SUMMARY.-Why God willed to prolong the preparation for the Incarnation during so many centuries. - I. How Divine Wisdom, in recalling and specifying, by the voice of the prophets, the first promise of a Redeemer, prepared the souls of the just of the Old Covenant for the coming of the God-Man on earth.-II. St. John Baptist, the Forerunner of the Incarnate Word, sums up and surpasses all the prophets. -III. Although we live in " the fulness of time, "the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, each year recalls the memory of these divine preparations. Threefold reason for this supernatural economy. - IV. Dispositions that we ought to have in order that Christ's coming may produce within our souls the plenitude of its fruits: purity of heart, humility, confidence and holy desires. To unite our aspirations to those of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus.
ALL God's blessings that come down upon us have their source in the election that He made of our souls, throughout eternity, to make them "holy and unspotted in His sight" (Eph 1:4). In this divine decree so full of love is contained our adoptive predestination as children of God and all the favours thereto attached.
St. Paul says that it was through the grace of Jesus Christ, sent by God in the fulness of time, that this adoption was granted to us: "At ubi venit plenitudo temporis, misit Deus Filium suum factum ex muliere... ut adoptionem filiorum reciperemus" (Gal 4:4-5).
God's eternal design of sending His own Son into the world to redeem the human race, broken and bruised by sin, and of restoring to it the children's inheritance and heavenly beatitude, this is the masterpiece of His wisdom and love.
The views of God are not our views; all His thoughts are higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth; but it is especially in the work of the Incarnation and Redemption that the sublimity and greatness of the Divine ways shine forth. This work is so high, so closely united to the very life of the Most Holy Trinity, that it remained throughout long ages hidden in the depths of the divine secrets: "Sacramentum absconditum a saeculis in Deo" (Eph 3:9).
As you know, God willed to prepare the human race for the revelation of this mystery during some thousands of years. Why did God chose to delay the coming of His Son amongst us for so many centuries? Why such a long period? We cannot, mere creatures as we are, fathom the depths of the reasons why God accomplishes His works under such or such conditions. He is the Infinitely Sovereign Being Who has no need of a counsellor (Cf. Rom 11:34). But as He is likewise Wisdom itself that reacheth "from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly" (Sir 8:1). Cf. Great antiphon O Sapientia, 17th Dec.) we may yet humbly seek to learn something of the appropriateness of the conditions of His mysteries.
It was fitting that men, having sinned by pride, "Eritis sicut dii" (Gen 3:5) should be obliged, by the prolonged experience of their weakness and the extent of their misery, to confess the absolute need they had of a Redeemer and to aspire after His coming with all the fibres of their nature (Cf. S. Thom. III, q.I, a.5).
The idea of this future Redeemer fills all the Ancient Law; all the symbols, all the rites and sacrifices prefigure Him: "Haec omnia in figura contigebant illis" (1 Cor 10:2); all desires converge towards Him. According to the beautiful expression of an author of the first centuries, the Old Testament bore Christ in its loins: "Lex Christo gravida erat" (Appendix to the works of S. Augustine, Sermon 196). The religion of Israel was the expectation of the Messias.
Moreover, the greatness of the mystery of the Incarnation and the majesty of the Redeemer demanded that the revelation of Him to the human race should only be made by degrees. Man, on the morrow of his fall, was neither worthy of receiving nor capable of welcoming the full manifestation of the God-Man. It was by a dispensation at once full of wisdom and mercy, that God disclosed this ineffable mystery only little by little, by the mouth of the prophets; when the human race should be sufficiently prepared, the Word, so many times announced, so often promised, would Himself appear here below to instruct us: "Multifariam multisque modis olim loquens patribus in prophetis... novissime locutus est nobis in Filio" (Heb 1:1).
I will therefore point out some traits of these divine preparations for the Incarnation. We shall herein see with what wisdom God disposed the human race to receive salvation; it will be for us an occasion of returning fervent thanksgiving to "the Father of mercies" (2 Cor 1:3) for having caused us to live in "the fulness of time" which still endures and wherein He grants to men the inestimable gift of His Son.
You know that it was just after the sin of our first parents in the very cradle of the already rebellious human race that God began to reveal the mystery of the Incarnation. Adam and Eve, prostrate before the Creator, in the shame and despair of their fall, dare not raise their eyes to heaven. And behold, even before pronouncing the sentence of their banishment from the terrestrial paradise, God speaks to them the first words of forgiveness and hope.
Instead of being cursed and driven out for ever from the presence of their God, as were the rebel angels, they were to have a Redeemer; He it was Who should break the power won over them by the devil. And as their fall began by the prevarication of the woman, it was to be by the son of a woman that this redemption should be wrought: "Inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem, et semen tuum et semen illius: ipsa conteret caput tuum" (Gen 3:15).
This is what is called the "Protogospel," the first word of salvation. It is the first promise of redemption, the dawn of divine mercy to the sinful earth, the first ray of that light which was one day to vivify the world, the first manifestation of the mystery hidden in God from all eternity.
After this promise, all the religion of the human race, and, later, all the religion of the chosen people is concentrated around this "seed of the woman," this "semen mulieris" which is to deliver mankind.
Throughout the years as they pass by, and as the centuries advance, God makes His promise more precise; He repeats it with more solemnity. He assures the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that it is from their race that the blessed seed shall come forth: "Et benedicentur in semine tuo omnes gentes terrae" (Gen 22:18; cf. Gal 3:16); to the dying Jacob, He shows that it is in the tribe of Juda that shall arise the One Who is to come, the desire of all peoples: "Donec veniat qui nittendus est, et ipse erit exspectatio gentium" (Ibid. 49:10).
And now behold how the nations, forgetful of the primeval revelations, sink insensibly into error. God then chooses for Himself a people that shall be the guardian of His promises. To this people, throughout the centuries, God will recall His promises, renew them, render them clearer and more abundant: this will be the era of the prophets.
If you listen to the sacred oracles of the prophets of Israel, you will remark that the traits whereby God depicts the Person of the future Messias and specifies the character of His mission, are at times so opposed that it seems as if they could not be encountered in the same person. Sometimes the prophets attribute to the Redeemer prerogatives such as could only befit a God, sometimes, they predict for this Messias a sum of humiliations, contradictions, infirmities and sufferings with which the last of men could scarcely deserve to be overwhelmed.
You will constantly be coming across this striking contrast.
For example, there is David, the king dear to God's Hears; the Lord swore to confirm his race for ever: the Messias was to be of the royal family of David. God reveals Him to David as "his son and his Lord" (Ps 59:1; cf. Mt 22:41-45): his son by reason of the humanity that He was one day to take from a Virgin of his family, his Lord, by reason of His divinity. David contemplates Him "in the brightness of the saints," begotten eternally before the rising of the day star; a supreme High Priest "according to the order of Melchisedech" (Ps 59:3-4), anointed to reign over us because of His " truth and meekness and justice" (Ps. 44:5); in a word, the Son of God Himself to Whom all nations are to be given as an inheritance: "Dominus dixit ad me: Filius meus es tu, ego hodie genui te: postula a me et dabo tibi gentes haereditatem tuam" (Ps. 2:7-8). St. Paul says to the Hebrews that these are prerogatives wherein a God alone can glory (Heb 1:13).
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But David contemplates too the pierced Hands and Feet, the garments divided among the soldiers who cast lots upon His coat (Ps 22:17-19); He beholds Him given gall and vinegar to drink (Ps 68:22). Then again see the Divine attributes: He will not be touched by the corruption of the tomb, but, victorious over death, He will sit down at the right hand of God (Ps 15:10).
This contrast is not less striking in Isaias, the great Seer; so precise and full of detail is he that he might be called the fifth Evangelist. One would say that he was relating accomplished facts rather than foretelling future events.
The prophet, transported up to heaven, says of the Messias: "Who shall declare His generation": "Generationem ejus quis enarrabit" (Is 53:8)? He gives Him names such as no man has ever borne: "His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace" (Is 9:6). Born of a Virgin, "His name shall be called Emmanuel" (7:14), God with us. Isaias describes Him "come forth as brightness," and "lighted as a lamp" (62:1); he sees Him opening the eyes of the blind and unstopping the ears of the deaf, loosing the tongue of the dumb and making the lame to walk (35:5-6); he shows Him as "a Leader and a Master to the Gentiles" (55:4); he sees the idols utterly destroyed before Him (2:14-18); and he hears God promise by oath that before this Saviour "every knee shall be bowed" and every tongue shall confess His power (Is 45:23).
And yet this Redeemer, Whose glory the prophet thus exalts, is to be overwhelmed with such sufferings, and such humiliations are to crush Him that He will be looked upon as "the most abject of men... as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted;... led as a sheep to the slaughter... reputed with the wicked... because the Lord was pleased to bruise Him in infinity" (Is 53, 3 seq.).
In most of the prophets you can see this opposition of traits with which they describe the greatness and the abasements, the power and the weakness, the sufferings and the glory of the Messias. You will see with what condescending wisdom God prepared the minds of His people to receive the revelation of the ineffable mystery of a God-Man, at once the supreme Lord Whom all nations adore, and the Victim for the sins of the world.
The economy of the Divine mercy is, as you know, wholly based upon faith; faith is the foundation and the root of all justification. Without this faith, even the bodily presence of Christ Jesus would be unable to produce the fulness of its effect in souls.
Now faith is communicated to us by the Holy Spirit's inward action which accompanies the statement of the divine truths made by prophets and preachers: Fides ex auditu (Rom 10:7).
In so often recalling the ancient promises, in revealing, little by little through the mouths of the prophets, the traits of the Redeemer Who was to come, God willed to produce in the hearts of the just of the Old Covenant the requisite conditions whereby the coming of the Messias should be salutary for them. Besides the more the just of the Old Covenant were filled with faith and confidence in the promises announced by their prophets, the more they would burn with the desire to see them realized, and the more they would be ready to receive the abundance of graces that the Saviour was to bring to the world. It was thus that the Virgin Mary, Zachary and Elisabeth, Simeon, Anna, and the other faithful souls who lived at the time of Christ's coming, at once recognised Him and were inundated with His favours.
You see how God was pleased to prepare mankind for the coming of His Son upon earth. St. Peter could truly say to the Jews that they were "the children of the prophets" (Acts 3:25). St. Paul could write to the Hebrews that before God spoke to them in person, He "at sundry times, and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets": "Multifariam multisque modis" (Heb 1:1).
The faithful Jews were, moreover, constantly in expectation of the Messias. Their faith discerned in the person of this Redeemer one sent by God, a King, a God Who was to put an end to their miseries, and deliver them from the burden of their sins. They have but one longing: "Send, O Lord, Him Who is to come." They have but one desire: to behold with their eyes the countenance of the Saviour of Israel. The promised Messias was the object towards which converged all the hopes, all the worship, all the religion of the Old Covenant. All the Old Testament is a prolonged Advent the prayers of which are summed up in this prayer of Isaias: "Emitte Agnum, Domine, Dominatorem terrae" (Is 16:1). "Send forth, O Lord, the Lamb, the Ruler of the earth." "Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just": "Rorate caeli desuper, et nubes pluant justum"; "Let the earth be opened, and bud forth a Saviour": "A periatur terra et germinet Salvatorem" (Is 45:8).
We have marvelled at the profound ways of Divine Wisdom in the preparations for the mystery of the coming of the God-Man. And yet this is not all.
While by a succession of marvels, Eternal Wisdom keeps intact, among the chosen people, the ancient promises, unceasingly confirmed and developed by prophecy, while even the successive captivities of the Jewish people, who at times became unfaithful, are made to serve to spread abroad the knowledge of these promises even among the nations of the Gentiles, Wisdom likewise directs the destinies of these nations.
You know how, during this long period of several centuries God, Who holds the hearts of kings in His hand (Cf. Prov 21:2), and Whose power equals His wisdom, establishes and destroys the most vast empires one after the other. To the empire of Ninive, reaching as far as Egypt, follows that of Babylon; then, as Isaias had foretold, God "calls His servant Cyrus" (Isa 45:1), king of the Persians, and places the sceptre of Nabuchodonosor within his hands; after Cyrus, He makes Alexander the master of the nations, until He gives the world's empire to Rome, an empire of which the unity and peace will serve the mysterious designs of the spread of the Gospel.
Now the "fulness of time" (Gal 4:4) has come: the world is flooded with sin and error; man at length realizes the weakness in which pride kept him; all peoples stretch out their arms towards this Liberator so often promised, so long awaited: "Et veniet desideratus cunctis gentibus" (Hag 2:8).
When this fulness of time comes, God crowns all his preparations by the sending of St. John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, one whom He will render greater than Abraham, greater than Moses, greater than all, as He Himself declares: "Non surrexit inter natos mulierum major Joanne Baptista" (Mt 11:2; cf. Lk 7:28). It is Jesus Christ Who says this. Why is it?
Because God wills to make St. John the Baptist His herald above all others, the very Precursor of His beloved Son: "Propheta altissimi vocaberis" (Lk 1:76).. so as to enhance still further the glory of this Son Whom He is about to introduce into the world, after having so many times promised Him, God is pleased to reveal the dignity of the Precursor who is to bear witness that the Light and the Truth have at length appeared upon earth: "Ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine" (Jn 1:8).
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God wills him to be great because his mission is great, because he has been chosen to precede so closely the One Who is to come. In God's sight, the greatness of the saints is measured according to their nearness to His Son Jesus.
See how He exalts the Precursor in order to show yet once more, by the excellence of this last Prophet, what is the dignity of His Word. He chooses him from an especially saintly race; an angel announces his birth, gives the name that he is to bear and indicates the extent and greatness of his mission. God sanctifies him in his mother's womb; He works such miracles around his cradle that the fortunate witnesses of these marvels wonderingly ask each other: "What an one, think ye, shall this child be?" (Lk 1:66)
Later on, John's holiness appears so great that the Jews come to ask him if he is the looked-for Christ. But he, forestalled as he is with divine favours, protests that he is but " the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord" (Jn 1:23).
The other prophets only saw the Messias afar off; he points Him out in person and in terms so clear that all sincere hearts understand them: " Behold the Lamb of God " behold the One Who is the object of all the desires of the human race, because He "taketh away the sins of the world": "Ecce Agnus Dei" (Jn 1:29). You do not yet know Him, although He is in the midst of you: "Medius vestrum stetit quem vos nescitis"; He is greater than I, for He was before me; He is so great that I am not even worthy to loose the latchet of His shoe; so great, that "I saw the Spirit coming down, as a dove from heaven, and He remained upon Him... and I saw, and I gave testimony that this is the Son of God" (Jn 1:26-27, 3-34). What more has he yet to say? "He that cometh from above, is above all. And what He hath seen and heard, that He testifieth ;... He Whom God hath sent, speaketh the words of God; for God cloth not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loveth the Son; and He hath given all things into His hand. He that believed in the Son, hath life everlasting; but He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on Him" (Jn 3:31f.).
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These are the last words of the Precursor. By them he achieves his work of preparing souls to receive the Messias. Indeed, when the Incarnate Word, Who alone can speak the words from on high because He is ever in sinu Patris (Jn 1:18), begins His public mission as the Saviour, John will disappear; he will no longer bear testimony to the Truth save with the shedding of his blood.
The Christ, Whom he announced, has come at last; He is that Light unto which John bore testimony, and all those who believe in that Light have life everlasting. It is to Him alone to Whom it must be said: "Lord, to Whom shall we go ? Thou hast the words of eternal Life " (Jn 6:69).
We ourselves have the happiness of believing in this Light "which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world" (Jn 1:9). We live, moreover, in the blessed "fulness of time"; we are not deprived, like the Patriarchs, of seeing the reign of the Messias. If we are not of those who looked upon Christ in person and heard His words, those who beheld Him going about doing good everywhere, we have the signal happiness of belonging to those nations of which David sang that they should be Christ's inheritance.
And yet the Holy Spirit, Who governs the Church and is the first author of our sanctification, wills that each year the Church should consecrate four weeks in recalling to memory the long duration of the divine preparations, and that she should strive to place our souls in the interior dispositions in which the faithful Jews lived whilst awaiting the coming of the Messias.
You will perhaps immediately say: This preparation for Christ's coming, these longings, these expectations, all that was excellent for those living under the Old Covenant; but now that Christ has come, why this attitude which does not seem to be in accordance with the truth?
The reason for it is manifold.
To begin with, God wills to be praised and blessed in all His works.
All, indeed, are marked with His infinite wisdom: "Omnia in sapientia fecisti" (Ps 53:24); all are admirable both in their preparation and their realisation. This is above all true of those which have the glory of His Son for their direct end, for it is the will of the Father that this Son should be for ever exalted (Cf. Jn 12:25). God wills that we should admire His works, that we should return thanks to Him for having thus prepared, with so much wisdom and power, the kingdom of His Son amongst us: we enter into the divine thoughts when we recollect the prophecies and promises of the Old Covenant.
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God wills also that in these preparations we should find confirmation of our faith.
If God gave so many different and precise signs, such numerous and clear prophecies, it was in order that we might recognise as His Son the One Who has fulfilled them in His person.
See how in the Gospel Our Lord Himself invited His disciples to this contemplation. "Scrutamini Scripturas", "Search the Scriptures" (Jn 5:39), He said to them--"the Scriptures," which then consisted of the books of the Old Testament:--search them, you will find them full of My name; for "all things must need be fulfilled which are written... in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me": "Necesse est impleri omnia quae scripta sunt in prophetic et psalmis de me" (Lk 24:44). Again we hear Him on the day after His Resurrection explaining to the disciples of Emmaus, so as to strengthen their faith, and dissipate their sadness, all that concerned Him throughout the Scriptures, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets": "Et incipiens a Moyse et omnibus prophetic, interpretabatur illis in omnibus scripturis quae de ipso erant" (Ibid. 27).
When, therefore, we read the prophecies that the Church proposes to us during Advent, let us in the fulness of our faith, say like the first disciples of Jesus: "We have found Him of Whom... the prophets did write" (Jn 1:45). Let us repeat to Christ Jesus Himself: Thou art truly the One Who is to come; we believe it, and we adore Thee Who to save the world didst deign to become incarnate and to be born of a Virgin: "Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem non horruisti virginis uterum" (Hymn Te Deum).
This profession of faith is extremely pleasing to God. Never let us weary of reiterating it. Our Lord will be able to say to us as to His Apostles: "The Father Himself loveth you, because you... have believed that I came forth from God" (Jn 16:28).
Finally, there is a third reason, one deeper and more intimate. Christ did not come only for the inhabitants of Judea, His contemporaries, but for us all, for all men of every nation and century. Do we not sing in the Credo: "Propter NOS et propter NOSTRAM salutem descendit de caelis?" The "fulness of time" is not yet ended; it will endure as long as there shall be souls to save.
But it is to the Church that Christ, since His Ascension, has left the mission of bringing Him forth in souls. "My little children," said St. Paul, the Apostle of Christ Jesus among nations," of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed in you" (Gal 4:19). The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, Who is the Spirit of Jesus, labours at this work by making us contemplate every year the mystery of her Divine Bridegroom. For, as I said at the beginning of these conferences, all Christ's mysteries are living mysteries; they are not merely historical realities of which we recall the remembrance, but the celebration of each mystery brings a proper grace, a special virtue intended to make us share in the life and states of Christ Whose members we are.
Now, at Christmas, the Church celebrates the Birthday of her Divine Bridegroom: "tamquam sponsus procedens de thalamo suo" (Ps 18:6); and she wills to prepare us, by the weeks of Advent, for the grace of the coming of Christ within us. It is an altogether inward, mysterious advent which is wrought in faith, but brings forth much fruit.
Christ is already within us by the sanctifying grace which makes us children of God. That is true, but the Church wills that this grace should be renewed, that we should live a new life more exempt from sin and imperfection, more free from all attachment to ourselves and creatures: "Ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem nativitas liberet quos sub peccati jugo vetusta servitus" tenet (Collect for the Feast of Christmas.) She wills above all to make us understand that Christ, in exchange for the humanity which He takes from us, will make us partakers of His Divinity, and will take a more complete, more entire, more perfect possession of us. This will be like the grace of a new divine birth in us: "Ut tua gratia largiente, per haec sacrosancta commercia, in illius inveniamur forma, in quo tecum est nostra substantia" (Secret for the Midnight Mass).
It is this grace of a new birth that the Incarnate Word merited for us by His Birth at Bethlehem.
However, we should remember that if Christ was born, and lived and died for us all: Pro omnibus mortuus est Christus (2 Cor 5:15), the application of His merits and the distribution of His graces are made according to the measure of the dispositions of each soul.
Consequently we shall only share in the abundant graces that Christ's Nativity should bring to us in proportion to our dispositions. The Church knows this perfectly, and therefore she neglects nothing that can produce in our souls that inward attitude required by the coming of Christ within us. Not only does the Church say by the mouth of the Precursor: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord," for "He is near," "prope est Dominus" (Invitatory of Matins for the 3rd Sunday in Advent); but she herself, like a Bride attentive to the wishes of her Bridegroom, like a mother careful for her children's good, suggests to us and gives us the means of making this necessary preparation. She carries us back as it were under the Old Covenant so that we may appropriate to ourselves, although in an altogether supernatural sense, the thoughts and feelings of the faithful who longed for the coming of the Messias.
If we allow ourselves to be guided by her, our dispositions will be perfect, and the solemnity of the Birth of Jesus will produce within us all its fruits of grace, of light and life.
What are these dispositions? They can be summed up in four.
Purity of heart. Who was the best disposed for the coming of the Word to earth? Without any doubt, it was the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the moment when the Word came into this world, He found Mary's heart perfectly prepared, and capable of receiving the Divine riches which He willed to heap upon her. What were the dispositions of her soul?
Assuredly she possessed all the most perfect dispositions; but there is one which shines with particular brilliancy: that is her virginal purity. Mary is a virgin. Her virginity is so precious to her that it is her first thought when the angel proposes to her the mystery of the divine maternity.
Not only is she a virgin, but her soul is stainless. The liturgy reveals to us that God's special design in granting to Mary the unique privilege of the Immaculate Conception was to prepare for His Word a dwelling place worthy of Him: "Deus qui per immvaculatam Virginis conceptionem dignum Filio tuo HABITACULUM PRAEPARASTI" (Collect for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception). Mary was to be the Mother of God; and this eminent dignity required not only that she should be a virgin, but that her purity should surpass that of the angels and be a reflection of the holy splendour wherein the Father begets His Son: "In splendoribus sanctorum" (Ps 59:3). God is holy, thrice holy; the angels, the archangels, the seraphim hymn His infinite purity: "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus" (Is 6:3). The bosom of God, of an infinite purity, is the dwelling-place of the Only-begotten Son of God. The Word is ever in "sinu Patris"; but, in becoming Incarnate, He also willed, in ineffable condescension, to be in "sinu Virginis Matris". It was necessary that the tabernacle that Our Lady offered Him should recall, by its incomparable purity, the indefectible brightness of the light eternal where as God He ever dwells: "Christi sinus erat in Deo Patre divinitas, in Maria Matre virginitas" (Sermo, XII, in Append. Operum S. Ambrosii).
Thus the first disposition that attracts Christ is a great purity. But as for ourselves, we are sinners. We cannot offer to the Word, to Christ Jesus, that immaculate purity which He so much loves. What is there that will take the place of it in us ? It is humility.
God possesses in His bosom the Son of His delight, but upon this bosom He also presses another son,-the prodigal son. Our Lord Himself tells us so. When, after having fallen so low, the prodigal returns to his father, he humbles himself to the dust, he confesses himself to be miserable and unworthy; and, at once, without a word or reproach, the father receives him into the bosom of his compassion: Misericordia motus (Lk 15:20).
Do not let us forget that the Word, the Son, only wills what His Father wills. If He becomes Incarnate and appears upon earth, it is in order to seek sinners and bring them back to His Father: "Non vend vocare justos sed peccatores "(Mt 9:13), This is so true that later Our Lord will often be found, to the great scandal of the Pharisees, in the company of sinners; He will allow Magdalen to kiss His Feet and bathe them with her tears.
We have not the Virgin Mary's purity, but let us at least ask for the humility of Magdalen, a contrite and penitent love. O Christ Jesus, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come to me; my heart will not be for Thee a dwelling-place of purity, misery dwells there. But I acknowledge, I avow this misery; come and relieve me of it. O Thou Who art mercy itself; come and deliver me, O Thou Who art almighty: Veni ad liberandum nos, Domine Deus virtutum!
A like prayer, joined to the spirit of penance, draws Christ to us because the humility that abases itself in its nothingness thereby renders homage to the goodness and power of Jesus: Et eum, qui venit ad me, non eficiam foras (Jn 6:37).
The sight of our infirmity ought not, however, to discourage us; far from that. The more we feel our weakness, so much the more ought we to open our soul to confidence, because salvation comes only from Christ.
Pusillanimes, confortamini et nolite timere, ecce Deus noster veniet et salvabit nos (Communion for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, cf. Is 35:4). "Ye faint-hearted, take courage and fear not: behold God, our God, will come and will save us." See what confidence the Jews had in the Messias. For them, the Messias was everything; in Him were summed up all the aspirations of Israel, all the wishes of the people, all the hopes of the race; to contemplate Him was all their ambition; to see His reign established would have fulfilled all their desires. And how confident and impatient the desires of the Jews became: "Come, O Lord and do not delay" (Alleluia for the 4th Sunday of Advent) "Shew us Thy face, and we shall be saved" (Ps 79:4).
Oh, if we who possess Christ Jesus, true God as well as true Man, really understood what the Sacred Humanity of Jesus is, we should have an unshaken confidence in it; for in His Humanity are all the treasures of knowledge and of wisdom; in it the Divinity itself dwells. This God-Man, Who comes to us is the Emmanuel, He is "God with us," He is our Elder Brother. The Word has espoused our nature, He has taken upon Himself our infirmities so as to know by experience what suffering is. He comes to us to make us partakers of His divine life; all the graces for which we can hope He possesses in their fulness in order to grant them to us.
The promises that, by the voice of the prophets, God made to His people so as to arouse in them the desire of the Messias, are magnificent. But many of the Jews understood these promises in the material and gross sense of a temporal and political kingdom. The good things promised to the just who awaited the Saviour were but the figure of the supernatural riches which we find in Christ; we have the divine reality, that is to say the grace of Jesus. The liturgy for Advent constantly speaks to us of mercy, redemption, salvation, deliverance, light, abundance, joy, peace. "Behold the Saviour cometh; on the day of His Birth, the world shall be flooded with light" (Antiphon for Lauds of the 1st Sunday in Advent; "exult then with joy, O Jerusalem, for the Saviour shall appear" (Antiphon for Lauds for the 3rd Sunday in Advent); "peace shall fill our earth when He shews Himself" (Response for Matins for the 3rd Sunday in Advent). Christ brings with Him all the blessings that can be lavished upon a soul: "Cum illo omnia nobis donavit" (Rom 8:32).
Let then our hearts yield themselves up to an absolute confidence in Him Who is to come. It is to render ourselves very pleasing to the Father to believe that His Son Jesus can do everything for the sanctification of our souls. Thereby we declare that Jesus is equal to Him, and that the Father "hath given all things into His hand" (Jn 3:35). Such confidence cannot be mistaken. In the Mass for the first Sunday in Advent, the Church thrice gives us the firm assurance of this. "None of them that wait on Thee shall be confounded": "Qui te exspectant non confundentur."
This confidence will above all be expressed in the ardent desire to see Christ come to reign more fully within us. "Adveniat regnum tuum!" The liturgy gives us the formula of these desires. At the same time that she places the prophecies, especially those of Isaias, under our eyes, and causes us to read them again, the Church puts upon our lips the aspirations and the longings of the just men of old time. She wills to see us prepared for Christ's coming within our souls in the same way as God willed that the Jews should be disposed to receive His Son. "Come, O Lord, They mercy, and grant us Thy people" (Alleluia for the 4th Sunday of Advent). "Shew us, O Lord, Thy mercy, and grant us Thy salvation" (Offertory for the 2d Sunday of Advent). "Come and deliver us, Lord, God Almighty! Raise up Thy power, and come" (Collect for the 4th Sunday of Advent).
The Church makes us constantly repeat these aspirations. Let us make them our own, let us appropriate them to ourselves with faith, and Christ Jesus will enrich us with His graces.
Doubtless, as you know, God is master of His gifts; He is sovereignly free, and none may hold Him to account for His preferences. But, in the ordinary ways of His Providence, He hears the supplications of the humble who bring their needs before Him: "Desiderium pauperum exaudivit Dominus" (Ps 9:17). Christ gives Himself to us according to the measure of the desire that we have to receive Him, and the capacity of the soul is increased by the desires that it expresses: "Dilata os tuum, et implebo illud" (Ps 80:2).
If then we want the celebration of Christ's Nativity to procure great glory for the Holy Trinity, and to be a consolation for the Heart of the Incarnate Word, a source of abundant graces for the Church and for ourselves, let us strive to purify our hearts, let us preserve a humility full of confidence, and above all let us enlarge our souls by the breath and vehemence of our desires.
Let us ask our Lady to make us share in the holy aspirations that animated her during those blessed days that preceded the Birth of Jesus.
The Church has willed--and what is more just?--that the liturgy of Advent should be full of the thought of the Blessed Virgin; she continually makes us sing the divine fruitfulness of a Virgin, a wonderful fruitfulness that throws nature into astonishment: "Tu quae genuisti, natura mirante, tuum sanctum genitorem, virgo pries ac posterius" (Antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater).
Mary's virginal bosom was an immaculate sanctuary whence arose the most pure incense of her adoration and homage.
There is something veritably ineffable about the inward life of the Virgin during these days. She lived in an intimate union with the Infant-God Whom she bore in her bosom. The soul of Jesus was, by the Beatific Vision, plunged in the Divine light; this light radiated upon His Mother. In the sight of the angels, Mary truly appeared as "a woman clothed with the sun": "Mulier amicta sole" (Rev 12:1), all irradiated with heavenly brightness, all shining with the light of her Son. Her feelings indeed reached the high level of her faith. She summed up in herself all the aspirations, all the impulses, all the longings of humanity awaiting the world's Saviour and God, at the same time going far beyond them and giving them a value that they had never hitherto attained. What holy intensity in her desires! What unshaken assurance in confidence! What fervour in her love!...
This humble Virgin is the Queen of Patriarchs, since she is of their holy lineage, and since the Child Whom she is about to bring into the world is the Son Who resumes in His person all the magnificence of the ancient promises.
She is, too, the Queen of Prophets, since she is to bring forth the Word by Whom all the prophets spoke, since her Son is to fulfil all prophecy and announce to all people the good news of redemption (Lk 4:19).
Let us humbly ask her to make us enter into her dispositions. She will hear our prayer; we shal1 have the immense joy of seeing Christ born anew within our hearts by the communication of a more abundant grace, and we shall be enabled, like the Virgin, although in a lesser measure, to understand the truth of these words of St. John: "The Word was God... and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory... full of grace and truth... And of His fulness we have all received, and grace for grace" (Jn 1:14-16).
>From Christ in His Mysteries, Abbot Marmion, O.S.B.
More Advent & Christmas
Advent & Christmas 2023
Begins Sunday December 3, 2023
Ends on Sunday December 24, 2023
"And the angel answered her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.'"
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