ghost. Examine their preparation:
a) First, they retire to a solitary place, because it is in solitude and retirement that God communicates Himself to souls. God does not usually speak in the midst of the turmoil of the world. His Spirit is not captured in dissipation nor then can His voice be clearly heard. Love the solitude and silence wherein God speaks to you. Yet solitude must not be merely external, but chiefly internal by the banishing of those thoughts, impressions, occupations and business which distract us. Inquire if it is not on account of this that your prayer is so faulty and that you derive so little profit for your soul. Do you strive to master the art of external and internal retirement? Do you know how to bring silence into your soul by casting out all those things that are foreign to prayer?
b) They gathered to pray. Prayer is the solution of every problem. Our Lord never acted without prayer. He prayed in the Cenacle, in the Garden, on the Cross. The Angel of the Annunciation found Mary at prayer. The Apostles, under the leadership of Mary, betook themselves to prayer. You are also daily invited to prayer. How do you respond? Are you a "man of prayer"? Have you recourse to prayer when you need light, consolation and strength?
c) In the company of Mary. How blessed were those Apostles since they could pray together with Mary. She led the prayer, she set the example of fervor. By merely looking at her, all fatigue, all lukewarmness, all distractions would certainly vanish. But could you not do the same if you wished? How is it that you do not pray with Mary, looking to her, learning from her? Examine yourself and ask yourself if at the beginning, at the middle, and at the conclusion of your prayer you keep company with Mary. Learn also to have a great esteem for prayer in common. It is very pleasing to God. It is highly fruitful.
d) Finally, remark their perseverance. The Holy Ghost did not come down on them until after ten days of constant prayer! We want to get everything at once. If not, we grow discouraged, disappointed. What a lack of perseverance! Ask Our Lady to teach you how to be constant, not just for one day or two, but let your prayer always be fervent, so it will be efficacious and sanctifying.
2. The Coming
Once they were thus prepared, the Holy Ghost on Pentecost Day came in the form of tongues of fire. Go in spirit to the Cenacle and there witness the astonishment and fear of the Apostles on hearing the sound of a violent wind, as they received the mysterious tongues of fire which alighted on every one of them. Try to understand their great joy on feeling themselves filled with the Holy Ghost, with His gifts and graces, and especially with burning love – for He is the Spirit of love.
What would Our Lady feel? She was the first to understand the arrival of the Holy Ghost. Far from being frightened by those violent signs which accompanied His coming, She retired into the innermost recesses of Her soul in order to receive Him better. How pleased would the Holy Ghost be on finding a soul so well prepared as that of Mary. The Holy Ghost had previously granted her the fulness of His grace. What else could He do in her on that day? He would miraculously increase her capacity for grace. He would dilate the expanse of her soul. He would enlarge still more her Immaculate Heart in order to have the satisfaction of filling it yet more with new graces, new privileges, with new and more fervent love.
Kneel before your dear Mother and admire the immense greatness, bordering on the infinity of God, with which you see her clad on receiving the Holy Ghost. See her again today more resplendent, pure and holy, and, if we can say so, more full of the love of God and of men. Were the Archangel to appear to her again, he would be dumbfounded. He would not be able to find in his angelic language suitable expressions to greet her.
Let your heart exult with joy. Ask Our Blessed Lady for a small share of all that she is, all that she possesses.
3. The Effects
a) All were filled with the Holy Ghost. How generously is that same gift of God lavished upon us. Altissimi donum Dei! What a transformation He works in souls! Look how the Apostles instantly change into other men. A few weeks ago they fled in cowardice; or, like St. Peter, denied Christ; or, like the disciples of Emmaus, doubted the words of their Master; or, like St. Thomas, would not believe. But now, no longer cowards, they have become courageous and brave; from weak and frightened, they are strong and unconquerable; from ignorant and rough, docile and wise; from petty, jealous and preoccupied about the first places of honor, they now have hearts burning with ardent charity. What an extraordinary, what a miraculous transformation!
b) And they began to speak. That is to say, to preach, to labor for souls, to give them a share of the same gift they themselves had just received. It is characteristic of the charity of the Holy Ghost to spread good to all. Note, however, that in order that the activity may be fruitful, it must be directed by the Holy Ghost.
c) They preached the great things of God. These souls, so filled with God, could not speak of anything else. Of what would the Apostles speak once they were set on fire and inspired by the Holy Ghost? And do you also like to speak of the things of God? You can thereby gauge the measure of the Spirit of God within you. The spirit of the world leads you to speak of lowly and earthly things. The spirit of self-love induces you to speak only of yourself. The Spirit of God leads us to speak as the Apostles did.
4. The Holy Ghost Within Us
Do not forget that at Baptism you also received the Holy Ghost. It was He who made you a child of God. You receieved Him in Confirmation, where He strengthened you in your faith and took you under His protection. By means of sanctifying grace you constantly receive Him in all the Sacraments, through the effusion of the Divine Life. Do not forget that the Holy Ghost dwells in souls as in His living temple and therefore you have Him close in your very heart. It is He who sustains, helps, enlightens and leads you along the way of sanctify. Thank Him for His inexhaustible love which never tires of you or of your ingratitude. Promise that you will correspond better to His divine gifts; that you will labor with more effort and will cooperate with more interest with the work of grace.
Entrust this task to Our Heavenly Mother, that she may prepare your heart as she did with the hearts of the Apostles. She will render fruitful and abiding the coming of the Holy Ghost into your soul.
The Ascetical Doctrine of Saint Alphonsus Maria Liguori
How Much God Deserves to be Loved
God is infinite; He gives to all, and receives nothing from anyone. All that we have comes to us from God; but God has nothing from us: Thou art my God, for Thou hast no need of my goods (Ps. 15, 2).
God is eternal; He has ever been eternal, and always shall be. We can count the years and the days of our existence; but God knows no beginning, and will have no end: But Thou art always the self-same, and Thy years shall not fail (Ps. 101, 28).
God is immense, and is essentially present in every place. We, when we are in one place, cannot be in another. But God is in all places, in Heaven, on earth, in the sea, in the depths, without us, and within us. Whither shall I go from Thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy face? If I ascend into Heaven, Thou art there: if I descend into Hell, Thou art present (Ps. 138, 7).
God is unchangeable; and all that He has ordained by His Holy Will from eternity, He wills now, and will do so forever. For I am the Lord, and I change not (Mal. 3, 6).
God is omnipotent; and with respect to God, all the power of creatures is but weakness.
God is omniscient; and with respect to God, all human wisdom is ignorance.
God is provident; and with respect to God, all human foresight is ridiculous.
God is just; and with respect to God, all human justice is defective: And in His angels He found wickedness (Job 4, 18).
God is mercful; and with respect to God, all human clemency is imperfect.
God is holy; in comparison with God, all human sanctity, though it be heroic, falls short in an infinite degree: None is good but God alone (Luke 18, 19).
God is beauty itself; yes, how beautiful is God! and with respect to God, all human beauty is deformity.
God is brightness itself; and with respect to God, all human brightness, even that of the sun, is darkness.
God is rich; and with respect to God, all human riches are poverty.
God is perfect; and with respect to God, the highest, the most sublime, the most admirable of created things, and even if they were all united in one, are as nothing: All men are as nothing before Thee (Ps. 38, 6). He is, therefore, worthy of love; and so much, that all the angels and all the saints of Paradise do nothing but love God, and they will throughout all eternity be occupied only in loving Him; and in this love of God, they are and will be always happy.
God is so worthy of love, that He is obliged to love Himself with an infinite love; and in this same love, so necessary, but at the same time so delightful, which God bears to Himself, consists His beatitude! And shall we not love Him?
How did the Saints love Him? St. Francis Xavier used to throw himself on the ground, not being able to resist the impulse of holy love. St. Stanislaus Kostka used to run under fountains to cool himself with the water. The heart of St. Philip Neri became sensibly enlarged by the force of holy love. St. Francis de Sales said, that if he knew that there was the smallest fiber of his heart that was not saturated with divine love, he would tear it out at once and cast it far from him. And St. Gertrude the Great, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, and other souls like them, were often in transports, and ravished as it were through the violence of the holy love of God; and St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, not satisfied with loving Him so much herself, sometimes went about her convent, in order to give vent to her love, crying with a loud voice, "Love is not loved; Love is not loved!" And shall we then not love Him?
Do you know why we do not love Him? It is because we know Him so little. The Saints, who knew Him better than we do, loved Him so much. Let us then try to know Him a little more.
Let us meditate from time to time on His divine attributes, on His divine perfections; let us at least, from time to time, raise our minds by a simple glance to Him, and our hearts will also become inflamed with this holy divine love.
It is condescension in so great a God, that He should permit Himself to be loved by such vile creatures as we are; and it is also His sweet commandment.
When God gave Moses His law on the top of Mount Sinai, before giving him any other precept, He taught him this: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength (Deut. 6, 5). And He enjoined him first of all to imprint well these words in his own heart: And these words shall be in thy heart (Deut. 6, 6); and afterwards to promulgate them with ardor among the children of Israel: And thou shalt tell them to thy children (Deut. 6, 7). Let us also love Him as He deserves; let us fulfill perfectly this His precept, which is at the same time so noble and so sweet; which is in fine the first and greatest precept of the Law: This is the greatest and first commandment (Matt. 22, 38). And let us live and die in the fulfillment of this precept.
How Much God Desires to be Loved by Us
Our good God, because He loves us much, desires to be loved much by us; and therefore He has not only called us to love Him by so many invitations repeated again and again in the Holy Scriptures, and by so many blessings both general and individual, but He would also oblige us to love Him by an express commandment; and He threatens those with Hell who love Him not; while to those who do love Him He promises Paradise.
His will is, that no one be lost, but that all attain salvation, as St. Peter and St. Paul most clearly teach: Who will have all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2, 4). He dealeth patiently for your sake, not willing that any should perish, but that all should return to penance (2 Peter 3, 9). But since God wishes all men to be saved, why has He created Hell? He did so, not to see us damned, but in order to be loved by us. If He had not created Hell, who in the whole world would love Him? If with Hell, existing as it really does, the greater part of men choose rather to be damned than to love Almighty God, who, I repeat, would love Him were there no Hell? And therefore the Lord threatens those who will not love Him with an eternal punishment; so that they who will not love Him purely out of love, may at least love Him by force, being constrained to do so through fear of falling into Hell.
O God, how fortunate and honored would that man esteem himself to whom his king should say, "Love me because I love you"! An earthly monarch would take care not to humble himself to such an extent as to ask one of his subjects for his love; but God, who is infinite goodness, the Lord of all, almighty, all-wise, who merits infinite love, God, who has enriched us with spiritual and temporal gifts, does not disdain to ask of us our love. He exhorts us and commands us to love Him, and yet He cannot obtain it. What does He ask of each one of us but to be loved? What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but that thou fear the Lord thy God... and love Him? (Deut. 10, 12.) It was for this end that the Son of God came to converse with us even upon earth, as He Himself said: I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I but that it be kindled? (Luke 12, 49.) As if it were that God, who possesses in Himself infinite happiness, could not be happy without seeing Himself loved by us: "As if," says St. Thomas Aquinas, "He could not be happy without thee."
We cannot doubt, then, that God loves us, and loves us exceedingly; and because He loves us exceedingly, He wishes us to love Him with our whole heart: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart (Deut. 6, 5). And then He adds: And these words shall be in thy heart... and thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising: and thou shalt bind them as a sign on thy hand, and they shall be and shall move between thy eyes. And thou shalt write them in the entry and on the doors of thy house (Deut. 6, 6-9). We can see in all these words how earnest is the desire which God has to be beloved by each one of us. He wishes that the injunction of loving Him with our whole heart should be imprinted in our heart; and that we may never be unmindful of these words, He wishes us to meditate upon them when we are sitting at home, when we are walking abroad, when we lie down to sleep, and when we awake from it again. He wishes us to hold them in our hands bound up with some significant memento, in order that, wherever we may be, our eyes may ever rest upon them; and hence it was that the Pharisees, taking them only in their literal sense, used, as we are told by St. Matthew (23, 5), to wear them inscribed on pieces of parchment, not only in their right hands, but also upon their foreheads.
St. Gregory of Nyssa exclaims, "Blessed is the arrow that carries along with it into the heart the God by whom it is aimed!" And what the holy Father means is this: that when God wounds the heart with an arrow of love, it acts like a flash or ray of special illumination, whereby the soul becomes cognizant of His goodness and of the love which He bears towards it, as also of the desire which He has to possess the love of that soul; whilst at the same moment He Himself comes together with that arrow of His love, He who is the Archer being Himself also love: for, as St. John says, God is charity (1 John 4, 8). And as an arrow remains fixed in the heart which it has wounded, so in like manner does God, when He wounds a soul with His love, come to remain forever united with that soul which He has wounded. Let us be assured that it is God only who loves us truly. The love of parents, of friends, and of all others who profess to love us, excepting in the case of those who love us solely out of regard for God, is not a true but a self-interested love, and arises from some motive of self-love as the end for the sake of which we are loved.
Yes, O my God! I know full well that it is Thou alone who lovest me, and desirest for me every good, not for any selfish interests of Thine own, but solely out of Thine own goodness, and out of the pure affection which Thou dost bear towards me: whilst I am so ungrateful as to have caused no one so much displeasure and so much grief as I have done to Thee, who hast loved me so much. O my Jesus! do not permit me to be ungrateful to Thee any more. Thou hast loved me truly, and I wish to love Thee truly for the rest of my life. With St. Catherine of Genoa, I say to Thee: "My Love, no more sins, no more sins;" I wish to love Thee only, and naught besides.
St. Bernard says that a soul that truly loves God "cannot will anything but what God wills." Let us pray to God to wound us with His holy love; for a soul thus wounded has neither the faculty nor the power to have a will for anything but that which God wills, and divests itself of every desire arising out of self-love. This self-spoliation, moreover, together with the giving of one's self unreservedly to God, is the arrow by which He declares that He Himself is wounded by the soul; as He said to the sacred Spouse in the Canticles: Thou hast wounded My Heart, My sister, My spouse (Cant. 4, 9).
How beautifully does St. Bernard express himself on this subject when he says: "Let us learn to dart our hearts at God!" When a soul gives itself up wholly and unreservedly to God, it is as if it darted its own heart like a spear towards the Heart of God, who declares Himself to be, as it were, captivated and taken prisoner by the soul that has made over to Him the gift of itself in full. This is the employment of such souls in the prayers which they offer; "they dart their hearts at God"; they give themselves wholly up to God; and they are ever renewing that gift in these or similar expressions of love:
"My God and my All": my God, I wish for Thee, and for naught besides.
O Lord! I give myself wholly to Thee; and if I know not how to make the gift as perfect as I ought, do Thou take the management of it Thyself.
And what would I love, O my Jesus! if I love not Thee, who hast died for me?
Trahe me post Te. "Draw me after Thee"; my Savior, drag me out of the mire of my sins, and draw me after Thee.
Bind me, O Lord! and fetter me with the chains of Thy love, that I may never leave Thee more.
I wish to be all Thine own. It is for Thee to make me so. And what do I wish to have but Thee, my Love, my All?
Since Thou hast called me to Thy love, enable me to please Thee as Thou dost desire.
Thou hast inspired me with the desire of being wholly Thine; oh, make the work complete!
And what do I wish to have in this world but Thee, who art the Sovereign Good?
I give myself to Thee without reserve; oh, accept me, and give me the strength to be faithful to Thee until death!
I wish to love Thee greatly in this life, that I may love Thee greatly for all eternity.
Jesus, my true, my only Love,
Whoever says this little canticle from the heart causes joy in Paradise.
Blessed, in short, is that soul that can truly say, My Beloved to me, and I to Him (Cant. 2, 16). My God has given Himself wholly to me, and I have given myself wholly to Him; I am no longer my own; I belong entirely to my God. Oh, what a beautiful treasure is the treasure of Divine love! He who possesses it is happy indeed; let him take every care, and make use of all the means which are necessary to preserve and increase it; while he who does not yet possess it ought to employ every means in order to acquire it.
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