Author: tomlirish

THE MERCY EQUATION

 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7)

“Forgive, and you will be forgiven…for with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:37-38)

“He who knows how to forgive prepares for himself many graces from God” (Saint Faustina Kowalska, Diary, 390)

It’s in your own best interest to forgive. If you’re hanging on to unforgiveness, it’s in your own best interest to let go! You don’t want to forfeit graces God wants to give you because of a refusal to forgive. God’s will is quite clear here: even though it can be quite difficult, we must forgive. Indeed, a plethora of New Testament passages, set forth below, speak to a spiritual law of the Gospel that, in essence, impedes us from seeking the Father’s mercy if we are unable to extend mercy to those who have harmed us.
 
 Luke 6:37…………………..Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
 
 Matthew 6:12……………. “and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.”
 
 Matthew 6:14-15……….. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
 
 Mark 11:25…………………..”And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
 
 Ephesians 4:32……………”Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
 
 Colossians 3:13…………..”Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
 
 Matthew 18:21-22……….”Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”
 
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, echoing the scripture passages cited above, talks about how hardened, unforgiving hearts can cut-off the outpouring of mercy. The Catechism – almost getting a little emotional – talks of this situation as being “daunting.” These important words are from Section 2840 of the CCC:

2840 Now – and this is daunting – this outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see. In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father’s merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace.

Conversely, the floodgates of grace open up when we honor God’s will and courageously choose to forgive. In Life Everlasting, Father Garrigou-Lagrange, the great Dominican and mystical theologian (who once taught the future Pope John Paul II), tells us of the amazing transformation of a Jewish man he personally knew who had the courage to forgive. He relates: 

“I knew a young Jew, the son of an Austrian banker, in Vienna. He had decided on a lawsuit against the greatest adversary of his family, a lawsuit that would have enriched him. He suddenly recalled this word of the Pater Noster, which he had sometimes heard: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He said to himself: “How would it be if, instead of carrying on this lawsuit, I would pardon him?” He followed the inspiration, forgave completely, renounced the lawsuit. At that same moment he received the full gift of faith. This one word of the Our Father became his pathway up the mountain of life. He became a priest, a Dominican, and died at the age of fifty years. Though nothing particularly important appeared in the remainder of his life, his soul remained at the height where it had been elevated at the moment of his conversion. Step by step he mounted to the eternal youth which is the life of heaven. The moral runs thus: One great act of self-sacrifice may decide not only our whole spiritual life on earth but also our eternity. We judge a chain of mountains by its highest peak.”

Dear friend, Saint Faustina Kowalska tells us that we are most like God when we show mercy and forgiveness to others (Diary 1148). But, practically speaking, it is simply in our own best interest to forgive. Why would we want to harm our own spiritual progress by hardening our hearts and refusing mercy to others? And keep in mind that God is constantly sending us actual graces to give us the courage and desire to forgive. God is all-helpful: ask Him for the power to forgive.

To be be merciful, to have a merciful heart, to have a forgiving spirit, we cannot place too high of a value on such a blessing!

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Reference: See Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, page 369, fn on Col. 3:12, wherein it states: “We express gratitude to the Lord by imitating his mercy in our relationships with others. In fact, extending forgiveness to others is necessary if we hope to receive the ongoing forgiveness of the Father (Mt 6:14-15;18:23-35).”  In his book, The Seven Secretsof Confession, Vinny Flynn discusses section 2840 of the CCC.

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A SHORT REFLECTION ON ETERNAL LIFE

“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2)

“It is my Father’s will that whoever sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and that I should raise that person up on the last day” (John 6:40)

INTRODUCTION: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate proof of Eternal Life. In Jesus’ resurrection all the speculations about the immortality of the soul and life after death are answered, definitely, in the person of Jesus Christ. In the resurrection of Jesus we come to understand that a human being is “an eternal person,” with an everlasting destiny. “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life….” (1 John 5:11-12). Stay close to Jesus.

Reflection:

1. The magnitude of these words of Father Garrigou-Lagrange: “In the preaching of Jesus everything is directed immediately toward Eternal Life.” The whole goal of the Christian life is the attainment of Eternal Life.

2. The incredible shortness of earthly life (death being so inevitable and the opportunity to do it well given only once).

3. The incredible length of Eternal Life. It will never end.

4. By the grace received in baptism we have already been introduced into this Eternal Life. “Through baptism we have already received the seed of eternal life, for through it we received sanctifying grace which is the radical principle of that life; and with sanctifying grace we received infused charity, which ought to last forever” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange). Mortal sin is the true enemy of this powerful life of grace we have within us.

5. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Eternal Life. Jesus proclaimed: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life….” (John 6:53-54).“Through the food of the Eucharist,” writes Saint John Paul II, “Christ’s eternal life penetrates and flows within human life. Therefore, as St. Thomas Aquinas writes, the Eucharist is ‘the culmination of the spiritual life and the goal of all the sacraments.’” Question: in light thereof, how devoted am I to the Holy Eucharist? “It [should] be every man’s trade, occupation, profession, leisure, and ambition, to worship the Blessed Sacrament” (F.W. Faber).

6. Jesus – by way of His resurrection appearances –  gives us a profound glimpse at some of the amazing characteristics of a resurrected and glory-filled human body which has been raised to eternal life: it can no longer die; it no longer experiences pain or weariness; it is no longer bound by time or space; it has no need for sleep; it does not experience pain or illness (see pages 285-290 of Christ In His Mysteries by Blessed Columba Marmion). Jesus “by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). How amazing it will be to have a risen, immortal body!

7. The Father is the source of Eternal Life for “as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). God has Eternal Life in Himself. In fact, Eternity is one of His Infinite perfections. Stunningly, he calls us to share in His Eternal Blessedness, to become partakers of His Divine nature, to share in His Eternal joy!

8. The consequences of missing out on Eternal Life would be unbearable.

9. The amazing graces we have already received from God to secure our salvation and entry into the Eternal Life of Heaven, where it cannot be lost.

10. “We must, must, must live forever….We cannot get out of the way of eternity: we cannot turn the corner of it. My Jesus, where shall we flee? Make friends with eternity. Oh, then, that God would send us an angel to tell us on what eternity a good eternity depends [Heaven or Hell]. Oh this eternity is a tremendous thing. Make up your minds that you will not go to hell. On your knees, look at the crucifix, now say with me aloud – Oh Jesus, mercy – now again once more, louder from your hearts – Oh Jesus, mercy!” (F.W. Faber, edited and modified).

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: I am relying prominently on Father Faber who often reflects on the shortness of life, the inevitability of death, the importance of preparation for death, and the great length of eternity. The quote in number 10 is from his notes on “Eternity” in Notes on Doctrinal and Spiritual Subjects, Volume II, pages 340-342.

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SACRAMENTAL LIFE AND THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST

(Jesus and the two disciples On the Road to Emmaus, by Duccio, Public Domain, U.S.A.)

INTRODUCTION:

The Resurrection appearances of Jesus point to the sacramental life of the Church. At no. 1116 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church it states thatSacraments are ‘powers that comes forth’ from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church. They are ‘the masterworks of God’ in the new and everlasting covenant.” In the following resurrection appearances Jesus alludes to, or makes reference to, the sacramental life of the Church.

Baptism:  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….” (Matthew 28:19; see also Mark 16:16).

Eucharist:  “Then the two told what had happened on the road [to Emmaus], and how they had recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). See CCC 1329, which states, in part: “The Breaking of Bread…. It is by this action that his disciples will recognize him after his Resurrection, and it is this expression that the first Christians will use to designate their Eucharistic assemblies; by doing so they signified that all who eat the one broken bread, Christ, enter into communion with him and form but one body in him.“

The Eucharist is intrinsically linked to the Resurrection of the body of Jesus. There is no Holy Eucharist without the body and blood of Jesus Christ. And what is this body and blood of Jesus Christ but the resurrected Jesus! Jesus had certainly lost a tremendous amount of blood during his passion, and his body was badly mangled, but his physical life was restored to him – and gloriously so – by his resurrection. When we go to Mass, therefore, we go to the resurrection, and we receive the resurrected Christ – body, blood, soul and divinity.

The “Catholic Church professes that, in the celebration of the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and the instrumentality of the priest. Jesus said: ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. . . . For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink (Jn 6:51-55). The whole Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine—the glorified Christ who rose from the dead after dying for our sins. This is what the Church means when she speaks of the ‘Real Presence’ of Christ in the Eucharist. This presence of Christ in the Eucharist is called ‘real’ not to exclude other types of his presence as if they could not be understood as real (cf. Catechism, no. 1374). The risen Christ is present to his Church in many ways, but most especially through the sacrament of his Body and Blood” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).

Confession:  “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven: if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20: 22-23).

Paragraph 1461 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church thus states:

Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation, bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops’ collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed, bishops and priests, by virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Confirmation:  “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20: 21-22). The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites this verse at no. 1287 in its section on the Sacrament of Confirmation. “Here we see that the risen humanity of Jesus has become a sacrament of the divine Spirit” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, p. 199). See also CCC 1116.

Priesthood.  Jesus, by empowering the apostles with the priestly function of forgiving sins in John 20: 21-23, confirms the existence of the ministerial priesthood. Moreover, when Jesus reconfirmed Peter as the head of the Church during his resurrection appearance to the apostles by the Sea of Tiberias (see John 21: 1-19), he simultaneously reaffirms the duty of the ministerial priesthood to care for his sheep (“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs” (John 21: 15 ). See also CCC 1551 (in the section on the Sacrament of Holy Orders) which references John 21: 15.

Anointing of the Sick:  “[T]hey will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (Mark 16:18). The Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1507, references this verse in its section on the Anointing of the Sick, saying, “The risen Lord renews this mission [of healing the sick] – “In my name . . . they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” –  and confirms it through the signs that the Church performs by invoking his name. These signs demonstrate in a special way that Jesus is truly ‘God who saves.’ ”

Marriage I do not believe there are any direct references to marriage in the resurrection appearances of Jesus. However, St. Paul speaks to the sacramental nature of marriage in Ephesians 5 by stating that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church (“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. . . . This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” – Eph 5:25, 32); and during his earthly ministry no one spoke more strongly about the divine origin of marriage, as well as its indissolubility, than Jesus (see Matt. 19: 3-10). The power flowing from Jesus’ resurrection is therefore the catalyst for life-long sacramental marriage between a man and a woman (“By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, [Jesus] himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God” – CCC 1615).

CONCLUSION: 

Here we are in the midst of a horrible pandemic, and so many people have been cut-off from the healing power of the sacramental life of the Church. Let us pray for the pandemic to end (and for a cure) , and for the return of the life-giving sacraments to the faithful.

Thomas L. Mulcahy

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FIVE FAST INSIGHTS INTO THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS

 File:IVANOV YAV HRISTA MARI1.jpg

(APPEARANCE OF THE RISEN CHRIST TO MARY MAGDALENE, BY ALEXANDER ANDREYEVICH IVANOV, 1835, PUBLIC DOMAIN, U.S.A.)                          

                “They knew it was the [risen] lord” (John 21: 12)

INTRODUCTION:

Since the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the culmination of God’s work of creation, the insights to be drawn from it may very well be infinite in number! But in this short post I offer the following five insights which I hope will be beneficial to you.

1. The women as the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection powerfully affirm its authenticity.

One scholar of the Lord’s resurrection, Professor William Lane Craig, offers the following insights regarding the very first witnesses to the resurrection – who were all women with respect to encountering the empty tomb and the risen Lord himself (see John 20: 10-18; Matthew 28: 1-10). “Certainly these women were friends of Jesus. But when you understand the role of women in first-century Jewish society, what’s really extraordinary is that this empty tomb story should feature women as the discovers of the empty tomb in the first place. Women were on a very low rung of the social ladder in first-century Palestine….Women’s testimony was regarded as so worthless that they weren’t even allowed to serve as legal witnesses in a Jewish court of law. In light of this, it’s absolutely remarkable that the chief witnesses to the empty tomb are these women who were friends of Jesus. Any later legendary account would have certainly portrayed male disciples as discovering the tomb – Peter or John, for example. The fact that women are the first witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly explained by the reality that- like it or not – they were the discovers of the empty tomb. This shows that the Gospel writers faithfully recorded what happened, even if it was embarrassing (The Case For Easter, pp. 49-50).”

2. There were multiple resurrection appearances by Jesus which left the apostles fully convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead.

For quick reference here is a summary of the ten resurrection appearances of Jesus (eleven if you include the appearance to St. Paul on the road to Damascus). Here’s the link:

The Ten Resurrection Appearances of Jesus Christ | Believersweb.org
It is a point not to be underestimated that Jesus made multiple resurrection appearances over the course of forty days. Thus, the apostles were not left wondering whether they had seen Jesus in the flesh following his death and burial – Jesus went out of his way on multiple occasions to make sure that they had! Consequently, you have complete uniminty among the remaining eleven apostles that they had seen the risen Christ. By way of contrast, we don’t have a case here where six of the apostles claimed to have seen the resurrected Christ, whereas three denied it, and two were not sure. And these were men that went on to live heroic lives, to suffer and die for what they had witnessed, spawning the amazing rise of the Christian faith despite insurmountable obstacles, and without any resort to violence. As the great Biblical scholar C.H. Dodd states:   “The main weight [regarding the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection] … is placed on the testimony that Jesus was ‘seen’ alive after death, by a number of his followers….” (The Founder of Christianity, page 167).  Something had happened to these men, which they could describe only by saying they had ‘seen the Lord’. This is not an appeal to any generalized ‘Christian experience’. It refers to a particular series of occurrences, unique in character, unrepeatable, and confined to a limited period” (p.168). Dodd therefore concludes:
“[For] the original witnesses [the resurrection of Jesus was] an immediate, intuitive certainty. They were dead sure they had met with Jesus, and there was no more to be said about it….Now they were new men in a new world, confident, courageous, enterprising, the leaders of a movement which made an immediate impact and went forward with an astonishing impetus.” (p. 170)

3. Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Confession during one of his resurrection appearances.

Jesus wished to continue his ministry of the forgiveness of sins through the Apostles and their successors. Thus, following his glorious resurrection, Jesus conferred on the apostles the power to forgive sins, a power Jesus himself had exercised during his earthly ministry. It is recounted in John’s Gospel that, during a resurrection appearance, Jesus met with the apostles and said to them, in particular: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he said this, he breathed on them , and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven: if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20: 21-23)

Confession, thus, is a Resurrection gift from Jesus who has passed on his ministry of forgiving sins (what we call the Sacrament of Confession) to the apostles and their successors.  From our Lord’s Resurrection blossomed this great gift for the
church! 
Paragraph 1461 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church thus states:

Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation, bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops’ collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed, bishops and priests, by virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

I don’t know how to say this: forgiveness of sins is the greatest need every person has. Jesus, in His Infinite Wisdom, and in His genius as the leader of souls, has willed that forgiveness of sins be readily available from his priests, where the concrete actions of forgiveness, absolution, and spiritual guidance can take place in a powerful and effective manner appropriately tailored to our human situation, and leading thus to an authentic spiritual resurrection of our souls!

4. Jesus’ wounds are a special manifestation of his resurrection.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Jesus’ resurrection is the existence of wounds of crucifixion on his resurrected body (see John 20: 20). We are all familiar with the apostle Thomas being invited by the resurrected Jesus to touch his wounds (John 20:27). And at Luke 24: 36-41 Jesus appeared to his disciples saying “Peace to you.” But Luke recounts that the apostles “were startled and frightened, and supposed they that they saw a spirit.” Jesus then said: “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings arise in your hearts? See my hands and feet , that it is I myself; handle me; and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible relates that Jesus’ reference to his hands and feet in this passage pertains to “the nail marks” which “demonstrate that Jesus’ risen body is the same body that was crucified only days earlier. He carries these marks of his earthly sacrifice with him when he ascends into heaven (Rev. 5:5).”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples. He invites them in this way to recognize that he is not a ghost and above all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his Passion. Yet at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ’s humanity can no longer be confined to earth, and belongs henceforth only to the Father’s divine realm” (no. 645).

The spiritual lesson here is that Jesus, even in his resurrected body, never wants us to forget how much he suffered in order to prove his love for us and secure our salvation. As a gifted spiritual writer once said, let us never forget the sufferings of the Lord. Father Faber adds: “O for some corner, the least, the lowest, and the last in the world to come [Heaven], where we may spend an untired eternity in giving silent thanks to Jesus Crucified!”

A wonderful reflection on our Lord’s glorious wounds, building on the thoughts of Saint Thomas Aquinas, can be accessed via the following link:

Glorious Wounds—Christ’s and Ours – Homiletic & Pastoral Review

5. Jesus reestablished Peter as head of the Church during one of his resurrection appearances.

In one of the most beautiful of his resurrection appearances, Jesus appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias (John 21: 1-25), “and none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the lord’” (John 21: 12-13). And they ate breakfast together, utilizing a charcoal fire (John 21: 9). Here, again, we see Jesus hard at work building up his apostles to ready them for the demanding work of evangelization. In this instance, Jesus directed his comments to Peter, stating:

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21: 15-19)

Peter had previously stood by a charcoal fire in John 18 when he denied Jesus three times. Now, in the presence of another charcoal fire, and in order to restore and reaffirm Peter as head of his Church, Jesus leads Peter to express love for Jesus three times. Each of these three times Jesus implores Peter to take care of his sheep, and on the third time Jesus alludes to Peter’s manner of death, where Peter will “stretch out [his] hands” on a cross in imitation of Jesus.

CONCLUSION:

The historical authenticity of the resurrection of Jesus’ body from the dead is well proven by the Gospel writers, especially by the numerous accounts they provide of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, and the subsequent witness of the apostles shows they were fully convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Indeed, almost all of these apostles went on to convincingly confirm that they witnessed the resurrected Jesus with the witness – the Greek word “martyr” literally means witness – of their own lives, which is a most powerful testimony. Moreover, Jesus demonstrates by his resurrection his great concern for the Church – this by establishing the Sacrament of Confession during one appearance, and by reaffirming Peter as head of the Church on another, and by the retention of his sacred and glorious wounds on his resurrected body in order to remind us that by “his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is the source of all good things for us! Gather in for your eternal welfare the incredible “POWER flowing from his resurrection” (Phil 3:10).

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

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THE PRACTICE OF SPIRITUAL COMMUNION


Further on in Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI urges Catholics to “rediscover the Eucharistic form which their lives are meant to have,” thus making of our lives “a constant self-offering to God….” (no. 72). The practice of making spiritual communions throughout the day is one way to rediscover our Eucharistic form.

In his encyclical letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia,  Saint Pope John Paul II wrote:

In the Eucharist, “unlike any other sacrament, the mystery [of communion] is so perfect that it brings us to the heights of every good thing: Here is the ultimate goal of every human desire, because here we attain God and God joins himself to us in the most perfect union.” Precisely for this reason it is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist. This was the origin of the practice of “spiritual communion,” which has happily been established in the Church for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life. St. Teresa of Jesus wrote: “When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice;
by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you” [The Way of Perfection, Ch. 35.].

According to Saint Thomas Aquinas spiritual communion consists of “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Holy Sacrament and a loving embrace as though we had already received Him.”

A prayer of spiritual Communion with Jesus can be made in a matter of seconds and repeated often throughout the day. The prayer is highly thought of by the Church since it is indulgenced (see Manual of Indulgences, 4th Edition, p.51). To make a spiritual communion you can simply say the following prayer in a recollected manner:

“My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You (From sacredheart.com).

The prayer of spiritual communion – which may even be made without words in the yearnings of our heart – shows our deep hunger for the Eucharist; it further shows our deep desire to be united to the Eucharistic life of Christ; it shows, as well, our profound love for the Sacrament of Love!

You can make this prayer throughout the day on days when you are unable to attend daily Mass, or you can say the prayer throughout the day as preparation for your next Holy Communion at Mass. Vinny Flynn relates that “Saint Francis de Sales resolved to make a spiritual Communion at least every fifteen minutes so that he could link all the events of the day to his reception of the Eucharist at Mass” (7 Secrets of the Eucharist, pp. 85-86). Flynn relates that Saint Maximilian Kolbe also made frequent spiritual Communions (p.86).

Flynn also refrences Saint Leonard of Port Maurice, who said:

“If you practice the holy exercise of spiritual Communion several times each day, within a month you will see your heart completely changed” (7 Secrets of the Eucharist, pp. 97-98)

In his book, Jesus our Eucharistic Love, Father Stefano Manelli explains what the effects of a well made spiritual communion may produce. He says, “Spiritual Communion, as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Alphonsus Liguori teach, produces effects similar to Sacramental Communion, according to the dispositions with which it is made, the greater or less earnestness with which Jesus is desired, and the greater or less love with which Jesus is welcomed and given due attention.” 

Two other books which highly recommend this practice of making spiritual Communions are: The Blessed Sacrament by Father Faber (beginning at p. 438), and The Blessed Eucharist by Father Muller (Chapter 11). Surely, this practice of making spiritual Communions will draw you closer to the Lord, and make you more desirous of receiving Him sacramentally at Holy Mass.

The practice of spiritual communion secures our life-long love of the Eucharist, for the Eucharist is constantly close to our heart. By this efficacious practice, our hearts are always longing to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Spiritual communion is a great preparation for Holy Communion at Mass. And in situations such as the present, where it is impossible for many Catholics to go to Mass due to the pandemic, spiritual communion is a highly recommended, almost vital, practice.

“Oh Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, please place in our hearts profound gratitude for the Holy Eucharist.”

Let us all pray earnestly for the pandemic to end, and for the prompt discovery of a safe and ethical vaccine.   

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

 

Photo Attribution: This photo of Pope Benedict XVI celebrating Mass on May 11, 2007 was taken by Fabio Pozzebom/ABr and produced by Agência Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency. This file is licensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution 3.0 Brazillicense (per Wikipedia).

References: The quotes from St. Thomas Aquinas and Father Manelli were found in the Wikipedia article entitled, “Spiritual Communion.” The quote from Pope John Paul II was found in the Catholics United for the Faith internet article entitled, “Spiritual Communion.” See also Summa Theologica III, question 80, by Saint Thomas Aquinas, discussing the spiritual profit of spiritual Communions (as discussed in Flynn’s book, 7 Secrets of the Eucharist).

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A POWERFUL DEVOTION TO SAINT JOSEPH!

“This is precisely the mystery [of the Incarnation] in which Joseph of Nazareth ‘shared’ like no other human being except Mary, the Mother of the Incarnate Word. He shared in it with her; he was involved in the same salvific event; he was the guardian of the same love, through the power of which the eternal Father ‘destined us to be his sons through Jesus Christ’ (Eph 1:5)” (Saint Pope John Paul II).

I am relying heavily on Father Faber’s wonderful insights for the content of this note. If you read his book Bethlehem, I believe you will find most of the points made in this note contained therein, or in another one of his books. Father Faber recommends an immense devotion to Saint Joseph, and in particular he recommends Father Lallemant’s famous Novena to Saint Joseph explained in detail by Father Faber in this note.

Consider for a moment, as Father Faber suggests, the infinite blessedness of the child Jesus. Consider, as well, the “colossal sanctity” of the Virgin Mary. Now, contemplate in amazement that Joseph was entrusted by the Eternal Father with the care and custody of Mary and Jesus. How precious Joseph must be to Jesus and Mary! Who can fathom the depth of their love for Joseph? How pleasing it must be to Jesus and Mary when we honor Saint Joseph.

Devotion to Saint Joseph is prudent not only in light of the fact that he is the Patron Saint of a happy death (the moment of death is the moment that determines everything – all that we will be for all eternity), but also because Joseph is an image of the tender and loving Eternal Father, and thus devotion to Saint Joseph – as Father Faber points out –  smooths out a harsh or even melancholy view of God the Father. What is more crucial in our spiritual lives than to view God as our tender, loving Father? Only then can we truly trust in God and have that confidence in the Father that made the saints saints.

We know that Saint Teresa of Avila was a great mystic, so much so that even in this life she journeyed to that unspeakable seventh mansion where a soul is united in mystical marriage to the Blessed Trinity (she actually experienced an intellectual vision of the Blessed Trinity when she reached that depth of union with God), and yet this dear saint was always practical and she exercised an immense devotion to Saint Joseph. Here is something she wrote about her relationship to Saint Joseph:

“I took for my patron and Lord the glorious St. Joseph …. I cannot call to mind that I have ever asked him at any time for anything he has not granted. I am filled with amazement when I consider the great favors God has given me through this blessed saint.”

Oh how Jesus is praised through his Saints! Next to Mary, Joseph must be the greatest of all the saints. To think that in his earthly life he received the love of Jesus and Mary, day by day, moment by moment, is to realize that he received love beyond anything we can imagine! It is the type of love we will receive in Heaven, when our hearts will be big enough to receive such love. Yet, as it appears, when Mary took Jesus in her womb to see Elizabeth, and John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb as if sanctified by the presence of Jesus (Jesus subsequently calling him the greatest of all the prophets!), how much more was Joseph sanctified by Jesus from the moment of the Incarnation and Mary’s “Yes” until the day he died in the arms of Jesus and Mary.

One of the great advocates of devotion to Saint Joseph was the gifted spiritual writer, Father Louis Lallemant, whose students included Issac Jogues and Jean de Brebeuf, who both became canonized saints! Father Faber relates that Father Lallemant “was gifted with an extraordinary grace for inspiring every body with a devotion to St. Joseph ; and his advice to persons who desired to enter on the ways  of spiritual perfection was to take as their model of humility Jesus Christ, as their model of purity the Blessed Virgin, and as their model of the interior life St. Joseph. It was after these divine patterns that he labored at his own perfection ; and it was easy to perceive how happily he had wrought them out in his own person. Every day, in honor of St. Joseph, he observed four short exercises, from which he drew wonderful profit.

The two first were for the morning, and the two others for after dinner. The first was to raise himself in spirit to the heart of St. Joseph, and consider how faithful he was to the inspirations of grace, then turning his eyes inward on his own heart, to discover his own want of fidelity, he made an act of humiliation, and excited himself to perseverance. The second was to reflect how perfectly St. Joseph reconciled the interior life with his external occupations. Then, turning to observe himself and his own occupations, he perceived wherein they fell short of the perfection of his model. By means of this exercise he made such progress, that towards the close of his life he remained in an uninterrupted state of interior recollection and the attention which he paid to external things, instead of weakening his union with God, served rather to strengthen it.

The third was to accompany in spirit St. Joseph, as the spouse of the Blessed Virgin, and to meditate on the wonderful knowledge which he had enjoyed of her virginity and maternity, in consequence of the humble submission with which he received the announcement of the Angel respecting the mystery of the Incarnation. By this exercise he excited himself to love St. Joseph for his love of his most holy spouse. The fourth was, to figure to himself the adoration and homage of love and grati tude which St. Joseph paid to the Holy Child Jesus, and to beg to participate therein, that he might adore and love this Divine Infant with all the sentiments of the deepest reverence and the tenderest love of which he was capable.

He wished to carry with him to the grave some tokens of his devotion to this great Saint, and requested that an image of his beloved patron might be put with him in his coffin. It was observed on many occasions that St. Joseph never refused him any thing he asked ; and whenever he wished to induce persons to honor him, he used to assure them that he did not possess a single grace which he had not obtained through his intercession” (from Father Faber’s Introduction to Father Lallemant’s great treatise on the spiritual life, The Spiritual Doctrine).

You can petition the Holy Spirit for the four great graces mentioned above in Father Faber’s summary through Father Lallemant’s famous Novena to Saint Joseph at the link below:

http://www.catholictradition.org/Joseph/joseph12.htm

I believe it was in the final apparition of Fatima that Joseph was seen by Sister Lucia, holding the child Jesus, and blessing the world. Dear Jesus, thank you for sharing your virginal Father with us. Is there anything that you will not share with us? For you told us that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom ( Luke 12:32) and the Kingdom of the Incarnation begins with the Holy Family, and its head, Good Saint Joseph.

Saint Teresa of Avila once again impresses on us the power of devotion to Saint Joseph, saying:

“To other Saints Our Lord seems to have given power to succor us in some special necessity – but to this glorious Saint, I know by experience, He has given the power to help us in all. Our Lord would have us understand that as He was subject to St. Joseph on earth – for St. Joseph, bearing the title of father and being His guardian, could command Him – so now in Heaven Our Lord grants all his petitions. I have asked others to recommend themselves to St. Joseph, and they, too, know the same thing by experience . . .” (Autobiography).

Nothing less than an immense devotion to Saint Joseph is justified. He is the Patron of the Universal Church. He is the Patron of a Happy Death. Don’t you dare lie down to die – when the time comes –  without having Saint Joseph close to your heart!

Dear friend, your love for Jesus and Mary will most certainly increase the more you draw nearer to Saint Joseph.

Saint Joseph, pray for us!

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus by Guido Reni, around 1620(Public Domain, U.S.A.)

ReferencesFavorite Prayers to Saint Joseph (TAN), a highly recommended devotional to Saint Joseph which includes Father Lallemant’s famous novena mentioned above. I am certainly indebted to Father Faber for the tone and content of this entire note, but especially the first two paragraphs and the last two paragraphs, which contain not only his insights but his manner of speaking too. For example, he talks about “nothing short of an immense devotion” in one of his books, and “not lying down to die” in another.

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REMEMBERING A SAINT PATRICK’S DAY MIRACLE

The beautiful picture you are looking at is known as “The Irish Madonna of Hungary.” The portrait itself is from Ireland, but it was brought to Hungary by an Irish priest, Bishop Lynch, who was fleeing English persecution in Ireland around the year 1652. Bishop Lynch worked for ten years among the faithful in Hungary, and just before he was about to return to Ireland he fell ill and died, bequeathing  on his deathbed the portrait in question to the Bishop of Gyor in Hungary who hung the painting in the Cathedral of Gyor. The awesome miracle I am about to discuss involves this picture.

The miracle in question did in fact occur on March 17, 1697 (St. Patrick’s Day) while “thousands were attending Holy Mass in the Cathedral of Gyor” (the year 1697 is highly relevant because in 1697 all priests were expelled from Ireland).

Suddenly “the eyes of the Madonna [in the picture above] began to shed tears and blood which ran down the canvas to the image of the sleeping Jesus. The Irish Madonna was weeping for her suffering children [in Ireland]. The people who had been attending [Mass], as well as those summoned to witness the miracle, took turns in gathering around the portrait while the priests repeatedly wiped the face of the Madonna with a linen cloth that is still preserved in the Cathedral. The miracle continued for more than three hours.”

Every lawyer knows the value of credible witnesses! Here then we see that this miracle was witnessed by a whole contingent of extremely credible witnesses. Joann Carroll Cruz relates the following: “Before long not only Catholics, but also Protestants and Jews flocked to see the miracle. Thousands witnessed the event, and many of these gave testimony of what they saw. A document signed by a hundred people bears the signatures of the governor of the city, its mayor, all its councilmen, the bishop, priests, Calvinist and Lutheran ministers as well as a Jewish rabbi. All volunteered their signatures to the document stating they had witnessed an undeniable miracle.”

Fast-forwarding to 2020,  the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade here in Detroit has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, in honor of Saint Patrick, I would like to dedicate this post to the memory of Thomas Joseph Mulcahy, my Father, who was the Grand Marshall for the 2003 Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Detroit (see photo below). Thanks Dad for your profound devotion to Irish culture and the Catholic faith. Our Lady of the Irish Madonna of Hungary, pray for the soul of Tom.

Saint Patrick, Patron of Ireland, pray for us!

Let us all pray earnestly, through the intercession of Mary, for a speedy ending to the coronavirus pandemic.

Thomas L. Mulcahy

Reference: For this note I am relying on pages 130-132 of Joan Carroll Cruz’s book, Miraculous Images of Our Lady (TAN), as edited. A short history of some of my Dad’s contributions to the Irish-American heritage are recorded in the book, Modern Journeys: The Irish in Detroit, published by the United Irish Societies.

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THE REAL VALUE OF OUR TEMPTATIONS

“For because [Jesus] himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18)

“[Jesus] this High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:-15-16)

An adaptation from Father Faber’s essay on the great value of our temptations…

Temptations wear us down. They gnaw at us; they irritate us. Sometimes they even overwhelm us. As Catholics, our duty is to mortify each and every evil desire or thought that comes our way. It is a life-time occupation (this mortification of the senses and the will): we will not be free from temptation to sin until we have journeyed beyond this present life and are “safely home” in the “bosom of the Father.” It is wonderful to reflect on the fact that in Heaven there will be no sin!  In Heaven we will be “singularly attracted” ever-more to the Infinite Goodness of our tender Father: and since God is infinite there will ever be “fresh and new motives” for loving God throughout all eternity!

Shall we not – as Father Faber says –  throw a little sunshine on our temptations? Must they always be so dreary and vexing to us? Can we not see the great good that comes to us when we resist temptation by trusting in God and resting in His grace? Do we expect victory to come to us without trials and struggles?

Temptations are, as one great spiritual writer has pointed out, the raw material of our  glory. Whenever we resist temptation, we grow in grace – and what is there in this life, as Faber asks, more important than grace? Who can explain better than Father Faber the amazing graces we receive when we resist a basic temptation. Reflect intently on the following words and you may very well begin to see your temptations in a new light – in a light which helps you to see the marvelous work God is accomplishing in your soul when you cooperate with his grace and courageously resist a temptation:

“We know well that one additional degree of sanctifying grace is of more price than all the magnificence of the universe. The objects upon which we often fasten our affections, or employ our ambition, during long years of concentrated vigilance and persevering toil, are less worthy of our endeavors and less precious in the possession, than one single particle of sanctifying grace.

Yet, let us suppose that a momentary temptation has assailed us, and we have resisted it, or that we have lifted up our hearts for an instant in faith and love to God, or that for the sake of Christ we have done some trifling unselfish thing, scarcely has the action escaped us before then and instantly the heavens have opened invisibly, and the force of Heaven, the participation of the Divine nature, the beauty, power, and marvel of sanctifying grace, has passed in viewless flight and with insensible ingress into our soul. There is not the delay of one instant. Moreover, these ingresses of grace are beyond number, and yet, if we correspond and persevere, the influence and result of each of them is simply eternal. Each additional degree of sanctifying grace represents and secures an additional degree of glory in Heaven, if only we correspond thereto, and persevere unto the end. At the moment in which we receive each additional degree of sanctifying grace our soul is clothed before God in a new and glorious beauty which a moment ago it had not got. 

The communication of sanctifying grace to the soul is itself a marvelous and mysterious disclosure of the divine magnificence and liberality.” (The Creator and the Creature, pp. 216-217)

Is all of this biblical? At James 1:2-3 we read:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

God will give us the grace to overcome temptation and to grow in grace. It is a promise he specifically made in his Word:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13 RSV).

Let us not be too downcast about our temptations. By resisting them with courage – and even cheerfulness – we are gaining (as Faber points out) many graces for ourselves, and giving glory to our Father in Heaven. What wonderful graces we gain by resisting temptation – they are, indeed, the raw material of our future glory!

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness by James Tissot, around 1886, Public Domain, U.S.A.

References: This note is primarily an adaptation of and is drawn from Chapter 16, “Temptations,” in Father Faber’s book, Growth in Holiness; and The Creator and the Creature (F.W. Faber).

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LET THE CRUCIFIX BE YOUR CHIEF SPIRITUAL BOOK!

“O for some corner, the least, the lowest, and the last in the world to come [Heaven], where we may spend an untired eternity in giving silent thanks to Jesus Crucified!” (F.W. Faber)  

“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2)

That crucifix in your home is of immense spiritual value. Father Grou, a great spiritual writer, goes as far as to say the crucifix is the “answer to everything”! Everything as in everything!

Grou says: “Let the crucifix… be our chief spiritual book. Let it be a book not only for our eyes only but for our hearts! Let us beg of Jesus to teach us how to read in it, and to reveal to us all its secrets, not only that we may contemplate them in the sweetness of prayer, but that we may practice them faithfully during the whole course of our life.”

Grou tells us that “the crucifix is the greatest proof that God…could give us of His love , and it is the strongest motive He could employ to gain our hearts in return. Every virtue is included in the crucifix, and it is the consummation of the way of perfection.”

“The crucifix is the abridgment of all that a Christian ought to practice. All the morality of the Gospel consists in bearing our cross, in renouncing ourselves, in crucifying our flesh…and in sacrificing ourselves to the will of God….” The crucifix is “the most striking and living expression of the whole teaching of the Gospel.”

Even in Heaven, says Father Grou, we will never fully comprehend “the greatness of this benefit which faith places before our eyes when we look at our crucifix.” God “could not possibly …given us a greater proof of His love.” Such a “way of salvation could only have been conceived in the heart of a God who loved us infinitely.”

Grou says: “[Let us take our part] in the sufferings and humiliations” of Jesus, asking our Savior to “plant His cross deep in [our] hearts.” Jesus on “the cross will be an answer to everything,” and we will “leave His presence with the desire to suffer more.” Grou asks: looking at the crucifix “shall we argue with God about trifles?” Shall we complain about “what virtue costs us?” Jesus crucified, says Grou, will give us the courage and strength to bear our crosses, and our weaknesses, even to the point of living out the Gospel with a greater patience and charity towards our neighbors (especially the ones who cause us the most difficulties!).

Are you looking for a profitable Lenten exercise? Pull up a chair in front of your crucifix. Look at it, study it, let the crucifix be your chief spiritual book as you converse with Jesus crucified in deep prayer, and then place it in your heart, and let it do its work of sacrificial love in all the trials and tribulations of your life.

Amen!

Thomas L. Mulcahy

Ref. This is a highly edited and condensed note from an essay by Father Grou, entitled, “On the Crucifix,” from his great work, A Manual For Interior Souls, and although in places he is sometimes talking to souls seeking perfection, it should be remembered that all baptized Christians are called to this lofty state, and I certainly consider his comments applicable to all Catholics in a state of sanctifying grace, wherever they may be on their spiritual journey. The essay itself is much longer (much more detailed) than this condensed and edited note.

P.S. A number of years ago I went out and looked for and bought a crucifix that I found particularly moving to my own sensibilities. That decision has paid many dividends for me.

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A SHORT NOTE ON THE ULTIMATE MEANING OF JANE EYRE


“You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness, but I cannot live so: and you have no pity” (Jane Eyre talking to Mrs. Reed at Gateshead)

“Eight years [at Lowood]! you must be tenacious of life.” (Mr. Rochester talking to Jane Eyre)

The most important and famous line in the novel, Jane Eyre, is, “Reader, I married him.” In her marriage to Mr. Rochester all the tensions of the novel, and all the unfulfilled desires of Jane’s heart, are resolved: Jane finds true love, equality of souls, and peace with God. The ultimate meaning of Jane Eyre is that a human being is completed, or made whole, by an authentic love rooted in moral integrity and an equality of justice. If Jane Eyre suffered immensely from being unloved and from living in isolation at the beginning of the novel (at Gateshead), she ultimately finds true love and affirmation in her marriage to Mr. Rochester at the end of the novel (after many struggles and a profound purification of Mr. Rochester’s heart). “In their marriage,” says Eric Knies in The Art of Charlotte Bronte, “all the conflicts of the novel are resolved. Jane is at peace with God and man, and especially with herself.”

The two virtues I see Jane Eyre striving after during the course of the novel are real justice and authentic love. She insists on these two things; she demands them; she will not compromise them, no matter how dear the sacrifice (even if she has to sleep on the ground and almost starve to death). At Gateshead she is precocious precisely because she is treated unfairly by the Reeds. At Lowood she is profoundly upset by unjustly being labelled a liar. At Thornfield she will not consent to be Mr. Rochester’s mistress; at Moor House she cannot accept a marriage proposal by St. John Rivers based on self-sacrifice and moral duty (but without love). Clearly, a blessed rage for justice and true love burns within the heart of Jane Eyre, and she will not compromise it!

Jane Eyre is not primarily a novel about Jane’s growth in self-knowledge (which doesn’t mean she didn’t learn a few things along the way and, to be sure, her dying school-mate, Helen Burns, teaches Jane a powerful lesson about Christian forgiveness in Chapter 6). There is a moral sturdiness to Jane Eyre from the very beginning of the novel, and she has a keen eye for the counterfeit throughout the story. Jane does not suffer from self-deceit, but from the deceit of others (such as Mr. Brocklehurst’s religious hypocrisy, Mrs. Reed’s deception about the inheritance, and Mr. Rochester’s concealment of an existing marriage). Jane will not enter into love on deceptive terms, and her moral integrity is never in doubt throughout the novel, even though there is conflict in her heart when Mr. Rochester essentailly pleads with her to stay with him after their failed wedding at Thornfield. The character in the novel who grows in self-knowledge is Mr. Rochester, who no doubt undergoes a significant conversion after the devastating fire at Thornfield, a conversion not unrelated to his prayer and penitence (“I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance, the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were but very sincere”).

In reality, Mr. Rochester underwent the most painful of purifications, losing everything, as his entire life is essentially purged in the devastating fire at Thornfield, wiped out so to speak, burned up. He emerges from this holocaust as a new man, humbled, repentant, blinded and maimed. And yet in God’s Providence, which is an underlying theme in the novel, he and Jane will be reunited, and will experience true happiness, true communion of souls.

Acknowledging Charlotte Bronte’s literary prowess and imaginative genius in weaving a story out of various strands of story-telling techniques, Jane Eyre is, nevertheless, to quote Professor Ruth A. Blackburn (who is in turn relying on Robert B. Martin’s study, The Accents of PersuasionCharlotte Bronte’s Novels)“essentially a religious novel”. Indeed, if one were assigned the task of demonstrating how Jane Eyre exemplifies the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, there would be plenty of material in the novel to successfully complete the assignment. Still, Charlotte Bronte utilized her wonderful skill at incorporating suspenseful Gothic elements into her Jane Eyre story, and relied also on her knowledge and appreciation of the Romantic movement in literature to give the story (to borrow from Milton) a sensuous, personal and passionate style. And yet, for all of this, Bronte is able to maintain the story’s realism.  As G.K. Chesterton acutely observes of Jane Eyre:

“The shortest way  of stating [Charlotte Bronte’s] strong contribution is, I think, this: that she reached the highest romance through the lowest realism. She did not set out with Amadis of Gaul in a forest or with Mr. Pickwick in a comic club. She set out with herself, with her own dingy clothes, and accidental ugliness, and flat, coarse, provincial household; and forcibly fused all such muddy materials into a spirited fairy-tale. If the first chapters on the home and school had not proved how heavy and hateful sanity can be, there would really be less point in the insanity of Mr. Rochester’s wife—or the not much milder insanity of Mrs. Rochester’s husband. She discovered the secret of hiding the sensational in the commonplace: and Jane Eyre remains the best of her books (better even than Villette) because while it is a human document written in blood, it is also one of the best blood-and-thunder detective stories in the world” (The Victorian Age in Literature (1913).

For all its utilization of Gothic literary techniques and Romanticism, Jane Eyre is essentially the story of a quest for authentic, life-affirming human love, and this is realized especially through prayer, perseverance and Providence, and a keen sense of the counterfeit. As Professor Blackburn observes, “Knies agrees…that the theme of Jane Eyre is the search for love; but he makes clear that it must be the right kind of love, based on ‘moral and individual integrity’, each partner retaining ‘his uniqueness as an individual,’ which ‘in turn requires a firm religious orientation’.”

It would be useless to argue that Jane Eyre is not a religious novel, because at major key points in the novel faith, hope and reliance upon God’s Providential care play a key role in the telling of Jane’s story, whether it is Helen Burns teaching Jane about Christian forgiveness or Mr. Rochester attesting to his personal redemption. Here, briefly, in proof thereof, are some of the main examples of the profound religious dimension of Jane Eyre’s life by way of direct quotes from the mouth of Jane Eyre:

“I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it, and framed an humbler supplication; for change, stimulus; that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space: ‘Then,’ I cried, half desperate, ‘grant me at least a new servitude’!” (Chapter 10).
“Love me, then, or hate me, as you will,” I said at last, “you have my full and free forgiveness: ask now for God’s, and be at peace.” (Chapter 21)
“One idea only still throbbed life-like within me – a remembrance of God: it begot a muttered prayer…’Be not far from me, for trouble is near: there is none to help’.” (Chapter 26)
“Trust in God…Believe in Heaven…We were born to strive and endure.” (Chapter 27)
“I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?” (Chapter 27)
“God must have led me on…I was weeping wildly as I walked along my solitary way…a weakness seized me and I fell: I lay on the ground some minutes, pressing my face to the wet turf. I had some fear – or hope – that here I should die: but I was soon up: crawling forward on my hands and knees, and then again raised to my feet – as eager and as determined as ever to reach the road” (Chapter 27).
“I felt the might and strength of God. Sure was I of His efficiency to save what He had made: convinced I grew that neither earth should perish, nor one of the souls it treasured. I turned my prayer to thanksgiving: the Source of Life was also the Saviour of spirits. Mr. Rochester was safe; he was God’s, and by God would he be guarded. I again nestled to the breast of the hill; and ere long in sleep forgot sorrow.” (Chapter 28)
“Oh, Providence! sustain me a little longer! Aid – direct me!” (Chapter 28)
“I can but die,” I said, “and I believe in God. Let me try to wait His will in silence”…I thanked God – experienced amidst unutterable exhaustion a glow of grateful joy – and slept.” (Chapter 28)
“I adhered to principle and law, and scorned and crushed the insane promptings of a frenzied moment. God directed me to a correct choice: I thank His providence for the guidance!” (Chapter 31)
“When his first born was put into his arms, he could see that the boy had inherited his own eyes….On that occasion, he again, with a full heart, acknowledged that God had tempered judgment with mercy.” (Chapter 37)

I pray that I might have as much faith in God’s providential help as Jane Eyre during my times of trial and tribulation! Moreover, the claim sometimes made that Jane Eyre is hostile to religion, especially by the manner in which it portrays ministers in the story, is specifically rebutted by Charlotte Bronte in her “Preface to the Second Edition” of Jane Eyre, a preface which also clearly attests to Charlotte Bronte’s strong personal faith.

Jane Eyre’s faith is intensely personal, subjective in nature (characteristic of the Romantic movement), and this subjectivity is seen too in Helen Burns who appears to hold to an overly idealistic view of salvation, touching upon the idea of universal redemption in stark contrast to the fire and brimstone preaching of Mr. Brocklehurst (see Chapter 6 where Helen says, “I hold another creed…for it extends hope to all: it makes Eternity a rest…not a terror and abyss.”). This is the biggest theological difficulty presented in the novel (along with the concern about syncretism in certain places within the novel), but fortunately it does not compromise the strong moral thrust of the story (see postscript note below).

At the end of Jane Eyre, Jane glories in the joy and happiness of being loved, and of giving and receiving love. She says:

“I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest – blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together. To be together is for us to be at once free as in solitude, as gay as in company. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but more animated and an audible thinking. All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character – perfect concord is the result.” (Chapter 38)

Finally, by an equality of justice (as I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this note), or perhaps I should call it an equality of love, I am referring to Jane’s social commentary in Chapter 12, where she says:

“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”(Chapter 12)

It was this equality of souls that endeared Jane to Mr. Rochester, and helped her to fall in love with him. As she said in Chapter 23, when she thought Mr. Rochester was going to marry Blanche Ingram, necessitating Jane to leave Thornfield:

“I grieve to leave Thornfield: I love Thornfield – I love it, because I have lived in it a full and delightful life, -momentarily at least. I have not been trampled on. I have not been petrified. I have not been buried with inferior minds, and excluded from every glimpse of communion with what is bright and energetic, and high. I have talked, face to face, with what I reverence; with what I delight in, -with an original, a vigorous, an expanded mind. I have known you, Mr. Rochester; and it strikes me with terror and anguish to feel I absolutely must be torn from you for ever. I see the necessity of departure; and it is like looking on the necessity of death.”

Of course, however important this equality of love (or equality of souls) is –  it is, nevertheless, not sufficient, in and of itself, to secure a happy marriage for Jane Eyre. It is not until Mr. Rochester’s profound conversion and turning towards God that all the difficulties in the novel are resolved paving the way for the novel’s joyful ending!

CONCLUSION:

Jane Eyre’s incredible journey in search of authentic, life-affirming love, a journey which took her from Gateshead, to Lowood, to Thornfield, to Moor House, and ultimately to Ferndean, is not so much a geographical journey but a journey of the heart. But it is ultimately a journey sustained by faith and trust in God!

It is a journey sustained by Jane’s quest for justice; it is a journey sustained by Jane’s tenacity for life; it is  a journey sustained by Jane’s quest to be loved; but ultimately it is a journey sustained by Jane’s faith in God and in His providential care for her life, a faith sustained even in the midst of tremendous sufferings and heroically endured privations. In this regard, who can ever forget Jane’s advice to Mr. Rochester in Chapter 27 as some of the best advice anyone could ever be given:

         “Trust in God…Believe in Heaven…We were born to strive and endure.”

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: I looked at a bunch of internet notes on Jane Eyre in preparation for this post (which were helpful), but in my particular case what was most helpful was an old study guide by Professor Ruth A. Blackburn, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and, more precisely, the note therein entitled, “Survey of Criticism,” pertaining to the novel. The influence of Gothic and Romantic literary styles in Jane Eyre is touched upon in many commentaries. The commentators agree that the burning down of Thornfield is symbolic of Mr. Rochester’s personal purification.

Theological Problems in Jane Eyre: Theologically speaking, I am personally able to separate the good from the bad in Jane Eyre, and it seems to me that the novel ends on a strong Christian note (the fleeing from sin, trust in God, the redemption of Mr. Rochester, the praise of God’s mercy and the value of a God-centered marriage). In short, Jane Eyre gives a boost to my faith although I am not unaware that there are theological difficulties present in the novel such as universalism, syncretism and excessive subjectivity of faith not adequately linked to the community and the Church.

The main difficulty in Jane Eyre is not its criticism of clergymen but the “blurring” or “merging” of Christian spirituality with other forms of spirituality that opens Charlotte Bronte to the charge of syncretism, although I suspect that she would be able to mount a defense to this charge.

The difficulty with universalism in Jane Eyre is mentioned in a number of internet articles (Google: Charlotte Bronte and universalism). The difficulty (and examples thereof) of syncretism in Jane Eyre is also discussed in a number of internet articles (Google: Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, syncretism, and the merging of spiritualities in Jane Eyre).

I will always remember Jane Eyre as the woman who said to Mr. Rochester, “I advise you to live sinless,” and to God as she walked through the valley of the shadow of death (I paraphrase), “Lead me on.” It would be hard to get better advice than that!

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