“When John had heard in prison the words of Christ, sending two of his disciples he said to him: Art thou he that is to come, or look we for another? And Jesus answering said to them: Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them; and blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me. And when they went their way, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: What went ye out into the desert to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Behold, they that are clothed in soft garments, are in the houses of kings. But what went ye out to see? A prophet? Yea, I tell you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: Behold, I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.” (Matthew 11:2-10).
We have said that the Church, in her Advent story, tells us the most beautiful of all the stories of earth, the story of God becoming man. Today, and every Advent day, she continues the tale. Just as a great artist uses many colors to bring out the beauty of his detail—and yet there is always one dominant color—and just as a tapestry weaver uses many colored threads to beautify the design—and yet there always remains a prominent hue in his texture— so the greatest mother of them all, holy Mother Church, paints for us today, by her liturgy of Advent, the picture of Christ’s coming, and the dominant thread in the great detail of this tapestry of beauty which she is weaving is that of courage.
The Divine Office of the Church is filled with the notes of joy, hope, and courage with which the soul awaiting Christ should be animated. Holy Mother Church says today to every Catholic heart: “Come with me.” As loyal subjects, as children, we follow and in spirit we pass over the waters to a church in the City of Jerusalem, the Basilica of the Holy Cross. In the language of Sacred Scripture, Jerusalem is the image of the soul dedicated to God. From the cross we are to take courage and hope. Of old the cross was an instrument of crucifixion. It was an object of horror and derision, but today, by virtue of the grace of God, the cross is an object of veneration. From the cross comes courage. From the cross comes hope. From the cross comes our holy religion.
St. Thomas à Kempis says, “In the cross is joy of spirit, in the cross is freedom from our enemies. Take up your cross and follow Jesus and you shall enter into eternal life.” Holy Mother Church bids us to heed the cross, and so we shall look to that in our preparation for Christmas. Guided by her divine Spouse, our infallible teacher and guide now conducts us gently into the liturgy of the Mass, and, in the Epistle and Gospel, we hear again the dominant note of courage inspired by a strong faith, a lively hope, and an ardent charity.
In the Epistle, (Romans 15:4-13). St. Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, says: “Brethren, whatsoever things were written, were written for our learning; that through patience and the comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Again the great Apostle exhorts us to rejoice. In the day’s Gospel, (Matthew 11:2-10) we are exhorted to have faith in Jesus, for “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” Here is the groundwork of our courage, a deep faith in Jesus Christ.
Finally, the third of the three virtues must be manifest in our courage: charity. This greatest of the virtues makes us most like unto God, who is love, (1 John 4:16) just as the lack of it makes us most like unto the devil, who hates so fiercely! The members of Christ’s Mystical Body must be motivated by love if their courage is to have deep-rooted effects. The members who compose the anti-Christ’s body have no place in their meetings for charity. Their Gospel is one of hatred. Red truly is the color of a heart inflamed, red is the color of martyrs, and red is the color of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love and charity. We must revolutionize not bodies in rebellions of hate, but souls in rebellion against sin. Members of Christ’s Mystical Body must be motivated by love for God. This battle of courage and love must be waged under our banner of red, which symbolizes the martyrs’ blood and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love.
Like Christian warriors of old, fully armored in faith, hope, and charity, which constitute the armor of God, by Advent prayer and penance we will find our courage renewed! Despite the hardships of life and the perversities of men, we “will take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them,” (Hamlet, Act III, Scene I, II. 67-68) for God is on our side. Let us not think that this battle can be won except with the grace of God. (John 15:5)
Holy Mother Church takes us in the spirit of the liturgy to Jerusalem, the city typifying the faithful soul. The Church in accents of liturgical chant and in colors of penitential purple shows us the holy cross and its reliquary, the Basilica at Jerusalem, in order to stir up our courage motivated by faith, hope, and charity. The Church gives us a model in today’s Gospel, St. John the Baptist, who was not a reed shaken by the wind, nor a man clothed in soft garments, but rather a prophet, of whom it was written, “I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.” Though wounded, diseased, and maimed by sin, we can win this battle—but only with Christ! Are we blind? Then let us come to Him who is the Light of the world. Are we lame? He will cure us so that we can walk! Do we suffer from the leprosy of sin? He will cleanse us! Are we deaf to the dangers of perversion corrupting even the very salt of the earth? He will cause us to listen to the sweet inspiration of God’s grace in our souls! Are we dead in sin? He will make us live the life of grace, the life of God. Are we poor? He will preach to us the Kingdom of Heaven, where “neither rust nor moth doth consume, nor thieves break through to steal.”
Come, Lord Jesus, we pray, come into our souls, renew our courage with deep sentiments of faith, hope, and charity. The world needs Your Advent! My soul needs Your Advent! The world, as Isaias has said, is sickened and the whole body is sad. Yet, we have ardent hope, for, like the voice of the captain on the bridge in a stormy peril at sea, we can hear above the din and noise of the turbulent waves the voice of our Master, “Lo, I am with you all days even unto the consummation of the world.”
This article is taken from a chapter in Spiritual Steps to Christmas by Msgr. Aloysius F. Coogan, which is available from TAN Books.