Spiritual Reading for Christmas Day ~ St Alphonsus Liguori

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Spiritual Reading

THE ETERNAL WORD, BEING GREAT, BECOMES LITTLE.

Plato says that love is the “loadstone of love.”

Hence the Proverb: “If you wish to be loved, love.” But, my Jesus, this rule, this Proverb holds good for others, holds good for all, but not for Thee! Thou art at a loss what further to do to show men the love Thou bearest them! And yet how many are there that love Thee? Alas, the greatest number, we may say nearly all, not only do not love Thee — they offend Thee and despise Thee!

And shall we stand in the ranks of these heartless wretches? God has not deserved this at our hands — that God, so good, so tender to us, Who, being great, has thought it fit to make Himself little in order to be loved by us.

To understand the immense love of God towards men in becoming Man and a feeble Child for our love, it would be necessary to comprehend His greatness. But what mind of man or Angel can conceive the Infinite greatness of God?

St. Ambrose says that to say God is greater than the heavens, than all kings, all Saints, all Angels, is to do an injury to God; just as it would be an injury to a prince to say that he was greater than a blade of grass, or a little fly. God is Greatness itself, and all greatness together is but the smallest atom of the greatness of God.

David, contemplating the divine greatness, and seeing that he could not and never would be able to comprehend it, could only say: O Lord, who is like to thee? (Ps. xxxiv. 10). O Lord, what greatness shall ever be found like Thine? And how in truth could David ever be able to comprehend it, since his understanding was but finite, and God’s greatness infinite? Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and of his greatness there is no end (Ps. cxliv. 3). Do I not fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord (Jer. xxiii. 24). Thus all of us, according to our mode of understanding, are nothing but so many miserable little fishes, living in this immense ocean of the essence of God: In him we live and move and have our being (Acts xvii. 28).

What are we then in respect to God? And what are all men, all monarchs of earth, and even all Saints and all Angels of Heaven, compared with the infinite greatness of God? We are all like, or even smaller than, a grain of sand in comparison with the rest of the earth: Behold, says the Prophet Isaias, the Gentiles are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the smallest grain of a balance; behold, the islands are as a little dust … All nations are before him as if they had no being at all (Is. xl. 15, 17).

Now this God so great has become a little Infant; and for whom? A child is born to us (Is. ix. 6): for us He is born. And wherefore? St. Ambrose gives us the answer: “He is a little One, that you may be a perfect man; He is bound in swaddling-clothes, that you may be unbound from the fetters of death; He is on earth, that you may be in Heaven.”

Behold, then, Immensity Whom the heavens cannot contain, become an Infant: see Him imprisoned in poor rags, and laid in a narrow, vile manger on a bundle of Straw, which was at once His only bed and pillow. “See,” says St. Bernard — “see Power ruled, Wisdom instructed, Virtue sustained. God taking milk and weeping, yet comforting the afflicted!” A God Almighty so tightly wrapped in swathing-bands that He cannot stir! A God Who knows all things made mute and speechless! A God Who rules Heaven and earth needing to be carried in the arms! A God Who feeds all men and animals, Himself having need of a little milk to support Him! A God Who consoles the afflicted and is the joy of Paradise, Himself weeps and moans and has to be comforted by a creature!

For this, then, did the Eternal Word become Man. For this, moreover, He became an Infant. Little children are loved. To see them is to love them.

St. Peter Chrysologus writes: “How should our Lord come, Who wished to drive away fear and to seek love? What breast so savage as not to soften before such a Childhood as this? What hardness will it not subdue; what love does it not claim? Thus, therefore, He wished to be born Who willed to be loved and not feared.” The Saint would say that if our Redeemer had come in order to be feared and respected by men, He should have come as a full grown Man and with royal dignity, but because He came to gain our love He chose to come and to show Himself as an Infant, and the poorest of infants, born in a cold stable between two animals, laid in a manger on straw, without clothing or fire to warm His shivering little limbs: “thus would He be born Who willed to be loved and not feared.” Ah, my Lord! what was it that drew Thee from Heaven to be born in a stable? It was love, the love Thou bearest towards men. What took Thee from the right hand of Thy Father, where Thou sittest, and placed Thee in a manger? What snatched Thee from Thy throne above the stars, and made Thee to lie on a little straw? What changed Thy position from amidst the Angels, to be placed betwixt two beasts? It was all the work of love; Thou inflamest the Seraphim, and dost Thou not shiver with cold? Thou supportest the heavens, and must Thou be now carried in the arms? Thou providest food for men and beasts, and now dost Thou crave a little milk to sustain Thy life? Thou makest the Seraphim happy, and now dost Thou weep and moan? What has reduced Thee to such misery? Love has done it: “Thus would He be born Who willed to be loved and not feared.”

Love, then, love, O souls, exclaims St. Bernard, love now this little Child, for He is exceedingly to be loved. “Great is the Lord, and exceedingly to be praised. The Lord is little, and exceedingly to be loved.” Yes, says the Saint, this God, existing from eternity, is worthy of all praise and reverence for His greatness, as David has sung: Great is the Lord and exceedingly to be praised (Ps. cxliv. 3). But now that we behold Him become a little Infant, needing milk, and unable to move Himself, trembling with cold, moaning and weeping, looking for some one to take and warm and comfort Him; ah, now indeed does He become the most cherished One of our hearts! “The Lord is little, and exceedingly to be loved!”

We ought to adore Him as our God, but our love ought to keep pace with our reverence towards a God so amiable, so loving.

St. Bonaventure reminds us that “a child finds its delights with other children, with flowers, and to be in the arms.” The Saint’s meaning is, that if we would please this divine Infant, we too must become children, simple and humble; we must bring to Him flowers of virtue, of meekness, of mortification, of charity; we must clasp Him in the arms of our love.

And, O man, adds St. Bernard, what more do you wait to see before you will give yourself wholly to God? See with what labour, with what ardent love, your Jesus has come down from Heaven to seek you. Hearken, how, though scarcely yet born, His wailings call to you as if He would say: O soul, it is thee I am seeking! For thee and to obtain thy love, I am come from Heaven to earth. “Having scarcely quitted the Virgin’s womb,” says the Saint, “He calls thy beloved soul after the manner of infants: A! A! anima mea, anima mea, te quaero! Ah! Ah! my soul, my soul, I am seeking Thee! For thee I am making this pilgrimage!”

O God, even the very brutes, if we do them a kindness, if we give them some trifle, are so grateful for it; they come near us, they do our bidding after their own fashion, and they show gladness at our approach. And how comes it, then, that we are so ungrateful towards God, the same God Who has bestowed His whole Self upon us, Who has descended from Heaven to earth, and has become an Infant to save us and to be loved by us.

Come, let us love the Babe of Bethlehem! is the enraptured cry of St. Francis. Let us love Jesus Christ Who has sought in the midst of such sufferings to attach our hearts to Him.

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