THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
Her Doctrine and Morals
Third Sunday in Advent
11 December 2016
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The preparation for the celebration of Christmas usually entails a lot of cleaning and adorning of our homes. We similarly put on our best attire for this Holy Day. There is great focus upon these material things, often to the detriment of spiritual things. It is important that our bodies are clean and properly adorned to approach this day appropriately. We set aside time to wash our clothing, and we employ detergent and water. In a similar manner, we need to prepare our souls.
Just as there are times and circumstances that allow us simply to rinse with water, so there are times when all that we need to do spiritually, is repent with true contrition. However, there are times when rinsing a garment is not enough to get it clean. In those cases, we must use something stronger than water to break up the material that is soiling our garments. Again, the same is true with our souls. Sometimes we must add almsgiving and penances to our contrition. St. Maximus instructs us that: "The holy prophet says: as water puts out fire, so the giving of alms extinguishes sin." (Ecclus. 3, 33) Since the preaching of St. John the Baptist, some of the people began to do penance and make sacrifices and in this manner they washed their souls clean and prepared themselves to receive the Son of God. With their alms, they were stealing heaven.
St. John the Baptist said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him: "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit worthy of repentance." (Luke 3, 7-8) It was not enough to believe and be baptized; they needed to produce fruit worthy of repentance. It was with a kind of violence that they took heaven through the giving of alms. "The kingdom of heaven has been subject to violence, and the violent lay claim to it." (Matt 11,12) St. Maximus suggests to us that this violence, in a sense, forces the hand of God. In our sins we face God as our Judge, but when we offer alms, the charity that God sees within us softens His attitude towards us. From a stern Judge demanding justice, He becomes merciful and eager to forgive and pardon. In this way, we do violence to Heaven.
It is a holy violence. We are called upon to practice violence against ourselves and, thus show true love for our fellow men through alms-giving. In this manner, we obtain undeserved mercy from God. We are able, thus, to steal away Heaven. St. Maximus said: "We do violence, I say, against the Lord, not by compelling, but by weeping; not provoking Him by insults, but by pleading with tears of repentance; not by blaspheming in pride, but by grieving in humility, O Blessed violence! Which is not repelled with indignation, but forgiven in mercy. …."
"Let us attack the Lord on the way, because he is the Way, and after the manner of robbers let us despoil Him of His goods; let us take from him His kingdom, His treasures and His life. But He is so rich and so generous that He will not resist us, and when He has given us all that is His, He still possesses all things. Let us assault Him, I say, not with sword, or staff, or stone, but with mildness, with good works, with chastity."
We are holy thieves. "The Church has stolen Christ from the Synagogue; and by doing violence, has seized the kingdom for another people. For the Savior sent under the Law, born under the Law, reared according to the Law, being neglected by the Jews, was seized by the Gentiles. He was lost by the Priests, and was found by sinners; as He Himself has said: Publicans and sinners shall go into the Kingdom of Heaven before you." (Matt 21, 32)
It is useless for us to clean our homes and decorate and make all these material preparations, if we do not do the same thing for our souls. While our souls are burdened with the soil of sin, the best that we can be are actors and fakers. We are truly foolish clowns thinking that by washing only the body, all is clean. Poor sinners who are unable to make all the material preparations, that the world suggests are necessary, are, nonetheless, able to make the spiritual preparations. These are available to one and all. If the soul is thus purified by contrition, penance and good works; even if the material preparations are unattainable; all is well with God. He entered into the stable in Bethlehem, and transformed it into Heaven by His very presence. If we cleanse our sinful souls, He will enter them too, and transform them in the same manner. With His grace, let us begin now to focus, first and foremost, upon preparing fruits that are worthy of penance, and by this take what Jesus came to give to us His loving mercy.
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