ON this Sunday the Church redoubles her ardent sighs for the coming of the Redeemer, and, in the Introit, places the longing of the just of the Old Law upon the lips of the faithful, again exhorting them through the gospel of the day, to true penance as the best preparation for the worthy reception of the Saviour. Therefore at the Introit she prays: Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just. (Isai. xlv.) Let the earth be opened, and bud forth a Saviour. The heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands. ( Ps. xviii. 2.)
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. Raise up, O Lord, we pray Thee, Thy power, and come, and with great might succor us: that, by the help of Thy grace, that which our sins impede may be hastened by Thy merciful forgiveness. Who livest, etc.
EPISTLE, (i Cor. iv. i 5.) BRETHREN, Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries of God. Here now it is required among the dispensers, that a man be found faithful. But to me, it is a very small thing to be judged by you, or by man's day: but neither do I judge my own self. For I am not conscious to myself of anything, yet am I not hereby justified : but he that
judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge not before the time, until the Lord come: who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise from God.
Why is this epistle read on this day?
The Church desires by this epistle to impress those who received Holy Orders on Ember Saturday with the dignity of their office, and exhorts them to fill it with becoming fidelity and sanctity, excelling the laity in piety and virtue, as well as in official dignity. She wishes again to remind the faithful of the terrible coming of Christ to judgment, urging them, by purifying their conscience through a contrite confession, to receive Christ at this holy Christmas time, as their Saviour, that they may not behold Him, at the Last Day, as their severe judge.
How should the faithful regard the priests and spiritual superiors?
They should esteem and obey them as servants, stewards, and vicars of Christ; as dispensers of the holy mysteries;
(i Cor. iv. i.) as ambassadors of the most High, (ii Cor.v. 20.) For this reason God earnestly commands honor to priests, (Ecclus. vii. 31.) and Christ says of the Apostles and their successors: (Luke x. 16.) Who despiseth you, despiseth me; and St. Paul writes: (i Tim. v., 17.) Let the priests that rule well be esteemed worthy of double honor: especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.
Can the priest dispense the sacraments according to his own will?
No, he must have power from the Church, and must exercise his office faithfully, in accordance with the orders of the Church, and act according to the will of Christ whose steward he is. The priest dare not give that which is holy to dogs, (Matt. vii. 6.) that is, he is not permitted to give absolution, and administer the sacraments to impenitent persons, under penalty of incurring eternal damnation.
Why does St. Paul consider the judgment of men a small matter?
Because it is usually false, deceptive, foolish, and is consequently not worth seeking or caring for. Man often counts as evil that which is in itself good and, on the contrary, esteems as good that which is evil. St. Paul says: If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. (Gal. i. 10.) Oh, how foolish, and what poor Christians, therefore, are they, who not to displease man, willingly adopt all silly customs, and fashions in dress, manners and appearance, making themselves contemptible to God, the angels, and saints. Recall the beautiful words of the Seraphic St. Francis: "We are, what we are in the sight of God, nothing more"; learn from them to fulfill your duties faithfully, and be indifferent to the judgment of the world and its praise.
Why does not St. Paul wish to judge himself?
Because no one, without a special revelation from heaven, can know if he be just in the sight of God or not, even though his conscience may accuse him of nothing, for "man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love or hatred." (Eccl. ix. i.) Thus St. Paul goes on to say, that though he was not conscious of any wrong, he did not judge himself to be justified, God only could decide that. Man should certainly examine himself as much as is in his power, to find if he has -anything within him displeasing to God; should he find nothing he must not judge himself more just than others, but consider that the eyes of his mind may be dimmed, and fail to see that which God sees and will reveal to others at the Judgment Day. The Pharisees saw no fault in themselves, and were saintly and perfect in their own estimation, yet our Lord cursed them.
ASPIRATION. O Lord, enter not into judgment with Thy servant: for in Thy sight no man living can be justified". (Ps. cxiii. 2.)
GOSPEL. (Luke iii. I 6.) In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius -Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip his brother tetrarch of Iturea and the country of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilina, under the high-priests Annas and Caiphas: the word of the Lord came to John the son of Zachary in the desert. And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of Isaias the prophet: A voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low: the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways plain: and all flesh
shall see the salvation of God.
Why is the time in which St. John commenced to preach so minutely described?
The Evangelist, contrary to his usual custom, describes the time minutely, and enumerates exactly, in their precise order, the religious and civil princes' in office, that, in the first place, it could not be denied that this was truly the time and the year in which the promised Messiah appeared in this world, whom John baptized, and the Heavenly Father declared to be His beloved Son. Furthermore, it shows the fulfilment of the prophecy of the Patriarch Jacob, (Gen. xlix. 10.) that when the sceptre would be taken away from Juda, that is, when the Jews would have no longer a king from their own tribes, the Saviour would come.
What is meant by: "The word of the Lord came to John?"
It means that John was commissioned by divine inspiration, or by an angel sent from God, to preach penance and announce to the world the coming of the Lord. He had prepared himself for this work by a penitential, secluded life, and intercourse with God. We learn from his example not to intrude ourselves into office, least of all into a spiritual office, but to await the call from God, preparing ourselves in solitude and quiet, by fervent prayer and by a holy life, for the necessary light.
What is meant by: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths?"
It means that we should prepare our hearts for the worthy reception of Christ, by penance, amendment, and the resolution to lead a pious life in future. To do this, every valley should be filled, that is, all faint-heartedness, sloth and cowardice, all wordly carnal sentiments should be elevated and directed to God, the highest Good, by firm confidence and ardent desire for heavenly virtues; the mountains and hills should be brought low, that is, pride, stubbornness, and ambition should be humbled, and the obstinate will be broken. The crooked shall be made straight, that is, ill-gotten goods should be restored, hypocrisy, malice, and double dealing be renounced, and our intentions turned to God and the performance of His holy will. And the rough ways shall be made plain, that is, anger, revenge, and impatience must leave the Heart, if the Lamb of God is to dwell therein. It may also signify that the Saviour put to shame the pride of the world, and its false wisdom, by building His Church upon the Apostles, who, by reason of their poverty and simplicity, may be considered the low valleys, while the way to heaven, formerly so rough and hard to tread, because of the want of grace, is now by His grace made smooth and easy.
ASPIRATION. O my Jesus! would that my heart were well prepared and smooth for Thee! Assist me! O my Saviour to do that which I cannot do by myself. Make me an humble valley, fill me with Thy grace; turn my crooked and perverted will to Thy pleasure; change my rough and angry disposition, throw away in me whatever impedes Thy way, that Thou mayst come to me without hindrance. Thou alone possess and rule me forever. Amen.