Monday, 14 November 2016

Devotion to The Sacred Heart, Its Theology, History and Philosophy part 69.

However, no man can be too much on his guard in this lenient interpretation, no matter how plausible it may appear. It must be borne in mind that the document is dubious. Though there might be a sufficient evidence to justify its acceptation, still, there is nothing absolutely certain in connection with it. The wording and the revelation are alike doubtful. Therefore, we must not place any more trust in it than the circumstances warrant It ought to be advocated only as an encouragement to make the Nine Fridays and thus to make use of all possible means calculated to render salvation secure. One should never speak of it as an absolute assurance. On the contrary it is imperative to accentuate the words of Blessed Margaret Mary found in one of the letters to Father Croiset (September 15, 1689), vis., that the Sacred Heart will be our assured refuge at the moment of death, but, in order to be found worthy of such an exceptional blessing, we must have lived in conformity with His holy maxims. As to the second reward, viz., the Sacraments, it is admitted on all sides that they are of secondary consideration, in case the first reward, i. e., the grace of final repentance, has already been granted. If during the period intervening between the completion of the Nine Fridays and the hour of death one should fall from the grace of God, the grace of final repentance would unquestionably suffice to make his salvation sure. Therefore, we cannot in justice expect such supererogatory benefits from God as the reception of the Sacraments would be, in case the grace of final repentance had already been bestowed. If, however, the circumstances be such as to necessitate the actual reception of the Sacrament of penance as the only means by which one could be restored to the grace of God, then the text of the Great Promise would seem to authorize us humbly to expect its reception. Whether this sacrament is conferred actually, when within reach, or passively, by ardent desire, when out of reach, in the final analysis the result is practically the same, viz., justification. The sentiments of fervor and divine charity arising within the sinful soul, combined with the desire of an actual reception of this Sacrament, will suffice in the sight of God to make us worthy of our glorious destiny. The same is to be said concerning the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. The assurance given as to its reception amounts to only as much as our spiritual condition in our last struggle will require in order to attain the end for which we are created. We need not concern ourselves about the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, since it does not directly affect our salvation at the moment under consideration.

The same care which we pointed out in connection with the first reward is to be exercised when we preach on the second, viz,, the Sacraments. The revelation contained in the Great Promise is far from being a certainty. The tendency to misinterpret it and the danger of magnifying its efficacy and thereby becoming too hopeful of salvation, are manifest to all. To give utterance to statements that convey the idea of an unquestioned reception of the Sacraments of the dying, whether actually or passively, is not justified by the knowledge we thus far possess of the Twelfth Promise.

From the contents of the Great Promise it is clear that this revelation was made to give mankind only an additional help of salvation, but not to supersede the existing Christian economy. There is no warrant for the opinion of those who invest the received rewards with efficacy so far-reaching as to merit the Beatific Vision immediately after death. They cannot prove this supposition of a maximum reward which would dispense one from the necessity of undergoing even a temporary purification in Purgatory. Such a belief is unduly exaggerated. The opinion of a minimum retribution would be far more warrantable, in our estimation. The reward will be adapted to our spiritual condition and needs at the moment of death, but it will be sufficient to secure our salvation. The possibility of a temporary suffering to which we might have to submit after death should not be excluded. The text of the Great Promise does not warrant the assurance of a recompense so superabundant as one would have to assume in order to justify the belief mentioned.

Notwithstanding the fact that Father Vermeersch is an advocate of the third mode of interpretation, he does not believe that the Great Promise should be preached in that sense. It is not to be represented, he says, as a piece of money which is calculated to purchase for us eternal salvation. 13 Furthermore, he admonishes all preachers to weigh their statements with care on account of the delicacy of the question, lest the hearers undervalue the merit of the effort to be made by all in working out the end for which we are created. Therefore, they are to avoid such expressions as the following: In order to save your soul, in order to obtain an infinite happiness, our Lord asks you for only one hour for nine months.  Again, he does not approve of preaching this promise by itself, but rather conjointly with the one of which it is the outgrowth, viz., the reparatory first Friday Communions.

Comparing these latter statements with those that precede them, we fear that many a theologian would reproach Father Vermeersch with inconsistency. If he is a believer in the third mode of interpretation, as his work clearly indicates, why should he hesitate to present the Twelfth Promise to the people in the light consistent with his views and convictions? Several others have done so irrespective of the harmful consequences which their interpretation was likely to bring in its wake. But it is precisely these deplorable results which Father Vermeersch wishes to avoid by taking so many and judicious precautionary measures. His good judgment would not permit him to state publicly that Christ in a private revelation, the historicity of which is yet to be proved, superseded His whole public revelation, offering an assurance of salvation in the former which He does not offer in the latter. Again, there is hardly any reason, as far as human judgment goes, why the salvation of souls should be made considerably easier and more certain since 1688 than it had been up to that time.

If it were ascertainable that the third mode of interpretation is the correct one, then it would be logical to agree with the spiritual writer who censures and qualifies as inexcusable all those who fail to assure themselves of their glorious destiny by seizing this plank of salvation in the turbulent sea of life, where every one is seriously exposed to spiritual shipwreck. 10 But as it is, no confessor is authorized to reprimand a penitent because he neglects to avail himself of such an opportunity, nor is any one bound to make use of the Great Promise to promote his spiritual welfare.