IMITATION OF THE SACRED HEART
HOW THE CLEANSING OF THE HEART IS TO BE UNDERTAKEN
1. The voice of the Disciple.-----Numberless, O Lord, are the things which urge me on to free myself entirely from faults. Heaven holds out promises, Hell threatens, earth can at any moment hurl me into eternity.
But, how shall I perform so great an undertaking? For, although I see that I ought to do it, yet, I know not how to accomplish it.
Do Thou, I beseech Thee, good Jesus, teach me the manner of truly amending and reforming myself. All the glory, thence arising, shall belong to Thee, and to Thy most loving Heart.
2. The voice of Jesus.-----My Child, if thou wishest to cleanse thy heart, and to root out everything vicious, begin the work with a great courage and a generous mind.
Have the good and determined will of correcting thyself, and be never ceasing to strive after a complete cleansing; at the same time, cherish a sincere desire of co-operating with the Divine grace, and of following its guidance: and thus thy endeavors shall, at last, be crowned with success.
This is the first and chief means on thy part: from it all the rest derives its strength and efficacy, and without it, however powerful it may be, of itself, everything else can hardly effect any good.
This strong determination of ever striving, with God's grace, to cleanse the heart, and to preserve it unsullied, is the first hope of future purity of heart, the first sign of future perfection, the first token whereby future Saints are distinguished, yea, the first characteristic mark of the true Disciples of My Heart.
3. Being made ready for the work, by this disposition of thy soul, take fire, and enkindle thy heart therewith, that thou mayst consume the sins and defects which exist therein.
Understand, Child, what I say. Thou hast to clear a garden, all bristling with noxious plants and weeds, and disfigured with filthy objects; thou shalt succeed, however, if thou usest the proper means, if thou cuttest away all things hurtful, if thou tearest up and carriest out everything useless; but thou shalt not finish thy work, except after a long time, and with hard labor.
But, by applying the fire, without trouble and in a short time, thou shalt see the whole garden cleansed.
Nay, more; by this burning, the garden itself shall become richer, and better suited to produce flowers and fruits.
In like manner, Child, thou wilt cleanse thy heart, which may be likened to this garden, much more readily, and more easily, by using the fire of Divine love, rather than by any other means.
Thereby also thou shalt find thy heart better adapted to produce the flowers of virtue, and the fruits of sanctity.
4. Now, this fire thou mayst obtain from My Heart, if thou drawest near to It, through prayer; if thou prayest, not with the lips alone, but also with thy mind and heart.
For, if thou weighest properly in thy mind the sufferings of Hell, or of Purgatory, which thou hast so often deserved: if thou considerest attentively My Divine favors bestowed upon thee, and all thy ungratefulness:
If thou meditatest carefully on My infinite perfections so worthy of all love and honor, and on thy offenses, so deserving of punishment:
If, moreover, thou viewest Me, exhausted with toils, through love for thee, and suffering so many things, for thy transgressions,-----hanging on the Cross, with arms extended, and with My Bosom opened for thee:
If, in fine, thou enterest into My Heart Itself, and considerest to what degree that innocent Heart did suffer for thy sins, and how, for them, it was spent and consumed:
If, at the same time, through loving desires, and fervent petitions, thou appliest, as it were, thy heart to Mine:-----
Then, doubtless, in prayer, shall blaze out that fire, that heat of Divine love, of which I am speaking.
5. From this love do thou draw forth contrition; that is, sorrow for sin committed, and a resolve of not sinning again in future.
No one, My Child, obtains the pardon of his sins, unless he bewail them; nor is anyone healed of his vices, unless he hate them.
Wherefore, as much as thou art able, do thou hate and detest, in thy heart. thy sins and vices; which thou canst not hate nor detest too much.
The more thou shalt draw this sorrow from the Divine love, the more perfect shall thy contrition be, even if thou do not actually feel the same.
And the more sincerely thou shalt bewail and detest thy sins, with an upright heart, the more certain shalt thou be of the pardon of thy offenses, and the more secure against committing new ones.
6. Thou hast a sure mark of sorrow for the sin of the past, if thou abstainest from committing new ones.
Therefore, have thou, and preserve always, a firm resolve of shunning whatever thou knowest to be displeasing to Me; and of suffering rather all the evils of this life, than to commit a voluntary sin.
But, take heed, lest thou deceive thyself, by imagining, that any kind of resolve will be sufficient.
For a vague desire is not enough: a resolution made through custom, or for form's sake, is not enough neither does an ineffectual purpose suffice,-----when one appears to will and not to will; when, as he fancies, he is willing to sin no more, and yet, he is unwilling effectually to use the means necessary to avoid sin.
It is requisite, My Child, that the resolution be really sincere, settled, and efficacious, that by it thou mayst be induced to employ the means, which may hinder thee from again committing sin.
Now, to keep this resolution ever alive within thee, renew it often, pray frequently, nourish thy devotion by spiritual exercises: and thus obtain for thyself that special grace whereby thou mayst the more easily become constant and persevering.
7. The voice of the Disciple.-----My Heart, O Lord, is truly like an abandoned field, wherein many noxious weeds spring up and many useful plants lie spoiled.
It is a great work, to clear the heart of all these, and, of myself, I can do nothing profitable.
But do Thou help me, I beseech Thee, with Thy efficient and powerful grace, that I may be able to finish happily so great an undertaking.
For I desire eagerly to complete, according to Thy direction, a work so necessary, so useful, so holy; and am resolved not to leave it off, before I have finished it in reality.
Do not suffer, O most kind Jesus, that I ever grow slothful or careless, in so important an enterprise. For, I confess, that I am prone to grow weak in courage, and that I am wont, even after I have begun with zeal, by degrees to fall into lukewarmness.
But do Thou arouse, encourage, and stir me up strongly, nor allow me to cease from my labor, until I bring the work to its wished-for completion.
CHAPTER XII. THAT THE HOLY SACRAMENT OF PENANCE IS AN EASY AND EFFECTUAL MEANS OF CLEANSING ONE'S SELF FROM SINS AND VICES
1. The voice of Jesus.-----My Child, My Heart,-----knowing that the frailty of mortals is of such a nature, that, whilst on earth, they cannot live without sin,-----has devised a saving means, whereby, if it is rightly used, they may not only obtain the remission of their sins, but also receive an increase
God is faithful, and, according to His word, He forgives their sins to those that confess them; and He gives grace to those that pray for it, and seek to live better. (1 John i. 9, and v. 14.)
What would become of most men, if there were no Confession? How few should be saved! And how many of those who now rejoice in Heaven, or shall possess it hereafter, should be lost!
2. Therefore have I given power to the Church. that whose sins she shall forgive, they be forgiven them; and whose sins she shall retain, they be retained. (Matt. xviii. John, xx.)
"If, then, either hatred, or infidelity, or any other sin, have secretly crept into the heart of anyone, let him not be ashamed to confess the same, to him that presides, that, through the word of God, and through wholesome advice, he may be healed by him." (St. Clement of Rome. I. Century.)
"But, if thou wouldst withdraw thyself from Confession, meditate in thy heart on Hell, which Confession will extinguish for thee. Therefore, knowing that against Hell, after that first safeguard of Baptism, there remains still this second help in Confession, why dost thou abandon thy salvation? Represent first to thyself the greatness of the punishment, and thou wilt not hesitate to take the remedy." (Tertullian. II. Cent.)
"For there is a remission of sins, although a toilsome one, through Penance, when the sinner moistens his couch with his tears, and when he is not ashamed to make known his sins to the priest of God, and to seek a remedy." (Origen. III. Cent.)
"This remedy of Confession is eagerly to be desired by all, since the soul is harassed by greater danger than the body; and the healing for hidden diseases must be applied as soon as possible." (Lactantius. IV. Cent.)
"Confess, then: let all corrupted matter come out, and flow off in Confession: what remains, shall be easily healed. Dost thou fear to confess, when, by not confessing, thou canst not remain concealed? God, who knows all things, requires Confession, that He may free the humble: for this He condemns him that does not confess, that He may punish the proud." (St. Augustine. V. Cent.)
"But confess thou, in such a manner, that thou do not again turn to thy sins: for then is the Confession of sin profitable, when the sinner, who confesses, does no more, what he had wickedly done." (St. Fulgentius. VI. Cent.)
"Man ought to abstain from sin, when he has confessed: Confession goes before, remission follows." (St. Isidore. VII. Cent.)
For "the Church, which is founded on Christ, has received from Him the power of freeing men from their sins." (Ven. Bede. VIII. Cent.)
"If sinners are unwilling to confess their sins, God Himself, Who is now their witness, shall also be their avenger." (Haymo. IX. Cent.)
"Sins should not be repeated publicly: it is sufficient to make known, to the priests alone, by a private confession, the faults of conscience." (Luitprand. X. Cent.)
"Therefore, reason moves, and God impels the sinner to confess." (St. Peter Damian, XI. Cent.)
"Confession is necessary to the sinner; and is no less proper for the just." (St. Bernard. XII. Cent.)
"Confession should be made, in a threefold manner: without palliating, without excusing, without delaying." (St. Bonaventure. XIII. Cent.)
"Let the penitent, therefore, accuse himself before the priest, with a lively feeling of sorrow, with a firm purpose of amendment, and let him perform the works which may be enjoined." (Thauler.
"Penance is a Sacrament, the matter of which consists in the acts of the penitent, which are divided into three parts. The first is contrition of heart: the second is the oral Confession: the third, satisfaction." (Council of Florence. XIV. Cent.)
Behold, Child, how, from the beginning, the faithful of all times, and of all parts of the world, have regarded and esteemed this sweet and saving Sacrament.
3. What can be more advantageous than rightly to confess? Through Confession, man is freed from faults, he returns into favor with Me, he receives peace of heart; so that he who before felt himself tortured, with anguish now finds himself calm and happy.
The Sacrament of Penance is the medicine of the soul whereby vices are healed, temptations put to flight, the snares of the devil destroyed, new grace is imparted, piety increased, virtue rendered more and more solid.
Through Confession, the soul regains her rights, which she had lost by committing sin; and recovers her beauty, which unrighteousness had disfigured.
4. But it sometimes happens that the sinner, when he approaches this Sacrament of Divine mercy, impelled either by shame or fear, throws himself into the abyss of sacrilege; so that now he is not simply a sinner, but becomes a frightful monster of sin.
Art thou able, wretched man, to hide thyself from Me? Art thou able to hinder Me from thrusting thee down into that lowest depth, which thou thyself hast dug?
Dost thou sacrilegiously conceal thy sins from a Confessor, who, by the strictest laws, human and Divine, is bound to an everlasting and complete secrecy? I will make them known before thy face, not to one man alone, not to one nation, but to Heaven and Earth, to all that shall ever have existed.
Then, in the excess of thy confusion, thou wilt call upon the mountains, that, covering thee, they may screen thee from shame; yea, thou wilt wish to hide thyself in Hell; but thou shalt not be able: thou shalt stand and undergo, publicly, thy whole confusion and deserved ignominy.
Foolish man! thou wast not ashamed to sin to thy disgrace and perdition; why dost thou blush to confess for thy salvation and glory?
But, consider: why shouldst thou hesitate to unfold thy conscience before him who is appointed by Me, and holds My place in thy regard?
When thou presentest thyself, as a penitent, before him, thou oughtest, indeed, to look upon the Confessor even as upon Myself; for he verily represents Me, and possesses My power.
Yet, he also is a man, and has his own miseries; and he, too, as well as thyself, is obliged to make Confession: which is all the harder for him, as, by reason of his elevated condition, he ought to be more perfect.
Thus has it been ordained from Heaven in a most wise and holy manner, that all-----priests no less than laymen----who desire to be freed from grievous sin, should be obliged to confess: and that it be especially proper that the priests, whose sacred employments demand a greater holiness, should cleanse themselves, by frequent Confession, even from slighter trespasses.
Hence, laymen confess, with greater freedom and confidence, to the priests; and priests learn, by experience, to feel compassion for their miseries, to be weak with them that are weak, and to weep with them that weep.
5. But there are those that confess their sins candidly enough, and yet are not improved. And why? Because they do not strive with a sincere heart to correct themselves.
Some approach the Sacrament of Penance from necessity, others through human respect, others again from a certain custom. Why wonder, then, if they that approach in this manner derive from it but little or no fruit?
Do, thou, My Child,----having ever thy own salvation and My good pleasure before thy eyes,----make each Confession, as if it were to be the last of thy life: thus wilt thou experience sweet and wonderful effects.
6. Yet, know thyself, My Child, and learn, that thou shalt often be tempted to do again those things, over which thou hadst wept, and which thou hadst resolved to shun.
Do not, on that account, lose courage, Child, nor be thou saddened overmuch. These will be the effects, not of malice, but of frailty; being involuntary, rather than deliberate transgressions.
Thence, learn thou the goodness of My Heart, ever ready to pardon thee; and, in like manner, the pitiful condition of thy heart, which is ever inclined to evil, and frequently betrays thee.
Beware, however, lest, on account of this thy great frailty, thou neglect Confession: but the weaker thou feelest thyself, the more frequently have thou recourse to it.
7. Some hold Confession in dread, and do not approach it without trembling.
Behold, the greatest sinners, as well as the greatest Saints, find consolation therein: and art thou tormented with anxiety!
There the dead return to life and the living live more fully. Why, then, tremblest thou, as if thou wert going to death, or to the rack?
Thou errest, my Child, thou errest; this most wholesome Sacrament was not instituted for torturing, but for solacing the heart.
8. Cast aside, therefore, all uneasiness and anxiety. I am not a God of agitation, but of peace; I find My delight, not in the commotion, but in the good will of the soul.
Do what thou canst, and confess with as sincere a heart, as thou art able to do: after that, remain
in peace, nor be thou disturbed by the suggestions of the enemy, or of thy own imagination. My Heart is the place of refuge for sinners. As often as anyone flies hither with a contrite and humble heart, I will neither cast him off, nor will I despise him.
Do, then, frequently resort to that Divine bath, wherein My Heart will wash thy soul with My Blood, and wash her yet more, until she be wholly pure and stainless. +
9. The voice of the Disciple.-----O most benign Jesus, how wholesome, how consoling a device of Thy Heart, is the Sacrament of Penance! How astonishing a condescension, how wonderful a sweetness, that of the Blood of Thy Heart Thou makest a bath, wherewith Thou mayst cleanse us from our
Had not Thy Heart found out this secret, so full of all consolation, who could have thought of it? And hadst Thou not made it known, what should have become of us, what of me?
Thanks to Thee, most sweet Jesus! let the Angels, and all the Blessed, let all peoples and tongues, return thanks to Thee, for that Thou didst institute this life-giving, this sanctifying Sacrament, whereby the guilty dwellers of earth are saved, and Heaven is filled with a multitude of Saints.
That, therefore, I may not misuse so great a blessing, and that I may gather from it every desirable fruit; behold, I will confess not only frequently, but also carefully: as if preparing myself for death, I will always, before making my Confession, elicit from my heart an act of true sorrow, and of firm resolve, peacefully indeed, but with the greatest sincerity as well: I will lay every fault before my Confessor, with the same candor that I would use before Thee, were I to behold Thee with my eyes: at the earliest opportunity I will perform the penance enjoined: lastly, I will strive to be grateful, and to live with a new fervor, and a purer heart.
O Jesus! what consolation, what sweetness is felt, when my soul, in this Sacrament of Thy mercy, is washed and cleansed by the most sacred and pure Blood of Thy Heart: O do Thou wash me frequently, I beseech Thee, and I shall be made wholly clean: wash me yet more, and I shall be made whiter than snow!
+ This may be explained by a truly wonderful and consoling fact, related in the life of St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi. When, on a certain day,----in the Church of her Convent, where Confessions were being heard,----this holy Virgin was pouring forth her heart before our Lord, present in the Tabernacle, and whilst she was rapt up by Divine communications, she perceived that the spiritual world became, in some manner, unveiled before her. For she saw the souls, such as they were, of each one of the penitents, whilst they were confessing. And, at the moment when the Sacramental absolution was given, she beheld the Divine Blood of Jesus mystically poured upon each of them, and washing them, so that they became exceedingly pure and fair. Now, if such be the effect of one Confession, what must be the effect of frequent Confession? If the soul becomes so pure, so beautiful, when washed only once in the Blood of the Heart of Jesus,----which is applied to us in the Sacrament of Penance; how pure, how beautiful must she become, when she is thus cleansed frequently! Brown and soiled linen is not only made clean by frequent washing, but is made as white as snow. Shall not then a soul, often washed in the Divine Blood of Jesus, become, at last, perfectly pure and unutterably beautiful? This most pious thought may, at least, serve to increase your love for the holy Sacrament of Penance; and whilst you receive it actually, ought sweetly to occupy your mind, and greatly to console you.
Video Series: Guide for Your Lenten Journey