Christmas is coming, but how many really think about it as the birth of Our Savior Jesus Christ, God made man? And how many will think about making a gift to Jesus, since it is His birthday? Why not offer Him the gift of your love! For many, Christmas is no longer about baby Jesus. It's about baby Visa. It's not about the birth of the Lord. It's about the birth of bills in January to pay for gifts to people who are never satisfied. Is it not time to go back to the real meaning of Christmas?
To help us in this undertaking, let us meditate upon the following writings of Venerable Mary of Agreda (1602-1665), a Spanish nun who had private revelations on the life of Christ and His Holy Mother, and who had put them in a book, "The Mystical City of God: Divine History of the Virgin, Mother of God", which was dictated by the Virgin Mary Herself. It was later approved by several Popes, who even used it in their homilies.
Here are excerpts from the Mystical City of God, translated from the original Spanish by Fr. George J. Blatter, published for the first time in 1912 with the Imprimatur of the Bishop of Fort Wayne, Most Reverend H.J. Alerding:
It had been decreed by the immutable will of Providence that the Onlybegotten of the Father should be born in the town of Bethlehem (Mich. 5, 2), and accordingly it had been foretold by the Saints and Prophets of foregone ages (Jerem. 10, 9); for the decrees of the absolute Will of God are infallible, and since nothing can resist them (Esther 13, 9), sooner would heaven and earth pass away than that they fail of accomplishment (Matt. 24, 35).
The fulfillment of this immutable decree the Lord secured by means of an edict of Caesar Augustus for the whole Roman empire, ordering the registration or enumeration of all the world, as Saint Luke says (Luke 2, 1). The Roman empire at that time embraced the greater part of what was then known of the earth, and therefore they called themselves masters of the world, ignoring all the other nations. The object of this census was to make all the inhabitants acknowledge themselves as vassals of the emperor, and to pay a certain tax to their temporal lord; for this registration every one was to go to his native city in order to be inscribed.
This edict was also proclaimed in Nazareth, and came to the hearing of Saint Joseph while he was on some errand. He returned to his house in sorrowful consternation, and informed his heavenly Spouse of the news which had spread about concerning the edict. The most prudent Virgin answered: "Let not this edict of our temporal ruler cause thee any concern, my master and spouse, for all that happens to us is ordained by the Lord and King of heaven and earth; and in all events His Providence will assist and direct us (Eccli. 22, 28). Let us resign ourselves into His hands and we shall not be disappointed."
They, at the same time, resolved upon the day of their departure, and Joseph diligently searched in the town of Nazareth for some beast of burden to bear the Mistress of the world. He could not easily find one because so many people were going to different towns in order to fulfill the requirements of the edict of the emperor. But after much anxious inquiry, Saint Joseph found an unpretentious little beast which, if we can call such creatures fortunate, was the most fortunate of all the irrational animals; since it was privileged not only to bear the Queen of all creation and the blessed fruit of Her womb, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, but afterwards to be present at His Birth (Isaias 1, 3); it gave to its Creator the homage denied to Him by men. They prepared the articles for the journey, which would last five days.
Our travelers arrived at the town of Bethlehem at four o'clock of the fifth day, a Saturday. As it was at the time of the winter solstice, the sun was already sinking and the night was falling. They entered the town and wandered through many streets in search of a lodging-house or inn for staying over night. They knocked at the doors of their acquaintances and nearer-family relations; but they were admitted nowhere and, in many places, they met with harsh words and insults.
While wandering through the streets, they passed the office of the public registry, and they inscribed their names and paid the fiscal tribute in order to comply with the edict and not be obliged to return. They continued their search, betaking themselves to other houses. But having already applied at more than fifty different places, they found themselves rejected and sent away from them all. The heavenly spirits were filled with astonishment at these exalted mysteries of the Most High, which manifested the patience and meekness of His Virgin Mother and the unfeeling hardness of men. At the same time, they blessed the Almighty in His works and hidden sacraments, since from that day on He began to exalt and honor poverty and humility among men.
It was nine o'clock at night when the most faithful Joseph, full of bitter and heartrending sorrow, returned to his most prudent Spouse and said: "My sweetest Lady, my heart is broken with sorrow at the thought of not only not being able to shelter Thee as Thou deservest and as I desire, but in not being able to offer Thee even any kind of protection from the weather, or a place of rest, a thing rarely or never denied to the most poor and despised in the world. No doubt heaven, in thus allowing the hearts of men to be so unmoved as to refuse us a night lodging, conceals some mystery. I now remember, Lady, that outside the city walls there is a cave which serves as a shelter for shepherds and their flocks. Let us seek it out; perhaps it is unoccupied, and we may there expect some assistance from heaven, since we receive none from men on earth."
The most prudent Virgin answered: "My spouse and my master, let not thy kindest heart be afflicted because the ardent wishes which the love of thy Lord excites in thee cannot be fulfilled. Since I bear Him in my womb, let us, I beseech thee, give thanks for having disposed events in this way. The place of which thou speakest shall be most satisfactory to Me. Let thy tears of sorrow be turned into tears of joy, and let us lovingly embrace poverty, which is the inestimable and precious treasure of My most holy Son. He came from heaven in order to seek it, let us then afford Him an occasion to practice it in the joy of our souls; certainly I cannot be better delighted than to see thee procure it for Me. Let us go gladly wherever the Lord shall guide us."
The holy angels accompanied the heavenly pair, brilliantly lighting up the way, and when they arrived at the city gate, they saw that the cave was forsaken and unoccupied. Full of heavenly consolation, they thanked the Lord for this favor, and then happened what I shall relate in the following chapter.
The palace which the supreme King of kings and the Lord of lords had chosen for entertaining His eternal and incarnate Son in this world was a most poor and insignificant hut or cave, to which most holy Mary and Joseph betook themselves after they had been denied all hospitality and the most ordinary kindness by their fellow men. This place was held in such contempt that though the town of Bethlehem was full of strangers in want of night shelter, none would demean or degrade himself so as to make use of it for a lodging; for there was none who deemed it suitable or desirable for such a purpose, except the Teachers of humility and poverty, Christ our Savior and His purest Mother.
Most holy Mary and Saint Joseph entered the lodging thus provided for them, and by the effulgence of the tenthousand angels of their guard, they could easily ascertain its poverty and loneliness, which they esteemed as favors, and welcomed with tears of consolation and joy. Without delay, the two holy travelers fell on their knees and praised the Lord, giving Him thanks for His benefit, which they knew had been provided by His wisdom for His own hidden designs.
Saint Joseph started a fire with the material which he had brought for that purpose. As it was very cold, they sat at the fire in order to get warm. They partook of the food which they had brought, and they ate this, their frugal supper, with incomparable joy in their souls. The Queen of Heaven was so absorbed and taken up with the thought of the impending mystery of Her divine delivery, that She would not have partaken of food if She had not been urged thereto by obedience to Her spouse.
After their supper, they gave thanks to the Lord as was their custom. Having spent a short time in this prayer and conferring about the mysteries of the Incarnate Word, Mary felt the approach of the most blessed Birth. She requested her spouse Saint Joseph to betake himself to rest and sleep as the night was already far advanced. The man of God yielded to the request of his Spouse and urged Her to do the same; and for this purpose he arranged and prepared a sort of couch with the articles of wear in their possession, making use of a crib or manger that had been left by the shepherds for their animals. Leaving most holy Mary in the portion of the cave thus furnished, Saint Joseph retired to a corner of the entrance, where he began to pray. He was immediately visited by the Divine Spirit, and felt a most sweet and extraordinary influence, by which he was wrapt and elevated into an ecstasy. In it was shown him all that passed during that night in this blessed cave; for he did not return to consciousness until his heavenly Spouse called him.
The Most High announced to His Virgin Mother that the time of His coming into the world had arrived and what would be the manner in which this was now to be fulfilled and executed. He commanded Her to exercise this office and ministry of a legitimate and true Mother of Himself; that She should treat Him as the Son of the Eternal Father and, at the same time, the Son of Her womb. All this could be easily entrusted to such a Mother, in whom was contained an excellence that words cannot express.
The most holy Mary remained in this ecstasy and beatific vision for over an hour immediately preceding Her divine delivery. At the moment when She issued from it and regained the use of Her senses, She felt and saw that the body of the infant God began to move in Her virginal womb; how, releasing and freeing Himself from the place which, in the course of nature, He had occupied for nine months, He now prepared to issue forth from that sacred bridal chamber. This movement not only did not cause any pain or hardship, as happens with the other daughters of Adam and Eve in their childbirths, but filled Her with incomparable joy and delight, causing in Her soul and in Her virginal body such exalted and divine effects that they exceeded all thoughts of men.
Her body became so spiritualized with the beauty of heaven that She seemed no more a human and earthly creature. Her countenance emitted rays of light, like a sun incarnadined, and shone in indescribable earnestness and majesty, all inflamed with fervent love. She was kneeling in the manger, Her eyes raised to heaven, Her hands joined and folded at Her breast, Her soul wrapped in the Divinity. In this position, and at the end of the heavenly rapture, the most exalted Lady gave to the world the Onlybegotten of the Father and Her own, our Savior Jesus, true God and man, at the hour of midnight, on a Sunday, in the year of the creation of the world five-thousand one-hundred and ninety-nine (5199), which is the date given in the Roman Church, and which date has been manifested to me as the true and certain one.
The infant God came forth glorious and transfigured, for the divine infinite wisdom decreed and ordained that the glory of His most holy soul should, in His Birth, overflow and communicate itself to His body, participating in the gifts of glory in the same way as happened afterwards in His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor in the presence of the Apostles (Matt. 17, 2)...
The two sovereign princes, Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel, were the assistants of the Virgin on this occasion. They stood by at a proper distance in human corporal forms at the moment when the Incarnate Word, penetrating the virginal chamber by divine power, issued forth to the light, and they received Him in their hands with ineffable reverence. In the same manner as a priest exhibits the Sacred Host to the people for adoration, so these two celestial ministers presented to the Divine Mother Her glorious and refulgent Son. All this happened in a short space of time. In the same moment in which the holy angels thus presented the Divine Child to His Mother, both Son and Mother looked upon each other, and in this look, She wounded with love the sweet Infant and was, at the same time, exalted and transformed in Him.
From the arms of the holy princes, the Prince of all the heavens spoke to His holy Mother: "Mother, become like unto Me, since on this day, for the human existence, which thou hast today given Me, I will give thee another more exalted existence in grace, assimilating thy existence as a mere creature to the likeness of Me, who am God and Man." The most prudent Mother answered: "Raise Me, elevate Me, Lord, and I will run after Thee in the odor of thy ointments." (Cant. 1, 3). In the same way, many of the hidden mysteries of the Canticles were fulfilled.
At the same time, the heavenly Lady perceived and felt the presence of the most Holy Trinity, and she heard the voice of the Eternal Father saying: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am greatly pleased and delighted" (Matt. 17, 5). The most prudent Mother, made entirely god-like in the overflow of so many sacraments, answered: "Eternal Father and exalted God, Lord and Creator of the universe, give Me anew thy permission and benediction to receive in My arms the Desired of nations (Agg. 2, 8); and teach Me to fulfill as thy unworthy Mother and lowly slave, thy holy will." immediately She heard a voice, which said: "Receive thy Onlybegotten Son, imitate Him and rear Him; and remember, that thou must sacrifice Him when I shall demand it of thee."
After this interchange of Words, so full of mysteries, the Divine Child suspended the miracle of His transfiguration, or rather He inaugurated the other miracle, that of suspending the effects of glory in His most holy body, confining them solely to His soul; and He now assumed the appearance of one capable of suffering. In this form the most pure Mother now saw Him and, still remaining in a kneeling position and adoring Him with profound humility and reverence, She received him in Her arms from the hands of the holy angels.
Then the most prudent Mother turned toward the Eternal Father to offer up to Him His Onlybegotten, saying: "Exalted Creator of all the Universe, here is the altar and the sacrifice acceptable in thy eyes (Malachy 3, 4). From this hour on, O Lord, look upon the human race with mercy, and inasmuch as we have deserved thy anger, it is now time that Thou be appeased in thy Son and mine. Let thy justice now come to rest, and let thy mercy be exalted. Thou, Lord, hast made Me the Mother of thy Onlybegotten without My merit, since this dignity is above all merit of a creature; but I partly owe to men the occasion of this incomparable good fortune since it is on their account that I am the Mother of the Word made man and Redeemer of them all. I will not deny them My love, nor remit My care and watchfulness for their salvation."
Holding the Divine Child in Her arms, She thus served as the altar and the sanctuary, where the ten-thousand angels adored in visible human forms their Creator incarnate. And as the Most Blessed Trinity assisted in an special manner at the birth of the Word, heaven looked as if it was emptied of its inhabitants, for the whole heavenly court had betaken itself to that blessed cave of Bethlehem, and was adoring the Creator in His garb and habit of a pilgrim (Phil. 2, 7). And in their concert of praise, the holy angels intoned the new canticle: "Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis" (Luke 2, 14).
It was now time to call Saint Joseph. At the desire of His heavenly Spouse, he issued from his ecstasy and, on being restored to consciousness, the first sight of his eyes was the Divine Child in the arms of the Virgin Mother. There he adored Him in profoundest humility and in tears of joy. He kissed His feet in great joy and admiration, which no doubt would have taken away and destroyed life in him, if divine power had not preserved it.
When Saint Joseph had begun to adore the Child, the most prudent Mother asked leave of Her Son to arise (for until then She had remained on Her knees) and, while Saint Joseph handed Her the wrappings and swaddling clothes which She had brought, She clothed Him with incomparable reverence, devotion and tenderness. Having thus swathed and clothed Him, His Mother, with heavenly wisdom, laid Him in the crib, as related by saint Luke (Luke 2, 7).
For this purpose She had arranged some straw and hay upon a stone in order to prepare for the God-Man His first resting-place upon earth, next to that which He had found in Her arms. According to divine ordainment an ox from the neighboring fields ran up in great haste and, entering the cave, joined the beast of burden brought by the Queen. The Blessed Mother commanded them, with what show of reverence was possible to them, to acknowledge and adore their Creator. The humble animals obeyed their Mistress and prostrated themselves before the Child, warming Him with their breath, and rendering Him the service refused by men.
And thus, the God made man was placed between two animals, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and wonderfully fulfilling the prophecy that "the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel hath not known Me, and My people hath not understood." (Is. 13.)
After the courtiers of heaven had thus celebrated the birth of God made man near the portals of Bethlehem, some of them were immediately dispatched to different places, in order to announce the happy news to those, who according to the divine will, were properly disposed to hear it.
Amongst all these, the shepherds of that region, who were watching their flocks at the time of the birth of Christ, were especially blessed. The Archangel Gabriel was sent to them as they watched on the field, appearing to them in human form and with great splendor.
The shepherds found themselves suddenly enveloped and bathed in the celestial radiance of the angel, and at his sight, being little versed in such visions, they were filled with great fear. The holy prince reassured them and said: "Ye upright men, be not afraid: for I announce to you tidings of great joy, which is that for you is born today the Redeemer Christ, Our Lord, in the city of David. And as a sign of this truth, I announce to you that you shall find the Infant wrapped in swaddling-clothes and placed in a manger" (Luke 2, 10, 12). At these words of the angel, there suddenly appeared a great multitude of the celestial army, who in voices of sweet harmony sang to the Most High these words: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will."
Conferring among themselves the thoughts excited by this message, they resolved to hasten in all speed to Bethlehem and see the wonder made known to them by the Lord. They departed without delay, and entering the cave or portal, they found, as Saint Luke tells us, Mary and Joseph, and the Infant lying in a manger. Seeing all this, they recognized the truth of what they had heard of the Child. Upon this followed an interior enlightenment consequent upon seeing the Word made flesh; for when the shepherds looked upon Him, He also glanced at them, emitting from His countenance a great effulgence, which wounded with love the sincere heart of each of these poor, yet fortunate men; with divine efficiency, it changed them and renewed them, constituting them in a new state of grace and holiness, and filling them with an exalted knowledge of the divine mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption of the human race.
The three Magi Kings, who came to find the Divine Infant after his birth, were natives of Persia, Arabia, and Sabba (Ps. 71, 10). As they followed the guidance of the miraculous star, they soon met. They began to confer among themselves about the revelation they had received and about their plans, finding that they were identical. They were more and more inflamed with devotion and with the pious desire of adoring the newborn God, and broke out in praise and admiration at the inscrutable works and mysteries of the Almighty.
The three kings of the East entered the cave, and, at the first sight of the Son and Mother, they were for a considerable space of time overwhelmed with wonder. They prostrated themselves upon the earth, and in this position they worshipped and adored the Infant, acknowledging Him as true God and man, and as the Savior of the human race. By the divine power, which the sight of Him and His presence exerted in their souls, they were filled with new enlightenment. They perceived the multitude of angelic spirits, who, as servants and ministers of the King of kings and Lord of lords, attended upon Him in reverential fear (Heb. 1, 4).
They offered to the heavenly King the special gifts which they had provided. Opening their treasures, as Scripture relates, they offered Him gold, incense, and myrrh (Matt. 2, 11). They consulted the heavenly Mother in regard to many mysteries and practices of faith, and concerning matters pertaining to their consciences and to the government of their countries; for they wished to return well instructed and capable of directing themselves to holiness and perfection in their daily life.
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, reminding them of the necessity and of the will of the Lord that they should return to their country. They chose another way for their return journey, in order not to meet Herod in Jerusalem; for thus they had been instructed by the angel on the preceding night. On their departure from Bethlehem, the same or a similar star appeared in order to guide them home, conducting them on their new route to the place where they had first met, whence each one separated to reach his own country.
Sister Mary of Agreda