Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity
Today is the last Sunday in the year. Ponder with care on the truths and doctrines which the holy Church has laid before thee in the epistles and gospels; thank God with thy whole heart for the great favors and benefits which thou hast received in the incarnation and birth of Jesus Christ; examine thyself also whether thy faith is living and efficient, that thou mayest have the hope of being a child and heir of God; ask thyself whether, during the past year, Christ has been thy fall or thy resurrection? hast thou confessed Him in heart and deed, or hast thou been a Christian only in name? With such exercises and examinations occupy thy mind until the New Year, that thou mayest be prepared to begin it worthily. (2)
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
The Gospel of today testifies that Simeon and Anna spoke prophetically of the Child Jesus as the promised Messiah and Saviour, and they recounted what had been said of Him. The Gospel does not relate all Mary and Joseph heard, and that excited their wonder. Still, one prediction of holy Simeon is clearly recorded, and that is sufficient to create as much astonishment in us as it did in Mary and Joseph. His words are: “This Child is set for the fall, . . . . . and for a sign which shall be contradicted.”
Let us consider today how Simeon’s prophecy has been fulfilled, with sorrowful accuracy, in Christ and His Church. Mary, pray for us, that the Child Jesus may become a sign for our resurrection and salvation, and not, through our fault, for our fall! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God !
God, in His mercy, wished to save the fallen human race, and to send them a Redeemer in His only-begotten Son. But He also decreed that man should appropriate the graces of Redemption by the exercise of his free will. Unhappily, the number of those who do this remains small. The entire life of Jesus and His Church verifies only too clearly the prophecy of Simeon: A sign which shall be contradicted. Hardly was the divine Child born, when it was sought after to be put to death, and driven to Egypt for a place of safety. And no sooner had Christ shown Himself to the people, than on all sides contradictions arose against Him. Although personally most amiable, a most perfect model of holiness, and promulgating the purest doctrines of love for God and man, He was persecuted, and surrounded by enemies.
And who were His enemies? Just those of whom it was the least to be expected, the priests and scribes, who might easily have convinced themselves that in Him the prophecies were fulfilled. Notwithstanding the numerous miracles He wrought, and which they could not deny, they cried, in their blind rage: “Crucify Him; His blood be upon us, and upon our children” (Matt. 27, 23, 25). Even now, after eighteen hundred years, the Jews deny Him, although they have in their hands the prophecies concerning the Messiah, which were all fulfilled in Him. The heathen world opposed Him; and, with incredible blindness, does so still. The Apostles, persecuted in Jerusalem, wandered over the entire earth, preaching the Gospel, and confirming their words by numberless miracles. Following in the footsteps of the Apostles, for the next eighteen hundred years, came countless proclaimers of the Divine Word messengers of the faith and, among them, many great saints, gifted with miraculous powers. And still, to this hour, half the human race is buried in the darkness of idolatry.
Compare the wisdom of the Gospel with the absurdity of heathen fables, and yet the darkness of paganism is not dispelled. With what cruelty has paganism, from the time of Nero to the present day, made war against the kingdom of Christ! Yet the Church still exists–a sign, as Gamaliel said, that the arm of the Lord protects her. But her adversaries do not recognize miracles. It is astounding!
Even among those who believe in Christ, what contradictions! Let us only think of the one hundred and twenty millions of heretics who are separated from the Church! They all believe the words of Christ in regard to His Church: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against her,” and, further: “Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28, 20), and: “If he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican” ( Matt. 1 8, 17). And yet so many remain in their misbelief, and contradict the teachings of Christ’s Church. What inconsistency! What blindness! It is astounding !
Lastly. Even in the life of those who, as children of the Church, believe what she teaches, a great deal of inconsistency is frequently manifested. This becomes strikingly evident to us when we think of the eight beatitudes or promises, in which the Lord encourages the practice of virtue, if we are determined to follow His holy example in the path of sanctity.
“Blessed are the poor,” says Christ. Child of the Church, you believe it, and confess it with your mouth; but how your life belies your words! Is it not your only aim to accumulate riches? Is there, in this respect, any difference between you and a heathen? On the contrary, you, perhaps, show greater anxiety to prosper in business than those who have not, like you, the happiness to be enlightened by holy faith. You feel no desire after the kingdom of heaven, which is promised to the poor in spirit. You are only a business man, care only for money, and say in your heart: Blessed are the rich! What a contrast you present to Jesus, poor, when He might be rich.
“Blessed are the meek,” is the maxim of Christ. Child of the Church, you believe it and confess it with your mouth; but how your life belies your words! Early even in the morning, your temper overpowers you; your uncontrollable impatience offends and hurts your companions, and your ill-humor lasts, perhaps, all day. Your mind is, not only for one day, but year after year, like a storm-tossed sea. What a contrast to the meekness of Jesus!
“Blessed are they that mourn,” says the Lord. Child of the Church, you believe it and confess it with your lips; but how your life belies your words! Are you not consumed with craving after the pleasures of the world and the gratification of your senses, while there is not a trace in you of compunction and self-abnegation. What a contrast to the suffering, sad, crucified Jesus!
“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice,” says Jesus. Child of the Church, you believe and confess it; but how your life contradicts it! Are you not content in your lukewarmness? Have you ever earnestly thought of sanctifying your life? What a contrast to Jesus, most holy!
“Blessed are the clean of heart,” says Christ. Child of the Church, you believe it, and your lips proclaim it; but how your life belies your words! Oh, how full your heart is of unclean desires; and, perhaps, it is more soiled by lust than the hearts of thousands of heathens. What a contrast to Jesus, most pure!
“Blessed are the merciful,” is the teaching of the Saviour. Child of the Church, you believe it; but how your conduct contradicts your belief! How avaricious, how heartless you are, how slow in performing acts of corporal and spiritual mercy! What a contrast to the most merciful Jesus!
“Blessed are the peacemakers;” and yet how much inclined you are to contention, how unforgiving is your heart! What a contrast to Jesus, the Mediator between God and man!
“Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice sake.” How emphatically Christ says: ” Let him who will follow me take up his cross. . . . . If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” He Himself ended His life on the cross, and how little love you bear it! How little have you suffered for God and His Church in your zeal for saving souls! This contradiction of the children of the Church is more incomprehensible than that of the Jews, heathens or heretics.
Oh, that this contradiction would end, and we could, with the sincerity of St. Paul, ask the Lord: “What wilt thou have me to do!” Then will Christ become a sign to us, to arise from the indifferent, the sinful life of nominal Christians, to the life of the true children of God in the imitation of Christ! Amen!
Jesus, Mary and Joseph appear in the temple in order to present the divine Child to the Lord, according to the dictates of the law. The Holy Family in the temple are an example for every Christian family whose members are anxious to labor for their mutual sanctification. Not only, however, there, but also in their flight into Egypt, and after their return to their home at Nazareth, the holy Family is to all others an example and model of union, which holy and sanctifying in itself, brings blessings for time and eternity.
As on the state of the families depends the spiritual and temporal welfare of the entire congregation, I shall point out to you, in a few words, the characteristic traits of the Holy Family. Today, especially, give me your undivided attention. O Mary, pray that all families, especially in this congregation, may so live that men can say of each: Behold a holy family! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
The first trait we perceive in the Holy Family is their mutual holy love. Behold how great a love was that of Jesus for Mary, whom He, as Son of God, had chosen from all eternity to call His mother! And how great was also the love of Jesus for Joseph, who was to Him, as man, the representative of His heavenly Father!
On the other hand, who can conceive the ardent love of Mary for Jesus! Never had a mother thus felt for her child. He was so entirely her child. Again, how deep was the love of Joseph for Jesus, and how happily Mary and Joseph lived together in virginal purity!
Blessed the family where this bond of mutual love exists between husband and wife, children and parents! There dwell contentment and happiness! On the other hand, how unhappy the family where, soon after the honey-moon, indifference creeps in, and, not long after, mutual aversion imbitters life!
The second trait, which we observe in the Holy Family, is their mutual esteem. This trait is inseparable from the first. A love not founded on esteem soon loses its hold on the heart.
Who can tell how much Jesus esteemed His blessed Mother and St. Joseph! He knew the sublimity of their virtues, which He, as God, had implanted in their hearts. On the other hand, how great was the mutual esteem of Mary and Joseph, who daily saw each other’s good example, and together worshipped in the divine Child their God and their Redeemer!
Happy the family in which the members are animated by this esteem. Love is deeply rooted where the wife can say: “Were I only like my husband, so pious and virtuous! How I admire him!” Or, where the husband is forced to say to himself: “If I were only like my wife; she is truly a saint, if there be saints on earth!” Again, happy the family where the children need no other incitement to honor their parents than their bright example of a virtuous life: where parents have cause to think: “Oh! had I been in my youth as good and pious as my child!” Content and happiness reign in that family.
But woe, when the wife must say: “My husband is a bad man, a bad Christian. I despise him!” Or when the husband has similar thoughts about his wife; still more wretched, I should think, is the family where the children are forced to admit that their father is a bad man, and their mother no honor to them; where parents have the grief to see their children walk the road to perdition. There can be no contentment, no happiness in that household.
The third characteristic of the Holy Family is their concern and care for one another. How filled with anxious thoughts for the divine Child were the hearts of Mary and Joseph! To serve Jesus and Mary was Joseph’s greatest care, day and night; while Jesus took upon Himself manual labors, to assist His foster-father. What an example to us!
Happy the family where father, mother and children are mutually concerned for each other’s temporal and spiritual welfare; in such a home reigns sweet peace and joy. On the other hand, how painful and disheartening it is, when the head of the family does not care for his wife and children; when he does not endeavor to earn a decent livelihood, or spends his money in drinking and dissipation; when the mother does not attend to her household duties, and thinks only of dress and display! Does it never happen that the husband, not caring for his wife, leaves her in want; that the wife, indifferent towards her husband, neglects his comfort, and makes home any thing but cheerful; that children let their parents suffer for the necessaries of life? In such a household can there be happiness?
The fourth trait of the Holy Family, which we should imitate, is their desire to be a comfort to one another. If Christ said to St. Gertrude: “When men persecute me, I retire into thy heart; there I find peace,” can we doubt that He received comfort from the care and devotion of Mary, with whom He lived for thirty years under the same roof, the object of her most watchful attention? And how great must have been the comfort Mary and Joseph felt in being near Jesus! Nothing in this world could have induced them to part with this happiness.
Happy the family where the husband can say: “I have a hard life, but my wife is my comfort;” and where the wife can say: ” In all trials and tribulations my husband is my comfort, and we have good children.”
But if the man sighs: “My greatest cross is my wife,” or when the wife has reason to complain: “My husband embitters my life,” or when the children cause their parents hearts to ache, or when the members of the family prefer to be anywhere but at home, peace is banished from the house. In such a family there is no happiness; such a life may be called a hell on earth, and the threats of Christ seem already fulfilled in them here below: “Bind them together into bundles.”
The fifth trait with which the Holy Family shines as a model, is their union in the peace of mutual love. How could this have been otherwise in a family where there could not be found an imperfection or sin? Happy the family of which the members bear with each other in holy patience!
But again, in the family where every morning commences with fresh contentions, and where, instead of prayers to call down a blessing, curses and imprecations fill the house, there, if anywhere on earth, must be a foretaste of hell’s bitterness.
The sixth trait in the life of the Holy Family, which we ought to imitate, is their mutual edification and encouragement in the service of God. How sanctifying must have been the joint prayers of Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What an example to one another of piety and devotion!
Happy the family where common prayers and spiritual reading is practised; where regularity in the reception of the Sacraments and in attendance at divine service, is a constant source of mutual edification!
But unhappy the family circle where no example kindles the fire of devotion in the hearts of the children; where, on the contrary, every influence at home withdraws them from religious practises and piety, as is but too often the case in these evil days.
Finally, the seventh and the eighth characteristics, Joseph dies in the arms of Jesus and Mary. Mary stands by the cross of her dying Son. Jesus takes Mary and Joseph, body and soul, into heaven. The care of the members of a family for their mutual welfare extends beyond the grave. How sad, when, after death, one of the family is soon forgotten and not aided by prayers and good works!
These are the eight traits of the Holy Family, and they are the eight blessings I wish to every Catholic family, especially in this congregation, as the fruit of the holy Nativity! Amen!
Today’s Gospel points to a number of persons, each one of whom, taken separately, represents an influential class in society. We see a married couple, Mary and Joseph; the Child Jesus; Simeon, the venerable old priest; Anna, the holy widow, and people collected together. One of these, especially after the Child Jesus, attracts our attention, and that is Mary, His Mother. To her Simeon addressed himself, prophesying that a sword would pierce her soul. It is, therefore, principally to mothers that I address myself today.
Although I am no prophet, yet I am priest, and looking back upon the experiences of my clerical life, I have a right to prophesy and say to every mother: Fulfill your duties to your children as a Christian and a Catholic mother, lest a sword of sorrow pierce your heart!
What I have to say on this subject is, in a manner, also addressed to fathers; and every one, according to his state, will be able to make applications to himself, with a view that Christ may be set for His resurrection and not for His fall. O Mary, pray that all parents may comprehend my words today, and that they may draw profit from them for the salvation of their children! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God !
Simeon prophesied to Mary that a sword should pierce her soul. This sword Mary had not deserved, while you, faithless mothers, have deserved the sword with which your children pierce your hearts. This becomes clear to us when we follow the course of a child’s education.
The first care of a mother in regard to the child which God gives her, must be, that it is safely born, and baptized as early as possible. How important a warning, especially for mothers in our days! There are mothers who, in order to escape the discomforts and dangers of their state, intentionally use means which make them become real child-murderers. But even if this is not the case, mothers are often not careful enough, and it is their fault if the child is not born alive, or if it remains a long time unbaptized in the power of the devil. If a child dies without baptism, and loses heaven through the mother’s fault, woe is her! Reproach will pierce her soul like a two-edged sword, and will remain in it forever. No priest, no pope, can ever draw it out. How I pity her! She may repent of the deed, but she can not undo it.
As children grow up, they should be taught as early as possible to raise their thoughts to God, and to say by heart the prayers which the Church prescribes. Children like this exercise better, and have more capacity for it, than one would suppose. Even the smallest child can learn from a pious mother some short prayers, and repeat them morning and night. If this is not done, then, mother, your children will learn to curse before they learn to pray; and a sword will pierce your heart.
Afterwards it becomes a mother’s duty to instruct her children in the catechism. Oh, how fearfully neglected is this obligation by many! In this regard we may lay down the following rule: Every mother should instruct her child in such a manner, that in its tenth year it will be prepared to receive holy Communion. Instruction! instruction! is needed in these days, in order that every one may give an account of his faith.
And we can impart it so easily, now that we have such excellent opportunities of instructing ourselves by reading good books. Once a grandmother brought me a little girl of three years and a half, who knew the whole of the small catechism by heart. Surprised I asked the old lady how it was possible that so small a child could be so thoroughly instructed. She answered: “This is my daughter’s child, and as she is with me the whole day, I teach her to answer all my questions correctly.”
Tell me, mothers, why do some children ten and twelve years old, know less than this child of three? Your negligence, your ignorance is the cause.
When a child is old enough to receive holy Communion, and to go out into the world, then it is a parent’s duty to see that it does not frequent evil company, or go into the service of godless people. Parents must also assist their children to find that vocation for which, as far as we can judge, God destines them. And further, they must take care that their daughters do not marry irreligious, unbelieving men or bad Christians. Frivolous mother! who is more to blame than you that your daughter so soon neglects her religious duties? Your own hand prepared the sword which pierces your heart.
Parents must especially observe if their sons have any inclination or talent for the important office of the priesthood; and further, if their boys or girls have any vocation to enter Religious Orders. But, above all, parents must, by their own conduct, give the children the very best example.
The truly Catholic mother is easily recognized. She is given to prayer, insists on having morning and evening devotions in common; she hears Mass as often as her duties permit, goes to holy Communion regularly and often. But if a mother is the contrary of all this prays seldom, rarely goes to Mass, frequents the Sacraments at long intervals then the children are still less disposed to piety and more irregular in their religious duties. And is it surprising that such a mother, if she lives long enough to see her children grow up, experiences from them griefs and disappointments? Sharp, sharp indeed the sword whose point will pierce her heart!
But in educating a child one must also watch and chide and punish. No more powerful motive can be urged upon parents for the judicious discharge of this duty than that contained in the words of the venerable Simeon: “This child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many.”
There is not a man who exerts no influence on others, whether for good or for evil. Parents, remember that the good or bad education of your children will work effects even to the day of judgment! Happy will you be, parents, if, on the last day, not only your children will thank you for having educated them as true Catholics, but also numberless others, who, through you and your children, have become virtuous and thus saved their souls. Happy will you be, when these will call out to you: Had you not brought up your son so piously, he would not have become the priest who led my soul in the way to heaven. Had you, good parents, not been so careful in the education of your daughter, she would never have become the pious wife and mother who saved her husband and her children.
But woe to you parents, if, through neglect of your children’s education, not they alone are lost, but others are dragged down with them into perdition. Woe to you, if on the last day these lost souls cry to you: Had you not neglected the education of your children, we should not have been led astray and plunged into ever lasting misery!
Your repentance will then come too late. From the mouth of the divine Judge will then be heard these words to the angels, His reapers: Bind them together, the bad parents and worse children, and cast them into everlasting fire, that there they may forever curse each other!
Mothers, may today’s admonition ward off from your souls the sword of sorrow. May your death-bed be surrounded by pious children, reared up to virtue by your good example and careful instruction, and thanking you with grateful tears for the pains you have taken in their education. That scene will bring consolation to your heart, and you will with holy Simeon exclaim : Now, O Lord, dismiss thy servant in peace, for my eyes have seen the salvation of all my children. I can close my eyes with the firm hope, that soon in heaven we can all embrace as children of one common parent, God, the Father of mankind.
Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph, and so will I, as priest, bless those who have made the resolution to fulfill with renewed zeal their duties towards their children. The blessing of Almighty Gocl, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, be, and remain with you, faithful parents, and with your children, all the days of your lives! Amen! (1)