Monday, 24 December 2012

Spe Salvi - Christus Natus Est.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God;
All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.
He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him,
Yet the world knew Him not.
He came to His own home,
...and His own people received Him not.
But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God;
who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh + and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth;
We have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

A Christmas Prayer (Inspired by St. Therese)

My God, I have done little to prepare for Christmas. I have prepared myself poorly for the feast of your birth, and I will celebrate it as poorly. If I say that there is an "ought", I can say also that I have not lived up to it. And now I say I love you.

I do not attempt to reconcile these contraries, for they reconcile only in you. My fallen nature, which loves and desires you so mightily while yet being pressed into the earth, slowly crushed under the weight of failure, unimportance and tragedy, I offer to you as an act of love.

Should I try to burn these sins out of myself, I would only be running away from you; if you do not condemn me, ought I condemn myself? So I must set out to correct myself only by love, being content to fail often and heavily without growing impatient with myself, though the pain and humiliation of failure should consume me. This failure too I offer to you as an act of love.

And even in this I do not expect to succeed, for I know that I shall grow impatient with myself, shall desire my virtues to be greater than they are, shall despair at the sight of the successes of others when I know myself to succeed so little. This I also offer to you as an act of love.

Though you have shown this about myself, I should not suppose that I will see it in others however I may desire it and attempt it. I shall see others as below me if they do not meet my standards, and I shall be in fear of those who exceed my capacities. Though I resist it and though even the first movement of thought shall be a torment to me, I know it will happen. I neither excuse it, nor ask (in that way) that it be removed. I only offer it to you as an act of love.

I know also that I will take what is reserved for you, and I will judge myself for my faults. I will determine for myself what needs to be changed, and when; I will set about it diligently, for who can bear to see themselves so bad? In doing so, I will be as a house divided against itself; I will attempt to remove my own speck, for who can see one’s own plank? Yet in addition to all of this, my God, though I may not be able to prevent it happening, I offer myself, as undivided as I know how to give, to You, for Your own judgment.

So this is my offering to you on this Christmas, my Lord. I offer you all that is distasteful to me in myself, and I desire to bear serenely this trial of being displeasing to myself, though I expect to fail even at that. In my own disfigured person, I offer you the whole of trainwrecked humanity, for we are all alike. I derive my hope only from your love of me, not from my contemplation of my own virtue (which is fortunately lacking, for I would delve into that idolatry were it available to me, and -who knows?- I may be guilty of it already for I do not know myself). I trust only in your passionate love, which I believe transforms my sin into your infinite holiness at every moment, whether or not I feel it.

I therefore come to You this Christmas, my God, with empty hands. If I am not yet grateful for all that has been done for me, I will not be too hard on myself, for I know that it is only because you have not finished giving me what you desire. You will not be outdone in generosity, and when you are through, I am guaranteed to be overwhelmed in it, and the gratitude in which I am so lacking now will pour forth as water and blood from my side, and I will cry out, with You, “it is finished!” And then, my Lord, all shall be well.
Sermon On the Nativity
by St. Augustine

(1) Hear, O sons of light, who have been received by adoption into the kingdom of God; hear, my very dear brethren; hear and be glad in the Lord, ye just ones, so that praise may become the upright.[1] Hear what you already know; reflect upon what you have heard; love what you believe; proclaim what you love. Since we are celebrating a great anniversary on this day, you may expect a sermon in keeping with the feast. Christ as God was born of His Father, as Man of His Mother; of the immortality of His Father, of the virginity of His Mother; of His Father without a mother, of His Mother without a father; of His Father without limits of time, of His Mother without seed; of His Father as the source of life, of His Mother as the end of death; of His Father ordering all days, of His Mother consecrating this particular day.[2]

(2) God sent John to earth as His human Precursor so that he was born when the days were becoming shorter while the Lord Himself was born when the days were growing longer, that in this minute detail the subsequent words of this same John might be prefigured: 'He must increase, but I must decrease.'[3] For human life ought to grow weaker in itself and stronger in Christ, that 'they who are alive may live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for all and rose again,' and that each one of us may say in the words of the Apostle: 'It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.'[4] For 'he must increase, but I must decrease.'

All His angels worthily praise Him, for He is their everlasting food, nourishing them with an incorruptible feast. He is the Word of God, by whose life they live, by whose eternity they live forever, by whose goodness they live happily forever. They praise Him worthily, as God with God, and they render glory to God on high. May we, 'his people and the sheep of his hand,'[5] reconciled to Him by our good will, merit peace in consideration of the limited measure of our weakness. For these words to which the angels themselves gave utterance in jubilation at the birth of our Saviour are their daily tribute: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good will.'[6] Therefore, they praise Him duly: let us praise Him in obedience. They are His messengers; we, His sheep. He filled their table in heaven; He filled our manger on earth. He is the fullness of their table because 'in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God.' He is the fullness of our manger because 'the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.'[7] so that man might eat the Bread of angels the Creator of the angels became man. The angels praise Him by living; we, by believing; they by enjoying, we by seeking; they by obtaining, we by striving to obtain; they by entering, we by knocking.

(3) What human being could know all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ and concealed under the poverty of His humanity? For, 'being rich, he became poor for our sake that by his poverty we might become rich.'[8] When He assumed our mortality and overcame death, He manifested Himself in poverty, but He promised riches though they might be deferred; He did not lose them as if they were taken from Him. How great is the multitude of His sweetness which He hides from those who fear Him but which He reveals to those that hope in Him![9] For we understand only in part until that which is perfect comes to us. To make us worthy of this perfect gift, He, equal to the Father in the form of God, became like to us in the form of a servant, and refashions us into the likeness of God. The only Son of God, having become the Son of Man, makes many sons of men the sons of God; and on these men, reared as servants, with the visible form of servants, He bestows the freedom of beholding the form of God. For 'we are the children of God, and it has not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that, when he appears, we shall be like to him, for we shall see him just as he is.'[l0] What, then, are those treasures of wisdom and knowledge? What are those divine riches unless they be that which satisfies our longing? And what is that multitude of sweetness unless it be what fills us? 'Show us the Father and it is enough for us.'[11] Furthermore, in one of the psalms, one of our race, either in our name or for our sake, said to Him: 'I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear.'[l2] But He and the Father are one, and the person who sees Him sees the Father also;[l3] therefore, 'the Lord of hosts, he is the King of Glory.'[l4] Turning to us, He will show us His face and 'we shall be saved';[15] we shall be satisfied, and He will be sufficient for us.

(4) Therefore, let our heart speak thus to Him; 'I have sought thy countenance; thy face, O Lord, will I still seek. Turn not away thy face from me.'[l6] And let Him reply to the plea of our hearts: 'He who loves me keeps my commandments; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.'[17] Indeed, those to whom He addressed these words did see Him with their eyes; they heard the sound of His voice with their ears; they regarded Him as a man in their human heart. But, what eye has not seen, what ear has not heard, and what has not entered into the heart of man He promised to show to those who love Him.[l8] Until this favor is granted to us, until He shows us what will completely satisfy us, until we drink to satiety of that fountain of life, while we wander about, apart from Him but strong in faith, while we hunger and thirst for justice, longing with an unspeakable desire for the beautiful vision of God, let us celebrate with fervent devotion His birthday in the form of a servant. Since we cannot, as yet, understand that He was begotten by the Father before the day- star, let us celebrate His birth of the Virgin in the nocturnal hours. Since we do not comprehend how His name existed before the light of the sun, let us recognize His tabernacle placed in the sun. Since we do not, as yet, gaze upon the Son inseparably united with His Father, let us remember Him as the 'bridegroom coming out of his bride-chamber.' Since we are not yet ready for the banquet of our Father, let us grow familiar with the manger of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

The Nativity Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery.

My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.
The Angels sing.
The Archangels blend their voice in harmony.
The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise.
The Seraphim exalt His glory.
All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven.
He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice.
And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields.
For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God.
This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not.
For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His.
Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.
And so the kings have come,
and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth,
not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path,
He has come forth from a spotless womb.
Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny.
Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. 
For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you;
what shall I tell you?
I behold a Mother who has brought forth;
I see a Child come to this light by birth.
The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.
Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored.
O ineffable grace!
The Only Begotten,
Who is before all ages,
Who cannot be touched or be perceived,
Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption.
For what reason?
That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see.
For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin,
builds for Himself a living temple,
and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin;
and, putting Him on, this day came forth;
unashamed of the lowliness of our nature.

For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made.
Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator.
For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say!
And how shall I describe this Birth to you?
For this wonder fills me with astonishment.
The Ancient of days has become an infant.
He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger.
And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men.
He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands.
But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.
For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh,
He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving,
He prepares for me the treasure of Life.
He takes my flesh, to sanctify me;
He gives me His Spirit that He may save me.
Come, then, let us observe the Feast.
Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity.

For this day the ancient slavery is ended,
the devil confounded, the demons take to flight,
the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked,
the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us,
error driven out, truth has been brought back,
the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side,
a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth,
angels communicate with men without fear,
and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this?
Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven;
on every side all things commingle.
He became Flesh.
He did not become God. He was God.
Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive.
He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infants food from His Virgin Mother.
So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms,
that the Magi may more easily see Him.
Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny;
and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then,
Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path,
to Christ,
to the Father,
and to the Holy Spirit,
we offer all praise,
now and forever.

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