Spiritual Reading for the Fifth Friday in Lent ~ St Alphonsus Liguori

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Spiritual Reading


Holy Scripture teaches us that good morals, like Faith, are propagated and cultivated by preaching. Jesus Christ has declared that to save men His Passion alone was not sufficient, but that preaching was also necessary in order that men might do penance for their sins and amend their lives: And thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead on the third day: and that penance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all nations. (Luke xxiv. 46). For this reason, therefore, He commanded His disciples to go out into the whole world, to teach not only the Mysteries all men should believe, but also the Commandments that they should keep: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. (Mark xvi. 15). Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. (Matt. xxviii. 20). In obedience to this command the Apostles preached, and their preaching produced fruit in the entire world, as is testified by St. Paul: In the word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you, as also it is in the whole world, and bringeth forth fruit and groweth, even as it doth in you, since the day you heard it. (Col. i. 5). And this came to pass because the Lord co-operated in making successful their zeal: And they going forth preached everywhere, the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed. (Mark xvi. 20).

The Lord declares that as the rain renders the earth fruitful and makes it produce wheat, in the same way the word of God does not remain sterile; it produces in souls fruits of good works: And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and return no more thither, but soak the earth, and water it, and make it to spring, and give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater; so shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void; but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it. (Is. lv. 10,11). St. Paul adds that the word of God is so efficacious that it penetrates the hearts more than a two-edged sword: For the word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two-edged sword; and reaching into the divisions of the soul and the spirit. (Heb. iv. 12). By the word anima–soul–we understand the inferior part of man, which is called animal; and by the word spiritus–spirit–we understand the superior part, which is called spiritual. Hence the word of God prevents the superior part from uniting with the inferior part, as happens among the wicked in whom the inferior drags down the superior part; so that holy preaching, or rather, the grace that comes by preaching, separates the inferior part from the superior, and prevents the superior part from being dragged down, and thus directs all the actions and all the desires of men.

St. Paul, moreover, writes: It pleased God by the foolishness of our preaching to save them that believe. (1 Cor. i. 21). He says, By the foolishness of preaching: this is because the Mystery of the Redemption, which the Apostles preached, was regarded as foolishness by the Gentiles, just as we read in the same chapter of St. Paul: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling-block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness. (1 Cor. i. 23). The Apostle then declares that it is by means of the preaching of such folly that the Lord has wished to save believers. Now, in order to save men, they must be led not only to believe the Truths of Faith, but also to do what Faith teaches; for Faith alone without works cannot save any one. Hence the Apostle assures us, in another text already cited, that the Faith of Jesus Christ produced fruits of good works in the whole world: It is in the whole world, and bringeth forth fruit. (Col. i. 6).

Origen also attests that in his time in all parts of the world those that had abandoned their divinities as well as the laws of their country, and consequently their wicked morals, in order to follow the law of Jesus, were innumerable. Hence the Apostles, as the fruit of their preaching, had the consolation of seeing the Gentiles not only despise and trample under foot their gods, but also extirpate the vices which were inveterate for so many centuries, abhor earthly pleasures, renounce the riches and the honours of the world, in order to embrace sufferings, opprobrium, poverty, persecution, exile, tortures, and death.

And in after years, as we know from ecclesiastical history, holy labourers were sent by the Sovereign Pontiff and by other bishops to preach the Gospel in various kingdoms. In the fourth century St. Ireneus was sent to France. In the fifth, St. Palladius was sent to Scotland, and St. Patrick to Ireland. In the sixth, St. Gregory sent St. Augustine to England. In the seventh, St. Eligius was sent to Flanders, St. Kilian to Franconia, Ss. Swidbert and Willibrord to Holland. In the eighth century, Gregory the Second sent St. Boniface to Germany, St. Wulfran to Friesland, and St. Hubert to Brabant. In the ninth, St. Ascanius was sent to Denmark and Sweden, and St. Methodius to Bohemia, Moravia, and Bulgaria. In the tenth, St. Maynard was sent to Livonia, and St. Ottone to Pomerania. In the thirteenth century, the Pope sent Dominicans and Franciscans to Greece, Armenia, Ethiopia, Tartary, and Norway.

Finally, we know that in later times immense numbers have been converted from paganism in the East Indies and Japan by St. Francis Xavier, and in the West Indies by St. Louis Bertrand. I abstain from mentioning the many provinces of infidels and heretics which were converted by missionaries.

To prove the necessity and utility of holy preaching, it suffices to recall to mind what the Apostle says: How then, shall they call on him in whom they have believed? Or how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard! Or how shall they hear without a preacher? (Rom. x. 14).

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