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
The Eternal Word Being Great Becomes Little
And for love of Jesus Christ, we ought to love our neighbors, even those who have offended us. The Messias is called by Isaias, Father of the world to come. [9:6] Now, in order to be the sons of this Father, Jesus admonishes us that we must love our enemies, and do good to those who injure us: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, ... that you maybe the children of your Father Who is in Heaven. [Matt. 5:24] And of this He Himself set us the example on the cross, praying His Eternal Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him.
"He who pardons his enemy," says St. John Chrysostom, "cannot but obtain God's pardon for himself;" and we have the Divine assurance of it: Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. [Luke 6:37] There was a certain religious, who otherwise had not led a very exemplary life, at the hour of. death bewailed his sins, not without great confidence and joy, because, said he, "I have never avenged an injury done me;" as much as to say: It is true that I have offended the Lord, but He has engaged to pardon him who pardons his enemies; I have pardoned all who offended me, so then I am confident God will likewise pardon me.
But to speak with reference to all persons in general; how can we, sinners as we are, despair of pardon, when we think of Jesus Christ? For this very object the Eternal Word humbled Himself so far as to take human flesh, that we might procure our pardon from God: I am come, not to call the just, but sinners. [Matt. 9:13] Hence we may address Him in the words of St. Bernard: "Where Thou didst empty Thyself, there Thy mercy, there Thy charity, shone forth the more." And St. Thomas of Villanova gives us excellent encouragement, saying: "What art thou afraid of, O poor sinner? How shall He condemn thee if thou be penitent, Who died expressly that thou mightest not be condemned? How shall He reject thee, if thou desirest to retain Him Who came down from Heaven to seek thee?"
Let not, then, the sinner be afraid, provided he will be no more a sinner, but will love Jesus Christ; let him not be dismayed, but have a full trust; if he abhor sin, and seek after God, let him not be sad, but full of joy: Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord. [Ps. 104:3] 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. 18:21] 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 very offence.
A tear of repentance, one act of heart-felt contrition, is enough to appease the Infant Jesus. "You know the tempers of children," pursues St. Thomas of Villanova; "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 an Infant," says St. Bonaventure, "that neither His justice nor His power might intimidate you." In order to exempt 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 childish age, 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 torment." 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? was filled with dismay: I heard Thy voice, and was afraid. [Gen. 3:9] But, continues the Saint, now, the Incarnate Word being 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, and voiceless; for 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 in alarm?" 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 sooner to pity than to fear; thou canst not apprehend 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" was He called by Isaias [9:6]. 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 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, making once a sea voyage, and the vessel being driven among the rocks by a violent tempest, already gave himself up for lost; but at that moment espying near him a little child, crying bitterly, what did he do? He seized him in his arms, and so lifting him towards Heaven, "O Lord," said he, "though I myself be unworthy to be heard, give ear at least to the cries of this innocent child, and save us." At the same instant the storm abated, and he remained in safety. 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 with right. What have we to do? To 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. Be it that we 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 your profit of Him by frequently offering Him to His heavenly Father."
And if we would still have 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, wrote St. Peter Damian, when Mary goes to entreat Jesus Christ in favor of one who is devout to her, "she appears to command (in a certain sense), not to ask, as a mistress, not a handmaid; for the Son honors her by denying her nothing." For this reason St. Germanus adds that the most holy Virgin, by the authority of mother which she exercises, or, rather, which she did exercise for a time over her Son upon earth, can obtain the pardon of the most abandoned sinner. "Thou, by the power of thy maternal authority, gainest even for the most enormous sinners the exceeding grace of pardon."
Affections and Prayers
O my sweet, amiable, and holy Child! Thou art at a loss what more to do to make Thyself beloved by men. It is enough to say that from being the Son of God Thou wert made the Son of man, and that Thou chosest to be born among men like the rest of infants, only poorer and more meanly lodged than the rest, selecting a stable for Thy abode, a manger for Thy cradle, and a little straw for Thy couch. Thou didst desire thus to make Thy first appearance before us in the semblance of a poor Child, that even from Thy very birth Thou mightest lose no time in attracting our hearts towards Thee; and so Thou didst go on through the remainder of Thy life, ever showing us fresh and more striking tokens of Thy love, so that at length Thou didst will to shed the last drop of Thy blood and die overwhelmed in shame upon the infamous tree of the Cross. And how is that Thou couldst have encountered such ingratitude from the majority of mankind: for I see few indeed that know Thee, fewer still that love Thee? Ah, my dear Jesus, I too desire to be reckoned among this small number! In time past, it is true. I have not known Thee: but, heedless of Thy love, I have only sought my own gratifications, making no account what ever of Thee and of Thy friendship. But now I am conscious of the wrong I have done; I am sorry for it, I grieve over it with my whole heart. O my sweet Child and my God, forgive me for the sake of Thy infancy. I love Thee, and that so dearly, O my Jesus, that even if I knew that all mankind were about to rebel against Thee and to forsake Thee, yet I promise never to leave Thee, though it should cost me my life a thousand times. I am well aware that I am indebted to Thee for this light and this good resolution. I thank Thee for it, O my love! and beseech Thee to preserve it to me by Thy grace. But Thou knowest my weakness, Thou knowest my past treasons; for pity's sake do not abandon me, or I shall fall away even worse than before. Accept of my poor heart to love Thee; there was a time when it cared not for Thee, but now it is enamoured of Thy goodness. O Divine Infant! O Mary! O great Mother of the Incarnate Word! neither do Thou abandon me; for Thou art the Mother of perseverance, and the stewardess of Divine grace. Help me, then, and help me always; with thy aid, my hope! I trust to be faithful to my God till death.