Reflections for Septuagesima Saturday|
Abbe Dom Prosper Gueranger
As taken from The Liturgical Year
The Ark of Salvation
God chastises the world by the deluge; but He is faithful to the promise made to our first parents, that the head of the serpent should be crushed. The human race has to be preserved, therefore, until the time shall come for the fulfillment of this promise. The Ark gives shelter to the just Noah, and to his family. The angry waters reach even to the tops of the highest mountains; but the frail yet safe vessel rides peacefully on the waves. When the day fixed by God shall come, they that dwell in this Ark shall once more tread the earth, purified as it then will be; and God will say to the, as heretofore to our first parents: 'Increase, and multiply, and fill the earth.'(1)-(Gen. ix. 1)
Mankind, then, owes it safety to the Ark. O saving Ark, that wast planned by God Himself, and didst sail unhurt amidst the universal wreck! But it we can thus bless this contemptible wood,(2)-(Wisdom X 4.) how fervently should we love that other Ark, of which Noah's was but the figure, and which, for now, eighteen hundred years, has been saving and bringing men to their God! How fervently should we bless that Church, the bride of our Jesus, out of which there is no salvation, and in which we find that truth which delivers us from error and doubt,(3)-(St. John viii. 32) that grace which purifies the heart, and that food which nourishes the soul and fits her for immortality!
O sacred Ark! Thou art inhabited, not by one family alone, but by people of every nation under the sun. Ever since that glorious day, when our Lord launched thee in the sea of this world, thou hast been tossed by tempests, yet never wrecked. Thou wilt reach the eternal shore, witnessing, by thy unworn vigor and beauty, to the divine guidance of the Pilot, who loves thee, both for thine own sake, and for the work thou art doing for His glory. It is by thee that He peoples the world with His elect and it is for them that He created the world.(1)-(St. Matt. Xxiv. 22) When He is angry, He remembers mercy,(2)-(Hab. iii. 4) because of thee, for it is through thee that He has made His covenant with mankind.
O venerable Ark! Be thou our refuge in the deluge. When Rome's great empire, that was drunk with the blood of the martyrs,(3)-(Apoc. Xvii. 6) sank beneath the invasion of the barbarians, the Christians were safe, because sheltered by thee; the waters slowly subsided, and the race of men that had fled to thee for protection, though conquered according to the flesh, was victorious by the spirit. Kings, who till them had been haughty despots and barbarians, kissed reverently the hand of the slave, who was no their pastor and baptized them. New peoples sprang up, and, with the Gospel as their law, began their glorious career in those very countries which the Caesars had degraded and forfeited.
When the Saracen invasion came sweeping into ruin the eastern world, and menacing the whole of Europe, which would have been lost had not the energy of thy sons repelled the infidel horde, was it not within thee, O Ark of salvation! That the few Christians took refuge, who had resisted schism and heresy , and who, whilst the rest of their brethren apostatized from the faith, still kept alive the holy flame? Under thy protection they are even now perpetuating, in their unfortunate countries, the traditions of faith, until the divine mercy shall bring happier times, and they be permitted to multiply, as did of old the sons of Sem, in that land once so glorious and holy.
O! happy we, dear Church of God! That are sheltered within thee, and protected by thee against that wild sea of anarchy, which the sins of men have let loose on our earth! We beseech our Lord to check the tempest with that word of His omnipotence: 'Thus far shalt thou come, and no further, and here shalt thou break thy swelling waves.'(1)-(Job xxxviii. 11.) But if His divine justice has decreed that it prevail for a time, we know that it cannot reach such as dwell in thee. Of this happy number are we. In thy peaceful bosom, dear mother, we find those true riches of the soul, of which no violence can deprive us.(2)-(St. Matt. vi. 20) The life thou givest us is the only real life. Our true fatherland is the kingdom formed by thee. Keep us, O thou Ark of our God! Keep us, and all that are dear to us, and shelter us beneath thy roof, until the deluge of iniquity be passed away.(3)- (Ps. lvi. 2) When the earth, purified by its chastisements, shall once more receive the seed of the divine word which produces the children of God, those among us, whom thou shalt not have led to our eternal home, will then venture forth, and preach to the world the principles of authority and law, of family and social rights: those sacred principles, which came from heaven, and which thou O holy Church, art commissioned to maintain and teach, even to the end of time.
The sentence pronounced by the Almighty upon our first parents was to fall upon their children to the end of time. We have been considering, during this week of Septuagesima, the penalties of the great sin; but the severest and most humiliating of them all remains to be told. It is the transmission to the whole human race of original sin. It is true that the merits of the promised Redeemer will be applied to each individual man, in the manner established by God at various periods of time: still, this spiritual regeneration, whilst cleansing us from the leprosy which covered us, and restoring us to the dignity of children of God, will not remove every scar of the old wound. It will save us from eternal death, and restore us to life; but, as long as our pilgrimage lasts, we shall be weak and sickly. Thus it is that ignorance makes us short-sighted in those great truths, which should engross all our thoughts; an this fills us with illusions, which, by an unhappy inclination of our will, we cling to and love. Concupiscence is ever striving to make our soul a slave to the body; and n order to escape this tyranny, our life has to be one continual struggle. An unruly love for independence is unceasingly making us desire to be our own masters, and forget that we were born to obey. We find pleasure in sin, whereas virtue rewards us with nothing, in this life, save the consciousness of our having done our duty.
Knowing all this, we are filled with admiration and love when we think of thee, O Mary! Thou purest of God's creatures. Thou art our sister in nature; thou art a daughter of Eve; but thou wast conceived without sin, and art therefore the honor of the human race. Thou art of the same flesh and blood as ourselves; and yet thou art immaculate. The divine decree, which condemned us to inherit the disgrace of original sin, could not include thy most pure conception; and the serpent felt, as thy foot crushed his haughty head, that thou hadst never been under his power. In thee, O Mary! We find our nature such as it was when our God first created it. Hail, then, spotless Mirror of justice!
O Mary! Beautiful in thine unsullied holiness, pray for us who are weighed down by the consequences of that sin of our first parents, which God would not suffer to approach thee. Thou art the implacable enemy of the serpent; watch over us, lest his sting inflict death on our souls. We were conceived in sin, and born in sorrow; pray for us, that we may so live as to merit blessing. We are condemned to toil, to suffering, and to death; intercede for us, that our atonement may find acceptance with our Lord. We are exposed to the treachery of our evil inclinations; we are in love with this present life; we forget eternity; we are ever striving to deceive our own hearts: how could we escape hell, were the grace of thy divine Son not unceasingly offered to us, enabling us to triumph over all our enemies? Thou, O Immaculate Mother of Jesus art the Mother of divine grace! Pray for us, that we, who glory in being thy kindred by nature, may be daily more and more enriched with this priceless gift.
Reflections for Septuagesima Saturday