In today's Gospel we see St. John the Baptist preaching and offering a baptism of repentance. The time has come for Jesus to be made manifest. When He comes we must be found worthy to receive Him. Hearing the words of St. John the Baptist, we must flee from the wrath to come by doing penance. We need to bring down the hills and mountains of pride and vanity; we must fill up the valleys of doubt and despair. We must straighten out the crooked ways of our lives; we must smooth out all the rough ways.
St. John the Baptist calls the multitudes that went forth to be baptized by him: "Ye offspring of vipers, who hath showed you to flee from the wrath to come?" Children who imitate and supersede the evil of their parents, are here referred to. The parents are the vipers and their children are the offspring of vipers. They have envied the good and persecuted them. They have rendered evil to many and tormented their neighbours. They are poisonous offspring of poisonous parents.
We also have sinned and are often held in the bonds of evil habits. What must we do to escape the wrath to come? The answer follows: "Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of penance." These are the words of St. John the friend of the Bridegroom. We are admonished not only to bring forth fruits of penance, but fruits worthy of penance.
St. Gregory informs us that: "Regarding the question of fruits worthy of penance, it must be known to you that to a man who commits no crimes, the use of lawful things rightly belongs. Again, a man may give himself to works of piety, but should he not wish to do so, he may not yet neglect the tasks of daily life. But should a man commit fornication, or what is worse fall into adultery, he should deny himself lawful pleasures in the measure that he recalls having indulged in unlawful. Nor are equal fruits of good works looked for in one who has offended but little, as from one who has sinned greatly; or from one who has committed no crimes, as from the man who has committed some, or has fallen into many. By this therefore which is here spoken of: Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of penance, the conscience of each man is taken into account; so the more ought he to strive for a greater profit of good works through penance, who has the more grievously injured his own soul through the guilt of sin. But the Jews, glorying in the greatness of their descent, were unwilling to regard themselves as sinners, because they were descended from Abraham. To whom it was therefore rightly said: Do not begin to say we have Abraham for our father. For I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham." (Luke 3, 8)
"The works of mercy are counselled to us as fruit worthy of penance. Jesus, Himself, has said: give alms; and behold, all things are clean unto you. (Luke 6, 38) Hence also was it written: water quencheth a flaming fire, and alms resisteth sin.(Ecclus. 3, 33) Hence again was it written: shut up alms in the heart of the poor, and it shall obtain help for thee against evil. (Ecclus 24, 4) Hence, finally, the good father admonishes his blameless son, saying: if thou have much, give abundantly; if thou have little, take care even so to bestow willingly a little." (Tob. 4, 9)
In a few days the annual celebration of Christ's birth will be upon us. The time is short, so now is the acceptable time to make ever greater strides in our penance; and perhaps equally important is that we make ever greater strides in Charity. Let, us cry out from the depths of our soul: Come Lord Jesus, Come.
God has all things, and all that we have and all that we are belong to Him. We are left therefore, with each other. We are called upon to see Christ in one another and display our love for God through our love for one another. This is the meaning behind our blessed tradition of gift giving during the season of Christmas.
God wants us to give aid to one another in all that is good and holy. Too often the gifts given during this Season only serve to increase temptation and sin. Let us make sure that we are not offending God by leading or aiding others to sin. Rather, let us make sure that all our gifts and charity will redound to the greater honour and glory of God.
As we give material gifts as expression of our love for one another in the love of God, let us not forget that the gift that we can give directly to God is ourselves. Let us strive to drive out sin from our hearts and minds and make a welcome abode for God to come and live within us. The greatest gift that we have to give to God is ourselves, let us purify ourselves through penance, and beg God to make up what is lacking with His infinite mercy so that we may offer Him gifts that are worthy of Him.
Joy is the theme of this Sunday's Holy Mass. The priest wears rose vestments and the use of the organ is permitted as if to signal moderation in the austere nature of a penitential season of Advent.
Despite our self-praised progress, real joy is missing from modern life. Why? Because true religion is ignored. "There hath stood one in the midst of you whom you know not." (Gospel). Only He can "bring light to the darkness of our minds," (Prayer).
Only He can bless, deliver and forgive (Offertory). Only He can "say to the fainthearted, "take courage" (Communion). Hence, the repeated plea to God "to come" (Gradual). "The Lord is nigh," but at the same time the Epistle warns us against presumption. During the days before Christmas "be nothing solicitous" about selecting or receiving mere tinsel gifts, but prepare "by prayer with thanksgiving" and "keep your minds in Christ," the True Cause of our joy.
During the following week fall Ember Days: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are traditional days of fast and abstinence for Catholics.
Traditionally, those aged 7 to 21 need observe only abstinence on Friday. Those 21 to 65 take only one full meal and two collations, together adding up to a bit less than a full meal.
On Wednesday and Saturday meat with the main meal only. On Friday no meat. The fasting and abstinence are in preparation for Christ’s coming on Christmas Day and to pray for any new priests being ordained on the Ember Saturday.
The Ember Days are full of the message of making a sacrifice through fasting and deprivation of the senses to strengthen and improve oneself. The message ought to be that unless one makes some sacrifice, making himself pleasing to God, he may not make it to Heaven and the Beatific Vision. Fasting and abstinence on a few days of the year to improve one’s spirituality is pleasing to Our Lord, and we ought not to wear a baleful face to show everybody how much suffering is being endured as the “hypocrites” about who Christ, made adverse comment. Do it because you love Jesus Our Saviour, Who died on the Cross to open the Gates of Heaven to us poor sinners and to redeem us.
The evil of Original Sin shows its mark upon all of God’s physical creation. (The angels have already been separated and established as good or evil for all of eternity.) Man was placed as the head of the rest of this visible world. When Adam, our father sinned the rest of the body (his children and all the rest of this physical creation) suffered also. All of creation feels this loss. All of creation longs for the coming of the Sons of God to restore to it all that was lost. Death, suffering, ignorance, sickness, etc. are all ours because of Original Sin. We all long to be freed from these evils because we were made to be with God. We will only be freed of these evils in the next life, provided we persevere to the end.
We see the disorder in the world around us. God’s creatures fear and rebel against men because, man is the cause of all their disorders and suffering. The animals, the plants, the weather, etc. all cause man difficulties as they rebel against their head (man). These rebel because man has rebelled against God.
There is only one physical creature that has been preserved from all this evil. This privileged creature is none other than the Blessed Virgin Mary. She has been preserved from Original Sin from the very moment of her conception. She alone came into this world filled with Sanctifying Grace and lived as man was originally intended to live.
We see that many saints after their conversion and baptism found peace and order in their lives and with the rest of creation. St. Francis is a beautiful example of this. He was able to speak to and command animals. These creatures recognized in him the true dignity of man and submitted and obeyed him as they would have originally done if man had never sinned. Our Lord Himself informs us that if we had the faith the size of a mustard seed we too would be able to command creation and it would obey. If we were to command a mountain to cast itself into the sea, it would obey. If we re-establish our state of innocence all will be ours.
God has honoured Mary with this special grace because she is the Mother of God. He likewise offers to us the grace to be freed from this sin and become sons of God, if we will only believe, become baptized, and repent of our sins.
We still have to suffer the consequences of sin as a just punishment, but Mary was exempt not only from the sin, but also from the consequences of sin. She conceived and gave birth to Our Lord without pain or suffering. The pain and suffering of child-bearing is a punishment of sin. Upon her completion of this life, she was taken body and soul into heaven (Assumption). We will have to wait for the General Resurrection before our bodies may enter heaven.
It is true that Mary suffered much in this life, even a most bitter and painful mystical death as she stood beneath the Cross. This suffering was not a punishment for her, but was rather a willing sacrifice of hers. As Christ came to sacrifice Himself for us so too Mary united herself with Him, and offered herself for us. Jesus and Mary are both innocent and therefore have no need to suffer as a punishment for their sins. They both chose however to sacrifice themselves for our sins so that we may join them in Life. Christ is her head; she and Him are one Body, just as we are all made members of the Mystical Body of Christ through the graces of the Sacraments. As Jesus hung upon the Cross, Mary in spirit hung with Him. Catholics realize that it is our own sins that have nailed Jesus to the Cross. It was because of our sins that Jesus died. In a similar manner it is our sins that have caused the many sorrows of our Blessed Virgin Mother Mary. As the Head, Jesus, suffered for our sins, so His Mystical Body likewise must suffer. Mary suffered as a perfect member of this Mystical Body.
God invites us to follow Him in this sacrifice, in the spirit of penance for our sins. Mary unites in this desire and intercedes on our behalf. Her own sufferings in sacrifice have gained much merit with God that she can bestow as she wills. She as our mother calls out to us so that we might not be lost. She prays for us and even offered herself with Christ for us. It is time for us to truly begin living up to our calling as members of the Mystical Body of Christ and unite our mortifications and penances with the sacrifices of Jesus and Mary.
Oremus pro Pontifice nostro Francisco: Dominus conservet eum, et vivificet eum, et beatum faciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius.
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui facis mirabilia magna solus: praetende super famulos tuos, et super congregationes illis commissas, spiritum gratiae salutaris; et, ut in veritate tibi complaceant, perpetuum eis rorem tuae benedictionis infunde.
Kevin Jones is the local representative for the Latin Mass Society in Wrexham Diocese. Any views expressed neither represent those of the Latin Mass Society or the Diocese of Wrexham.