treasure in earthly vessels:
wisdom from the catholic tradition iii
“Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him”
The son returned to his father’s house and cried out: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers”… But the father ran to him, and ran from a long way off. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5,8).
The father ran… in the person of the Son when he descended from heaven through him and came to earth. “The Father who sent me is with me,” he says in the Gospel (cf. Jn 16,32). He flung his arms round him: he flung himself even on us when, in Christ, his whole divinity came down from heaven and made its home in our flesh.
And he embraced him. When? When “mercy and faithfulness have met; justice and peace have embraced” (Ps 85,11).
He made them give him the finest robe: that which Adam lost – the eternal glory of our immortality. He bestowed on him a ring for his finger: the ring of honor, his title of liberty, the special seal of the spirit, the sign of faith, the firstfruits of the heavenly wedding feast. Hear the apostle Paul: “I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2Cor 11,2). And he made them put sandals on his feet that our feet might be shod when we preach the good news of the Gospel, so that “the feet of those who bring glad tidings of peace” (Is 52,7; Rom 10,15) might be blessed. And he had the fattened calf slaughtered… The calf is slaughtered at the father’s orders since Christ, God and Son of God, could not be put to death apart from the Father’s will. Listen again to the apostle Paul: “He did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all” (Rom 8,32).
“Lord, I am not worthy”
When the gospel was read, we heard Jesus praise our faith in an act of humility. When the Lord Jesus, you remember, promised he would go to the centurion’s house to heal his servant, the man replied, “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and he will be healed”. By calling himself unworthy, he showed he was worthy to have Christ enter, not within his walls, but within his heart…
There would, after all, have been no great benefit if the Lord Jesus had entered within his walls, and had not been in his bosom. Christ, the teacher of humility by both word and example had, you may remember, sat down in the house of a certain proud Pharisee called Simon (Lc 7,36f.). And though he was sitting in his house, there wasn’t anywhere in his heart where the Son of man might lay his head (Lk 9,58)… But into this centurion’s house he never entered, yet he took possession of his heart… So this man’s faith is discerned and praised in an act of humility. He said, “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof” and the Lord said, “Amen I tell you, I have not found such great faith in Israel”… The Lord had come to Israel according to the flesh, that is to the Jews, there first to seek the sheep that were lost (Lk 15,4)… We, as human beings, can assess the faith of human beings – from the outside; he, who could look inside, whom no one could deceive, bore witness to the faith of this man, and on hearing his humble words, he gave him a clean bill of health.
The cross reconciled us with God, made earth, heaven, caused human beings to mingle with angels, destroyed the citadel of death, broke the strength of the devil, freed the world from error, and founded churches. The cross was the will of the Father, the glory of the Son, the joy of tbe Holy Spirit…
The cross is brighter than the sun, its rays are more brilliant. When the sun is darkened the cross shines forth, for the darkening of the sun does not mean it no longer exists, but that it is outshone by the splendor of the cross. The cross destroyed the bond that wa against us and opened the prison-house of death. The cross is the proof of God’s love, for: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son to save those who believe from perishing”.
The cross unlocked the gates of paradise, admitted the thief, and led to the kingdom of heaven the human race which, unworthy even of the earth, was on the point of being destroyed.
Come, you nations; come, all peoples of every race and language, every age and rank. Joyfully let us celebrate the nativity of the whole world’s joy! If even the pagans honor the birthday of their king…, what ought not we to do to honor that of the Mother of God, through whom all humanity has been transformed and the pain of Eve, our first mother, has been turned to joy? For Eve heard God’s sentence: “You will bring forth children in pain” (Gn 3,16), but Mary: “Rejoice, most highly favored… The Lord is with you” (Lk 1,28)…
Let all creation celebrate and sing the holy childbirth of a holy woman, for she has brought a lasting treasure into the world… Through her the creative Word of God has been united to the whole creation and we celebrate the ending of human barrenness, the ending of the sickness that kept us from possessing our good… Nature has given way to grace… As the Virgin Mother of God had to be born of barren Anna, so nature remained without fruit until grace had produced its own. It was to open the womb of its mother, she who would give birth to “The Firstborn of all creation” in whom “all things hold together” (Col 1,15,17).
blessed couple, Joachim and Anne! All creation owes you thanks; through you it has offered the Creator the best of all his gifts: a mother worthy of veneration, the only mother worthy of the one who created her.
Contemplatives and ascetics of every age and every religion have always sought God in the silence and solitude of deserts, forests and mountains. Jesus himself lived for forty days in complete solitude, spending long hours in intimate converse with the Father in the silence of the night.
We, too, are called to withdraw into a deeper silence from time to time, alone with God. Being alone with him – not with our books, our thoughts, our memories, but in complete nakedness; remaining in his presence – silent, empty, motionless, waiting. We cannot find God in noise and restlessness. Look at nature: the trees, flowers, grasses all grow in silence; the stars, the moon, the sun all move in silence. The important thing is not what we are able say but what God says to us and what he speaks to others through us. In silence he listens to us; in silence he speaks to our souls; in silence we are granted the privilege of hearing his voice:
Silence of the eyes; Silence of the ears; Silence of our mouths; Silence of our minds. In the silence of the heart God will speak.
We see some people who disdain very great riches in this world-and not only large sums of gold and silver but also magnificent properties-being disturbed over a penknife, a stylus, a needle, or a pen… And when they have given away all their wealth for the sake of Christ’s love, but still retain the heart’s old affection for the littlest things and are always quickly irritated because of them, they become in every respect fruitless and barren, like those who do not have the love of which the Apostle speaks.
Foreseeing this in the Spirit, the blessed Apostle said: ‘If I gave all my goods to feed the poor and handed my body over to be burned, but I did not have love, it would profit me nothing.’ (1Co 13,3) Hence it is clearly proved that perfection is not immediately arrived at by being stripped and deprived of all one’s wealth or by giving up one’s honors, unless there is that love whose elements the Apostle describes, which consists in purity of heart alone.
For what else does it mean not to be envious, not to be boastful, not to be angry, not to do evil, not to seek the things that are one’s own, not to rejoice over iniquity, not to think evil and all the rest, (1Co 13,4-5) if not always to offer God a perfect and utterly clean heart and to keep it unsullied by any passion? For the sake of this, then, everything is to be done and desired.
Let the soul remember that she was first sought, and first loved, and that it is because of this that she seeks and loves…
“I have sought,” says the Bride [of the Song of Songs], “him whom my soul loves” (3:1). This is what the kindness of him who goes before you urges you to do, he who both sought you first and loved you first. You would not be seeking him or loving him unless you had first been sought and loved.
You have been forestalled not only in one blessing but in two, in love and in seeking. The love is the cause of the seeking, and the seeking is the fruit of the love; and it is its guarantee. You are loved, so that you may not think that you are sought so as to be punished; you are sought, so that you may not complain that you are loved in vain. Both these sweet gifts of love make you bold and drive diffidence away, and they persuade you to return and move you to loving response. Hence comes the zeal, the ardor to “seek him whom your soul loves,” for you cannot seek unless you are sought and now that you are sought you cannot fail to seek.
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
Peter threw himself humbly at Jesus’ feet. Recognising his Lord in him, he said: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man and am not worthy to stay with you. Depart from me, for I am only a man and you are the God-man; I am sinful and you are holy; I am a servant, you the Master. Let distance separate you from me who am distanced from you by the weakness of my nature, the ugliness of my sins and the weakness of my strength…”
But the Lord comforted Peter by showing him the catch of fish that showed how he would become a fisher of men. “Do not be afraid,” he said to him, “Do not be frightened but believe and rejoice. For you are destined for an even greater catch; another kind of boat and another kind of net will be given you. Hitherto you have caught fish with your nets but from now on you will catch men with your words.
The word of God is like a fisherman’s bait. Just as the hook does not catch the fish until it has been taken by it, so the word of God does not capture a man for eternal life unless this word has first of all entered his thoughts. From now on it is men you will catch. ‘From now on’: that is to say, after all that has taken place, after the proof of your humility, you will be responsible for catching men. For humility has the force of attraction and it is good to know how not to boast in one’s own power if one is to have authority over others.
The desert is a place of silence and solitude where we stand apart from the events of everyday. There we escape from noise and superficiality. The desert is the place of the absolute, of freedom, where our deepest needs confront us. It is not by chance that the desert is where monotheism is born. In this sense it is the home of grace where, emptied of all our concerns, we meet our Creator.
Great things have their beginning in the desert, in silence and poverty. We ourselves could not know how to take part in the mission of the Gospel without entering into this desert experience with its nakedness and hunger. The blessed hunger of which our Lord speaks in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5,6) could not come to birth out of the sufficiency of the well fed.
Let us not forget, either, that Jesus’ desert did not come to its term with the forty days following his baptism. His last and final desert would be that expressed in Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” It was from this desert that the waters of the life of the world would well up.
The man at the eleventh hour One of the robbers crucified with Jesus cried out: “Lord, remember me ; it is to you I now turn… Remember not my works, for of these I am afraid. Every man has a feeling for his fellow-traveller; I am travelling with you towards death; remember me, your fellow-wayfarer. I do not say, Remember me now, but, “when You come in Your kingdom” (Lk 23,42).
What power, O robber, led you to the light? Who taught you to worship that despised man, your companion on the cross? O Light Eternal, which gives light to them that are in darkness! (Lk 1,79) “Take courage! Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” because “Today you have heard my voice, and have not hardened your heart”(Ps 95,8). Very speedily I passed sentence upon Adam… but you, who today have obeyed the faith, today is your salvation. By the tree Adam fell away; by the tree you are brought into paradise…
mighty and ineffable grace! The faithful Abraham had not yet entered, but the robber enters! Paul also wondered at this before you, saying, “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Rom 5,20). They who had borne the heat of the day had not yet entered; and he of the eleventh hour entered. Let none murmur against the master of the house, for he says, “My friend, I am not cheating you. Am I not free to do as I wish with what is my own?” The robber has a will to work righteousness…I accept his faith… I, the shepherd, have “found the sheep that was lost”; I lay it on My shoulders (Lk 15,5); since he himself has said, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; Lord, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.”
“Blessed are those who have been called to the marriage feast of the Lamb” (Rv 19,9)
You already understand the identity of this king who is father of a son who is also a king. Surely it is the one to whom the psalmist says: 0 God, give your judgment to the king, and your righteousness to the kings’s son (Ps 72,1)… The Father made a marriage feast for his Son by joining the Church to him through the mystery of his incarnation. The womb of the Virgin who bore him was the bridal chamber of this bridegroom, and so the psalmist says: He has set his tent in the sun, and he is like a bridegroom coming forth from his bridal chamber (Ps 19,5-6)…
And so he sent his servants to invite his friends to the marriage feast. He sent once, and he sent again, because first he made the prophets, and later the apostles, preachers of the Lord’s incarnation… Through the prophets he said that his only Son’s incarnation would come about, and he proclaimed through the apostles that it had. “But they paid no heed and went off, one to his farm, another to his business.” To go to your farm is to involve yourself excessively in earthly toil; to go to your business is to long for the gain brought by our worldly activity. Neither of you take any notice of the mystery of the mystery of the Lord’s incarnation and are unwilling to live in accordance with it… Sme, and this is a more serious matter, not only decline the gift of the One calling them but even persecute those who accept it… But the one who sees himself despised when he issues the invitations will not have the marriage feast of his son, the king, empty. He sends for others, because although God’s word is in danger from some, it will find a place to come to rest…
But you, my friends, since you have already come into the house of the marriage feast, our holy Church, as a result of God’s generosity, be careful lest when the King enters he find fault with some aspect of your heart’s clothing.
God’s providence, which is ever watchful to give each one of us what is for our good, has guided all things in our direction to lead us to humility. Since, if you take pride in the graces of providence, it will forsake you and you will fall back… Take note, then, that it belongs neither to you nor your virtue to resist evil inclinations, but that grace alone holds you in hand to keep you from being afraid… In time of testing groan and weep and call to mind your failings that you may be set free from pride and win humility. All the same, don’t despair. Humbly beg God to forgive you your sins. Even without works, humility wipes out many faults. Without it, on the other hand, works are useless – they even lead to many evils. Therefore, obtain by your humility forgiveness for your unrighteousness. What salt is to every food, humility is to every virtue; it can break the strength of numberless sins… If we possess it, it can make us children of God and lead us to God even without the help of good works. That is why, without it, our works are of no value, our virtues are vain, and vain, too, is all our effort.
Where there is such and so great a good as the Kingdom of God, how rich and great must be the joy! If man abounded in all these things, how great would be the joy of his heart, that needy heart, well-versed in, indeed overwhelmed by, suffering… But surely if another whom you loved in every way as yourself, had that same bliss, your joy would be double, for you would rejoice no less for him than for yourself. And if two or three or many more had this same blessedness, you would rejoice for each of them as much as you do for yourself, if you loved each one as your self.
So in that perfection of charity of countless blessed angels and men, where no one loves another any less than he loves himself, they will all rejoice for each other as they do for themselves. If the heart of man can scarcely hold the joy that comes to him from so great a good, how will it hold so many and such great joys? In so far as each one loves another, so he will rejoice in the other’s good; and as in that perfection of happiness, each one will love God incomparably more than he loves either himself or others, so he will rejoice more and more and without regard in the happiness of God.
God prompts man to rise up from his sins… The more swiftly a man acknowledges his wretchedness, the more swiftly, too, he humbles himself and abandons himself to God knowing that the work of converting him belongs to God alone. He becomes aware of it by degrees through the constant inspirations God sends him and, noticing this work and the benefits he gains from it, he says to himself: “It honestly seems to me that God has nothing else to do but take care of me. How sweet and loving God’s working is on our behalf!”…
Already in this life the service of God is truly to reign. When God frees man from the sin that holds him captive, he looses him from all bondage and sets him in true liberty. Otherwise man is always going from one desire to another without finding rest; the more he has the more he wants; seeking satisfaction for himself, he is never content. Indeed, whoever desires is possessed by that desire; he is sold over to the thing he loves; seeking his own liberty, offending God by following his own appetites, he endlessly becomes its slave.
Therefore consider what is the strength and power of our free will, which contains within itself two such opposed and contrary things: eternal life or eternal death. It cannot be forced by any creature if we do not want it to be; which is why, so much as in your power, you should ponder well and be careful what you do.
The apostles are those precious pearls that St. John tells us he beheld in his Revelation and of which the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem are composed (Rv 21,21)… For indeed, when the apostles reflect the light of divinity through their signs or miracles, they open the way to the heavenly glory of Jerusalem to people who have been converted to faith in Christ. And whoever has been saved because of them enters life as one on a journey crosses over a threshold… It is of them, too, that the prophet says: “Who are these that fly along like clouds?” (Is 60,8). These clouds pour down water when they bedew the earth of our hearts with the rain of their instruction, making them fertile and apt to bear the seeds of good works.
Bartholomew, whose feast day is today, means in Aramaic nothing less than: son of a water-bearer. He is son of the God who raises the minds of his preachers to the contemplation of truths from on high in such a way that they can spread efficaciously and abundantly the rain of God’s word in our hearts. This is how they drink water at its source so that they can cause us to drink in our turn.
Bodily health is one of the desirable things in human life; but it is blessed not only to know the principle of health, but to be healthy… The Lord Jesu does not say it is blessed to know something about God, but to have God present within oneself. “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5,8). I do not think that if the eye of one’s soul has been purified, he is promised a direct vision of God; but perhaps this marvelous saying may suggest what the Word expresses more clearly…:
“The Kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17,21). By this we should learn that if a man’s heart has been purified from every creature and all unruly affections, he will see the Image of the Divine Nature in his own beauty…
There is in you, human beings, a desire to contemplate the true good… For He who made you did at the same time endow your nature with this wonderful quality. For God imprinted on it the likeness of the glories of His own Nature, as if moulding the form of a carving into wax. But evil… has rendered useless to you this wonderful thing that lies hidden under vile coverings.
If, therefore, you wash off by a good life the filth that has been stuck on your heart like plaster, the Divine Beauty will again shine forth in you. It is the same as happens in the case of iron. If freed from rust it will shine and glisten brightly in the sun. So it is also with the inner man, which the Lord calls the heart. When he has scraped off the rustlike dirt which dank decay has caused to appear on his form, he will once more recover the likeness of the archetype and be good.
You are happy indeed when Christ knocks at your door. As for the door – this is the faith that safeguards the whole house, provided it is firm. By this door Christ makes his entry and therefore the Church declares in the Song of Songs: “I hear my brother’s voice as he knocks at the door.”
Listen to him who is knocking; listen to him who seeks to enter: “Open to me, my sister, my beloved, my dove, my perfect one! For my head is wet with dew, my locks with the moisture of the night” (Sg 5,2). Consider what time God the Word knocks at your door: it is when his head is covered with the moisture of nighttime. For he condescends to visit those undergoing trial and temptation in order that none, overcome by its difficulties, may give way. Thus his head is covered with dew, or moisture, when his body suffers.
Then is the time you should keep watch for fear that, when the Bridegroom comes, he may withdraw again on finding your house shut. Thus, if you sleep and your heart does not awake (Sg 5,2) he will go away before he has knocked; if your heart is awake he will knock and request that the door be opened to him. And so the door of our soul is at our disposal as also are the gates of which it is written: “Lift up, O gates, your lintels; reach up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may come in” (Ps 24,7).
“Behold, the bridegroom!”
A serious lack of harmony reigned between God and ourselves. The Son of God had to espouse our nature if he was to bring peace to the situation and restore good understanding… To this the Father gave his consent and sent his Son. He, in the nuptial bed of the Blessed Virgin, united our nature to his own. Such was the wedding the Father then made for his Son. John Damascene says that the Word of God took on everything God had placed in our nature: both body and rational soul. He took it all that all of me might be saved by his grace. Divinity stooped down even to this marriage; flesh could not have engaged in a marriage more glorious.
A wedding is celebrated again when the Holy Spirit’s grace comes down to work the sinful soul’s conversion. We read in the prophet Hosea: “I will go back to my first husband for then it will be better for me than it is now” (cf. Hos 2,9). And further on: “She shall call me ‘My husband’ and never again ‘My baal’. Then I will remove from her mouth the names of the Baals… I will make a covenant for them…” (vv.18-20). The souls’ husband is the Holy Spirit, by his grace. When his interior inspiration calls the soul to repentance then every enticement of vice is in vain. The pride that wants command, the greed and lust that consumes everything: this was the master that used to control and ravage the soul. Their very names have been removed from the repentant sinner’s mouth… When grace is poured into the soul and gives it light, God makes a covenant with sinners. He is reconciled with them… Then is celebrated the wedding of the bridegroom with his bride in the peace of a pure conscience.
Finally, a wedding is celebrated on the day of judgement when Jesus Christ, our Bridegroom, comes. “Behold, the Bridegroom comes,” it is said; “go out to meet him.” Then he will take the Church, his Bride, with him.
“Come here,” says St. John in the Book of Revelation, “I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven” (21,9-10)… At the present time we are living in heaven only by faith and hope, but very soon the Church will celebrate her wedding with the Bridegroom: “Blessed are those who are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rv 19,9).
Let those who are first always stand in the last place, through humility and in disposition of spirit, with an attitude of descent and service. Love of men, humility, the last place: in the last place so long as the divine will does not call you to another, since then you must obey. Obedience before all else; conformity to God’s will. In the first place be spiritually in the last, through humility: occupy it in the spirit of service, telling yourself that you are only there to serve others and lead them to salvation.
So drop these useless apprehensions. Remember that it isn’t the Evil One’s suggestions that make up the fault but rather the consent we give to these suggestions. Only a will that is free is capable of good and evil. But when our wills groan beneath the trials imposed by the Tempter, and do not desire to do what he suggests, then not only is this not a fault but it is, rather, a virtue.
Guard against falling into agitation as you struggle against temptation because that only strengthens them. We have to deal with them with disdain and not concern ourselves about them. Turn your thoughts to Jesus crucified, his body laid in your arms, and say: “This is my hope, the source of my joy! I cleave to you with all my soul and will not let you go until you have made me secure.”
“May your hand be ready to help me!” (Ps 119,173). The Father’s beloved Son is he whom we call the hand of God, he through whom God created all things. This hand intervened when it took our flesh, not simply without injury to his mother, but still more, according to the prophet’s testimony, by taking on himself all our sicknesses and bearing our sufferings (Is 53,4).
Indeed, this hand laden with medicines and dressings has healed every ill. It has removed everything that leads to death and has raised people who were dead; it has broken the gates of hell, bound the strong one and stripped him of his weapons; it has opened heaven and poured out the Spirit of love into the hearts of its own. This hand sets prisoners free and gives light to the blind; it raises those who have fallen; it loves the just and protects the stranger; it welcomes the orphan and widow.
It snatches from temptation those in danger of giving way to it, restores with its comforting those who suffer; it gives joy back to the afflicted and shelters the weary in its shade; it writes for those desiring to meditate its Law and touches and blesses the hearts of those who pray, strengthening them in love by its touch; it makes them progress and persevere in their works. Finally, it leads them to their homeland; it brings them back to the Father.
For if it has become flesh it is so that it may draw man through a man, joining our flesh to his flesh so as lovingly to bring back to God, the almighty and invisible Father, the straying sheep. Because this sheep had fallen in the flesh by abandoning God, the mystery of this hand’s Incarnation had to guide it, to lift it up and lead it back to the Father (Lk 15,4f.).
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill”
Grace, which was formerly veiled, so to speak, in the Old Testament, has been fully revealed in the Gospel of Christ by a harmonious disposition of the times, just as God usually disposes of everything with harmony…
But within this wonderful harmony we notice a great difference between the two ages. On Sinai the people did not dare draw near the place where the Lord was giving his Law; in the Upper Room, the Holy Spirit comes down on all those assembled there while waiting for the fulfilment of the promise (Ex 19,23; Acts 2,1).
In the first instance the finger of God inscribed the laws on tablets of stone; but now it is in human hearts that he writes it (Ex 31,18; 2Cor 3,3). Formerly the Law was written without and brought fear to sinners; but now it has been given to them within to make them righteous…
Indeed, as the apostle Paul says, everything written on the stone tablets, “you shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill…, you shall not covet, and whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this saying: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfilment of the Law” (Rm 13,9f.; Lv 19,18)… This charity has been “poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rm 5,5).
The first word our Lord spoke on the cross was a prayer for those who were crucifying him; thus he carried out what St. Paul wrote: “In the days of his flesh he offered prayer and sacrifice” (Heb 5,7).
It is true that those who were crucifying our divine Savior did not know him… for if they had known him they would not have crucified him (1Cor 2,8).
Therefore our Lord, seeing the ignorance and weakness of those torturing him, began to make excuses for them and offer this sacrifice to his heavenly Father for them – for prayer is a sacrifice…:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23,34).
How great was the flame of love burning in our sweet Savior’s heart, since amidst the strongest of his pains, at the time when the strength of his sufferings seemed to take from him even the ability to pray for himself, he came, through the strength of charity, to forget himself but not those he had created…
By this he wanted to make us understand the love he bore for us, a love that could not be lessened by any kind of suffering, and to teach us, too, what our hearts ought to be with regard to our neighbor…
Now, since this divine Lord had been occupying himself in asking forgiveness for us, it is absolutely certain that his request was granted. For his divine Father honored him too much to refuse him anything he asked.
The poor standing before the church are asking for an alms. How much should you give? It’s up to you to decide; I’m not going to fix a sum so as to avoid your having any embarrassment. Purchase according to your means. Do you have a coin? Buy the heavens! Not that heaven is on offer in the open market, but it is the goodness of the Lord that allows you to do so. Are you without a coin? Give a glass of cold water (Mt 10,42)…
We can purchase heaven and yet we fail to do so! For one loaf of bread that you give you gain paradise in return. Offer even items of small value and you will receive a treasure. Make a gift of transitory things and you will obtain immortality; give perishable goods and receive imperishable in exchange…
When it is a question of perishable goods you know well how to manifest a good deal of forethought, so why do you show such indifference when it’s a question of eternal life?…
We could also make a parallel between the water vessels found at the entrance of churches in which to cleanse your hands and the poor who sit outside the building so that you can cleanse your soul by their means. You have washed your hands in water; wash your soul in the same way by giving alms…
A widow, who had been reduced to extreme poverty, showed hospitality to Elijah (1Kgs 17,9f.): her own necessity did not prevent her from welcoming him joyfully. She then received many gifts as an indication of thanks, which symbolized the fruits of her gesture.
Perhaps this example may make you desire to welcome an Elijah. Why ask for Elijah? I set before you Elijah’s Lord and you do not show him hospitality… This is what Christ, the Lord of the universe, says: “Every time you did it for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me” (cf. Mt 25,40).
The mystery of our resurrection is great indeed and extremely difficult to fathom. It is foretold in many texts of Scripture but, above all, in Ezekiel…: “The Spirit of the Lord set me down in a valley full of bones…; they were completely dry. The Lord said to me: ‘Son of man, can these bones come to life?’ ‘Lord God,’ I answered, ‘you alone know that!’ Then he said to me: ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!’ (Ez 37,1-4)…
So what are those bones to which it is said: “Hear the word of the Lord”… if not the Body of Christ, of which the Lord said: “All my bones are racked” (Ps 22,15)… Just as the resurrection of Christ’s true and perfect body came about, so the members of Christ will one day… be reunited, bone to bone, ligament to ligament.
Anybody without this ligament will not come to “mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ’s body” (Eph 4,13). Then… “all the parts of the body, though many, will make one body” (1Cor 12,12)…
I tell you this with respect to the Temple – of which our Lord said: “Zeal for your house has consumed me” (Ps 69,10) – and to the Jews who asked him for a sign and with respect to his reply:…: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” For everything that disavows reason and arises from business affairs must be cast out of this temple, which is the Body of Christ, so that in future this temple will not be a house of buyers and sellers any more.
Furthermore… after its destruction by those who turn away from God’s word, it is to be raised up again on the third day… Following Jesus’ purification, his disciples, having forsaken all senseless things and every sort of business, and as a consequence of their zeal for God’s Word present within them, will be “destroyed” so as to be “raised up again” by Jesus in three days… For three whole days are necessary for this rebuilding to be fulfilled.
Hence we can say that, on the one hand, the resurrection has taken place and, on the other, that it is still to come. In truth, “we have been buried with Christ” and “we shall be raised up with him” (cf. Rm 6,4)… “In Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one according to its proper order: Christ the firstfruits and then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ” (1Cor 15,22-23).
This prodigal son is man every human being: bewitched by the temptation to separate himself from his Father in order to lead his own independent existence; disappointed by the emptiness of the mirage which had fascinated him; alone, dishonored, exploited when he tries to build a world all for himself sorely tried, even in the depths of his own misery, by the desire to return to communion with his Father.
Like the father in the parable, God looks out for the return of his child, embraces him when he arrives and orders the banquet of the new meeting with which the reconciliation is celebrated…
But the parable also brings into the picture the elder brother, who refuses to take his place at the banquet. He rebukes his younger brother for his dissolute wanderings, and he rebukes his father for the welcome given to the prodigal son while he himself, a temperate and hard-working person, faithful to father and home, has never been allowed-he says to have a celebration with his friends. This is a sign that he does not understand the father’s goodness.
To the extent that this brother, too sure of himself and his own good qualities, jealous and haughty, full of bitterness and anger, is not converted and is not reconciled with his father and brother, the banquet is not yet fully the celebration of a reunion and rediscovery. Man every human being-is also this elder brother. Selfishness makes him jealous, hardens his heart, blinds him and shuts him off from other people and from God…
The parable of the prodigal son is above all the story of the inexpressible love of a Father… But when the parable evokes, in the figure of the elder son, the selfishness which divides the brothers, it also becomes the story of the human family…
It portrays the situation of the human family, divided by forms of selfishness. It throws light on the difficulty involved in satisfying the desire and longing for one reconciled and united family. It therefore reminds us of the need for a profound transformation of hearts through the rediscovery of the Father’s mercy and through victory over misunderstanding and over hostility among brothers and sisters.
“The vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel” says the prophet (Is 5,7). We ourselves are this house… and, since we are his Israel, we are the vineyard. So let us take good care that grapes of wrath (Rv 14,19) rather than sweetness, do not grow from our branches, so that no one may say to us: “I expected grapes but it yielded wild grapes” (Is 5,4).
What fruitless soil! The soil that should have presented its master with fruits of sweetness, pierced him with its sharp thorns. In the same way his enemies, who ought to have welcomed our Savior with all the devotion of their faith, crowned him with the thorns of his Passion. In their eyes this crown expressed insult and abuse, but in the Lord’s eyes it was the crown of virtue…
My brethren, take good care that no one says with regard to you: “He expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes” (Is 5,2)… Let us take care that our evil deeds do not rub against our Lord’s head like thorns. There are thorns in the heart that have even wounded the word of God, as our Lord says in the gospel when he relates how the sower’s seed fell among thorns that grew and choked what had been sown (Mt 13,7)…
So take care that your vineyard does not bring forth thorns instead of grapes and your vintage produce vinegar instead of wine. Anyone who gathers in the grapes without sharing them with the poor is collecting vinegar instead of wine; and anyone who stores his harvests without sharing them with needy is not setting aside the fruit of almsgiving but the briers of greed.
Like the rich man who loved a life of pleasure
I, too, have loved pleasures that pass away
With this animal body of mine,
In the pleasures of that fool.
And from so many and such great blessings
That you have so freely given me
I have not paid back the tenth
From your own gifts.
But, out of everything under my roof,
Gathered from earth and sky and sea,
I believed your numberless blessings
To be my own possession.
Nothing of these have I given to the poor,
Nor set anything aside for his needs:
Neither food for the hungry
Nor covering for the naked body,
Neither shelter for the homeless
Nor abode for the foreign guest,
Nor visit to the sick
Nor even concern for the prisoner (Cf Mt 25,31f.).
I was not saddened for the sorrow
Of the one cast down by his burdens,
Nor shared the joy of the joyful
But burned with jealousy against him.
All of them were another Lazarus…
They lay outside at my gate…
Yet I, deaf to their appeal,
Never gave them the crumbs from my table…
The dogs of your Law outside
Comforted them, at least, with their tongues;
Yet I, who listened to your commandment,
Wounded the one who bore your likeness with my tongue (Mt 25,45)… Yet only grant me repentance here below
That I may make reparation for my sins…
That these tears may extinguish the blazing furnace
With its burning flames…
And, instead of acting like the merciless,
Set merciful compassion within me,
That, by showing mercy to the poor,
I may obtain your mercy.
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem”
Jesus declared himself to be head of the mystical Body of which we are the members. He is the vine, we the branches (Jn 15,5). He stretched himself out on the winepress and began to tread it. Thus he gave us the wine by which we might, by drinking, live his life and share his sufferings.
“If anyone wishes to do my will, let him take up his cross daily. Whoever follows me has the light of life. I am the Way. I have given you an example that you also might do what I have done for you” (Lk 9,23; Jn 8,12; 14,6; 13,15).
And as his disciples themselves did not understand that his way was to be a way of suffering, he explained it to them, saying: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and so enter into his glory?” (Lk 24,26).
Then the disciples’ hearts burned within them (v.32). God’s Word inflamed them. And when the Holy Spirit came down like a divine flame upon them to set them on fire (Acts 2), then they were happy to suffer scorn and persecution (Acts 5,41) since in this way they would become like him who had gone before them on the path of suffering. The prophets had already foretold this path of Christ’s suffering and the disciples finally understood that he had not avoided it.
From the crib to his agony on the cross, poverty and incomprehension had been his lot. He had spent his life teaching that God’s view of suffering, poverty and human incomprehension is different to the world’s foolish wisdom (1Cor 1,20)… In the cross is salvation. In the cross is victory. This is how God wanted it to be.
“Whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
Do not cease to do acts of humility and love towards God and human beings. For God speaks to the person who keeps his heart humble before him, and God enriches him with his gifts.
If God has the sufferings of his Son in store for you and wants to let you touch with your finger your own weakness, it is better to make an act of humility than to lose courage. Let a prayer of surrender and hope rise up to God when your fragility causes you to fall, and thank the Lord for all the graces with which he enriches you.
It is a perilous and dangerous thing for someone to judge another; we should all take care to keep ourselves from this sin. For he who is the Truth has said: “It is with the measure you have measured that you will be repaid.” If you are abundantly merciful, you will find abundant mercy; if you show little, you will find little; if you have no mercy at all, you will not find any for yourself.
We are to feel and exercise this mercy within, in our deepest will, in such a way that we experience deep, sincere compassion for our neighbor wherever he is seen to suffer and ask God to comfort him with all our heart.
If you are able to help exteriorly with some advice or gift, by word or deed, you will do so far as you are able. If you are unable to do much, yet do something, whether it is an interior or exterior work of mercy: at the least, speak a good word. In this way you will fulfil what you owe and will find a merciful God.
Jesus manifested himself in glory on Mount Thabor, giving his disciples a divine revelation, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven. It was as if he said: “So that you may not fall into disbelief as time goes by, now, at this moment, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in the glory of his Father” (Mt 16,28)… These are the miracles of our present feast… For it is this celebration, this feast of Christ, which has brought us together here today.
In order to penetrate into the heart of these awe-inspiring mysteries with the disciples whom our Lord chose, let us listen to the holy voice of God which summons us from on high…: “Come, shout aloud to the mountain of the Lord, on the day of the Lord, to the place of the Lord and in the house of your God.”
Let us give heed that, illumined by the vision, transformed and transported… we may invoke this light, saying: “How awesome is this place; this is nothing other than the house of God and the gate of heaven” (Gn 28,17).
There we must hasten like Jesus who is our leader and has gone before us into heaven. There, with him, may the eyes of our mind shine with his light and the features of our soul be made new; may we be transfigured with him and moulded to his image, ever becoming divine, being transformed in an ever greater degree of glory…
Let us run there, eager and joyful, and let us be enveloped in the cloud, like Moses and Elijah, or James and John. Be like Peter, rapt at the divine vision, transfigured by the glory of the transfiguration, lifted high above the things of this world. Let us leave the flesh and creation behind and turn to the Creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy said: “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” Yes indeed, Peter, it is good for us to be here with Jesus and to remain here for ever.
You have often heard it said that we are living through a marvellous time, a time of great men… It is easy to understand why people long for a strong and capable leader to arise… This kind of neo-paganism [Nazism] believes all nature to be an emanation of the divine…; it admires a race that is nobler and purer than any other… From this comes the cult of race and blood, the cult of its own people’s heroes.
By starting out from so mistaken an idea, this view of things can lead to capital errors. It is tragic to see how much enthusiasm, how many efforts are placed at the service of such an erroneous and baseless ideal! However, we can learn from our enemy.
We can learn from his deceitful philosophy how to purify and improve our own ideal; we can learn how to develop great love for this ideal; how to arouse immense enthusiasm and even a readiness to live and die for it; how to strengthen our hearts to incarnate it in ourselves and in others…
When we talk about the coming of the Kingdom and pray for its coming we are not thinking of a discrimination according to race or blood but of the brotherhood of all, for all men are our brothers – not excluding even those who hate and attack us – in a close bond with the one who causes the sun to rise on the good and on the wicked alike (Mt 5,45).
This is now the time for confession. Confess your sins of word and deed, of night and day. Confess them at this “favorable time” and “day of salvation” (Is 49,8; 2Cor 6,2) and receive the heavenly treasure…
Leave the present behind and believe in what is to come. Have you passed so many years without ceasing in your empty works here below and can you not stop for forty days to occupy yourself with your final end? “Be still and know that I am God,” Scripture says (Ps 46,11). Give up your floods of useless words; do not lie nor listen to the liar but rather be ready for prayer. Show by self-denial the fervor of your heart; cleanse this organ that you may receive an even more abundant grace.
For the remission of sins is given equally to all but participation in the Holy Spirit is granted according to the measure of each one’s faith. If you take little trouble you will garner little; if you work hard your reward will be great. It is you yourself who are in the balance; watch out for your own interest.
If you have a grudge against someone else, forgive him. You have just received pardon for your own faults; it follows that you should also forgive the sinner, for how will you say to our Lord: “Take away my many sins” if you yourself have not even forgiven your fellow servant his few wrongs against you? (cf. Mt 18,23f).
Prayer is indeed a powerful weapon, an unfailing treasure, inexhaustible wealth, safe harbor from the storm, a reservoir of calm; prayer is the root, the source and the mother of good things without number… But the kind of prayer I am talking about is neither mediocre nor careless; it is fervent prayer, springing from the soul’s affliction and the spirit’s efforts.
This is the prayer that rises up to heaven… Hear what the sacred author says: “To the Lord in the hour of my distress I called and he answered me” (Ps 120,1). Whoever thus prays in their distress will, when their prayer is over, taste great joy in their souls…
By “prayer” I don’t mean that which is in the mouth only but that which wells up from the heart. As trees whose roots are deeply buried are neither broken nor rooted up, even if the wind unlooses against them a thousand buffets, because their roots are firmly embedded in the depths of the earth, so prayers that come from the depths of the heart, so rooted, rise up securely to heaven and are not turned aside by any thought of lack of assurance or merit. That is why the Psalmist says: “Out of the depths I cried to you, O Lord” (Ps 130,1)…
If the fact of telling people about your personal misfortunes and describing to them the trials that have assailed you brings some relief to your troubles, as though a refreshing breeze were breathing through the words, how much more, if your share your soul’s troubles with your Lord, will you find plentiful consolation and comfort! Indeed, people often find it hard to bear with those who come to them moaning and weeping; they turn them away and repulse them. But God does not act like this. To the contrary, he makes you come to him and draws you to himself. And even if you spend all day showing him your sorrows, he will only be even more disposed to love you and to grant your requests.
The whole history of Jonah shows him to us as the perfect prefiguration of our Savior… Jonah went down to Joppa to board a ship for Tarsis…; our Lord came down from heaven to earth, divinity came down to humanity, majestic power to our lowliness…, to board the ship of his Church…
It was Jonah himself who made the decision to have himself thrown into the sea: “Pick me up and throw me into the sea”; thus he announced the Lord’s freely willed Passion. When the salvation of a great many depends on the death of one then that death is in the hands of that man who can freely withhold or, alternatively, hasten it to forestall the danger. The whole mystery of the Lord is prefigured here.
Death is no necessity for him; it results from his free choice. Hear him: “I have power to lay down my life and I have power to take it up again: no one takes it from me” (Jn 10,18)…
See the great fish, a horrible and cruel image of hell. As it devours the prophet it feels the strength of the Creator… and fearfully offers the resting place of its belly to this traveller from on high… And after three days… it returns him to the light to give him to the pagans…
Such is the sign, the only sign, Christ consented to give the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 12,39) so as to make them understand that the glory they themselves hoped for from Christ would also be turned towards the gentiles: the Ninivites are the symbol of the nations who believed in him… O my brethren, what happiness this is for us! What was foretold and promised in symbol we venerate, see, possess face to face in all truth.
Outside the Divine Office which I am very unworthy to recite, I do not have the courage to force myself to search out beautiful prayers in books. There are so many of them it really gives me a headache! and each prayer is more beautiful than the others…
However, I would not want you to believe, dear Mother, that I recite without devotion the prayers said in common in the choir or the hermitages. On the contrary, I love very much these prayers in common, for Jesus has promised to be in the midst of those who gather together in His name. (Mt 18,19-20).
I feel then that the fervor of my Sisters makes up for my lack of fervor; but when alone (I am ashamed to admit it) the recitation of the rosary is more difficult for me than the wearing of an instrument of penance. I feel I have said this so poorly! I force myself in vain to meditate on the mysteries of the rosary; I don’t succeed in fixing my mind on them.
For a long time I was desolate about this lack of devotion which astonished me, for I love the Blessed Virgin so much that it should be easy for me to recite in her honor prayers which are so pleasing to her. Now I am less desolate; I think that the Queen of Heaven, since she is my Mother, must see my good will and she is satisfied with it. Sometimes when my mind is in such a great aridity that it is impossible to draw forth one single thought to unite me with God, I very slowly recite an “Our Father” and then the angelic salutation; then these prayers give me great delight; they nourish my soul much more than if I had recited them precipitately a hundred times.
Jesus says: “Whatever you do to the least of your brothers is in my name. When you receive a little child, you receive me. If, in my name, you give a glass of water you give it to me” (Mk 9,37 ; Mt 10,42). And to make sure that we understand what he is talking about he says that at the hour of death we are going to be judged only that way. “I was hungry, you gave me to eat. I was naked, you clothed me. I was homeless, you took me in.”
Hunger is not only for bread; hunger is for love. Nakedness is not only for a piece of clothing; nakedness is lack of human dignity, and also that beautiful virtue of purity, and lack of that respect for each other. Homelessness is not only being without a home made of bricks; homelessness is also being rejected, unwanted, unloved.
Mortal life is full of obstacles to stumble over, covered with the snares of deception… And because the enemy had spread out these snares everywhere and caught practically everyone in them, it was necessary that someone stronger should appear to master and break them and thus destroy the path of those who were following them. For this reason, before coming to unite himself with the Church as his bride, our Savior was also tempted by the devil… In this way he taught the Church that it is not by luxuriousness and pleasure but through many trials and temptations she must come to Christ.
Indeed, there was no one else who could have overcome these snares. “For all have sinned”, as it is written (Rm 3,23)… Our Lord and Savior, Jesus, is the only one who “committed no sin” (1Pt 2,22). But the Father “made him to be sin for our sake” (2Cor 5,21) so that “in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin” (Rm 8,3). Thus Jesus walked into these snares but was not himself entangled in them.
More, when he had broken and destroyed them, he heartened the Church to the extent that, from now on, she would dare to crush obstacles underfoot, climb over the snares and say, in all happiness: “Our soul, like a bird, has escaped from the snare of the fowlers. The snare has been broken and we have been saved” (Ps 124,7). However, he himself underwent death, yet voluntarily and not, as we do, bound by sin. For he is the only one to have been “free among the dead” (Ps 87,6 LXX). And because he was free among the dead he conquered “the one who had the power of death” (Heb 2,14) and “took prisoners captive” from him (Eph 4,8), those who were held in death.
It was not just that he himself was raised from the dead but, at the same time, he “brought to life those who were captives in death and seated them with him in the heavens” (Eph 2,5f.); “ascending on high, he took prisoners captive” (Eph 4,8).
You are catechumens, those who are preparing for baptism, disciples of the New Covenant and sharers in Christ’s mysteries. Already – now by your call and soon also by grace – you have been made “a new heart and a new spirit” (Ez 18,31) to the joy of the dwellers in heaven.
For if, according to the Gospel, the conversion of one sinner stirs up this joy (Lk 15,7), how much more will the salvation of so many souls not stir up the heavenly inhabitants to rejoicing?
You have undertaken a good, a most splendid journey: set yourselves to running the race of enthusiasm. The only Son of God is waiting ready to redeem you: “Come,” he says, “you who are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11,28).
You who labor under sin, bound with the shackles of your misdeeds, hear what the voice of one of the prophets says: “Wash, make yourselves clean, put away your misdeeds from before my eyes” (Is 1,16) that the choir of angels may cry to you: “Happy are they whose transgression is taken away, whose sin is remitted!” (Ps 32,1).
You who have come precisely to light the lamps of faith let your hands be diligent in guarding the flame so that he who, on our most holy hill of Golgotha, opened up paradise to the malefactor through faith (Lk 23,43) may grant you to sing the wedding song.
If there is anyone here who is a slave of sin, let him prepare himself by means of baptismal faith for the new birth that will make a free man of him, one of the children of adoption. Let him forsake the lamentable slavery of his sins to win the blessed slavery of the Lord… By faith acquire the first fruits of the Holy Spirit” (2Cor 5,5) so that you can be received into everlasting dwellings. Come to the sacrament that will seal you with a view to making you intimates of our Lord.
“Child, your sins are forgiven.” By these words Christ wished to be acknowledged as God even while concealing himself from people’s eyes in the appearance of a man. He was likened to the prophets because of his demonstrations of power and his miracles, and yet it was due to him and to his own power that they, too, had worked their miracles.
To bestow forgiveness for sins is not in human power; it is the sign that distinguishes God. So it was in this way that Jesus began to reveal his divinity in human hearts – and this made the Pharisees mad with rage. They replied: “This man is blaspheming! Who but God alone can forgive sins?”
Oh you Pharisee! You think yourself knowledgeable but you are only an ignoramus! You think you are honoring God but you fail to recognise him! You think you are bearing witness but you are bearing the blows! If God is truly he who forgives sins, why do you not admit to Christ’s divinity?
Since he is able to bestow forgiveness on a single sin therefore it is he who wipes out the sins of the whole world: “See the Lamb of God! This is he who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1,29). Listen to him so that you may be able to grasp his divinity, for he has entered into the depths of your being. Behold him: he has reached to the deep places of your thoughts. Understand the one who exposes the secret intentions of your heart.
“His face shone like the sun” (Mt 17,2)… Covered with the cloud of the flesh, today the light that enlightens every man (Jn 1,9) has shone forth. Today it gives glory to this same flesh, displaying its glorification to the apostles so that the apostles might make it known to the world.
As for you, O blessed City, you will enjoy the contemplation of this Sun forever when you “come down out of heaven, prepared by God as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21,2). Never again will this Sun set upon you; forever remaining itself, it will cause an eternal dawn to shine forth. Nevermore will this Sun be veiled with clouds but, shining forever, will give you the joy of a light that never sets.
Never again will this Sun blind your eyes: it will give you the strength to look upon it, enrapturing you with its divine glory… “There shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” (Rev 21,4) able to darken the splendour God has given you, for, as was said to John: “The old order has passed away.”
This is the Sun of which the prophet speaks: “No longer shall the sun be your light by day, nor the brightness of the moon shine upon you at night. The Lord shall be your light forever” (Is 60,19). This is the everlasting light that shines for you upon the face of the Lord. You hear the Lord’s voice, you behold his radiant face and you become as the sun. For we recognise a person by his face and to recognise him is the same as being illumined by him.
Here below you believe in the faith; there you will see. Here you grasp something with the mind; there you yourself will be grasped. Here you see “as in a mirror”; there you will see “face to face” (1Cor 13,12)… Then will be accomplished the prophet’s desire: “May he let his face shine upon us” (Ps 67,2)… You will be glad without end in that light; you will walk in that light without wearying. In that light you will see light eternal.
The contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive… This is hardly man’s great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will…
Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.
Concretely, what does this path of ascent and purification entail? How might love be experienced so that it can fully realize its human and divine promise…? The word agape, as we have seen, becomes the typical expression for the biblical notion of love… This word expresses the experience of a love which involves a real discovery of the other…
Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice…
Love is indeed “ecstasy”, not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it”… (Mt 10,39; 16,25; Mk 8,35; Lk 9,24; 17,33), as Jesus says throughout the Gospels.
In these words, Jesus portrays his own path, which leads through the Cross to the Resurrection: the path of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in this way bears much fruit (Jn 12,25). Starting from the depths of his own sacrifice and of the love that reaches fulfilment therein, he also portrays in these words the essence of love and indeed of human life itself.
The Royal banners forward go,
The Cross shines forth in mystic glow,
Where he in flesh, our flesh who made,
Our sentence bore, our ransom paid.
Where deep for us the spear was dyed,
Life’s torrent rushing from his side,
To wash us in that precious flood,
Where mingled water flowed, and blood.
Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old,
The universal Lord is he,
Who reigns and triumphs from the tree.
Tree of beauty, Tree of light,
Tree with royal purple dight,
Elect on whose triumphal breast
Those holy limbs should find their rest!
On whose dear arms, so widely flung,
The weight of this world’s ransom hung,
The price of humankind to pay
And spoil the spoiler of his prey.
Cross, our one reliance, hail!
So may thy power with us prevail
To give new virtue to the saint,
And pardon to the penitent.
To Thee, eternal Three in One,
Let homage meet by all be done:
Whom by thy Cross thou dost restore,
Preserve and govern evermore.
What will be my joy, my bliss, my ecstasy, when you disclose to me the beauty of your Godhead and my soul shall see you face to face?… Then, O my soul, “you shall see and abound; and you, my wondering heart, shall be enlarged, when this torrent of riches and delights shall be emptied out before you”; when the glory of the august Trinity, like “a mighty sea”, shall engulf you; when “the wealth of the nations” will come to you, whom “the King of kings and Lord of lords” (Is 60,5; 1Tm 6,15) has redeemed from the power of the enemy by the strength of his almighty arm; when the rushing flood of the divine mercy and love will cover you…
Then shall be given to you the cup of the vision of God and you shall be inebriated (Ps 23,5 Vg.) – this is the sublime, inebriating cup of the glory of the face of God. Then you shall quench your thirst at the “torrent of eternal delights” (Ps 36,9); and he who is the very source of light shall fill you with his fulness forever.
Then you shall see the heavens all filled with the glory of the God who dwells in them, and your eyes shall look upon that virgin star [Mary] which, the brightest next to God, fills heaven with the splendor of its pure lustre; you shall see all the wondrous works of God’s hands [the saints: Gn 2,7] and “the morning stars”, who always stand joyfully before the face of God and serve him [the angels: Jb 38,7; Tb 12,15].
Alas, alas, 0 God of my heart and my portion for ever (Ps 73,26): how long shall my soul languish after the presence of your dear face?… Be pleased to draw me quickly to yourself, O my God, the “source of life” (Ps 37,10), that I may drink from you eternal life. “Let your face shine on me” (Ps 31,17) without delay so that I may have the joy of seeing you face to face. Come quickly, show yourself to me, that I may rejoice in you in happiness everlasting.
Faith, the theologians say, is a certain and obscure habit of soul.! It is an obscure habit because it brings us to believe divinely revealed truths that transcend every natural light and infinitely exceed all human understanding. As a result the excessive light of faith bestowed on a soul is darkness for it; a brighter light will eclipse and suppress a dimmer one.
The sun so obscures all other lights that they do not seem to be lights at all when it is shining, and instead of affording vision to the eyes, it overwhelms, blinds, and deprives them of vision since its light is excessive and unproportioned to the visual faculty. Similarly, the light of faith in its abundance suppresses and overwhelms that of the intellect…
Another clearer example…: If those born blind were told about the nature of the colors white or yellow, they would understand absolutely nothing no matter how much instruction they received since they never saw these colors… Only the names of these colors would be grasped since the names are perceptible through hearing… Such is faith to the soul; it informs us of matters we have never seen or known… The light of natural knowledge does not show them to us… Yet we come to know it through hearing, by believing what faith teaches in blinding our natural light and bringing it in to submission.
St. Paul states: “Faith comes through hearing” (Rm 10:17). This amounts to saying that faith is not a knowledge derived from the senses but an assent of the soul to what enters through hearing…
Faith, manifestly, is a dark night for souls, but in this way it gives them light. The more darkness it brings on them, the more light it sheds. For by blinding it illumines them, according to those words of Isaiah: “If you do not believe, you will not understand” (cf. Is 7,9).
my Lord, how you are the true friend; and how powerful! When you desire you can love, and you never stop loving those who love you! All things praise you, Lord of the world! Oh, who will cry out for you, to tell everyone how faithful you are to your friends! All things fail; you, Lord of all, never fail!
Little it is, that which you allow the one who loves you to suffer! O my Lord! How delicately and smoothly and delightfully you treat them! Would that no one ever pause to love anyone but you!
It seems, Lord, you try with rigor the person who loves you so that in extreme trial he might understand the greatest extreme of your love. O my God, who has the understanding, the learning, and the new words with which to extol your works as my soul understands them? All fails me, my Lord; but if you do not abandon me, I will not fail you…
I already have experience of the gain that comes from the way you rescue the one who trusts in you alone. While in [a] great affliction … these words alone were enough to take it away and bring me complete quiet: “Do not fear, daughter; for I am, and I will not abandon you; do not fear”… And behold, by these words alone, I was given calm together with fortitude, courage, security, quietude and light, so that in one moment I saw my soul transformed.
“His speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly” The Lord has filled me with words of truth,
that I may proclaim him.
And like the flowing of waters, truth flows from my mouth, and my lips declare his fruits.
And he has caused his knowledge to abound in me.
For the mouth of the Lord is the true word,
and the door of his light.
And the Most High has given his Word to his generations, (which are) the interpreters of his beauty,
and the narrators of his glory,
and the confessors of his thought,
and the preachers of his mind,
and the teachers of his works.
For the subtlety of the Word is inexpressible… for limitless is his path.
He never falls but remains standing,
and one cannot know his descent or his way… He is the light and dawning of thought.
And by him the generations spoke to one another, and those that were silent acquired speech.
And from him came love and harmony.
They spoke one to another whatever was theirs. And they were stimulated by the Word,
and knew him who made them,
because they were in harmony,
for the mouth of the Most High spoke to them… For the dwelling place of the Word is man,
and his truth is love.
Blessed are they who by means of him
have recognizedi everything,
and have known the Lord in his truth.
When she came up to Jesus the Canaanite woman just said these words: “Have pity on me” (Mt 15,22) and her repeated cries drew a large crowd of people. It was a touching sight to see this woman crying out with such great feeling, a mother pleading on behalf of her daughter, a child who was so severely possessed…
She didn’t say: “Have pity on my daughter” but “Have pity on me”. “My daughter is not aware of her plight, but I, I experience sufferings in profusion; it makes me ill to see her in such a state; I am almost out of my mind at seeing her like this”…
Jesus answered her: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15,24). Now what did the Canaanite woman do when she heard these words? Did she lose heart? Not in the least! She urged him even more. This is not what we do when our prayers are not answered: we turn away in discouragement whereas we ought to be pleading even more insistently. Who, it is true, would not be discouraged by Jesus’ response? His silence would have been enough to take away all hope…
This woman, however, does not lose heart; to the contrary, she comes nearer to him and bows to the ground, saying: “Lord, help me (v.25)… If I am a little dog in this house then I am no longer a foreigner. I well know that food is necessary for children…, but it cannot be forbidden to give away crumbs. They should not be refused me… because I am a little dog who cannot be pushed aside.”
It was because he foresaw her answer that Christ delayed to grant her prayer… His replies were not intended to cause this woman pain but to reveal this hidden treasure.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, they shall see God” (Mt 5,8). For no one doubts that a man becomes blessed if his heart is purified; but how any-one should cleanse it from its stains, this is what seems to oppose itself to the ascent to Heaven.
What then is the Jacob’s ladder? How can we find such a fiery chariot by which the prophet Elias was carried up to Heaven, and by which our heart, too, could be lifted up towards the mar-vels that are above, and shake off this earthly heaviness?… Virtue is hard for us to attain; even with much sweat and pain, zeal and fatigue, one can hardly establish it. This we are taught in many passages of the Divine Scriptures, when we are told that the way of the Kingdom is strait and passes through narrow paths, whereas the way that leads through a life of wickedness to perdition is broad and runs down-hill with ease (Mt 7,13-14).
Yet Scripture affirms that the higher life is not altogether impossible… How you can become pure, you may learn through almost the whole teaching of the Gospel. You need only peruse the precepts one by one to find clearly what it is that purifies the heart…
Therefore Christ does good to our nature by promising good things as well as by giving us the teaching that answers this purpose. But if the pursuit of goodness seem irksome to you, compare it with the opposite way of life, and you will find how much more painful it is to be wicked, that is, if you look not to the present but to what comes hereafter…
For those with sordid minds are altogether miserable, because they look at the face of the adversary. On the other hand the Divine character itself is impressed on the virtuous life…
Hence, as we have learned what is an evil life and what is a good one – for we have it in the power of our free will to choose either of these – let us flee from the form of the devil, let us lay aside the evil mask and put on again the Divine Image. Let us become clean of heart, so that we may become blessed when the Divine Image is formed in us through purity of life, in Christ Jesus Our Lord.
Who created everything? Who created you yourself? What are all these creatures? What are you? And how are we to say who he is who created all this? To speak it your thought must conceive it…: so let your thought move towards him, draw close to him. If you want a close look at something, you draw close to it…
But God is not discerned except by the mind, he is not grasped except by the heart. And where is this heart with which one can see God? “Happy the pure in heart, they shall see God” (Mt 5,8)…
In one of the Psalms we read: “Come close to him and you will be enlightened” (Ps 34,6 Vg). To come close so as to be enlightened you must hate the darkness… You are a sinner, you must become righteous. But you won’t be able to receive righteousness if evil still gives you pleasure.
Destroy it within your heart and cleanse it; cast sin from your heart where He whom you desire to see desires to dwell. The human soul, our “inner self” (Eph 3,16), draws as close to God as it can: that inner self recreated in God’s image, which was created in God’s image (Gn 1,26) but fell away from God into unlikeness.
It is true that we don’t either draw nearer or fall away from God in space: you distance yourself from God if you no longer resemble him; if you come close to him then you do resemble him. Notice how our Lord wishes us to draw close to him: first of all he makes us like him so that we can be near him. He tells us: “Be like your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good.” Therefore, love your enemies (Mt 5,45.44).
To the extent that this love increases within you it will bring you back and reshape you in God’s likeness…; and the closer you come to this likeness by growing in love, the more you will begin to feel the presence of God. But who is it you are feeling? The One who is coming to you or the One to whom you are returning? He has never been far from you; it is you who fell away from him.
Now if, when Jesus went about in the world, the mere touch of his robes cured the sick, why doubt, if we have faith, that miracles will be worked while he is within us and that he will give what we ask of him since, in eucharistic communion, he is in our house? His Majesty is not accustomed to paying poorly for his lodging if the hospitality is good. If it pains you not to see him with your bodily eyes, con-sider that seeing him so is not fitting for us…
But our Lord reveals himself to those who he sees will benefit by his presence. Even though they fail to see him with their bodily eyes, he has many methods of showing himself to the soul, through great interior feelings and through other different ways. Be with him will-ingly; don’t lose so good an occasion for conversing with him as is the hour after having received Communion.
When the Son of God “raised his eyes to heaven and said: ‘Father, glorify your Son’” (Jn 17,1), he taught us by this action that we should raise on high all our senses, our hands, our faculties and our soul and pray in him, with him and through him. This was the most loving and holy deed the Son of God could have done here below: to worship his beloved Father.
However, this far surpasses any intellectual reasoning and we cannot in any way reach and understand it except in the Holy Spirit. St. Augustine and St. Anselm tell us concerning prayer that it is “a raising of the soul to God”…
For my part, I tell you only this: truly detach yourself from yourself and from all created things and raise your soul wholly to God above all creatures, into the deep abyss. There, immerse your spirit in God’s spirit in true abandonment…, in a real union with God…
Ask God there for everything he wants us to ask him, what you desire and what other people desire from you. And hold this as certain: what a tiny, little coin is with regard to a hundred thousand gold pieces, that is what all external prayer is with regard to this prayer, which is a real union with God, and with regard to this inflowing and fusion of the created spirit in the uncreated spirit of God…
If someone asks you for a prayer, it is a good thing to do so in an external way as you were asked and as you promised to do. But, as you do so, draw your soul to the heights and into this interior desert drive your whole flock as Moses did (Ex 3,1)… “True worshippers worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4,23).
In this interior prayer every practice, every formula, and all those kinds of prayer that, from Adam until now, have been offered and will yet be offered until the last day, are fulfilled. All of them are brought to perfection in a moment in this true and essential recollection.
Don’t just call God righteous. It isn’t with regard to what you do that he reveals his righteousness. If David calls him just and upright (cf. Ps 33,5), his Son has revealed to us that, to an even greater degree, he is good and kind: “He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Lk 6,35)…
In what does the justice of God consist? Isn’t it in the fact that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”? (Rm 5,8). And if God shows himself compassionate here below then let us believe he has been so from all eternity.
May the unjust thought that God does not show compassion be far from us! God’s own being does not change as beings change who die…; nothing is lacking nor added to what he has when he comes to us creatures. But the compassion God has from the beginning, he will continue to have for eternity…
As blessed Cyril says in his commentary on Genesis: worship God for love and not because of that unyielding name of justice we have placed on him. Love him as he should be loved: not for the reward he will give you but for what we have received, the world he created in order to offer it to us.
Who could give back anything to him in return for what he has done for us? What is there among all our works that we might bestow on him? Who induced him to create us in the beginning? And who is it who prays for us when we fall short in acknowledgment? O how wonderful is God’s compassion! How marvelous the grace of God, our creator!… Who can tell his glory?
John the Baptist, martyr for the truth
“The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us” (Rm 8,18). Who then does not labor in every way to arrive at such a glory as to become a friend of God, as to rejoice at once with Christ, as to re-ceive the divine rewards after earthly torments and punishments?
If it is glorious for the soldiers of this world to return to their fatherland triumphant after vanquishing the enemy, how much better and greater is the glory for one who, after over-coming the devil, returns triumphant to heaven, and after laying him low who had formerly deceived us, brings back the trophies of victory there whence Adam, the sinner, had been ejected?
To offer the Lord the most acceptable gift of an uncorrupted faith, an unshaken virtue of the mind, an illustrious praise of devotion?… To become co-heir of Christ, to be made equal to the angels, to rejoice with the patriarchs, with the apostles, with the prophets in the possession of the heavenly kingdom? What persecution can conquer these thoughts, what torments can overcome them?…
The lands are shut off in persecutions, heaven is open… How great a dignity and, how great a security it is to go forth hence happy, to go forth glorious in the midst of difficulties and affliction! For a moment to shut the eyes with which men and the world are seen; to open them immediately that God and Christ may be seen!…
If persecution should come upon such a soldier of God, virtue made ready for battle will not be able to be overcome him. Or if the summons should come beforehand, the faith which was prepared for martyr-dom will not be without its reward… In persecution God crowns loyal military service; in peace purity of conscience is crowned.
He has come down in the cloud of his flesh that the weak and small might mount up to him. What a descent of mercy! “He inclined the heavens,” that is to say, the heights of his divinity, “and came down” by becoming present in the flesh, “with dark clouds under his feet” (Ps 18,10)…
A necessary darkness to turn us to light! The true light was hidden beneath the cloud of his flesh (cf. Ex 13,21) – a dark cloud by reason of its “likeness to sinful flesh” (Rm 8,3)… Since the true Light has made flesh his hiding place let us, who are beings of flesh, draw near to the Word made flesh… that we may learn to pass by degrees to the spiritual flesh.
Let us now draw near for today a new sun is shining even more than is its wont. Up till now he was enclosed in the narrowness of a crib in Bethlehem and was known by hardly anyone, but today, at Jerusalem, he is presented in front of a great number of people in the Temple of the Lord… Today the Sun breaks out to shine over the whole world…
If only my soul could burn with the desire that inflamed Simeon’s heart that I, too, might be worthy of becoming the bearer of so great a light! But unless the soul has first of all been purified from its sins it cannot go “to meet Christ on the clouds” of true freedom (1Thes 4,17)… Only then will it be able to rejoice in the true light with Simeon and, like him, to depart in peace.
Joseph loved Jesus as a father loves his son and he cared for him, giving him the best he had. Joseph took charge of this child as he had been commanded and turned Jesus into a workman, passing on his craft to him. That is why their neighbors in Nazareth, when they spoke of Jesus, called him, roughly speaking, a “carpenter” or “the son of a carpenter” (Mt 13,55)…
Jesus must have resembled Joseph in his traits of character and ways of working and talking. His realism, his powers of observation, his way of sitting at table and breaking bread, his attraction for explaining his teaching in a concrete way by taking his examples from everyday things, reflect what Jesus’ childhood and youth were like and therefore his relationship with Joseph. What depths there are in this mystery! This Jesus, who is a man, who speaks with the accent of a particular region of Israel, who resembles a workman named Joseph, is indeed the Son of God. And who can teach God anything? Nevertheless, he is truly man and his life is a normal one: first a child, then a young man who helps Joseph in the workshop, and finally a mature man in the fullness of age: “Jesus advanced in wisdom and grace before God and men” (Lk 2,52).
At the human level Joseph was Jesus’ master. Day by day he surrounded him with tender affection and cared for him with joyful self-denial. Is this not a very good reason for thinking this man to be just (Mt 1,19): this saintly patriarch in whom the Old Testament faith reaches its climax as a master of the interior life?
I should have spoken to you about the retreat preceding my Profession, dear Mother…;it was far from bringing me any consolations since the most absolute aridity and almost total abandonment were my lot. Jesus was sleeping as usual in my little boat; ah! I see very well how rarely souls allow him to sleep peacefully within them.
Jesus is so fatigued with always having to take the initiative and to attend to others that he hastens to take advantage of the repose I offer to him. He will undoubtedly awaken before my great eternal retreat, but instead of being troubled about it this only gives me extreme pleasure.
Really, I am far from being a saint, and what I have just said is proof of this; instead of rejoicing, for example, at my aridity, I should attribute it to my little fervor and lack of fidelity; I should be desolate for having slept (for seven years) during my hours of prayer and my thanksgivings after Holy Communion; well, I am not desolate.
I remember that little children are as pleasing to their parents when they are asleep as well as when they are wide awake; I remember, too, that when they perform operations, doctors put their patients to sleep. Finally, I remember that: “The Lord knows our weakness,” that “he is mindful that we are but dust” (Ps 103,14).
Just as all those that followed it, my Profession retreat was one of great aridity. God showed me clearly, however, without my perceiving it, the way to please him and to practice the most sublime virtues. I have frequently noticed that Jesus doesn’t want me to lay up provisions; he nourishes me at each moment with a totally new food; I find it within me without my knowing how it is there. I believe it is Jesus himself hidden in the depths of my poor little heart: he is giving me the grace of acting within me, making me think of all he desires me to do at the present moment.
It was in a garden that Christ was both arrested and buried: he grew in this garden and there he was also brought back to life. Thus he became a tree… You too, then, should sow Christ in your garden…
With Christ grind the mustard seed, tread it down and sow faith. Faith is hard pressed when we believe in Christ crucified. Paul pressed faith hard when he said: “When I came to you proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1Cor 2,1-2)…
Now, we sow faith when we believe in the Lord’s Passion following the Gospel or the readings from the apostles and prophets. In a manner of speaking, we sow faith when we cover it with soil that has been dug over and broken up with the flesh of the Lord… For whoever has believed that the Son of God became man believes that he died for us and believes that he was raised for us. Therefore, I am sowing faith when I set the sepulchre of Christ in the middle of my garden.
Do you want to know that Christ is a seed and that it is he who is sown? “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies it bears much fruit” (Jn 12,24)… It is Christ himself who says so. So he is both a grain of wheat since he “fortifies the hearts of men” (Ps 104,15), and a mustard seed, since he warms men’s hearts…
He is a grain of wheat when it is a matter of his resurrection, since the Word of God and the proof of his resurrection nourish the soul, increase hope and strengthen love – for Christ is “the bread of God come down from heaven” (Jn 6,33). And he is a mustard seed because there is no more bitterness or harshness in speaking about the Passion of the Lord.
The Church is called catholic (or universal) because she exists throughout the world, from end to end of the earth, and because she teaches universally, without fail, every doctrine we need to know concerning both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly realities.
Besides this she is called catholic because she submits all humanity, both leaders and subjects, learned and unlearned, to the true religion; because she tends and heals throughout the world every kind of sin committed by soul or body; and finally, because she possesses in herself every kind of virtue, in deed or word, whatever names they bear, and all the various sorts of spiritual gift.
This name ‘Church’ – which means ‘assembly’ – suits it perfectly since she assembles and gathers everyone together as the Lord commands in Leviticus: “Assemble the whole community at the entrance of the Meeting Tent” (Lv 8,3)… And in Deuteronomy. God says to Moses: “Assemble the people before me; I will have them hear my words” (Dt 4,10)… The Psalmist also says: “I will give you thanks in the vast assembly; in the mighty throng I will praise you” (Ps 35,18)… But subsequently the Savior instituted a second assembly from among the gentiles: our own holy Church, the church of Christians, concerning which he said to Peter: “Upon this rock I will build my Church and the power of death shall not prevail against it” (cf Mt 16,18)… When the first assembly that used to be in Judaea was destroyed, the churches of Christ were multiplied through all the earth.
It is of these that the Psalms speak when they say: “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints” (Ps 150,1)… And it was of the same holy, catholic Church that Paul writes to Timothy: “You should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1Tim 3,15).
Saul was sent on the road to Damascus to become blind since, if he was blinded, it was to see the real Way (Jn 14,6)… He lost his bodily sight but his heart was enlightened so that the true light might shine in the eyes of both his heart and his body… He was sent into his own interior to seek himself… He was straying in his own company, an unthinking traveller, and he did not find himself because, interiorly, he had lost his way.
Therefore he heard a voice saying to him…: “Turn aside from the way of Saul to find the faith of Paul. Take off the tunic of your blindness and clothe yourself with the Savior (cf. Gal 3,27)… In your flesh I have wanted to manifest the blindness of your heart that you might see what you did not see and might not be like those who “have eyes but see not and ears and hear not” (Ps 115,5-6). Let Saul return with his futile letters (Acts 22,5) that Paul might write his most necessary letters. Let the blind Saul vanish… that Paul might become the light of believers”…
Paul, who has transformed you in this way? “Would you like to know who has done this? The man people call Christ… He anointed my eyes and said to me: ‘Go to the pool of Siloam, wash and you will see.’ I went; I washed, and now I see (Jn 9,11). Why this surprise? Behold, he who created me has re-created me and with the same power with which he created me he has now healed me. I had sinned but he has cleansed me.”
Come along, then, Paul; leave old Saul behind; soon you will see Peter, too… Ananias, touch Saul and give us Paul; dismiss the persecutor far away from us, send out the preacher on his mission. The lambs will no longer be afraid, Christ’s sheep will be full of joy. O touch the wolf who used to pursue Christ so that now, with Peter, he may lead the sheep to pasture.
“It is by Beelzebul, the prince of devils, that he casts out devils”… It is the characteristic of evildoers, stirred by envy, to shut their eyes as much as they can to other people’s merits and when, overcome by the evidence, they cannot do so any longer, to depreciate or undervalue it. Thus, when the crowd rejoiced in devotion and marvelled at the sight of Christ’s works, the scribes and Pharisees either closed their eyes to what they knew to be true, or brought down what is great, or undervalued what is good.
Once, for example, feigning ignorance, they said to him who had worked so many wonderful signs: “What sign can you do that we may believe in you?” (Jn 6,30). In this case, unable to blatantly deny the facts, they wickedly depreciate them…, and they devalue them by saying: “It is by Beelzebul, the prince of devils, that he casts out devils”.
Now this, dear brethren, is the blasphemy against the Spirit that binds all those he has seized with the bonds of an eternal sin. This is not to say that it would be impossible for the repentant to gain forgiveness for it all if he “produces fruit as evidence of his repentance” (Lk 3,8). The only thing is that, crushed beneath such a weight of malice, he lacks the strength to reach out to that honorable repentance that is worthy of forgiveness…
He who, perceiving the proofs of grace and the Holy Spirit’s working in his brother…, is not afraid to undermine and calumniate and brashly ascribe to the evil spirit what he clearly knows to be of the Holy Spirit: such a one has been so forsaken by this Spirit of grace that he no longer desires the repentance that would obtain his pardon.
He is completely in the dark, blinded by his own malice. Indeed, what could be more serious than to dare, out of envy for the brother one had been commanded to love as oneself (Mt 19,19), to blaspheme God’s goodness… and insult his majesty by wanting to discredit a man?
Let us then, dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, who “for the great mercy wherewith He has loved us,” has had pity on us, and “when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life in Christ,” (Eph 2,5) that we might be in him a new creation and a new production. Let us put off then the old man with his deeds (Col 3,9), and having obtained a share in the birth of Christ let us renounce the works of the flesh.
Christian, acknowledge your dignity, and since you have become a partner in the Divine na-ture (2Pt 1,4), refuse to return to the baseness you were in before. Remember whose is the head and body of which you are a member (Eph 4,15-16). Recollect that you were “rescued from the power of darkness and have been brought into God’s light and kingdom” (Col 1,13). By the mystery of baptism you were made the temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6,19); do not put so great a guest to flight by evil deeds and so subject yourself once more to the devil’s thraldom, because you have been redeemed by the blood of Christ.
Jesus, divine food of the soul, this immense concourse turns to you. It wishes to give to its human and Christian vocation a new, vigorous power of interior virtue, and to be ready for sacrifice, of which you were such a wonderful pattern in word and example. You are our elder brother; you have trodden our path before us, O Christ Jesus, the path of every one of us; you have forgiven all our sins; you inspire us, each and all, to give a nobler, more convinced and more active witness of Christian life. Jesus, our “bread of life” (Jn 6,35) and the only substantial food for our souls, gather all peoples around your table. Your altar is divine reality on earth, the pledge of heavenly favours, the assurance of just understanding among peoples, and of peaceful rivalry in the true progress of civilization. Nourished by you and with you, O Jesus, men will be strong in faith, joyful in hope, and active in the many and varied expressions of charity.
Our wills will know how to overcome the snares of evil, the temptations of selfishness, the listlessness of sloth. And men who love and fear the Lord will hear arising from earth the first mysterious and sweet voices of the City of God, of which the wayfaring Church militant is the image. O Jesus, you guide us to fresh pastures and watch over us. Grant that we may see good things in the land of the living, (Ps 27 , 13).
At the hour of Terce you will place yourself in presence of the divine peace and of love…: O peace of God, you pass all understanding (Phil 4,7), you are unutterably sweet and fair and full of charms. Wherever you penetrate reigns untroubled security. You alone can stay the wrath of the sovereign king; you adorn with clemency the king’s throne; you illumine his glorious kingdom with pity and mercy.
Come, then, and take my cause in hand, the cause of a wretch most guilty and most forlorn… Already the creditor is at the door… if I speak with him, I am undone, for I have nothing with which to repay my debt. Sweetest Jesus, my peace, how long will you keep silent?…
Be pleased to speak on my behalf, uttering that word of love: “I myself will redeem her.” Most surely you yourself are the refuge of all the poor. You never pass by anyone without granting them healing. Oh, you have never let anyone who has sought refuge at your side leave you without being reconciled…
Be pleased, my love, my Jesus at this hour when you were scourged for my sake, crowned with thorns, pitifully drowned in suffering. You are my true king and, apart from you, I know none other. You made yourself the insult of the people, abject and repulsive like a leper (Is 53,3), so that the Jews refused to acknowledge you as their king (Jn 19,14-15).
By your grace, grant that I, at least, may acknowledge you as my king! O my God, give to me that innocent, so greatly beloved, my Jesus, who so fully “paid” for my sake “what he had not stolen” (Ps 69,5);give him to me to be my soul’s stay. May I receive him into my heart; may he console my spirit by the bitterness of his pains and Passion…
As for you, O peace of God: be the dear bond binding me to Jesus for ever. Be the support of my strength… that I may be but “one heart and soul” with Jesus (Acts 4,32)… Through you shall I be bound to my Jesus for ever.
“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic: ‘Your sins are forgiven you’.” The Lord is great: for the sake of the former he forgives the latter; he answers the prayer of the first and pardons the sins of the second. O men, why is it that today your fellow traveller is unable to do anything for you when, with the Lord, his servant has the right to intervene and to receive?
You who judge, learn to pardon; and you who are ill, learn to beseech. If you have no hope of immediate pardon for grave sins, turn to intercessors, turn to the Church who will pray for you. Then, for her sake the Lord will grant you the pardon he could have denied you. We don’t ignore the historical truth of the paralytic’s cure, but, above all, we acknowledge the healing of his interior self, whose sins are forgiven…
The Lord wants to save sinners; he demonstrates his divinity by his knowledge of what is secret and by the wonders of his deeds. “Which is easier to say,” he asks: “‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Rise and walk’? Here he gives us a complete image of the resurrection since, in healing the wounds of soul and body…, the whole man is healed.
The poor are thirsty for water but also for peace, truth and justice. The poor are naked and need clothing, but also need human dignity and compassion for those who sin. The poor have no shelter and need shelters made of bricks, but also of a joyful heart, compassionate and full of love. They are sick and need medical attention, but also a helping hand and welcoming smile.
The outcasts, those who are rejected, the unloved, prisoners, alcoholics, the dying, those who are alone and abandoned, the marginalized, the untouchables and lepers…, those in doubt and confusion, those who have not been touched by the light of Christ, those starving for the word and peace of God, sad and afflicted souls…, those who are a burden to society, who have lost all hope and faith in life, who have forgotten how to smile and no longer know what it means to receive a little human warmth, a gesture of love and friendship – all of them, they turn to us to receive a little bit of comfort. If we turn our backs on them, we turn our backs on Christ.
It is a beautiful thing to read in the Gospel what is related about St. Peter’s mother-in- law. This good woman, being unwell with a debilitating fever, learned that our Lord was in Capharnaum, that he was working great miracles, healing the sick, casting out devils from those who were possessed and other wonderful things.
She knew that her kin was with the Son of God and was able to say to St. Peter: “My son, your master is a mighty man and has the power to free me from this illness.” Some time afterwards, behold our Lord came into her house where she was showing not the least impatience for her affliction: she made no complaint, did not implore her kin at all, not even our Lord, for she might well have said: “I know you have the power to heal all sorts of illnesses, Lord; take pity on me.” Nevertheless, she said nothing of all that and our Lord, seeing her indifference, commanded the fever to leave her and, at that instant, she was cured.
In all the unpleasant things that come to us, let us in no way put ourselves to trouble about them, let us abandon them all to Providence and let it suffice us that our Lord sees us and knows what we are enduring for love of him and to imitate the beautiful examples he has given us, especially in the Garden of Olives, when he accepted his chalice… For, even though he asked for it to pass, if that were possible, without his drinking it, he immediately added that his Father’s will be done (Mt 26,42).
At the Jordan Jesus reveals himself with an extraordinary humility, reminiscent of the poverty and simplicity of the Child laid in the manger, and anticipates the sentiments with which, at the end of his days on earth, he will come to the point of washing the feet of the disciples and suffering the terrible humiliation of the Cross.
The Son of God, the One who is without sin, puts himself among sinners, demonstrates God’s closeness to the process of the human being’s conversion. Jesus takes upon his shoulders the burden of sin of the whole of humanity, he begins his mission by putting himself in our place, in the place of sinners, in the perspective of the Cross.
While absorbed in prayer he emerges from the water after his Baptism, the skies break open. It is the moment awaited by so many prophets: “O that you would rend the heavens and come down!”, Isaiah had prayed (64: 1). At that moment… this prayer is heard. Indeed, “The heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him”; and words were heard that had never been heard before: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” …
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit come down among human people and reveal to us their love that saves. If it is the Angels who bring the shepherds the announcement of the Saviour’s birth, and the star that conveys it to the Magi who came from the East, now it is the Father’s voice that indicates the presence of his Son in the world to human beings and invites them to look to the Resurrection, to Christ’s victory over sin and death.
Thanks be to you, true Light, you that “enlighten every man coming into this world” (Jn 1,9), you who for this very purpose have come into this world as a man. Jerusalem has been enlightened, our mother (Gal 4,26), mother of all those who have deserved to be enlightened, so that she now shines upon all who are in the world. Thanks be to you, true Light, you who have become a lamp to enlighten Jerusalem and to make God’s word “a lamp for my feet” (Ps 118,105)…
For not only has it been enlightened: it has been “raised aloft on a candlestick”, one all of gold (Mt 5,15; Ex 25,31). The city sits on the mountain of mountains (cf. Mt 5,14)… so that its gospel may shine out far and wide, as far and as wide as the world’s empire spreads
God, you who give light to all nations, of you we will sing: “Behold the Lord will come and enlighten the eyes of his servants” (cf. Jude 14). Behold, you have come, my Light: “Enlighten my eyes, that I may never fall asleep in death” (Ps 13,4)… You have come, O Light of the faithful, and behold you have granted us today to rejoice at the enlightening of faith, that is, of our lamp. Grant us also to rejoice always at the enlightening of the darkness that remains to us…
This is the way in which you should advance, O faithful soul, in order that you may cast off the darkness of this world and arrive at your home country of eternal brightness, where “your darkness will be like midday” (Is 58,10) and “night will be lit up like day” (Ps 139,12).
Then indeed, then “you will see and be radiant, your heart will thrill and rejoice” (Is 60,5), when the whole earth is filled with the majesty of unbounded light and “his glory is seen in you” (Is 60,2)… “Come and let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Is 2,5); as “children of light” let us walk “from brightness to brightness, as led by the Lord who is Spirit” (2Cor 3,18).
Why did our Lord change water into wine as his first sign? It was to show how God, who transforms nature into something else, also works his transformation in the womb of the Virgin. In the same way, as the crown of his miraculous deeds, Jesus opened a tomb to make known his freedom with regard to the death that is hungry to swallow up everything.
To both authenticate and confirm the twofold reversal of nature brought by his birth and his resurrection, Jesus changed water into wine without in any way altering the stone water-jars. This was the symbol of his own body, miraculously conceived and wonderfully created in a virgin without the working of a man… Contrary to their normal use, the jars… brought new wine into the world without ever repeating the same miracle again.
In the same way the Virgin conceived and brought Emmanuel into the world (Is 7,14) without afterwards conceiving again. The miracle of the stone water-jars was that what was small became great, sparseness was changed into superabundance, plain water into sweet wine… In Mary, on the other hand, the greatness and glory of the godhead changed its appearance to take on the aspect of weakness and humiliation. Those jars were used for the Jewish purifications; into them our Lord poured his teaching: he demonstrated that he came according to the Law and the prophets but with the purpose of changing them all through his teaching as the water became wine… “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1,17).
The bridegroom who lived in Cana invited the Bridegroom from heaven, and the Lord, who was ready for that wedding, answered his invitation. Those seated at table invited him who sets worlds in his Kingdom, and he sent them a wedding gift able to delight them… They had no wine even of an ordinary sort; he poured a little from his own abundance for them. In return for their invitation he himself invited them to his own wedding.
Luke gives us a genealogy that goes from Our Lord’s birth to Adam, comprising seventy-two generations. In a certain sense he joins the end to the beginning and gives us to understand that our Lord is he who recapitulated in himself every nation spread abroad since the time of Adam, every human language and generation including that of Adam himself.
For the same reason Paul calls Adam “the type of the one who was to come” (Rm 5,14) since the Word, the Creator of the universe, had sketched beforehand in Adam the future history of the humanity in which the Son of God would clothe himself…
In becoming the Firstborn from the dead (Col 1,18) and receiving the Fathers of old into his bosom, our Lord caused them to be reborn into the life of God. He became the first, the principle of the living, since Adam had become the principle of the dead…
By beginning his genealogy with the Lord to make it go back to Adam Luke shows that it was not the forefathers who had given life to the Lord but, to the contrary, that it was he who caused them to be reborn into the Gospel of life. In the same way, the knot tied by the disobedience of Eve had been untied by the obedience of Mary, since what the virgin Eve had tied by her unbelief the Virgin Mary had untied by her faith. Thus it was indispensable that, by coming to meet the lost sheep (Mt 18,12), recapitulating such a great history, seeking out the work he himself had fashioned (Lk 19,10; Gn 2,7), the Lord should save the man made in his own image and likeness (Gn 1,26), namely Adam.
“You will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending” Lord, you called Jacob, Isaac and Rebecca’s youngest son, your beloved; you changed his name to that of Israel (Gn 32,29). You revealed the future to him when you showed him the ladder reaching from earth to heaven: at its summit, God was standing, gazing on the world, and on the ladder angels ascended and descended… It was the symbol of a great mystery as men enlightened by the Spirit declared…
As for me, on the good side, I too am the youngest son. On the bad side, without doubt I am a mature man like the elder son Esau…: I have sold my wealth to satisfy my greed (Gn 25,33) and blotted out my name from the Book of Life where the first among the blessed are written in heaven (Ps 68,29).
I beseech you, O thou Light from on high, Prince of the fiery choirs. May the doors of heaven be opened for me too as they were opened in former times for Israel. Be pleased to make my fallen soul rise up by the ladder of light, the mysterious sign granted to men of their return from earth to heaven.
Through the wiles of the Evil One I have lost the scented unction of your Spirit; deign to anoint my head once more with your protecting right hand. I do not fight against you, O most powerful One, wrestling like Jacob (Gn 32,25), for I am nothing but weakness.
When he had stayed with Jesus and learned a great deal, Andrew did not keep these riches to himself but made haste to run to his brother and share with him the benefits he had gained…
Now note how Peter had a docile and obedient spirit from the beginning…, since he ran back without delay: “Andrew brought him to Jesus,” the evangelist says. Yet let no one accuse him of superficiality, as though he had blindly taken up his brother’s invitation. It is very likely that the latter had spoken to him in detail and at length. However, the evangelists suppress a great deal out of a concern for conciseness. In any case, it is not said that Peter believed on the spot but that his brother “led him to Jesus” so as to entrust him to him, so that Peter might be fully instructed by him. When John the Baptist said: “Behold the Lamb” and “He will baptize in Holy Spirit”, he entrusted Christ with the task of more clearly teaching this doctrine himself. Even more so did Andrew do the same, for he did not consider himself capable of explaining everything. He led his brother to the very source of light, and with such great haste and joy that he did not hesitate for an instant to go there.
“A shoot shall sprout from the stock of Jesse (David’s father) and from his roots abud shall blossom. The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him” (Is 11,1-2). This whole prophecy is about Christ…
The Jews interpret the shoot and the flower sprouting from the stock of Jesse as the Lord himself: for them, the shoot is a symbol of the royal scepter, the flower represents his beauty.
Where we Christians are concerned, in the shoot that issues from the stock of Jesse we see the holy Virgin Mary to whom none was united to make her fruitful. It is she whom the same prophet pointed to in an earlier passage: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (7,14). And in the flower we recognize our Lord and Savior, who says in the Song of Songs: “I am the flower of the field and lily of the valleys” (Sg 2,1)…
Upon this flower that suddenly sprouts from the stock and root of Jesse through the Virgin Mary, the Spirit of the Lord comes to rest, for “it pleased God to make the whole fullness of the deity dwell in him bodily” (Col 2,9). Not in a partial way as it did on other saints but as we read in the Gospel of Matthew: “Behold my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight; I shall place my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles” (Mt 12,18; Is 42,1).
We apply this prophecy to the Savior on whom the Spirit of the Lord rested, meaning that he made his eternal dwelling in him… As John the Baptist testifies, he descended to remain always upon him: “”I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit’”…
This Spirit is called “a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and of strength, a Spirit of knowledge, reverence and fear of the Lord” (Is 11,2)… He is the one and only source of all gifts.
“Prepare the way of the Lord.” Brothers, even if you have advanced greatly on this way, you still have to prepare it, so that from the point where you have already arrived, you might always go forward, always stretched out towards what is beyond. Thus, since the way has been prepared for his coming, with every step that you take, the Lord will come to meet you, always new, always greater.
So the righteous person is right to pray thus: “Instruct me, O Lord, in the way of your statutes, that I may exactly observe them.” (Ps 119:33) And this way is called “the path of eternity” (Ps 139:24) … because the goodness of him towards whom we are advancing is unlimited.
That is why the wise and determined traveler, even though he has arrived at the goal, will think of beginning. “Giving no thought to what lies behind,” (Phil 3:13), he will tell himself every day: “Now I begin (Ps 76:11 Vulgata) …
May it please heaven that we who talk about advancing on this path might at least have set out! To my understanding, whoever has set out is already on the good way.
However, we must really begin, find “the way to an inhabited city” (Ps 107:4). For Truth says: “How few there are who find it!” (Mt 7:14) And many are those “who go astray in the desert.” (Ps 107:4) …
And you, Lord, have prepared a path for us, if we only agree to go on it… Through your Law, you have taught us the path of your will by saying: “This is the way; walk in it, when you would turn to the right or to the left.” (Isa 30:21) It is the path that the prophet had promised: “A highway will be there… No fools go astray on it.” (Isa 35:8)… I have never seen a fool going astray when following your path, Lord… But woe to you who are wise in your own sight (Isa 5:21).
Your wisdom has taken you away from the path of salvation and has not allowed you to follow the Savior’s folly… A desirable folly, which at the time of God’s judgment will be called wisdom and which does not let us go astray, away from his path.
Come, O Sages, let us wonder at the Virgin Mary, daughter of David, that flower of beauty who has given birth to this marvel. Let us wonder at the spring from which this stream has welled up, the ship laden with bounty bringing us the message of the Father.
In her most pure breast she has received and borne that great God who rules all creation, the God through whom peace now reigns on earth and in the heavens. She alone of all creatures has given birth without knowing man. Her soul was full of wonder and joyfully each day she gave glory to God for gifts that seemed incapable of joining in one: her virginal purity and her beloved child. Yes indeed, blessed is he who was born of her!…
She carried him and sang his praise in sweet songs…: “My son, your real place is to be raised up above all things but, because you willed it, you have found a place in me. The heavens are too narrow for your majesty, yet I, who am so small, am bearing you! Let Ezekiel come and see you on my lap; let him bow down and worship and acknowledge in you him whom he beheld seated on the chariot of the cherubim (cf. Ez 1).
Let him proclaim me blessed, thanks to him whom I bear!… Isaiah, you who proclaimed: ‘Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son’ (7,14), come and look on me, be glad with me… See how I have given birth while guarding intact the seal of my virginity. Behold Emmanuel who, in former times, was hidden from your sight… Come to me, O Sages, singers of the Spirit, prophets who, in your visions, received the revelation of hidden realities, laborers who, after sowing, slept in hope. Arise, leap for joy as you see the harvest of fruit. See in my arms the grain of life that gives bread to the hungry and satisfies the wretched. Rejoice with me: I have received the wheatsheaf of joy!”
Contemplate the mysteries of love and you will see “the Father’s heart” which only “the only Son has made known”, he who is God (Jn 1,18). God is love (1Jn 4,8) and, because of that love, he has allowed himself to be seen by us. In his inexpressible Being he is Father; in his compassion for us he has become our Mother. By loving, the Father is shown to be also feminine.
The overwhelming proof of this lies in him whom he begets from himself. And this Son, the fruit of his love, is love. Because of this love he himself has come down. Because of this love he has put on our humanity. Because of this love he has freely endured everything that arises from our human condition.
So, in placing himself on a level with our weakness, he has placed us, whom he loved, on a level with his own greatness in return. When he was about to offer himself in sacrifice and to give up his own self as the price of our redemption, he left us a new covenant: “My love I give you” (cf. Jn 13,34; 14,27). What love is this? What is its worth? He “laid down his life” for each one of us (1Jn 3,16), a life more precious than the whole world.
The home of Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus – the school of the Gospel. The first lesson we learn here is to look, to listen, to meditate and penetrate the meaning – at once so deep and so mysterious – of this very simple, very humble and very beautiful manifestation of the Son of God. Perhaps we learn, even imperceptibly, the lesson of imitation…
How gladly would I become a child again, and go to school once more in this humble and sublime school of Nazareth: close to Mary, I wish I could make a fresh start at learning the true science of life and the higher wisdom of divine truths…
First, then, a lesson of silence. May esteem for silence, that admirable and indispensable condition of mind, revive in us, besieged as we are by so many uplifted voices, the general noise and uproar, in our seething and over-sensitized modern life. May the silence of Nazareth teach us recollection, inwardness, the disposition to listen to good inspirations and the teachings of true masters. May it teach us the need for and the value of preparation, of study, of meditation, of personal inner life, of the prayer which God alone sees in secret (Mt 6,6).
Next, there is a lesson on family life. May Nazareth teach us what family life is, its communion of love, its austere and simple beauty, and its sacred and inviolable character. Let us learn from Nazareth that the formation received at home is gentle and irreplaceable. Let us learn me prime importance of the role of the family in the social order.
Finally, there is a lesson of work. Nazareth, home of the ‘Carpenter’s Son’ (Mt 13,55), in you I would choose to understand and proclaim the severe and redeeming law of human work; here I would restore the awareness of the nobility of work, and reaffirm that work cannot be an end in itself, but that its freedom and its excellence derive, over and above its economic worth, from the value of those for whose sake it is undertaken. And here at Nazareth I want to greet all the workers of the world, holding up to them their great pattern, their brother who is God. He is the prophet of all their just causes, Christ our Lord.
“The kingdom of God is at hand” (Lk 21,31). The king-dom of God, beloved brethren, has begun to be at hand; the reward of life and the joy of eternal salvation and per-petual happiness and the possession of paradise once lost are now coming with the passing of the world; now the things of heaven are succeeding those of earth; great things, small, and eternal things, transitory. What place is there here for anxiety and worry?…
It is written that “the just man lives by faith” (Rm 1,17). If you are just and live by faith, if you truly believe in Jesus Christ, why do you, who are destined to be with Christ and secure in the promise of the Lord, not rejoice that you are called to Christ…?
Take the example of Simeon, the just man who was truly just, who with full faith kept the commandments of God: when the answer had been given him from heaven that he would not die before he had seen Christ, and when Christ as an infant had come into the temple with His mother, he knew in spirit that Christ was now born, concerning whom it had been foretold to him before, and on seeing him he knew that he himself would quickly die.
Happy, therefore, at the death that was now at hand and untroubled at the approaching summons, he took the child into his hands and, blessing God, he cried out and said: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”
Thus he proved surely and bore witness that the servants of God have peace, they have a free and tranquil repose when, on being released from the storms of this world, they have sought the harbor of our abode and eternal security… For that is our peace, that our sure tranquility, that our steadfast and firm and everlasting security.
Where does this jealousy lead?… The crime committed today shows us. Fear of a rival to his earthly kingdom fills Herod with anxiety; he plots to suppress “the newborn King” (Mt 2,2), the eternal King; he fights against his Creator and puts innocent children to death… As for those children, what fault had they committed? Their tongues were dumb, their eyes had seen nothing, their ears heard nothing, their hands done nothing. They accepted death who had not known life…
Christ reads the future and knows the secrets of the heart; he weighs our thoughts and probes our intentions (cf. Ps 139): why did he forsake them?… Why did the newborn heavenly King abandon these companions in innocence, forget the sentinels watching around his crib to such an extent that the foe who wanted to get at the King ravaged his whole army?
My brethren Christ did not forsake his soldiers but covered them with honor by granting them to conquer before they had lived and to carry away the prize without a fight… He wanted them to possess heaven rather than earth… He sent them before him as his heralds. He did not abandon them but saved those who went on ahead. He did not forget them…
Blessed are they who have exchanged their travail for repose, their pains for ease, their suffering for joy. They are alive! Yes, they are alive; they live indeed who have undergone death for Christ’s sake… Happy the tears their mothers shed for these infants: they have won them the grace of baptism… May he who deigned to rest in our stable be pleased to lead us also to the heavenly pastures.
I think the four evangelists are crucial elements in the faith of the Church… and I think that the first shoot of the gospels lies… in the gospel of John who, in speaking of him of whom others gave the genealogy, begins with him who had none. Thus Matthew, writing for Jews awaiting the son of Abraham, and of David the son of Abraham, says: “The genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham” (1,1); and Mark, well aware of what he is writing, puts: “Beginning of the Gospel” (1,1). But we find the whole end of the Gospel in John; it is: “the Word that was in the beginning”, the Word of God (1,1). Luke, too, keeps the most important and perfect discourses concerning Jesus for him who leaned on Jesus’ breast (Jn 13,35).
None of them showed his divinity in so absolute a manner than John, who makes him say: “I am the light of the world”, “I am the way, the truth and the life”, “I am the resurrection”, “I am the door”, “I am the Good Shepherd” (8,12; 14,6; 11,25; 10,9.11) and, in the Apocalypse: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (22,13).
So we must dare to say that the Gospels are the firstfruits of Scripture as a whole and that, from among the Gospels, the first place belongs to John, whose meaning no one can grasp who has not leaned on Jesus’ breast and received, from Jesus, Mary for his mother (Jn 19,27)…
When Jesus said to his mother: “Behold, your son” and not, “Behold, this man is also your son”, it is as if he said to her: “Behold the son to whom you gave birth”. Indeed, whoever has reached perfection “is no longer alive, but Christ lives in him” (Gal 2,20)…
Do we still have to say what kind of intelligence is needed for us worthily to interpret the word laid in earthern treasures (cf. 2Cor 4,7) in plain language? in the letter that can be read by anyone at all? in the word that a word can make audible and that all who listen may hear? For, to interpret John’s gospel accurately, we must be able to say: “As for us, we have the mind of Christ so that we may understand the things freely given us by God” (1Cor 2,16.12).
Let us imitate our Lord and pray for our enemies… He was crucified yet, at the same time, prayed to his Father for the sake of those who were crucifying him. But how could I possibly imitate our Lord, one might ask? If you want to, you can. If you weren’t able to do it how could he have said: “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart”? (Mt 11,29)…
If you have difficulty in imitating our Lord, at least imitate him who is also his servant, his deacon. I would speak of Stephen. Just as Christ, in the midst of those crucifying him, without considering the cross, without considering his own predicament, pleaded with the Father on behalf of his tormentors (Lk 23,34), so his servant, surrounded by those who were stoning him, attacked by all, crushed beneath a hail of stones and without taking any account of the suffering they were causing him, said: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7,60).
Do you see how the Son spoke and how his servant prayed? The former said: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” and the latter: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Moreover, to make us realise better the fervor with which he was praying, he did not just pray as he stood beneath the blows of the stones but he spoke on his knees with sincerity and compassion…
Christ said: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. Stephen cried out: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Paul, in his turn, said: “I offer up this sacrifice for my brethren, my kin according to race” (cf. Rm 9,3). Moses said: “If you would only forgive their sin! If you will not, then strike me out of the book that you have written!” (Ex 32,32). David said: “May your hand fall on me and my kindred” (2Sam 24,17)…
What kind of forgiveness do we think we shall get if we ourselves do the opposite of what is asked of us and pray against our enemies, when the Lord himself, and his servants of both Old and New Testaments, direct us to pray on their behalf?
In Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God himself, God from God, became man. To him the Father says: “You are my son” (Ps 2,7). God’s everlasting “today” has come down into the fleeting today of the world and lifted our momentary today into God’s eternal today.
God is so great that he can become small. God is so powerful that he can make himself vulnerable and come to us as a defenceless child, so that we can love him. God is so good that he can give up his divine splendour and come down to a stable, so that we might find him, so that his goodness might touch us, give itself to us and continue to work through us.
This is Christmas: “You are my son, this day I have begotten you”. God has become one of us, so that we can be with him and become like him. As a sign, he chose the Child lying in the manger: this is how God is. This is how we come to know him. And on every child shines something of the splendour of that “today”, of that closeness of God which we ought to love and to which we must yield – it shines on every child, even on those still unborn.
“Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is born in Bethlehem of Judah”… What announ cement could be sweeter?… Was its like ever heard before? or when did the world ever receive such tidings? “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is born in Bethlehem of Judah.” Such short words, telling of the Eternal Word abbre-viated for us! O word full of heavenly delights!… “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is born in Bethlehem of Judah.” O Nativity of spotless sanctity! O birth honorable for the world, birth pleasing and welcome to men because of the magnificence of the benefit it bestows; birth incomprehensible to the angels, by reason of the depth and sacredness of the mystery! (cf. Eph 3,10)…
“Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is born in Bethlehem of Judah.” Awake, you who lie in the dust; awake and give praise! Behold, the Lord comes with salvation. Behold the Anointed of the Lord, his Christ; behold him who comes with glory… Happy the soul who is drawn to “run in the odor of his ointments” (Sg 1,4 LXX): she will see “his glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father” (Jn 1,14).
Take courage, you who were lost! Jesus comes to seek and save that which was lost. You sick, return to health: Christ comes to heal the contrite of heart with the unction of His mercy. Rejoice, all you who desire great things: the Son of God comes down to you that he may make you co-heirs of his Kingdom (Rm 8,17).
I beseech you, then, O Lord: heal me, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved (Jer 7,14); glorify me, and I shall be glorious. Yes indeed: “bless the Lord my soul, and let all that is within me praise his holy Name” (Ps 103,1)… The Son of God became man to make men sons of God.
God predestined John the Baptist to come proclaiming the joy of humankind and the happiness of heaven. The world listened to the wonderful words that fell from his mouth announcing the presence of our Redeemer, the Lamb of God (Jn 1,29). When his parents had lost all hope of gaining an issue, the angel, messenger of so great a mystery, sent him to serve as a witness to the Lord even before he was born (Lk 1,41)…
He filled his mother’s womb with joy as she was bearing him… As we read in those words in the Gospel that Elizabeth spoke to Mary: “When I heard the words of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And how is it that I have this happiness that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (Lk 1,43-44)…
Even as, in her old age, she was mourning that she had given no children to her husband, all at once she gave birth to a son who was also the messenger of eternal salvation for the whole world. And such a messenger that, even before his birth, he exercised the privilege of his future ministry when he poured out his prophetic spirit through his mother’s words.
Then, by the power of the name given to him beforehand by the angel, he opened his father’s mouth, which had been shut by his lack of faith (Lk 1,13.20) For when Zechariah became dumb it wasn’t to remain so but so as to divinely restrain the use of his speech and confirm by a heavenly sign that his son was a prophet.
Therefore the Gospel says of John: “This man was not the Light but he came to testify to it that all might believe through him” (cf. Jn 1,7-8). It is true that he who was worthy to bear testimony to the true Light was not the Light, but he was wholly in the light.
A Greek Homily of the 4th Century wrongly attributed to Gregory of Neocaesarea, called 'Thaumaturgos', 2 (PG 10, 1156)
Then Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… He has helped Israel his child (Lk 1,54 Gk.), remembering his mercy and the covenant he made with Abraham and his descendants for ever.” Do you observe how the Virgin surpasses the perfection of the patriarch and seals the covenant God made with Abraham when he said to him: “This is to be the covenant between me and you”? (Gn 17,11)…
It is the song of this prophecy that the holy Mother of God addressed to God when she said: “My soul magnifies the Lord…, for he who is Mighty has magnified me; holy is his name. In making me the mother of God he preserves my virginity. The full number of every generation is summed up within my womb, that they may be made holy in it. For he has blessed all ages, men and woman, young people, children, the old”…
“He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly”… The lowly, the gentile peoples hungry for righteousness (Mt 5,6), have been exalted. By making known their lowliness and hunger for God, and by begging for God’s word just as the Canaanite woman asked for crumbs (Mt 15,27), they have been satisfied with the riches concealed within the divine mysteries.
For Jesus Christ our God, son of the Virgin, has handed out to the gentiles the whole inheritance of divine favors. “He has raised up Israel his child”: not just any Israel, but his child, on whose exalted birth he bestows honor. This is why the Mother of God calls this people her child and her heir. God, who found this people worn out by the letter, wearied by the Law, calls it to his grace.
By giving this name to Israel he raises him up, “remembering his mercy, as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.” These few words sum up the whole mystery of our salvation. Wanting to save humankind and seal the covenant established with our fathers, Jesus Christ then “inclined the heavens and came down” (Ps 18,10). Thus he manifested himself to us, putting himself within our reach so that we might see him, touch him and hear him speak.
“The infant in my womb leaped for joy”
Bearing God within her womb, the Virgin hastened to Elizabeth, whose unborn child, knowing at once the salutation of Mary, rejoiced and, leaping up as if in song, cried out to the Mother of God :
Hail, vine whence springs a never-withering branch.
Hail, orchard of the fruit of life.
Hail, for thou tendest the Husbandman, friend of man (Sg 1,6).
Hail, for thou hast borne the Gardener who cultivates our life.
Hail, earth yielding a rich harvest of redemption.
Hail, table laden with mercy in abundance for the forgiveness of sins.
Hail, for through thee the fields of Eden flower again:
Hail, for thou makest ready a haven of peace for our souls.
Hail, acceptable incense of intercession to God (Gn 8,21).
Hail, propitiation for the whole world.
Hail, loving-kindness of God unto mortal man:
Hail, freedom of approach for mortals unto God.
Hail, Bride without bridegroom!
Tossed inwardly by a storm of doubts, prudent Joseph was troubled: knowing thee to be unwedded, O blameless Virgin, he feared a stolen union. But when he learnt that thy conceiving was from the Holy Spirit (Mt 1,20), he said: “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!”
The shepherds heard the angels glorify Christ’s coming in the flesh. Quickly they ran to the Shepherd and beheld him as a Lamb without spot that had been pastured in the womb of Mary; and they sang praises to her, saying:
Hail, Mother of the Lamb and of the Good Shepherd (Jn 1,29; 10,14). Hail, fold of the gathered sheep (Jn 10,16).
Hail, protection against rapacious wolves (v.12).
Hail, key to the door of Paradise.
Hail, for the heavens exult with the earth (Lk 2,14). Hail, for things on earth rejoice with the heavens. Hail, never-silent voice of the apostles.
Hail, unconquered courage of the victorious martyrs. Hail, firm foundation of the faith.
Hail, shining revelation of grace.
Hail, for through thee hell is stripped bare.
Hail, for through thee we are clothed in glory.
Hail, Bride without bridegroom!…
Seeing this strange birth, let us become strangers to the world, fixing our minds in heaven. To this end has the Most High God appeared on earth as a lowly man, because he wishes to draw heavenward all who cry aloud to Him: “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!”
Brought to birth by a mother most pure,
Who gave birth to you not knowing man;
In both your natures show yourself, O Mediator.
Though born in time from the Father’s mouth,
Fathered by his word (Lk 1,38),
Even now you dwell in the Father’s breast (Jn 1,2)
Who are eternal Wisdom (1Cor 1,24).
You are the Wisdom who created all (Prv 8,27):
The heavens, the light, and all that is.
You are the mighty Word who made the world (Heb 1,3),
For the Word is God himself (Jn 1,2).
When he had set in order the course of ages
And fixed the laws of the universe,
This builder and Framer of the world
Remained in the Father’s breast.
But when time had covered
Thousands of years,
You came down to visit
This world so sinful for so long a time.
Christ could not bear the fall
Of peoples who were lost,
Nor allow his Father’s work
To descend into nothingness.
He put on a mortal body
That the resurrection of our flesh Might break the bonds of death
and bring us back to the Father… gracious Virgin, do you not sense how, Despite your sorrowful presentiments, This glorious childbearing
Increases the lustre of your virginity?
Your most pure womb contains the blessed fruit That fills all creatures with joy.
A new world will be born through you:
Dawn of a day that shines like gold.
It was prayer, not sexual desire, that brought about John’s conception. Elizabeth’s womb was already past the age of childbearing, her body had lost all hope of conceiving, yet, in spite of this state of hopelessness, the prayer of Zachariah permitted her aged body to bear fruit once more. It was grace, not nature, that conceived John. He could not but be a saint, this child whose birth resulted less from an embrace than from prayer.
However, we shouldn’t be surprised that John was worthy of so glorious a birth. The birth of Christ’s forerunner, of him who made straight his way, had to show some resemblance to that of the Lord our Savior. Thus, if our Lord was born of a virgin, John was conceived by and old and barren woman… And we do not wonder the less at Elizabeth for conceiving in her old age than Mary giving birth in virginity.
To my mind there is something symbolic in this: John represented the Old Testament; he was born of the blood, already cold, of an aged woman. Whereas Our Lord, who announced the Good News of the Kingdom of heaven, is offspring of vigorous youth. Mary, aware of her virginity, wonders at the child curled up in her womb; Elizabeth, aware of her age, blushes at her womb swollen by pregnancy; as the evangelist says: “She went into seclusion for five months”.
We are to admire, too, the fact that the same archangel, Gabriel, announced both births: he brought consolation to Zachariah, who remained incredulous; he came to Mary, whom he found believing (Lk 1,26f.). The first lost his voice for having doubted; the second, because she believed at once, conceived the Word, the Savior.
You have heard, O Virgin, that you are to conceive and bring forth a Son, and that it will not be through the power of man but by the virtue of the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits your reply, for it is time that he should return to God who sent him.
We, too, are waiting, O Lady, for a word of mercy: we, who are groaning under the sentence of condemnation. See, the price of our salvation is offered to you; if you consent, we shall at once be delivered. By the Eternal Word of God were we all created, and behold we will all die. By your brief answer we shall be refreshed and recalled to life…
Hasten, then, O Lady, to give your answer; hasten to speak the word so longed for by all on earth, in limbo, and in heaven. Yes, the King and Lord of all things, who has “greatly desired your beauty” (Ps 45,12), desires as eagerly your word of consent by which He has purposed to save the world. He whom you pleased by your silence will be yet more pleased by your reply. Hark! He calls to you from heaven: “O most beautiful among women, let me hear your voice” (Sg 1,8; 2,14)…
Answer the angel quickly, then; yes, through the angel give your consent to your God. Answer one syllable, receive the Word; utter your own word and conceive that which is Divine. Speak the word that is transitory, and embrace the Word that is everlasting…
“Behold,” she says, “the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.”
The Incarnation of the Word only con-tributed to the doing of those things that were done: and the mystery of humankind’s salvation was never, even in the remotest age, at a standstill. What the apostles foretold, the prophets announced: nor were those things fulfilled too late which had always been believed. But the wisdom and good-ness of God made us all the more receptive of his call… as the foretelling of it had been ancient and oft-repeated.
And so it was no new counsel, no tardy pity whereby God took thought for us, but from the foundation ofl the world he ordained one and the same cause of Salvation for all. For the grace of God, by which the whole body of the saints is continually made righteous, was increased, not initiated, when Christ was born. And this mystery of God’s great love, with which the whole world is now filled, was so effectively pre- signified that those who believed the promise obtained no less than those who were the actual recipients.
And so, dearly beloved, since that loving-kindness is now manifest with which all the wealth of divine goodness has been showered on us, whose call to eternal life has been promoted, not only by the supportive example of those who went before us but by the visible and bodily appearance of Truth itself, we are bound to keep the day of our Lord’s nativity with a joy beyond this world…
By the illumination of the Holy Spirit consider who it was who received us into himself and whom we have received, since as the Lord Jesus became our flesh by being born, so we also became his body by being re-born… For God suggested to us the standard of his own gentleness and humility… Let us imitate his humility, then, to whose glory we would wish to be conformed. He himself will help us and lead us to what he has promised.
When the whole universe was overshadowed by the darkness of the devil and sin’s gloom dominated the world, a new sun, Christ our Lord, willed in these last days, when night was nearly over, to shine forth the first rays of a new day.
But before this light appeared, that is to say before the “sun of righteousness” (Mal 3,20) arose, God had already announced it like a first gleam through his prophets: “I sent my prophets before the light” (Jr 7,25 Vg.). Later, Christ himself put forth his rays – that is to say, his apostles – to make his light shine out and fill the universe with his truth so that none might be lost in darkness…
But so as to finish doing our necessary tasks before the sun of this world arises, we mortals anticipate the light with our lamps. Likewise Christ the sun also has his lamp to precede his coming, as the prophet says: “I have prepared a lamp for my Anointed” (Ps 132,17).
And Our Lord shows us what this lamp is when he says with regard to John the Baptist: “He was a burning, shining light.” And John himself said, as though he were the feeble glimmering of a lantern being carried on ahead: “But one is coming who is stronger than I and I am not worthy to undo his sandal strap.
He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire” (Lk 3,16). And at the same time, knowing that his light was to be eclipsed by the sun’s rays, he prophesied: “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3,30). Indeed, just as the glow of a lantern fades away at the coming of the sun, so the baptism of repentance preached by John faded before the coming of the grace of Christ.
“Of all that are born of women, none is greater than John.”
Were all the saints – righteous, upright and wise – joined together and dwelling within a single man, they would not be able to equal John the Baptist… of whom it has been said that he surpasses by far all other men and belongs to the class of angels (Mk 1,2 Gk; Mal 3,1 Heb.).
“But the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he”… By what he has said concerning John’s greatness our Lord wanted to make known God’s immense generosity to us and his generosity towards his chosen ones. However great and famous John might be it is less than the least in the kingdom, as the apostle Paul said: “Our knowledge is in part… but when what is perfect has come, what is in part will pass away” (1Cor 13,9-10).
Yes, John is great – he who had the presentiment to say: “Behold, the Lamb of God” (Jn 1,29) – but this greatness is no more than a tiny foretaste compared to the glory to be revealed to those who are found worthy. To put it another way: all great and wonderful things here below appear in all their smallness and insignificance compared to the blessedness above…
John was found worthy of the great gifts of this life: prophecy, priesthood (cf. Lk 1,5) and righteousness… John is greater than Moses and the prophets yet the old Law has need of the New Covenant since he who is greater than the prophets said to the Lord: “I need to be baptized by you” (Mt 3,14).
John is great, too, because his conception was announced by an angel, his birth was surrounded with miracles, he announced the One who bestows life, he baptized for the remission of sins… Moses led the people as far as the Jordan and the Law led humankind to the baptism of John. Yet if “of all that are born of women none is greater than John”, the Lord’s forerunner, how much greater must they be whose feet the Lord washed and into whom he breathed his Spirit? (Jn 13,4; 20,22).
Our Lord bore witness that John is the greatest of the prophets, yet he received the Spirit according to a certain degree since John received a spirit like that of Elijah.
Just as Elijah went to dwell in solitude so God’s Spirit led John to dwell in the wilderness, mountains and caves. A raven flew to Elijah’s help by feeding him; John ate locusts. Elijah wore a leather belt and John wore a leather loincloth round his hips. Elijah was persecuted by Jezebel; Herodias persecuted John. Elijah rebuked Ahab; John rebuked Herod. Elijah divided the waters of the Jordan; John opened up baptism. Elijah’s double measure of spirit came to rest on Elisha; John placed his hands on our Lord, who then received the Spirit without measure (Jn 3,34). Elijah opened heaven and went up; John saw the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descending and resting on our Savior.
“I bap-tize with water, but among you stands one whom you do not know.” John did not baptize with the Spirit, but with water, since he was unable to take away the sins of those being bap-tized. He washed their bodies with water, but not their hearts with pardon.
Why did one whose baptism did not forgive sins baptize, except that he was observing his vo-cation as forerunner? He whose birth foreshadowed a greater birth, by his baptizing foreshadowed the Lord who would truly baptize; he whose preaching made him the forerun-ner of Christ, by baptizing also became his forerunner, us-ing a symbol of the future sacrament.
With these other mysteries he makes known the mystery of our Redeemer, declaring that he has stood among men and not been known. The Lord appeared in a human body: he came as God in flesh, visible in his body, invisible in his majesty. He goes on to say about him: “He who comes after me was made before me” (Jn 1,15)…; he revealed the reason for this precedence when he said: “because he was before me.” He means, “Even though he was born after me, he surpasses me in that the time of his birth does not limit him. He who is born from his mother in time was begotten of his Father before time.”
John reveals the great humility and reverence he owes Christ by saying: “I am not worthy to undo the strap of his sandal.” It was the custom among the ancients that if someone was unwilling to take the wife he should be taking, he who should have come to her as bridegroom by right of relation-ship would undo his sandal.
How did Christ appear among men if not as the bridegroom of holy Church?… But since peo-ple considered John the Christ, a fact which he denied, he was right to declare his unworthiness to undo the strap of Christ’s sandal. It is as if he was saying…: “I am not unrightfully usurping for myself the name of bridegroom” (cf. Jn 3,29).
“Blest are you among women and blest is the fruit of your womb…” For all generations will call you blest, as you said (Lk 1:48). The daughters of Jerusalem, that is to say, the Church, saw you and proclaimed your happiness… For you are the royal throne near which the angels stood contemplating their Master and Creator, who was seated on it (Dan 7:9).
You have become the spiritual Eden, more sacred and more divine than the former one. The earthly Adam lived in the former; in you lives the Lord who came from heaven (1 Cor 15:47). Noah’s ark was a prefiguration of you; it saved the seed of the second creation, for you gave birth to Christ, the world’s salvation, who submerged sin and pacified the floods.
It was you whom the burning bush described ahead of time, whom the tables depicted, on which God wrote (Ex 31:18), which the ark of the covenant told about; it is you whom the golden urn, the candelabra… and Aaron’s staff that blossomed (Num 17:23) obviously prefigured…
I almost left out Jacob’s ladder. Just as Jacob saw heaven united with the earth by means of the two ends of the ladder, and the angels descending and ascending on it, and as the one who is really the strong and invincible one engaged in a symbolic struggle with him, thus you yourself became the mediator and ladder by which God came down to us and took upon himself the weakness of our substance, embracing it and closely uniting it to him.
“O Fire ever burning,” let us say together with St. Augustine, “inflame our souls.” O incarnate Word, you became man to strike in our hearts the fire of divine love, how is it you should find in us such great ingratitude? You held nothing back to enable us to love you; you went as far as to sacrifice your blood and your life. What is the reason we humans remain unmoved by such great gifts? Is it because we know nothing about them? Not at all.
People understand and believe it is for love of them you came down from heaven to put on human flesh and take on the burden of their woes. They know it is for love of them you willed to lead a life of constant suffering and undergo a shameful death. How explain, after all this, their living in such absolute forgetfulness of your unequalled kindness? They love their family, they love their friends, they even love their livestock…; it is for you alone they are without love and without gratitude!
But what am I saying? In accusing others of ungratefulness, I condemn myself since my conduct in your regard is even worse than theirs. Nevertheless your mercy gives me courage. I know how long it has borne with me, to forgive me and set me on fire with your love if only I am willing to repent and love you.
Oh yes, my God, I want to repent…; I want to love you with all my heart. I well see how my heart… has abandoned you to love the things of this world, but I also see how, in spite of this betrayal, you yet claim it as your own. And so, with all the strength of my will, I consecrate it and offer it to you. Therefore, be pleased to inflame it wholly with your holy love and grant that from now on it may love no other thing but you… O my Jesus, I love you; I love you, my sovereign Good! I love you, sole love of my soul.
Mary, my mother, you are the “mother of noble loving” (Sir 24,24 Vg.): grant me the grace of loving my God. It is from you that I hope to gain it.
Mary, Our Lady, the Lord has made you his own mother, so establishing you as mistress and queen of all the world. It is for this reason he formed you by the working of his Spirit from the first moment of your conception in your mother’s womb. O Lady, this is what fills us with joy this day. And we ask you, most sweet Mary, prudent and noble queen, could we possibly set you alongside, or even below, other creatures?
True, the apostle of pure truth states that all men have sinned in Adam (Rm 5,12)… But when I consider the eminent quality of divine grace in you, I note how you are placed in an eminent way: apart from your son, you are above all other created things. And from this I conclude that, in your conception, you cannot have been bound by the same law of human nature as other human beings are. By the eminent grace granted to you, you remained completely free from stain of all sin. A singular grace and divine action unfathomable to the human mind!
Sin alone can distance humankind from God’s peace. To take away this sin and bring humankind back to God’s peace, the Son of God willed to become man but in such a way that nothing in him would in any way share in what was separating us from God. To realize this, it was fitting that his mother should be clean from all sin. For if not, how could our flesh have been so intimately united to supreme purity or man taken up into so great a union with God that all that belongs to God would belong to man and all that belongs to man belong to God?
Lord, send us the Lamb, for it is the lamb, not the lion, we need (Rv 5,5-6). The lamb that does not grow angry and whose gentleness is never ruffled; the lamb that will give us its wool white as snow to warm what is cold in us and cover what is bare; the lamb that will give us its flesh to eat lest we perish on the way for lack of strength (Jn 6,51; Mt 15,32).
Send it full of wisdom for, in its divine prudence, it will overcome the spirit of pride; send it full of might, for it is said that “The Lord is mighty and valiant” (Ps 24,8); send it full of gentleness, for “it will descend like dew upon the fleece” (Ps 72,6 Vg.); send it like a sacrificial victim, for it is to be sold and sacrificed for our redemption (Mt 26,15; Jn 19,36; Ex 12,46); send it, not to destroy sinners, since it is coming “to call them and not the just” (Mt 9,13); finally, send it “worthy to receive power and honor, worthy to break open the seven seals of the bound scroll” (cf. Rv 4,11; 5,9), namely the inexpressible mystery of the incarnation.
Let us consider Christ, our shepherd; let us look at his love for us and his gentleness in leading us to pasture. He delights in the sheep around him even as he seeks for the ones that stray. Hills and forests are no obstacle to him; he runs into the valley of darkness, down to where the lost sheep is to be found.
When he finds it to be sick he does not cast it aside but heals it; taking it on his shoulders, he tends the weary sheep with his own weariness. His exhaustion makes him happy because he has found the lost sheep and this cures him of his suffering. “Which of you,” he says, “having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them does not leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness to go after the one that was lost until he finds it?”
The loss of a single sheep disturbs the happiness of the gathered flock but the joy of finding it again casts this sadness out: “When he finds it… he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep’” (lk 15,5-6). This is the reason why Christ – who is this shepherd – said: “I am the good shepherd” (Jn 10,11). “The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal” (Ex 34,16).
“We have seen incredible things today”
Light is sweet and it is good to see the sun with these eyes of flesh…; that is why Moses said: “And God saw the light and he said that it was good” (Gn 1,4)…
But how good it is for us to reflect on the great, the true and unchanging light “that enlightens everyone coming into the world” (Jn 1,9), namely Christ, the world’s Savior and redeemer. Having disclosed himself before the eyes of the prophets, he became man and entered into the lowest depths of human existence.
It is of him that the prophet David spoke: “Chant praise to God’s name. Prepare a way for him who rises towards the west, whose name is the Lord; exult in his presence” (cf. Ps 68,5 Vg.). And Isaiah, too, cried out: “People who sit in darkness, behold this light. For you who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, a light will shine” (cf. 9,1)…
And so the light of the sun that is seen by these eyes of flesh makes known the spiritual Sun of Righteousness (Ml 3,20), the sweetest of all to rise on those who have the happiness of being taught by him and seeing him with their fleshly eyes when he dwelt among us like any ordinary man.
Nevertheless, he was not just an ordinary man in that he was born true God, able to give back sight to the blind, cause the lame to walk, enable the deaf to hear, cleanse lepers and restore the dead to life by his word (Lk 7,22).
Homily attributed to St. Gregory the Wonderworker from Sermons on the Holy Theophany, 4 (PG 10, 1181)
You are the radiance the Father’s glory, the perfect image of the perfect Father (Heb 1,3). You are the true light enlightening every person who comes into the world (Jn 1,9). You were in the world yet you have come to where you were already. You have become flesh, but you have not been changed into flesh. You have lived among us, appearing to your servants in the likeness of a servant (Jn 1,14; 14,23; Phil 2,7). You by your holy name have bridged heaven and earth, and do you come to me? You, so great, to such as I? King to herald, master to servant?…
I know the distance between the earth and the Creator, between the clay and the potter. I know how far I, a lamp lit by your grace, am outshone by you, the Sun of Righteousness (Mal 3,20; Jn 5,35). You are concealed by the pure cloud of your body, but I still recognize your sovereignty. I acknowledge my servile condition; I proclaim your greatness.
I admit your absolute authority, and my own lowly estate. “I am unworthy to undo the strap of your sandal”; how then could I dare to touch your immaculate head? How could I stretch out my hand over you, who “stretched out the heavens like a tent”, and “set the earth upon the waters” (Pss. 104,2; 136,6)?… Surely it is not for me to pray over you, for you are the one who receives the prayers even of those who have no knowledge of you.
With all our hearts from now on we celebrate the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this is nothing other than what we ought to do since he has come, not just to us, but for us. As for the Lord, he has no need of good things from us: the greatness of the grace he has shown us clearly manifests the depth of our need. We assess the gravity of a sickness by what it costs to heal it…
So we needed a Savior to come to us for the state in which we found ourselves rendered his presence indispensable. May the Savior come quickly, then! May he come to live in our midst by faith with all the wealth of his grace. May he come to draw us out of our blindness and free us from our infirmities, taking control of our weakness! If he is within us, who can lead us astray? If he is on our side, what can we not do in him who is our strength? (Phil 4,13). “If he is for us who can be against us?” (Rm 8,31).
Jesus Christ is an unfailing advocate who can neither be deceived not deceive; he is a powerful helper whose strength can never be spent… He is the very wisdom of God, the very strength of God (1Cor 1,24)… So let us all run together to such a Master; in every undertaking implore this aid; in the midst of our struggles entrust ourselves to so certain a defender. If he has come into the world already it is to live in our midst, with us and for us.
“Our God will come openly and will not keep silent” (Ps 50,3 Vg). The first coming of Christ the Lord, God’s Son and our God, was in obscurity; the second will be in sight of the whole world. When he came in obscurity no one recognized him but his own servants; when he comes openly he will be known by both good people and bad.
When he came in obscurity, it was to be judged; when he comes openly it will be to judge. He was silent at his trial, as the prophet foretold: “He was like a sheep led to the slaughter, like a lamb before his shearers. He did not open his mouth” (Is 53,7). But, “Our God will come openly; our God will come and will not keep silence”… Nowadays, good people and bad enjoy this world’s so-called happiness; good people and bad suffer from what are deemed this world’s misfortunes. Those whose lives are geared to the present rather than the future are impressed by the fact that this world’s blessings and sufferings fall to the lot of good and bad without distinction. If wealth is their ambition, they see it being enjoyed not only by decent folk, but also by people of the worst kind. If they are in dread of poverty and all the other miseries of this world, they also see that the good and the bad both suffer from them.
Therefore they say to themselves, “God does not see” (Ps 94,7); he does not care about human affairs, he exercises no control over them. On the contrary; he has sent us into the abyss of this world, and simply abandoned us to its sufferings. He shows no sign of his providence. Consequently, seeing no evidence of anyone being called to account, such people hold God’s commands in derision…
If God always gave sentence here and now, there would be nothing reserved for the Day of Judgment. That is why much is kept for that day. But in order to put the fear of God into those whose cases are deferred, and so convert them, some judgments are made here and now. For it is clear that God takes no pleasure in condemning. His desire is to save, and he bears patiently with evil people in order to make them good.
Year passes after year silently; Christ’s coming is ever nearer than it was. O that, as He comes nearer earth, we may approach nearer heaven! O, my brethren, pray Him to give you the heart to seek Him in sincerity. Pray Him to make you in earnest… Pray Him to give you what Scripture calls “an honest and good heart,” or “a perfect heart” (Lk 8,15; Ps 101,2), and, without waiting, begin at once to obey Him with the best heart you have. Any obedience is better than none…
You have to seek His face (Ps 28,8); obedience is the only way of seeking Him. All your duties are obediences… To do what He bids is to obey Him, and to obey Him is to approach Him. Every act of obedience is an approach,—an approach to Him who is not far off, though He seems so, but close behind this visible screen of things which hides Him from us.
He is behind this material framework; earth and sky are but a veil going between Him and us; the day will come when He will rend that veil, and show Himself to us. And then, according as we have waited for Him, will He recompense us. If we have forgotten Him, He will not know us; but “blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when He cometh, shall find watching”(Lk 12,37)… May this be the portion of every one of us! It is hard to attain it; but it is woeful to fail. Life is short; death is certain; and the world to come is everlasting.
When you heard the voice of the Forerunner…, when the Word became flesh and brought the Gospel of salvation to earth, you stepped forward to follow him when you offered yourself to Him as his firstfruits, as a first gift to Him whom afterwards you would make known, and you pointed him out to your brother as our God (Jn 1,35-41): beseech him to save and enlighten our souls…
You abandon your fishing to fish for men with the line of preaching and the dragnet of faith. You rescued all peoples from the pit of error, O Andrew, brother of the leader of the choir of apostles, whose voice resounds to teach the whole wide world. O come, enlighten all those who celebrate the sweetness of your memory, all those whose lives are lost in darkness…
Andrew, the first to be called of your disciples, has shared your Passion, O Lord, and in death he also made himself one like you. With your cross he fished from the depths of ignorance those who were lost there from former times that he might bring them back to you. Therefore, Good Lord, we sing to you: by his intercession give peace to our souls…
Andrew, rejoice!, who everywhere declare the glory of our God like the eloquent heavens (Ps 19,2). You were the first to answer Christ’s call and became his close companion; imitating his kindness, you reflect his light on those who dwell in darkness. Therefore we celebrate your holy feast, singing: “Through all the earth their voice resounds, and to the ends of the world, their message” (Ps 19,5).
God has caused us to be born after the coming of Christ: what great thanks we owe him! For now redemption has been brought into effect by Jesus Christ, how much greater are the blessings we have received! Abraham, the patriarchs and prophets, all longed to see the Savior but they did not know this happiness. They wore out heaven, so to speak, with their sighs and pleas: “O heavens,”they cried, “like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop down the Just One!…
Send forth the Lamb, the Ruler of the land (Is 45,8; 16,1 Vg)… Then he will rule in our hearts and free us from the slavery in which we so wretchedly dwell. Show us, O Lord, your kindness and grant us your salvation (Ps 85,8).”Which is to say: “Make haste, most merciful God, and make your kindness rain down upon us by sending us the chief object of your promises, he who is to save us.”Such were the sighs, such the burning pleas of the saints before the coming of Christ and yet for four thousand years they were deprived the happiness of witnessing his birth.
This happiness was reserved for us, but what are we doing about it? What gain do we draw from it? Let us learn how to love this most loving Savior now that he is here and has freed us from the hands of our enemies, now that he has delivered us from eternal death at the price of his life… and has opened paradise, now that he has furnished us with so many sacraments and with such powerful help so that we can love and serve him in peace in this life and be happy for ever in the next…
my soul, how truly ungrateful you are if you do not love your God, this God who wanted to be shackled that you might be released from the chains of hell, weak to make you strong against your enemies, bowed down by suffering and sadness to wash your sins clean with his tears.
The Kingdom of heaven is as broad as the breadth of endless charity. Although it is composed of individuals “of every language and people, of every tribe and nation” (Rv 5,9) yet none is found wanting because, to the contrary, it expands, and the glory of each is increased all the more. Which prompted St. Augustine to say that: “When many people share the same joy, the joy of each is all the greater because each one inflames the other.”
This breadth of the Kingdom is expressed in these words of Scripture: “Ask, and I shall give you the nations for your heritage” (Ps 2,8) and: “Many shall come from east and west and take their places with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of heaven.” Neither the multitude of those who long for it, nor the multitude of those who now live, nor the multitude of those who possess it, nor the multitude of those arriving can restrict the space in this Kingdom nor compromise anyone.
But why should I trust or hope I shall possess God’s Kingdom? Because, or course, of the generosity of the God inviting me: “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Mt 6,33). Because of the truth that comforts me: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s will to give you the Kingdom” (Lk 12,32).
Because of the goodness and love that have redeemed me: “You are worthy, O Lord, to take the scroll and break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made them a kingdom of priests for God and they shall reign on earth” (Rv 5,9-10).
Behold the time is now here for us, dearest brethren, when we are to “sing of kindness and judgement to the Lord” (Ps 101,1). This is the Lord’s Advent, the arrival of the Lord of all who comes and is to come (Rv 1,8). But how and where is he to come? How and where is he coming? Has he not said: “I fill the heaven and the earth?” (Jr 23,24).
How, then, is he who fills heaven and earth coming to heaven and earth? Listen to the Gospel: “He was in the world and world was made by him and the world did not know him” (Jn 1,10). Therefore he was both present and absent at the same time: present in that he was in the world; absent because the world did not know him… How could he who was not recognised not be far away, he in whom people did not believe, who was not feared, who was not loved?…
He comes, then, so that he who was not known might be recognized; he in whom no one believed might be believed; he who was not loved might be loved. He who was present according to his nature is coming in his mercy… Think on God a little and see what it means that he should transfer so great a might; how he humbles so great a power, weakens so great a strength, makes feeble so great a wisdom! Was this a requirement of justice towards us? Most certainly not!…
In truth, my Lord, not my righteousness but your mercy guided you; not your necessity but my need. As you have said: “My mercy is established in the heavens” (Ps 89,3). Rightly so, for our neediness abounds on earth. That is why “I shall sing for ever of your love, O Lord”, which you manifested at your coming.
When he showed himself humble in his humanity, powerful in his miracles, strong against the tyranny of the demons, gentle in his welcome of sinners: all these things came from his mercy, all came from his inmost goodness. That is why “I shall sing your love, O Lord” made known at your first coming. And rightly so, for “the earth is filled with the mercy of the Lord” (Ps 119,64).
O Mercy, sent and poured out over all human beings! In you, Lord, this mercy dwells, you who, in your compassion for all humankind, came out to meet them. Through your death you opened for them the treasures of your mercy… For your profound being is hidden from human sight but is traced in its least movements. Your work gives us an outline of their Author and creatures point us to their Creator (Wis 13:1; Rom 1:20) so we might touch him who shies away from intellectual seeking but who shows himself in his gifts. It is difficult to succeed in being present to him face to face, but it is easy to draw near to him.
Our thanksgiving is insufficient but we adore you in all things for your love of humankind. You distinguish each one of us by in the depths of our invisible being, we who are all basically connected by Adam’s one nature… We adore you who placed each one of us into this world, who entrusted to us everything that is here, and who will take us out of this world at an hour that we do not know. We adore you who placed speech into our mouths so that we might tell you our requests. Adam acclaims you, he who rests in peace, and we, his posterity, with him, for we all benefit from your grace. The winds praise you…, the earth praises you…, the seas praise you…, the trees praise you…, the plants and the flowers also bless you… May all things come together and unite their voice in praising you, competing with one another in thanksgiving for all your kindnesses and united in peace to bless you. May all things join together in raising up a work of praise for you.
It is for us to reach out towards you with all our will and it is for you to pour out on us a little of your abundance so that your truth might convert us and thus our weakness might disappear, in which, without your grace, we cannot reach you, Master of gifts.
“Nightlong in my little bed I sought him whom my soul loves” (Sg 3:1). It is a great good to seek God; in my opinion the soul knows no greater blessing. It is the first of its gifts and the final stage in its progress. It is inferior to none, and it yields place to none. What could be superior to it, when nothing has a higher place? What could claim a higher place, when it is the consummation of all things? What virtue can be attributed to anyone who does not seek God? What boundary can be set for anyone who does seek him? The psalmist says: “Seek his face always” (Ps 104:4). Nor, I think, will a soul cease to seek him even when it has found him.
It is not with steps of the feet that God is sought but with the heart’s desire; and when the soul happily finds him its desire is not quenched but kinkled. Does the consummation of joy bring about the consuming of desire? Rather it is oil poured upon the flames. So it is. Joy will be fulfilled (Ps 15:11) but there will be no end to desire, and therefore no end to the search…
That every soul among you who is seeking God may know that she has been forestalled, and that she was found before she was sought… This is what you are urged to do by the goodness of him who anticipates you, who sought him, and loved you before you loved him (1Jn 4:10). You would not seek him or love him unless you had first been sought and loved. Not only in one blessing have you been forestalled but in two, being loved as well as being sought. For the love is the reason of the search, and the search is the fruit of the love, and its certain proof. You are loved so that you may not suppose you are sought to be punished. You are sought so that you may not complain you are loved in vain.
When Jesus came into the world, he loved it so much that he gave his life for it. He wanted to satisfy our hunger for God. And what did he do? He made himself the Bread of Life. He became small, fragile and defenseless for us. Bits of bread can be so small that even a baby can chew it, even a dying person can eat it. He became the Bread of Life to satisfy our hunger for God, our hunger for love.
I don’t think we could ever have loved God if Jesus had not become one of us. So that we might be able to love God, he became one of us in all things except sin. If we have been created in the image of God then we have been created to love, because God is love. In his passion Jesus taught us how to forgive out of love, how to forget out of humility. Find Jesus and you will find peace.
Acknowledge this: “a new king, a king of Egypt, has come to power” in you. He is the one who imposes forced labor on you and makes you produce bricks and mortar for him. He is the one who sets taskmasters and overseers over you, who forces you on to field work with whip and lash, constraining you to build his cities. It is he who urges you to traverse the world over, stirring up land and seas to satisfy his desires…
This king of Egypt knows well that war is at hand. He forsees the coming of him who can “strip his principalities and powers, bravely triumphing over them and nailing them to the wood of the cross”… He senses that the hour of the destruction of his people is near. And so he declares: “The people of Israel is more powerful than we ourselves!” Would that he could say the same of us and that we might know ourselves more powerful than he! In what way will he sense this? If I do not accept the evil thoughts and depraved lusts he arouses in me; if I repulse his “fire-tipped arrows with the shield of faith”; if, whenever he suggests something to my soul, I say to him, calling Christ my Lord to mind: “Get away, Satan. It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, you shall worship and him alone shall you serve”…
For he comes, the Lord Jesus…, to bring to submission the “principalities, dominions and powers”, to submit the children of Israel to the rage of their enemies…, to teach us once again to see God in spirit, to abandon Pharaoh’s works, to leave the land of Egypt, to renounce the barbaric customs of the Egyptians, “to put away the old self with its works and put on the new self, created in God’s way,” “being renewed day by day” in the image of him who created us, Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.
Moses said : “The rest of the sabbath day shall be sacred to the Lord.” The Lord loves rest; he loves to rest in us that thus we may rest in him. But there is, too, a rest of the times to come, of which it is written: “From now on, says the Spirit, let them find rest from all their labors.” And there is a rest of the present time of which the prophet says: “Cease to do evil.”
We come to the future rest by means of the six works of mercy enumerated in the Gospel in the place where it is said : « I was hungry and you gave me food », etc…. For “there are six days when work should be done”; then comes the night, that is death, “when no one can work”. After those six days comes the Sabbath day when every good work is completed. This is the rest of the soul.
(Biblical references: Ex 31,15; Rv 14,13; Is 1,16; Mt 25,35f; Lk 13,14; Jn 9,4)
In addition to its renowned and magnificent monuments, Jerusalem has living communities of believing Christians, Jews and Muslims, whose presence is a pledge and a source of hope for the nations, which in all parts of the world look towards the Holy City as towards a spiritual patrimony and a sign of peace and of concord. Yes, as the homeland of the heart of all the spiritual descendants of Abraham who have a deep love for it, and as a place where, for the eyes of faith, God’s infinite transcendence and created things meet, Jerusalem is a symbol of gathering, of union and of peace for the whole human family. The Holy City thus includes a firm call for peace to all of humankind and in particular to all who adore the one great God, the merciful Father of all peoples. Alas! We have to admit that Jerusalem continues to be a reason for rivalry, violence and territorial claims.
This situation and these thoughts bring to our lips the words of the prophet: “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet. Until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch.” (Isa 62:1) We think of the day, and we await it with impatience, when we shall all truly be “taught by God” (Jn 6:45), so that we might hear his message of reconciliation and peace. We think of the day when Jews, Christians, and Muslims will be able to share with one another in Jerusalem the greeting of peace, which Jesus addressed to his disciples after his resurrection: “Peace be with you.” (Jn 20:19)
Saint John Chrysostom from Homily on the 1st letter to the Corinthians, 4, 3; PG 61,34 (trans. breviary 24/08)
Saint Paul said: “The weakness of God is stronger than all men” (1Cor 1,25). It is clear from this too that the gospel is divine. For whence did it strike twelve unlettered men to attempt such great enterprises, men who were living in marshes, or rivers, in desert places, who had never perhaps gone into a city or the public square ? Whence did it strike them to array themselves against the whole world ? That they were cowardly and unmanly, he who has written about them shows, inasmuch as he does not even deprecate nor try to gloss over their failings. This in itself is a powerful proof of the truth. What then does this man say about them? That after the innumerable miracles they had seen Christ work, when he was taken prisoner some fled, while the one who remained, although he was head over the rest, denied him.
Here were men who failed to stand up to the Jews when Christ was alive. Yet when he died and was buried they arrayed themselves against the whole world… Would they not have said to themselves: “What is this? He had not strength to save himself, will he protect us?” He did not defend himself when he was alive; will he reach out his hand to us now he is dead? When he was alive he did not conquer a single nation—shall we convince the whole world by speaking his name?”… Hence it is clear that, if they had not seen him risen and received this mighty proof of his power, they would never have risked such a gamble.
The day of the new creation: a comparison of the Christian Sunday with the Old Testament vision of the Sabbath prompted theological insights of great interest. In particular, there emerged the unique connection between the Resurrection and Creation. Christian thought spontaneously linked the Resurrection, which took place on “the first day of the week”, with the first day of that cosmic week (cf. Gn 1:15) in the Book of Genesis… This link invited an understanding of the Resurrection as the beginning of a new creation, the first fruits of which is the glorious Christ, “the first born of all creation” (Col 1:15) and “the first born from the dead” (Col 1:18).
In effect, Sunday is the day above all other days which summons Christians to remember the salvation which was given to them in baptism and which has made them new in Christ. “You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col 2:12; cf. Rom 6:4-6). The liturgy underscores this baptismal dimension of Sunday, both in calling for the celebration of baptisms — as well as at the Easter Vigil — on the day of the week “when the Church commemorates the Lord’s Resurrection”, and in suggesting as an appropriate penitential rite at the start of Mass the sprinkling of holy water, which recalls the moment of Baptism in which all Christian life is born.
God does not ask many things of you, for charity alone fulfills the whole Law. But that love is double: love of God and love of the neighbor… When God tells you to love your neighbor, he does not tell you to love him with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. Rather, he tells you to love your neighbor as yourself. Thus, love God with all that you are, because he is greater than you are; love your neighbor as yourself, because he is what you are…
Thus our love has three objects. But why are there only two commandments? I will tell you: God did not consider it necessary to commit you to loving yourself, since there is no one who doesn’t love himself. But many people lose themselves because they love themselves in a bad way. By telling you to love God with all that you are, God gave you a rule according to which you must love yourself. Without doubt you want to love yourself? So love God with all that you are. For it is in him that you will find yourself and avoid losing yourself in yourself… Therefore, the rule according to which you must love yourself is given to you: love the one who is greater than you and you will love yourself.
Sin is the sharpest scourge that any chosen soul can be smitten with — a scourge which greatly afflicteth a man or woman, breaketh him in pieces and purgeth him of his self-love; to the extent that at times he thinketh himself fit for nothing but to sink into hell; until such time as, by the touching of the Holy Ghost, contrition overtaketh him and turneth his bitterness into hope in God’s mercy. Then his wounds begin to heal and his soul to revive as he is converted to the life of Holy Church. The Holy Ghost leadeth him to confession to reveal his sins willingly, nakedly and truly; with great sorrow and with great shame for having so befouled the fair image of God. Then he undertaketh the penance for all his sins enjoined by his confessor, who is instructed in Holy Church by the teaching of the Holy Ghost. This is a meekness that greatly pleaseth God.
Most preciously our good Lord keepeth us when it seemeth to us that we are well nigh forsaken and cast away for our sins. And because we see that we have deserved it, and because of the meekness that we get thereby, we are raised high in God’s sight, by his grace. Then also, when our Lord will, he visiteth us with his special grace, with such contrition and also with compassion and true longing to God that we are at once delivered of sins and pain, and lifted up to bliss, equal with the saints.
Pope Francis from Apostolic Exhortation « Evangelii Gaudium /The Joy of the Gospel» § 108-109 (trans. © copyright Libreria Editrice Vaticana)
Whenever we attempt to read the signs of the times it is helpful to listen to young people and the elderly. Both represent a source of hope for every people. The elderly bring with them memory and the wisdom of experience, which warns us not to foolishly repeat our past mistakes. Young people call us to renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new directions for humanity and open us up to the future, lest we cling to a nostalgia for structures and customs which are no longer life-giving in today’s world.
Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment.
“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing”… The Lord desires to have us vigilant, always waiting for the Saviour’s coming… But as the gain is meagre and the merit weak when fear of pain is what prevents us from straying, and as love is what has the greater worth, the Lord himself…sets on fire our longing to win God when he says: “I have come to set the earth on fire.” Not the kind of fire that destroys, of course, but that which produces an upright will and perfects the golden vessels in the Lord’s house by consuming the chaff and the straw (1Cor 3,12f.), by devouring all this world’s veneer acquired through the taste for earthly pleasures and the perishable works of the flesh.
This was the heavenly fire that burned in the bones of the prophets, as Jeremiah declared: “It becomes like fire burning…in my bones,” (Jer 20,9). For there is a fire of the Lord of which it is said: “Fire goes before him,” (Ps 96,3). The Lord himself is a fire, it says: “which burns without being consumed,” (Ex 3,2). The fire of the Lord is light eternal; the lamps of believers are lit at this fire: “Gird your loins and light your lamps,” (Lk 12,35). It is because the days of our life are still night that a lamp is necessary. This is the fire which, according to the testimony of the disciples at Emmaus, the Lord himself set within them: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Lk 24,32). He gives us evident proof of this fire’s action, enlightening man’s inmost heart. That is why the Lord will come in fire (Is 66,15) so as to devour our faults at the resurrection, fulfil each one’s desires with his presence and cast his light over their merits and mysteries.
Blessed Guerric of Igny from 1st Sermon Advent, 2-3: SC 166 (trans. ©Cistercian publications Inc. 1970)
“I overflow with hope in your word” (Ps 118,81 Vg)… The soul does not have just a bare hope in God; it overflows with hope, hope mounting upon hope as trial comes upon trial, delay upon delay. I am absolutely sure that in the end “he will appear and will prove not to have deceived me”; so “in spite of the delay he imposes I shall go on waiting for him confidently, because he certainly will come and will not be later” (Hab 2,3 Vg) than the most timely day.
When will this timely day be? When the full number of all these brethren of ours has been reached (Rv 6,11) and the time of mercy set for penance is completed. Listen to Isaiah… tell us with what design the Lord puts off the judgment for a time: “The Lord delays so that he can be merciful towards you, and thus he will be honored for having spared you. The Lord is a God of judgment; blessed is everyone who waits for him” (30,18). So, if you are wise, give an eye to yourself and see how you are using this delay. If you are a sinner, do not be heedless but take the opportunity to repent. If you are holy the time is given you to progress in holiness, not to slip away from the faith. For if “the evil servant said in his heart: ‘My Lord’s coming is delayed,’ and began to behave brutally towards his subordinates, even indulging in feasting and carousals with drunken companions, it will be a day he did not know upon which the Lord of that servant will return and mark him out and give him a place among the hypocrites”…
This is the proper way of waiting for the Lord, keeping his troth. Even though we may miss the consolation of his presence we must not look about us adulterously but wait in suspense for his return. The Lord says this in the same prophet: “The people will wait in suspense for my return” (Hos 11,7 Vg). Fitting indeed it is that the people should be in suspense, as it were, between heaven and earth, unable as yet to grasp heavenly affairs but preferring even so not to have contact with those of earth.
These words mean : you are to be awake and vigilant because you do not know the hour when the Lord will come from the wedding… Because as soon as some feeling of pride, self-satisfaction or self-will enters a man, the Enemy is there cutting the precious bag of all his good works from him. Oh, children! How many of people like these will you see who have done great works… and thus gained great renown…, but presumption has stripped them of all… They will be placed after the poor and simple fellows whom no one values because of their outward appearance and work. Because they humbly take a lowly place these latter will be set above the others… So keep watch with vigilant soul and you will see the pure truth with open eyes…
“Let your loins be girded and your lamps alight.” Here there are three points to notice. First: the loins are to be girded like someone firmly bound with a rope so as to be led against his will… Second: you are to carry lighted lamps in your hands, which is to say, works of love. Your hands should never stop doing the true, ardent work of charity… Third: you should wait for the Lord when he returns from the wedding… : “The Lord will set them over all his goods; he will gird himself and will serve them.” This wedding from which the Lord comes takes place in the most interior part of the soul, in its depths where the noble image is found. O what intimate contact the soul has with God and God with it in this depth, and what a marvellous work God does there! What rejoicing and joy he finds there! It surpasses all feeling and thought and yet man knows nothing and feels nothing of it.
“Take heed, watch : for you do not know when the time will come” (Mk 13,33)… Let us then consider this most serious question, which concerns every one of us so nearly;—What it is to watch for Christ. He says, “Watch ye therefore, for ye know not when the Master of the house cometh; at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly He find you sleeping. And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch!” (v.35f)…
Many men indeed are open revilers of religion, or at least openly disobey its laws; but let us consider those who are of a more sober and conscientious cast of mind. They have a number of good qualities, and are in a certain sense and up to a certain point religious; but they do not watch… They do not understand that they are called to be strangers and pilgrims upon the earth (Heb 11,13), and that their worldly lot and worldly goods are a sort of accident of their existence, and that they really have no property… Now, it cannot surely be doubted that multitudes in the Church are such as I have been describing, and that they would not, could not, at once welcome our Lord on His coming…
It is a most affecting and solemn thought, that he has actually called our attention to this very danger… He warns his disciples of the danger of having their minds drawn off from the thought of him, by whatever cause; he warns them against all excitements, all allurements of this world; he solemnly warns them that the world will not be prepared for his coming, and tenderly intreats of them not to take their portion with the world. He warns them by the instance of the rich man whose soul was required, of the servant who ate and drank (Lk 12,45), and of the foolish virgins (Mt 25,2)… The bridal train is sweeping by,—Angels are there,—the just made perfect are there,—little children, and holy teachers, and white-robed saints, and martyrs washed in blood… : his Bride hath made herself ready (Rv 19,7). She has already attired herself, while we have been sleeping.
Just as this coin bears the image of Caesar, so our soul is in the image of the Blessed Trinity, as one of the psalms says: “The light of thy countenance has been imprinted upon us” (4,6 LXX)… Lord, the light of your countenance, that is to say the light of your grace that sets your image within us and makes us become like you, has been imprinted upon us, that is to say imprinted in our rational faculty, which is the highest power of our soul and receives this light as wax receives the mark of a seal. God’s countenance is our reason because, just as we recognize someone by his face, so we recognize God through the mirror of reason. However, this reason has been deformed by human sin since sin sets us against God. The grace of Christ has put our reason right. Hence, the apostle Paul says to the Ephesians: “Be renewed in your minds” (4,23). The light in question in this psalm is thus the grace that restores God’s image imprinted in our nature…
The whole Trinity has marked mankind with its likeness. With the memory it resembles the Father; with the understanding it resembles the Son; by love it resembles the Holy Spirit… From the beginning of creation man was made “in the image and likeness of God” (Gn 1,26). The image in his understanding of truth, the likeness in his love of virtue. The light on God’s countenance is thus the grace that justifies us and brings to light once again our created image. This light constitutes man’s whole good, his true good; it sets its mark on him just as the emperor’s image marked the coin. That is why the Lord adds: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”. It was as if he said: Just as you repay Caesar with his image so repay God with your soul, beautified and marked by the light of his countenance.
The reading of holy Scripture is a spiritual meadow and paradise of pleasure, far more agreeable than the paradise of former times. God has not planted this paradise on earth but in the souls of the faithful. He has not set it in Eden nor in some precise location in the East (Gn 2,8), but has spread it all over the earth and displayed it to the ends of the inhabited world. And since you understand that he has spread out holy Scripture through all the inhabited world, listen to the prophet who says: “Their voice resounds through all the earth and their words to the ends of the world” (Ps 18,5; Rm 10,18)…
This paradise also has a source like the former one (Gn 2,6.10), a source from which innumerable rivers flow… Who says so ? God does, who made us the gift of all these rivers : « Whoever believes in me, » he says, « as Scripture says : rivers of water will flow from within him » (Jn 7,38)… This source has no equal, not only for its abundance but still more by its nature. In effect, these are not rivers of water but gifts of the Spirit. This source is shared amongst the souls of all the faithful yet it is not lessened. It is divided but not stanched… Wholly in all and wholly in each: these are indeed the gifts of the Spirit.
Do you want to know what the abundance of these rivers means ? Do you want to know the nature of these waters? How they differ from waters here below because they are superior and more splendid? To understand the abundance of the source listen again to Christ speaking to the Samaritan woman: “The water I shall give to one who believes will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4,14)… Would you like to know its nature as well? Use it! In fact it is of no use for life here below but for eternal life. So let us spend our time in this paradise: let us receive an invitation to drink from this source.
God is sending me the cross… May it be blessed, as Job says, « We accept good things from God and should we not accept evil?” (2,10). Everything comes to us from him, health and sickness, earthly goods, difficulties and misfortunes; everything, absolutely everything, is perfectly ordered. If at times the creature rebels against God’s design it commits a sin, for everything is necessary, everything is well done, and laughter is as necessary as tears. We can draw profit for our perfection from everything provided we see, in a spirit of faith, God’s work in it all and remain in the hands of the Father like little children. Because all by ourselves, where would we go?…
Obviously, I’m not trying to free myself from the feelings [my trials inspire in me]: but what God wants is to bring them to perfection in me. For this purpose he leads me hither and thither like a plaything, causing me to let go, just about everywhere, of pieces of my heart. God is great and accomplishes everything perfectly! How much he loves me, and how badly I repay him! His providence is infinite and we must entrust ourselves to it unconditionally.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3,16). This only Son “was offered”, not because his enemies overcame him but because “he surrendered himself” (cf. Is 53,12). “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (Jn 13,1). This “end” was the death he accepted on behalf of those whom he loved; this was the end of all perfection, the end of perfect love, for “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15,13).
This love of Christ was stronger in the death of Christ than his enemies’ hatred, for hatred could only do what love permitted it to do. Judas – or the enemies of Christ –delivered him up to death through wicked hatred. The Father delivered his Son, and the Son delivered himself to death through love (Rom 8,32; Gal 2,20). Love, however, is by no means guilty of betrayal; it is innocent even when Christ dies of it. Since love alone is able to carry out with impunity whatever it pleases. Only love can constrain God and, as it were, give him orders. This it was that caused him to descend from heaven and placed him on the cross; this it was that shed Christ’s blood for the remission of sins in an act that was as innocent as it was salutary. All our thanksgiving for the salvation of the world is thus owing to love. And it constrains us, with inescapable logic, to love Christ as much as people were able to hate him.
A brother who had sinned was turned out of the church by the priest ; Abba Bessarion got up and went with him, saying : « I too am a sinner »…
A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him: “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.” So he got up and went along with a basket that had holes in it, which he filled with sand and carried on his back. The others came out to meet him and said to him: “What is this, Father?” The old man said to them: “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the sins of another.” When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.
Abba Joseph questioned Abba Poemen saying: “Tell me how to become a monk.” The old man said: “If you want to find peace here below and in the world to come, say at all times: Who am I? And judge no one.”
A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying: “If I see my brother committing a sin, is it right to conceal it?” The old man said to him: “At the very moment when we hide our brother’s fault, God hides our own. And at the moment we reveal our brother’s fault, God reveals ours too.”
Let us fully grasp this: our heart will belong wholly to God as soon as we hand over our whole will to him, as soon as we want only what he wants. For the rest, this God only wants our wellbeing and happiness. “For this is why Christ died… that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living,” says the apostle Paul. “Whether we live or die, then, we are the Lord’s” (Rm 14,9.8). Jesus willed to die for our sakes; what more could he have done to win our love and become the sole Lord of our heart? So now it is our turn to show before heaven and earth, by our life and by our death, that we are no longer our own but are entirely possessed by our God and by him alone.
How God longs to see a heart that is truly all his! With what intense love does he not love it? What signs of tenderness does he not lavish upon it even here below! What blessings, what happiness, what glory does he not prepare for it in heaven!…
O faithful souls! Let us go to meet Jesus: if he is happy enough to possess us then we, too, have the happiness of possessing him! This exchange is far more to our own advantage than to his. The Lord once said to the saint [of Avila]: “Teresa, until now you have not been wholly mine; but now that you are all for me, know that I am all for you”… God burns with an intense desire to be united with us but we have to be careful, too, to unite ourselves to God.
The children of Nineveh fasted with a pure fast when Jonah preached repentance to them. For thus it is written: “When they heard the preaching of Jonah they proclaimed a solemn fast and constant supplication, sitting on sackcloth and ashes. They took off their fine clothing and put on sackcloth instead. Infants were denied their mothers’ breasts; pasture, to beasts both small and great,” (cf Jon 3)…
And now here is what is written: “God saw their actions, how they turned from their evil way. Then he turned from them his anger and did not destroy them.” It does not say: “He saw their abstinence from bread and water, with sackcloth and ashes,” but: “how they turned from their evil way and from the wickedness of their works”… This indeed was a pure fast and it was accepted: the fast that the Ninevites fasted when they turned away from their evil ways and the greediness of their hands…
Because, my friend, when you fast, the best fast is always to abstain from wickedness. It is better than abstaining from bread and water, better than… “bowing the head like a reed and lying in sackcloth and ashes,” as Isaiah says (58,5). When, indeed, a man abstains from bread, water or whatever food it may be, if he covers himself with sackcloth and ashes and afflicts himself, he is loved, he is fine and acceptable. But that which is most acceptable is that he humbles himself, that he “releases the chains” of impiety and unties the bonds of deception. Then “his light breaks forth like the dawn and his vindication goes before him. He is like a watered garden; like a spring whose water never fails,” (Is 58, 8ff).
What is the wedding garment that the Gospel talks about? Most certainly, that garment is something that only the good have, those who are to participate in the feast… Could it be the sacraments? Baptism? Without baptism, no one comes to God, but some people receive baptism and do not come to God… Perhaps it is the altar or what a person receives at the altar? But in receiving the Lord’s body, some people eat and drink their own condemnation (1 Cor 11,29). So what is it? Fasting? The wicked also fast. Going to church often? The wicked go to church like the others…
So what is this wedding garment? The apostle Paul tells us: “What we are aiming at… is the love that springs from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.” (1 Tim 1,5) That is the wedding garment. Paul is not talking about just any kind of love, for one can often see dishonest people loving others …, but one does not see among them this love “that springs from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.” Now that is the love that is the wedding garment.
The apostle Paul said: “If I speak with human tongues and angelic as well, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal… If I have the gift of prophecy and, with full knowledge, comprehend all mysteries, if I have faith great enough to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13,1-2) He said that even if he had all that, without Christ “I am nothing.”… How many good things are worthless because one good alone is lacking! If I am without love I may well give away all that I have, confess the name of Christ to the point of shedding my blood (v.3), it would be to no purpose, because I can act in that way for love of glory… “If I have not love, it is of no use.” That is the wedding garment. Examine yourselves: if you have it, then come to the Lord’s banquet with confidence.
Remember the Father’s glory,
Remember the divine splendor
You left in exiling yourself on earth
To redeem all the poor sinners.
O Jesus! Humbling yourself to the Virgin Mary,
You veiled your infinite greatness and glory.
Ah! Your mother’s breast
Was your second heaven,
Remember that on other shores
The golden stars and silver moon
On which I gaze in the cloudless sky
Delighted and charmed your Infant eyes.
With your little hand that caressed Mary
You upheld the world and gave it life,
And you thought of me,
Jesus, my little King,
Remember that you worked in solitude
With your divine hands.
To live forgotten was your sweetest task.
You rejected human learning.
O You who with just one word could charm the world,
You took delight in hiding your profound wisdom.
You seemed unlearned,
O All-powerful Lord!
Remember that you wandered as a Stranger on earth.
You, the Eternal Word,
You had nothing, no, not even a stone,
Not a shelter, like the birds of heaven.
O Jesus! come within me, come rest your Head,
Come, my soul is truly ready to receive you.
My Beloved Savior,
Rest in my heart.
It is Yours.
The weight of our fragility makes us bend towards realities here below; the fire of your love, O Lord, raises us up and bears us towards realities above. We rise there by means of our heart’s impetus, singing the songs of ascent. We burn with your fire, the fire of your goodness, for it is this that transports us.
Where is it that you thus cause us to rise? To the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem. “I rejoiced when I heard them say: Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Ps 122,1). Nothing will bring us to it except the desire to remain there for ever. While we are in the body, we journey towards you. Here below we have no abiding city; we are constantly seeking our home in the city to come (Heb 13,14). May your grace guide me, O Lord, into the depths of my heart, there to sing of your love, my King and my God… And as I remember that heavenly Jerusalem my heart will rise up towards it: to Jerusalem my true homeland, Jerusalem my mother (Gal 4,26). You are its King, its light, its defender, its protector, its pastor; you are its unquenchable joy; your goodness is the source of all its inexpressible blessings… – you, my God and my divine mercy.
“You will see angels ascending and descending above the Son of Man.” They ascend for themselves, they descend for us or, rather, they descend with us. Those blessed spirits ascend by means of the contemplation of God and descend to take care of us and keep us in all our ways (Ps 90,11). They ascend to God so as to enjoy his presence; they descend to us in obedience to his commands for he has commanded them to take care of us. However, in descending to us they are not deprived of the glory that is their happiness; they always see the Father’s face…
When they ascend to the contemplation of God they are seeking that truth by which, desiring, they are filled and which, possessing, they still desire. When they descend, they exercise mercy towards us since they keep us in all our ways. For those blessed spirits are God’s ministers sent to us to come to our aid (cf. Heb 1,14). And in this mission, it is not to God they render service but to us. In this they imitate the humility of the Son of God who did not come to be served but to serve and who lived amongst his disciples as though he had been their servant (Mt 20,28)…
God commanded his angels, not to draw you away from your path but to guard you carefully in it and lead you in God’s paths, those they follow themselves. How can that be, you ask? Certainly, the angels act in all purity, for love alone, but you, held back and chastened by the needs of your condition, at least lower yourself, condescend to your neighbor by giving an example of mercy towards him. Then, still in imitation of the angels, lift up your desire and, with all the fervor of your heart, strive to ascend to eternal truth.
The doors are open for all who sincerely and wholeheartedly return to God; indeed, the Father is most willing to welcome back a truly repentant son or daughter. The result of true repentance, however, is that you do not fall into the same faults again, but utterly uproot from your souls the sins for which you consider yourself worthy of death. When these have been destroyed God will again dwell within you, since Scripture says that for the Father and his angels in heaven the festal joy and gladness at the return of one repentant sinner is great beyond compare (Lk 15,10). That is why the Lord cried out: “It is love that I desire, not sacrifice,” (Hos 6,6; Mt 9,13). “I take no pleasure in the death of a wicked man, but rather in the wicked man’s conversion” (Ez 33,11). “Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be crimson red, they shall be white as wool” (Is 1,18).
Although only God has power to forgive sins and cancel transgressions, the Lord commands us also to forgive our repentant brothers and sisters every day. So if we who are evil know how to give good gifts (Mt 7,11), how much more generous must be “the Father of mercies” (2Cor 1,3), the good Father of all consolation, who is full of compassion and mercy, and whose nature it is to be patient and await our conversion! Genuine conversion, however, means ceasing to sin without any backward glances… By repenting we condemn our past misdeeds and beg forgiveness of the Father, the only one who can in his mercy undo what has been done, and wipe away our past sins with the dew of his Spirit.
Some people draw glory from their knowledge, but the apostle Paul finds supreme knowledge in the cross. “No, he says, I desired to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ crucified” (1Cor 2,2). Is not the cross the fulfilment of the whole law and art of living well? To those who glory in their own power, Paul can answer that he draws matchless power from the cross: “The language of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Cor 1,18). Do you draw glory from the freedom you have gained? Paul draws his from the cross: “Our old self was crucified with him… that we might no longer be in slavery to sin” (Rm 6,6).
Yet others draw their glory from being chosen as members of some famous group or other ; but as for us, through Christ’s cross we are invited to the congregation of heaven. “Reconciling all things, whether those on earth or those in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1,20). And finally, some people glory in the insignia of victory bestowed on the victorious, but the cross is the triumphal standard of Christ’s victory over demons: “He destroyed Principalities and Powers, making a public spectacle of them, leading them away in his triumphal procession” (Col 2,15)…
What is it that the apostle Paul wants to glory in above all else ? In that which can unite him to Christ. What he desires is to be with Christ.
Saint John Chrysostom from Sermon on the word ``cemetery`` and the Cross, for Good Friday, 2; PG 49, 396
Have you seen the wonderful victory? Have you seen the splendid deeds of the Cross? Shall I tell you something still more marvellous? Learn in what way the victory was gained, and you will be even more astonished. For by the very means by which the devil had conquered, by these Christ conquered him; and taking up the weapons with which he had fought, he defeated him. Listen to how it was done. A virgin, a tree and a death were the symbols of our defeat. The virgin was Eve: she had not yet known man; the tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; the death was Adam’s penalty. But behold again a Virgin and a tree and a death, those symbols of defeat, become the symbols of his victory. For in place of Eve there is Mary; in place of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of the Cross; in place of the death of Adam, the death of Christ.
Do you see him defeated by the very things through which he had conquered ? At the foot of the tree the devil overcame Adam; at the foot of the tree Christ vanquished the devil. And that first tree sent men to Hades; this second one calls back even those who had already gone down there. Again, the former tree concealed man already despoiled and stripped; the second tree shows a naked victor on high for all to see…
The Cross did all these wonderful things for us; the Cross is a war memorial erected against the demons, a sword against sin, the sword with which Christ slew the serpent. The Cross is the Father’s will, the glory of the Only-begotten, the Spirit’s exultation, the beauty of the angels, the guardian of the Church. Saint Paul glories in the Cross (Gal 6,14); it is the rampart of the saints, it is the light of the whole world.
God’s mercy quickly allows itself to be moved by this mother’s tears. She is a widow; the suffering or death of her only son have crushed her… It seems to me that this widow, surrounded by a crowd of people, is more than just a simple woman deserving of her young and only son’s resurrection through her tears. She is the image itself of Holy Church who, by her tears, in the midst of the funeral procession and on the brink of the grave gains a restoration to life of the youthful people of the world… For at God’s word the dead are raised (Jn 5,28), they regain their speech and the mother recovers her son. He is called back from the tomb, snatched from the sepulchre.
What is this tomb of yours if not your evil behavior ? Your tomb is lack of faith… Christ sets you free from this sepulchre. If you listen to God’s word you will come out of the tomb. And if your sin is too serious for the tears of your repentance to cleanse it, may the tears of your mother the Church intercede on your behalf. She is, indeed, full of compassion and feels a wholly maternal spiritual sorrow when she sees her children dragged off to death by sin.
The apostle Paul says that there are some who have no knowledge of God (1 Co 15,34). My opinion is that all those who lack knowledge of God are those who refuse to turn to him. I am certain that they refuse because they imagine this kindly disposed God to be harsh and severe, this merciful God to be callous and inflexible, this lovable God to be cruel and oppressive. So it is that wickedness plays false to itself, setting up for itself an image that does not represent God as he truly is.
What are you afraid of, you men of little faith? That he will not pardon your sins? But with his own hands he has nailed them to the cross. That you are used to soft living and your tastes are fastidious? But he knows the clay of which we are made (Gn 2,7). That a prolonged habit of sinning binds you like a chain? But the Lord loosens the shackles of prisoners. Or perhaps that angered by the enormity and frequency of your sins he is slow to extend a helping hand? But where sin abounded, grace became superabundant (Rom 5,20). Are you worried about clothing and food and other bodily necessities so that you hesitate to give up your possessions? But he knows that you need all these things (Mt 6,32). What more can you wish? What else is there to hold you back from the way of salvation? This is what I say: you do not know God, yet you will not believe our words. I should like you to believe those whom experience has taught.
The Church offers all the possibility of following a path of holiness, that is the path of the Christian: she brings us to encounter Jesus Christ in the Sacraments, especially in Confession and in the Eucharist; she communicates the Word of God to us, she lets us live in charity, in the love of God for all. Let us ask ourselves then, will we let ourselves be sanctified? Are we a Church that calls and welcomes sinners with open arms, that gives courage and hope, or are we a Church closed in on herself? Are we a Church where the love of God dwells, where one cares for the other, where one prays for the others?
A final question: what can I, a weak fragile sinner, do? God says to you: do not be afraid of holiness, do not be afraid to aim high, to let yourself be loved and purified by God, do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Let us be infected by the holiness of God. Every Christian is called to sanctity (Vatican II, LG nn. 39-42); and sanctity does not consist especially in doing extraordinary things, but in allowing God to act. It is the meeting of our weakness with the strength of his grace, it is having faith in his action that allows us to live in charity, to do everything with joy and humility, for the glory of God and as a service to our neighbour. There is a celebrated saying by the French writer Léon Bloy, who in the last moments of his life, said: “The only real sadness in life is not becoming a saint”.
“If you knew the gift of God” (Jn 4:10), Jesus says to the Samaritan woman during one of those remarkable conversations which show his great esteem for the dignity of women and for the vocation which enables them to share in his messianic mission… The Church desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the “mystery of woman” and for every woman – for that which constitutes the eternal measure of her feminine dignity, for the “great works of God”, which throughout human history have been accomplished in and through her. After all, was it not in and through her that the greatest event in human history – the incarnation of God himself – was accomplished?
Therefore the Church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to the many human beings who await the gratuitous love of another person; for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a great social responsibility…
The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine “genius” which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God… The Church asks at the same time that these invaluable “manifestations of the Spirit” (cf. 1 Cor 12:4ff)… may be attentively recognized and appreciated so that they may return for the common good of the Church and of humanity.
You have been made a servant of the good God ; an administrator for your fellow servant. Do not imagine that all these fruits were prepared for your own stomach… Imitate the earth, O Man, and let you also bear fruit, as it does, so that you may not be lower than the senseless creation. It nourishes its fruits, not for its own delight, but to serve you. And you, whatever fruits of beneficence you do yield, you gather up for yourself; for the grace of good works and their reward is returned to the giver. Have you given something to a person in need; what you have given becomes yours, and is returned to you with an increase.
And as the wheat that falls to the earth brings increase to the one who has thrown it there, so the bread that you give to the hungry will later bring you a great gain. Therefore, let the end of your earthly tilling be the beginning of your heavenly sowing. “Sow for yourselves in justice” (Hos 10,12). Why then are you anxious? Why do you torment yourself, striving to shut up riches behind bricks and mortar? “A good name is better than many riches” (Prv 22,1).
These men were all ready to work but “no one had hired them”; they were hard workers yet were made lazy through lack of both work and an employer. Then a voice hired them, a word set them going and, in their zeal, they did not fix on a wage for their work beforehand as the first comers had done. The master reckoned up their labours wisely and paid them as much as the others. Our Lord spoke this parable so that no one might say: “Since I was not called in my youth therefore I cannot be accepted.” He has shown that, no matter when they are converted, each one is welcomed… “He went out in the morning, at the third, the sixth, the ninth and the eleventh hour”: this can be understood of the beginning of his preaching and then of the course of his life up to the cross since it was at the “eleventh hour” when the thief entered into Paradise (Lk 23,43). Lest we call the thief to account for it, Our Lord emphasises his good will; if someone had hired him he would have worked: “No one has hired us.”
Whatever we give to God is far from worthy of him and what he gives to us is a great deal more than we are worth. We are hired for a task that matches our strength but offered a wage far greater than our work demands… He acts in the same way to both the first and the last comers: “each one received one gold coin” bearing the King’s image. This signifies the bread of life (Jn 6,35), which is the same for all; there is a single medicine of life for those who take it.
In the labour in the vineyard the master’s goodness is beyond reproach and nothing can be said against his uprightness. In his uprightness he gave as he had agreed and in his goodness he proved himself merciful as he desired to do. It was to teach us this that our Lord spoke this parable and he summed it all up in the words: “Do I not have the right to do what I wish in my own house?”
“Men do not light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket.” Through these words, Jesus again encourages his disciples to lead an irreproachable life by advising them to watch over themselves constantly, because they are placed in the sight of all humankind like athletes in a stadium, who are seen by the whole world (1 Cor 4,9).
He told them: “Don’t say to yourselves: ‘Now we can stay here quietly sitting, we are hidden in a little corner of the world,’ for you will be visible to all humankind, like a city on top of a mountain (Mt 5,14), like a light in the house that has been placed on the lamp stand… I have lit the light of your torch, but it’s up to you to see it is kept going, not just to your personal advantage, but also in the interest of all who will see it and who through it will be led to the truth. The worst wickedness won’t put a shadow over your light if you live with the vigilance of those who are called to bring the whole world to good. So let your life correspond to the holiness of your ministry so that God’s grace may be proclaimed everywhere.”
Rightly indeed does the Virgin Mary, who truly conceived the first born of all, hold first place in the congregation of the just. For Christ is « the firstborn of many brethren » (Rm 8,29)…And so in the divinely inspired scriptures, what is said in general of the Virgin Mother the Church, is said individually of the Virgin Mary; and what is said in the particular case of the Virgin Mother Mary, is rightly understood of the Virgin Mother Church universally; and when mention is made of either, it is to be understood almost indifferently and conjointly of both.
Every faithful soul, spouse of the Word of God, mother, daughter and sister of Christ is understood to be a virgin with her own form of fertility. This is said of the whole Church, more particularly of Mary and individually of the faithful soul by the Wisdom itself of God, the Father’s Word.
Therefore the text continues, “I shall abide in the inheritance of the Lord” (Sir 24,12). The inheritance of the Lord universally is the Church, more particularly Mary, and individually every faithful soul. Christ abode for nine months in the tent of Mary’s womb; he abides until the consummation of the ages in the tent of the Church’s faith; he will abide for ever and ever in the knowledge and love of the faithful soul.
Our mandate is to “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mk 16,15), for “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Rom 8,19). Here, “the creation” refers to every aspect of human life… The Church’s teachings concerning contingent situations are subject to new and further developments and can be open to discussion, yet we cannot help but be concrete… The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being.
It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven. We know that God wants his children to be happy in this world too, even though they are called to fulfilment in eternity, for he has created all things “for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6,17), the enjoyment of everyone. It follows that Christian conversion demands reviewing especially those areas and aspects of life “related to the social order and the pursuit of the common good” (St John Paul II).
Consequently, no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it.
Like Herod, we wish to see Jesus
Love cannot accept not being able to see what it loves. Isn’t it true of all the saints that they gave little value to all they achieved so long as they could not see God?… Thus it was that Moses dared to say: “If I have found favour with you; do let me see your face” (cf. Ex 33,13.18). And the psalmist said: “Show us your face” (Ps 79,4). Isn’t this the reason why the pagans made idols for themselves? In the midst of error they saw with their eyes what they worshipped.
God knew mortals, then, to be tormented by the longing to see him. What he chose to make himself manifest was great upon earth and not the least in heaven. For that which God made like himself upon earth could not remain without honour in heaven: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” he said (Gen 1,26)… Let no one think, then, that God was mistaken in coming to men through a man. He took flesh among us that he might be seen by us.
As his death drew near, the Savior exclaimed: Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son” (Jn 17,1). Christ called the cross ‘glory’. How could he have sought to avoid it at one time when he longed for it at another? That the cross is glory we can learn from the Evangelist, who says: “The Holy Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified” (Jn 7,39), by which he meant that grace had not yet been given because Christ had not yet gone forth to be crucified and so to end the hostility existing between God and the human race. For the cross reconciled us with God, made earth heaven, caused human beings to mingle with angels, destroyed the citadel of death, broke the strength of the devil, freed the world from error, and founded churches. The cross was the will of the Father, the glory of the Son, the joy of the Holy Spirit. It was the boast of Paul, who said: “Let me boast of nothing except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6,14).
I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spiced tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of Cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgement hour;
The service of the Seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star-lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, his might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all who love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation;
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
…Made man for love of men
He made a gift to the souls he has chosen
Of his human life in its fullness.
He who formed each human heart
Desires to make known one day
The secret meaning of each one’s being
By means of a new name that only the one who receives it understands (Rv 2,17).
He has united each chosen soul
In a mysterious and unique way.
Drawing from the fullness of his human life,
He makes a gift to us
Of the cross.
What is the cross ?
It is the sign of greatest shame.
Whoever comes into contact with it
Is rejected from among men.
People who acclaimed him before
Turn away from him with dread and know him no longer.
He has been handed over, defenceless, to his enemies.
Nothing remains for him on earth any more
Except suffering, anguish and death.
What is the cross ?
The sign pointing to heaven.
Far above the dust and mists here below
It reaches up high into pure light.
Therefore abandon what men may take away,
Open your hands, lean against the cross:
Then it will carry you
Into eternal light.
Raise your eyes to the cross :
It stretches out its wooden beams
Like a man opening wide his arms
To receive the whole world.
Come, all you who toil beneath the weight of the burden (Mt 11,28)
And you who have nothing but a cry, on the cross with him.
It is the image of the God who, being crucified, becomes pale.
It rises up from earth to heaven
Like the One who rose heavenward
And desires to bear all of us there together with himself.
Only embrace the cross and you possess him
Who is the Way, the Truth, the Life (Jn 14,6).
If you carry your cross, it will carry you;
It will be your bliss.