On the Nativity of John the Baptist the First Sermon
Of the spiritual Birth of Divine Grace in man from the ground of humility and the acknowledgment of his own frailty. How man may ever attain more and more to a Birth so full of Grace.

Johannes est nomen ejus.

"John is his name."

To-day we read of and celebrate the birthday of Saint John the Baptist. The birthday of no other saint is kept in this way, only that of this holy Baptiser of God. The name of John means one in the state of grace. This must always precede the birth of grace.

I spoke yesterday of two kinds of affliction. The first is in our nature, and results from the first Fall of man; the second in an affliction of blindness. Man is prone to sin from the beginning; it is rooted in his nature. This affliction ought always to be repugnant to man; and he should turn away from it with all his might, because it is hateful to God. The second kind of affliction is the result of the first; it is pain and misery. When this kind of affliction falls upon man, it ought to be acceptable and pleasing unto him, so that he may be able to follow therein the Example of our Lord, Who throughout His whole life always endured great and grievous sufferings.

Now God often allows the affliction of frailty to come upon men, that in their downfall they may learn to know themselves better, and to love and remain willingly in the way of blindness, in them. Children, it were good for them to resolve to remain in this way. Man must always learn to abase himself in this most blessed way of blindness, in disease, in doing nothing and in being nothing. Oh! he who would thus exercise himself in this way and understand it, disciplining himself only by despising unceasingly his own want of power; in this man, verily, would the grace of God be born. Man possesses nothing of himself; all comes from God only, without any intervention; all things both great and small come from Him; not from man himself; for he corrupts all that is good, both outwardly and inwardly; and, if there be anything good, it is none of his. Man must never forget this; he must look into his own nothingness and see how inclined he is to all that is evil, whenever nature is allowed her own way. He must be very diligent in learning to know himself; on what foundation he rests, his opinions, his love, his diligence; whether, perchance, ill weeds have grown up in his heart. The heart must be pure, only revealing itself to God; and it must have no thoughts but of Him. Also, thou must examine thine outer walk, thy words and works, thy customs and position, thy clothes and thy companions, from all sides. Wherever thou findest that something or other has gone wrong in thy life, thou must in sorrow bewail it unto God, and acknowledge thy guilt, and send up a sigh to God; and thus it is immediately condemned. This inner groaning from the depths of the heart is very useful and good. The Apostles did not experience it on account of their sins, but on account of all the evil that remained in man; and they exercised it unceasingly, because of the many ways by which they came to God. Thus, when a glimpse and taste of unity )with God) is made known unto man, an inner groaning is born in him, which passes out through his outer senses. This is truly the altar which stands outside, before the Holy of Holies, where the goats and oxen are offered to God. Thus man also offers his flesh and blood to Jesus Christ. By this contemplation of his own frailty, man must humble himself, casting himself down at the Feet of God, that He may have mercy on him. He must hope that God will pass over his guilt; and thus John, that is grace, is born out of the ground of humility; for the lower we get the higher we shall be. St Bernard says: "All acts of discipline that are done outwardly are in no wise to be compared to those which man does in the valley of humiliation." In this valley row meekness, goodness calmness and patience; and this is truly the right way. Those who do not walk in this way must assuredly go astray. And, however much they may do in outward discipline, it will not really help them at all; they will anger God much more than they will appease Him.

Now we will proceed with the Gospel. Here is a portion of it. Zacharias was the high priest. He and his wife were barren; and this was a great disgrace to him. Zacharias went into the Holy of Holies, and the people remained without, standing, while he executed the priestly function. Then the angel Gabriel stood by the altar and announced to him that a child should be born unto him who should be called John, which means that he was given grace. Zacharias did not fully believe this; therefore he became dumb till all had been fulfilled.

The word Zacharias means "thinking of God," or "the remembrance of God." This godly man, that is a spiritual man, must be a priest, and must go into the Holy of Holies while the people remain without. Now, mark, what his nature is, what his office is, and whose priest he is. The office of the priest is to offer God's only-begotten Son to His heavenly Father for the people. Now I fear, and it is most probable, that all priests are not perfect; and, if some priests were to represent Christianity in their own persons, they would be more likely to hinder and lead others astray than to help them; and they would anger rather than appease God. But they execute their holy office in the person and in the place of the Holy Catholic Church; therefore they execute their office sacramentally; and in this way it can be done by men only. They, and no others, as clergy, may consecrate and bless the sacred Body of our Lord; inasmuch as they are priests in all that belongs to their office, that is to the sacrifice. In a spiritual sense it may be done as well by a woman as by a man. If a woman does it in this way, she enters into the Holy of Holies, and the common people remain without. She must enter in alone; she must collect her thoughts, and commune with her own heart; and she must leave all things pertaining to the senses without, and offer to the Heavenly Father, the Sacrifice of Love; namely, His dear Son, with all His Words, His Works, His Suffering and Holy Life, that she may obtain all that she desires and all that is her intention. This she must do in deep devotion, including all men, all poor sinners, the good, and those who are imprisoned in the fires of purgatory; for by this means she will have great power.

Albertus Magnus writes that the custom of the high priest was as follows: "He went into the Holy of Holies, and took with Him the blood of a red heifer, and fire that was burning. When he entered in, he put the blood on all the golden vessels, and made a heap of the finest herbs, and lighted it; and a sweet smelling savour arose therefrom, like unto a mist; then God came and spake with him."

This high priest is the inner man, who thus enters into his inmost soul, bearing with him the Sacred Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fire of devotion and love, and all the golden vessels which are marked with this Blood, even all those who have received the grace of God, and all those who shall yet receive it, and the poor souls who still wait in purgatory. All shall be comforted and uplifted by this priestly office. Children, ye know not how sweet this is. This man shall also raise himself up thereby, even unto the Heart of the Father, and His Fatherly Will; and in Him he shall do whatever pleases Him in time and eternity.

Some say: "If we commune with our hearts after this inward fashion, we shall allow the image of our Lord's Sufferings to escape us." No, children, ye must look into your own hearts, where grace only can be born in truth; and there the Life and Sufferings of our Lord will gleam and shine in upon you, in sweet love and simplicity, in a single vision. It will seem as though all stood before you; not in its own many-sidedness, as I might see you all in one glance, but as though each one stood alone before me. This vision will be more useful to thee, than standing for five months in thought, striving to understand. During this sacred priestly office, when the man has entered alone, and is standing in silence, with all his powers on the alert, Gabriel, the Angel of God, is standing by the altar, where the divine and holy office is to be performed. Gabriel means the divine power that will be given to this priest, that he may be able to do all things in our Lord. This priest makes a heap of herbs, and sets it alight; and a smoke arises therefrom in which God speaks to him. This heap represents a collection of holy virtues, such as humility, meekness, and many other virtues of that description; for the life of a man who has no virtues, and does not strive to get them, either in the lowest, the middle, or the highest grade, is all false and worthless. A fire is kindled in this collection by the flame of love; and a mist and darkness arise, in which thy spirit will be caught away, perhaps for the space of half an "Ave Maria," and thou wilt be robbed of thy senses and of thy reason. In this darkness God will speak to thee in truth, as it is written: Dum medium silentium, etc. For, when silence reigned over all things, and the night of darkness had run its course, these words were sent from above from the kingly Throne. Here a secret word was spoken, and the ears caught the sound thereof. Here was foretold the birth of him, who was to be great and at whose birth many should rejoice. He was to be born of Elizabeth; which means that there would be a divine fulfilment; for thus it had been prophesied, that this joyful birth should take place. But all this took place in the lowest powers. Now come those who are wise in their own eyes, and whose empty, bare, uncultured hearts are lighted only by the light of nature; for they have nothing but the light of nature, and that which pertains thereto; it is to them as God, and yet it is nothing but their nature. There is however, more delight therein than in all sensual delights; and when they act thus themselves, and are endowed with these qualities, they become the worst and the most harmful of men. They may be known by the following signs. They do not walk in the paths of virtue and the discipline which belongs to a holy life. They give no heed to the destruction of vice; for they love their own false poverty, which has never been tested by real love, either from within or from without; and they have long ago parted with its likeness. Then the Devil comes, and lures them with false sweetness and false light; and thus he leads them astray, that they may be lost eternally. He leads them into whatsoever he finds them most inclined to by nature: unchastity, or covetousness, or pride; and they speak of their inner experiences and the lights which the Devil holds before them, as though they were of God; and they will not allow themselves to be separated from that which they have made their own. Thus, seeking those things to which they are inclined by nature, they fall into unholy license. These men must be shunned even more than the Enemy; for, as far as man can see, in their outward appearance they are so like righteous men, that it is hard to distinguish them. But the righteous differ from them by walking in the paths of virtue -- humility, fear, resignation and meekness. They are full of fear, and dare not allow themselves any liberty. They never trust in themselves; they are in much perplexity and difficulty, and long for the help of God. But those who think themselves to be free are bold, wilful, contentious and impatient; and any one who approaches them soon finds that they are in difficulties, full of bitterness, angry words, and pride, and will neither be despised nor disparaged. Oh! what marvellings and lamentations there will be over that which now looks so beautiful, in another world, where they will not be able to turn either one way or the other, where they must burn for ever. I counsel you in all faithfulness to guard yourselves from this.

Oh! dear children, turn your eyes inwardly, where this birth must really be born, which will cause great joy throughout Christendom. Now, ye need no longer be anxious whether ye are right or wrong. Ye have had the difference clearly placed before you, if ye will consider whether ye have chosen the right or the crooked path; whether ye have taken it in the lowest, the middle, or the highest grade. When this birth takes place, there is such great joy of heart, that none can express it. May God preserve all, so that none may be led astray; and be drawn away and diverted. Our Lord says in the Book of Love: "I adjure you, by the roes and the harts of the fields, that ye make not My beloved to awake till she please." [18] Again, they must not question unwise teachers, who might prove so misleading, that some might be tempted away, and never return for forty or fifty years. These men must give heed to themselves; for this joy is so great that it wells up like wine fermenting in the barrel. It is better that it should burst forth, than that nature should be too weak, and blood should pour from nose and mouth. But this is still far removed from the highest grade, still remaining below in the senses.

But the Angel said that he who should be born, must "drink no wine nor strong drink;" which means that the man in whom this birth was to be born would be led by the upper way, in the highest grade; for he should be good, better and the very best. These men must not drink anything that can intoxicate, like those, of whom we have already spoken, who were intoxicated by pleasure, which was poured out for them, either in a real or imaginary way, either by sight or by use; but they are placed in and led along a narrow way, which is also dark and dreary. There they find themselves unbearable oppressed, so that they cannot get out; and, whichever way they turn, they find fathomless misery, and all is desert, dark and dreary. They must face it, and in all their ways trust in the Lord, as long as it pleases Him; and, lastly, the Lord makes as though He knew nothing of their pain and torment; all seems unbearable need and great longing; but still they are resigned. This is a thorough cleansing, which corresponds to the highest reward; for other men there are corresponding rewards.

St Thomas says of this: "Great external works, however great they may be, inasmuch as they are works, have their own reward. But when the Spirit looks within, to the Spirit of God, from the ground of the heart, where man, empty and bare of all works, seeks God only, far above all thoughts, works and reason, it is truly a thorough conversion, which will ever met with a corresponding reward, and God will be with him." Another conversion may take place in an ordinary external way, whenever man turns to God, thinking wholly and entirely of Him, and of nothing else but of God for Himself and in Himself. But the first turning is in an inner, undefined, unknown presence, in an immaterial entrance of the created spirit into the uncreated Spirit of God. If a man could only once in his life thus turn to God, it would be well for him. Those men whose God is so powerful, and Who has been so faithful to them in all their distress, will be answered by God with Himself. He draws them so mysteriously unto Himself and His own blessedness; their spirits are so lovingly attracted, while they are at the same time so filled and transfused with the Godhead, that they lose all their diversity in the Unity of the Godhead. These are they to whom God makes their work here on earth a delight; so that they have a real foretaste of that which they will enjoy for ever. These are they on whom the Holy Christian Church rests; and, if they did not form part of Christianity, Christianity could no longer exist; for their mere existence, what they are, is infinitely worthier and more useful than all the doings of the world. These are they of whom our Lord has said: "He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of Mine eye." Therefore, take heed that ye do them no wrong. May God help us. Amen.


[18] Cant. ii. 7

sermon ix on the annunciation
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