Saint Joseph goes to Bethlehem with His Holy Spouse
by St. Alphonsus de Liguori
Ascendit autem et Joseph . . . ut profittretur
cutit Maria desponsata sibi uxore preegnantt.
"And Joseph also went up . . . to be enrolled with Mary
his espoused wife, who was with child."--St. Luke, ii. 4.
God had decreed that His Son should be born not in the house of Joseph, but in a cavern and stable of beasts, in the poorest and most painful way that a child can be born; and therefore He caused Caesar to publish an edict, by which people were commanded to go and enroll themselves, every one in his own city whence he drew his origin.
When Joseph heard this order, he was much agitated as to whether he should take with him or leave behind the Virgin Mother, as she was now so near childbirth. My spouse and my lady, said he to her, on the one hand, I do not wish to leave you alone; on the other, if I take you with me, I am much afflicted at the thought of all that you will have to suffer during this long journey, and in such severe weather. My poverty will not permit me to conduct you with that comfort which you require. But Mary answers him, and tries to give him courage with these words: My Joseph, do not fear. I will go with you; the Lord will assist us. She knew, both by divine inspiration, and also because she was well versed in the prophecy of Micheas, that the divine Infant was to be born in Bethlehem. She therefore takes the swaddling-clothes, and the other miserable garments already prepared, and departs with Joseph. And Joseph also went up . . . to be enrolled with Mary.
Let us now consider all the devout and holy discourses which these two holy spouses must have held during this journey concerning the mercy, goodness and love of the divine Word, who was shortly to be born, and to appear on the earth for the salvation of men. Let us also consider the praises, the benedictions, the thankgs-givings, the acts of humility and love, which these two illustrious pilgrims uttered on the way. This holy Virgin, so soon to become a mother, certainly suffered much in so long a journey, made in the middle of winter, and over rough roads; but she suffered with peace and with love. She offered to God all these her trials uniting them to those of Jesus, whom she carried womb.
Oh, let us unite ourselves also, and let us accompany Mary and Joseph in the journey of our life; and, with them, let us accompany the King of Heaven, Who is born in a cave, and makes His first appearance in the world as an infant, but as the poorest and most forsaken infant that ever was born amongst men. And let us beseech Jesus, Mary, and Joseph that, through the merits of the pains which they suffered in this journey, they would accompany us in the journey that we are making to eternity. Oh, blessed shall we be if, in life and in death, we keep company with these three great personages, and are always accompanied by them!
Affections and Prayers
My beloved Redeemer, I know that in this journey Thou wast accompanied by hosts of angels from heaven; but on this earth who was there that bore Thee company? Thou hadst but Joseph and Mary who carried Thee with her. Refuse not, O my Jesus! that I also accompany Thee. Miserable ungrateful sinner that I have been, I now see the injuries I have done Thee; Thou didst come down from heaven to make Thyself my companion on earth, and I by my frequent offences have ungratefully abandoned Thee!
When I remember, O my Savior! that for the sake of my own cursed inclinations I have often separated myself from Thee and renounced Thy friendship, I could wish to die of sorrow. But Thou didst come into the world to forgive me: therefore forgive me now, I beseech Thee, for I repent with all my soul of having so often turned my back upon Thee and forsaken Thee. I purpose and hope, through Thy grace, nevermore to leave or separate myself from Thee, O my only love! My soul has become enamoured of Thee, O my amiable Infant God! I love Thee, my sweet Saviour; and snce Thou hast come upon earth to save me and to dispense to me Thy graces, I ask this one only grace of Thee, permit me not to be ever again separated from Thee. Unite me, bind me to Thyself, enchain me with the sweet cords of Thy holy love.
O my Redeemer and my God, who will then have the heart to leave Thee, and to live without Thee, deprived of Thy grace?" Most holy Mary, I come to accompany thee in this journey; and thou, O my Mother, cease not to accompany me in the journey that I am making to eternity. Do thou assist me always, but especially when I shall find myself at the end of my life, and near that moment on which will depend either my remaining always with thee to love Jesus in paradise, or my being forever separated from thee and hating Jesus in hell. My Queen, save me by thy intercession; and may my salvation be to love thee and Jesus forever, in time and in eternity. Thou art my hope; I hope everything from thee.
Christmas Eve Prayer
from the Liturgical Year, 1910
O Divine Infant! we, too, must needs join our voices with those of the Angels, and sing with them: Glory be to God! and Peace to men! We cannot restrain our tears at hearing this history of Thy Birth. We have followed Thee in Thy journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem; we have kept close to Mary and Joseph on the whole journey; we have kept sleepless watch during this holy Night, waiting Thy coming. Praise be to Thee, sweetest Jesus, for Thy mercy! and love from all hearts, for Thy tender love of us! Our eyes are riveted on that dear Crib, for our Salvation is there; and there we recognise Thee as the Messias foretold in those sublime Prophecies, which Thy Spouse the Church has been repeating to us, in her solemn prayers of this Night. Thou art the Mighty God--the Prince of Peace--the Spouse of our souls--our Peace--our Saviour--our Bread of Life. And now, what shall we offer thee? A good Will?
Ah! dear Lord! Thou must form it within us; Thou must increase it, if Thou hast already given it; that thus, we may become Thy Brethren by grace, as we already are by the human nature Thou hast assumed. But, O Incarnate Word! this Mystery of Thy becoming Man, works within us a still higher grace:--it makes us, as Thy Apostle tells us, partakers of that divine nature, which is inseparable with Thee in the midst of all Thy humiliations. Thou hast made us less than the Angels, in the scale of creation; but, in Thy Incarnation, Thou hast made us Heirs of God, and Joint-Heirs with Thine own divine Self! Never permit us, through our own weaknesses and sins, to degenerate from this wonderful gift, whereby Thy Incarnation exalted us, and oh! dear Jesus, to what a height! Amen
Spiritual Advice for the Coming Holidays
(by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876)
More than once during the year I have advised you, sometimes to take an hour, in which, setting aside all other cares, you should earnestly consider the state of your soul, and ponder well whether you can hope for salvation from the life you lead. In the same hour you should also carefully think how you ought to live in future, in order to gain salvation. As I am decidedly of opinion that this is an excellent means to live piously and save one's soul, I must once more return to this subject. No time is better adapted for making use of this means than the approaching Christmas. The holidays will give you a good opportunity to do so. It is your duty to keep them holy; and how can you do this better than by employing them to this purpose? I will more fully explain to you in what manner this should be done.
Place yourself in spirit before the lowly manger of the Divine Infant, and devoutly pass one hour in the following manner:
First, beg of the Almighty God to bestow on you the grace to recognize all the sins and faults of which you have become guilty. After this, think how you have acted towards God during the past year, and thus occupy the first half hour. During the second half hour, think how you will act in future towards your God. After this, examine your conscience, as follows:
I. Whether you have every day thought of the end and aim of your life, and if you have endeavored to live accordingly?
II. Whether you have served God zealously, or, on the contrary, have been indolent and negligent in His service?
III. Whether you have given due thanks to the Almighty for all the favors bestowed upon you, and whether you have sighed and fervently wished to be united to Him?
IV. Whether in your good works you have had a good intention?
V. Whether you have, in everything, submitted to the divine will, or have sometimes murmured and complained against the decrees of God?
VI. Whether you have regularly said your morning and evening prayers, assisted at Holy Mass, and at the sermons, or out of laziness have neglected to do so?
VII. Whether you have behaved in church with due reverence?
VIII. How often and with what preparation you have gone to Confession and Holy Communion?
IX. Whether you have daily made the acts of Faith, Hope and Charity?
X. Whether you have not sinned against Faith, by reading or keeping heretical books; by voluntary doubts about the articles of faith; by deriding the laws of the Church and its ceremonies; by giving ear to words against the articles of faith, or the usages of the Church?
XI. Whether you have not sinned against Hope, by presumption, or, on the contrary, by faint-heartedness or despair?
XII. Whether you have not sinned against Charity, by contempt of God, or blasphemies against Him, dishonoring His holy Name, or the holy Sacraments, or by vows and resolutions made, but not kept?
XIII. Have you have kept the Sundays and Holy Days; and have you have enjoined those in your charge to keep them?
XIV. Whether you have sometimes read a devout book; whether you have been ashamed of your religion, or of public devotions, or have manifested this exteriorly?
XV. Whether you have made little account of sin, and especially disregarded venial sins, and have committed them without any hesitation?
These and other similar points consider well, and earnestly endeavor to repent of the faults you have committed, and most humbly beg God to pardon you. After this examination and repentance, think of what you have to correct in your conduct, and make your resolutions accordingly. Then again, revolve one point after another in your mind, and make earnest resolutions to correct your faults. After having done this, pray humbly to God to give you grace faithfully to keep your resolutions. Invoking the Blessed Virgin and other holy Patrons for this purpose, will be of great assistance to you. This is the way to spend the hour on the first holiday. On the second, again choose a suitable hour, and after having prayed fervently to the Almighty to enlighten you, think how your conduct has been towards your neighbor during the year. For example:
I. Whether you have loved your neighbor for the sake of God, and as you have loved yourself? Whether your love was a truly Christian love, or only a natural or sensual love, such as is also found among the heathens?
II. Whether you have nourished a dangerous, scandalous, or sinful love and affection for any one?
III. Whether you have assisted your neighbor according to your means, especially the poor?
IV. Whether you have borne enmity or hatred towards any one, and remained long in it? Whether you have pardoned your neighbor the wrong he had done you, and have outwardly manifested this to him by the usual marks of kindness?
V. Whether you have wronged your neighbor by lying, stealing, defrauding, or in any other manner; whether you made debts and neglected to pay them?
VI. Whether you have not lessened or delayed the payment of artisans, day-laborers, servants or others?
VII. Whether you have not committed sin by defaming the character of others, or by giving ear to slanders?
VIII. Whether you have not sinned against charity by blaming your neighbors' actions, or by putting evil constructions upon them?
IX. Whether you have scorned, derided, or rashly judged your neighbor, suspected him of doing wrong, and revealed your suspicion to others whom it did not concern?
X. Whether you have not affronted and scolded your neighbor, or spoken unkind words? Whether you have wished him evil?
XI. Whether you have not envied your neighbor's good fortune, or rejoiced in his misfortune?
XII. Whether you have not given scandal to your neighbor by deeds, words, immodest dresses, impure speeches and songs, or in any other manner?
XIII. Whether you have not kept him from doing good, incited him to sin? Whether you have not become guilty in any other manner of the sins of others, assisted them in doing wrong, not prevented it, not punished it, kept silence, or perhaps even helped them to hide it, given them the opportunity, or defended them?
XIV. Parents should examine themselves, how they have conducted the education of their children; and children, whether they have shown due honor, love and obedience to their parents?
Lastly, masters and magistrates should think how they have treated their servants, and those in their charge. Servants and all those in inferior stations, should examine themselves as to their conduct towards those above them. On these and other points examine yourself carefully, repent with your whole heart, and humbly ask God to pardon your sins. After this, consider earnestly in which of the above points you should, in future, correct yourself. Make new resolutions; offer them to the Almighty, and pray for grace to keep them. In this manner the hour of the second holiday may be occupied.
On the third holiday, take another hour at the most convenient time. Pray fervently to the Lord to assist you with His grace, that you may recognize how you have acted towards yourself during the year. After this, begin to examine your conscience. Ask yourself, for example, as follows:
I. Whether you have earnestly labored for the salvation of your soul; or, on the contrary, have thought but little of it, and therefore have been very little, or not at all, solicitous about it?
II. Whether you have not postponed your conversion from day to day?
III. Whether you have not sinned against purity in thought, word, or deed?
IV. Whether you have not voluntarily placed yourself in danger of sin, and remained in it, or are still at this moment in it?
V. Whether you have been intemperate in your eating and drinking?
VI. Whether you are not addicted to violence of temper, to vanity, to avarice, or idleness?
VII. Whether you have not a passion for gaming, or a similar vice, to the detriment of your family?
VIII. Whether you have employed the temporal goods God gave you to the end and aim for which you received them?
IX. Whether you have passed your time in idleness, or evildoing?
X. Whether you have been careless in correcting your evil inclinations or habits, or in observing your resolutions?
XI. Whether you have not neglected many opportunities to do good?
XII. Whether you have been careless and negligent in the fulfillment of the duties of your station?
XIII. Whether your conscience is troubled with anything that would give you great fear if you were to die today?
XIV. Lastly, examine yourself how you have kept the commandments of God and of the Church. Whether you have not, under one pretext or another, endeavored to evade them, or even, after the example of some wicked persons, transgressed them without shame?
After this should follow, as on the preceding days, an act of earnest repentance, and humble prayer to be forgiven. During the second half of the hour, consider which of the above points you have specially to correct; make good resolutions, and pray to God for grace to keep them. Regarding the resolutions which you should make, I would counsel you to write them, if not all, at least the most important, to read them every month, and examine how you have kept them. The benefit you will derive from this is greater than you imagine.
You have here, my dear reader, a short instruction for employing usefully one hour on each of the three holidays, for the salvation of your soul before the manger of the Divine Infant.
The last days of the year we should employ, first, in giving due thanks to God for every blessing He has bestowed upon us during the year. Secondly, in most earnestly repenting of our sins, and praying for pardon; in doing good, and making the resolution to serve God, in the coming year, with all our strength, and to work with zeal for our salvation. To this end, put three questions to yourself: " How has the Lord acted towards me during the past year? How have I behaved towards my God? What shall my conduct be towards God in future? The answer which your conscience will give to the first question will incite you to gratitude; the answer to the second will cause you to repent of your sins and beg pardon; while the answer to the third will awaken in you the earnest resolution to better your life.
I do not doubt that you will yourself recognize the usefulness of such devotional exercises, and if you value your salvation, you will determine to practice them yearly. You have, during the year, given too many hours to the enjoyment of your body, to the care of numberless temporal affairs, to say nothing of the time you misused in offending God and injuring your soul. Hence, employ now three short hours in the above manner for the salvation of your soul. Could I ask for anything more reasonable? "Having given whole months and years to our body, let us employ a few days for the benefit of our souls;" thus admonishes St. Peter Chrysologus, whose words I have already cited to you elsewhere.