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 From Being Innocent Becomes As It Were Guilty
Oh, what a tender compassion has Jesus Christ for poor sinners! This makes Him say, that He is that Shepherd Who goes about seeking the lost sheep, and on finding it He arranges a festival, saying: Rejoice with Me, because I have found My sheep that was lost. And He lays it upon His shoulders rejoicing; [Luke 15:4-6] and thus He carefully keeps possession of it in His fond embraces for fear He should again lose it. This, too, caused Him to say that He is that loving Father Who, whenever a prodigal son that has left Him returns to His feet, does not thrust him away, but embraces him, kisses him, and as it were faints away for the consolation and fondness which He feels in beholding his repentance: And running to him, He fell upon his neck and kissed him. [Luke 15:20] This causes Him to say, I stand at the gate and knock; [Apoc. 3:20] that is, that, although driven away from the soul by sin, He does not abandon her, but He places Himself outside the door of her heart and, knocks by His calls to gain readmittance. This made Him say to His disciples, who with an indiscreet zeal would have called down vengeance on those who repulsed them: You know not of what spirit you are. [Luke 9:55] You see that I have so much compassion on sinners; and do you desire vengeance on them? Go, go away, for you are not of my spirit. Finally, this compassion made Him say: Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. [Matt. 11:28] Come to me, all you that are afflicted and tormented with the weight of your sins, and I will give you ease. And, in fact, with what tenderness did our amiable Redeemer, the moment she repented, forgive Magdalene, and change her into a Saint! With what kindness did He forgive the paralytic, and at the same moment restore him to bodily health! And with what sweet gentleness, above all, did He treat the woman taken in adultery! The priests brought that sinner before Him, that He might condemn her; but Jesus turning towards her said: Hath no man condemned thee? Neither will I condemn thee. As if He would thereby say: None of those who conducted thee hither hath condemned thee, and how, then, shall I condemn thee, I who came to save sinners? Go in peace, and sin no more! [John 8:10, 11]
Oh no, let us not be afraid of Jesus Christ; but let us be afraid of our own obstinacy, if after offending Him we will not listen to his voice, inviting us to be reconciled. Who is He that shall condemn? says the Apostle: Christ Jesus that died; Who also maketh intercession for us. [Rom. 8:34] If we persist in our obstinacy, Jesus Christ will be constrained to condemn us; but if we repent of the evil we have done, what fear need we have of Jesus Christ? Who has to pronounce on us sentence? Think (says St. Paul) that the self-same Redeemer has to sentence thee who died just that He might not condemn thee; that self-same One Who, that He might pardon thee, hath given Himself no pardon: "In order to redeem the servant, He hath not spared Himself," says St. Bernard.
Go, then, O sinner, go to the stable of Bethlehem, and thank the Infant Jesus, all shivering with cold for thy sake in that cave, moaning and weeping for thee on a bundle of straw; give thanks to this thy Redeemer, Who has come down from Heaven to call thee to Himself and to save thee. If thou art desirous of pardon, He is waiting thee in that manger to pardon thee. Go quickly, then, and obtain thy pardon; and afterwards do not forget the excessive love which Jesus Christ has borne thee: Forget not the kindness of thy surety. [Ecclus. 29:20] Forget not (says the prophet) that high favor He has done thee by making Himself surety for thy debts to God, in taking on Himself the chastisement deserved by thee; do not forget it, and love Him for it. And know further, that shouldst thou love Him, thy past sins will not stand in the way of thy receiving from God those specially great and choice graces which He is wont to bestow on His most beloved souls: All things work together unto good. [Rom. 8:28] "Even sins," subjoins the gloss. Yes, even the remembrance of the sins we have committed contributes to the advantage of the sinner who bewails and detests them, because this very thing will conquer to make him more humble and more pleasing to God, when he sees how God has welcomed him into the arms of His loving mercies: There shall be joy in Heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just. [Luke 15:7]
But of what sinner it is to be understood that he gives more joy to Heaven than a whole multitude of just ones? It is to be understood of that sinner who, out of gratitude to the Divine goodness, devotes himself wholly and fervently to the love of God, after the example of a St. Paul, a St. Mary Magdalene, a St. Mary of Egypt, a St. Augustine, and a St. Margaret of Cortona. To this last Saint in particular, who had formerly spent several years in sin, God revealed the place prepared for her in Heaven, amongst the Seraphim; and even during her life he showed her many signal favors, insomuch that, beholding herself so favored, she one day said to God, "O Lord, how is it that Thou lavishest so many graces on me? Hast Thou, then, forgotten the sins I have committed against Thee?' And God thus answered her: "And do you not know what I have before told you, that when a soul repents of its faults I no longer remember all the outrages it has been guilty of towards Me?" This same thing He had long ago announced by his Prophet Ezechiel: If the wicked do penance ... I will not remember all his iniquities. [18:21]
Let us conclude. Our sins, then, do not prevent us from becoming Saints; God offers us readily every assistance if we only desire it and ask it. What more remains? It remains for us to give ourselves entirely to God, and to devote to this love at least the remainder of our days in this life, Come, then, let us bestir ourselves; what are we doing? If we fail, we fail through ourselves, and not through God, Let us never be so unhappy as to turn all these mercies and loving calls of God into subjects of remorse and despair upon our death-bed, at that last moment when no more time is left to do anything; then the night sets in: The night cometh, when no man can work. [John 9:4]
Let us recommend ourselves to the most holy Mary, who, as St. Germanus says, makes it her glory to turn the most abandoned sinners into Saints, by procuring for them the grace of conversion, not in an ordinary, but in an extraordinary degree; and this she is well able to do, because what she asks of Jesus Christ she asks as a Mother: "But thou, powerful with God by thy maternal authority, obtainest a wonderful grace of reconciliation for sinners, even for those who have sinned enormously;" and she herself encourages us in those words put into her mouth by the Holy Church: With me are riches ... that I may enrich them that love me; [Prov. 8:18] and elsewhere In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue. [Eccles. 24:25] Come to me all, she says, because you shall find with me every hope of saving yourselves, and of saving yourselves as Saints.
Affections and Prayers
O my Redeemer and God! and who am I, that Thou shouldst have loved me, and still continues to love me, so much? What hast Thou ever received from me that has obliged Thee so to love me? What, except slights and provocations, which were a reason for Thee to abandon me, and to banish me forever from Thy face? But, O Lord! I accept of every penalty except this. If Thou dost forsake me, and deprive me of Thy grace, I can nevermore love Thee. I have not the pretensions to escape punishment; but I wish to love Thee, and to love Thee exceedingly. I wish to love Thee as a sinner is bound to love Thee, who, after so many special favors, and so many marks of love received from Thee, has, in spite of all, so frequently turned his back upon Thee; who, for the sake of wretched momentary and poisonous gratifications, has renounced Thy grace and Thy love. Pardon me, O my beloved Infant, for I am sorry with my whole heart for every single displeasure I have given Thee, But know that I shall not be content with a simple pardon; I desire also the grace to love Thee ardently; I wish to make compensation by my love as much as possible for the past ingratitude which I have shown Thee. An innocent soul loves Thee as innocent, and thanks Thee for having preserved it from the death of sin. I must love Thee as a sinner; that is, as one who has rebelled against Thee, as one condemned to Hell, as often as I deserved it; and then so often graciously received back by Thee and re-established in the way of salvation, and over and above enriched with lights, with helps, with invitations to become a Saint. O Redeemer, and Redeemer again and again of my soul! My soul is now enamoured of Thee, and loves Thee. Thou hast loved me above measure, so that, overcome by Thy love, I could no longer resist its winning appeals, and at last I now surrender myself, and fix all my love on Thee. I love Thee, then, O infinite Goodness! I love Thee, O most lovable God! Do Thou never cease to enkindle more and more in my heart the flames and fiery darts of love. For Thy Own glory cause Thyself to be greatly loved by one who has greatly offended Thee. Mary, my Mother, thou art the hope, the refuge of sinners; assist a sinner who desires to prove faithful to his God; Help me to love Him, and to love Him exceedingly.