Fr. Campbell, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil.4:4)
St. Augustine spoke of two cities – the City of God and the City of Man. “Two cities,” he says, “have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord” (City of God, Bk.14, Ch.28).
The City of God, where everything is transformed by grace, may be represented by the springtime, when life is renewed, plants spring up and flowers bloom, and the earth is clothed in beautiful garments. The City of Man, where sin abounds, may be represented by autumn, when the leaves fall from the trees, the flowers wither and die, the birds disappear, and the ground grows cold and lifeless. Those who have been born again through faith and the Sacrament of Baptism, and have persevered in God’s grace, live the supernatural life of grace in the City of God, looking forward to the eternal springtime of Heaven. The unbelievers and the unbaptized, or those who persist in the state of sin after Baptism, live in the earthly city which is cold and restless, doomed to end in eternal darkness.
Today, on Gaudete Sunday, St. Paul invites us to live in the City of God, where grace abounds: “May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Phil.4:7). “Rejoice always,” he says, “For the Lord is near.”
Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which falls within the Octave of the Immaculate Conception, a doctrine which was solemnly defined by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854.
In the year 1531 the missionary efforts of the Church had not achieved great success in preaching the Gospel to the native population of Mexico. But that same year, the Immaculate Virgin Mary appeared in December to the Indian, Juan Diego, giving him a message of hope and consolation for all who would call upon her. For Juan Diego, the cold winter landscape was transformed by the presence of the Queen of Heaven, and he heard the sound of angelic singing. The following account is given (www.santa.org):
“He was looking toward the east, on top of the mount, from whence came the precious celestial chant; and then it suddenly ceased and there was silence. He then heard a voice from above the mount saying to him: ‘Juanito, Juan Dieguito.’ Then he ventured and went to where he was called. He was not frightened in the least; on the contrary, overjoyed.
“Then he climbed the hill, to see from were he was being called. When he reached the summit, he saw a Lady, who was standing there and told him to come hither. Approaching her presence, he marveled greatly at her superhuman grandeur; her garments were shining like the sun; the cliff where she rested her feet, pierced with glitter, resembling an anklet of precious stones, and the earth sparkled like the rainbow. The mezquites, nopales, and other different weeds, which grow there, appeared like emeralds, their foliage like turquoise, and their branches and thorns glistened like gold. He bowed before her and heard her words, tender and courteous, like someone who charms and esteems you highly.
“She said: ‘Juanito, the most humble of my sons, where are you going?’ He replied: ‘My Lady and Child, I have to reach your church in Mexico, Tlatilolco, to pursue things divine, taught and given to us by our priests, delegates of Our Lord.’ She then spoke to him: ‘Know and understand well, you the most humble of my sons, that I am the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and the earth. I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help, and protection – because I am your merciful mother – to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; (that I may) listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows.”
The rest of the story is well known – the roses picked by Juan Diego in wintertime, the miraculous image of the Immaculate Virgin Mary on his tilma (cloak), painted not by earthly artists, but by the Holy Virgin herself. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the greatest missionary. So effective was her intervention, that by 1541, only ten years later, nine million natives had been baptized.
By our Baptism, we are also called to live in the City of God, to be transformed by grace so as to be able to see the world around us with new eyes. This requires that we “lay the axe to the root of the tree,” as St. John the Baptist puts it (Lk.3:9), rooting out all our sins at their very source. We must have no eyes for sin, no love for the corruption that is all around us. This should be our program for Advent, as we prepare to welcome the Christ Child.
St. Augustine, who died in the year 430 A.D., writes of that City of Man, built by “the love of self, even to the contempt of God,” which rejoices in the things which are passing away:
“But the earthly city, which shall not be everlasting (for it will no longer be a city when it has been committed to the extreme penalty), has its good in this world, and rejoices in it with such joy as such things can afford. But as this is not a good which can discharge its devotees of all distresses, this city is often divided against itself by litigations, wars, quarrels, and such victories as are either life-destroying or short-lived… But if they neglect the better things of the heavenly city, which are secured by eternal victory and peace never-ending, and so inordinately covet these present good things that they believe them to be the only desirable things, or love them better than those things which are believed to be better, – if this be so, then it is necessary that misery follow and ever increase” (City of God, Bk.14, Ch.28).
We, however, rejoice in the Lord, consoled by the words of St. Paul: “Have no anxiety, but in every prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God. And may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Phil.4:6,7).