"This child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel."-- LUKE ii. 34.
LESSONS OF THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST
INTRODUCTION. The Gospel of today commemorates the presentation of our Lord in the Temple forty days after His Nativity. There were praying in the Temple at the time holy old Simeon and Anna. The former, receiving the Child in his arms and being filled with the Holy Ghost, first blessed God for having been spared to behold the Saviour, and then prophesied that through this child many should correspond with grace and be saved, while many others through their own fault would be lost.
I. "This child." These words show how God in this mystery condescended to man: 1. He whom the angels adore came to minister to man: " the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister" (Mark x. 45). 2. He at whose nod the heavens tremble (Job xxvi. n) was born on earth as a weak infant. 3. He who possessed the riches of the celestial Kingdom became poor for our sakes: " who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant," etc. (Phil. ii. 6).
II. " For the resurrection." God condescended to our lowliness in order to redeem us from sin and to raise us to the highest degree of dignity: i. Our Lord passed over the nature of the Angels and took the nature of man: " for nowhere doth he take hold of the angels, but of the seed of Abraham he taketh hold" (Heb. ii. 16) ; " to which of the angels hath he said at any time, thou art my son," etc. (Heb. i. 5). It is the greatest glory of our race that the Son of God is now bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. 2. The birth of Christ ennobles the humblest circumstances of our lives--poverty, weakness, suffering, etc. 3. Christ, by the poverty, privations, and obscurity of His birth, teaches us the dangers of riches, pleasures, and honors: " all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes," etc. (l John i. 16). 4. Christ is born to us in order to communicate to us the gifts of grace and glory.
III. "For the fall." Although intended for the benefit of all, the blessings of our Lord's nativity will rise in judgment against many through their own fault: " Though He died for all, yet not all receive the benefit of His death " (Concil of Trent, Sess. VI, chapt. 3). " The blood of thy Lord is given for thee, if thou wilt; if thou wilt not, it is not given for thee" (St. Aug.). i. Contrast the shepherds, Simeon and Anna, who received Christ, with the inhospitable people of Bethlehem, who denied Him a dwelling. 2. Mankind may be divided into two classes: those who are for Christ, and those who are against Him.
CONCLUSION. In order that our Lord's nativity may be for each one of us not a stumbling-block and cause of fall, but the cause of resurrection unto spiritual life and joy everlasting, we must at all times aspire to that Adoption of Sons spoken of in today's Epistle. Let us ever faithfully adhere to the teaching of Christ and keep our souls free from mortal sin.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part I
ARTICLE III OF THE CREED
THE LESSONS WHICH THE MYSTERIES OF THE INCARNATION
AND NATIVITY CONVEY
The pastor should labor to impress deeply on the minds and hearts of the faithful these mysteries, " which were written for our learning"; (l) first, that by the commemoration of so great a benefit they may make some return of gratitude to God, its author; and next, in order to place before their eyes, as a model for imitation, this striking and singular example of humility.
THE DIVINE CONDESCENSION
What can be more useful, what better calculated to subdue the pride and haughtiness of the human heart, than to reflect, frequently, that God humbles Himself in such a manner as to assume our frailty and weakness, in order to communicate to us his grace and glory--that God becomes man, and that He "at whose nod," to use the words of Scripture, " the pillars of heaven tremble,"' bows His supreme and infinite majesty to minister to man--that He whom the angels adore in heaven is born on earth (2) When such is the goodness of God towards us, what, I ask, what should we not do to testify our obedience to His will? With what promptitude and alacrity should we not love, embrace, and perform all the duties of Christian humility?
The faithful should also know the salutary lessons which Christ teaches at His birth, before He opens His divine lips,--He is born in poverty; He is born a stranger under a roof not His own; He is born in a lonely crib; He is born in the depth of winter! These circumstances, which attend the birth of the man-God, are thus recorded by St. Luke: " And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."(3) Could the Evangelist comprehend under more humble terms the majesty and glory that filled the heavens and the earth? He does not say, there was no room in the inn, but there was no room for Him who says, "the world is mine, and the fulness thereof"; (4) and this destitution of the man-God another Evangelist records in these words: " He came unto his own, and his own received him not." (5)
THE DIGNITY WHICH IT CONFERS ON MAN
When the faithful have placed these things before their eyes, let them also reflect that God condescended to assume the lowliness and frailty of our flesh in order to exalt man to the highest degree of dignity. This single reflection alone supplies sufficient proof of the exalted dignity of man conferred on him by the divine bounty--that He who is true and perfect God vouchsafed to become man; so that we may now glory that the Son of God is bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, a privilege not given to angels, " for nowhere," says the apostle, " doth he take hold of the angels: but of the seed of Abraham he taketh hold." (6)
THE INFLUENCE WHICH IT SHOULD HAVE ON MAN'S LIFE
We must also take care that these singular blessings rise not in judgment against us. At Bethlehem, the place of His nativity, . He was denied a dwelling. Now that He is no longer born in human flesh, let Him not be denied a dwelling in our hearts, in which He may be spiritually born, for through an earnest desire for our salvation, this is the object of His most anxious solicitude. As, then, by the power of the Holy Ghost, and in a manner superior to the order of nature. He was made man and was born, was holy and even holiness itself, so does it become our duty to be born, " not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, . . . but of God"; (7) to walk as new creatures in newness of spirit, (8) and to preserve that holiness and purity of soul that become men regenerated by the Spirit of God.(9) Thus shall we reflect some faint image of the holy conception and nativity of the Son of God, which are the objects of our firm faith, and believing which we revere and adore in a mystery, a wisdom of God which was hidden. (10)
CONTRADICTION OF CHRIST
BY THE REV. FERDINAND HECKMANN, O.F.M.
Simeon in today's Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ "is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted." What is the reason of this seemingly strange prophecy? With the entrance of Jesus Christ into this world the judgment of this world began, the separation of men into the two opposite camps of the adherents and of the adversaries of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ "is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many, and for a sign which shall be contradicted," because He is the conspicuous exponent of truths and principles which attract to His standard those who believe in Him and follow Him, and which make Him the point of attack of those who do not believe in Him, who oppose and contradict Him. He is the sign around which assemble the hosts of His followers and against which are arrayed the hordes of His adversaries. In all the ages of Christianity the name of Jesus Christ has been the symbol that divided the civilized world into the two great divisions of those who were with Him and of those who were against Him, For the prophesied contradiction of Christ is by no means limited to the Jews, but embraces the whole human race from the birth of Christ till the end of time when the words of Simeon will find their last realization in the great separation of mankind on the day of the last Judgment.
Let us then consider that the world in its views, tendencies, and pursuits contradicts Christ.
"Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world," says St. John the Evangelist. " If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world" (I John ii. 15, i6). These capital vices of sensuality, avarice, and pride are the source of all temptation and sin and therefore of all the opposition to and contradiction of Christ in this world.
I. Christ is born amid suffering and in order to suffer; the world hates self-denial, suffering, and mortification. St. Bernard invites us to go with him to Bethlehem and, pointing out to us the shivering form of the Divine Babe, he exclaims: "Behold, where He is born, when He is born, and how He is born into this world and you will see the way to life this Divine Guide points out to us, you will know the truths which He teaches us, and you will learn the combats to which He leads us." Hardly has the Divine Child made its entrance into this world and sufferings overwhelm it to such a degree that we can easily foresee what the course and end of its life will be.
Say against this what you will, you who detest the word " suffering" itself, who endeavor to satisfy your sensuality in every way possible, who pamper your body and fulfill its lusts; you who consider a life of comfort, of pleasure and leisure, the acme of human happiness--say what you will, your sensuality and effeminacy in the presence of the Divine Child must suffuse your face with shame and confusion. For it teaches you by word and example that mortification, self-denial, and suffering are not such an evil, nor a life of ease and pleasure such a blessing as the world would make you believe. The satisfaction of the senses is dangerous and their mortification is salutary, for the Word Incarnate chose the latter and condemned the former.
Self-denial, suffering, and mortification are necessary for us, but they were not necessary for Jesus Christ. They are necessary for us in order to subdue our passions, to satisfy for our sins, to acquire virtues and to gain merits. How ashamed we should feel ourselves before Him when we shrink from undergoing suffering for His sake, when we fret and complain about it.
If Christ, then, is not to be a sign which our mind and life contradict, we must fall down before the crib and ask His pardon for our cowardice and effeminacy in regard to the mortifications and sufferings which a good Christian life necessarily entails; that we prefer our ease and comfort to the fulfillment of our duties toward God and our neighbor; that we refuse to carry our cross patiently and in a penitential spirit, and will not hear of voluntary penance. Then let us ask Him for the grace of patience and repentance so necessary for our salvation.
II. Christ is born in poverty because the world is full of avarice. He came into this world to proclaim a new Gospel, to announce to men a doctrine which is directly opposed to their avarice. How wonderful is the harmony between the Gospel and the crib. The poor crib, the miserable stable, the poor swaddling clothes cry out to us, " Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. v. 3). But the word says, " Blessed are they who possess the riches of this World." Christ says in the Gospel: " Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through, and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal" (Matt. vi. 19, 2o). Does not the manger proclaim the same truth? For what forced Christ to be born in the most abject poverty? Nothing else than His own choice. He was born of the royal family of David, but at a time when it had fallen into the deepest obscurity and poverty. He was born in the royal city of Bethlehem, but in this city there was not place low enough for Him to make His entrance into the world. He chose for His birth the most despicable dwelling, an abode of animals.
"You know," says St. Paul," the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich he became poor, for your sakes; that through his poverty you might be rich" (2 Cor. viii. 9). Why did Christ become so extremely poor? In order to put to shame the avarice of men and to atone for it. A bitter remedy for a dangerous and deeply rooted evil. How much disorder, care, trouble, sin, and misery does not " the concupiscence of the eyes" cause among men, and even among Christians! He who does not possess the things of this world longs for them in order to free himself from the distress of poverty, and with their attainment avarice generally increases. What cares, anxiety, and labors do men not often endure in order to preserve and increase their possessions, losing sight, in the mean time, altogether of the things of Heaven! They do not consider that they cover their souls with a multitude of sins about which they care the less the more frequently and generally these sins are committed. How many lawsuits, long-enduring discords, envies and jealousies and intrigues, does not the love of money cause! " Nothing is more wicked than the covetous man," says the Wise Man. "There is not a more wicked thing than to love money: for such a one setteth even his own soul for sale" (Eccles. x. 9, l0). "They that will become rich," says St. Paul, " fall into temptation, and into the snare of the devil, and into many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which drown men into destruction and perdition. For the desire of money is the root of all evils" (l Tim. vi. 9-l0).
III. Christ is born in lowliness and abjection in order to put to shame and to atone for the pride of men. " Who being in the form of God," says St. Paul, " thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross" (Phil. ii. 6-8). So deep is the lowering of God's majesty in Christ Jesus that the world cannot comprehend it, and therefore Christ crucified is " unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness" (i Cor. i. 23). "But," says St. Bernard, "He spurned the palaces of kings and chose a stable in order to condemn the vainglory of this world and its vanity." According to the doctrine of the world it is mere foolishness not to strive for honors, power, and glory.
In order, then, that our life be not a contradiction of Christ's life and teaching, we must necessarily avoid all vainglory and contentions for honors and preferments, all arrogance and sensitiveness. "Unless you be converted, and become [humble] as little children." He says to us from the crib, " you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. xviii. 3). Either we must humble ourselves in this world according to the teaching and example of Jesus Christ, or we must despair of becoming like to Him in the Kingdom of His glory; for God hath exalted Him because He humbled Himself in poverty, weakness, subjection, contempt, and persecution. There is no other choice left to us, if we want to be true followers of Christ and attain His promises, than to keep what we have promised in Baptism, namely, to renounce Satan and all his vices, his pride and vainglory.
The world must either conform' itself to the truths and principles of Jesus Christ, or Jesus Christ must accommodate Himself to the maxims and principles of this world. But the latter is impossible, for "Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today; and the same for ever." Therefore, if we do not wish to contradict Christ in our life, we cannot make it conformable to the principles of this world, but must shape our life according to the truths and principles which He has taught us by word and example. He says: "I am the way," because "no man cometh to the Father, but by me." The way of Christ is one of self-denial and mortification, of humility and poverty, at least in spirit. He also says that He is " the truth." This personified truth, however, teaches us contempt of self, contempt of the world, of its pride, riches, and pleasures. Christ again says that He is "the life." But He led a life of self-denial and suffering, of poverty and humility. A life, therefore, spent in the pursuit of riches, honors, and pleasures is a life leading to death and perdition. To contradict Christ in our mind or in our life is to draw damnation upon ourselves; for He says of Himself: "Whosoever shall fall on this stone, shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder" (Matt. xxi. 44). But if we make our life in this world conformable to His words and example, we shall also be conformed to Him in the world without end. Amen.
BY THE REV. P. HEHEL, S.J.
One prophet after another was sent to Jerusalem, yet they were mocked, stoned, and put to death. At last the greatest of all prophets came and preached His saving doctrine in the temple at Jerusalem; still even He was not recognized as the Messiah and Saviour of the world. Oh, lamentable blindness! The Redeemer stands at the doors, and they are not opened to Him! He walks through the streets of the city approaching destruction, and Jerusalem will not be saved! The hour of suffering is at hand, but all His pains and sufferings will be lost for the sick Jerusalem-- it knew Him not! Is it surprising that the most loving Heart which ever beat burst into a storm of tears?
Dear Christians! From this darkness of mind in which Jerusalem walked we have extricated ourselves by the illumination of Christianity. God has spoken to us, and taught by His word. We say to Christ with Peter, " Thou art the Son of God." This truth is confirmed by the Holy Ghost, who, speaking by St. John, says, " The Word was made flesh." This truth is attested by the miracles of Christ, for He performed miracles which no man could do of himself, and He proved thereby that He was not only man but that at the same time He was God Almighty. This is also attested by thousands and thousands of martyrs who have shed their blood for this truth. This it is which was declared by all the Prophets, and all the prophecies, which have been preserved in reference to the Messiah. For in Christ Jesus they were all fulfilled. He was bom in time as Jacob and Daniel prophesied. He was conceived of a Virgin as Isaias prophesied. He was born in Bethlehem of Juda as Micheas foretold. He made His entry into Jerusalem seated upon a colt as Zacharias prophesied. He let Himself be led to the slaughter like a meek lamb, rose again from out the grave, and triumphed over death and corruption as the Psalmist prophesied (Ps. xv. 10).
Therefore this Christ is the true Messiah, the anointed of the Lord, our Emmanuel, God clothed with our humanity. For this reason no true Christian doubts for a moment that Christ, the Divine Word, became really man. But many might ponder and doubt because on the one hand of the Majesty of this Divine Word, and on the other hand of the misery of our human nature, whether it was befitting that the Divine Word should take human nature.
I will solve this difficulty in today's instruction by showing from the exalted pre-eminence of the union of the Divine Word with human nature that the Incarnation (1) in respect to the (assumed) human nature and (2) on the part of God was befitting. From this you learn to know this great mystery better.
l. Whoever looks upon the work of the Incarnation with earthly eyes, may deem it unbefitting that the Son of God should have united Himself to a mortal nature, so infinitely far from God, and to a body formed of flesh. But we should never measure these extraordinary actions of God by the standard of earthly wisdom, nor determine their dignity according to the cold calculations of human reason. Faith alone gives us the right standard thereto. But it teaches us that the humanity of Christ was in nowise subject to those failings and imperfections with which our nature is so abundantly burdened. And although His humanity in His natural qualities had all that we men have according to our nature, still it was gifted with such prerogatives that it was exalted above all creatures. The flesh of Christ's humanity was in a miraculous manner formed from the purest blood of a Virgin without spot, by the power of the Holy Ghost and received thereby a purity which surpasses all human ideas. With this flesh God united a soul full of inexpressible beauty, full of grace, full of the knowledge of the most exalted virtues, so that it shone brighter in this new garment than the sun in its splendor. As a garment of plain cloth does not seem suitable for a monarch, but when ornamented with gold, pearls and precious stones is considered fit for a king's robe; so also did this perishable frail humanity, after God had adorned it in the womb of a Virgin with such glorious gifts, appear so beautiful in the sight of the Divine Word, that He did not hesitate as King of Glory to clothe Himself with it. The prophet David in spirit foresaw the Son of God arrayed in this beautiful garment, and carried away with admiration, the royal singer sang " O Lord my God, thou art exceedingly great, thou hast put on praise and beauty: and art clothed with light as with a garment" (Ps. ciii. I). "The Lord is clothed with strength, and hath girded himself" (Ps. xcii. I).
2. And why should it not be befitting that God should show His glory, His power, His wisdom, His goodness? Now all these He has revealed most perfectly in the mystery of the Incarnation.
The way and manner of the union exalts the honor and glory of God. For it extends on the one hand to the Divine Word, that is to the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, even to the Divine nature itself. Hence theologians, in speaking of this mystery, say that the Divine nature was united to human nature, and the Divinity to humanity. On the other hand this union extends to the human nature which is made up of body and soul, flesh and blood, and the individual members of the body. It extends also to the soul, as to the superior part of man without which he could not live. The soul of man was corrupted in its original powers by sin. The Son of God, who came to heal everything that was corrupted, united Himself there with a reasonable soul so as to be able to practise through it all those interior operations of love and worship of God by which he was to redeem man. But as human nature consists of soul and body, of spirit and flesh, therefore the Divine Word united Himself also with body and flesh. And for this reason this mystery is so appropriately named the "Incarnation."
For "the word was made flesh" (John i. 14). Still this union not only extended to the body of mankind but also to the blood. "In Christ," says St. Cyril, "the Word united Himself to the blood, as well as to the body and soul." And the Apostle St. Paul confirms this with the words " Forasmuch then as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself--Christ--in like manner partook of the same" (Heb. ii. 14). Hence it is that this blood has the power to cleanse the world from their sins, and that we adore this precious blood in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, because like the body of Christ it is united to the Divine Person. O infinitely exalted union! How Thy sublimity presses us into the dust, so as in the dust to honor and glorify the Godhead!
But in this union He has also shown His power, wisdom, and goodness. For what can be more powerful than to unite most intimately with one another objects which are farther apart than heaven and earth? What can be wiser than for the Redeemer of the world to unite the first with the last to connect the Divine Word as the beginning of all things with mankind who, in the creation of the world, was the last? What can be more good or kind than that the Creator Himself should communicate Himself to His creatures and be united with them? His goodness is great because by His presence He communicates Himself to all creatures. His goodness is greater because He unites Himself with the just by His grace. But this is the greatest measure of goodness that He has united Himself to human nature in one Person.
3. Through this union everything that the world had lost has been regained. A stream of boundless graces is opened to it, sinful concupiscence is lessened, the glory of God promoted, His honor increased, His name extended, His enemies brought to shame, the whole of nature renewed and placed in a better condition. For "In Christ," writes the Apostle St. Paul, " God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places. In the dispensation of the fulness of times, to establish all things in Christ, which are in heaven and on earth" (Eph. i. 3 and 10). O dear brethren! What blessings have flowed upon us through this union! To what an exalted plane has not the Son of God lifted up mankind disgraced by sin? How gloriously adorned does this image appear again which God made according to His likeness, and which the evil spirit had deformed so frightfully? Therefore we ought as often as we reflect upon this union of God with humanity, or when we utter it with our lips, to thank God, and if not the whole body, at least bow our head, because He has vouchsafed to take our body and become flesh! Behold the Church in her servants. As often as the priest repeats the words in Holy Mass, "The Word was made flesh," he falls upon his knees; as often as the words et incarnatus est are sung by the choir at High Mass, every one bows reverently. And what do you do when you hear the bell ring for the " Angelus," and you are invited to remember with gratitude the great and ever adorable mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ? The Church reminds us three times during the day of this unspeakable blessing and how often do we really think about it? You ought to fall upon your knees thrice during the day at the words " And the Word was made flesh," and praise the boundless love of your God! But what do you do? Alas! you seldom think about it, especially in the hour of temptation! God took our flesh, He became our brother in the flesh--and you do not fear to sin against your flesh! You have become related by blood to the second Person of the most adorable Trinity and dishonor your body! What a responsibility! Ponder this well, and keep your body holy!
1 Rom. xv. 4. 2. Job xxvi. 11. 3. Luke ii. 6, 7.
4. Ps. xlix. 12. 5. John i. II. 6. Heb. ii. 16.
7. John i. 13. 8. Rom. vi. 4-7. 9. 2 Cor. iii. 18.
10. I Cor. ii. 7.