21 December 2009

Rapt with Astonishment

This is a homily that was given on Christmas day by Father Patrick O’Keefe, of the Archdiocese of Cashel, Ireland. Father O’Keefe was the author of the popularly esteemed, “Moral Discourses” published in 1879. This homily takes us right to the stable in Bethlehem, to see the Christ-Child, and encourages us to try and comprehend as much as possible the meaning of Christmas through the eyes of poor, humble shepherds. Interesting that we’re in a similar moral climate, which is described here, as we await the Second Coming of our Savior.

Immediately after the fall of our first parents, God, in His infinite mercy, promised a Redeemer, by Whose merits man should be saved from sin and the eternal punishments due to it, and also restored to his primitive right the Kingdom of heaven. But this promise God chose not to fulfill for 4,000 years. This He did in order that all mankind might become more sensible of their misery, and that they might more ardently desire the coming of the Redeemer. During those years many a sigh and prayer was offered up for the coming of the Messiah. The ancient patriarchs and prophets prayed that the heavens would open and let down the Just One, and that the earth would open and bud forth the Savior.

But at length the plenitude of time had come, the seventy weeks of years foretold by the prophet Daniel had elapsed, the royal scepter had passed away from the House of Judah, and tidings of great joy were brought to all the people, the heavens opened and flowed with honey, the long expected Messiah came, and He was born as an Infant in the stable of Bethlehem.

And it came to pass that when… Mary’s days were accomplished… at midnight she brought forth her first-born Son, wrapt Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger. And this Child was Jesus Christ, our Savior. Thus on Christmas night, the long-expected Messiah, the Redeemer of us all, was born. And forthwith the heavens burst forth with joyous strain, and the angels sang with loud celestial voices.

Shepherds went over with haste to Bethlehem, and there they found Mary and Joseph, with the Infant Savior wrapt in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. Oh who can tell the feelings of those humble shepherds as they looked and gazed upon the newborn Babe? How His little cry thrilled through their ears, and touched their hearts to tenderest emotion! How overjoyed they must have felt as they thought that He at last had come Who was to release them from the slavery of sin and the torments of hell, and Who was to make them partakers of the joys and glories of heaven! Oh what deep feelings of homage and confidence, and gratitude and love they must have felt on that occasion! How their souls were rapt with astonishment at actually seeing the Word made Flesh, the immense God of heaven narrowed within the compass of a little Babe!

But observe the striking features in the circumstances of His birth. He is born in the depth of the winter, in the middle of the night, in a cold, comfortless stable, and appears first of all, if we except His Mother and Saint Joseph, to humble, poor shepherds. Did these circumstances happen by mere chance, or was there a meaning in them? Why is He not born in someone of the gorgeous palaces of the earth, in the midst of riches and comforts? Why did our Lord select a stable as the place of His birth? It was in order to confound the pride of the world. It was in order to cure the haughty and the proud-hearted. It was in order to reduce the honors and distinctions of this world to naught. It was in order to lessen the boasting of the high-born, and to make humility at once appear honorable and beautiful, by leading the way in His own Royal Person. He was born in poverty in order to teach us detachment from the things of the world. He honored poor shepherds with His first interview.

Let us ask of Jesus today to give us grace to learn the great lesson which He has come to teach, to be meek and humble of heart. Let us ask of Him today, as a birthday present, the grace whereby we may carry on vigorously the great work of our salvation which He has so lovingly begun, that we may renounce all pride, and vanity, and self-seeking, that we may seek Him Who through His ministers forgives the sinner in the tribunal of Confession, that we may adore and worthily receive Him Who resides in the Blessed Sacrament, Who was born as a sweet little Babe at Bethlehem, and Whose birth is celebrated with universal joy throughout all Christendom today. “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people; for this day is born to you a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David!”