|Fourth Sunday of Advent|
he First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, iv. 1-5. Brethren: Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries of God. Here now it is required among the dispensers, that a man be found faithful. But to me it is a very small thing to be judged by you, or by man's day; but neither do I judge my own self. For I am not conscious to myself of any thing, yet am I not hereby justified; but He that judgeth me, is the Lord. Therefore judge not before the time; until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise from God.
How should priests be regarded by the faithful?
The Church wishes to inspire us with respect and veneration towards priests, who are ministers of Christ, dispensers of the mysteries of God, and advocates of religion. The Scripture says "Let the priests that rule well be esteemed worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine" (I. Tim. v. 17). "He that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me" (St. Luke x. 16).
Why is this epistle read today?
The Church wishes, by pointing to the second advent of Christ, to remind the faithful to avoid judging their neighbors, but to judge themselves, and to cleanse their hearts for the reception of Jesus as our Saviour, that they may not have to shrink from Him when He comes as Judge.
Can priests administer the holy sacraments as they please?
No, for, as the stewards of Jesus Christ, they must observe His will, which is that they should administer the sacraments for the glory of God and the salvation of the faithful. They are not permitted to "give that which is holy unto dogs" (Matt. viii. 6), and cannot, therefore, give absolution, or any sacrament, to those who are unfit, lest they thereby condemn themselves.
Why should they esteem it a small matter to be judged by men?
Because men generally judge by appearances, and not by reality. St. Paul says: "If I please men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Gal. i. 10). But not only priests, the faithful also, must seek to please God more than men. How foolish are they who follow all silly and scandalous fashions in dress, gesture, and manners; who neglect the holy exercises of religion, and ask constantly, "What will the world say?" but never, "What will my God and Saviour say?" if I do this or that.
Why does St. Paul say, "But neither do I judge my own self"?
Because he could not know how God would judge him, "For man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love or hatred" (Eccles. ix. 1); therefore he adds, "I am not conscious to myself of anything, yet am I not hereby justified, but He that judgeth me is the Lord." We should, therefore, examine ourselves thoroughly whether we are in sin; but if we find nothing in us which displeases God we are not on that account at liberty to think ourselves better than others, for before the mirror of our self-esteem we look quite different to what we are in truth before God, Who cannot be bribed. Oh, how many, who now think themselves innocent and holy, shall appear at the day of judgment stripped of their disguises, and the most secret workings of their hearts revealed by God to their eternal disgrace! This should determine us not to judge before time, either ourselves or any one else, of whose hearts we must know even less than of our own. "Let us therefore work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. ii. 12).
O Lord, enter not into judgment with Thy servant, for in Thy sight no man living shall be justified (Ps. cxlii. 2).
he Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, According to St. Luke, iii. 1-6. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip his brother tetrarch of Iturea, and the country of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilina, under the high priests Annas and Caiphas; the word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zachary, in the desert. And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins, As it was written in the book of the sayings of Isaias the prophet: A voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight His paths. Every valley shall be filled; and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight; and the rough ways plain. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Why is the time at which St. John began to preach so minutely described?
Because in that happy year the prophecy of Jacob was fulfilled, and the sceptre being taken from Juda, the long-expected Messias showed Himself to the world, was baptized by John, and declared by His heavenly Father to be His beloved Son, Whom men should hear. Accordingly, that this time should never be forgotten, the evangelist, contrary to his usual custom, describes it particularly, mentioning the names both of the spiritual and temporal rulers.
Oh, that Thy way, Jesus, may be well prepared in my heart! Alas! assist me, O my Saviour, to do what I cannot do by myself. Fill up the valley of my heart with Thy grace, and straighten my crooked and perverted will, till it shall conform to Thine own. Soften my rough and unruly mind; bring low, destroy, and remove whatever in me impedes Thy way, that Thou mayest come to me without hindrance, and possess and govern me forever. Amen.