DISCOURSES FOR ADVENT
Taken from THE INCARNATION, BIRTH AND INFANCY OF JESUS CHRIST
by St. Alphonsus Liguori
THE REDEMPTORIST FATHERS
With Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur
The Eternal Word Is Made Man
Whosoever loves, has no other end in loving but to be loved again. God, then, having so dearly loved us, seeks nothing else from us, as St. Bernard remarks, but our love: "When God loves, He desires nothing else than to be loved." Wherefore, he goes on with this admonition to each one of us: "He has made known His love, that He may experience thine." O man, whoever thou art, thou hast witnessed the love which God has borne thee in becoming Man, in suffering and dying for thee; how long shall it be before God shall know by experience and by deeds the love thou bearest Him? Ah! truly every man at the sight of a God clothed in flesh, and choosing to lead a life of such durance, and to suffer a death of such ignominy, ought to be enkindled with love towards a God so loving. Oh that Thou wouldst rend the heavens and wouldst come down: the mountains would melt away at Thy presence, ...the waters would burn with fire. [Isaiah 64:1]
Oh that Thou wouldst deign, my God (thus cried out the prophet before the arrival of the Divine Word upon earth), to leave the heavens, and descend here to become man amongst us! Ah, then, on beholding Thee like one of themselves, the mountains would melt away; men would surmount all obstacles, remove all difficulties, in observing Thy laws and Thy counsels; the waters would burn with fire! Oh, surely Thou wouldst enkindle such a furnace in the human heart that even the most frozen souls must catch the flame of Thy blessed love! And, in fact, after the Incarnation of the Son of God, how brilliantly has the fire of Divine love shone to many loving souls! And it may be indeed asserted, without fear of contradiction, God was more beloved in one century after the coming of Jesus Christ than in the entire forty preceding centuries. How many youths, how many of the nobly born, and how many monarchs even, have left wealth, honors, and their very kingdoms, to seek the. desert or the cloister, that there, in poverty and obscure seclusion, they might the more unreservedly give themselves up to the love of this their Saviour! How many Martyrs have gone rejoicing and making merry on their way to torments and to death! How many tender young virgins have refused the proffered hands of the great ones of this world, in order to go and die for Jesus Christ, and so repay in some measure the affection of a God Who stooped down to become incarnate and to die for love of them!
Yes, all this is most true; but now comes a tale for tears. Has this been the case with all men? Have all sought thus to correspond with this immense love of Jesus Christ? Alas, my God, the greater part have combined to repay Him with nothing but ingratitude! And you also, my brother, tell me, what sort of return have you made up to this time for the love your God has borne you? Have you always shown yourself thankful? Have you ever seriously reflected what those words mean, a God to be made Man, and to die for thee?
A certain man, while one day attending Mass without devotion, as too many do, at these concluding words of the last Gospel, And the Word was made flesh, [John 1:14] made no external act of reverence; at the same instant a devil struck him a severe blow, saying, "Thankless wretch! thou hearest that a God was made Man for thee, and dost thou not even deign to bend the knee? Oh, if God had done the like for me, I should be eternally occupied in thanking Him!"
Tell me, O Christian! what more could Jesus Christ have done to win thy love? If the Son of God had engaged to rescue from death His Own Father, what lower humiliation could He stoop to than to assume human flesh, and lay down His life in sacrifice for His salvation! Nay, I say more; had Jesus Christ been a mere man, instead of one of the Divine Persons, and had wished to gain by some token of affection the love of His God, what more could He have done than He has done for thee? If a servant of thine had given for thy love his very life-blood, would he not have riveted thy heart to him, and obliged thee to love him in mere gratitude? And how comes it, then, that Jesus Christ, though He has laid down His life for thee, has still failed to win thy love?
Alas! men hold in contempt the Divine love, because they do not, or, rather let us say, because they will not understand what a treasure it is to enjoy Divine grace, which, according to the Wise Man, is an infinite treasure: An infinite treasure to men, which they that use become the friends of God. [Wisd. 7:14] Men appreciate the good graces of a prince, of a prelate, of a nobleman, of a man of letters, and even of a vile animal; and yet these same persons set no store by the grace of God,---but renounce it for mere smoke, for a brutal gratification, for a handful of earth, for a whim, for nothing.
What sayest thou, my dear brother? Dost thou wish still to be ranked among these ungrateful ones? For, if thou dost not wish for God, says St. Augustine, if thou canst meet with something better than God: "Desire something better, if thou dost deserve something better." Go, find thyself a prince more courteous; a master, a brother, a friend more amiable, and who has shown thee a deeper love. Go, seek for thyself one who is better qualified than God to make thee happy in the present life and in the life to come.
Whoever roves God has nothing to fear, and God cannot help loving in return one who loves Him: I love those who love Me. [Prov. 8:17] And what shall he be afraid of who is the beloved of God? The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? [Ps. 26:1] So said David, and so said the sisters of Lazarus to our Blessed Lord: He whom thou lovest is sick. [John 11:3] It was enough for them to know that Jesus Christ loved their brother, to convince them that He would do everything for his recovery.
But how, on the contrary, can God love those who despise His love? Come, then, let us once for all make the resolution to give the tribute of our love to a God Who has so sincerely loved us. And let us continually beseech Him to grant us the precious gift of His holy love. St. Francis de Sales says that this grace of loving God was the grace for which we ought to ask God more than for any other; because with Divine love all good comes to a soul: All good things come together with her. This made St. Augustine say, "Love, and do whatever you like." Whoever loves a person avoids everything that may offend him, and always seeks what may give him most pleasure. Thus is it with one who really loves God; he can never deliberately do anything to offend Him, but he studies in every possible manner to please Him.
And in order the more quickly and the more surely to obtain this gift of Divine love, let us have recourse to the foremost of God's lovers---I mean, to Mary His Mother, who was so inflamed with His holy love that the devils, as St. Bonaventure assures us, had not the boldness even to tempt her: "They were scared away by her burning charity, so that they dared not approach her." And Richard adds that even the Seraphim themselves might descend from their lofty throne in Heaven to take a lesson in love from the heart of Mary. And because, continues St. Bonaventure, the heart of Mary was a complete furnace of Divine love, therefore all who love this Blessed Mother, and address themselves to her, will be inflamed by her with the same love; she will make them resemble herself.
Affections and Prayers
Let us say with St. Augustine "O fire, ever burning, inflame me." O Word Incarnate, Thou wert made man to enkindle divine love in our hearts: and how couldst Thou have met with such a want of gratitude in the hearts of men? Thou hast spared nothing to induce them to love Thee; Thou hast even gone so far as to give Thy blood and Thy life for them: and how, then, can men still remain so ungrateful? Do they, perchance, not know it? Yes, they know it, and they believe that for them Thou hast come down from Heaven to put on mortal flesh, and to load Thyself with our miseries; they know that for their love Thou hast led a painful life, and embraced an ignominious death; and how, then, can they live forgetful of Thee? They love relatives, friends; they love even animals: if from them they receive any token of good-will, they are anxious to repay it; and yet towards Thee alone are they so loveless and ungrateful. But, alas! in accusing them, I am my own accuser: I who have treated Thee worse than anyone else. But Thy goodness encourages me, which I feel has borne with me so long, in order at length to pardon me, and to inflame me with Thy love, provided I will but repent and love Thee. Indeed, my God, I do wish to repent; and I grieve with my whole soul for having offended Thee; I wish to love Thee with my whole heart. I am well aware, my Redeemer, that my heart is no longer worthy of Thy acceptance, since it has forsaken Thee for the love of creatures; but, at the same time, I see that Thou art willing to have it, and with my entire will I dedicate it and present it to Thee. Inflame it, then, wholly with Thy Divine love, and grant that from this day forward it may never love any other but Thee, O infinite Goodness! worthy of an infinite love. I love Thee, my Jesus; I love Thee, O sovereign Good! I love Thee. O only Love of my soul!
O Mary my Mother, thou who art the mother of fair love, [Ecclus. 24:24] do thou obtain for me this grace to love my God; I hope it of