During Advent, Holy Communion prepared the soul for the visible Coming of her heavenly Spouse. He graciously granted her that sublime favour, as a foretaste of that happy Night in which he would show himself to her as the Divine Babe, whose ineffable loveliness would ravish Angels, Shepherds, and Kings. She enjoyed something of that exquisite delight which Mary felt, when she had within her chaste womb the God who was her Child, though as yet concealed from her sight.
But now that Christmas is come; now that a little Child is born unto us, cradled in the House of Bread, which is Bethlehem; now that the Angels have invited the Shepherds, and the Star the Magi, to come and see Him and adore Him; the Holy Communion must take us on further in the knowledge of our Incarnate Word, illumine us with brighter Light, and produce within us a more ardent longing to possess this Jesus, whose love and loveliness gleam so magnificently through the humility of these swathing-bands and manger.
It is no longer the invisible Jesus, preparing, by silence and stillness, for the laborious mission of his conquest of souls: it is the Deliverer of mankind who has begun
to run the way [Ps. xviii. 6]; it is the Sun of Justice darting his first rays on our earth; it is our God, asking us to give him, a weak Babe, room in our hearts; it is our Creator,
who loveth souls [Wisd. xi. 27], striving to win our love,
Then let us go to him, that we may know him; let us know him, that we may love him; let us love him, that we may grow like him. What he demands of us by this Christmas mystery is that we become, like him,
children, for there is now no other means of our possessing him, no other way of going to the Father. Therefore
come to him, ye faithful ones, and be enlightened! [Ps. xxxiii.
6]. We have ventured to draw up these Acts, thinking that they might assist you in your preparation for the visit you are going to make to the Babe of Bethlehem. May you derive profit from them, and pray for him who gives you them.
Thou art about to descend into my breast, O eternal God! and yet there is nothing to betoken the approach of thy sovereign Majesty! As on the sacred night of thy birth, thy entrance into Bethlehem was in humility and in silence; so also now, there is nothing to tell men that thou art about to visit me. A Little Child, veiled under the appearance of an humble host, is coming to me, and in a few moments I shall hold within me him who created all things, the Judge of the living and the dead! Oh! how I love to bow down my reason before this wonderful Mystery! How I love, too, to contemplate these incomprehensible abasements of my God, to which he has humbled himself in order that he might exalt me! No, Reason could never have taught me all this! How could Reason tell me what the infinite love of God for his creatures can do, when she cannot even make me see my own nothingness and sinfulness, into which, thou, dear Jesus, art now coming? O Infant God: I believe in thy love, and thy love is omnipotent. I come to thee with a simple Faith, as the Shepherds went to Bethlehem when the Angel spoke these words to them: There is born unto you in the City of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord: and this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the Infant wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and laid in a crib [St Luke ii 11,12.]: they went without delay, and found thee, and believed. I would do in like manner, O my Saviour! The sacramental veils which cover thee are to me what thy infancy, thy swathing-bands, thy crib were to them: and I believe thee to be here really present. Accept this homage of my firm Faith, and receive me as one of those humble Shepherds, whose simple-heartedness merited for them the first place at the feast of Bethlehem.
But, sweet Saviour! these Shepherds of Bethlehem had another offering besides the simplicity of their Faith, which made them pleasing to thee: it was the humility of their hearts. Thou lovest the humble, O my God! and therefore thou didst prefer these humble men to all the rest of mankind, giving them the grand honour of being the first Worshippers at thy Crib. The humility of Mary drew thee from heaven into her chaste womb; and the humility of these fortunate herdsmen made thee call them to be the first to form, with Mary, Joseph and the Angels, thy court in this humble Stable, which thy adorable presence has converted into a very paradise. In this thou givest an important lesson to me, who am to be favoured as they were, nay, who am about to receive thee within myself. Spare me not, my beloved Jesus; bring down the haughtiness of my spirit; destroy the conceited ambitions of my heart; cast me down at the foot of thy Crib, and suffer me not to rise again until I have become one of those little Children whom thou so lovest, that thou thyself wouldst be one; so the better to come down even so low as to me. It is as a weak Babe that thou comest to me, O infinite God! What can I do, but be confounded, and sink into my deep nothingness, I who have never known the humility and simplicity of a child! In thy divine humility thou wouldst not be born in any other place than a Stable and a Crib; my heart, then, will satisfy thee, dear Jesus! and Bethlehem itself, compared with me, had not a poverty so worthy of that Majesty which loves to descend to what is lowest, and of that Light which glories in shining where the darkness is thickest.
And yet, O God of holiness! the Stable and the Crib, though most unworthy of thy Majesty, had nothing in them which could give thee displeasure. No place, no object in thy whole creation, could be worthy to serve thee as throne or palace; but since thou wouldst have a birth-place on this earth, the happy spot on which thy choice would fall would become, however contemptible in itself, a sanctuary worthy of thee, because thy greatness and divinity would consecrate and enrich it. There is but one place unworthy of thee, which thou couldst never choose: the heart of a sinner. Oh! that is the Stable, that is the Crib which would indeed dishonour thee. Ah! my dear Jesus! there are certain consequences, there are certain wounds scarce yet closed, left in me by past sins, which force me to remember that I was once a dwelling wherein thou couldst not enter, until thy merciful grace had removed from me the abominations of my sins. Miserable state! how I now grieve over it and detest it! Now that I see thee become, for my sake, the humble and lovely babe of Bethlehem, how hateful those sins of mine, which needed such a remedy! and how immense that love of thine, which could deign to give it me! There surely can be no more sin, dearest Lord! Give me thy grace to destroy it within me, and root it up to its last fibre. I do not forget those words of thine: Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God [St Matt. v 8]; this is the moment for me to come near thy Crib, and do far more than see thee; cleanse, then, my heart, and let neither sin nor attachment to sin ever enter there again.
Such is the prayer of my contrite heart: wilt thou, my Infant God, reject it? The Church, my mother, has led me to Bethlehem; there I see thee in thy Crib leaning forward towards me, and looking on me with sweetness, and bidding me rejoice, for that thou hast pardoned me, O God of infinite mercy! and forgotten my sins. A contrite heart which sues for mercy is not all thou askest of me, nor all that I wish to offer thee: accept, then, my love. Is not this mystery of thy divine Childhood a mystery of Love? Thou comest to me because thou lovest me; but thou comest to me as a little Infant, because thou wishest me to love thee in return, and have confidence in thee. I do indeed desire to love thee, sweet Saviour! but where shall I find a love worthy of being a return for thine, which is so generous, so immense, and what I can least understand, so tender? for it is the love of an Infant God, who treats me, a sinner, as a much-loved Brother. Yet I must say it, my sweetest Jesus! for thy Crib and thy Swathing-bands, the magnificent trophies of thy unmatched love, encourage me to say it: I love thee! I come to thee that I may love thee better. I no longer wish to flee from thee: thou desirest to be united to me by love, nor will I cease to sigh after thee, until I have received thee into my heart, and am made one with thee, according to thy word: He that eateth my Flesh abideth in me, and I in him [St John vi 57]. O my Jesus! inflame my heart and make it like that of the Shepherds, when they came near to the Stable where thou wast born; like that of the Magi, when the Star stood over Bethlehem, the House of Bread, and showed them that their journeying was at an end; like that of the venerable Simeon, when he saw the Christ of the Lord in Mary’s arms, and all the promises fulfilled which he had received from the Holy Ghost. I offer thee the love of these and all thy Saints, of thy Holy Angels, and of thy Blessed Mother herself: let it supply the poverty of my own love, and deign, I beseech thee, to enrich me, by this thy visit, with the gold of divine charity.
I love thee, O Divine Babe! therefore do I desire thee, and beseech thee to come to me. I must needs desire thee, for thou art, as thy Scripture tells me, The Desire of the everlasting hills [Gen. xlix 26]. And art thou not Light and Life? Oh! come then, Divine Sun of Justice, enlighten my darkness, and give life to my soul, which faints without thee. The nations of the earth awaited thee as their Deliverer. The Church, thy Spouse, languished with longings for thy visit. Abraham and all the Patriarchs desired to see thy day. Joseph, the Spouse of Mary, is filled with joy at the approach of that blissful hour when his eyes shall see the Son of the Eternal God. The Shepherds are impatient to behold thee: let us go over to Bethlehem, they say, and let us see this Word which is come to pass, which the Lord hath showed to us. The Magi no sooner see the Star, than they set out to seek thee, the Star of Jacob [Num. xxiv 17]. The aged Simeon is filled with the Holy Ghost, and hastens to the Temple to see the Saviour whom the Lord hath prepared. Anna, the Prophetess, is impelled by a holy enthusiasm, though weighed down with years, to come and see him who is the Consolation of Israel. All creation is excited: the very Angels leave heaven to come to see thee in thy Crib and thy Swaddling-clothes, and seeing thee to adore. Shall I alone be indifferent? Let it not be, my dearest Lord! but rather let my heart long for thee, if not with a like ardour, at least with all its affection. I beseech thee therefore, come into my soul! I offer thee all the prayers and inflamed desires of all thy Saints; and with, theirs my own, poor and weak as they are. Yea, come to me; enter into my house; let my heart meet thee; nay, let it he united with thee.
O Mary! Virgin-Mother of the Messias! help me by thy prayers to love him as thou didst, that is, with my whole strength: and lead me to Bethlehem, of which thou art Queen. Ye holy Angels! suffer me to stand, in your glorious choir near the Crib of our God; fit me by your heavenly influence to share in your adorations, and under the shadow of your sacred wings to hide the tatters of my spiritual poverty. All ye Saints of God! by the delights ye found in the mystery of Bethlehem, help me and be near me, now that the great God, who filled you with light and love, is about to come into the poor dark dwelling of my heart! Amen.
In order to make your Preparation complete, follow, with a lively faith and attention, all the mysteries of the Mass at which you are to receive Communion; using for this purpose the method we have given in the preceding chapter. For your Thanksgiving after Communion, you may sometimes recite the following Acts:
Thou hast, then, come down even unto me, O my Sovereign Lord! and art reposing in my heart, as in a Crib, which thou hast vouchsafed to choose for thyself, O Infant God! My heart is now become like a new Bethlehem, O Bread of Angels! I most devoutly adore thee, thee the great God thus humbling thyself to such an abyss of lowliness. To the hymn of the Angels, Glory be to God in the highest, I must needs add, Glory be to thee, my God, in this depth of my misery and weakness, whither thou hast so mercifully come! Oh! who will teach me, my sweetest Infant Guest! who will teach me how to give thee a worthy welcome of homage? Mary, thy most pure and Blessed Mother, having given thee birth, and placed thee in the Crib, prostrated herself before thee as thy humble handmaid, and adored thee. Never had this guilty earth witnessed a homage so sublime as this: and thou didst deign to accept it, as the noblest thou hadst ever received. Permit me to imitate this thy beloved Mother, and adore thee as she did, O thou my Sovereign Lord! I humbly beseech thee to accept her homage to supply for the unworthiness of mine; for she is my Mother, and thou hast willed that all her riches and merits should belong to her children. I offer thee, likewise, the adorations of that Just Man, the chaste Spouse of Mary, the admirable Joseph, who had been admitted into the divine secret of Nazareth, and is now made a witness of the touching mystery of Bethlehem. Oh! that I might share in the devoted respect and love of this glorious Saint, so grand because so simple, and so favoured above all mortals in that he was chosen to protect thy Infancy! I also adore thee in company with the Angels, the Shepherds and the Magi; with Simeon and Anna, and all the Church of heaven and earth, which contemplates in glad amazement the sublime miracle of this abasement of thy divine Majesty.
But it is not enough, O Divine Babe! that I adore thee; I must thank thee. What an honour is this thou has conferred upon me! What happiness this thou hast brought me! I, a sinner, am become by thy sweet condescension a living Bethlehem, possessing in itself Thee, the Bread of Life. Thy sovereign Majesty has come down even to me, and has chosen my heart for thy throne, or rather for thy Crib. The holy Angels adore thee and praise thee; but thou art granting to me an intimacy which these Blessed Spirits have not - thou art reposing on my heart. The Shepherds are admitted into the Stable to look at thee: they gaze upon thee with simple and loving admiration; but thou dost not permit them to caress thee. The Magi offer thee their royal gifts: but, as the prophecy said of them [Ps. lxxi], they kiss but the ground whereon thy Crib is placed. Happy, then, the aged Simeon, who is permitted to take thee into his arms; but oh how happier I! who have received into myself, and now hold within me, thee, my Jesus, the Bread of Life! Blessed be thou for ever, O my God! for that thou hast treated with such incomprehensible familiarity this the poorest of all thy servants! I thank thee, and glorify thee, as did the Shepherds, who went so eagerly to Bethlehem, and returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; and with such glowing words did they praise thee, that all that heard, wondered at those things that were told them by the Shepherds [St Luke ii 16,18,20]. So too will I open my lips, and borrowing the words of a Son of Bethlehem, David thy ancestor, I will say: All ye that fear God, come and hear, and I will tell you what great things he hath done to my soul [Ps. lxv 16].
Yea, in very truth thou hast loved me, O my divine Guest! for thou hast laden me with the gifts of thy love. How shall I not return thee love for love, and love thee with all this heart of mine, wherein thou dwellest? Be thou loved, then, my infinitely lovable Jesus of Bethlehem! It was to win our love that thou didst lay aside all thy greatness, and, as thy Apostle expresses it, [Phil. ii 7] empty thyself of all thy majesty, assuming the form of a servant, nay, of a weak Babe. Verily, to approach thee now with fear and trembling seems out of season, and such loveliness as this should not be approached, but with confident tenderest love. O thou that art to be my dread Judge! thou art now here, resting on my heart; thou art, thou wishest to be, in my power; and according to thine own saying, thou art mine, and I am thine. Jesus! most lovable Jesus! remain with me for ever. Here take up thy abode: here grow before God and men; here reign as my Lord and King and God. To supply for the deficiency of my own love, I offer thee the love wherewith Mary, thy most holy Mother, pressed thee to her sacred Heart, during these the first days of thy life on earth; the love wherewith Joseph, the chaste Spouse of Mary, and thy foster-father, so diligently procured thee all thou didst need; the love wherewith the Shepherds of Bethlehem gazed on thee, the Saviour that was born for them, and knew thee by this sign, that thou wast an Infant - lying - swathed - in a manger [St Luke ii 11,12]; the love wherewith the adoring Magi opened their treasures before thee, and forgot all the fatigues of a long journey, entranced with the sight of thee; the love wherewith the venerable Simeon took thee up in his arms, and felt that he must needs die, now that he had seen Jesus; the love, in fine, of the Holy Angels, who, as thy Apostle tells us, [Heb. i 6] adored thee when born in Bethlehem, and found their heaven in looking on that immortal beauty, made visible, in thy Infant Face, even to the eyes of sinful men. Accept, O my divine Treasure! my sweetest Jesus, accept my love, as thou didst all these, and abide in me for ever.
But it is not enough that I love thee, O Divine Infant: thou commandest me to give myself to thee. I was far off, and yet thou camest to me, that thou mightest make me thine own possession; and that I might never more leave thee, thou hast taken up thy dwelling within my heart, making it thy Bethlehem, O Bread of Life! Thou wishest that I should become a little child, after thine example; that I should leave, here at thy Crib, all my pride and disobedience; that my worldly wisdom should yield, at the sight of thy Crib, to the spirit of Faith; that the false light which has hitherto been my guide, should be dispelled by the brightness which comes from the mystery of thy Divine Body swathed in the bands of infancy. O Jesus! thou King of Infants, as one of the Fathers has called thee, I give myself to thee, that thou mayest teach me to become a little child. Accept the promise I make thee, of perfect docility to all thy teachings; grant that it may be constant and always prompted by love. I detest everything in my past life which has been, either in thought or affection, contrary to thy spirit. Henceforth I will be all thine, for thou hast drawn me, by these sacred Mysteries, into holy nearness to thyself. I will imitate the Magi, who, having adored thee, went back another way into their country. May this holy infancy which I have begun after thine example be to me the beginning of a new life, with nothing of my old one in it. Simeon having received thee into his arms, wished to live no more for this earth; and shall I be satisfied with it, I who possess thee here within me? No - henceforth, my life is to be the service of thee, that so I may deserve to be united with thee for ever in heaven.
Mary, Mother of my Jesus! pray for me, that this gracious visit of thy divine Son may produce in me abundant fruits of virtue. Ye Holy Angels of God! who adore him now dwelling within me, be solicitous for the holiness and purity of my soul and body. All ye saints of God! pray for me, that I may ever be faithful to him whom ye loved on earth, and now love eternally in heaven. Amen.