January 8, 2016 § Leave a comment
Here’s a little secret about me:
I have never felt a strong connection to the feast of Christmas. I understand the significance of it in my faith, of course, but it’s never given me the same kind of spiritual lift that Holy Week and the Easter feast do. Maybe it’s because I’ve never had a baby? Maybe it’s because I’m just so incredibly familiar with the story, it’s hard to make it new again every year? Or because the older I get, the busier the holiday season becomes, even when I try to keep it simple? (Everyone’s in town, everyone wants to hang out. I want to hang out with everyone! I want to bake cookies, to wrap presents and play all the Christmas carols!) I don’t know. Regardless of the reason, the birth of our Lord is a feast I struggle to make holy. That sounds terrible but it’s true. Really the only part of Christmas Mass that means something more to me than any other Mass is the second reading. I was lucky enough to lector at Christmas morning Mass this year, which meant I got to say those words out loud to the congregation. Hebrews 1:1-4 (emphasis mine):
“In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe,
who is the refulgence of his glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.
When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels, as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
Refulgence is defined as “shining brightly, radiant”. And I love that word. It’s rich, it’s lavish, it resonates. I love the idea of the Son shining the glory of God the Father over the earth by His birth. “The very imprint of his being” is another beautiful phrase, all full of power and emphasis. Especially for me as a Catholic who believes Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist at each and every Mass, it’s a weighty and phenomenal statement. The imprint of God’s Being is at Mass, for me to take into myself.
Those are beautiful words, phrases, powerful sentences, and I love them all year round, but they don’t speak “Christmas” to me in a special way. I just love the beauty and truth of them, the way I love all beautiful true words, the way the prayer “Look not upon our sins, but on the faith of your church” hits me in the gut every single Mass, and I always, always think of those I love who have fallen away from their faith, yet who still have that indelible mark of Baptism upon their soul. Look not upon their sins, I pray every Mass, but see my faith, here it is, as small and weak and fragile as it is, it’s here. Let my faith protect them. What are we but oblations, after all? Sacrificial love made real in our daily lives. An offering in spirit and truth.
I’m getting off-topic. I began re-reading Caryll Houselander’s spiritual classic “The Reed of God” again to try to get a little more in tune with the Christmas season. It contains such moving reflections on Mary, it’s a perfect Advent read.
“He was completely her own, utterly dependent upon her: she was His food and warmth and rest, His shelter from the world, His shade in the Sun. She was the shrine of the Sacrament, the four walls and the roof of His home.”
In regards to Mary and Joseph losing the young child Jesus for three days:
“Christ suffered the sense of the loss of God, of being left, forsaken by God.
Our Lady, therefore, suffered the same thing: the sense of the loss of God. And of all the sufferings of human nature, this is the most universal and the most purifying.
Therefore she lived through this strange, baffling thing for the love of God and for the love of us; she suffered it in Christ because Christ suffers it in human nature.
We have seen that her “Be it done unto me according to thy word” is uttered again in His “Not my will, but thine be done.” Just so is her “Son, why hast thou done so to us?” repeated in His “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?”
Everyone experiences this sense of the loss of the Divine Child.”
She talks of Mary’s sacrificial life, of idols, grace, emptiness and faith. She says in regards to speaking with people caught in sin:
“We should never come to a sinner without the reverence that we would take to the Holy Sepulchre. Pilgrims have travelled on foot for years to kiss the Holy Sepulchre, which is empty. In sinners we can kneel at the tomb in which the dead Christ lies.”
And in regards to the times in our life when we are seeking God and cannot find Him:
“He goes away that we may seek Him. The sense of loss, the awareness of insufficiency, makes us long for Him as He is; it makes us willing to go out from ourselves and find Him where He is.
He wants us to seek, because he wants to give Himself to us. It is an experience like the experience of emptiness: the emptiness must be there that He may fill it; and we must be aware of it in order that we may want Him to fill it.”
I love Caryll Houselander for the same reason I love Emily Dickinson: because they both possess a strikingly paradoxical way of writing about the loveliness and drudgery of life. Mysticism and the matter-of-fact combined. Her words paint a picture of the toil of daily life limned with the grace of Christ, refulgent with His presence. And so perhaps Christmas is real to me after all, because these words bring Christ fully into my world, enfleshed in the souls around me. I see Him not just in the faces I love, but in all I encounter: in the utterly familiar faces of my family, the faces of all my friends near and far, in a dear face now lost to me, in the homeless men on the Square, the drunken girl at the bar, the irritable couple at table 43, the refugees in the news, in all the faces of humanity, I see His face. His humanity. Every time I stop seeing someone as merely an object, and instead view Christ in them, He is born to me again in the flesh. In this way, I receive the gift of Christmas every day.
“The gift of Christ’s Body makes everyone a priest; because everyone can offer the Body of Christ on the altar of their own life.
But the offering must be the offering of a human being who is intensely alive, a potent humanness, great sorrow and great joy, a life lit up with the flame of Love, fierce fasts and thirsts and feasts of sheer joy. […]
It is not in making our flesh unfeeling that we hallow God’s name on earth but in offering it to God burning with the flame of life. Everything can be put into the fire that Christ came to kindle; and whether it be the bitter wood of sorrow or the substance of joy, it will burn upwards with the same splendor of light.”