Meditations for Layfolks - The Sacrament of Sweetness

The Blessed Sacrament is often looked upon, as indeed it really is, as the sacrament of strength; but one title cannot exhaust the ways of viewing this sublime mystery of God's mercy. There is need always of courage and hopefulness, and the power of persevering, which comes to us from God in this sacrament. The added greatness that the nearness of God inspires must unfailingly affect us whenever we approach the altar-rails. But sheer forcefulness in religion will not suffice unless sweetness comes as well to temper the rigidity of our will. There are people, undoubt edly, who have a very welcome influence upon our lives by impart ing to us the bracing atmosphere in which they live, the high mountain air, the freshness of soul that comes from those strong characters whose thoughts are always soaring to the high altitudes of faith and principle; but this is not a lasting influence unless it is accompanied by something more. The military genius may be necessary from time to time in the national life, but no military despotism has ever lasted through more than one generation, simply because it is strong and strong only: it is too rigid to accommodate itself to human affairs. The human spirit lives; that is, the human spirit is always changing. Now the main feature, the main helpfulness of strength, is just that it does not change at all. It is fixed, and the ramrod is the symbol of its training. A dictatorship was proclaimed in Rome in times of national crisis; it could restore order, but could not act as a permanent form of government. Even the genius of Cromwell could do nothing against the sentiment of the nation: with all his glories, his undoubted success, he could only for his own lifetime secure in military hands the powers of government.

Religion is much more susceptible even than social life to the evil consequences of mere strength. To be strong of will is only one portion of the moral life. It is necessary, but by itself it is short-lived. The fierce and gloomy fanaticism that begins in a flame of enthusiasm will bear down conqueringly upon any obstacle and sweep it out of the path. But its power is only of today; it cannot last till tomorrow: it has no real hold on human nature: it is too inhuman. One generation, or two generations at most, has been found to accept Puritanism. Just when it is felt by all to be necessary to save the national life from absolute corruption, it has done good; but the final result, unless it is speedily changed, is to drive people to far worse lengths. The interplay of action and reaction is the inevitable consequence. The licentiousness of the Restoration follows upon the whitewashing puritan Commonwealth. The total disregard for Sunday has been produced by the pharisaic observance of it. The militant forms of religion, like Mohammedan ism, have held their place only by proclaiming a general permission for what Christianity repudiates: they have forbidden wine, but degraded women. A religion, therefore, which attempts to rule by sheer force and to give to its faithful followers nothing more than strength, is not a religion that can last. Oppressive dulness gives way to riotous amusements. The fear of God, that was the motive power of the Old Testament, could not have the hold of the hearts of men that has been obtained by the new commandment of love. The reign of Christ has outstayed the Law and the Prophets.

This, since He had made the human heart, our Lord perfectly understood. The system of the Incarnation was precisely to appeal to that which was most yielding in the nature of man. The little Child in the stable has no rival in the minds of children, and for grown men and women His winsome robe of childhood does not in vain hold out its little arms. The Boy of Nazareth, the beautiful young man whose appearance on the seashore drew from the disciples of John the question, "Where dwellest Thou?" has not ceased from then to now to draw to Him youth and age. His wooing Passion, His charm of person, the fascination of His appearance still attract to Him the love of the generations as they pass. Nor was He content to come that once and then depart, leaving behind but the fragrance of His visit; for He did all things well. To use His own blessed word, He " abides " with us. He is with us all days even to the consummation of the world. Now His return to us on our altars at Mass, at Communion, is not simply that we might worship, but that the need we have of sweetness in religion might be amply supplied. We must approach His presence, gather about Him, for the refreshment of our lives, to break down the hideous monotony of our work, to add the brightness of love to the grey streets and greyer skies. Not holiness alone, but the beauty of holiness, is required to bind our hearts, our whole souls to God. The child, which with its wistful trust demands protection, asks for something more than strong defence: it needs also the warm welcome of love. And in so far are we all children; we need the gentleness and mercy of God to be made manifest, else we shall be too frightened to go on. If religion is to mean much to me, I must approach the altar of the sweetness of God, that giveth joy to my youth.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.