First Point — The first disposition which the precursor demands in the name of his Master is humility. '' Every mountain and every hill shall be brought low." These two expressions seem to indicate two kinds of pride. The larger kind increases beyond measure, and seems to lift us up as a high mountain, the weight of which crushes everything else that is near it. This is the first pride of which we must divest ourselves. There is another, more delicate and hidden, represented by the hills, and seems rather to be self-complacency, that raises us above others. This pride, although less crim- inal, no less hinders the coming of the Saviour. If Jesus shall approach you, you must begin by hum- bling yourself in your own estimation. Pride, in all its shades, is the sworn enemy of the Saviour; it has occasioned the loss of the first man, and it is still the cause of all the disorders which disturb the world. Pride of independence is the source of revolts against superiors; pride of ambition is the source of the catastrophes which desolate society; pride of reason is the principle of incredulity which refuses the yoke of faith; pride of science is the cause of schisms which rend the bosom of the Church; pride of human respect makes us blush for our faith and abandon our Christian duties; pride of vanity begets love of the world, taste for dress, luxury, the ruin of families, and the loss of innocence. This must be sufficient to tell you the horror which pride inspires in Him who has come to destroy sin, which is, after all, the pride of our first father. Pride explains the humiliations of the crib, the thirty years of Jesus' life in the house of a poor artisan, the severity of a moral all abnegation and humility, the opprobrium and the humiliations of the cross; to oppose it not only are lessons and precepts necessary, but the force of example is required to remove every excuse and to confound forever all human vanity. Jesus might have been born in the palace of a king and in the midst of opulence. ''If He had wished it," says Bossuet, "what golden coronet could have encircled His head, and what royal purple could cover His shoulders!'' But He has not wished it. He has selected the other extremity, just precisely to teach us, by His example, loving humility. May you comprehend these great and exalted lessons, and, in the school of the divine Master, may you learn the practice of humility.
Second Point— The crooked ways shall be made straight. You find indicated here, under these symbolic expressions, one of those virtues which the world hardly suspects, but which the eye of God contemplates with pleasure; it is purity of intention or a spirit of faith. The man and the Christian, in their reflective acts, have always a motive which determines them. Man acts through self-love, through self-complacency, goodness of heart, or natural inclination; and these acts are wholly natural, without merit before God, because God rewards only what is done for Him. The Christian, on the contrary, finds in his faith the motives of his conduct. He acts for God. Having Him for the object, he wishes to please or glorify Him, and hence his acts are supernatural in virtue of this principle, that an action always participates in the nature of the motive which determines it; and his acts are meritorious before God, since they are performed for Him. When God depicts the just man, He defines him "a man who lives by faith." Jesus, the Just One by excellence, declares, that " His life is to do the will of His Father.'' This is also the life of a Christian who knows how to be faithful to his vocation; it is his glory, it is his true greatness. In fact, true exaltation presupposes continual ab- negation, and to impose silence on the passions; to put aside all interest or self-love, all inclinations and affections, and to seek in the very bosom of God the reason of our acts, of our judgments, and our affections. If this is not true greatness, then where shall it be found ? And precisely because this spirit of faith supposes higher exaltation, it is most rare among men. Not to speak of so many good, though worldly, men who multiply their good works through purely natural motives, how many are there, otherwise pious and regular, who are wanting in their conduct and even in their piety this right intention which seeks only God and His good pleasure? They are kind and good, but rather by their natural goodness of heart than by their charity; they are generous to certain persons, and yet without pity for others. They pray, it is true, but only to find consolation; they abridge or prolong their conversation with God, as they experience in it fervor or dryness; they are interested friends, to whom Jesus could well say, as to the multitude which followed Him: ''It is not for My sake that you follow Me, but in the hope that I shall again multiply the bread for you." It is true they confess and communicate, but it is through habit, or to do as others do, or to please a master or a friend; in a word, they act for others, rather than for God. These are the winding and the crooked ways which the holy precursor invites us to make straight. And so hitherto, perhaps, you have been charitable through caprice, goodness of heart, or through ostentation. Now be charitable to please God, who is charity itself, and to please Jesus, who is in the person of each one who suffers. Hitherto you have brought, perhaps, to the exercise of your zeal dispositions which are wholly human; good and anxious for some, but stormy and intolerant for others; you are ardent when successful, but discouraged when your efforts are sterile. Now seek the will of God, rather than success and the interests of self-love. Then you shall never be cast down. Hitherto you have sought in prayer, in confession, and in communion your consolations and your joys; and hence followed sadness, tears, and perhaps resistance, when your hopes were not realized. Rectify these views, which are wholly natural. Go to God with simplicity of heart, which always obeys when commanded, which submits when forbidden, and finds peace only in holy obedience; then you shall make straight the paths which shall conduct you to God.
Adorable Jesus, Thou didst come to this world only to enter my heart. Deign to enter there and take possession of it, and make it worthy to receive Thee. Enlighten me on everything which may render me displeasing in Thine eyes. Or rather, O good Jesus! create in me a new heart; fill up what is void, by adorning it with virtue; humble my pride, correct my perverse inclinations, that all the ways may be opened to Thee to come and reign in my heart and possess it forever.
Source: Short Instructions for Every Sunday of the Year and the Principal Feasts, Imprimatur 1897