From a meditation for the morning of Christmas Eve, by St. Alphonsus Liguouri:

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JESUS COMES TO CAST FIRE UPON THE EARTH.

I am come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled? (Luke xii. 49).

Before the coming of the Messias, who loved God upon the earth? He was known, indeed, in one corner of the world; that is, in Judea; and even there how very few loved Him when He came! Even today few there are who think of preparing their hearts for Jesus to be born in them! What sayest thou? Dost thou wish to be ranked amongst the ungrateful ones?

I.

The Jews solemnised a day called by them Dies ignis — the day of fire, in memory of the fire with which Nehemias consumed the sacrifice upon his return from the Captivity of Babylon. Even so, and indeed with more reason, should Christmas Day be called the Day of Fire on which a God comes as a little Child to cast the fire of love into the hearts of men.

I am come to cast fire upon the earth; so spoke Jesus Christ. Before the coming of the Messias, who loved God upon the earth? Some worshipped the sun, some the brutes, some the very stones, and others again even viler creatures still. A few years after the Redeemer was born God was more loved by men than He had been before from the creation of man. Ah, truly every man at the sight of a God clothed in flesh, and choosing to lead a life of such hardship, and to suffer a death of such ignominy, ought to be enkindled with love towards a God so loving! Oh, that thou wouldst rend the heaven and wouldst come down; the mountains would melt away at thy presence … the waters would burn with fire (Is. lxiv. 1). Oh, surely Thou wouldst enkindle such a furnace in the human heart that even the most frozen souls would catch the flame of Thy blessed love! And, in fact, after the Incarnation of the Son of God, how brilliantly has the fire of divine love burnt in loving souls! How many youths, how many of those nobly born, and how many monarchs even, have left wealth, honours, and even kingdoms, to seek the desert or the cloister, that there, in poverty and obscure seclusion, they might the more unreservedly give themselves up to the love of their Saviour! How many Martyrs have gone rejoicing, making merry on their way to torments and death! How many tender young virgins have refused the proferred hands of the great ones of the world in order to go and die for Jesus Christ and so repay in some measure the affection of a God Who stooped down to take human flesh and to die for the love of them!

O Jesus, Thou hast spared nothing to induce men to love Thee! O Word Incarnate, Thou wert even made Man to enkindle divine love in our hearts. I love Thee, O Incarnate Word! I love Thee, O sovereign Good! Suffer me not to be separated from Thee! Suffer me not to be separated from Thee!

II.

It may, indeed, be asserted without fear of contradiction that God was more loved in one century after the coming of Jesus Christ than in the entire forty centuries preceding His appearance on earth. Yes; all this is most true; but now comes a tale for tears. Has this been the case with all men? Have all men sought to correspond with the immense love of Jesus Christ? Alas! my God, the greater number have combined to repay Him with nothing but ingratitude! And you also, my brother, tell me what sort of return have you made up to this time for the love your God has borne you? Have you always shown yourself thankful? Have you ever seriously reflected what these words mean — a God to be made Man, a God to die for Thee?

A certain man while hearing Mass one day without devotion, as too many do, at these concluding words of the last Gospel: And the Word was made flesh (Jo. i. 14), made no external act of reverence. At the same moment a devil struck him a blow, saying: “Thankless wretch, thou hearest that a God was made Man for thee, and dost thou not even deign to bend the knee? Oh, if God had done the like for me I should be eternally engaged in thanking Him!”

Tell me, O Christian, what more could Jesus Christ have done to win thy love? If the Son of God had engaged to rescue His own Father from death, to what lower depth of humiliation could He have stooped than to assume human flesh and lay down His life in sacrifice for His salvation? Men appreciate the good graces of a prince, of a prelate, of a nobleman, of a man of letters, and even of a vile animal; and yet these same people set no store by the grace of God, but renounce it for mere smoke, for a brutal gratification, for a handful of earth, for a nothing!

What sayest thou, dear brother? Dost thou wish to be ranked among such ungrateful ones? Go, find thyself a prince more courteous, a master, a brother, a friend more amiable, and one who has shown thee a deeper love.

Ah, how comes it that we are so ungrateful towards God, the same God Who has bestowed His whole self upon us, Who has descended from Heaven to earth, has become an Infant to save us and to be loved by us? Come, let us love the Babe of Bethlehem! Let us love Jesus Christ Who, in the midst of such sufferings, has sought to attach our hearts to Him.

O my sweet, amiable and holy Child, Thou art at a loss what more to do in order to make Thyself loved by men! And how is it that Thou shouldst have encountered such ingratitude from the majority of men! I see that few, indeed, know Thee, and fewer still love Thee! Ah, my Jesus, I too desire to be reckoned among this small number. But Thou knowest my weakness. Thou knowest my past treasons. For pity’s sake do not abandon me, or I shall fall away even worse than before. O Mary, my Mother, thou art the Mother of fair love (Ecclus. xxiv. 24), do thou obtain for me the grace to love my God. I hope it of thee