Octave of Christmas: Cooperation with God’s Grace
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
“And the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that has come to pass, which the Lord hath showed to us.”–Luke 2.
The joyous feast of Christmas once more fills with gladness the hearts of the children of the Church. It is the feast which bears the significant name of the gracious nativity of our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ. For, in truth, the incarnation and birth of the Son of God are the source of all the graces which we have received through His life here on earth, and through His death. But that these graces may really serve unto our salvation, depends upon the care with which we dispose ourselves to receive them, and upon the earnestness of our co-operation.
To understand the nature of that co-operation, which may prove meritorious, we need only glance at the shepherds, and consider their mode of acting when the angel addressed to them the words imparting the glad tidings of the birth of the world’s Redeemer: Today is born for you the Redeemer of the world–go to Bethlehem, and you will find the Infant lying in the manger. “Yes, let us go to Bethlehem,” said they; and they hastened thither and found the child with Mary and Joseph.
A study of the conduct of the shepherds will show us how we may derive permanent profit from the holy feast of Christmas, and what dispositions we should have to receive with fruit the inspirations of grace. O Mary, look down upon us with that condescension with which thou didst regard the shepherds the first among the faithful, who paid homage to thy divine Child! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor of God!
In the first place, they were watchful shepherds. The inhabitants of Bethlehem were asleep; the shepherds were watching. This circumstance points to the first condition necessary to really perceive the call of grace, namely: we must walk in the presence of God in recollection of spirit. Why is it we feel so few inspirations of grace? Because we are not watchful. Christ says: Blessed are the servants whom the Lord finds watching. Even those who call themselves children of the Church, generally lead a life of carelessness; they are men of habit, they fulfill the duties of their state as Christians, but only superficially, and are mainly engaged in devising plans for the increase of their worldly profits. But how little attention at prayer and in the performance of their other religious duties! How often they fail to recognize and receive the inspirations of the Holy Ghost! This indolence and sleepiness in the service of God also prevents us from clearly seeing those faults which, through carelessness, precipitation, or impatience, find their way into our ordinary actions. Such lukewarm, sleepy souls also lose many opportunities of performing works of charity, and do not interest themselves in the least about the spiritual or temporal welfare of their neighbor.
The shepherds of that Christmas night were resolute men, resolute servants of the Lord. They did not say: Oh, it is night, and we had better wait till daybreak! No; but when they heard the words of the angel, they resolved to carry out at once the instructions given. Why is it, that in so many cases the inspirations of the Holy Ghost remain fruitless? I reply: Strong will is wanting, a strong will to accomplish not only in part but wholly all that we know to be the will of God, without wavering or excuse. This want of determination is an obstacle to the efficacy of grace, and prevents its bearing fruit. This weakness of will and want of resolution comes from an excessive care for temporal things, from an undue fear of mortal man; and finally from the difficulties connected with the accomplishment of a good work.
When the angel announced the glad tidings to the shepherds, they were tending their sheep; and yet they did not hesitate to leave their flocks and hasten to Bethlehem to seek the divine Child. How different the conduct of the majority of men when there is question of some worldly gain! They are all anxiety. They listen with eagerness to every advice, to every word regarding the advancement of their temporal affairs; but they are, so to say, blind and deaf, when the question of attending to their spiritual interests is urged upon them.
The shepherds determined upon going, and did not stop to consider what the inhabitants of Bethlehem might say when they came there to make inquiries for the Child,–to salute an Infant born in a rude stable, and to adore Him as the promised Messiah, the heir of the family of David. The fear of man is, alas! the reason why so many fail in their courage to follow the inspirations of grace. What will people say? is the discouraging impediment opposing them on all sides. They have an idea that if they walk fearlessly in the way of salvation the children of the world will regard them as ignorant, as slaves of the priests. And yet what little cause have we to fear the children of this world, who, in spiritual matters, are so ignorant and so short-sighted. If God is with us, who can be against us, or who can harm us?
The shepherds continued to listen to the echo of the Gloria which the angels sang, and thus assured themselves that God was with them. It was not a very pleasant task to wander through the streets of Bethlehem at night, to awaken the inhabitants from their slumbers, and make inquiries concerning the newly-born Child. But they disregarded these difficulties and obstacles, and hastened onward without delay. the world did not receive its Redeemer and Deliverer. “He came into His own, and His own received Him not.” What so frequently renders the inspirations of grace fruitless, is our deficiency in self-denial; our love of ease is the great obstacle. It is true, we make good resolutions at times, but we postpone the fulfillment of them, and thus never accomplish them.
The shepherds found the Infant and adored Him, and offered Him their hearts; and, as tradition teaches, they also presented Him with such gifts as their poverty would allow. That which gives efficacy to the inspirations of grace, is the spirit of prayer and of devotion in our spiritual, intercourse with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. But it is especially the intercourse we hold with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Yes, here is Bethlehem, the city of bread, where Jesus lies in the tabernacle as in a crib, shrouded in the white raiments of the sacramental species. What a fountain of grace here discloses itself to our view! Would that we but profited by it as we might!
We really have no cause to envy the shepherds and their happiness, in being allowed to behold the Infant Jesus once, and to adore Him. We are permitted to visit the same Infant Jesus every day, and even to receive Him into our hearts. Thus our hearts become, as it were, the crib, and we are enabled through Christ, as children of God, to taste of heaven’s joys, even while yet living on this earth.
The shepherds praised and thanked God for the favor they had received. Not without reason does the Church call the Blessed Sacrament the Sacrament of thanksgiving. O Infant Jesus, filled with these sentiments we prostrate ourselves before Thee with the shepherds, and with them we worship Thee! Bless us, as Thou hast blessed them, and save us through the power and the graces of Thy coming into this world! Amen!