Spiritual Reading for Christmas Eve ~ St Alphonsus Liguori

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Spiritual Reading

JESUS COMES TO CALL SINNERS.

I am not come to call the just but sinners (Matt. ix. 13).

St. Thomas of Villanova gives us excellent encouragement, saying: “What art thou afraid of, O sinner? … How shall He reject thee if thou desirest to retain Him Who came down from Heaven to seek thee?” Let not the sinner, then, be afraid, provided he will be no more a sinner, but will love Jesus Christ; let him not be dismayed, but have full trust; if he abhor and hate sin, and seek God, let him not be sad, but full of joy: Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord (Ps. civ. 3). The Lord has sworn to forget all injuries done to Him, if the sinner is sorry for them: If the wicked do penance … I will not remember all his iniquities (Ezech. xviii. 21). And that we might have every motive for confidence, our Saviour became an Infant: “Who is afraid to approach a Child?” asks the same St. Thomas of Villanova.

“Children do not inspire terror or aversion, but attachment and love,” says St. Peter Chrysologus. It seems that children know not how to be angry; and if perchance at odd times they should be irritated, they are easily soothed; one has only to give them a fruit, a flower, or bestow on them a caress, or utter a kind word to them, and they have already forgiven and forgotten every offence.

A tear of repentance, one act of heart-felt contrition, is enough to appease the Infant Jesus. “You know the tempers of children,” St. Thomas of Villanova goes on to say, “a single tear pacifies them, the offence is forgotten. Approach, then, to Him while He is a little One, while He would seem to have forgotten His majesty.” He has put off His divine majesty, and appears as a Child to inspire us with more courage to approach His feet.

“He is born as an Infant,” says St. Bonaventure, “that neither His justice nor His power might intimidate you.” In order to relieve us from every feeling of distrust, which the idea of His power and of His justice might cause in us, He comes before us as a little Babe, full of sweetness and mercy. “O God!” says Gerson, “Thou hast hidden Thy wisdom under a Child’s years, that it might not accuse us.” O God of mercy, lest Thy divine wisdom might reproach us with our offences against Thee, Thou hast hidden it under an Infant’s form. “Thy justice under humility, lest it should condemn.” Thou hast concealed Thy justice under the most profound abasement, that it might not condemn us. “Thy power under weakness lest it should punish.” Thou hast disguised Thy power in feebleness, that it might not visit us with chastisement.

St. Bernard makes this reflection: “Adam, after his sin, on hearing the voice of God: Adam, where art thou? (Gen. iii. 9), was filled with dismay. — I heard thy voice, and was afraid (Gen. iii. 10).” But, continues the Saint, the Incarnate Word now made Man upon earth, has laid aside all semblance of terror: “Do not fear; He seeks thee, not to punish, but to save thee. Behold, He is a Child; the voice of a child will excite compassion rather than fear. The Virgin Mother wraps His delicate limbs in swaddling-clothes: and art thou still alarmed?” That God Who should punish thee is born an Infant, and has lost all accents to affright thee, since the accents of a child, being cries of weeping, move us rather to pity than to fear; thou canst not fear that Jesus Christ will stretch out His hands to chastise thee, since His Mother is occupied in swathing them in linen bands.

“Be of good cheer, then, O sinners,” says St. Leo, “the Birthday of the Lord is the Birthday of peace and joy.” The Prince of peace (Is. ix. 6), was He called by Isaias. Jesus Christ is a Prince, not of vengeance on sinners, but of mercy and of peace, constituting Himself the Mediator betwixt God and sinners. If our sins, says St. Augustine, are too much for us, God does not despise His own Blood. If we cannot ourselves make due atonement to the justice of God, at least the Eternal Father knows not how to disregard the Blood of Jesus Christ, Who makes payment for us.

A certain knight, called Don Alphonsus Albuquerque, being on one occasion at sea, and the vessel driven among the rocks by a violent tempest, at once gave himself up for lost; but at that moment seeing near him a little child, crying bitterly, what did he do? He seized him in his arms, and lifting him up towards Heaven, “O Lord,” said he, “though I myself am unworthy to be heard, give ear at least to the cries of this innocent child, and save us.” At that same instant the storm abated, and all were saved. Let us miserable sinners do in like manner. We have offended God; already has sentence of everlasting death been passed upon us; divine justice requires satisfaction, and rightly. What have we to do? Should we despair? God forbid! Let us offer up to God this Infant, Who is His own Son, and let us address Him with confidence: O Lord, if we cannot of ourselves render Thee satisfaction for our offences against Thee, behold this Child, Who weeps and moans, Who is benumbed with cold on His bed of straw in this cavern; He is here to make atonement for us, and He pleads for Thy mercy on us. Though we ourselves are undeserving of pardon, the tears and sufferings of this Thy guiltless Son merit it for us, and He entreats Thee to pardon us.

This is what St. Anselm advises us to do : he says that Jesus Christ Himself, from His earnest desire not to have us perish, animates each one of us who finds himself guilty before God with these words: O sinner, do not lose heart; if by thy sins thou hast unhappily become the slave of hell, and hast not the means to free thyself, act thus: take Me, offer Me for thyself to the Eternal Father, and so thou shalt escape death, thou shalt be in safety. What can be conceived more full of mercy than what the Son says to us: Take Me, and redeem thyself. This was, moreover, exactly what the divine Mother taught Sister Frances Farnese. She gave the Infant Jesus into her arms, and said to her: “Here is my Son for you; be careful to make His merits your gain by frequently offering Him to His heavenly Father.”

And if we would have still another means to secure our forgiveness, let us obtain the intercession of this same divine Mother in our behalf; she is all-powerful with her blessed Son to promote the interests of repentant sinners, as St. John Damascene assures us. Yes, for the prayers of Mary, adds St. Antoninus, have the force of commands with her Son, in consideration of the love He bears her: “The prayer of the Mother of God has the force of a command.” Hence St. Peter Damien wrote that when Mary entreats Jesus Christ in favour of one who is dearest to her, “she appears in a certain sense to command as a mistress, not to ask as a handmaid, for the Son honours her by denying her nothing.” For this reason St. Germanus says Mary can obtain the pardon of the most abandoned sinners. “Thou, by the power of thy maternal authority, gainest for the most enormous sinners the most excellent grace of pardon.”

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