PART 4 - The Unitive Way of the Perfect
Ch 47: The love of Jesus Crucified
and of Mary in the Unitive Way
"In the world you shall have distress; but have confidence, I have overcome the world." John 16: 33
The quietists held that the sacred humanity of our Savior was a means useful only at the beginning of the spiritual life.(1) St. Teresa, on the contrary, insists particularly that we should not of our own initiative leave off in prayer the consideration of our Savior's humanity, for it is the way which leads souls to His divinity.(2) In discussing the state of souls that are in the sixth mansion, the saint writes:
St. Catherine of Siena, who drank several times from the sacred wound in the heart of Jesus, teaches the same doctrine in her Dialogue.(4) She speaks repeatedly of the value of our Savior's blood.
All the saints have repeated St. Paul's words: "For to me, to live is Christ: and to die is gain. . . . Having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ." (5) As the profession of arms, says St. Thomas,(6) is the life of the soldier, as study is that of the scholar, so Christ was their life, the continual object of their love and the source of their energy. St. Paul likewise delighted in saying to the Corinthians: "For both the Jews require signs, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumblingblock, and unto the Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." (7) "For I judged not myself to know anything among you, but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." (8) The great Apostle repeats this thought to the Ephesians with incomparable splendor: "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and of revelation, in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what the hope is of His calling, and what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. And what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us, who believe according to the operation of the might of His power, which He wrought in Christ, raising Him up from the dead." (9) "That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts that, being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth: to know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God." (10)
All the saints have lived until the end of their lives by the contemplation of the Passion, particularly those who were more configured to Jesus crucified, like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, and more recently St. Paul of the Cross, and St. Benedict Joseph Labre.
In the unitive way are manifested increasingly the immense spiritual riches of our Savior's holy soul, of His intellect, His will, His sensibility. More and more there appears His innate, substantial, uncreated sanctity, constituted by the very person of the Word who possesses intimately and forever His soul and body which suffered for us. One sees with increasing clearness the value of the plenitude of grace, light, and charity that sprang from the Word in the holy soul of Jesus. This plenitude was the source of the loftiest peace, of perfect beatitude even here on earth, and, at the same time, the source of the intensity of the sufferings of Christ, Priest and Victim, since these sufferings at the sight of men's sins, which He had taken on Himself, had the same depth as His love for His offended Father and for our souls in need of redemption(11)
In the unitive way the soul becomes increasingly conscious of the great victory won by Christ during His passion and on the cross: the victory over sin and the devil, manifested three days later by that over death.(12)
The value of this victory over sin derived, as the soul comprehends more and more, from the act of theandric love, which drew from the divine person of the Word an intrinsically infinite worth to satisfy for our sins and to merit eternal life for us. This act of love of our Savior's holy soul "gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race." (13) It proceeded from the very person of the Son who is equal to the Father, and was worth more than all the merits of men and angels in their totality. Superabundant in value, it was equal and even superior to the recompense merited, that is, to the eternal life of all the elect redeemed by the sacrifice of the cross.
Truly Christ could say: "Have confidence, I have overcome the world." (14) During periods of calamity and persecution, what a consolation to think that Christ crucified has already won the definitive victory, and that we have only to give ourselves to Him so that He may make us benefit by it!
There are still struggles on earth, but the victory is already won by Christ, the Head of the mystical body, of which we are the members. In the unitive way, devotion to our Savior's passion becomes increasingly devotion to the glorious Christ, by His cross the Conqueror of sin and the demon. The hymns of Holy Week sing of this victory:
Then the soul understands better and better what St. Thomas says, speaking of the love of God for Christ and for us: "God loves more the better things, for it has been shown that God's loving one thing more than another is nothing else than His willing for that thing greater good. God's will is the cause of goodness in things; and for this reason some things are better than others, because God wills for them greater good. . . . God loves Christ not only more than He loves the whole human race, but more than He loves the entire created universe. He willed for Him the greater good in giving Him 'a Name that is above all names,' in so far as He Was true God. Nor did anything of His excellence diminish when God delivered Him up to death for the salvation of the human race; rather did He become thereby a glorious conqueror [over sin, the devil, and death]. For, as Isaias (9:6) says: 'The government was placed upon His shoulder.' " (15)
The text just quoted throws light on why God permitted the sin of the first man and its results. St. Thomas says: "God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom; hence it is written (Rom. 5: 20): 'Where sin abounded, grace did more abound.' Hence, too, in the blessing of the paschal candle, we say: 'O happy fault, that merited such and so great a Redeemer!'" (16) Christ's death on the cross, which is at the same time His victory, is the most glorious manifestation of the mercy and power of God. "For God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son," says St. John,(17) This truth appears more and more to the contemplative soul and daily shows the soul more clearly the infinite value of the Sacrifice of the Mass, which perpetuates in substance that of the cross and applies its fruits to us.
In the unitive way, there is a profound influence, secret touches of Mary, Mediatrix of all graces, given to lead us to ever greater intimacy with our Lord. The soul that follows this way thereby enters increasingly into the mystery of the communion of saints and shares in the loftiest sentiments of the Mother of God at the foot of the cross, after the death of our Lord, on Pentecost, and still later in her prayers for the diffusion of the Gospel by the apostles, by which she obtained for them the great graces of light, love, and fortitude which they needed to carry the name of Jesus to the extremities of the then known world. Mary thus exercised the loftiest apostolate through prayer and immolation, which rendered inexpressibly fruitful the apostolate by teaching and preaching. The summits of the life of the Church, the mystical body of Jesus, are today no less under the influence of Mary Mediatrix, whose action is more universal and more radiant since her assumption into heaven.(18)
That it may penetrate the mystery of Christ, that of His passion, the contemplative soul should beg Mary to introduce it more profoundly into this mystery, as the Franciscan Jacopone da Todi (1228-1306) does in the Stabat Mater. This hymn is only one of a number of liturgical prayers asking for this grace.
This sequence demonstrates in a singularly striking manner how much the supernatural contemplation of the mystery of Christ is in the normal way of sanctity. In precise, ardent, and splendid images, it expresses the wound in our Savior's heart and shows us how intimate and penetrating is Mary's influence to lead us to it. And not only does the Blessed Virgin lead us to this divine intimacy, but, in a sense, she establishes it in us as the admirable repetition of the word Fac, the expression of ardent prayer, makes clear:
This hymn is the prayer of the soul desirous of knowing spiritually, in its turn, the wound of love and of being associated with these sorrowful mysteries through reparatory adoration, as St. John and St. Mary Magdalen were in the company of Mary on Calvary, and as St. Peter also was when he shed abundant tears.
The soul would wish always to shed these tears of contrition and adoration for, in a work attributed to St. Augustine, we read "that the more one suffers from offense offered to God, the more one rejoices in experiencing this holy sorrow." (19) The Stabat Mater expresses these sentiments in the following beautiful strophe:
We should not fail to profit by these fountains of life, but should slake our thirst at them. From the adorable wounds of our Savior gushes forth the life that we should drink abundantly. May the Lord, during the Sacrifice of the Mass and at Communion, lift us up to the fountain of His Sacred Heart! Such is the petition of a beautiful German prayer in a form accessible to all the faithful:
"I thank Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, for having died for me. Let not Thy blood and Thy anguish be lost on me."
In a more intimate and ardent manner St. Nicholas of Flue, called by the Swiss the Father of their country, expresses the same thought: "My Lord and my God, take from me everything that hinders me from going to Thee! My Lord and my God, give me everything that will lead me to Thee! My Lord and my God, take me from myself and give me completely to Thyself!"
Of a surety, this contemplation of our Savior's infinite merits is in the normal way of sanctity; without it there can be no true love of the cross, which is nothing else than an ardent love of Jesus crucified. It is the royal road to heaven, and in it there is already something like a beginning of eternal life, quaedam inchoatio vitae aeternae.(20)
A greatly tried soul wrote as follows: "Our Savior's divine words have often sustained me: 'In the world you shall have distress; but have confidence, I have overcome the world.' His final triumph, that triumph which casts so consoling a light on the things of earth, is an immense joy to me. When, worn out, I lift my eyes to our good Master, sighing: 'Lord, I need joy,' I see His triumph, His victory at the end of time, and this ray from on high illumines the darkest nights and restores peace to my soul in spite of all disasters. It is as if from the shore one watched the torrents passing by. Things go so badly on earth. The foundations of the universe tremble, but He is immutable, immutably good."
Following our Lord in this way, man does not walk in darkness,
but receives in ever greater abundance the light of life.(21)
1. Cf. Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 1155.
2. The Interior Castle, second mansion, chap. I; sixth mansion, chap. 7. Life, chap. 22.
3. The Interior Castle, sixth mansion, chap. 7.
4. The Dialogue, chaps. 21, 26, 59, 75, 76. Christ is compared to a
5. Phil. 1:21,23.
6. In Ep. ad Philipp., 1:21.
7. Cf. I Cor. 1:22-24.
8. Ibid., 2:2.
9. Eph. I:17-20.
10. Eph. 3: 17-19.
11. We developed this point at length in
The Love of God and the Cross
12. Cf. Dom A. Vonier's beautiful book, The Victory of Christ (Burns,
13. St. Thomas, IIIa, Q.48, a.2.
14. John 16:33. Likewise we read in I John 5:4: "This is the victory which overcometh the world, our faith." And in Hebrews 11: 1: "Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for"; our faith is victorious over the spirit of the world, because it makes us scorn those things that would separate us from God.
15. Summa, Ia, q.20, a.4, c. and ad Ium.
16. Ibid., IIa, q. I, a.3 ad 3um.
17. John 3:16.
18. In the original, this paragraph appears as an addendum, referring to this chapter. Cf. also Note, p. 570.
19. Liber de vera et falsa poenitentia, chap. 13: "Semper doleat poenitens, et de dolore gaudeat." Cf. St. Thomas, IIIa, suppl., q.4. a.2: "Whether it is expedient to grieve for sin continually."
20. Cf. St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q.69, a.2; IIa IIae, q.24, a.3 ad
2um; De veritate,
21. Father Mary John Joseph Lataste, O.P., founder of the OEuvre des Rehabilitees de Bethanie, without knowing the prayer of St. Nicholas of Flue, which we have just quoted, composed the following very similar prayer: "O my Jesus, how I love Thee! Give Thyself to me and give me to Thyself! Identify me with Thyself; may my will be Thine! Incorporate me in Thee, that I may live only in Thee and for Thee! May I spend for Thee all that I have received from Thee, keeping nothing for myself! May I die to everything for Thee! Grant that I may win souls for Thee! Souls, O my Jesus, souls."