Lourdes Interpreted by the Salve Regina Part 20.

Meditations given by the Rev, Bede Jarrett, O.P., during the Novena preached in the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in preparation for the celebration of the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the Apparitions at Lourdes, February 2nd - February 10th, 1933

VII. Turn Then Thine Eyes of Mercy Towards Us! 

MERCY, in its absolute sense, is the prerogative of God, but mercy in some sense or other is the prerogative of all those that love God. To love God is to be merciful. Moreover mercy is not only God’s prerogative, but the way, the net, by which human souls are caught by God — by which He captures them and holds them and draws them to Himself. Mercy is God’s answer to the sinfulness of man. We, as human beings, are sinners, all of us. We shall always be sinners. We shall be sinners to the end. The saints were sinners who knew that they were sinners. A saint is not someone who is free from sin. There was only one of ransomed humanity that was free from sin. The saints, howsoever glorious, went to confession and made their acts of contrition. Indeed, the greater the saint, the more was he conscious of whatever was wrong in his life. To love God is to recognize sin more carefully and to measure it more accurately. We may sometimes be discouraged when we think of our own failings and shortcomings, at least the dreadful repetition of them. But we shall never be so discontented with ourselves as were the saints. We shall never reach their pitch of discontent, because we are not saints.

To hear people talk you would imagine that they were discouraged because they knew themselves to be sinners. But is not that foolish ? They say, or at least imply, "I should feel more courage if I thought that I had been better.” Can you imagine anything so foolish, indeed, blasphemous, as that? We can not really suppose that the saints imagined themselves to be holy. They were saints. They never thought that at all. A saint is someone who is dreadfully conscious of his own shortcomings. That is all he knows; he is not aware of the goodness of his life. He is a saint. If we ever do get better, grow in holiness, we shall never realize it. All we shall know, (the only effect of goodness, that is) will be our own sinfulness: the holier we are the worse must we think ourselves.

Our Lady knew what sin meant far better than we because she loved God more. The better you are at anything, the more you realize any mistakes you make in it. The greater the musician, the more he knows how far short he falls from what he should do. We, perhaps, in proportion to the littleness of our knowledge, say of a thing, "But that is magnificent!” If we only knew more, we should realize how far it was from being magnificent. The greater the artist, the more discontented he is with his artistry. The better you are at any business in life, the more you realize how much better you should be, could be, or at least, how far short you fall from the ideal. And so, too, with goodness. If we really loved God, we should realize the wickedness of sin. We would realize not just the wickedness of sin, in general, but the wickedness of our own sin. To grow in holiness would be to grow in disesteem of self. There is no courage to be got from any impression I may have that I am getting better; or if I did have courage on that account, it would be vanity, no true basis of courage at all.

What then is the basis of courage? The infinite mercy of God. That is God’s answer to our failure. We are sinners, and God forgives us. That is God’s answer to sin. God’s answer is mercy, not excuse. To forgive a person is to recognize that what he has done is wrong. You do not forgive people who have done nothing against you; they would not be asking your forgiveness. You only forgive those that have done things against you. God forgives, but He does not excuse, mankind. When Our Lord walked the earth, no one could have been so compassionate and tender as He was, but He never excused anybody from their wrong doing. To excuse is foolishness; that is the folly of our modern doctors of error who say under the impression they are being helpful: "Oh, well, I knew you did not mean it.” Is not that foolish ? Of course you meant it. There is no comfort to be got out of a lie. If we had not meant it, of course it would not have been wrong; but we did wrong and our own conscience is troubled with remorse. We know we did mean it. Now God never excuses man. He forgives man, which is a better thing for us. God cannot pander to our vanity: God is truth. God sees our folly and crime much more clearly than we ever can. God knows we are far worse than we ever could think of ourselves to be. No excuse can He make for us. Forgiveness is His way of dealing with man, the sinner. You know that He taught this to us. He said we must never return evil for evil, railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing. We must do good to those that do ill to us. God never preaches what He does not practice. God deals kindly with those that have gone wrong. God, when we are in sin, God will still bear with us tenderly. He has charge of us and keeps us in life. God is merciful because He cannot help being merciful. He is that by the very force of His nature, its goodness, infinite goodness. Just is He, but merciful as well.

God’s answer, then, to our sin is forgiveness; but He does ask of us on our side, sorrow, real sorrow. Now this is not a matter of emotion but of fixity of will. God asks sorrow. He does not ask that we should feel sorrow as an emotion, that we should be touched by our memory of the things wherein we have done wrong. God asks instead a good will from us. Fear, too, He asks — not that fear of God that keeps us away from Him, but the fear of God that drives us to Him. Reverence, respect, humility, that sort of fear; the fear that makes us conscious of our own wretchedness and also gives us the desire to go to Him for support. Not merely should we be conscious of failure; not merely know ourselves to be sinners —that need not be sorrow; it may be just hurt vanity. Not just, "I am sorry.” "Why?” "Oh, well, I thought I was better, and I find I am not. I thought I had got over that rather humiliating series of temptations. I thought I had got out of it; that I was stronger; that I would not fall back. But I have fallen, so I am sorry.” That is not sorrow in the supernatural sense of the word. That is just hurt vanity. There is nothing fine or noble about that. That is just the reaction of hurt feelings. That is not religion. Sorrow includes fear and the going to God for help against the morrow. Sorrow implies consciousness that I am utterly wretched in my spiritual life, that, considering all He has done for me, I am a complete failure. Are you conscious of this? Very well, then, for you the only thing is to go at once to God. I am so wretched, I am so weak, I am so feeble, that I am driven back on God. The Magdalene did not forget her sin; she knew how dreadful had been her life. She saw the selfishness of it, the passion of it. She saw how she had squandered the rich endowment of affection that God had bestowed on her as a child. She knew all that, and she knew it so well that she knew her only comfort and consolation could be God. There was nothing else left. Man had failed her. Her own heart failed her. Nothing was left but God. It is the growing consciousness that you are being slowly driven into a corner, but knowing too that the corner is God, that beneath us are the everlasting arms.