By VERY REV. ALEXIS M. LEPICIER, O.S.M. Consultor of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation, etc.
THE Eternal Father having put His complacencies in His only-begotten Son made Man, Jesus Christ, our Loving King and Sovereign, adorned His Sacred Heart with glory and honor, so that He might bear, in His humanity, a reflection of the greatness and perfection of the Godhead. But, besides that, He also decreed for His incarnate Son glorious triumphs over all His enemies.
There is in the apocalyptic Revelations of the Seer of Patmos, in the sixth chapter, a vivid allegorical description of the fashion in which Our Lord Jesus Christ was to display His power over His enemies in the course of ages. We shall now set this down, briefly commenting on the different phases of this wonderful description.
In the first place, St. John recounts the following vision. As one of the seven seals was opened, behold there came forth a white horse, and he that sat on him had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he went forth conquering that he might conquer. (Apoc. VI, 2) Now, whom does this majestic horseman foreshadow? None else than Jesus Christ, our King who, like an emperor triumphing over a conquered city, sits astride of a white horse, by which is signified the innate and unstained purity of His life.
Worldly conquerors, for the most part, stain their conquests by wrong-doing, and their lives are seldom unspotted. Not so, however, with the King of our hearts. He displays His greatness in His immaculate and uncontaminated Humanity, and comes forth with His bow and His crown, conquering that He may conquer. The crown which shines on His head points Him out a King, and the bow proclaims Him a Warrior. Our Lord is indeed a Warrior-King. He Himself says so: "l came not to send peace, but the sword" (Matth. X, 34.)
The power of this King is limitless. With the bow of His divine word He shoots His arrows into His enemies' hearts, and they, falling on their knees at His feet like wounded men, proclaim Him their King and their be loved Lord: "Thy arrows are sharp: under Thee shall people fall, into the hearts of the King's enemies" (Ps. XLIV, 6.)
But we need not think that the warfare of this King is violent and troublesome. Jesus is said to be sitting on His white steed, that we may know Him to be the King of Peace, of that peace which is indeed acquired only by war, but which, once acquired, begets a joy which passes all understanding. (Phil. IV, 7.) Lastly, this same King comes forth conquering that He may conquer. Conquering, because He has in His passion and death, defeated and laid low the power of the enemies, and He comes forth to spread His teaching throughout the world and take possession, in His triumph, of the human race He has redeemed.
But see, now, how the enemies of this meek and immaculate King hurl themselves furiously against Him to contest His progress. This, too, is pointed out to us in a symbolical vision in the same chapter of the Apocalypse.
When the second seal was opened, St. John saw another horse come forth. This was of a red color and "to Him that sat thereon it was given that he should take peace, from the earth: and that they should kill one another, and a great sword was given to him" (Apoc. VI, 4.) What is this red horse bestridden by so horrible a rider, if not the world which, drunk with slaughter, follows, like a tiger athirst for blood, the disciples of Jesus Christ?
As a matter of fact, we see this furious horseman, the world, raging from the beginning of the Church, for three long centuries, against the peaceful children of God. We see him cast loose on them in his rage in those terrible persecutions set on foot by the Roman Emperors, persecutions in which both the pastors and people of the Church of Christ were ruthlessly decimated.
But it was not in those days only that the world persecuted the followers of the Redeemer. There has been no age, no nation in which Christian blood has not been shed, in which some disciples of Jesus Christ have not been put to death. And even now, although it uses apparently less violent methods, at least in civilized countries, notwithstanding, it carries on fierce persecutions as of old. Now, it snatches Religious from the peace of their cloisters; now, it blackens the character of the Catholic clergy in a thousand fashions; now, it plots malicious schemes against the Supreme Pontiff; now, it disables honorable citizens from public offices, solely because of their fidelity to the Church. In a word, the lovers and followers of this world wage a ceaseless and cruel war against all that are not of their side.
But in vain do they hope to find the peace and happiness for which they crave. The world, symbolized by the red horse, has indeed power to take peace from the earth, but never can it give it back. And on that score, indeed, Christ with His peace and His patience conquered the world.
And we who follow this King of love and peace, who have Him for our Guide and our Leader, we too must conquer the world by patience, suffering its persecutions without despairing, always trusting in the words of our glorious Captain: "Have confidence: I have overcome the world" (John XVI, 33.) So, we shall triumph through patience; as St. Luke says: "ln your patience you shall possess your souls" (Luke XXI, 19.)
But glorious as are the victories of the Sacred Heart of Jesus over the world, not less wonderful are those which He wins over the devil. This we may gather from the following passage in the previously mentioned vision of the Seer of Patmos.
When the red -horse had disappeared and the third seal had been opened, St. John saw advancing against our King, Jesus Christ, seated on His white horse, another formidable enemy. This was a black horse, and he that sat on him had a pair of scales in his hand and gave a little wheat and a little barley for a penny. (Apoc. VI, 5, 6.)
In this new symbol is typified heresy, that terrible enemy to Christ and His Gospel. This black horse is ridden by the devil, who lures the faithful from the sweet and whole some pastures of the revealed truth and gives them nothing but a little wheat—that is, a little truth, mingled with the barley of error.
Now, he who rides this horse, that is, the devil of heresy and error, goes to work by making use of an evil press, that is, bad newspapers, to corrupt the faith of Christians. This reading he gives for a grazing-ground to their vanity and curiosity. Unfortunately, many beguiled by misleading words and attracted by fastuous knowledge, are caught by the foe of Jesus Christ and made miserable victims of Satan. Immoral books, irreligious newspapers, these are the snare of souls, and who can number their victims? Through these, earth is covered with the shadow of death and the dark abyss is the richer for an immense spoil.
But the most sweet Heart of our King, Jesus Christ, shines in the world and with its effulgent rays scatters this unclean mist which clouds it over. As a living fountain of light, our sweet Saviour illumines the minds of His faithful people, showing them the way of error in order that they may never depart from the path of truth and justice. His doctrine alone can conquer and put to flight the glooms of falsehood more dense, and thick and more fatal, than the darkness of Egypt.
We must clothe ourselves with the armor of Jesus Christ, and then with the sword of truth fight against deceit and error. But, especially, let us guard against the least sip of that subtle chalice which the cunning devil of heresy offers us. Far from us be those bad books in which the doctrine of the Church is either openly attacked or furtively travestied. Far from us be those evil publications, which like infamous enchantresses, or rather like the sirens with their deceptive songs, would change us from men into beasts. When we crave for life we shall come to Thee, O Lord; and in the sustaining bread which Thy Church, mistress of truth, will give to us, we shall be satisfied like good children with the milk of their mother.
A third enemy, still more furious and formidable than the world or the devil of error, was seen by St. John to come forward against our King, Jesus Christ, under the shape of a pale and fleshless horse: "and he that sat upon him, his name was Death. And hell followed him. And power was given to him over the four parts of the earth, to kill with the sword, with famine and with death and with the beasts of the earth." (Apoc. VI, 8.
Oh, what a monstrous enemy this is! To the two foes who came forth first, only a single power was given, but this one is given a manifold power. He can slay by the sword and by famine; and beyond that, he can glut wild beasts with his conquered foes.
Who is this evil and powerful adversary? Let us interrogate Divine Wisdom and we shall learn that it is the lust of the flesh. For the greater number of lost souls are plunged into eternal torments precisely by the lust of the flesh. This foe is more terrible than any other. It is entrenched not without but within us, in the innermost recesses of our personality. Its nets are spread everywhere, so that there is no solitude however profound where it does not reach, no sanctity however exalted, which it does not besiege and combat. Alas, it has shaken down the greatest pillars of the firmament. The fall of David and that of Solomon should make each one of us tremble for himself.
It is noteworthy that the Apocalypse says that this horse was pallid and had death on its back and was followed by hell. Indeed, lust shatters the joys of the soul and destroys the health of the body as well. Look at that young man with pale face, with languid and drooping eyes. The poor wretch is a victim of lust. Look at that miserable old man whose white hair, so far from being a crown of glory is an emblem of shame; look at him—without prudence, without judgment, the miserable victim of vice. With reason is this enemy said to be pale and worn out; though in the beginning he appears rosy and attractive.
But, not only are sadness of heart and maladies of the body the inseparable companions of the vice of impurity, but also death. Temporal death, and that a dishonourable one; and, what is far worse, the eternal death of the soul. And finally hell; the abyss in which there is nothing but weeping and mourning and gnashing of teeth.
To this terrible enemy power was given over all the earth. The effects of this power are bound up in the curse launched against the serpent of old: "Upon thy breast shalt thou go." (Gen. III, 14.) And who shall say how terrible are the means this enemy uses to destroy souls? For he strikes and slays with the sword, with hunger and death and the beasts of the earth. Our Lord alone, that invincible Captain, can conquer so tremendous a foe. He, in fact, has gone before us in the fight and gives us the arms we need. Do you see that Heart pierced by thorns and surmounted by the cross? Be hold the sacred emblem which assures us of victory. Let the thorns and the cross of mortification be our armor and our shield, and the victory is assured.
Our King, Jesus Christ, the new Champion of justice, armed with the word of truth which St. Paul calls the "sword of the Spirit" (Eph. VI, 17.) went forth decked with inimitable beauty to wage war on the world, the flesh and the devil, in order to free His beloved Spouse from these foes. When His conquest was happily complete, He ascended His throne, governing His people with truth, meekness and justice, which are, as it were, the sum total of the Gospel and the virtues most opposed to the false rule of Satan. And this warfare, waged by the right hand of Jesus Christ, without need of any other help, ends in unheard-of triumphs. The hearts of His enemies, pierced as though by invincible arrows, by the efficacy of His word, are by Him reduced to humble subjection and adore Him prostrate at His feet. (Ps. XLIV, 3-5.) Oh. how powerful are the victories of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ, the Son of God!