The Shepherds at the Crib.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
The Shepherds at the Crib.
WE will meditate to-day upon the shepherds at the crib, and we shall see: 1st, the appeal which Jesus Christ made to them at the crib; 2d, the manner in which they replied to this call. We will then make the resolution: 1st, to esteem poverty more than we have ever done before, together with simplicity and all the duties belonging to our state; 2d, to bring to our prayers more respect and more love; 3d, promptly to obey the inspirations of grace. Our spiritual nosegay shall be: “Let us go over to Bethlehem and let us see this word that is come to pass which the Lord hath showed to us” (Luke ii. 15).
MEDITATION FOR THE MORNING.
Let us adore Jesus Christ in the crib, surrounded by the shepherds, who, prostrate at His feet, offer Him their most fervent homage. Let us unite our hearts with theirs, and let us pour forth before this Incarnate God all the sentiments of gratitude and love of which we are capable.
The Appeal which Jesus Christ made to the Shepherds at the Crib.
Here two questions present themselves to our meditation: wherefore and how did Jesus Christ call them?
First question: Wherefore? 1st, because the shepherds are poor: Our Saviour desires to testify how little He esteems riches and greatness, which are often nothing more than the price of injustice and baseness, the food of ambition, the aliment of cupidity, the triumph of pride, and how He prefers to them poverty, as being more favorable to humility, to moderation in our desires, to meekness, to all the virtues; 2d, because they are simple and upright souls, and such souls are dear to Him (Prov. iii. 32); 3d, because they are laborious men who, not content with working during the day, watch also during the night: God hates the idle who lose their time; 4th, because they are men who apply themselves to the duties of their state: God wills that each one should fulfil the duties of the state in which he is placed on earth. Let us examine ourselves, and see whether we bear in ourselves these four characters, which were the means of obtaining so much happiness for the shepherds: are we poor in heart, perfectly detached from the goods of this world? are we simple and upright, without any other desire in this world than that of pleasing God? do we love work, and are we careful not to lose our time? are we diligent in performing the duties incumbent on us, and do we watch night and day over those who are confided to us by God?
Second question: How did Jesus Christ call the shepherds? He surrounded them with a dazzling light which impressed them with a religious fear, because a profound respect, seizing the soul with fear before the Divine Majesty, is always the commencement of the operations of God in a soul. To fear He makes joy succeed. “Fear not,” the angel said to them, “for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy! . . . For this day is born to you a Saviour” (Luke ii. 10). All other joy would be but vanity, but the coming of so good a Saviour is a subject for holy joy. Have we this respect for God and this joy in God?
Manner in which the Shepherds Responded to the Call of the Saviour.
1st. They answered it with promptitude. Hardly had the angels announced to them the good tidings, than they cried, “Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word” (Luke ii. 15). And they left their flocks there, and they themselves set out at once, spite of its being night. Oh, why are we not as prompt in following the inspirations of grace, which like so many celestial messengers call us to Jesus Christ! Do we not allow these divine inspirations to grow cold by our delays, after which they die out and remain without effect? O divine inspirations, return to me! I will no longer be unfaithful to you; my soul sighs after you; it opens to you its bosom, disposed to receive you with respect and love.
2d. The shepherds, having arrived at Bethlehem, enter into the stable, and who could express with what faith and with what devotion? In this Child so abased they adore the great God of eternity; in His littleness they revere His humility, in His swaddling-clothes His poverty, in the hardness of His couch His mortification, and these three virtues appear to them to be beautiful and glorious as being the livery of the King of kings. They admire in this Divine Infant the true treasure of heaven; they permit themselves to offer to Him little presents, in harmony with their humble condition, and their hearts give vent to and overflow with sentiments of gratitude and love.
3d. After having rendered their homage the shepherds return full of holy joy, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen (Luke ii. 20). Thus ought we to do ourselves when we quit our meditations and communions, our visits to the Blessed Sacrament, our spiritual readings, our sermons and instructions. From each one of these services we must bring away with us an ardent desire to become better, a burning zeal to glorify God and to publish His praises, a zeal such as St. Francis Xavier possessed when he exclaimed, “Who will give me the happiness, O Lord, to die for Thee and to make Thee known and loved in every part of the universe?”
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
Twelfth Night Prayer for the Fifth Day of Christmas.
O my God! another year is added to the number of those for which I am accountable to Thee. Well may I recount them all in the bitterness of my soul, for they have been filled with infidelities and ingratitude. Thou has granted them to me to know, to love, and to serve Thee, and every one of them brings to my recollection numberless omissions of these essential duties.
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