Consider first, that the time of Advent, (so called from being set aside by the church for worthily celebrating the advent, that is, the coming of Christ,) is a penitential time, and a time of devotion, in which we are every day called upon by the church of God to prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight his paths; to enter into the like dispositions of those which St. John the Baptist required of the people when he was sent to preach to them conversion and penance, in order to prepare them for their Messias; that so we also, by turning away from our sins, by sorrow and repentance, and turning ourselves to the Lord our God with our whole heart, by love and affection, may dispose our souls to welcome our Saviour whose birth we are about to celebrate, and to embrace in such manner the mercy and grace which he brings with him at his first coming as to escape hereafter those dreadful judgments which his justice shall execute upon impenitent sinners at his second coming. See then, my soul that thou dedicate this holy time to suitable exercise of devotion and penance, that thou mayest answer the end of this institution.
Consider 2ndly, in what manner we are all summoned by the church, at the beginning of this holy time, (in the words of St. Paul, Rom xiii. 11, read in the epistle of the First Sunday in Advent,) to dispose ourselves now for Christ. 'Knowing the time,' says the apostle, 'that it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is passed, (or far spent,) the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light; let us walk decently, as in the day,' &c. O! my soul, let us consider these words as particularly addressed to us, in order to awaken us, and to stir us up to begin now a new life. Alas! have we not hitherto been quite asleep as to the greatest of all our concerns? Are not far the greatest part of Christians quite asleep by their unaccountable indolence in the great business of the salvation of their souls and of a happy eternity? Are they not sleeping too, which is worse, in the very midst of dangers and of mortal enemies, who are continually plotting their destruction, an even upon the very brink of a precipice, which if they fall down will let them in a moment into hell? O let us then all hearken seriously to this summons, and rouse ourselves now, whilst we have time, out of this unhappy lethargy, and from this hour begin to apply ourselves in good earnest to that only business for which we came into this world. O let us cast off now and for ever the works of darkness, and put on Jesus Christ.
Consider 3rdly, that on the First Sunday of Advent, the terrors also of God's justice are set before our eyes, in the description given in the gospel of the great accounting day; to the end, that they that will not correspond with the sweet invitations of God's mercy, and awake from sleep at the summons addressed to them in the epistle, may be roused at least by the thunder of his justice, denounced in the gospel; and be induced by the wholesome fear of the dreadful judgments that are continually hanging over the heads of impenitent sinners, to make good use of this present time of mercy, lest hereafter there should be neither time nor mercy for them. Ah! sinners, if this day you hear the voice of the Lord, either sweetly inviting you with the allurements of his mercy, or terrifying you with the threats of his judgments, see you harden not your hearts. For now is your time. Sleep on no longer, lest you come to sleep in death, as it happened to them of old, who by refusing to hearken to God's voice, provoked him so far, that he swore to them in his wrath, that they should never enter into his rest. O remember that 'the day of the Lord and his judgments shall come as a snare upon all them that will not watch,' Luke xxi. 55.
Conclude to enter now into the true spirit of this holy time - which is a penitential spirit - and to prepare the way of the Lord, by putting away all thy sins, and purifying thy soul for him; thus shalt thou welcome him at his coming, and shalt be welcome to him.
Consider first, that the church, in the office appointed for this holy time, frequently puts us in mind of the mission and preaching of St. John the Baptist, and of the manner in which he endeavoured to prepare the people for Christ; to the end that we may learn, from the doctrine of this great forerunner of our Lord, in what dispositions we ought also to be if we would duly prepare the way for him. Now what the Baptist continually preached to the people was; that they should turn from their evil ways, and do penance, because the kingdom of heaven was at hand; that they should bring forth fruits worthy of penance, if they would escape the wrath to come - and this without delay - for that now the axe was laid at the root of the tree, and that every tree that did not bring forth good fruit should be cut up and cast into the fire. That they should not flatter themselves with the expectation of impunity or security, because they had Abraham for their father; for that God was able to raise up from the very stones children to Abraham; and therefore without a thorough conversion from their sins, they were to expect that the kingdom of God, and the grace and dignity of being children of Abraham, (the father of all the faithful,) should be taken away from them and given to the Gentiles. He added, that he baptized them indeed with water unto penance; but that another should come after him that should 'baptize them with the Holy Ghost and with fire; that his fan was in his hand, and that he should thoroughly cleanse his floor, and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he would burn with unquenchable fire,' Matt. iii. This was the way St. John prepared the people for Christ; and it is by conforming ourselves in practice to these his lessons, at this holy time, that we must also prepare the way of the Lord, and be prepared for him.
Consider 2ndly, that the great theme of the preaching of St. John, in order to prepare the way of the Lord, was the virtue of penance; inasmuch as this was the only means by which sinners could ever effectually be reconciled to God, after actual mortal sin; and therefore this theme was at all times perpetually inculcated by all that were ever sent with commission from God to reclaim unhappy souls that had gone astray from him. It is then by this virtue of penance we also are to prepare the way of the Lord, at this holy time; this is the proper devotion for the time of Advent. Now this virtue of penance, (which always was, always is, and always will be, absolutely and indispensably necessary for the bringing back sinners to God,) implies three things: first, the renouncing and destroying of all our sins, by which we have offended so good a God; secondly, a turning of ourselves to God with our whole heart, and a dedicating ourselves henceforward to him both for time and eternity; and thirdly, an offering of ourselves to him, to make him what satisfaction we can for our past offences, by a penitential life. Christians, this is our great business at this holy time, if we hope to prepare ourselves for Christ; this is the proper exercise for it - to pass over in our mind, in the bitterness of our soul, all our years that have been spent in sin; to bewail and lament every day of this holy season, all our past treasons against the divine majesty; to turn now to God with our whole heart; to offer our whole souls to him; to exercise ourselves in his love, and to enter into new articles with him of an eternal allegiance, with a full determination of rather dying than being any more disloyal to him; and letting not one day pass without offering him some penitential satisfaction for our past guilt, to be united to, and sanctified by the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. O! how happy are they that employ the time of Advent in this manner! O! how willingly will our Lord, at the approaching Christmas, communicate himself to such souls as these.
Consider 3rdly, that at the approaching solemnity of Christmas, the church, by thrice celebrating the sacred mysteries on the same day, commemorates three different births of Christ: his eternal birth from his father; his temporal birth from his mother; and his spiritual birth by which he is born by grace in our souls. Hence the best devotion for the time of Christmas, is that which conduces the most to bring Christ into our souls by this spiritual birth; and consequently the best devotion for the time of Advent is to cleanse and to purify our souls, that he may find nothing in them that may disqualify them for his visits, or hinder him from coming to be spiritually born in us. For he will never come into an unclean soul, nor be born in a mansion where Satan resides. See then, my soul, what measures thou art to take, at this holy time, to prepare thy Inward house for the spiritual birth of this king of glory: 1. Thou must cleanse and purify it from sin and Satan; 2. Thou must adorn it with virtue and piety; and 3. Thou must daily invite thy Lord thither by fervent prayer; thus shalt thou prepare the way of the Lord in the manner that is best pleasing to him.
Conclude to put in practice all these lessons to the best of thy power, at this holy time: an Advent spent in this manner, in devotion and penance, cannot fail of bringing thee a happy Christmas.
Consider first, that Christ our Lord did not only teach us his heavenly truths by his preaching, by his parables, and by his maxims laid down in the gospel, but his whole life, and all his actions were designed to be an instruction to us; and that his miracles in particular were not only wrought to confirm our faith and our hope in him, and to be so many evidences of his goodness and charity to poor mortals; but to give us also great lessons for our practice, if we would take care to look well into them, and to learn the mysterious meaning of them. Especially, we must ever remember, that as the diseases and corporal infirmities we are liable so in this life, mystically represent the spiritual maladies of our vices and passions, so we are to learn from the miracles wrought by our redeemer, in healing all manner of diseases of the body, to apply continually to him for the cure of the like diseases in the soul, which are indeed the far more grievous evils of the two, and if not healed, are attended with far more dreadful consequences. But alas! how seldom do the children of this world take to heart the seeking of the cure of these spiritual diseases; or apply in a proper manner to this great physician for his aid; who when he was here upon earth, never cast off any that applied to him? So much more are worldlings concerned for the body than for the soul; for time than for eternity. O my soul, let us at least be more wise.
Consider 2ndly, what were the miracles which our Saviour more frequently wrought, from the time of his first beginning to preach his gospel. 'He went about all Galilee,' says St. Matthew, 'healing all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease among the people; and his fame went throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all sick people, &c., and such as were possessed by devils, and lunatics, and paralytics, and he healed them,' Matt. iv. 23. And there 'came to him great multitudes, having with them he dumb, the blind, and the lame, the maimed, and many others; and they cast them down at his feet, and he healed them,' Matt. xv. 30. 'And whithersoever he entered into towns, or into villages or cities, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might but touch the hem of his garment, and as many as touched him were made whole,' Mark vi. 56. 'and all the multitude sought to touch him, for virtue went out from him and healed all,' Luke vi. 19. See, Christians, how ready your Lord was, during his mortal life, to cure all kinds of bodily diseases, and how wholesome it was to come near to him, or to touch either him or his garments, by reason of the virtue that went out from him to heal all. O assure yourselves, he is no less ready or willing now to heal your souls; for his power, his mercy, his goodness, his charity and love for you know no bounds! It is no ways diminished since he shed his blood for the love of you, and carried it with him into the sanctuary of heaven, there to present it to his father in your behalf. Examine then, and see what our diseases are, and run with confidence to him for your cure. You need not go far to seek him: for though he is gone to heaven, he still will be with you even to the end of the world. You may find him in the Eucharist; where a virtue continually goes out from him, for the healing of all; you may find him at any time, and in any place, in this divine person; especially in his temple, in the centre of your souls; for there is no place in which he either more willingly resides, or more frequently works his wonders, than in the interior of such Christians, as duly seek him by a spirit of recollection and an internal life.
Consider 3rdly, that 'Christ our Lord continually went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed by the devil,' Acts x. 38. As he came to deliver men from the tyranny and slavery of the devil, so his miracles were most frequently wrought in casting out devils; in destroying the works of the devil, and in forcing Satan out of his usurped dominions. See, Christians, what occasion your souls may have for this fort of miracles. Are they not spiritually possessed, or besieged by this wicked spirit; by the means of some or other of the capital sins; for where any of these are predominant, there Satan reigns. Does not this wicked one render you spiritually deaf and dumb, with regard to the voice of God, and the confession of your sins? Does he not bend you down to the earth by worldly affections, like the crooked woman in the gospel, Luke xiii. 16. Does he not make you blind, by obstructing your interior sight, with regard to the light of truth, &c.? In all these cases you must run to Christ our Lord to be dispossessed, or to be delivered from this mortal enemy of your souls. Christ's hand is not shortened; he will cast out this wicked one, at your humble request; but O take care not to be of the number of those who, by wholly giving themselves up to their carnal passions, are rather swine than Christians; for of such as these the devil has so great a hold, that he will not easily be cast out. Our Lord himself gave a licence to a whole legion of devils to enter into swine, and whither did they hurry them, but down a precipice into a deep, where they all perished; Take care this never be your case!
Conclude to consider henceforward the miracles of our Lord, not only as confirmations of the truth of the Christian faith, and evidences of the power, mercy, and goodness of the author of it, and consequently as strong inducements to believe in him, hope in him, and love him above all things - but also to study well the practical lessons which are to be learnt from these miracles; inasmuch as they point out to us the sovereign means of ridding ourselves of all our evils, by having recourse, with a lively faith and humble prayer, to the great source of all our good.
Consider first, that the cleansing the leprosy is one of those miracles of our Lord which is more particularly instructive, because the leprosy was an emblem or figure of sin. Hence we find so many prescriptions in the Levitical law, (Lev. xiii. and xiv.,) with regard to such as had contracted the leprosy; and the judgment that was to be made of them by the priest, to whose inspection they were committed by the law; and the rites and sacrifices by which they were to be cleansed; which were all figurative and expressive of what was to be done by, or for them, who had contracted the spiritual leprosy of sin. The first mentioned to have been cleansed by our Lord of his leprosy, was he that came (after our Saviour's coming down from the mountain, Matt. viii. 2, 3) And worshipped him, saying: 'Lord if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying: I will: be thou made clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.' See Christians, by this example, in what manner you are to apply to your Lord, if you desire to be cleansed of your spiritual leprosy. See with what a strong and lively faith, accompanied with a profound humility, this leper presents himself before our Saviour; and learn to imitate him. Faith and humility are very efficacious with your heavenly physician. It was appointed, Levit. xiii. 44, &c., that whosoever was defiled with the leprosy, and separated by the judgment of the priest, should keep a respectful distance, with regard to the rest of the faithful; and should both by his outward habit, and by the cry of his voice, declare aloud, that he was defiled and unclean, to signify the humble dispositions which are necessary in the case of the spiritual leprosy before we can expect to meet with a cure.
Consider 2ndly, how our Lord having cleansed the leper, to teach us to avoid all ostentation and vain glory in doing good, said to him: 'See thou tell no man: but go show thyself to the priest and offer the gift which Moses commanded, for a testimony to him.'
Our Lord sent those whom he cleansed from the leprosy to the priest, to conform to the prescription of the law of Moses; and at the same time, to give us to understand that even when, by the grace of a perfect contrition, he cleanses souls from the leprosy of sin, he still expects that they should show themselves to his priest, by a sincere confession of their sins; in consequence of his divine law, by which he has given to his priest the inspection and judgment of the leprosy of the soul; with the power of binding and loosing forgiving and retaining sins; and the dispensation of all the mysteries and sacraments. The person that was cleansed from the leprosy, and sent to the priest, was ordered to offer the the gift which Moses commanded, and consequently to observe the other prescriptions of the law (Levit. xii.). He was, in order to his purification, to be sprinkled seven times with the blood of a bird, immolated over living waters; he was to wash all his clothes; he was to shave all his hair; and to be washed himself all over with water; and then after seven days he was to offer a burnt offering, and a sin offering; and to be fully cleansed and expiated by the blood of the lamb, offered for sin, and by the oil of the sacrifice, that had been sprinkled seven times before the Lord; to signify to us, by these mysterious ceremonies, that such as desire to be thoroughly cleansed from the spiritual leprosy of sin, must by repeated washings of their consciences with the waters of compunction, by frequently sprinkling their souls with the blood of the Lamb of God, and by the applying to the the unction of their sevenfold grace of the Holy Ghost, attain to this perfect purification.
Consider 3rdly, what we read, Luke xvii., of ten other lepers, who applied to our Lord for their cure: 'they stood afar off, and lifted up their voices, saying: Jesus, O master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said, Go show yourselves to the priest. And it came to pass, that as they went, they were cleansed.' See, my soul, how quickly thy Lord is moved to show mercy to them that with a loud cry call for mercy; that is with a loud cry of fervent prayer, joined with a profound humility, and a true sense of their own misery and unworthiness; expressed in the case of these men by their standing afar off, as not daring to come nearer to our Lord, by reason of their uncleanness. O let us learn to apply to our Saviour for the cure of our spiritual leprosy, with the like fervour and humility! But then mark also what follows: 'And one of them, when he saw that he was cleansed, went back, and with a loud voice glorified God: and he fell on his face before his feet, giving thanks, and this man was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering, said, Were there not ten made clean? And where are the nine? There is no one found to return, and to give glory to God, but this stranger.' O Christians, let us learn by this example the sentiments of love and gratitude, devotion and humility with which we ought to praise and glorify God, after being cleansed by his mercy from the unhappy leprosy of sin; the great value also we ought to set upon the grace of our purification and reconciliation to his divine majesty; and the care we ought to take never more to incur this worst of all uncleanness and of evils. alas! where these sentiments are wanting in penitents, it is much to be apprehended, that they are not far off from relapsing again into their former leprosy, and that in a worse degree than before.
Conclude to dread and to fly from the spiritual leprosy of sin more than from any other evil; but if at any time you have reason to apprehend that you have incurred this dreadful uncleanness, learn from the foregoing considerations to whom, and in what manner, you are to apply for your cure, and how you are to behave after having found this mercy.
Consider first, the lessons we are to learn from the miracle of Christ's stilling the storm at sea by his word, Matt. viii. 23, &c., 'He entered into a ship, and his disciples followed him. And behold a great storm arose at sea, so that the ship was covered with the waves; but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awakened him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And Jesus said to them: Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith? Then rising up, he commanded the winds and the sea, and there came a great calm.'
Christians, we are all embarked as it were in a ship during our mortal life, in order to sail towards the haven of a blessed eternity. And for our comfort we have on board with us not only the disciples of Christ, that is, the pastors of the church, the successors of the apostles but also our Lord himself, according to his promise, Matt xxviii. 20, 'Lo, I am with you all days, even to the end of the world.' In this voyage we are often exposed to storms, which threaten sometimes the whole church - as in cases of grievous persecutions, heresies, or other more general evils; at other times we are in danger from temptations and tribulations, from which, more or less, no one can expect to be exempted in the midst of the winds and waves of the boisterous ocean of this world. But we have Christ on board with us, and therefore we have nothing to fear if we will but have proper recourse to him, with a lively faith and confidence in him. And though he oftentimes seems to sleep, and defers his aid, for a trial of our faith, and to make us more sensible of the necessity we have of him, and more earnest in praying to him, he will not fail in his good time, (if we continue, like his disciples, calling out to him, 'Lord, save us: we perish,') to rise up, and to command the winds and the sea, and restore a calm.
Consider 2ndly, the lessons we are also to learn from the miracles of our Saviour's feeding at one time five thousand men with five loaves, and at another time four thousand with seven loaves. Our Lord himself has taught us, upon occasion of the former of these miracles, John vi. 26, 27, that we are not to seek or to follow him for the sake of the loaves - that is, for procuring a corporal livelihood or any temporal advantage - for this would be but catching at the shadow and losing the substance - that 'we are not to labour for the meat that perisheth, but for that,' said he, 'which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man will give you.' So that the great lesson he would have us to learn from his feeding the multitude is, that we should have recourse to him for the food and nourishment of our souls unto everlasting life; for that he himself is the living and life-giving bread, which, without any consumption or diminution, he distributes to all those that come to him, seeking from him the refreshment of their souls, either by communicating himself to them really in the holy sacrament, or spiritually by a communion of faith and love.
Consider 3rdly, in the miracles of our Lord's feeding the multitude, what other lessons may be learnt from the circumstances in which he wrought these wonders. 'I have compassion,' said he, 'on the multitude; for behold, they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat; and if I sent them away fasting to their own houses they will faint on the way, for some of them came from afar off,' Mark viii. 2, 3. The people whom he favoured with these miracles had followed him into the desert; they had preferred the attending upon him, and the hearing of his divine word, before all other occupations or recreations; they had continued with him for three whole days, without taking any thought for their bodily nourishment; and therefore our Lord, after feeding their souls with the word of life, and healing all that stood in need of cure, was pleased to provide also for their corporal sustenance, according to what he promised, Matt vi. 33, 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things (that is, meat, drink, and clothes,) shall be added unto you.' Learn from hence, Christians, what wonders your Saviour is disposed to work In favour of those that follow him into the wilderness by a spiritual retreat - that is, by retiring from the noise and hurry of the world to attend upon him; that are not quickly wearied with his company, but continue diligently with him, (notwithstanding the difficulties and oppositions they meet with from the world, the flesh, and the devil,) and that gladly hearken to his divine word. O! such as these will not fail of being refreshed by him.
Conclude to follow Christ into the wilderness by making at least a little wilderness for him in thy own soul, and there frequently attending upon him by recollection and mental prayer, assure thyself that he will never send thee away fasting, but will have compassion of thee, and frequently feed thee with his hidden manna, lest thou faint in the way; for thou hast as yet a great way to go before thou canst reach thy eternal home.
Consider first, that the miracles of our Lord were generally wrought in favour of such as applied to him with a lively faith and profound humility, or by the means of earnest prayer; to teach us the great efficacy of faith, of humility, and of fervent prayer, and to encourage us to seek the cure of our souls with the like dispositions. Thus the woman that had laboured for twelve years under the issue of blood, humbly coming behind our Lord, in the crowd, and touching the hem of his garment, was instantly healed in reward of her faith, as our Lord himself assured her, Luke viii 48. Thus the centurion, by his faith and humility, obtained of our Lord the immediate cure of his servant by those words: 'Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof: speak only the word, and my servant shall be healed,' Matt. viii 8. Thus the woman of Canaan, by her pious importunity, accompanied with the like faith and humility, obtained the cure of her daughter, Matt. xv. 28. And so in many other cases. Whilst at other times those that have only presented themselves before our Saviour, without presuming either to touch him or his garments, or even so much as to speak to him - by the silent eloquence of their humility have obtained their cure, as in the case of the man that had the dropsy, Luke xiv. O let us learn this kind of eloquence!
Consider 2ndly, the particular lessons we may learn from the miraculous cure of the paralytic, (Matt. ix. and Luke v.) Our Lord was teaching in a house, surrounded by a great crowd of people, so that there was no coming in through the door, when behold, men brought in a bed a man that had the palsy, desiring to present him before him, but not finding by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went up upon the roof of the house, which was flat, and uncovering it let him down through the tiles, with his bed, by ropes, into the midst before Jesus. See here what pains were taken by these men to come to the heavenly physician, from whom they expected the cure of their friend. Who would have thought of men going up to the roof of another person's house, and uncovering it, and letting down a sick man in a bed, over the heads of a crowd? Nothing but a strong faith on the one hand, and an earnest desire of a cure on the other, could ever have suggested such an extraordinary proceeding, which loudly condemns the indolence or indifference of so many Christians nowadays, who lying ill of palsy, which disables them in all their limbs, and threatens them with the approaches of an everlasting death, suffer themselves to be kept off from Christ by every trifling obstacle or apprehension of difficulty. O Christians, where is your faith? Where is your concern for eternity? Why will you not be much more solicitous about the health and welfare of your immortal souls than about those worldly toys, or those carcasses of yours, that must quickly be the food of worms?
Consider 3rdly, how our Lord upon this occasion was pleased to begin the cure of the sick man by first healing his soul from sin: 'Son', said he, 'thy sins are forgiven thee;' to give us to understand that our corporal maladies are oftentimes sent in punishment of our sins, and that the first thing we have to do when visited with sickness is to apply for the remission of our sins by repentance and confession; and then we may expect that the scourge may be removed when the cause is removed. The Scribes and Pharisees took occasion from those words of our Saviour to charge him with blasphemy in their minds; but he, that knew their secret thoughts, publicly confuted them by working so great and evident a miracle, in proof of his power of forgiving sins, as to restore upon the spot both health and strength to the man sick of the palsy, with only these words: 'Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house;' upon which the paralytic 'immediately rising up before him, took up the bed on which he lay, and went away to his own house, glorifying God.' See here, my soul, that thou hast a physician in the person of thy redeemer, who is both able and willing to heal all thy infirmities; but see also that he expects of all such as apply to him for their cure that they should lie no longer in their beds, by continuing on in the habits or immediate occasions of their sins, but that they should arise without delay, and take up their beds, by bearing with courage the labour and conflicts of a penitential life, and should make the best of their way, by the exercises of solid virtue, to their true home, glorifying all the way they go, both by their words and by their lives, their great deliverer.
Conclude to spare no means to come to Christ, in order to be healed by him of all thy spiritual diseases; but remember to carry along with thee a lively faith and a profound humility: these will not fail of introducing thee to him, and obtaining of him all thou desirest.
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