“But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Is. 53: 5-6).
When we read about the bruises and stripes suffered by Christ, whether in Old Testament prophesy or the words quoted above from Peter’s epistle (a stripe, as defined by Webster, is “a stroke or blow with a rod or lash”), we are of course led to consideration of the Scourging of Our Lord at the Pillar. It is most appropriate, therefore, that we begin with some degree of comprehension of the extraordinary horror of this Mystery. For this purpose, we quote from the visions of Mary of Agreda to be found in the City of God:
“Thus the Lord stood uncovered in the presence of a great multitude and the six torturers bound Him brutally to one of the columns in order to chastise Him so much the more at their ease. Then, two and two at a time, they began to scourge Him with such inhuman cruelty, as was possible only in men possessed by Lucifer, as were these executioners. The first two scourged the Innocent Savior with hard and thick cords, full of rough knots, and in their sacrilegious fury strained all the powers of their body to inflict the blows. This first scourging raised in the Deified Body of the Lord great welts and livid tumors, so that the Sacred Blood gathered beneath the skin and disfigured His entire body. Already it began to ooze through the Wounds. The first two having at length desisted, the second pair continued the scourging in still greater emulation; with hardened leather thongs they leveled their strokes upon the places already sore and caused the discolored tumors to break open and shed forth the Sacred Blood until it bespattered and drenched the garments of the sacrilegious torturers, running down also in streams to the pavement. Those two gave way to the third pair of scourgers, who commenced to beat the Lord with extremely tough rawhides, dried hard like osier twigs. They scourged Him still more cruelly, because they were wounding, not so much His Virginal Body, as cutting into the wounds already produced by the previous scourging. Besides they had been secretly incited to greater fury by the demons, who were filled with new rage at the Patience of Christ.
“As the veins of the Sacred Body had now been opened and His whole Person seemed but one continued Wound, the third pair found no more room for new wounds. Their ceaseless blows inhumanly tore the Immaculate and Virginal Flesh of Christ Our Redeemer and scattered many pieces of it about the pavement; so much so that a large portion of the shoulder-bones were exposed and showed red through the flowing Blood; in other places also the bones were laid bare larger than the palm of the hand. In order to wipe out entirely that Beauty, which exceeded that of all other men (Ps. 44, 3), they beat Him in the face and in the feet and hands, thus leaving unwounded not a single spot in which they could exert their fury and wrath against the Most Innocent Lamb. The Divine blood flowed to the ground, gathering here and there in great abundance. The scourging in the face, and in the hands and feet, was unspeakably painful, because these parts are so full of sensitive and delicate nerves. His Venerable Countenance became so swollen and wounded that the Blood and the swellings blinded Him. In addition to their blows the executioners spirited upon His Person their disgusting spittle and loaded Him with insulting epithets. The exact number of blows dealt out the Savior from head to foot was 5,115.”
All that we read in Mary of Agreda’s account of Our Lord’s Scourging at the Pillar speaks of horrific evil in those responsible – the conspirational designs and inspiration of Satan, the malice of the Jewish leaders, the Satanically inspired brutality of the scourgers, and the cowardly capitulation of Pilate to what he knew to be terribly unjust. We are tempted therefore to believe that such persons and fallen angels are the real depths and sources behind Our Lord’s “stripes” and “bruisings”. Although we admit, at least nominally, that we are also sinners and that Our Lord died also for our sins, it may also be our tendency to assume a spiritual posture which believes and acts on the presumption that it was really them, and others who are somehow like them, who are ultimately responsible for Our Lord’s torture and death. This is not the verdict of Holy Scripture:
“All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
It would therefore seem of great benefit towards understanding our relationship to God, and especially for gaining that self-knowledge which is integral to this understanding, to penetrate more deeply into how such iniquity can exist even where there is no conscious, deliberate rejection of God, and where there may exist, in fact, explicit belief in Christ and the Catholic Faith. Our Lady of Fatima said that more people go to Hell for sins of the flesh than for any other reason. Such mortal sins are most often committed in the heat of desire and passion, wherein there is no conscious consideration of God whatsoever. We must therefore look elsewhere, other than explicit malice towards God, for the root causes of Our Lord’s suffering and death, and the corresponding sources of the eventual eternal estrangement of countless souls from God and their eternal condemnation in Hell.
Any attempt to attain some depth of understanding of the scriptural truth that all of us have gone astray, and that every one hath turned aside into his own way, would therefore seem to demand further penetration, not only into the nature of the original sin committed by Adam and Eve, but also into how its consequences come home to roost in the sins of each one of us – whether these sins be mortal or venial,
St. Thomas teaches that the essence of original sin, and therefore of man’s loss of created friendship with God, could not in any way lie in the passions or any form of concupiscence of the flesh. In addition to possessing sanctifying grace, Adam and Eve were created with the added supernatural gift of integrity, in which there could not be any disharmony between their sensitive passions and right reason. The cause of original sin could therefore only lie in the will of man, wherein he was truly a free spiritual being and possessing the freedom to make his own choices. And since the will of man is an integral part of man’s mind (St. Thomas terms it the intellectual appetency – man cannot will what he does not in some way know), then original sin could only consist of an intellectual pride by which he sought an excellence in his own being which detracted from God, was contrary to right reason, and came to rest in himself as the source of that excellence. Thus, the fundamental temptation of Satan: “No, you shall not die the death. For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as God, knowing good and evil.
Original sin, as received through generation, is therefore what St. Thomas calls a habit of nature (St. Augustine calls it the languor of nature), by which all men (except of course Our Lord and our Blessed Mother), naturally (in their fallen nature) possess an inordinate disposition (or incentive) to turn from right reason – and therefore the order established by God – to love of self. This tendency is also rightly called concupiscence, and even though in baptism the guilt of original sin is remitted, and friendship with God is restored, this tendency remains.
St. Thomas writes:
“Augustine says (De Civ. Dei, xiv. 28) that ‘self love, amounting to contempt of God, builds up the city of Babylon. Now every sin makes man a citizen of Babylon.’ Therefore self-love is the cause of every sin.
“The proper and direct cause of sin is to be considered on the part of the adherence to a mutable good; in which respect every sinful act proceeds from inordinate desire (against God’s divinely established order) for some temporal good. Now the fact that anyone desires a temporal good inordinately, is due to the fact that he loves himself inordinately; for to wish anyone some good is to love him. Therefore it is evident that inordinate love of self is the cause of every sin.” (ST, I-II, Q. 77, A. 4).
This means of course that the possibility of mortal sin exists in conjunction with all of man’s faculties, and on all levels of his fallen nature – his thoughts, imagination, sensitive appetites, desires, words, passions, deeds, and even in what are called sins of omission. All that is necessary for a sin to be mortal in regard to any of these areas of man’s being is that it be objectively a matter of grave evil, and that man’s free will, which was not taken away through original sin, accedes to it.
One of the greatest delusions present in modern Catholic thought is the belief that sin can only be mortal where there exists some sort of very calculated and conscious rejection of God and His revealed truths or laws. This delusion has even been elevated to the theological theory that all men who do not entertain such direct, conscious rejection of God are really “anonymous” Christians and can thus attain salvation. This delusion is present especially in regard to sins of the flesh. We tend to see these sins almost exclusively as a matter of weaknesses, the guilt for which is almost totally mitigated by the presence of powerful passions and appetites which are virtually impossible to control. In response to this specific question, St. Thomas writes:
“I answer that, Mortal sin, as stated above, consists in turning away from our last end which is God, which aversion pertains to the deliberating reason, whose function it is also to direct towards the end. Therefore that which is contrary to the last end can happen not to be a mortal sin, only when the deliberating reason is unable to come to the rescue, which is the case in sudden movements. Now when anyone proceeds from passion to a sinful act, or to a deliberate consent, this does not happen suddenly: and so the deliberating reason can come to the rescue here, since it can drive the passion away, or at least prevent it from having its effect, as stated above: wherefore if it does not come to the rescue, there is a mortal sin; and it is thus, as we see, that many murders and adulteries are committed through passion.” (ST, I-II, Q. 77, A. 8).
What this means in simple language is that any “sin of passion”, which is objectively a mortal sin against the universal law written in the hearts of all men, is also subjectively (in terms of human responsibility and guilt) a mortal sin, except where there has occurred loss of reason through insanity, brain damage, etc. This is an enormously important truth for us to understand in the face of so many attempts now being made by those within the Church to establish conditions under which engaging in sexual sins in cases of civil divorce and remarriage, co-habitation outside of marriage, homosexuality, etc is something less than grave sin, and can therefore be reconciled with receiving Holy Communion. It is sadly the case today that such persons can almost always find a priest or bishop who will approve such a sacrilege either explicitly or by their silence. Before doing so, however, they should carefully consider the following words of God addressed to the Prophet Ezechiel:
“So thou, O son of man, I have made thee a watchman to the house of Israel: therefore thou shalt hear the word from my mouth, and shalt tell it them from me. When I say to the wicked: O wicked man, thou shalt surely die: if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked man from his way: that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but I will require his blood at thy hand.” (Ez. 33: 7-8)”
In other words, we need to take absolutely seriously Our Lady’s statement that more people go to Hell for sins of the flesh than for any other reason.
We are therefore faced with the question as to how such sins, despite the fact that they are most often committed in “weakness”, and with no conscious rejection of God – no deliberated malice towards Him or His revealed truths, can yet be mortal because they do indeed constitute a contempt for God for which the persons who commit these sins are gravely responsible.
The answer to this question is clearly delineated for us in Holy Scripture, and especially in the first two chapters of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. We begin with the following:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice: Because that which is known of God is manifest to them. For God hath manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable. (Rom. 1: 18-20).
The first thing we must understand about this passage is that Paul is here referring to all men of all times – to Adam and Eve before their Fall, to those living both before and during God’s covenant with the Jews, and to those now living after the redemptive Sacrifice of Christ. All men, created in the image of God, possess an intellectual light which derives from the Life of Christ (John 1: 4) which, when encountering all the marvels of God’s creation, should naturally acknowledge the existence of an infinite God who is the creator of all being: “For in him [Christ] were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…: all things were created by him and in him” (Col. 1: 16). St. Paul tells the Athenians:
[God] hath made of one, all mankind, to dwell upon the whole face of the earth, determining appointed times, and the limits of their habitation. That they should seek God, if happily they may feel after him or find him, although he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and are…. (Acts 17: 26-28).
St. Thomas flatly states: “All knowers know God implicitly in all they know.” (De Veritate, Q.22, .2). As St. Thomas here points out, this knowledge, especially in consideration of our fallen nature, is implicit. However, just because such knowledge is not explicit, or the subject of intellectual clarity, does not at all excuse man. It is within the human heart that these implicit truths reverberate, and it is here where man freely chooses (wills) either to happily seek and feel after and find God, or whether he chooses to detain the truth concerning both God and himself in the injustice of self-love.
For those who do truly seek God with integrity of heart, we have the promise of God that He will answer their prayers and conduct them into His saving grace and truth, and this is true even of those who do not begin with any explicit knowledge of God’s Revelation: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, who have not the law do by nature those things that are of the law; these having not the law are a law to themselves: Who shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them, and their thoughts between themselves accusing, or also defending one another, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” (Romans 2: 13-16).
The perversity of will (heart) by which man chooses not to glorify God as the complete creator and sustainer of every faculty of his being, and the consequent choosing of self-love over the feeling and seeking after God which is truly natural to the human heart, has absolutely grave consequences for every facet of man’s being. St. Paul gives a detailed account of this “detaining the truth of God in injustice”:
For professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man [this can certainly be seen to include false humanism and the belief in the evolutionary perfectibility of man himself], and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts, and of creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their heart [self-love], unto uncleanness, to dishonor their own bodies among themselves. Who changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen
“For this cause God delivered them up to shameful affections. For their women have changed the natural use into that which is against nature. And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts one towards another, men with men working that which is filthy, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was due to their error.
“As they liked not to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them up to a reprobate sense, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all iniquity, malice, fornication, avarice, wickedness, full of envy, murder, contention, deceit, malignity, whisperers, detractors, hateful to God, contumelious, proud, haughty, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, foolish, dissolute, without affection, without fidelity, without mercy. Who, having known the justice of God, did not understand that they who do such things, are worthy of death; and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them.” (Rom. 1: 22-32).
Most important for us to realize is the fact that in order for “inordinate love of self” to produce both the pride that occasioned the Fall of Adam and Eve, and all the sins enumerated above to which our fallen natures are subject to temptation, mankind must have first have “liked not to have God in their knowledge”.
Finally, it behooves us as Catholics, who consider ourselves faithful to the Church’s teaching and subject to the moral law, to inquire how we also have” gone astray”, and” turned aside into our own way”.
At first glance, such a statement might not seem to apply to those who sincerely profess the Catholic Faith. We might protest that we possess the Faith, that we have studied our Faith, that we attend Mass regularly, that we pray our daily prayers, that we “know” God.
With a second look, however, we might begin to see deeper. Does the fact that we are so easily distracted while assisting at Mass or praying the Rosary (are we distracted like this while watching a movie we really like?) indicate a disposition deep within us which does not particularly desire “having God in our knowledge”? Does the fact that we might not be able to keep the “eyes” of our mind on the prayers and meditations of the Rosary, or can barely stay awake while reading the Bible or another spiritual book for 20 minutes, while we might go on for a couple hours reading a novel, tell us something similar? That we can fish, or hunt, or sew, or play volleyball, watch professional sports on TV, talk about many trivial things, all these things occupying many pleasurable hours of our days; while, on the other hand, one hour of discussion about some truth of God, is a relatively rare occurrence – can all of this be telling us that there is a very strong languor of nature” in all of us which demonstrates that we prefer to have other things on our minds more than God?
We might well consider the fact that the primary effect of concupiscence upon our lives as Catholics is a sin of omission – the almost overwhelming tendency not to place God in the very center of all that we do. We tend to make God and our Catholic Faith an adjunct to our lives in this world – a possession which is only a part of our lives. St. Thomas teaches that a sin of omission is not just the absence of something, but an actually deed. It is a deed which departs and detracts, and therefore is in contempt of the good which we are called to do, in order to pursue something else. In the case of God and our Catholic Faith, this of course entails detraction from our absolute obligation to glorify God in every facet of our lives and being, and to seek Him in all that we do. This latter, of course, is an enormously difficult work, an art that we must pursue with passion, and a constant bearing of the Cross of Christ. Possibly the most beautiful and compelling passage of Scripture encapsulating this truly divine and obligatory work of the human mind and heart is to be found in the Old Testament:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength. And these words which I command thee, this day, shall be in thy heart: And thou shalt tell them to thy children, and thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising. And thou shalt bind them as a sign on thy hand, and they shall be and shall move between thy eyes.” (Deut. 6: 5-8).
The state of mind and heart described in the above passage is indeed a great labor which requires a magnanimous heart absolutely committed to its pursuit. Without such commitment, we are bound to be lukewarm in both our faith and love towards God, and this is the seedbed of betrayal of Christ. The most violent words in all of scripture are those of Our Lord in the Book of the Apocalypse condemning just such lukewarmness of those in the Church at Laodicea:
“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold, nor hot. I would thou wert cold, or hot. But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.” (Apoc. 3: 15-16).
We might even conjecture that such lukewarmness is the primary reason that so many Catholics ultimately find themselves outside of God’s mercy and grace. The Catholic Church of course teaches that no one is condemned without mortal sin, and we tend to think of such mortal sins in regard to the obvious and grosser sins of the flesh. But none of us (except God) can calculate at what point lukewarmness towards God and our Faith, especially among Catholics who have been given the extraordinary gift of God’s life in their souls, becomes an idolatry towards the world which settles into a contempt of God which is mortal. Saint James writes:
“Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God”. (James 4: 4-5).
We must realize that the attentiveness of mind and heart to the truths and ways of God described in the above-quoted passage from Deuteronomy was an art enormously easier to practice in a culture embodying the relative simplicity of Old Testament times, or in previous centuries of Christianity. There is much freedom of mind and heart to practice closeness to God when life is simple. As demonstrated in our article on The Third Joyful Mystery: The Birth of Jesus, it was precisely this simplicity and poverty which was sought out and embraced by Joseph and Mary (and Christ) for Our Lord’s birth and family life. The Catholic truth that God is Absolute Divine Simplicity, and that, on the contrary, Satan is the author of superfluous complexity both in the individual soul and in human society, deserves much consideration. All we have to do in order to make this abundantly clear is to look into the possibilities which exist for such closeness to God in the “primitive” farmer plowing his field or the simple craftsman employing his skills, and then contrast this with professions constantly preoccupied with the world of the internet in order to make money, compete, and survive in this modern world. And if we add to this the world of TV, all the superfluous and dangerous other forms of involvement with the internet, the ever expanding world of new forms of expensive and complex entertainment and recreation, the incredible complexity of life in terms of such things as every conceivable form of insurance, taxes, investments, retirement plans, the demands of ever-increasing expense and specialization of education which is supposedly a must for the survival and advancement of our children in this modern world, etc., we can certainly begin to see that mankind has built a world in which it is virtually impossible for God and His Word to “move between our eyes”. We now live in a world which is a garden of delight for Satan’s constant effort to breed forgetfulness and “contempt” of God.
It therefore is now incumbent upon us as Catholics to do everything we creatively can to reduce this “friendship with the world” in our own lives and in those we love and for whom we are responsible – to seek out poverty and simplicity in all the various facets of our lives in order that God may move not only “between the eyes”, but within our whole being: “If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome.” (Mt. 6:22). This is a vast subject for our contemplation and creativity. It is not a task which should be seen as increasing the complexity of our lives, but a constant work of giving glory to God through imitation of the simplicity and poverty of the Holy Family. It is the work of the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is an art by which we must seek freedom in the Holy Spirit.
There is a place of refuge, wherein we may be taught this art. The following words were addressed to Mary of Agreda by the Lord God Almighty, and recorded by her in the City of God:
“Now I will make manifest my indignation and exercise my justice in equity; I will show how well justified is my cause. In order that this may come to pass more speedily, and because it is now time that my mercy show itself more openly and because my love must not be idle, I will offer to them an opportune remedy, if they will but make use of it for returning again to my favor. Now, at this hour, when the world has arrived at so unfortunate a pass, and when, though the Word has become incarnate, mortals are more careless of their weal and seek it less; when the day of their transitory life passes swiftly at the setting of the sun of time; when the night of eternity is approaching closer and closer for the wicked and the day without a night is being born for the just; when the majority of mortals are sinking deeper and deeper into the darkness of their ignorance and guilt: oppressing the just and mocking the children of God; when my holy and divine law is despised in the management of the iniquitous affairs of state, which are as hostile as they are contrary to my Providence; when the wicked least deserve my mercy; in these predestined times, I wish to open a portal for the just ones through which they can find access to my mercy; I wish to give them a light by which they can dispel the gloom that envelops the eyes of their minds. I wish to furnish them a suitable remedy for restoring them to my grace. Happy they who find it, and blessed they who shall appreciate its value, rich they who shall come upon this treasure, and blessed and very wise those who shall search into and shall understand its marvels and hidden mysteries. I desire to make known to mortals how much intercession of Her is worth, who brought restoration of life by giving mortal existence to the immortal God. As recompense I desire that they look upon the wonders wrought by my mighty arm in that pure Creature, as upon a mirror by which they can estimate their own ingratitude….I will not longer withhold from men this mystical City of refuge….”
At Fatima, Our Lady told us that her Immaculate Heart would be our refuge and the way that would lead us to God. As revealed in the words of the Almighty at the end of the passage quoted above, this refuge – this portal which God has in recent centuries opened up to mankind, is not only a refuge from the world, but one in which a light will be given to us to see, as upon a mirror, the profound ingratitude – the contempt of God – which is hidden in our own friendship with the world, lukewarmness towards God, and consequent iniquities inflicted upon Our Lord in His Passion. It is only here, in the light of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart, that we may be cleansed of our adulteries with this world.
Above all, however, one thing is necessary in order that we should even possess the desire to pass through this portal and enter into this refuge: we must rekindle within the depths of our hearts and minds the Gift of the Holy Spirit which is called Fear of the Lord. This Gift has been a casualty of the spirit of the world which has largely reigned in the Church since Vatican Council II. Fear of the Lord has been widely eliminated (usually by substituting words such a wonder, awe, and reverence) from catechisms, prayers, and the general consciousness of the Catholic faithful, and it has been totally eliminated from the Bishop’s prayer over the confirmands in administration of the New Rite of Confirmation. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. It is established upon knowledge of a twofold truth: the infinite goodness and majesty of God on the one hand, and the always threatening lukewarmness, and duplicitous and treacherous tendencies of our own fallen natures. It is only with this Gift, and this honesty, that we can conceivably be also gifted with the desire to cast ourselves into the Tabernacle of Mary’s purifying Heart.
In this regard, we offer one final quote from Mary of Agreda:
“Ever since I have had the use of reason, I was conscious of especially one blessing, which in my estimation is the greatest of all those bestowed upon me by God’s liberality; namely, a great and penetrating fear, lest I should lose Him. And this moved and urged me on to strive after the better and more secure way and to follow after it and implore it from the Lord day after day. He has wounded my flesh with the dart of fear of his judgments (Ps. 118,120), and I live continually in the dreadful thought: Have I perhaps lost the friendship of the Most High or am I still in his friendship? My bread day and night have been the tears, which this fear has drawn from my eyes (Ps. 91, 4). On account of this dread, since it is more necessary than ever that the friends of the Lord should practice their virtues in secret and without ostentation, I have in these latter times begun to send up earnest and heartfelt prayers and petitions to the Lord, asking also the intercession of the Queen of Virgins, that I may be guided and led along the secure paths hidden from the eyes of men.”
It would seem that it is precisely because of this blessing bestowed upon Mary of Agreda in her youth that she was subsequently chosen to reveal to the world the Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart as the refuge which would protect and preserve us from the evils of this modern world, and from our own duplicity:
“One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. That I may see the delight of the Lord, and may visit his temple. For he hath hidden me in his tabernacle; in the day of evils, he hath protected me in the secret place of his tabernacle.” (Ps. 26: 4-5).
It is in such a spirit that the Rosary to the Interior: For the Purification of the Church is directed – not primarily towards all those evils which do indeed truly exist out there, but rather towards that which has become dimmed, darkened, or even extinguished within each one of us, and in the Church as a whole. We ask all Catholics to fill their churches on February 2, 2019 to beseech Our Lady, through her Rosary, that she flood our souls with the light of the Gift of Fear of the Lord which is necessary to accomplish this self-knowledge and purification in our hearts and minds. Only thus will the Light of Christ be enkindled once again in His Church for the conversion of nations:
I am come to cast fire on the earth: and what will I, but that it be kindled? (Luke 12: 49).