O Jesus, Light of Bethlehem,

True Son of God, Incarnate Word;

Thou offspring of a Virgin's womb,

Be present at our frugal board;

Accept our fast, our sacrifice,

And smile upon us, gracious Lord.

For by this holiest mystery

The inward parts are cleansed from stain,

And, taming all the unbridled lusts,

Our sinful flesh we thus restrain,

Lest gluttony and drunkenness

Should choke the soul and cloud the brain.

Hence appetite and luxury

Are forced their empire to resign;

The wanton sport, the jest obscene,

The ignoble sway of sleep and wine,

And all the plagues of languid sense

Feel the strict bonds of discipline.

For if, full fed with meat and drink,

The flesh thou ne'er dost mortify,

The mind, that spark of sacred flame,

By pleasure dulled, must fail and die,

And pent in its gross prison-house

The soul in shameful torpor lie.

So be thy carnal lusts controlled,

So be thy judgment clear and bright;

Then shall thy spirit, swift and free,

Be gifted with a keener sight,

And breathing in an ampler air

To the All-Father pray aright.

Elias by such abstinence,

Seer of the desert, grew in grace,

Who left the madding haunts of men

And found a peaceful resting-place,

Where, far from sinful crowds, he trod

The pure and silent wilderness.

Till by those fiery coursers drawn

The swift car bore him through the air,

Lest earth's defiling touch should mar

The holiness it might not share,

Or some polluting breath disturb

The peace attained by fast and prayer.

Moses, through whom from His dread throne

The will of God to man was told,

No food might touch till through the sky

The sun full forty times had rolled,

Ere God before him stood revealed,

Lord of the heavens sevenfold.

Tears were his meat, while bent in prayer

Through the long night he bowed his head

E'en to the thirsty dust, that drank

The drops in bitter weeping shed;

Till, at God's call, he saw the flame

No eye may bear, and was afraid.

The Baptist, too, was strong in fast--

Forerunner in a later day

Of God's Eternal Son--who made

The byepaths plain, the crooked way

A road direct, wherein His feet

Might travel on without delay.

This was the messenger's great task

Who for God's advent zealously

Prepared the way, the rough made smooth,

The mountain levelled to the sea;

That, when Truth came from heaven to earth,

All fair and straight His path should be.

He was not born in common wise,

For dry and wrinkled was the breast

Of her that bare him late in years,

Nor found she from her labour rest,

Till she had hailed with lips inspired

The Maid with unborn Godhead blest.

For him the hairy skins of beasts

Furnished a raiment rude and wild,

As forth into the lonely waste

He fared, an unbefriended child,

Who dwelt apart, lest he should be

By evil city-life defiled.

There, vowed to abstinence, he grew

To manhood, and with stern disdain

He turned from meat and drink, until

He saw night's shadow fall again;

And locusts and the wild bees' store

Sufficed his vigour to sustain.

The first was he to testify

Of that new life which man might win;

In Jordan's consecrating stream

He purged the stains of ancient sin,

And, as he made the body clean,

The radiant Spirit entered in.

Forth from the holy tide they came

Reborn, from guilt's pollution free,

As bright from out the cleansing fire

Flows the rough gold, or as we see

The glittering silver, purged of dross,

Flash into polished purity.

Now let us tell, from Holy Writ,

Of olden fasts the fairest crown;

How God in pity stayed His hand,

And spared a doomed and guilty town,

In clemency the flames withheld

And laid His vengeful lightnings down.

A mighty race of ancient time

Waxed arrogant in boastful pride;

Debauched were they, and borne along

On foul corruption's loathsome tide,

Till in their stiff-necked self-conceit

They e'en the God of Heaven denied.

At last Eternal Mercy turns

To righteous judgment, swift and dire;

He shakes the clouds; the mighty sword

Flames in His hand, and in His ire

He wields the roaring hurricane

'Mid murky gloom and flashing fire.

Yet in His clemency He grants

To penitence a brief delay,

That they might burst the bonds of lust

And put their vanities away;

His sentence given, He waits awhile

And stays the hand upraised to slay.

To warn them of the wrath to come

The Avenger in His mercy sent

Jonah the seer; but,--though he knew

The threatening Judge would fain relent

Nor wished to strike,--towards Tarshish town

The prophet's furtive course was bent.

As up the galley's side he climbed,

They loosed the dripping rope, and passed

The harbour bar: then on them burst

The sudden fury of the blast;

And when their peril's cause they sought,

The lot was on the recreant cast.

The man whose guilt the urn declares

Alone must die, the rest to save;

Hurled headlong from the deck, he falls

And sinks beneath the engulfing wave,

Then, seized by monstrous jaws, is plunged

Into a vast and living grave.

      *       *       *       *       *

At last the monster hurls him forth,

As the third night had rolled away;

Before its roar the billows break

And lash the cliffs with briny spray;

Unhurt the wondering prophet stands

And hails the unexpected day.

Thus turned again to duty's path

To Nineveh he swiftly came,

Their lusts rebuked and boldly preached

God's judgment on their sin and shame;

"Believe!" he cried, "the Judge draws nigh

Whose wrath shall wrap your streets in flame."

Thence to the lofty mount withdrew,

Where he might watch the smoke-cloud lower

O'er blasted homes and ruined halls,

And rest beneath the shady bower

Upspringing in swift luxury

Of twining tendril, leaf and flower.

But when the guilty burghers heard

The impending doom, a dull despair

Possessed their souls; proud senators,

Poor craftsmen, throng the highways fair;

Pale youth with tottering age unites,

And women's wailing rends the air.

A public fast they now decree,

If they may thus Christ's anger stay:

No food they touch: each haughty dame

Puts silken robes and gems away,

In sable garbed, and ashes casts

Upon her tresses' disarray.

In dark and squalid vesture clad

The Fathers go: the mourning crowd

Dons rough attire: in shaggy skins

Enwrapped, fair maids their faces shroud

With dusky veils, and boyish heads

E'en to the very dust are bowed.

The King tears off his jewelled brooch

And rends the robe of Coan hue;

Bright emeralds and lustrous pearls

Are flung aside, and ashes strew

The royal head, discrowned and bent,

As low he kneels God's grace to sue.

None thought to drink, none thought to eat;

All from the table turned aside,

And in their cradles wet with tears

Starved babes in bitter anguish cried,

For e'en the foster-mother stern

To little lips the breast denied.

The very flocks are closely penned

By careful hands, lest they should gain

Sweet water from the babbling stream

Or wandering crop the dewy plain;

And bleating sheep and lowing kine

Within their barren stalls complain.

Moved by such penitence, full soon

God's grace repealed the stern decree

And curbed His righteous wrath; for aye,

When man repents, His clemency

Is swift to pardon and to hear

His children weeping bitterly.

Yet wherefore of that bygone race

Should we anew the story tell?

For Christ's pure soul by fasting long

The clogging bonds of flesh did quell;

He Whom the prophet's voice foretold

As GOD WITH US, Emmanuel.

Man's body--frail by nature's law

And bound by pleasure's easy chain--

He freed by virtue's strong restraint,

And gave it liberty again:

He broke the bonds of flesh, and Lust

Was driven from his old domain.

Deep in the inhospitable wild

For forty days He dwelt alone

Nor tasted food, till, thus prepared,

All human weakness overthrown

By fasting's power, His mortal frame

Rejoiced the spirit's sway to own.

The Adversary, marvelling

To see this creature of a day

Endure such toil, spent all his guile

To learn if God in human clay

Had come indeed; but soon rebuked

Behind His back fled shamed away.

Therefore let each with all his might

Follow the way the Master taught,

The law of consecrated life

Which Christ unto His servants brought;

Till, with the lusts of flesh subdued,

The spirit reigns o'er act and thought.

'Tis this our jealous foe abhors,

'Tis this the Lord of earth and sky

Approves; by this the soul is made

Thy holy altar, God Most High:

Faith stirs within the slumbering heart

And sin's corroding power must fly.

Swifter than water quenches fire,

Swifter than sunshine melts the snow,

Crushed out by soul-restoring fast

Vanish the sins that rankly grow,

If hand in hand with Abstinence

Sweet Charity doth ever go.

This too is Virtue's noble task,

To clothe the naked, and to feed

The destitute, with kindly care

To visit sufferers in their need;

For king and beggar each must bear

The lot by changeless Fate decreed.

Happy the man whose good right hand

Seeks but God's praise, and flings his gold

Broadcast, nor lets his left hand know

The gracious deed; for wealth untold

Shall crown him through eternal years

With usury an hundredfold.

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