Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lenten Reflections On The End of Man

Composition of Place – Imagine that you see God full of majesty and grandeur seated on His throne, and that you hear a voice that says: “I am the Beginning and the End.” (Apoc. 22:13) You can also imagine that you see a vast ocean from which many rivers come forth and return, and that this ocean represents the goodness of God, from Whom come forth all creatures and to Whom they return, and that you are one of them, who has come from Him, and to Him you must return.

Prelude – My God and Lord I ask Thee that Thou let me know my end, that I may seek it and attain it, and I beg that Thou give me the grace to make myself better than I am and overcome all the obstacles that can hinder me. In the words of St. Ignatius, “Man was created to praise, honor, and serve God our Lord, and thereby save his soul.”

First Point

What is my origin? Who is author of my being? This knowledge is so important that I cannot excuse myself from it without forsaking common sense and the religion which I profess. This knowledge guides me by the hand, as it were, to the accomplishment of my essential duties. All nature shouts to me that I owe submission, respect, obedience, acknowledgment, and love to the Author of my being.* [“Heaven, earth, and all things tell me to love Thee.” – St. Augustine, Confessions)

Now Who is the Author of my being? I exist. There was a time when I did not exist. Twenty, thirty, sixty, eighty years ago, I did not exist. Where was I then? I was nothing. How have I come into the world? Who has created me? Did I give being to myself? No; for since I was nothing. I could do nothing. Was it a force called chance that formed me? No; for such a chance is a deceptive dream. Did my parents produce me out of nothing? No; they have been instruments which God has used.

But God is my Creator, not they, although I should always honor them. Ask yourself if the following is not so: The non-material, spiritual, eternal and immortal soul which you have, which makes you above all animals and almost equal to the angels, and this soul is the image of God – could anyone have made this, but God Himself? Right reason declares the answer, and faith teaches it when God states, “Let Us make man to Our Image and likeness…” (Gen 1:26).

The same thing is to be said of your body, which is material. Something material is changeable, and does not independently exist of its own power nor does it possess existence of itself. It possesses it from the Supreme Being, Who is God. Thus you see that you ought to raise yourself – even the less important part of you – to God as your first Principle Who created you, drew you from your parents, and keeps you in existence.

Furthermore, the complex structure of your body, the coordination and movements of the numerous parts which form its wonderful machinery, are not familiar knowledge to our parents.* [The mother of the seven Machabee children who were martyred, said to them in order to encourage them: “I know not how you were formed in my womb, for I neither gave you breath, nor soul, nor life, neither did I frame the limbs of every one of you. But the Creator of the world….” 2 Mach. 7:22-23)

God alone, Who is the First Intelligent Cause, Mover and Ruler, formed your body and preserves it whole. Indeed, preserving is continuous creating. He lets secondary causes operate, but even they would not function without the cooperation, the order, and the movement of the First Cause.

You ought, then, to be well convinced that God has given you all you have – the soul with its powers, and the body with its senses. It is He and no one else who preserves you. Indeed if He withdrew His Almighty Hand you would at once return to the nothingness from which you came.* [Thy hands have made me and formed me…Thou hast laid Thy hand upon me.” Ps. 118,73; 118,5]

God has given you existence and preserves by His Goodness and Mercy the existence you have.* [“…I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee.” (Jer. 31:3)

He has preferred you to others whom He could have created and will never create. He has given you the noble existence of a man, and not that of a beast, nor of a plant, nor of a stone; although you had no right to such a noble and privileged existence.

And what did He do this for? Ah, an Infinite Wisdom cannot make anything without assigning it an end that matches its greater or lesser excellence. And this holds true here. The final end for which this Immense Being drew you out of nothing is simply this: that you know Him here on earth, and that hereafter you enjoy Him eternally in Heaven.* [“I have created him for My glory…” (Is. 43:7) “You have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end life everlasting.” (Rom. 6:22)]

Are you persuaded about this, my soul?...Do you believe it? In all the moments of your past life you should have glorified and loved God, and in every moment remaining to you, you will have to serve Him, glorify and love Him…and why?

(1) Because the Goodness of God requires it. Imagine that you had come to the world in the same state in which you now find yourself, except that you were completely speechless, without the power to utter one word; and that today God should come down from Heaven, loose your tongue and give you speech, adding at the same time, this command: “In recognition of the kindness I have shown you, you shall not utter a word except what is in My Honor.”

Could anything ever be more proper that that a tongue, to which God has given the power of speech, should praise Him?...Now look at yourself, and tell me, do you find any part of your body, no matter how small, which you have not received from God? Is there in you some power which He Himself has not given you?* [“What hast thou that thou hast not received?...” 1 Cor. 4:7]

Is it not, then, very just that God be loved by that heart which you have received from Him, and that those hands which He has fashioned be engaged in working for God?

(2) Because God’s supreme Ownership calls for it. It is He Who created you and brought you out of nothingness. One who plants a garden gains an ownership of the garden and is owner of all its fruits. A person who chooses to take a single apple against that owner’s will, would commit a theft and an injustice.

God has created you and is your owner, and of all there is in you, so that every affection which is not directed to Him, every word that is not to His praise, every deed that is not done for love of Him, is a theft and an injustice.

Do you understand now, oh! my soul, how right it is that you serve God and that you honor and love Him with all your heart? How have you complied with this obligation? A master receives a bad service in two ways: First, by our loafing and utterly neglecting the duties we owe to him as master, or by our doing them carelessly. Second, by your doing things with evil intent so that the master is offended. Up to now how have you served your God and Lord? What does your heart say?

Affective Acts

(1) Confession – Oh my God! I am well aware of the disorders of my life so far. My only goal and pursuit should have been to love Thee, to serve Thee, and to glorify Thee with all my heart. I should never have used one moment, nor uttered one word, nor performed any work, except for Thy Honor and Glory. But, how have I behaved?

How many thousands of hours there have been in my life, how many thousands of words my lips have uttered, thousands of deeds my hands have performed, and to what purpose have they been directed? Oh, how many times it has been to creatures, and how few times to Thee, oh my God!...But that is not so important as this; How many days have passed in which I have not committed new outrages and new offenses against Thee? What a wretch I am! How neglectful, how ungrateful and how perverse I have been, Lord!...

(2) Act of Sorrow – I cannot do more, oh! my God, except implore Thy Infinite Mercy, humbly asking for forgiveness. I detest and abhor with all my heart and all the powers of my soul, as much as I can, all the moments that I have not used for Thy Honor and Glory…Oh, if I could recover as many precious hours as I have wasted and used badly! Pardon, Lord, pardon; already I am weighed down by my sins. Have mercy, my God and my Father.

Second Point

Nothing is more profitable than living for the Last End by serving, glorifying and loving God with one’s whole heart.

The Final End for which God has created you has not been merely that you serve Him and love Him solely for His glory, but also that you gain eternal blessedness and come to enjoy it in the next life. By serving God you will, after a while, go to enjoy Him in Heaven. This is as sure as it is that you are now alive on earth. Pause here a bit, my soul, to reflect on the benefits that await you.

(1) In Heaven there is an immense blessing for the soul. To comprehend fully the blessing that the soul will enjoy in Heaven is as impossible as it is to swallow the ocean. The only idea that in any way lets you understand its greatness is this: As God is an Infinite Being, His Blessedness must be, as a consequence, infinite; for an inferior blessedness cannot match an Infinite Being.

Oh, what a marvelous fact! God’s Blessedness, His happiness, is infinite, and this very same happiness is your last End. God wants you to enjoy the same object of happiness by which He is happy and the same delights that He enjoys.

(2) In Heaven there is a blessing beyond measure for the body. The soul cannot serve God in the things He commands it, in His holy law, unless it has cooperation from the body. Just then, as the soul will gain blessedness, the body will likewise gain the same favor. Now what will this happy state be for the body and how great will it be?

Faith tells us this much: It will be of such a nature and such greatness that eye has not seen nor ear ever heard the like, nor can any imagination ever picture it nor any mind comprehend it. To put it in a few words, God engages all His Almighty power in order to make the body happy in all its senses.

(3) In Heaven the blessedness of both body and soul are eternal. Oh how empty is all the glamor and pleasure of earth! A hundred years ago there were kings and queens; and millions of their citizens humbly bent their knee to acknowledge the royal authority. Everyone was awed at the splendor of these rulers, and their power made kingdoms tremble.

Where are these rulers now? They have rotted under the ground. Their bones have changed into dust, and this dust is now trampled underfoot. Likewise today on earth are kings and queens who are honored like gods. But let a century pass, and what will be left of them?

Nothing more than a heap of dust that wind will scatter…The kingdom that awaits you is of a very different kind. Everything in it is everlasting. That infinitely delightful enjoyment of the Holy Trinity is eternal. Those sweet exchanges with Jesus Christ are eternal. That tender love and close friendship with the Mother of God and with the other saints and angels is eternal. The beauty of paradise is eternal.

That overflowing measure of joy that engages all the powers of the soul is eternal. That river of delight that floods all the senses of the body is eternal. Everything there is without any lessening, without change, without interruption, without end – eternal, eternal…

Affective Acts

(1) O God! O Infinite Goodness! How consoling this truth is to me! Heaven is my homeland! Heaven is my inheritance! Heaven is my reward! It is my last end. Yes, it is really true. God has made it for me. If I serve Him and love Him, a day will come when I will shine with a loveliness greater than that of the sun and mood, when I will behold paradise with my own eyes, when I can embrace my beloved Jesus, and when my body and soul will be plunged into a sea of delight.

Oh happy day! Can I expect this? Indeed I do expect this, and expect it with assurance. Jesus Himself has promised it to me. For all this, it is enough that I keep His law, that I act according to the end of my creation.* [If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matt 19:17). Fear God , and keep His commandments; because for man everything depends on this.” (Eccles 12:13)]

(2) Detachment from temporal things – If Heaven is mine, then how is it that I do not make light of this world and all that this world can give? Why do I get upset and make myself sad because of the aches and pains of my body, if a day will come when my body will have nothing but pure delights for all eternity? Why do I feel so badly when men treat me as of no account, if for all eternity I am to be loved and honored by God and all the saints? Oh how blind I have been up to now, O my God, in valuing so highly the vile goods of this world! From now on I choose and resolve to treat the things of this world as of no account, and to love what belongs to eternity and Heaven.

Third Point

Nothing can be more necessary than to hope and strive for the last end by loving, serving and glorifying God with all our heart. Here is a fact, O my soul: In creating you, God’s goal was His honor and glory, and He ought to obtain it and unfailingly will obtain this goal of His. This is as certain as it is that God is God. Therefore consider and reflect.

(1) God is infinite Goodness and infinite Justice. O my soul, let these truths sink deeply into your heart. As God is infinite Goodness, it is absolutely certain that He must love and reward eternally all those who have glorified Him, served Him, and loved Him. And as He is infinite Justice, it is impossible that He not hate and punish eternally all those who treat Him disrespectfully. Have you understood these truths well? Let us proceed further.

(2) As God is infinite Goodness, He has created paradise; and as He is infinite Justice, He has created hell. In paradise God will love and reward forever the souls that have been faithful, and they, in return, will praise and bless Him forever. In hell, He will oppose and punish forever the unfaithful souls, and they will curse and blaspheme Him forever. In paradise, His infinite Goodness and Mercy will be praised for all eternity; in hell, His Majesty will be upheld and His Justice fulfilled. What is the consequence of this? The consequence is…

(3) God always and unfailingly will achieve His goal. Very well, then, regardless of what you do, it will always turn out that you will serve God’s glory. If you serve Him and love God on earth, you will love and praise His Mercy forever in Heaven. If you do not serve Him on earth, you will forever glorify His Justice in hell.

It equally honors a Lord of infinite Majesty, namely God, to reward for all eternity His faithful servants, as well as to punish forever those who rebel. Now picture to yourself, O my soul, on one side Heaven opened and those immense joys that the saved experience there, and on the other side, picture hell with the immense torments which the damned suffer there; and say within yourself: I must of necessity glorify God for all eternity; this is His decree, and it is as impossible for it to be cancelled or changed as it is for God to cease to be God.

Oh frightening truth! One of these two things will come upon me: either I will live forever in Heaven or I will live forever in hell; - for we understand that in the other world all is eternal (after Purgatory). This soul of mine will praise or blaspheme, will love God or hate God forever, for it is eternal. My body will be forever plunged in heavenly delights or it will wail in the torments of hell; for it will also be eternal. These hands of mine will embrace Jesus as I please forever, or they will be bound with the chains of hell; for they are eternal.

My eyes will contemplate forever the resplendent bodies of Heaven’s citizens, or will forever see the horrifying phantoms of hell; for they will be eternal. My flesh and all senses of my body will forever have a matchless happiness, or will forever burn in fire, and in the midst of flames, for all these things are eternal. What an awesome and frightening affair, but certainly real! What is my choice to be? It is for me to choose to follow the one or the other. One of the two is to be my lot for eternity, and it will be what I myself pick.

Affective Acts

(1) Fear – What a serious affair, O my God! Shall I go to Heaven or to hell? What a frightening question, which makes my heart pound! Will I go to paradise? I cannot know if that will be my fortune, but I know Thou hast said, “He that loveth his life (in this world) shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal.” (John12:25)

These are Thy words. To love one’s life in this world means to surrender oneself to bodily pleasure and sin, to obey one’s self-will, to run away (from duty) in order to escape contempt, to hold bitter resentment against people who offend us. To hate one’s life means to practice (dutiful) mortification generously, to deny one’s self-will, to hunt contempt (when to do so is in accord with duty,) to return good for evil. Have I done this? Alas for me!

(2) Resolution – And how much, my God, I have failed! If an endless and happy eternity depends on gaining my End, and an unhappy eternity comes from losing it, how is it possible for me to be so negative about pursuing it? If it were necessary, should I not gladly sacrifice my life this minute to gain Heaven? Should I not shed all my blood in a moment to escape hell? Yes, gaining an infinite Good, avoiding an infinite evil – these are two objectives for which one can never do too much or put up with too much.

In the presence of Thy Divine Majesty, I now resolve to go about pursuing my Last End at all costs, O my God! And in order to safely gain it I also resolve to faithfully follow everything in these holy Spiritual Exercises which I recognize to be needful and profitable for success.

(3) Prayer of Petition – How many times have I made these resolutions, and later been unfaithful and failed to fulfill them? I realize well that if Thou dost not help me by giving me greater strength, I am lost. I turn to Thee, O my God, and with a heart contrite and humbled I cry: Forgive me, O Supreme Good! Forgive my sins and neglects! Look not on my lack of merit, but on Thy Mercy, and deal not according to the rigor of Thy Infinite Justice, but according to the kindness of Thy Infinite Mercy.

Grant me new lights that enable me to clearly understand the importance of my End, new promptings that deeply move my heart. Grant me new graces that make me constant in my (right) resolves. How would the creation of me profit me, O my God, if I perish forever? How would Thy shedding Thy Blood for me help me, O Son of God, if I am lost? How would my having become an heir by grace benefit me, O Divine Spirit, if I am damned?

Now pray the Our Father and the Hail Mary.

Source: The Golden Key to Heaven, An Explanation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius by St. Anthony Mary Claret)

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