All of us are familiar with the character of Ebenezer Scrooge depicted in Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Christmas Carol, or we have come to know of him through movies and television specials aired during the Christmas season. Ebenezer Scrooge is completely self-absorbed. He is resentful of the demands made upon him by those who are poor and less fortunate. Scrooge, a tragic figure indeed, is visited by three spirits: the spirit of Christmas past, the spirit of Christmas present, and the spirit of Christmas future. The dramatic journey elicits his repentance. He becomes aware of his past indifference and cruelty and is moved to be more generous and benevolent toward those he had been mistreating in the past.
We all have wonderful memories of how we have celebrated Christmas in the past. On this Christmas, we will relive those memories, create new ones, and cherish our fondest memories in the recesses of our hearts. The joy and excitement of opening Christmas presents; sampling the delicious foods and deserts that our mothers and grandmothers prepared; decorating the tree; setting up the manger scene; singing Christmas carols; and of course, the gathering of family members and friends, all make up the wonderful memories of Christmas.
I have many beautiful memories of Christmases past. From early childhood, I remember how our entire family always attended Christmas morning Mass at our parish. Inevitably, somewhere along in the liturgy, the choir would sing Silent Night. As the beautiful hymn filled the church with harmony, my grandmother would begin to weep uncontrollably. Once, as a child, I asked my grandmother why she wept. “God loves us so much,” was her immediate answer.
This Christmas memory of my grandmother fills me with sadness at times, but then I remember how she died just a few years ago. As she lay in bed taking her last breath, she said, “Dear God, I love you”. I am sure that now in heaven she contemplates the eternal face of the God made man born in Bethlehem.
Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem, The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe meditates on this mystery.
Of her flesh He took flesh:
He does take fresh and flesh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvelous!
New Nazareth in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlehems, and He born
There, evening, noon, and morn –
Bethlehem or Nazareth,
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God’s and Mary’s Son.
And so each Christmas we contemplate the mystery of our God Who became man. He is born in silence, poverty, simplicity and purity in Bethlehem, the house of bread. Our God made man later taking bread and wine transforms it into His body and blood; thus is the mystery of His Incarnation continued for us in the mystery of the Eucharist, God made real for us.
God becomes man. Bread and wine become God-man. Each time we come to the Eucharist, we come to a new Bethlehem. He, who rested once in a manger, now rests in our entire being, as we receive Him in the mystery of the Mass.
Christmas is a special time of joy for all of us. But, for me, there is the added joy of celebrating my vocation to the Catholic priesthood. I was ordained on December 24, 1987, the morning of Christmas Eve. I celebrated my first Mass on Christmas morning, at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, Italy. How grateful I am that God has called me to be His priest, and yet, what an overwhelming and demanding responsibility!
To be faithful today in whatever vocation we have been given is not an easy enterprise. We live in very challenging times.
We live in a time of war, continual threats of terrorism and a world-wide financial melt-down. The predictable consequences of the election of a radical pro-abortion, socialist as our next president have many concerned. Recently Pope Benedict XVI voiced a warning concerning the on-going international efforts of the homosexual movement to blur and confuse the differences between the genders of male and female. Added to all of these challenges, many families suffer from serious difficulties, problems and dysfunction.
Now more than ever is the time for us to turn to Jesus. He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the Life. “I proclaim to you good news of great joy; today a Savior is born for us, Christ the Lord” (Alleluia, Mass at Midnight).
Jesus wants us to have life. He wants us to be happy. He wants us to have the best possible life here on earth. He wants to fill us with his divine life, sanctifying grace, so that we may enter into his joy. He wants us to experience his peace. He wants us to be with him in eternal life in heaven. He only wants the best for us.
This is why he wants us to open our hearts to him and let him enter in.
Have no fear of allowing Jesus to enter into your life. Do not fear the most exciting, most joyful, and the most powerful relationship known to the human person.
“So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life” (Pope John Paul the Great, homily, October 22, 1978).
However, if we live as autonomous beings as though God does not exist; if we immerse ourselves in the murky mist of blinding secularism, relativism and materialism; if we reject the need for the Sacrament of Confession; if we reject certain aspects of Church teaching; if we live uncommitted, slothful, ignorant and mediocre lives; we will be unable to recognize our need for a Savior and we will never experience joy and hope, precisely because we will never experience fully the God of love and mercy.
What would our lives be like if Jesus had not been born? Christmas is all about the Savior who came to save us from sin. We need to open our minds and our hearts and allow this Savior to change our lives.
“The medieval theologian William of Saint Thierry once said that God — from the time of Adam — saw that his grandeur provoked resistance in man, that we felt limited in our own being and threatened in our freedom. Therefore God chose a new way. He became a child. He made himself dependent and weak, in need of our love. Now — this God who has become a child says to us — you can no longer fear me, you can only love me” (Pope Benedict XVI, Midnight Mass Homily, December 25, 2005).
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