Our Great Business

From Meditations for Every Day of the Year (1767)

In the office appointed for this holy time, the Church frequently puts is in mind of the mission and preaching of St. John the Baptist, and of the manner in which he endeavored to prepare the people for Christ; to the end that we may learn from the doctrine of this great forerunner of our Lord, in what dispositions we ought also to be if we would duly prepare the way for him.

Now what the Baptist continually preached to the people was: that they should turn from their evil ways and do penance, because the kingdom of heaven was at hand; that they should bring forth fruits worthy of penance, if they would escape the wrath to come — and this without delay — for that now the axe was laid at the root of the tree, and that every tree that did not bring forth good fruit should be cut up and cast into the fire. That they should not flatter themselves with the expectation of impunity or security, because they had Abraham for their father; for that God was able to raise up from the very stones children to Abraham; and therefore without a thorough conversion from their sins, that they were to expect the kingdom of God, and the grace and dignity of being children of Abraham (the father of all the faithful) should be taken away from them and be given to the Gentiles.

He added, that he baptized them indeed with water unto penance; but that another should come after him that should “baptize them with the Holy Ghost and with fire; that his fan was in his hand, and that he should thoroughly cleanse his floor, and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he would burn with unquenchable fire.” This was the way St. John prepared the people for Christ; and it is by conforming ourselves in practice to these his lessons at this holy time, that we must also prepare the way of the Lord, and be prepared for him.

Christians, this is our great business at this holy time, if we hope to prepare ourselves for Christ; this is the proper exercise for it — to pass over in our mind the bitterness of our soul, all our years that have been spent in sin; to bewail and lament every day of this holy season, all our past treasons against the divine majesty; to turn now to God with our whole heart; to offer our whole souls to him; to exercise ourselves in his love; and to enter into new articles with him of an eternal allegiance, with a full determination of rather dying than being any more disloyal to him; and letting not one day pass without offering him some penitential satisfaction for our past guilt, to be united to and sanctified by the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. O how happy are they that employ the time of Advent in this manner! O how willingly will our Lord, at the approaching Christmas, communicate himself to such souls as these!

Richard Challoner (1691-1781) was an English Roman Catholic bishop and scholar, who served as professor at the English College at Douai before returning to England to serve as a mission priest and then, a bishop. He was the author of numerous devotional and polemical works and a revision of the Douai-Rheims translation of the Bible, long the standard version for Roman Catholics in the English-speaking world. The text has been slightly modified for modern readers.

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