INSTRUCTION FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY
by Leonard Goffine, 1871
In the Introit of this Mass the Church exhorts us in these words to a joyous adoration of Christ: I saw on an elevated throne a man sitting, whom a multitude of angels adored, singing together: Behold Him, the name of whose glory is eternal (Dan. 7.) Sing joyfully to God, all the earth; serve ye the Lord with gladness. (Ps. xcix. 2.) Glory be to the Father, &c. Thus in the Mass all seeks to fill us with joyful obedience to God and His holy commandments.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. O Lord, let the desires of Thy suppliant people be pleasing to Thee, and by Thy heavenly goodness effect that they may plainly see what they should do, and have strength to perform that which they see. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, &c.
EPISTLE. (Romans xii. 1 - 5.) Brethren: I beseech you, therefore, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and perfect will of God. For I say, by the grace that is given me, to all that are among you, not to be more wise than it behooveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety, and according as God hath divided to every one the measure of faith. For as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members of one another.
EXPLANATION. The apostle entreats, even conjures us by all the mercies which God has shown us, to bring Him a living sacrifice, that is, one dead to the carnal desires, but alive to all virtue; a holy, that is, pure, immaculate; God pleasing, that is, a sacrifice intended for His glory only; not a dead sacrifice as the Jews offered by killing animals, nor, as the gentiles by polluting their bodies, an unholy one. This living, holy, God pleasing sacrifice, we should offer in our body; but this does not exclude the sacrifice of our spirit, because all our actions, the corporal as well as spiritual, should be directed to God, the end for which we were created. We should in body as well as in spirit, offer God a living, holy sacrifice, which we do, when all our works are performed solely in His honor, and so are sanctified: when we mortify our carnal desires, for example: our eating and drinking, and all impure desires; subdue our five senses: the sense of sight, of hearing, of speaking, &c; if we overcome the spirit of pride, anger, impatience, and not suffer ourselves to be distracted during prayer, Church service, and have before God, as had David, a contrite heart, which is the most pleasing sacrifice in His eyes, and which He never despises. In this way we render a reasonable service, and are, as St. Peter says (i. Peter 2. 9.), a kingly priesthood, because we govern like kings over our evil inclinations, and offer with body and soul a continual sacrifice to God. The apostle further exhorts us not to become like the world, that is, that we do not follow the corrupt manners and principles of the evil children of the world; not to desire those things at which the world aims: not to love that which the world loves; not to act as the world acts; but rather constantly seek to change our entire disposition, and make it anew by combatting our corrupted, evil inclinations, and replacing them with the opposite ones. We must cease to be the old worldly man, and become a new heavenly man, whose life is in heaven; and to be such, we must carefully seek to know in all things what is pleasing to God, and therefore perfect and good. This is the necessary science to which St. Paul alludes, when he says, We should not wish to know more than is proper. All the arts and sciences will not help us to gain heaven, if we do not strive to learn thoroughly what faith teaches, and to know what God demands; and having even progressed far in this God pleasing science, we should not boldly think more of ourselves than is right, and not violate charity by contempt of others less instructed; for God gives to every one, in some measure, the gift of faith. This gift of faith we should use in order to more and more glorify the body of Christ, His Church, whose members we are, and to increase the number of her members.
ASPIRATION. Grant, O Jesus, that by mortification, humility, and contrition, I may offer my body and my soul as a living, holy, and pleasing sacrifice to Thee, and that I may never defile them by impurities.
GOSPEL. (Luke ii. 42 - 52.) And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast; and having fulfilled the days when they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem, and his parents knew it not. And thinking he was in the company, they came a day's journey, and sought him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance. And not finding him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him, were astonished at his wisdom and his answers. And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my father's business? And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and man.
Why did our Saviour go with His parents to Jerusalem to the temple?
Because God Himself by Moses (Deut. xvi. 10.) commanded that all the male Israelites should appear, three times a year on certain festivals, and offer sacrifice before Him in the temple; Jesus fulfilled this commandment to set us an example that we, according to the will of the holy Catholic Church, should willingly and devoutly be present at the services of the Church on Sundays and holidays of obligation, and not be kept away by bad weather, bad roads, or by other trivial excuses, when Jesus did not shun a three day's journey to the temple.
Why does the gospel say "as usual"?
That we may understand that, like Mary and Joseph, we should keep the ecclesiastical festivals and usages exactly, and how proper it is that true Catholics should live by them. As Mary and Joseph took the child Jesus with them, parents should learn to require of their children, at an early age, to take part in prayer, attend school and Church, and see that they conduct themselves quietly and reverently while there.
Why did the child Jesus remain in Jerusalem?
Because of His love of prayer and communion with His Heavenly Father, and to show even then some rays of His divinity, by which to let it be known that He had come for the glory of His Father, and to procure our salvation. This should be our chief object, also.
Why did Mary and Joseph so diligently search for Jesus?
Because they were fearful that they would lose Jesus, whom they loved so unspeakably. We should learn from this, how careful we should be, not to lose Jesus by sin, or having lost Him, how anxiously we should seek by penance to find Him again. By the search and inquiries of the parents of Jesus, those parents are taught and made ashamed who care less for the education of their children than for their temporal advantages, and pay no attention whether they are in good or in bad company, whether they are learning things that are useful or not, indeed, for the sake of some temporal advantage, for example, or for support, even permit their children sinful intimacy with evil minded persons. From these parents God, one day, with sternest justice, will demand the souls of their children.
Why was our Sariour found in the temple with the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions?
That we might be shown that we ought to seek the knowledge necessary for our salvation, and so attend carefully to the sermons and instructions on Christian doctrine; we should by no means be ashamed to ask questions of our pastors, when we are in doubt, and should listen to their answers. Was Christ, the Eternal Wisdom, ashamed to ask questions and to answer? Why should we ignorant people hesitate to do it? It is much to be regretted that persons who have many important things concerning their spiritual welfare on their minds, from pride and false shame, would rather go to perdition than ask advice, solely for fear of showing their ignorance.
Why did Mary say: Son, why hast thou done so to us?
Those words were forced from her by pain at the absence of her Son, whom she loved above all things, and not by indignation, for He was blameless. But Mary's conduct should teach parents to remember their duty to care for their children, and punish them when they do wrong.
MORAL INSTRUCTION ON THE VIRTUE OF OBEDIENCE
He was subject to them. (Luke ii. 51.)
From this all Christians should learn to be obedient to the commandments of God, of the Church, and of their parents. God with obedience or disobedience to His commandments, has united life or death, blessing or curses, and shows in the Bible (i. Kings xv. 22.), that obedience pleases Him more than sacrifices or the fat of rams; that He despises disobedience as He does witchcraft and idolatry. We must be obedient to the Church, because Christ Himself with His holy Spirit lives in her, and governs her, and has said: Who hears not the Church, let him be to thee a heathen and a publican, therefore, shut out from eternal life. We must be obedient to our parents, because they stand to us in place of God, and we owe to them, under Him, our life and many benefits. Those children have reason to be afraid who do not assist their parents, when they are old, poor, and helpless, are even ashamed of them, since even Christ Jesus, the God-Man, was obedient and subject in all things to His poor mother, and to an humble mechanic who was only His fosterfather. Cursed be he who honoureth not his father and mother (Deut. xxvii. 16.); how much more cursed those who despise, deride, and abandon their parents? Their eyes will one day be picked out by ravens (Prop. xxx. 17.). And if God commanded obstinate and disobedient children to be stoned (Deut. xxi. 20.), what do those not deserve who even strike their parents, or otherwise lay hands upon them?
How did Jesus increase in age, wisdom, and grace?
As He increased in age, He showed new effects of the wisdom and grace with which He was fijled, and so teaches us to advance farther and farther in the path of virtue, for each age has its peculiar virtues and duties, which we should strive to fulfil, that we may attain to the perfection of the next.
ASPIRATION. Most amiable Jesus! who in the twelfth year of Thy age, didst permit Thyself to be found in the temple by Thy parents, and, as an example for us, wast humbly obedient to them, grant that we may diligently serve the important affair of our salvation, willingly carry the yoke of Thy law from our youth, and be always obedient to the laws of Thy Church, to our parents, and superiors. Prevent uneducated youth from growing up recklessly and impertinently to a scandalous life. Give parents wisdom and grace to educate their children according to Thy will in all virtue. Grant to us all, that we may never lose Thee by sin, or if we have lost Thee, to anxiously seek Thee, happily find Thee, and with Thy grace more and more increase in wisdom and in virtue. Amen.
They found Him in the temple. (Luke ii. 6. 4.)
Very many people deceive themselves in regard to true piety, because their imagination represents it to them, according to the effect produced by their passions or disposition of mind. He who fasts willingly, believes, if he only fasts often, that he is pious, though in his heart he nourishes a secret hatred, and while he fears to wet the tip of his tongue with wine, even with water, lest he should not live temperately enough, yet finds pleasure in detraction and slander, that unquenchable thirst for the blood of his neighbor. Another, because he is accustomed daily to recite a long string of prayers, esteems himself pious, though he overflows afterwards with haughty, bitter, offensive language, hurting people at home and abroad. One keeps his purse open for the poor, but keeps his heart ever closed to the love of his enemy, whom he will not forgive; another forgives his enemy with all his heart, but will not pay his creditors, until forced by law to do so. All these think themselves pious, and are perhaps so regarded by the world, but in truth they are anything rather than pious.
Then, in what does true piety consist? It consists in the perfect love of God, or to speak more accurately, it is the perfect love of God itself. This love is called the beautiful love, because it is the adornment of the soul, and attracts to itself with complacency the eyes of the Divine Majesty. When it strengthens us to do good, it is called the strong love; when it causes us to do that good quickly, carefully, and repeatedly, it is called piety. The ostrich has wings, it is true, but never uses them for flying; the chickens fly heavily and not high; but the eagles, the doves, and the swallows, fly high and swiftly, and do not easily tire. The sinners are but earth people, they creep upon the ground; the just, who are still imperfect, rise, it is true, towards heaven, but seldom, and then but slowly and heavily. But some there are, true, pious souls, who like the doves and the eagles soar high on strong, swift wings to God.
In a word, piety is nothing else than a certain active, swift energy of the spirit, with which the strong love in us, or we with it, perform, as far as it is possible to us, all good. As the strong love urges us to keep God's commandments, the perfect love, that is, piety, urges us to keep them carefully and with all possible zeal. No one is just or pious who does not keep all, without exception, of God's commandments; for to be just we must possess the strong love, and to be pious we must possess besides an active, lively attention to all the good that can possibly be done by us. Thus St. Francis de Sales writes in his Philothea, from which it is seen that true piety consists not in special devotions, or the practice of special good works, but in the zealous, earnest, continuous obedience to the commandments, and performance of duty for the love of God.