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We thought this Prayer to the Infant Jesus, taken from an old prayer book, might be especially appropriate this Advent and Christmas season, which is marked with so much uncertainty and confusion.
It gives us a needed reminder now more than ever of what Christmas is all about: the miracle of God taking on human nature and becoming like us in all ways but without sin (Heb. 4:15), for our salvation!
Most dear Lord Jesus Christ, who, being made a Child for us, did will to be born in a cave to free us from the darkness of sin, to draw us unto You, and to set us on fire with Your holy love. We adore You as our creator and redeemer, we acknowledge You and choose You for our king and Lord, and, for tribute we offer You all the affection of our poor hearts. Dear Jesus, our Lord and God, graciously accept this offering, and that it may be worthy of Your acceptance, forgive us our sins, enlighten us, and inflame us with that sacred fire with which You came to bring upon the earth and to enkindle in our hearts. May our souls thus become an altar, on which we may offer You the sacrifice of our mortifications; grant that we may seek Your greater glory here on earth, so that one day we may come to enjoy Your infinite beauty in heaven. Amen.
While we see ourselves and so many of our fellow human beings, scattered like sheep without a shepherd these days, we must not lose heart or faith in the great gift of salvation that God came down to earth to bestow on us as a little baby, born near a humble crib to die some 30 plus years later on a cross!
What would you give the Infant Jesus, who is timeless in His Incarnation, in return this Advent and Christmas? We may not have the splendid treasures the Three Kings had to give Him at our disposal. But we can still give him our loving obedience to His commandments and our trust in Him to see us through whatever difficulties we may encounter in this life on the way to our eternal one, God willing, with Him in heaven!
We need to give Him our sins as well (as it is said he requested once of St. Jerome) and ask Him not only for His forgiveness but for His grace in strengthening our spirit of repentance for them!
There are two key concepts to keep in mind regarding this prayer I just recited: the first is that our Lord and Savior, True God from True God, as we say in the Nicene Creed, willed to be born in quite humble circumstances to free us from the darkness of sin; in a cave, as this prayer states, or in a stable as is more traditionally referenced, with a feeding trough for cows and horses for a crib as we sing in the popular Christmas carol “Away in a Manger”.
Of course His very existence as God and man was to free us from that darkness, but that he was born in such a strikingly modest setting is something of which we should take thoughtful notice!
Jesus wasn’t born in the magnificent temple in Jerusalem, not anywhere in that august city, not even in an inn in Bethlehem but in a cave or a stable, as mentioned earlier! It’s as if God wished to give us a lesson in humility, coming into this world as the Word made flesh (John 1:14) in the midst of animals as well as angels!
The second concept comes in the line in this prayer “May our souls thus become an altar, on which we may offer You the sacrifice of our mortifications”. While our souls cannot be altars in a literal sense, when we receive our Lord in the Eucharist our God-given souls should become places where Jesus can abide in us as we abide in Him, as He stated in John’s gospel.
As our Lord told his disciples in John’s Gospel “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:57). (This resonates as well with a short prayer to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity “Holy Spirit sweet guest of my Soul, abide in me and grant that I may ever abide in Thee”)
Now about those mortifications! Sounds rather gloomy, doesn’t it? Suggestive of the word “death”! But on the road to Eternal Life it’s far from that!
Mortification involves our denying ourselves gratifications so we can detach from worldly distractions. In this prayer we seek to offer up attachments to various desires, especially sinful ones, that keep us away from God.
These can include focusing on sports, food, travel, entertainment and numerous other material diversions at the expense of one’s prayer life and focusing on our Creator.
That doesn't have to mean giving these things up entirely, but rather to tame inordinate desires for them, especially if they take you away from focusing on our Lord and the graces He wishes to give you in prayer, for example.
How many attractions, which may or may not be sinful, keep God knocking at the door of our hearts or speaking to us in some way, without our ever hearing Him or acknowledging His presence. As we say in the Magnificat, our Blessed Mother's great hymn hymn of praise to God “He [the Lord] has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke:1:53).
Why would our Lord send them away? Because they are so full of themselves and their own selfish wants that there’s no place for Him in their thoughts and, thus in their souls. Their minds are so cluttered with worldly desires and vanity as to leave Him no room to maneuver to give them His grace! Talk about there being no room for Him in the inn (Luke 2:7)!
Not that this is all clutter by any means but we have become so used to trips, sporting activities, concerts, shopping, and the like. Suddenly this year so much of that was gone!
It’s as if God was calling us to a simpler life focusing on Him and how we can advance in Holiness, not just in various pleasures and possessions.
Admittedly, this can all be quite difficult at times like these, especially for many of those employed before the Covid lockdowns and slowdowns hit in retail establishments, restaurants, or in the athletic or entertainment fields, as well as in quite a few small businesses!
Many people in those occupations now find they don’t know where their next paycheck or maybe even their next meal are coming from. This is all the more reason to offer up prayers and fasting and other such penances for a return to gainful employment for those whose lives have been upended, perhaps including many of you reading this now.
When seen in this light, our mortifications aren’t meant to be some dry sterile offering to God but rather one reflecting God’s love for us in how we make intercession for each other! Prayers and penances can help not just your loved ones but those you don’t even know on their path to heaven by increasing the general atonement for sinful mankind that is so much needed these days!
A key part of this however is in our being humble enough to let Jesus work within us to receive His loving assistance and grace, in prayer and in the Sacraments of communion and confession, to “magnify” Him in whatever way we might be able to, and that He might see fit.
This includes detaching ourselves at various times from worldly pleasures through acts of self-denial, such as in the famous example of giving up chocolate for Lent
It means making room for Baby Jesus in the inn of your soul, as it were, by turning off the TV channels in your mind filled with salacious gossip, video game style “entertainment” and unverifiable news, so that Jesus can spend time with you and help you get through the rough patches of life with the help of His grace and His love!
Remember as well that practicing our faith is not about trying to be the most celebrated or respected Catholics in our parish or in a larger community.
We might indeed be so blessed, but if our spiritual focus is on what others think of us, rather than on what God thinks of us, we might well wind being like those religious hypocrites whom our Lord scorned in Matthew’s Gospel who as he said “have received their reward” in the empty praise from others (Matt 6:2).
This is also where giving the baby Jesus our sins comes in! Keep in mind as well that offerings to the Christ child in the crib have merit as well as those offered to Jesus on the cross.
God being outside of time in a mysterious manner we can barely comprehend with our limited human intellects can use any and all of these offerings for our good and those of others as well!
When we give Jesus our sins in true humility, so that He may forgive them and strengthen us against sin in the process, we act like the repentant Publican in Luke’s Gospel 18:9-14, rather than like the proud Pharisee in the temple.
You may recall in that Parable that the Publican lowered his head asking God for forgiveness while the Pharisee, supposedly thanking God for his own righteousness sounded more like he wanted God to thank him instead!
Going back to Mary’s magnificent Magnificat, and that line mentioned earlier about the hungry and the rich. Who do you want to be? The one who is filled with God’s righteousness, or the person so full, of him or herself, like our Pharisee, that they get sent away?
It is important to remember as well that you can give the Christ Child your sins not just following prayers such as this one I recited earlier, but in the Sacrament of Penance (confession), particularly if you have the stain of unconfessed mortal sins on your soul.
The only way to really expunge these and get back to being in the state of Sanctifying Grace that is essential for our salvation is through honest confession to a priest. He is acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ as it were) to give you our Lord’s forgiveness!
(Where this may not possible in this Pandemic era of shuttered churches, strive nontheless in prayers such as the Act of Contrition to ask for God's help and much needed grace to avoid repeating such sins, or any others for that matter!)
Also, give baby Jesus your love, your sins, but most importantly, your trust as well that he will see you through whatever trials you may be experiencing now, because he has a plan for you and wants you to be with him in heaven for eternity. That’s why he was in that manger! That’s why he was on the cross!
While this is heartbreakingly understandable, do you feel like our church is in disarray? The world as well? Don’t you be! Strive to resist the all too human temptation to become hardened or bitter by the quite prevalent misfortune all around us these days! As St. Paul admonished us in his letter to the Ephesians (4:26) don’t give the devil a chance to work on you.
Try instead to cultivate a prayerful life that includes the sacraments (where available in these Covid times) and good nourishing reading about our faith from traditional sources such as writings by and about the saints.
If nothing else, (and this is by no means nothing) pray and keep praying Our Father’s, Hail Mary's and the Rosary, and pray to God in your own words as well. There are also many prayers online, on numerous websites, and in prayer books that can help you stay calm and more at ease in these unsettling times.
According to the late Archbishop Fulton J Sheen “it’s impossible to lose your footing on your knees.” And remember what Pope Benedict XVI once said: “time spent in prayer is never wasted’.
Don’t forget as well, regarding our current disorders, that life was no picnic for Baby Jesus either! Even after being shut out of any temporary lodging for His birth in the form of an inn, despite the plaudits from shepherds and kings, he still had to get out of Dodge in effect, fleeing to Egypt with the Holy Family to escape the wrath of the murderous King Herod who saw this little baby as a threat to his power!
And of course our Lord was slandered and despised during His earthly ministry by many of those who then facilitated His Passion and death at Calvary. And church history, like that of the world at large, has been full of upheavals, persecutions and heresies.
That’s how we got the Nicene Creed for example, because of the uproar in the 4th century from those who denied Christ’s divinity in what became known as the Arian heresy.
There was even a time from 1378-1417 when two men, one in Avignon, France as well as one in Rome and towards the end even one more in Pisa, claimed to be the pope causing quite a schism in the church! And of course there was the corruption that led, in many ways quite tragically, to the Reformation.
As hard as this may be to do now, let that little baby Jesus give you something as well, something quite precious these days: Hope, one of the three supernatural virtues, that if you stay close to Jesus in the other two, faith and love, he will help ease your burdens in your spiritual as well as your earthly journey.
More importantly he will also prepare a splendid dwelling place for you in heaven (John 14:2) and wipe away every tear from your eyes (Rev 7:17) so that your joy may be complete there one day when you pass away and your earthly journey has ended (John 15:11)!
Above all pray for that little baby, both human and divine in one person, to give you the spirit of perseverance much needed nowadays to remember that it is not Satan, the Ape of God trying to make monkeys out of all of us, but the Word made flesh, who gets the last word!
Satan is on not just the loathing side but the losing one as well. When you’re with God, rest assured that quite the contrary you’re ultimately on the winning side and, more importantly, on the loving side as well.