The symbol of Christ’s love

“O Immaculate Virgin Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Mother of Grace, and Queen of the kingdom of thy Son,
humbly kneeling before thee,
we offer thee this country in which we live.
It once was thine.
Before it was robbed of the holy Faith
all its children were thy children,
and thou wast honoured throughout its length and breadth
as its Protectress and its Queen.”

Above the high altar in the chapel of the Venerable English College in Rome, there is a celebrated image of Christ crucified borne up by God the Father with the Holy Spirit descending upon Him in the form of a dove. Blood and water flow from His pierced side and fall upon England which bursts into flame. Beneath this image an angel holds a scroll on which are written the words, Ignem veni mittere in terram — “I have come to cast fire upon the earth” (Luke 12:49).

It is hard to think of those blissful days when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered in unmaimed rites innumerable times each day in every village and town from Berwick to Penzance, when St Thomas More presided in Westminster and St John Fisher preached in Rochester, when thousands of consecrated religious adored our Saviour, singing all 150 psalms every week in the ancient tones brought back to these islands by St Augustine and St Benet Biscop, when the Athanasian Creed proclaimed every day in ringing tones, “This is the Catholic faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.”

It is hard to think of those blissful days now that every city and town is daubed with lurid and unnatural banners proclaiming a new creed, the creed of unnatural vice, of unnature and unreason, of perversion, mutilation and death. The aggressive, strident, persecuting ideological uniformity demanded by this symbol is far more reminiscent of Germany in the 1930s than anything recognisable as England.

I walked into a hire car office with a friend some years ago and every employee was wearing a badge displaying their compliance with the ideology of “Pride”. The friend who was with me was struck by a deep depression. He observed that, from one day to the next, their employer might arrive with a batch of these objects and demand (implicitly or explicitly) that they wear them or lose their jobs.

At the end of the flood, God placed a bow in the sky to remind mankind of His promise never again to destroy the world with water (Gen 9:13–17). As the catechumen is warned in the rite of baptism, next time He will do it with fire (2 Pt 3:7). This fire, the final conflagration, will dissolve the elements themselves (2 Pt 3:10). Heaven and earth will pass away (Mt 24:35). Charity will have grown cold (Mt 24:12) and there will scarcely be faith on earth (Lk 18:8). Our Lord compares the time of His return to the days of Noah (Mt 24:37, Lk 17:26) and the days of Lot (Lk 17:28). The destruction of Sodom is a sign and a foretaste of the destruction which will come upon the world in those days (2 Pt 2:6-10).

When we enter the font, sacramentally, we die (Rom 6:4). Like those who perished in the deluge, we have failed to fulfil the law (1 Pt 3:21) but, through entering the Ark, we condemn the world and live by faith in Christ (Heb 11:9). As Christ was baptised even though he was without sin, so He died even though He was innocent, “the just for the unjust” (1 Pt 3:18). By accepting the first we accept the second also, His death for ours. So, likewise we accept the baptism of fire, the gift of the Holy Spirit Who drives the adopted sons of God as He drove the natural Son of God into the wilderness to be tested (Mk 10:39). By receiving the fire of tribulation now under the impulse of the Spirit, Who sets us at odds with the world the flesh and the devil, we avoid the depredations of that day which dawns in fire, testing the quality of every man’s work and consuming the wasted labours of those who built in wood and hay and stubble (1 Cor 3:11–15) and the substance of those who have allowed themselves to be signed with mark of the beast (Rev 19:20).

Everyone will be salted with fire. “For salt,” St Bede explains, “means the sweetness of wisdom; and fire, the grace of the Holy Spirit.” “Everyone shall be salted with fire, because all the elect ought to be purged by spiritual wisdom, from the corruption of carnal concupiscence.” Salt preserves and gives savour. For those who are salted with fire in this life are preserved from the corruption of the flesh by the preserving power of continence; and through the strengthening of charity, and therefore wisdom, they are enabled to taste the bread of the morrow, strengthening them for trials which stand between them and the world to come (1 Pt 4:12–13). This, according to St Bede, is “the fire of tribulation, by which the patience of the faithful is proved, that it may have its perfect work.” For those who wait until the next world to be salted with fire will be preserved only to give fuel for the inextinguishable fires.

The rainbow is the symbol of the natural law. It is the pledge of the season of repentance but also of the time necessary to fill up the cup of God’s wrath. As the chosen people make their stumbling way across the desert, so those who presume upon the Lord’s forbearance prepare for the manifestation of His justice which will disposes the godless nations (Gen 15:16). The fathers perceived, in the eight pagan peoples who God’s chosen drive before them, the eight logismoi or evil thoughts. Egypt, from which the Christian is liberated by the waters of baptism, stands for pride — escape from which marks the beginning of our journey. The Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites stand for the seven deadly sins, each in its own way a manifestation of pride, gluttony, lust, avarice, acedia, wrath, envy and vanity. It is for combat with which these that we are trained by the asceticism of the desert. The perverted rainbow of pride, the rainbow of presumption, contains within itself those seven demons who come back to take up residence in the place once swept and cleaned by the Gospel.

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said: Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

Jn 7:37–39

Within the Sacred Heart of Jesus are contained the sovereign remedies for the sevenfold demons of pride: the Spirit’s gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and the fear of the Lord (Is 11:2–3).

“When the Church, in the days immediately succeeding her institution, was oppressed beneath the yoke of the Caesars, a young Emperor saw in the heavens across, which became at once the happy omen and cause of the glorious victory that soon followed. And now, today, behold another blessed and heavenly token is offered to our sight — the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, with a cross rising from it and shining forth with dazzling splendour amidst flames of love. In that Sacred Heart all our hopes should be placed, and from it the salvation of men is to be confidently besought.”

Leo XIII, 1899

The Sacred Heart is the symbol of Christ’s love for all men. “He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:2). The Lord came “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” His net encompasses the whole world (Mt 13:47–52). If few are saved (Mt 22:14), yet many will experience the fruits of His redemption (Mt 26:28) and there is no one who has not felt the effects of His love (John 12:32). It is not for us to know who He has chosen (Matthew 24:24), his gift is sovereign (Mt 8:11–12) and He suffered much for the ingratitude of the lost (Mt 23:37, Lk 22:48). We cannot abandon any nation or individual. We are sent into the world to preach the Gospel to every nation and all creation (Mt 28:19, Mk 16:15) and God “hath mercy on whom he will; and whom he will, he hardeneth” (Rom 9:18). For there is another deluge which will restore to life the ashes left by the final conflagration, a stream, and then a river and finally a torrent flowing forth from the pierced side of the temple of Christ’s body (Ez 47:1–9) “And behold there was a new heaven and new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (Revelation 21:1).