04 Dec The Second Sunday in Advent
The Second Sunday in Advent
“Art thou he that art to come, or do we look for another?”–Matt. 11, 3.
Today is Second Sunday of Advent. A Person roused from sound slumber whilst darkness still envelops the earth, is unable to say what hour it is of the night. But if his wandering gaze discover through the casement the rosy tinge of early dawn, he knows well that day is at hand. And if the rays of the sun fall upon his couch, and brightness fill the chamber, he pauses not to ask: Art thou the sun, or shall we wait for another? It is day!
Day dawns for the soul when Christ approaches; Holy Writ calls Him “the Sun.” He Himself says that He is “the Light of the World.” Let us consider today this office of Jesus Christ as the Sun and the Light of the world in connection with a threefold night and a threefold day. The threefold night to which I refer is: the night of sin the night of death and the night of the grave. He who changes this night into day is:
Christ, the Sun–on the day of conversion–at the hour of death and on the day of judgment.
When Christ, the Sun, shines and diffuses His light in this threefold night, then the soul that loves Him does not ask: Is it Thou? but she exultingly cries: It is Thou!
Mary, thou Dawn of Morning on the firmament of salvation, pray for us, that the light of day illumine our souls, through Jesus Christ our Lord! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
Sin is a state of spiritual night. The sinner lives in darkness, and his deeds are deeds of darkness. But as soon as a true conversion of heart opens the way for Jesus into the benighted soul, the shadows of spiritual darkness vanish, and light diffuses there its glowing splendor. It suddenly becomes day; the soul begins to know herself, to understand the wretchedness of her former existence, and to see what is meant by a change of heart, a permanent one, such as the Lord demands of her.
She can hardly conceive how it was possible that she, a child of the Church, in the midst of a flood of light, could live in such blindness; how it was possible that, having been instructed in the faith from her youth, and having it before her eyes in its eternal greatness, she looked upon it as a thing of no consequence, and esteemed it so little. How is it possible that she lived without fear in so many and so great dangers–yes, even sought temptations and dallied with them–that professing a belief in hell, she continued to live in sin, not concerned, that at any moment, by a sudden death, she might sink into the eternal flames of hell, if God withdrew His merciful hand?
The meaning of the words of Christ: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his soul,” becomes all at once clear to the repenting sin ner; he sees how vain is all striving and seeking after fortune, honor, and pleasure, with which the children of the world endeavor to satisfy the cravings of their hearts.
The scales fall from his eyes. He determines to follow Christ and to tread the path that leads to salvation. He looks upon his model and hears His assurance: “It is I!” Yea, it is He. It was He alone, the Light of the world, who could awaken and enlighten a soul that had slept and dreamed so many years in the night and darkness of sin.
Jesus, it is Thou! I follow Thee! What man, who after having led the life of a sinner, and become truly converted to God, will not acknowledge the truth of my words?
But now, Christian, put the question to yourself: Are you truly converted? Have you not lived, perhaps for many a long year, in the state of sin? Have you, blinded by the allurements and false light of this world, forgotten heaven for earth, and with the eternal truths of the Gospel ringing in your ears, been solicitous only to enjoy the goods, honors, and pleasures of this life? Happy are you, indeed, if day has already dawned on you! In gratitude for this priceless gift of conversion, walk henceforward as a child of light and practise, with redoubled zeal, the works of grace. Preserve yourself from all dangers of a relapse, for, the night into which you would then sink would be still darker and more baneful, as Christ himself warns you: “The last state shall be worse than the first.” Experience teaches us the truth of these words in regard to relapsing sinners.
The second night which Christ, the resplendent Sun of the world, changes into noon-day, is the sad night of death.
Good reason have we to speak of that night. The dying do not see though their eyes are open; their pupils do not move, even though the light falls upon them. Thus veiled with the darkness of night is also the eye of their mind. They do not know all that the word “dying” implies, nor what follows that dread ordeal; horrible darkness and fearful gloom encompass them.
But how the night changes into day when Christ comes! Even the sinner then sees his soul by an unwonted light. The deeper the shadows of death gather on his mortal eyes, the clearer he recognizes the vanities of the world, the folly of his life, the thoughtlessness and frivolity with which he has wasted the precious hours. He sees now better than ever before the greatness and multitude of his sins. Christ approaches, daylight breaks upon his soul but only to reveal the horror of his state.
How differently does Christ, the Sun, brighten the night of death for the just, whose light He has been upon the path of life. Listen to what is told of the death of a saintly hermit.
As he lay upon his death-bed, surrounded by a number of other hermits who wished to witness his happy release, his face suddenly shone with a strange light, and he said softly: “Behold the choir of Patriarchs comes to meet me.” After a little while he spoke again: “Behold the choir of Prophets comes,” and a still brighter light rested on his countenance. Not long after he said with tremulous joy: “The Apostles of Christ are here, and wish to take me with them.” When he again moved his lips, and they asked him to whom he was speaking, he replied: “The angels are here and invite me to go with them; but I have begged them to leave me a little longer here below that I may do penance.” One of the elder hermits said to him: “Holy father, you need do no more penance.” And lo! the face of the dying man beamed still brighter, and saying exultingly: “Behold, Christ comes!” he gave up his soul unto the Lord at the dawn of eternal day.
Yes, if Christ during our life has been the Sun in whose light we have been walking, then He will also change the night of our death into a day of consolation.
The third night is the night of the grave. A well- known Easter hymn says:
“Short is for me the dismal night,
Until the angel calls: ‘T is light!”
That the stillness of the grave resembles the night, needs no illustration, nor that day everlasting dawns when the trumpet of the angel sounds, and Christ, the Sun, appears as our Judge, and a supernatural light illuminates the book of conscience of angels and of men.
But how different on that day is the effect of that light! “Ye mountains! fall upon us, and ye hills, cover us! “Thus at the left of the judgment-seat of Christ, the all-knowing Judge, the reprobate will cry in shame and despair.
But what happiness will fill the just at His right hand, when their virtues and their victories are revealed to the whole world, and they enter with the children of God into the kingdom of eternal reward, that kingdom, whose day knows no evening, and where Christ, the Sun, shines in everlasting glory! Amen!
“Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen.”–Matt. 11, 4.
By the fall of Adam the whole human family lost its right to heaven, the end and aim of that supernatural life to which we had been raised in the person of our head. But in the designs of God we were all to be redeemed through the merits of the Word made flesh, and have all our sins forgiven, yea, all our sins. Not only were we supplied with a remedy against original sin in the laver of baptism, but we were also put in a condition to have subsequent actual sins blotted out through the merits of our Saviour, if we would but return to God, and use the means that Christ left in charge of His Church for the remission of sin. Whoever departs from this life in the state of sanctifying grace, which is always bestowed when sins are forgiven, enters heaven a fully redeemed soul.
It is a great pity that few preserve the grace of baptism till the end of their lives, and a still greater pity that many, who have had the misfortune to offend God by personal sin after baptism, do not receive the Sacrament of penance worthily. Their reconciliation with God is only a deception. They confess, and remain what they were before confession–sinners. They promise with their mouths, but how soon after confession one could ask: Is it you, who was lately converted? The promise of a reform made to the minister of Christ in the confessional was only self-delusion. Your confession has not healed your soul, it was only a new sacrilege.
The question is, therefore: What is the surest sign of a good confession, and of a true reconciliation with God? I reply: The words of Christ in today's Gospel point it out: “Relate to John: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again.”
Let us, therefore, consider the spiritual significance of these miracles as tokens and evidences of a true conversion and reconciliation with God.
Mary, Mother of mercy, refuge of sinners, pray that God may grant us the grace of a worthy confession, and that by our reformed life we may prove our reconciliation to God! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
Relate to John: “The blind see” The sinner passes his days in blindness. Christ on the cross prayed for sinners, saying: “Father, they know not what they do.” This is the case, especially, of the Christian sinner. He becomes blind. He believes all that faith teaches him concerning his end and destiny and the path of salvation; about the horror of sin, the dangers of delay, the last judgment, and the eternal consequences of sin and still he is, in effect, blind to these truths. He gazes upon them all with the eyes of his mind, but they have no influence on him; it is as if he saw them not at all. But how different it is when, by a true conversion to God, the scales fall from his eyes! Then how distinctly he sees all these truths in their eternal grandeur! He can not understand how the transparent wiles of Satan could so delude him that, with faith in his heart, he yet lived year after year in sin.
Now he sees the presumption and folly of his sinful life. Now he sees the path of salvation clearly, and understands what he has to do to save his soul and live a life pleasing to God. The blind–they see!
Is that the case with you, converted sinner? If so, thank God; you have made a worthy confession.
Relate to John: “The deaf hear.” God continually calls on the sinner to do penance and reform. He admonishes him by His own word, and by the exhortation and example of his brethren. He reproves and warns him by accidents, by death, by misfortunes of various kinds, and by interior enlightenment and inspiration. But the sinner, clinging to his passions, remains deaf. All these admonitions reach the ear of his mind to as little purpose as if he did not hear them at all. Let a preacher or confessor speak to him ever so impressively, the words do not enter his heart.
How different, on the contrary, are the feelings of him who at last opens his heart to the call of grace urging him to conversion and penitence! The exhortation of the priest finds a ready entrance to his soul; he heeds the admonition and advice of the minister of God.
Now he who formerly was deaf to the thunder of the divine threats, becomes conscious of the soft voice of heavenly inspirations which invite him to purchase back by zeal in the practice of virtue that time, which he lost and wasted by his former sinful life. The deaf hear!
Converted sinner! is that your case? Have you been deaf? Have you confessed and opened the ear of your heart? Do you now hear the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, who invites you to perfect yourself in Christian justice? You hear? Thank God that you have confessed worthily.
Relate to John: “The lame walk” The sinner, who confesses either from habit or because he has no choice in the matter remains lame.
His confessor, no doubt, instructs him on the means which he must employ not to offend God and to grow daily in virtue; the sinner, however, not really anxious to be converted, listens, promises to fulfill the duties of his station as a zealous Christian but does not fulfill his promise. After confession he does not say his morning or evening prayers more frequently; he neglects, as before, to hear mass; he does not receive the holy Sacraments oftener than formerly; he does not have an eye to the conduct of his children, or of those whom God has placed in his charge. He remains lame!
But how differently does he live who has been truly converted! He commences an entirely different life, and becomes an example to others by the solicitude he evinces to save his soul. The lame walk!
Converted sinner! is that your case? Have you been lame, and can you now after your confession say: “The charity of Christ presseth me?” (2 Cor. 5, 14). Can you now affirm: Lord, since I have made peace with Thee, “I have gone the ways of Thy law.” If so, give thanks to God; thou hast, without doubt, made a worthy confession.
Relate to John: “The dead rise again, the lepers are cleansed, the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Were you spiritually dead through mortal sin? Have you arisen? Have you never since you made a general confession grievously offended God? Has it really been your earnest endeavor to preserve yourself from the stains of venial sins? Are you cleansed from the leprosy of entirely voluntary imperfections? And you, who in bygone days gave scandal through your sinful conduct, are you now the good odor of the Lord, to the edification of all those around you? and do you endeavor to convert and sanctify them?–Give thanks to God for, you have confessed worthily.
We can, with right, apply the words of David to such a conversion: “This is the change of the right hand of the Most High” (Ps. 76, 11). These effects are moral miracles, not less wonderful than the sudden healing of bodily diseases. Rather they are still more admirable. St. Augustine is right when he says, that the conversion of a sinner is a greater miracle than that recorded in Genesis: “God said: Let there be light! and there was light.”
Nothingness could not oppose Omnipotence. The will of man could, for God made him free. In the creation of the world the will of God alone acted, but in the conversion of a sinner it is necessary that a human will co-operate. This becomes still clearer when we compare, as we have done, the cure of physical and spiritual blindness, deafness and lameness.
It is for this reason that, after a conversion, we hear people say: I never should have believed that this person would be converted; it is a miracle! And so it is. These miracles are the fruits of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and will bear testimony to the divinity of His mission until the end of time. Amen !
As today's Gospel testifies, Christ was asked a question: “Art thou He?” But He, in turn, put questions to His interlocutors, His first question being: “What went you out to see? A reed shaken with the wind?”
A reed is, as the words of Christ Himself imply, the emblem of inconstancy and thoughtlessness. How important this question of Christ is to each of us! The answer which Christ sent by the disciples of John to their master signified, that He was really the promised Messiah, who had come to save mankind. Now, what can be the principal cause that the fruit of His redemption is lost even to many who, cleansed from their sins in baptism, have become children of the Church; or to those who, having sinned as children of the Church, have regained the state of sanctifying grace?
I answer: Man's instability of purpose and faithlessness in keeping his promises. There are in this regard, especially, four different classes of moral reeds. What these are is the question which I shall answer today.
O Mary, thou who didst stand under the Cross, and didst crush the serpent's head; brave woman, whom the Holy Ghost called blessed, obtain for us the constancy of true children of God! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God !
The Gospel narrative of today exemplifies, in the many questions recorded, a remarkable trait of our nature. Man is instinctively given to questioning, and to seek for information, even concerning things that have for him no special interest. Children exhibit this propensity in a wonderful degree. No sooner do they commence to talk than the process of questioning is begun: “Father–mother, what is that? For what is this used?” How often have you yourself, from the days of your childhood, interrogated others? There is only one question man seldom asks himself with due earnestness, and it is the most momentous of all, namely: “Who am I? How do I live? What will become of me?”
Men often reach an advanced age, say of seventy or eighty years; they have, in the course of their lives, asked numberless questions; they have become learned men, renowned politicians, great statesmen, influential merchants, and yet leave this world without having ever put to themselves that important question: Who am I?
A Christian, especially, should ask himself over and over again: In what state is my soul? Am I, perhaps, a reed? Am I constant in the service of God?
As I said before, thoughtlessness and inconstancy are the cause why so many of those who once lived in the state of grace have abandoned the path of salvation, and are lost. An emblem of this was the reed with which Christ, scourged and crowned with thorns, appeared before the people on Good Friday. Had not this same people who then filled the air with shouts of: “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” gone out six days before to meet Him, crying: “Hosanna! blessed is He who cometh!”
Should any one ask me: In comparing to reeds the different characters of men and their way of living, how many classes might be enumerated? I would answer: There are chiefly four: the impenitent–the relapsing–the light-minded–the despondent. To all of these the words of the Wise Man are addressed: “Winnow not with every wind, and go not into every way” (Eccles. 5, 11).
I say that the first class of these reeds is composed of impenitent sinners. Even these are sometimes moved. They feel the need of conversion, particularly when a death among their relations or friends occurs, or when they themselves are dangerously ill, or when they see their companions in sin awakened by the grace of God and converted.
If they still visit the church, they are sometimes moved by a powerful sermon. Perhaps, even at this moment, such reeds are before me; they are resolving within themselves, to change their sinful life; and yet, they scarcely will have left the church, when another wind will blow, and then, instead of finishing their conversion by a thorough confession, they will allow themselves to be deluded by their companions, and will commit, even today, another mortal sin.
Impenitent sinner! you who are here before my eyes! lay your hand upon your heart and ask yourself whether I am right. Have you not more than once said to yourself: I will change my life, else I am lost for all eternity? You were, perhaps, already half-way to the church. Yes, many a one even stands before the confessional, but, losing patience at waiting so long, he leaves the church, postpones his confession, and remains, what he was–a sinner!
The wind that turns this reed, is the wind of a worldly spirit, pressure of business, the example of others, the society of his equals, the thought: I will do it later, I am young yet, a man can always be converted. He does not think of the continually growing power of passion, that sins have their measure, that God can forsake us and withdraw grace from us. He hopes to live for a long time yet, and lo! suddenly death breaks the reed; the sinner dies and is lost.
The second class of reeds are the relapsing sinners. The sinner, we suppose, carries into effect his resolution– he goes to confession–he confesses worthily and is reconciled to God. But how fares it with his constancy? Alas! numberless are the relapsing sin ners! How few Christians would be lost if, after confession, they did not fall again into mortal sin! The wind that turns these reeds, is the wind of temptations and of occasions to commit sin, which they do not avoid because they think themselves strong. It is carelessness in resisting temptation at the very first moment, and in not making use of the armor which the Apostle recommends in order that we may conquer in the struggle against the enemies of salvation: the world, the flesh and hell.
Christ, as a warning to these reeds, said: “The evil spirit compelled to leave one dwelling, retires into the wilderness.” This means: he leaves the sinner for a short time in peace; for he knows that the sinner, in his new zeal, would withstand every temptation. But after a time he returns, bringing along seven worse spirits than himself, and endeavors to find an entrance into his former dwelling; and should he succeed, then is the last state worse than the first.
The third class of reeds are the light-minded, who, though they take good care not to commit mortal sin, are full of good intentions; yes, they are even determined to walk in the path of sanctity, but remain nevertheless the same imperfect beings, soiled with number less voluntary venial sins.
In fact, instead of going onward, they retrograde in the path of sanctity and become more and more negligent. The wind that turns these reeds, is the wind of carelessness and imprudence, especially in their intercourse with people? who are animated more by the spirit of the world than the spirit of piety–the wind of frivolity, which makes them shorten and slur over their prayers, neglect the frequent reception of the sacraments, immerse their whole souls in worldly interests, and rush heedlessly into amusement and dissipation.
The fourth class of reeds are the despondent, who, from want of trust in God, make resolutions only to break them. The wind which turn these reeds hither and thither are the numberless scruples and doubts with which the evil spirit tortures and deludes them. Such reeds are also in danger of being broken by the pressure of despair.
God grant us grace that we may not belong to any of these reeds, but may walk before the Lord with the determination and faithfulness of St. John! Amen! (1)
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
|The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, xv. 4-13.|
|Brethren: What things soever were written, were written for our learning: that through patience and the comfort of the scriptures, we might have hope. Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of one mind one towards another, according to Jesus Christ: that with one mind, and with one mouth, you may glorify God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive one another, as Christ also hath received you unto the honour of God. For I say that Christ Jesus was minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers. But that the Gentiles are to glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: Therefore will I confess to thee, O Lord, among the Gentiles, and will sing to thy name. And again He saith: Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again: Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and magnify Him, all ye people. 2 And again Isaias saith: There shall be a root of Jesse; and He that shall rise up to rule the Gentiles, in him the Gentiles shall hope. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing; that you may abound in hope, and in the power of the Holy Ghost. (2)|
Image: Archdiocese of Milwaukie (4)
Research by Ed Masters