ND   The Friendship of Christ / by Robert Hugh Benson


Christ in the Saint

You are the light of the world. -- MATT. v: 14.

WE have seen how Christ is present in His Priest through the "character" and the mission that the priest receives. It is Christ who speaks through his mouth when he delivers the message of the Gospel; it is Christ too, who, using the priest's will and intention as well as his words and actions, performs the supernatural acts of the sacramental and sacerdotal rites. Finally, the universal characteristics of the priesthood -- such as its separation from the world and, simultaneously, its accessibility -- these are nothing else but characteristics of Christ Himself, precipitated, as it were, in a human medium.

But there is another holiness in the world, besides that of external consecration -- namely, Personal Holiness or Moral Sanctity. We have now to consider Christ's relations to this also -- His Presence in the Saint.

I. When we examine the Catholic religion as it actually surrounds us, we find that the Saints, and, above all, Mary, Queen of Saints, are vital and essential elements in the system. It is certainly true to say that no person born of human parents has exercised and exercises such an influence on the human race as Mary, the Mother of our Lord -- or (to put it yet more gently) that no influence is ascribed to any such person as is ascribed to Mary. It is impossible to grasp with the imagination what her Personality has meant to the human race -- as is illustrated by the countless services in her honour, the rosaries recited for her intercession and for her praise, the invocations of her name, -- in fact, the place she occupies as a whole in the human consciousness. Her name runs through Christian history as inextricably as the Holy Name of Jesus itself. There is not a circumstance in life, not a situation, not a crisis -- we might almost say, not a joy or sorrow -- in which, at one time or another, Mary has not been called to take a part. Until three centuries ago her image stood in practically every Christian church throughout the world; at the present day it stands in the vast majority of them, and is slowly re-entering the rest. To the Catholic mind the thought of Mary is united with the thought of Jesus, as inextricably as the two natures in Christ; since, after all, one of those natures come from her.

We are told, of course, by Protestant critics, that this is exactly where we have erred -- that whereas Jesus Christ came to call all men directly to Himself, Mary has been allowed to usurp His place. It is unnecessary to answer this at any length, since every Catholic knows perfectly well that all the worship and honour given to Mary are given with the sole object of uniting the worshipper with that "blessed fruit of her womb,"{1} whom she extends to us in every image, whether as the Child of Joy or as the Man of Sorrows. It is only those who are doubtful, or at least doctrinally vague, as to the absolute Deity of Christ, who can conceive it even as possible for an intelligent Christian to confound Christ with His Mother, or to imagine the Creator and the Creature as standing even in the remotest competition one with the other. As regards the question as to whether we do not learn more of Jesus with Mary than without her, this is exactly the subject under discussion.

First, then, when we turn to the Gospel -- that ground-plan of God's designs for mankind -- we find that, according to scale, so to speak, Mary occupies a place of dignity beside Jesus wonderfully proportionate to her place in the more explicit Catholic system; since, whenever Her Son comes to a moment of human crisis, whenever a new or startling and fundamental fact is to be revealed concerning Him, Mary is at His side, and is presented, so to speak, in a significant attitude.

"The angel Gabriel was sent from God . . . to a virgin . . . and the virgin's name was Mary."{2} In such words the first actual step of the Incarnation itself is described, corresponding in an extraordinary manner to that first actual step in the process of the Fall. In both alike we see an Immaculate Maiden, a supernatural messenger, and a choice offered upon which the future shall depend. In the one case Eve's disobedience and love of self was preliminary to the sin by which the race fell; in the other, Mary's obedience and love of God was preliminary to the process by which the same race was redeemed.

Again -- as Christ lies in Bethlehem, receiving for the first time as God-made-man the adoration of mankind, it is Mary who kneels beside Him; as Christ through thirty years "learns obedience"{3} as the Son of Man, it is from Mary that He rakes His orders. As He steps out into the world to begin that transformation of things common into things divine, it is at Mary's prayer that, in token of His Mission, He turns the water into wine. As He closes His ministry by that yet more amazing miracle to which all other of His signs pointed forward -- His own Death upon Calvary -- "there stood by the Cross of Jesus His Mother"{4} -- as, centuries before, Eve, the mother of the fallen, had stood by that Tree of Death by which the First Adam died. Whether then, we turn to Tradition -- that imperishable memory and mind of the Church from which she brings out continually "things new and old"{5} -- or to the written record of that Life during which her whole treasure was committed to her care; in either case we find alike that Mary walks always with Jesus -- that when we see Him as a new-born Child, we can only find Him "with Mary His Mother";{6} when we adore Him as man, obedient as He would have us obedient, it is in Her house that He lives; when we creep to the Cross to wash ourselves in His Precious Blood, Mary is looking at us from His side. For history too, tells us the same, that where Mary is loved, Jesus is adored; where Mary, the Mother of His Humanity, is despised or slighted, the light of His Divinity goes out. . . .

II. What is true of Mary is true also of the saints -- that wherever Jesus Christ is adored as God, there, like flowers from the earth, His friends spring up in their thousands; that where His Divinity is doubted or denied, the tide of the supernatural sinks with it. And, further, every Catholic knows that the effect of devotion to the saints is devotion to their Divine Lover. Thousands have learned first to know and then to love Jesus Christ, from His intimacy with His dear friends, from their self-sacrifice for His sake, from the manner in which His image has been reproduced in their lives, translated from terms of His Sacred Humanity into terms of their fallen humanity. For how is it possible to make friends with the friends of Christ, without seeking His Divine Friendship also which inspired them?

In what mode, however, is it possible to say that Christ is present in His Mother or in His saints? He is not in them as in the Blessed Eucharist, or as in the Catholic Church, His Body, or as in the priest who supernaturally administers His Eternal Priesthood. They have their lives; He has His. At the utmost is it possible to say more than that they are mirrors of the Divine Light in which we can see His Perfections?

Yet as we look at it, it becomes plain that this is not all; that He is in them as a flame is in a lantern; that their lives are not mere imitations or reflections of His, but actually manifestations of it. The graces that they display are actually the same graces as those with which this Sacred Humanity was saturated; their horror of sin is His; the powers which they exercise are His. They are "the light of the world,"{7} since there burns in them the Supreme Light of the world. Their "life is hid with Christ in God."{8} They have, by the help of grace, hewn at the stone of their human nature, by mortification, by effort, by prayer -- even by the final strokes of martyrdom itself -- until, little by little, or all at once by sudden heroism, there has emerged from the gross material, not the angel of Michael Angelo, not merely a copy of the Perfect Model; but, in a real sense, that actual Model Himself. It is He Who has lived in them, as really, though in another manner, as in the Sacrament of the altar; it is He Who now appears in them in the culmination of their sanctity, visible to all who have eyes to see. Certainly it is not He Himself, pure and simple; since there still remains in every saint that film or glass of his own personal identity which God gave him and can never take away. For it is exactly for the sake of this personal identity, and for the service which it renders to the promulgation of Christ upon earth, that the saint has been created and sanctified. To stare upon the Sun unveiled is to be struck blind, or at least to be so dazzled by excess of light as to see nothing. In the saints, therefore -- through their individual characters and temperaments, as through prismatic glass -- we see the All-holy Character of Christ, the white brilliancy of His Absolute Perfection, not distorted or diluted, but rather analysed and dissected that we may understand it the better. In the saint of penance it is His sorrow for sin that is made visible; in the martyr His heroic passion for pain; in the doctor of the Church, the treasures of His Wisdom; in the virgin, His purity. In Mary herself the Virgin, the Mother, the Lady of Sorrows, the Cause of our Joy -- m Her pierced Heart, in her Magnificat, Her Immaculate Conception -- we see, gathered in one individual human person, all the fulness and perfections of all the virtues and graces of which a single soul is capable. "Thou art all fair, 0 my Love, and there is not a spot in thee."{9}

Here, then, Christ comes to us, extending Himself in that Court of His friends who stand about His Throne. Upon His Right Hand stands the Queen in "gilded clothing," herself a" King's daughter";{10} and on every side, in their orders, those who have learned to call Him Friend, conceived and born in sin, yet who "through many tribulations"{11} have first restored and then retained that image in which they were made, and have so identified themselves with Christ that it is possible to say of them that although they live, it is "now not (they); but Christ that liveth in them."{12}

To seek to separate Christ from His friends, to banish the Queen Mother from the steps of Her Son's throne, lest she should receive too much love or homage -- this is a strange way to seek the Friendship of Him who is their All! A mere individual friendship with Christ in the heart shrinks to a poor isolated thing, thin and loveless (so far as it is possible for one to be loveless, who, however feebly and timorously, seeks the love of Christ), as we see, circle by circle, in the splendour of Catholic faith and practice, new modes radiating out on every side in which we may learn to love our Lord. For He is present in them all, though in each in its own way, as the light of the sun is present in the midday blaze, in the tender lights of dawn, in the pool of water, in the tawny glory of a sunset, in the silver of the moon and the colour of the flower. Once learn that Christ is All, and not merely one among ten thousand -- that is, He is All -- that there is no glory or grace anywhere that is not His, no perfection that is not relative to His Absoluteness, no colour that is not an element of His Whiteness, no sound that is not in the scale of His Music -- once, that is, to rise to what it is that we mean when we name him God; once escape from that modern spirit of rationalizing away His Deity in the hope of seeing His Humanity; and, behold! we find Him everywhere; we fear nothing except that which separates us from Him, since it is alien to Him -- behold! "all things are yours . . . and you are Christ's: and Christ is God's."{13}

{1} Luke i: 42.

{2} Luke i: 26, 27.

{3} Heb. v: 8.

{4} John xix: 25.

{5} Matt xiii: 15.

{6} Matt. ii: 11.

{7} Matt. v: 14.

{8} Col. iii 3.

{9} Cant, of Cants. iv: 7.

{10} Ps. xliv: 10, 14.

{11} Acts xiv 21; Apoc. vii: 14.

{12} Gal. ii: 20.

{13} I Cor. iii: 22, 23.

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