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The Holy Night Header 

By Selma Lagerlof

 

It was a Christmas day and all the folks had driven to church except Grandma and me. We had not been permitted to go along, because one was too old and the other was too young. And we were sad, the both of us, because we had not been taken to early Mass to hear the singing and to see the Christmas candles.

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But as we sat there in our loneliness, Grandmother began to tell a story.

“There was a man,” said she, “who went out into the dark night to borrow live coals to kindle a fire. He went from hut to hut and knocked. ‘Dear friends, please help me!” said he. ‘My wife has just given birth to a child, and I must make a fire to warm her and the little one.’

“But it was way in the night, and all the people were asleep. No one replied 

“The man walked and walked. At last he saw the gleam of a fire a long way off. Then he went in that direction, and saw that the fire was burning in the open. A lot of sheep were sleeping around the fire and an old shepherd watched over the flock.

Campfire“When the man who wanted to borrow fire came up to the sheep, he saw that three big dogs lay asleep at the shepherd’s feet. All three awoke when the man approached and opened their great jaws, as though they wanted to bark. But not a sound was heard. The man noticed that the hair on their backs stood up and that their sharp, white teeth glistened in the firelight. They dashed toward him. He felt that one of them bit at his leg and one at his hand and that one clung to his throat. But their jaws and teeth wouldn’t obey them, and the man didn’t suffer the least harm.

“Now the man wished to go farther to get what he needed. But the sheep lay back to back and so close to one another that he couldn’t pass them. Then the man stepped on their backs and walked over them and up to the fire.  And not one of the animals awoke or moved.

“When the man had almost reached the fire, the shepherd looked up. He was a surly old man, who was unfriendly and harsh toward human beings. And when he saw the young man coming, he seized his long spiked staff, which he always held in his hand when he tended his flock, and threw it at him. The staff came right toward the man, but before it reached him it turned off to one side and whizzed past him, far out into the meadow.

“Now the man came up to the shepherd and said to him, ‘Good man, help me and lend me a little fire! My wife has just given birth to a child, and I must make a fire to warm her and the little one.’

“The shepherd would rather have said no, but when he pondered that the dogs couldn’t hurt the man and that the sheep had not run from him, and that his staff had not wished to strike him, he was a little afraid and dared not deny the man that which he asked 

“’Take as much as you need!’ he said to the man.

“But then the fire was nearly burnt out. There were no logs or branches left, only a big heap of live coals; and the stranger had neither spade nor shovel, wherein he could carry the red-hot coals.

“When the shepherd saw this, he said again, ‘Take as much as you need!’ And he was glad that the man wouldn’t be able to take away any coals.

But the man stooped and picked the coals from the ashes with his bare hands, and laid them in his mantle. And he didn’t burn his hands when he touched them, nor did the coals scorch his mantle; but he carried them away as if they had been nuts or apples.

Sheep“And when the shepherd, who was such a cruel and hard-hearted man, saw all of this he began to wonder to himself: ‘What kind of night is this when the dogs to not bite and sheep are not scared, and the staff does not kill or the fire scorch?’ He called the stranger back, and said to him: “What kind of a night is this? And how does it happen that all things show you compassion?’

“’Then said the man, ‘I cannot tell you if you yourself do not see it.’ And he wished to go his way that he might soon make a fire and warm his wife and child.

“But the shepherd did not wish to lose sight of the man before he found out what all this might portend. He got up and followed the man till they came to the place where he lived.

“Then the shepherd saw that the man had not so much as a hut to dwell in, but that his wife and babe were lying in a mountain grotto, where there was nothing but the cold and naked stone walls.

“The shepherd thought that the poor and innocent child might freeze to death there in the grotto; and, although he was a hard man, he was touched, and thought that he would like to help it. He loosened his knapsack from his shoulder, took from it a soft, white sheep skin, gave it to the stranger, and said that he should let the child sleep on it.

“But just as soon as he showed that he, too, could be merciful, his eyes were opened and he saw what he had not been able to see before.

Angel“He saw that all around him stood a ring of silver-winged angels, and each held a stringed instrument and sang in loud tones that tonight the Savior was born who should redeem the world from its sins.

“Then he understood that all things were so happy this night that they didn’t want to do anything wrong.

“And it was not only around the shepherd that there were angels, but he saw them everywhere. They sat inside the grotto, they sat outside on the mountain and they flew under the heavens. They came marching in great companies, and, as they passed, they paused and cast a glance at the child.

“There was such a jubilation and such gladness and songs and play! All this he saw in the dark night, whereas before he could not have made out anything. He was so happy because his eyes had been opened that he fell upon his knees and thanked God.”

Here Grandmother sighed and said, “What that shepherd saw, we might also see, for the angels fly down from heaven every Christmas Eve, if we could only see them.”

Then Grandmother laid her hand on my head and said, “You must remember this, for it is true, as true as that I see you and you see me. It is not revealed by the light of lamps or candles, and it does not depend upon sun and moon; but that which is needful is, that we be merciful. Only then our eyes will open as to see God’s glory.”

 


 

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Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for November 18, 2019

Better a few staunch and sincere Catholics, than many compli...

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November 18

 

Better a few staunch and sincere Catholics,
than many compliant with the enemies of the Church
and conformed to the foes of our Faith.

St. Peter Canisius


DEFEND Our Lady's HONOR !

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

During the French Revolution, the Sisters of the Visitation...

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St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

Born on August 29, 1769 in the French city of Grenoble, Rose Philippine was baptized in the Church of St. Louis. She was educated at the Convent of the Visitation of Ste. Marie d'en Haut and, against her father’s wishes, became a novice there when she was eighteen years old. However, the French Revolution caused much disruption for the nuns, and when the Sisters of the Visitation were expelled from their convents, Rose returned home.

She cared for the sick and the poor, helped fugitive priests, visited prisons, and taught children. Some time after the Revolution ended, she unsuccessfully tried to reestablish the Visitation community, and ultimately gave the convent to St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and joined the Order. When the Bishop of New Orleans, William Du Bourg, requested nuns for his thriving diocese in Louisiana, Rose and four other nuns made the trip to America in 1818.

Rose and the nuns were sent to Missouri, pioneers of the New World. There, as well in neighboring states, they established multiple schools, built a convent, an orphanage, a mission school for Indian girls, a boarding academy and a novitiate for her Order. However, the strenuous and difficult regime of work for her apostolate took its toll on her body. She died in St. Charles, Missouri in 1852 after spending more than 30 years as a pioneer in the evangelization of the New World. She was canonized in 1988. Rose was truly devoted to God, and prayed in her every spare moment. Because of this, the Indians began to call her “Quah-kah-ka-num-ad,” or "Woman-Who-Prays-Always."

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared stan...

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The Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

Born in 1814, Alphonse Ratisbonne was from a family of wealthy, well-known Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his anti-Catholic family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse. At 27, Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered. He had already finished his law degree, and decided to travel to Italy before marrying and assuming his responsibilities in the family business. However, God had other plans for him.

While in Rome, Alphonse visited works of art, and strictly out of cultural curiosity, a few Catholic churches. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance, and nourished his profound hatred for the Church. He also called on an old schoolmate and close friend, Gustave de Bussières.

Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron de Bussières, who had recently converted to Catholicism and become a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of the Baron’s Catholicism and closeness with his turncoat brother, Alphonse greatly disliked him.

On the eve of his departure, Alphonse reluctantly fulfilled his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture.

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Hoping to avoid a meeting, Alphonse intended to leave his card discreetly and depart straight away, but was instead shown into the house. The Baron greeted the young Jew warmly, and before long, had persuaded him to remain a few more days in Rome. Inspired by grace, the Baron insisted Alphonse accept a Miraculous Medal and copy down a beautiful prayer: the Memorare. Alphonse could hardly contain his anger at his host’s boldness of proposing these things to him, but decided to take everything good-heartedly, planning to later describe the Baron as an eccentric.

During Alphonse’s stay, the Baron’s close friend, Count de La Ferronays, former French ambassador to the Holy See and a man of great virtue and piety, died quite suddenly. On the eve of his death, the Baron had asked the Count to pray the Memorare one hundred times for Alphonse’s conversion. It is possible that he offered his life to God for the conversion of the young Jewish banker.

A few days later, the Baron went to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to arrange for his friend’s funeral. Alphonse reluctantly went with him, all the while making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices. When they arrived, the Baron entered the sacristy to arrange the funeral while Alphonse remained in the church.

When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, the young man was gone. He searched the church, and soon discovered his young friend kneeling close to an altar, weeping.  Alphonse himself tells us what happened in those few minutes he waited for the Baron: “I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel.”

When de Bussières talked to Alphonse, he no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism. The news of such an unexpected conversion immediately spread and caused a great commotion throughout Europe, and Pope Gregory XVI received the young convert, paternally. He ordered a detailed investigation with the rigor required by canon law, and concluded that the occurrence was a truly authentic miracle. 

Alphonse took the name Maria Alphonse at baptism, and, wishing to become a priest, was ordained a Jesuit in 1847. After some time, and at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, he left the Jesuits and joined his brother Thèodore in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Father Theodore spread his congregation throughout France and England, while Father Maria Alphonse went to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, he established a house of the congregation on the plot of land where the praetorium of Pilate had formerly stood.

The two brothers died in 1884, both famed and well-loved for their exceptional virtues.  

By Armando Santos  

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In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar"

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