St. Vincent Ferrer, Confessor
Today, again, it is Catholic Spain that offers one of her Sons to the Church, that she may present him to the Christian world as a model and a patron. Vincent Ferrer, or, as he was called, the Angel of the Judgment, comes to us proclaiming the near approach of the Judge of the living and the dead. During his lifetime, he traversed almost every country of Europe, preaching this terrible truth; and the people of those times went from his sermons striking their breasts, crying out to God to have mercy upon them,–in a word, converted. In these our days, the thought of that awful Day, when Jesus Christ will appear in the clouds of heaven and judge mankind, has not the same effect upon Christians. They believe in the Last Judgment, because it is an Article of Faith; but, we repeat, the thought produces little impression. After long years of a sinful life, a special grace touches the heart, and we witness a conversion; there are thousands thus converted, but the majority of them continue to lead an easy, comfortable, life, seldom thinking on Hell, and still less seldom on the Judgment wherewith God is to bring Time to an end.
It was not thus in the Christian Ages; neither is it so now with those whose Conversion is solid. Love is stronger in them than Fear; and yet the Fear of God’s Judgment is ever living within them, and gives stability to the new life they have begun. Those Christians who have heavy debts with Divine Justice, because of the sins of their past lives, and who, notwithstanding, make the time of Lent a season for evincing their cowardice and tepidity, surely, such Christians as these must very rarely ask themselves what will become of them on that Day, when the Sign of the Son of Man shall appear in the heavens, and when Jesus, not as Saviour, but as Judge, shall separate the goats from the sheep. One would suppose, that they have received a revelation from God, that, on the Day of Judgment, all will be well with them. Let us be more prudent; let us stand on our guard against the illusions of a proud, self-satisfied indifference; let us secure to ourselves, by sincere repentance, the well-founded hope, that on the terrible Day, which has made the very Saints tremble we shall hear these words of the Divine Judge addressed to us: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (St. Matth. xxv. 34)!
Vincent Ferrer leaves the peaceful cell of his Monastery, that he may go and rouse men to the great truth they had forgotten,–the Day of God’s inexorable justice; we have not heard his preachings, but, have we not the Gospel? have we not the Church, who, at the commencement of this Season of Penance, preached to us the terrible truth, which St. Vincent took as the subject of his instructions? Let us, therefore, prepare ourselves to appear before Him, who will demand of us a strict account of those graces which he so profusely poured out upon us, and were the purchase of his Blood. Happy they that spend their Lents well, for they may hope for a favourable Judgment!
How grand must have been thine eloquence, O Vincent, that could rouse men from their lethargy, and give them to feel all the terrors of the awful Judgment. Our forefathers heard thy preaching, and returned to God, and were pardoned. We, too, were drowsy of spirit when, at the commencement of this holy Season, the Church awakened us to the work of our salvation, by sprinkling our heads with ashes, and pronouncing over us the sentence of our God, whereby we are condemned to die. Yes, we are to die; we are to die soon; and a Judgment is to be held upon us, deciding our eternal lot. Then, at the moment fixed in the divine decrees, we shall rise again, in order that we may assist at the solemn and terrible Judgment. Our consciences will be laid open, our good and bad actions will be weighed, before the whole of mankind; after which, the sentence already pronounced upon us in our particular Judgment will be made public. Sinners as we are, how shall we be able to bear the eye of our Redeemer, who will then be our inexorable Judge? How shall we endure even the gaze of our fellow-creatures, who shall then behold every sin we have committed? But above all,–which of the two sentences will be ours? Were the Judge to pronounce it at this very moment, would He place us among the Blessed of His Father, or among the Cursed? on his right, or on his left?
Our fathers were seized with fear when thou, O Vincent, didst put these questions to them. They did penance for their sins, and, after receiving pardon from God, their fears abated, and holy joy filled their souls. Angel of God’s Judgment! pray for us, that we may be moved to salutary fear. A few days hence, and we shall behold our Redeemer ascending the hill of Calvary, with the heavy weight of his Cross upon him; we shall hear him thus speaking to the Daughters of Jerusalem: Weep not over Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children: for if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry (St. Luke, xxiii. 28, 31)? Help us, O Vincent, to profit of these words of warning. Our sins have reduced us to the condition of dry dead branches, that are good for nought but to burn in the fire of divine vengeance; help us, by thy intercession, to be once more united to Him who will give us life. Thy zeal for souls was extreme; take ours under thy care, and procure for them the grace of perfect reconciliation with our offended Judge. Pray, too, for Spain, the country that gave thee life and faith, thy Religious Profession and thy Priesthood. The dangers that are now threatening her require all thy zeal and love; exercise them in her favour, and be her faithful protector.
The Liturgical Year. 1904. Abbot Dom Gueranger, O.S.B. Translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B. Imprimatur, 1910.