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PRACTICE DURING CHRISTMAS.
The time has now come for the faithful soul to reap the fruit of the efforts she made, (during the penitential weeks of Advent,) to prepare a dwelling-place for the Son of God, who desires to be born within her. The Nuptials of the Lamb are come, and his Spouse hath prepared herself.1 Now, the Spouse is the Church; the Spouse is, also, every faithful soul. Our Lord gives his whole self to the whole flock, and to each sheep of the flock, with as much love as though he loved but that one. What garments shall we put on, to go and meet the Bridegroom? Where shall we find the pearls and jewels, wherewith to deck our soul for this happy meeting? Our holy Mother the Church will tell us all this in her Liturgy. Our best plan for spending Christmas, is, undoubtedly, to keep close to her, and do what she does; for she is most dear to God, and, being our Mother, we ought to obey all her injunctions.
But, before we speak of the mystic Coming of the Incarnate Word into our souls; before we tell the secrets of that sublime familiarity between the Creator and the Creature; let us, first, learn from the Church the duties, which human nature, and each of our souls, owe to the Divine Infant, whom the Heavens have at length given to us as the refreshing Dew we asked them to rain down upon our earth. During Advent, we united with the Saints of the Old Law, in praying for the coming of the
1 Apoc. xix. 7.
Messias, our Redeemer; now that he is come, let us consider what is the homage we must pay him.
The Church offers to the Infant-God, during this holy season, the tribute of her profound adoration, the enthusiasm of her exceeding joy, the return of her unbounded gratitude, and the fondness of her intense love. These four offerings, adoration, joy, gratitude, and love, must be also those of every Christian to his Jesus, his Emmanuel, the Babe of Bethlehem. The prayers of the Liturgy will express all four sentiments, in a way that no other Devotions could do. But, the better to appropriate to ourselves these admirable formulae of the Church, let us understand thoroughly the nature of each of these four sentiments.
The first of our duties at our Saviour's Crib, is Adoration. Adoration is Religion's first act; but, there is something in the Mystery of our Lord's Birth, which seems to make this duty doubly necessary. In heaven, the Angels veil their faces, and prostrate themselves before the throne of Jehovah; the Four-and-Twenty Elders are for ever casting their crowns before the throne1 of the Lamb; what, then, shall we do—we who are sinners, and unworthy members of the Tribe of the Redeemer—now, that this same great God shows himself to us, humbled, for our sakes, and stript of all his glory? now, that the duties of the creature to his Creator are fulfilled by the Creator himself? now, that the eternal God bows down, not only before the Sovereign Majesty of the Godhead, but even before sinful man, his creature?
Let us endeavour to make, by our profound adorations, some return to the God who thus humbles himself for us; let us thus give him back some little of that, of which he has deprived himself out of love
1 Apoo. iv. 10.
for us, and in obedience to the will of his Father. It is incumbent on us, to emulate, as far as possible, the sentiments of the Angels in heaven, and never to approach the Divine Infant, without bringing with us the incense of our soul's adoration, the protestation of our own extreme unworthiness, and, lastly, the homage of our whole being. All this is due to the infinite Majesty of the Babe of Bethlehem, who is the more worthy of every tribute we can pay him, because he has made himself thus little for our sakes. Unhappy we, if the apparent weakness of the Divine Child, or the familiarity wherewith he is ready to caress us, should make us negligent in this our first duty, or forget what He is, and what we are!
The example of his Blessed Mother will teach us to be thus humble. Mary was humble in the presence of her God, even before she became his Mother; but, once his Mother, she comported herself before Him who was her God and her Child, with greater humility than ever. We, too, poor sinners, sinners so long and so often, we must adore, with all the power of our soul, Him, who has come down so low: we must study to find out how to make him amends, by our self-humiliation, for this Crib, these swathing-bands, this eclipse of his glory. And yet, all our humiliations will never bring us so low, as that we shall be on a level with His lowliness. No; only God could reach the humiliations of God.
But our Mother, the Church, does not only offer to the Infant-God the tribute of her profound adoration. The mystery of the Emmanuel, that is, of God with us, is to her a source of singular joy. Look at her sublime Canticles for this holy Season, and you will find the two sentiments admirably blended—her deep reverence for her God, and her glad joy at his Birth. Joy! did not the very Angels come down and urge her to it! She therefore studies to imitate the blithe Shepherds, who ran for joy to Bethlehem,1 and the glad Magi, who were well-nigh out of themselves with delight, when, on quitting Jerusalem, the star again appeared and led them to the Cave where the Child was.2 Joy at Christmas is a Christian instinct, which originated those many Carols, which, like so many other beautiful traditions of the ages of Faith, are unfortunately dying out amongst us ; but which Rome still encourages, gladly welcoming each year those rude musicians, the Pifferari, who come down from the Apennines, and make the streets of the Eternal City re-echo with their shrill melodies.
Come, then, faithful Children of the Church, let us take our share in h er j oy! This is not the season for sighing or for weeping. For unto us a Child is born !3 He, for whom we have been so long waiting is come ; and he is come to dwell amongst us.* Great, indeed, and long was our suspense; so much the more let us love our possessing him. The day will too soon come when this Child, now born to us, will be the Man of Sorrows,5 and then we will compassionate him;—but, at present, we must rejoice and be glad at his coming, and sing round his Crib, with the Angels. Heaven sends us a present of its own joy: we need joy, and Forty Days are not too many for us to get it well into our hearts. The Scripture tells us, that a secure mind is like a continual feast,6 and a secure mind can only be where there is peace; now, it is Peace, which these blessed days bring to the earth; Peace, say the Angels, to men of good will!
Intimately and inseparably united with this exquisite mystic joy, is the sentiment of gratitude. Gratitude is indeed due to Him, who, neither de
1 St. Luke, ii. 16. s Is. ix. 6. 5 Is. liii. 3.
1 St. Matth. ii 10. * St. John, i. 14. « Prov. xv. 15.
terred by our unworthiness, nor restrained by the infinite respect which becomes his sovereign Majesty, deigned to be born of his own creature, and have a stable for his birth-place. Oh! how vehemently must he not have desired to advance the work of our salvation, to remove everything which could make us afraid of approaching him, and to encourage us, by his own example, to return, by the path of humility, to the heaven we had strayed from by pride!
Gratefully, therefore, let us receive the precious gift—this Divine Babe, our Deliverer. He is the Only Begotten Son of the Father, that Father who hath so loved the world, as to give his Only Son.1 He, the Son, unreservedly ratifies his Father's will, and comesto offer himself because it is his own will.2 How, as the Apostle expresses it, hath not the Father, with Him, given us all things f 0 gift inestimable! How shall we be able to repay it by suitable gratitude, we who are so poor, as not to know how to appreciate it? God alone, and the Divine Infant in his Crib, know the value of the mystery of Bethlehem, which is given to us.
Shall our debt, then, never be paid 1 Not so: we can pay it by love, which though finite, gives itself without measure, and may grow for ever in intensity. For this reason, the Church, after she has offered her adorations, and hymns, and gratitude, to her Infant Saviour, gives him also her tenderest Love. She says to him: "How beautiful "art thou, my Beloved One, and how comely /* How "sweet to me is thy rising, 0 Divine Sun of Justice! "How my heart glows in the warmth of thy beams! "Nay, dearest Jesus, the means thou usest for gain"ing me over to thyself, are irresistible—the feeble