'Inspectio Cordis': Fourth Sunday of Advent & Christmas Day

Mary shows us the way: even if we don’t know how fully – as she didn’t know – we do know that it will be. God always fulfills His word of promise, but we must engage that word with a living faith, by wrestling with it in our hearts.

By Fr. Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC

A gaze of the heart. Examining the depth of one’s heart.

There is no one way to translate the Latin title Inspectio Cordis, given to the collection of meditations for Sundays by the Founder of the Marians, St. Stanislaus Papczyński (1631-1701).

These meditations, published weekly on Fridays in preparation for the Sunday Mass, follow the style and purpose of our holy Father Founder. While his original text is worth reading, his examples and style can feel outdated to the modern reader. As his spiritual son, I will attempt my best to imitate his style and imitate his ministry of preaching to hearts.

The goal is to allow Jesus to gaze into your heart and teach you self-examination, leading you to a more fruitful reception of Holy Communion, where there is a true encounter of our hearts with His Sacred Heart – especially fitting during this period of National Eucharistic Revival.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle B
December 24, 2023

Before Holy Communion

1. “Should you build me a house to dwell in?”
Do we not often busy ourselves in this time of Advent, preparing our homes for family, friends, and visitors? We ensure that we also prepare our parishes with Advent wreathes and Christmas decorations, including a manger scene. All of this is part of good human and Christian tradition. And yet, it would do us good, on this Christmas Eve, to let the Lord’s question sink into our hearts. God does not need us to busy ourselves in His name. Rather, He needs human hearts, docile like David’s, capable of letting go of our own plans – even good ones – to remember that God is first at work, accomplishing His plan. He prepares a house to dwell in, and that house is your heart, for there He dwells through Holy Communion.

What projects, like David, are you currently constructing? What is the Lord’s project in your life? How is He “edifying” your heart to be a house He can dwell in?

2. “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.”
Truth be told, we read these words, but our relationship with God is not always one of father-son. We all have painful experiences in life, including with our parents. The promise of Christmas is a renewal of our relationship with God as Father, who treats us as sons. Yet, society tells us we ought to be productive to be appreciated, which is a new form of slavery. Jesus, the eternal Son, descends to earth, to make us sons. He does so anew in each Holy Mass, so that through the Eucharist, we are united to Him as sons in the Son. Each Holy Communion, then, not only renews your relationship with Jesus, but with the Father, with Abba.

What is the “emotional content” of your relationship with God the Father? Is your heart filled with trust in His goodness, or anxiety over His severity? How can Jesus help you discover God as Abba?

3. “For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”
When we know God as Abba, then we taste His goodness, we savor His kindness, we remain firm in the rock of His fidelity. The result is singing. How often, though, our words are filled with complaints, doubts, worries, and anxieties. Indeed, this life is full of them! Yet, God is even more present, even closer, than all those, for He dwells within our hearts. He enters our depths through this Holy Communion with a power of love stronger than all evil combined! St. Paul, too, finishes his longest letter (to the Romans) with doxology or praise: “to the only wise God… be glory forever and ever.” When God is truly Abba, we sing, even amid difficulties, for suffering will pass away, but His goodness remains forever. In Heaven, our praise too lasts forever.

What do you need the Lord to heal in your heart and tongue through Communion today?

After Holy Communion

1. “To a town of Galilee called Nazareth.”
One might imagine that if you had a world to save, you would enter the scene in Jerusalem or, even better, Rome. But the Father sends His Archangel to an unknown virgin in Nazareth. This town, of perhaps no more than 200-300 families, was despised in Jesus’ time. In fact, it doesn’t even appear in the Roman list of cities. Yet, God chose this city, and today, He chose to send His Son to your city, whether big or small. You might think that for the world’s problems to be solved, big people must be involved in important places. But to keep His plan of salvation in action, the Son descends to you, perhaps an unknown, insignificant person in the eyes of the world, waiting for you to say ‘yes’ like the Virgin Mary.

How are you willing to cooperate in even seemingly insignificant ways in the Father’s plan of salvation? 

2. “How can this be?”
The Virgin Mary did not understand in full the Father’s plan. Her question – better translated as "How will this be?" – indicates her taking seriously the Archangel Gabriel’s news. She does not doubt, but she does dialogue and query. We all have questions, and even doubts, about the “Good News” when spoken to us. We easily believe facts about others in the past; but when the Word is addressed to us, we find a million fears that prevent our faith from bearing fruit. But Mary shows us the way: even if we don’t know how fully – as she didn’t know – we do know that it will be. God always fulfills His word of promise, but we must engage that word with a living faith, by wrestling with it in our hearts. And yet, we know, if we were to ask, “How can this be?” of the Eucharist, we respond: “For nothing will be impossible for God.”

What questions do you have for Jesus, when He comes in Holy Communion? What worries or doubts do you need Him to touch, elucidate, or heal? Where do you need faith?

3. “May it be done to me according to your word."
Cardinal Cantalamessa researched the Greek and Hebrew of these famous words of Mary. Although the New Testament is written in Greek, Mary would have spoken Aramaic and Hebrew. Cantalamessa concluded that Mary would have said “Amen” to the Archangel’s news. We imitate her in every Holy Communion! Each Mass is, as it were, an Annunciation: we have the Word announced to us, and we receive Jesus in the flesh in Communion. God fulfills His promises in the Old Testament not only to Mary, but to you today. He promises you His fidelity, His kindness, His covenant forever. All He asks of you is an unconditional “Amen” together with Mary. He desires your “Amen” before Communion to extend to His will in your daily life.

What is on your mind when you say ‘Amen’ when you receive Jesus in Communion? How can you extend that ‘Amen’ to your daily life? 

Christmas Day – Cycle B
December 25, 2023

Before Holy Communion

1. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.”
“Consider that just as peace was thriving in the whole world at the time of Augustus, when Christ was going to be born… in the same way, today you should calm all the powers of your soul [your imagination, intellect, memory, etc.] and your senses [sight, touch, etc., as well as emotions], and try to procure great peace in your heart.” The Pax Romana [Roman Peace] provided a necessary environment in the then known world for the birth of the Savior. Similarly, for Christ to be “born” today for you, the Holy Spirit desires to prepare your heart with peace. But, unfortunately, how often Christmas day is the culmination of a flurry of activities – shopping, cooking, cleaning, hosting, etc. Our hearts may be anything but “peaceful,” and rather than our “secular” activities providing peace – like Caesar Augustus provided the Pax Romana – our busyness blurs our hearts. “Examine your conscience…” We ought to listen to our hearts and hear what prevents them from having peace, and if necessary, make a sincere act of contrition or ask for the sacrament of confession.

How can you “calm the powers of your soul and your senses” to procure peace of heart? Amid the many Christmas activities, how can you examine your conscience to prepare for Jesus?

2. “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”
“If the shepherds had such a great desire to see the newborn Jesus… with what great eagerness then are you obliged to receive” Jesus today? Around Christmas, our hearts are brimming with memories, desires, and hopes. In many ways, Christmas time is the summation of all we know as good and beautiful in human life: families open to each other and new life in children. But we can also wonder how strong our desire is to see Jesus, to witness what has taken place amid our other activities. Too often, our desires for human happiness on this day exceed our zeal to encounter the newborn Jesus in the Eucharist and in prayer, even to the point that we organize our Mass around our other activities, or worse, do it first to “get it done.” “Hasten you step, lift up your mind, animate your heart.”

What desires fill your heart on this Christmas day? What do you desire to see “take place” in your heart with the Lord?

3. “All things came to be through him.”
“Today do not hesitate to ask something of the… Infant… go to Him with your requests… I advise you to ask of the Infant Jesus not some few, but rather all things; namely: ask for Himself, so that He may give Himself to you; for if you have Him, what else can you be lacking?” We think of asking “Santa Claus” for gifts, or we may indirectly hint to others our wish list for Christmas. But we have someone richer than Santa Claus, who comes to us in Holy Communion. St. Paul similarly exclaimed: “He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” (Rom 8:32). “As you receive Him from the hands of the priest, imagine that you receive Him from the hands of Joseph and from the bosom of His Mother; and that all things come to you with Him.” The most precious gift you can receive this Christmas is Jesus in the Eucharist, handed to you by Mary and Joseph.

What gifts do you need Jesus to give you? What are your petitions to the Infant? How can you make room to receive the greatest gift of the Infant Jesus?

After Holy Communion

1. “and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
“Peace to men of good will.” “Consider that such people, who do the will of others and not their own, always enjoy peace of mind.” In celebrating holidays, we have expectations for happiness, peace, and joy. We even put much effort to make sure everything goes “smoothly” and even “perfectly” to make good memories. But perhaps we need to focus not upon making sure what we want happens, but rather, focusing on others and their needs and hopes. Even more, we may find happiness remembering that peace comes from receiving and knowing His favor, His grace in our lives. If you have received Holy Communion worthily, His favor rests upon you, and He gives you His peace, offering you the “sweetest kiss of peace.”

How can you remain in His favor and grace, and so retain His kiss of peace? When something goes “wrong,” how can you surrender your will and embrace His?

2. “And the Word became flesh.”
“Beg Jesus… established in the pulpit of your heart, to teach you the same virtues, which He, as a child in the cradle, taught the whole world… Learn from the naked infant to foster the utmost poverty; from the heavenly King reclining in the manger, a true humility; and from the most obedient Son of God the obedience worthy of the crown. Learn from the silent Word to keep silence. Learn from the Savior burning in the middle of winter with great desires to redeem all people and imbue yourself with the divine love and the love of neighbor. Obtain from the highest Sovereign of the world, exposed to the winter colds, hunger, thirst, and smelly stable, the strength to bear adversities joyfully. Finally, learn true wisdom from Eternal Wisdom that came down into the world.”

What does the Infant Jesus desire to teach you, from the ‘pulpit of your heart,’ today, during Christmas? How can you hear Him amid your activities, or how can you find a time of silent prayer to be with Him who dwells in You through Communion?

3. “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger…”
“Consider that the Lord of the whole universe, born and laid down in a stable presented a sight worthy of admiration. But more admirable is that the same Lord remains today in your heart.” Admirable indeed is the fact that Jesus was not only born 2,000 years ago, but He comes anew to this earth in Holy Communion and enters not a manger but your heart. But Jesus not only enters but remains in your heart! Our hearts may be poor lodgings, for we are weak, broken sinners, dirty just as the stable in which he was born. But He chooses your poverty today; He chooses to be born into your “messy” home and life. He chooses to remain with you, asking you to remain with Him and not forget Him. Be not poor in your love for Him this day.

How can you remain with Jesus and be rich in lavishing your affection, your tenderness, your love upon Him, as a newborn Infant, just as you would do so with a newborn in your family?

Posted next Friday, Dec. 29: Dec. 31, the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and Jan. 1, Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.


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