Octave of Christmas: Cooperation with God's Grace
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
"And the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that has come to pass, which the Lord hath showed to us."--Luke 2.
The joyous feast of Christmas once more fills with gladness the hearts of the children of the Church. It is the feast which bears the significant name of the gracious nativity of our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ. For, in truth, the incarnation and birth of the Son of God are the source of all the graces which we have received through His life here on earth, and through His death. But that these graces may really serve unto our salvation, depends upon the care with which we dispose ourselves to receive them, and upon the earnestness of our co-operation.
To understand the nature of that co-operation, which may prove meritorious, we need only glance at the shepherds, and consider their mode of acting when the angel addressed to them the words imparting the glad tidings of the birth of the world's Redeemer: Today is born for you the Redeemer of the world--go to Bethlehem, and you will find the Infant lying in the manger. "Yes, let us go to Bethlehem," said they; and they hastened thither and found the child with Mary and Joseph.
A study of the conduct of the shepherds will show us how we may derive permanent profit from the holy feast of Christmas, and what dispositions we should have to receive with fruit the inspirations of grace. O Mary, look down upon us with that condescension with which thou didst regard the shepherds the first among the faithful, who paid homage to thy divine Child! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor of God!
In the first place, they were watchful shepherds. The inhabitants of Bethlehem were asleep; the shepherds were watching. This circumstance points to the first condition necessary to really perceive the call of grace, namely: we must walk in the presence of God in recollection of spirit. Why is it we feel so few inspirations of grace? Because we are not watchful. Christ says: Blessed are the servants whom the Lord finds watching. Even those who call themselves children of the Church, generally lead a life of carelessness; they are men of habit, they fulfill the duties of their state as Christians, but only superficially, and are mainly engaged in devising plans for the increase of their worldly profits. But how little attention at prayer and in the performance of their other religious duties! How often they fail to recognize and receive the inspirations of the Holy Ghost! This indolence and sleepiness in the service of God also prevents us from clearly seeing those faults which, through carelessness, precipitation, or impatience, find their way into our ordinary actions. Such lukewarm, sleepy souls also lose many opportunities of performing works of charity, and do not interest themselves in the least about the spiritual or temporal welfare of their neighbor.
The shepherds of that Christmas night were resolute men, resolute servants of the Lord. They did not say: Oh, it is night, and we had better wait till daybreak! No; but when they heard the words of the angel, they resolved to carry out at once the instructions given. Why is it, that in so many cases the inspirations of the Holy Ghost remain fruitless? I reply: Strong will is wanting, a strong will to accomplish not only in part but wholly all that we know to be the will of God, without wavering or excuse. This want of determination is an obstacle to the efficacy of grace, and prevents its bearing fruit. This weakness of will and want of resolution comes from an excessive care for temporal things, from an undue fear of mortal man; and finally from the difficulties connected with the accomplishment of a good work.
When the angel announced the glad tidings to the shepherds, they were tending their sheep; and yet they did not hesitate to leave their flocks and hasten to Bethlehem to seek the divine Child. How different the conduct of the majority of men when there is question of some worldly gain! They are all anxiety. They listen with eagerness to every advice, to every word regarding the advancement of their temporal affairs; but they are, so to say, blind and deaf, when the question of attending to their spiritual interests is urged upon them.
The shepherds determined upon going, and did not stop to consider what the inhabitants of Bethlehem might say when they came there to make inquiries for the Child,--to salute an Infant born in a rude stable, and to adore Him as the promised Messiah, the heir of the family of David. The fear of man is, alas! the reason why so many fail in their courage to follow the inspirations of grace. What will people say? is the discouraging impediment opposing them on all sides. They have an idea that if they walk fearlessly in the way of salvation the children of the world will regard them as ignorant, as slaves of the priests. And yet what little cause have we to fear the children of this world, who, in spiritual matters, are so ignorant and so short-sighted. If God is with us, who can be against us, or who can harm us?
The shepherds continued to listen to the echo of the Gloria which the angels sang, and thus assured themselves that God was with them. It was not a very pleasant task to wander through the streets of Bethlehem at night, to awaken the inhabitants from their slumbers, and make inquiries concerning the newly-born Child. But they disregarded these difficulties and obstacles, and hastened onward without delay. the world did not receive its Redeemer and Deliverer. "He came into His own, and His own received Him not." What so frequently renders the inspirations of grace fruitless, is our deficiency in self-denial; our love of ease is the great obstacle. It is true, we make good resolutions at times, but we postpone the fulfillment of them, and thus never accomplish them.
The shepherds found the Infant and adored Him, and offered Him their hearts; and, as tradition teaches, they also presented Him with such gifts as their poverty would allow. That which gives efficacy to the inspirations of grace, is the spirit of prayer and of devotion in our spiritual, intercourse with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. But it is especially the intercourse we hold with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Yes, here is Bethlehem, the city of bread, where Jesus lies in the tabernacle as in a crib, shrouded in the white raiments of the sacramental species. What a fountain of grace here discloses itself to our view! Would that we but profited by it as we might!
We really have no cause to envy the shepherds and their happiness, in being allowed to behold the Infant Jesus once, and to adore Him. We are permitted to visit the same Infant Jesus every day, and even to receive Him into our hearts. Thus our hearts become, as it were, the crib, and we are enabled through Christ, as children of God, to taste of heaven's joys, even while yet living on this earth.
The shepherds praised and thanked God for the favor they had received. Not without reason does the Church call the Blessed Sacrament the Sacrament of thanksgiving. O Infant Jesus, filled with these sentiments we prostrate ourselves before Thee with the shepherds, and with them we worship Thee! Bless us, as Thou hast blessed them, and save us through the power and the graces of Thy coming into this world! Amen!
Octave of Christmas:
Open Your Hearts
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
"There was no room for them in the inn."--Luke 2.
The joyous feast of the nativity of Jesus Christ reminds us of the greatest of divine deeds; namely, The entrance of the Creator into the world which He created, which He wished to reconcile to Himself by the incarnation of the Son of God, and thus at the same time redeem the fallen race of man, and rescue it from the abyss of eternal destruction. But to prepare for His entrance into this world, a series of wonderful events occurred in accordance with the divine decree, such as: The preservation of Noah in the ark; the election of Abraham; the sending of Moses, the lawgiver of the Old Testament; the deliverance of the people of Israel, by signs and miracles the most astonishing; the imparting of the law on Mt. Sinai amid thunder and lightning; the manna from heaven which served the people as nourishment for forty years; the sending of the prophets with the intimation that the time was drawing nigh in which the Saviour was to come. "Drop down dew, ye heavens, and ye clouds rain down the Just." Thus they sighed and united their petition with that of the whole human race, longing to be released from the bonds of sin and its consequences.
Four thousand years were consumed in this preparation, and still when He, whom Jacob had designated "the desire of the eternal hills," really came, the world did not receive its Redeemer and Deliverer. "He came into His own, and His own received Him not." And even as regards the children of the Church, how many of them might be reproached with these same words of the evangelist: "He came into His own, and His own received Him not!" And why? To this I will reply today.
O Mary, queen of prophets, who with such ardent desire hast of the Holy Ghost conceived thy Lord and Redeemer, and to whom thou hast so entirely unclosed thy heart, when He rested underneath it, obtain for us the grace that Christ may also enter our hearts, and make them His home forever! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor of God!
"He came into His own, and His own received Him not," said the evangelist. Alas! it was so, it is so at present, and will probably remain so till the consummation of ages. Christ enters this world, and Bethlehem bars its gates. Three kingly sages adore Him, and Herod already seeks to destroy His life. Christ enters upon His public career, and the wrath of the Pharisees, priests, and scribes is enkindled. More than once they sought to take away His life, and finally went so far as to crucify Him! In the same manner the heathens opposed the announcement of the Gospel. Instead of joyfully greeting and joining the Church, they brandished the sword of persecution against it, and during three hundred years they hunted down every confessor of the holy faith. The blood of millions flowed, until finally the cross adorned the crown of the Roman emperors.
For nineteen hundred years the Pagans have persistently opposed the spread of the Holy Church. To this hour they wage a persecution of blood against those who profess the name of Jesus and worship Him as the Redeemer of the world. But those especially deserve our pity, who, calling themselves children of the Church, and exteriorly professing their faith, yet banish Jesus, their Saviour, from their hearts. To these the words of the evangelist point, where he says: "There was no room for them at the inn."
The human heart can but too well be compared to an inn which is filled with a number of guests, and from the interior of which resound the words which refuse our Lord admittance: There is no room here for you! Pass on! The door of an inn is constantly open. There is a continual coming and going, and the character of the guests is not inquired into. It is no place for prayer, or the fulfillment of one's religious duties; on the contrary, we find there only tumult and continual restlessness.
Thus it is with the heart of him who leads a life in compliance with the spirit of the world. Such a heart is open to all that passes; all sorts of inordinate desires find their way into it, so that there is no room for Jesus to find therein a permanent abode. But certainly this does not hinder the Infant Jesus from again knocking, and attempting still to find a place for Himself in the deluded heart of man. By His inspirations He knocks repeatedly at the door of the heart, and exclaims: Open your heart! "Who are you, and what do you wish?" is the question from within. The Infant Jesus replies: Look at me, lying in a poor manger in a stable. I have come to disengage your heart from love of riches, to teach you the love and practice of the virtue of poverty. The worldling answers: "Go, there is no room here for you." Could a different answer be expected? The worldling's love is centered on his money, his attention on the increase of his temporal possessions. What a multitude of thoughts, desires, plans, and projects keep him busy! There is no vacant spot for the poor Infant Jesus.
Jesus knocks at the heart of the worldling. "What do you wish?" Open thy heart, that I may make my home with thee. I would like to teach you to love and practise the virtue of humility. But the worldling wishes to hear nothing of humility; his heart is filled with a longing for esteem and glory, with self-praise, self-will, and self-love. What a tumult reigns in such a heart! Innumerable thoughts of vain desires, of vain ambition come and go. No room for you, says the deluded worldling; pass on!
Jesus knocks at the door of the heart. "What do you wish?" Open; let me in. I will teach you to despise all sensual, worldly pleasures, and to practise the spirit of self-denial; to mortify yourself, and to bear with patience all your trials and tribulations. I wish to replenish your heart with a true love of the cross. "Depart as quickly as possible," says the terrified worldling from behind the door of his heart; "no room for you!" Oh, not to suffer, not to renounce, but to enjoy myself, this is his watch-word! He burns with the desire of spending his entire life in the enjoyment of earthly delights and pleasures. "Suffering Child, pass on; no room here for you!"
The Infant Jesus again knocks. Open your heart. "What do you desire?" Allow me to enter. I will teach you to love retirement, to practise prayer, and thus to live on earth as if you were already in heaven, eternally united with Me. "No room for you; begone!" resounds from the inn of the human heart. It is only fond of intercourse with men; it is full of human respect, full of the fear of man.
Finally, the Infant Jesus raps at the door of the heart. Open. "What do you wish?" I desire you to assist Me in spreading My kingdom on earth; to convert sinners; to gain souls. "Pass on, is the answer from the inner heart. Why should I trouble myself about others? I am no priest. It makes, very little difference to the lukewarm Christian whether others are treading the path of salvation"; he may even go so far as to say all religions are alike; "let each one believe what he chooses." Poor heart! Certainly, Jesus will leave you. But no, Infant Jesus, do not depart! See, we open to Thee our hearts; enter, and take up Thy abode therein, until the gates of heaven open for us, and we make our home with Thee amid the rejoicings of the blessed for ever and for ever! Amen!