THROUGH THE DIVINE MERCY, beloved brethren, the day on which we long to celebrate with joy the birthday of our Lord and Savior is almost at hand. Therefore I pray and advise that with God’s help we labor as much as we can, so that on that day we may be able to approach the altar of the Lord with a pure and upright conscience, a clean heart, and a chaste body. Then we may merit to receive His Body and Blood, not to our judgment, but as a remedy for our souls. Truly our life depends upon the Body of Christ, as the Lord Himself said: “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”1 Therefore a man should change his life, if he wants to receive life, for if he does not change his life, he will receive it to his own judgment. Then he is corrupted by it more than he is healed; he is killed rather than given life. For thus the Apostle spoke: “He who eats and drinks without recognizing the body and blood of the Lord, eats and drinks a judgment on himself.”2
(2) Although it is fitting for us to be adorned and distinguished by good works at all times, still on the day of the Lord’s birth in particular, our good deeds, as He Himself said in the Gospel,3 ought to shine before men. Consider, I beseech you, brethren, a powerful or noble man who wishes to celebrate either his own birthday or that of his son. With what great effort he looks for anything disgraceful in his house many days before. He arranges for it to be cleaned, for anything improper or unsuitable to be thrown away, and whatever is useful or necessary he commands to be displayed. If the house is dirty, it is even whitewashed, the floors are cleaned with brooms, strewn with different kinds of flowers, and adorned; whatever affords delight to the mind and pleasure to the body is provided with every solicitude. What is the purpose of all these preparations, dearest brethren, except to celebrate with joy the birthday of a man who some day will die? Now if you make such great preparations on the occasion of your birthday or on that of your son, what great and what kind of preparations should you make when you are about to begin celebrating the birthday of our Lord? If you make such preparations for one who is destined to die, what kind of preparations should you make for one who is eternal? Therefore labor as much as you can so that God may not find in your soul whatever you do not want to find in your home.
(3) If an earthly king or the head of a family invited you to his birthday celebration, with what kind of garments would you endeavor to adorn yourself when you approached? Surely with new and shining ones, costly ones whose age or cheapness or ugliness could not offend the eyes of the one who invited you. Therefore with Christ’s help strive as much as you can with a like zeal, so that your soul may with an easy conscience approach the solemn feast of the eternal king, that is, the birthday of our Lord and Savior, if it is adorned with the decoration of various virtues. Let it be adorned with the jewels of simplicity and the flowers of temperance, gleaming chastity, shining charity, and joyful almsgiving. For if Christ the Lord recognizes that you are celebrating His birthday with such dispositions, He Himself will deign to come and not only visit your soul, but also rest and continually dwell in it. As it is written: “I will dwell with them and walk among them”;4 and again: “Here I stand, knocking at the door; if anyone rises up and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him, and he with me.”5 How happy is the soul which, with God’s help, has striven to direct his life in such a way that he may merit to receive Christ as his guest and indwelling person. On the contrary how unhappy and lamentable with a whole fountain of tears is the conscience which has defiled itself with evil deeds. It has so covered itself with the blackness of avarice, burned itself with the fire of wrath, polluted itself with continuous dissipation, and ruined itself with the tyranny of pride that Christ does not begin to rest in it, but the devil is starting to prevail! If the remedy of repentance does not quickly come to the aid of such a soul, he is abandoned by the light and occupied by darkness. He is rid of sweetness and filled with bitterness; he is invaded by death and rejected by life. However, a man of this kind should not fail to trust in the Lord’s goodness. He should not be overcome by deadly despair but should rather have recourse to repentance at once. While the wounds of his sins are still new and warm, he should apply salutary medicines to himself. Our Physician is omnipotent, and He is so accustomed to heal our wounds that He does not allow even the trace of a scar to remain.
(4) Now just as you ought to refrain at all times from adultery and most wretched concubinage, beloved brethren, so, as often as you arrange to celebrate the birthday of our Lord or other feasts, you ought to keep away from your own wives for many days before it. Above all avoid drunkenness, resist anger as a most cruel wild beast, and reject hatred from your heart like a deadly poison. Let the love in your hearts be so great that it may reach not only your friends but also your very enemies. Then you may with assurance say in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us the wrong we have done as we forgive those who wrong us.”6 If a man knows that he has hatred within himself for even one man, I do not know whether he can approach the Lord’s altar with assurance, especially since blessed John the Evangelist exclaims in a frightening manne0r when he says: “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.”7 Now it is for you to judge whether a murderer ought to presume to receive the Eucharist before he repents. St. John also adds still more, when he exclaims and says: “The man who hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in shadows, not knowing where he is going, since the dark has blinded his eyes.”8 Again he says: “The man who does not love his brother is among the living dead”;9 and still further: “If anyone says that his love is fixed on God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. One who has no love for the brother he has seen, how can he love the God he has not seen?”10 Therefore if a man keeps hatred or anger in his heart and is neither frightened nor aroused by such thunder, he must be believed to be, not sleeping, but dead.
(5) As we continually think about these truths, dearest brethren, those who are good should with the grace of God strive to persevere in good works, because not he who has begun, but “the man who holds out to the end is the one who will see salvation.”11 Those who know that they are slow in giving alms, prompt to anger, and swift in yielding to dissipation, with the Lord’s help should hasten to uproot themselves from evil in order that they may merit to do what is good. Then when the day of judgment comes, they will not be punished with wicked sinners but will deserve to arrive at eternal rewards along with the just and merciful: with the help of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
John 6:54 (53).
1 Cor. 11:29.
Cf. Matt. 5:16.
2 Cor. 6:16.
1 John 3:15.
1 John 2:11.
1 John 3:14.
1 John 4:20.
Matt. 10:22; 24:13.