“It is not by some fortuitous coincidence that the shepherds were chosen. These souls were ready for the divine manifestation. God wants to manifest Himself again today; He is waiting for our favorable dispositions. To be able to see God through faith, in all the circumstances of our life, we must be humble souls, mortified souls like the shepherds, souls that forget themselves.”Father John Gregory of the Trinity
«Unless You Become Like Little Children…»(1)
Sermon by Father Jérôme de la Résurrection, o.d.m.
To truly understand the mystery of Christmas, we must descend, lower ourselves, make ourselves little… But when God invites us to descend, unfortunately we rebel and become embittered against His holy Will because we do not understand the mystery of the Manger.
At Christmas, those who do not grasp the mystery of God becoming a little Child think only of celebrating in order to forget their problems, celebrations in which there will be as much pleasure as possible, in which there will be no room for suffering, no room for an act of humility, because everyone will want to shine, be somebody and make the most of life.
Is this how it is for us too, my brothers and sisters? Is Christmas an occasion for us to humble ourselves? Is it an occasion to lower ourselves interiorly, recognize ourselves for what we are before God, that is, poor beggars?
Christmas is the feast of the poor. Do we really recognize that we are poor before Jesus? Or rather do we not often regard ourselves as creatures whom God should shower with favors and graces?… creatures to whom everything is due?
During this Christmas season, Jesus invites us to descend with Him to the Manger at Bethlehem, like little children, very little children, very little – so little that no one will be able to recognize us, just as the Infant Jesus, the Son of God, was not recognizable. Truly, the Son of God hid Himself well. All the great ones of this world, and you might say practically all of humanity, were unaware of the sublime mystery that was happening in the Manger at Bethlehem. Yet it was the greatest event in all of History that was taking place: God becoming a Child out of love for His creatures.
By that gesture, Jesus wanted to teach us a lesson of humility. He made Himself little by the Will of His Father. My brothers and sisters, are we also willing to accept to become little, to become people who are easy for God to manipulate? That is what it means to make yourself little: to be flexible in the hands of God, let Him do what He wants with us. Look at very little children, for example: we do what we want with them; they are at our mercy, so to speak.
Do we also want to be at God’s mercy? Do we accept to be little, hidden, counted as nothing? Or rather do we want to be regarded as important people who deserve something? Is that not our problem, to think that on earth we are important people to whom others owe respect and consideration? We expect respect from our fellow men, we expect consideration, we want to increase and be somebody in the eyes of men and even in the eyes of God. We forget that Jesus, our infinitely great and perfect God, chose abjection, abasement, scorn.
Are we willing to walk in the footsteps of our divine Master? Do we accept to go down to the Manger, poor, stripped, without anything? Do we accept to appear before God and say, “Lord, here I am, just as I am: a poor, miserable person who is deserving of contempt. So many times, Lord, have I offended You. So many times have I turned away from Your holy Will. So many times have You called to Me, and so many times have I refused.”
My brothers and sisters, that is the mystery of Christmas: God is inviting us not to grow but to become little; not to make a success of our life according to human views, but to lead a life of annihilation, a humble life, hidden from the eyes of everyone, scorned by the world, far from all commotion. Just like Jesus when He was on earth…
When we contemplate the beautiful mystery of the Infant Jesus, we have the entire mystery of the Redemption before our eyes: the Manger and Calvary. Jesus descended to be lifted up afterwards. That is where we must go: down to the Manger in order to go up to Calvary, and then to the Resurrection. That is our whole life, my brothers and sisters. Now, we must carry out this program with all our human weakness, recognizing ourselves as poor, fallen creatures, always inclined to offend God, but also always strengthened by His grace, if we ask for it and correspond to it. Is it not true, my brothers and sisters, that we are far readier to offend God than we are to humble ourselves before Him? Are we not always more inclined to deny Jesus than to recognize Him in the Manger and follow Him? But grace is there. I can do all things in Him who strengthens me,(2) said Saint Paul.
Forms of poverty
Jesus came to Bethlehem in poverty because He wanted to give us an example of profound detachment. Poor humans that we are, we love possessions, we love abundance, especially in material things. How we love the things of the earth! We love comfort, luxury, fine clothing, good food, beautiful homes, elegant furniture. Our hearts are so inclined towards these things! On seeing the passion with which people seek earthly things and attach themselves to them, sometimes we would say that man is made only for the earth. But in Holy Scripture there is a dreadful sentence: If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.(3) This means that the love of created things is incompatible with the love of God.
Jesus preaches yet another form of poverty to us. Often we have an excessive love for our parents, our children, our friends and those around us. Or rather, I should say that we love them badly, we love them as pagans love. We appreciate our loved ones more than we appreciate God, and we place their temporal interests above their eternal interests. How many parents, for example, prefer yielding to their children’s whims in order to avoid making them sad or upset, whereas that whim is doing harm to their soul and their spiritual progress?
And we, my brothers and sisters, how do we consider things? Does God have first place in our heart, our actions? How difficult it is for us to rid ourselves of earthly things! How difficult it is for us to rise above the bonds of flesh and blood! How difficult it is for us to break with the “World,” that is, the whole general mentality that goes counter to the Gospel and the example of the Saints!
Jesus was born poor in the Manger. He suffered from everything. That is the example He gives us, that is what He invites us to do! You will find Him lying in a manger,(4) said the Angel to the shepherds. Do you think it was very honorable, very comfortable for that little child? We who have comfortable, well-heated homes, we still find something to complain about if it is a little too cold or a little too hot. But Jesus, our Saviour, endured everything to expiate our sins. He came to give us the example, so that we should do as He has done.(5)
I am respectable!
My brothers and sisters, it is not unusual to see that people who practice the spiritual life, or people who lead a decent life, desire to be regarded as saints or at least as very respectable individuals. How we love to be well-regarded, as possessing some virtue! I would say that what does us the most harm spiritually is precisely this desire to be regarded as good, virtuous people, people who have some credit with God.
Often we would accept being deprived of certain earthly goods easily enough, but we do not accept humiliation. We do not want to be regarded as contemptible creatures. We want to appear, before God and men, as people with their hands full of good works. We do not want to accept our spiritual misery; nor do we want to accept our human condition as it is: that we are materially and spiritually poor. We are creatures who are entirely dependent upon God and who can do nothing good without Him. Without Me, you can do nothing,(6) said Our Lord. By making Himself a little child and being born in the stable at Bethlehem – poor, little, reduced, unrecognizable in the eyes of men – Jesus became impossible to recognize without a special light from God. Who could discern His greatness? Who could imagine His infinite virtues? And we would want to appear as good and great?
We say or think, “I have this merit; I have done that great deed. People ought to have consideration for me because I am good and respectable. Certainly I deserve this esteem.” My brothers and sisters, as soon as we think this way, we practically fall into God’s disgrace, no matter how perfect and virtuous we may have been. Because in God’s sight, whoever we may be, we are full of misery and poverty; pride makes us unbearable to God. We deserve nothing on earth; our only hope is in this Child, born to redeem us. And it is through Him alone that we have any merit, by our sufferings united to His own sufferings.
No little programs
My brothers and sisters, on the occasion of this Christmas, let us ask for the grace to accept the Will of God as it is presented to us by life. We would like to invent a sanctity, a spiritual life according to our personal views. We develop little programs of sanctification for ourselves, judging everything with regard to ourselves and our interests; and in the meantime, we bypass the program drawn out for us by God. It would be merely a matter of accepting everything that presents itself, with a spirit of faith and with love, in order to become great saints.
We have to admit it: there is a lot of suffering on earth! For example, let each one take a look at what he has had to suffer in the last twenty-four hours. We go outdoors and it is too cold; we go indoors and sometimes it is too warm; we are uncomfortable. Our work has worn us out. Perhaps we have been annoyed; we have had to suffer from the people around us, who do not think like us or do not understand us, even if they are holy people.
We read in the life of Saint John of the Cross that he made many people suffer — and yet, he was a giant of sanctity! It was inevitable. The man was a reformer. And you can be sure that the reforms he imposed in the community entailed sufferings even for those who were good religious. Saint John of the Cross entered the scene in very difficult circumstances. He bothered a lot of people. But that was the Will of God. And everything that makes us suffer is always permitted by God. The trouble is, we are often not holy enough to see the hand of God behind the sufferings that crop up. We often recognize our superiors or people with a lot of virtue as persons truly guided by God, as saints, but that does not mean they do not shock us, jostle us, make us suffer. I would even say that sometimes the saints’ role is precisely to jostle others in order to make souls progress, detach them from themselves, make them humble.
Our Lord Jesus, our preeminent Model, chose to spend His life in impossible circumstances. Humanly speaking, He could very well have rebelled against God when He saw Himself coming into the world in a Manger. Suppose we had been in His place; we would have said, “This makes no sense, to have a little child — and even less, God Himself — be born in a manger! It is cold. There are only animals to warm Him, etc.” As a man, Jesus would have had a lot to complain about. Let us put ourselves in His place: in dire poverty, received by the poorest of the poor.
My brothers and sisters, what would we do in similar circumstances, we who say that we are disciples of Jesus Christ? Are we like little Jesus in the Manger, not saying a word, consenting without a complaint? When we are truly little and when we believe that we are little, we do not complain about those around us, we do not complain about circumstances, because humility of heart makes us regard all that as our due.
The Redemption continues
More than the cold, more than poverty, there was an even harsher suffering for the Infant Jesus: it was knowing that so many sufferings, so much abasement, would be of no use to legions of souls that would not want to profit from them. Again, according to our human way of thinking, Jesus could well have said to His Father, “I am enduring all these sufferings for nothing, because there are multitudes of men who will reject the graces I merit for them. You are subjecting Me to suffering for nothing, Father!” But no, Our Lord, even though He knew all of that in advance, did not hesitate before suffering. He has revealed to several holy souls that for a single soul, He would have willingly undergone all the sufferings of His life and His holy Passion. And we might add that even if no man would have profited from the Incarnation and the sufferings of Jesus Christ, He would still have submitted to those sufferings in order to do the holy Will of His Father. Jesus loved the Will of God, He adored it. And setting aside all considerations, He became obedient unto death, even unto death on the cross.(7)
God has very precise designs upon each one of us also, my brothers and sisters. Sometimes the divine Will seems heavy, terrible to us, because we understand it only too well; and we rebel against that Will of God. This is not how we must act. We must fully accept what God wills, no matter what the cost, but always remembering that with God everything is possible, that with love everything becomes light. And let us also remember that sufficient for the day is its own trouble.(8) We must not consider our entire life all at once but day by day, minute by minute. Then everything becomes light. My yoke is easy, and My burden light,(9) says Our Lord.
According to the plan of God, it was not only His Son Jesus who would suffer to work out the Redemption. On earth, my brothers and sisters, some people are chosen to accomplish God’s missions; they must accomplish them cost what it may. Moreover, every Christian must be a coredeemer. I fill up in my flesh what is lacking to the Passion of Christ,(10) said Saint Paul. God wants to work out the Redemption through each one of us. He wants to make each one of us a coredeemer, mainly by the annihilation of ourselves, by humility. Jesus is asking us to descend. We must descend like Jesus into the Manger, accept to be lowered in the eyes of everyone and become little, like grains of sand that can be trodden underfoot or manipulated as willed by Providence, like little Jesus. Otherwise we will never be instruments in the hands of God.
This mystery of Christmas is so sublime! We really need to meditate on it, incorporate it into our life in all circumstances, and then teach it! Let us entreat God to make us fathom this great mystery. The knowledge of the things of God is a gift; it comes from within. There were many people who were ignorant, but humble and faithful, who received that knowledge. Sometimes those people hardly knew how to read and write, but they were geniuses, so to speak, because in their soul they understood the essence of Christianity. It is no little thing to grasp the essence of a matter. Even if I were to speak profusely here, if God did not enlighten your soul, all my words would be useless. If the Holy Spirit does not grant us a grace of understanding the mystery of Christmas, the finest speeches will leave us empty.
We might say that the essence of the mystery of Christmas is the infinite, incomprehensible humility of God lowering Himself as much as possible. And consequently, we have to understand that we Christians must put all our application and ambition into becoming little, mainly by accepting all the humiliations that God sends us through persons and circumstances.
We wonder why people find it so hard to humble themselves, seeing that they have so many reasons for doing so. We have so much to blame ourselves for in life! As for me, I have an enormous number of things to blame myself for, and I do not say this out of false humility. It is the truth. But I ask God that I may always accept His holy Will upon me to purify me of my sins and help me win paradise. Accepting His Will hurts sometimes; that is a fact we cannot deny. We would be liars if we said the contrary. It hurts us, it crucifies us, it mortifies our self-love to be diminished. But that is the obligatory road. Throughout His lifetime, Our Lord exalted humility; He exalted it to such a point that He made it a condition of salvation, saying, If you do not become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.(11) Elsewhere He says, If any man wishes to be first among you, he shall be the servant of all.(12) And again: The last shall be first, and the first last.(13)
Poverty well accepted is also a form of humility. That is why Our Lord beatified it, saying, Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.(14) It is humiliating to be poor. We need to ask… depend upon others… often appear as people who are not very bright, who do not know how to organize things or fend for themselves. But how beneficial and profitable it is for the soul that willingly accepts all of this!
Having no rights
If only we were able to let God act and were able to submit to all that He permits in our life, how quickly we would progress! Often, in His goodness and mercy, God organizes everything in our life, to make us descend to the Manger, because that is where the mystery of the Redemption begins. It ended on Calvary, but it began in the Manger. And that is where God wants us to begin. Becoming little, very little, divested of our self-esteem: that is the foundation. And as long as we do not go along with God’s plan, we rebel. We rebel against people, against circumstances; we criticize everything, we are perpetually dissatisfied.
If we had humility, if we were little children like little Jesus of Bethlehem, we would understand that we are only poor people who have nothing, who have no rights. The true Christian regards himself as having no rights, after a fashion, because he wants to imitate his divine Master, who renounced all His rights out of love for us.
Tell me, by what right do we demand esteem, honor, health, wealth, etc.? Is there a single passage in the Gospel proving that Christians have such rights? The true Christian is a man who regards himself as having no rights. What I mean is that the Christian understands that in his case, everything is a grace and mercy of God. Everything he has is only lent to him. If God so decided, it could all be taken from him, and it would not be an injustice. That is what it means to be a Christian. We should be ready to give our life for this doctrine, shed our blood for it if need be. Let us ask God for that grace. Dear brothers and sisters, we who call ourselves Christians, we who say that we have understood Christianity, how do we live it? Are we willing to do this?
Do we want to please little Jesus? Well then, let us offer ourselves to Him in order to go with Him to the Manger by adoring Him in His holy Will. Let us ask the Infant of the Manger for this grace, this noteworthy favor, this privilege of predestined souls: to become very, very little children. Let us ask it for each one of us, because it is starting with that authentic humility that the mystery of the coredemption will truly live in us. It is also starting with this humility that the renewal of the Church and the salvation of souls will be worked out.
On Christmas day, God is pleased to grant very special favors. Let us ask Him for this humility and this loving acceptance of His holy Will upon us. Becoming little is one of the greatest favors we could obtain. Once we have it, life will look totally different to us. Indeed, the day we accept to be nothing in everyone’s eyes and in our own eyes, everything changes. Nothing troubles us, nothing saddens us, because we consider that we do not deserve anything.
At Christmas, during Midnight Mass, let us ask the Child Jesus for these graces, through the intercession of the most Blessed Virgin Mary, who understood the mystery of Christmas and its lesson of humility so very well. The Blessed Virgin, the Immaculate, who never committed the slightest sin, was the most humble of creatures, She made Herself the servant of all. Let us ask Her to help us understand that with all the more reason, for us who are poor sinners, our place is in the dust, beneath the feet of all.
This sermon for the Nativity was published in the Magnificat Magazine, Decembre 2017
- ⇑ Unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven. Words of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in St. Matthew 18:3.
- ⇑ Philippians 4:13.
- ⇑ I St. John 2:15.
- ⇑ St. Luke 2:12.
- ⇑ Cf. St. John 13:15.
- ⇑ St. John 15:5.
- ⇑ St. Paul, Philippians 2:8.
- ⇑ St. Matthew 6:34.
- ⇑ St. Matthew 11:30.
- ⇑ Colossians 1:24.
- ⇑ St. Matthew 18:3.
- ⇑ St. Mark 9:34.
- ⇑ St. Matthew 20:16.
- ⇑ St. Matthew 5:3.
“When Jesus was born, O understand if you can! the adorations, the homages, the attentions of Mary. Adore Jesus in Her arms. What a beautiful monstrance! It was artfully fashioned by the Holy Spirit… Oh yes, the Eucharist begins in Bethlehem, in Mary’s arms: She is the monstrance of the newborn Word.”Saint Peter Julian Eymard