William McNamara, OCD wrote: “To be unique is not a matter of peculiar differences but of outstanding fidelity . . . fidelity to myself and the God who calls me to become more and more gracefully myself, my very best self, not in isolation but in communion with the whole human race.” McNamara adds that we must continue until we are “so faithful that God will look on me with pleasure and say: ‘This is my beloved son.’” What a beautiful way to think of uniqueness! Enneagrams, Myers-Briggs tests, fingerprints, and just plain living can prove our unique qualities; however, to think in terms of deepening fidelity puts us in direct line with the moment of our creation and our faithfulness to that moment.
Popular yard signs and hash tags tell us that Black Lives Matter, Women Matter, You Matter. I’ve never seen a yard sign “God-matter.” Yet the outdoor Christmas decorations that are starting to disappear are signs of “God-matter.” The Logos, the Word of God, took on a body. God and matter united, and in that process all matter is spiritualized. God became Jesus of Nazareth, the Christogenesis that makes God the heart of all matter, the Christogenesis by which human energy is integrated with divine energy throughout the cosmos.
Soon stable scenes will disappear, the Holy Family statues wrapped and stored. Perhaps we will not reflect on the pregnant Mary until Advent 2019. Meanwhile we have twelve months to reflect on the world, a divine milieu pregnant with God (Chardin).
Sister Maria Aloysia Wolbring, the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame, was born January 8, 1828, 190 years ago. In another decade we Sisters will celebrate the 200th anniversary of her birth. For now the celebration is rather quiet: a special meal, a birthday remembrance, an extra prayer on a day that marks the last day of the Christmas Season and the Baptism of the Lord. Many reasons to celebrate, but all part of the One Mystery. Jesus came as the reign of God in our midst, He was anointed by his Father and the Spirit to take on the mission of salvation—a mission that continued in the hearts of Christ’s close followers like Sister Maria Aloysia. May the birthday candles on Sister Maria Aloysia’s cake light the path that God marked out for the Sisters of Notre Dame. May her spirit live in our hearts. May her trust in God’s goodness and provident care be our own.
Among my favorite Christmas cards to give and receive are those with the Magi. The silhouettes of camels and riders crossing the desert in the twilight stirs me to join the trek. “Come on! Come let us adore!” the pictures call. This year I received a Magi card from a charitable organization, and its message was perfect: “Called to see the face of Christ in ‘the least of these,’ you responded with amazing love and generosity.” How “least” must have Mary, Joseph, and the Child seemed to these learned seers whose wealth could bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Wiser for this visit and richer in soul, the three departed by another way—warned in a dream and invited by the Child to follow the Way.
A cartoon in the most recent National Catholic Reporter depicted Pope Francis reflecting on the new year. He was not optimistic but hopeful and told his friend he would declare 2018 Year of Hope. Like the remnants in Pandora’s box, hope is about all we have left. Nuclear war threatens. Refugees and immigrants languish in detention centers. Global warming is dismissed as a myth, while flooding and forest fires take lives every day.
But nothing overcomes the light of hope. “Arise! Shine for your light has come” (Is. 60:1). God and God’s reign will prevail. There is no doubt. May 2018 be a year of hope. Hold Out Promise to Everyone.
As I look at my Christmas cards once again before putting them away or recycling them, I note the greeting. One card devoid of the nativity scene and sporting a Christmas tree—with gifts in the snow?–says “Cherish the traditions.” Apparently it means the family traditions, and certainly those should be cherished.
As a child, my family tradition was giving each other gifts on Christmas Eve after having prayed the rosary and singing around the piano. Then on Christmas morning we went to the earliest Mass, had breakfast, and opened the gifts from Santa. Now my siblings gather on December 26 for a marathon of euchre interspersed with abundant food and an egg nog toast.
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph probably enjoyed family traditions, too. Certainly there were the Jewish customs of the early first century. But were there other observances perhaps locked in the hearts of Mary and Joseph? Did they treasure in their hearts the dates of the first step Jesus took, the first word he uttered, his first day of school, the anniversary of his being lost in the Temple? Did the Holy Family join cousins for family reunions? Were there neighborhood parties? And did Mary watch Jesus closely observing whom he might pick someday to be his disciples? When Joseph died, how did Jesus and Mary pray for him and share grief and memories?
May the Holy Family bless each of our families.
In the preface of his book of poems, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder. And you gave it to me.” Wonder is worth praying for. It brings excitement at the sight of a supermoon or a meteor shower. Wonder elicits hope that the present wondrous thing is only one wondrous thing among billions of marvels yet to fill us with delight. Wonder keeps us simple and child-like. Wonder keeps us open to new possibilities and expectant that our spirits will soar and expand. Some say Christmas is a time for wonder. It is, but our prayer for wonder can be answered every day.
The Gospel passage for December 18 begins “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.” We are familiar with Joseph’s taking Mary as his wife. And throughout the next few days the familiar story continues. . . Zechariah in the temple . . .Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. . . Mary’s Magnificat. But we don’t know how the story will end. Scripture tells of Jesus’ public life, his crucifixion, and his resurrection. The New Testament continues with the details of the early Christians and the letters of Paul, John, and Peter. But we still don’t know how the story will end. Eons of chapters will continue before we know the end of the story, but we can guess how the final chapter will begin: “This is how the fullness of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ came about.” Will it tell how “All things hold together in Christ”? (Col. 1:17). Will its climax show Christ as the future of the universe? Will it portray how the Incarnation has been completed in us? Will it prove that the mystery of Christ is our mystery? Come quickly, Lord! We can’t wait to see how the story ends.
What a week this will be! Christmas plays and parties. Shopping and wrapping gifts. Sending cards and singing carols. Advent Vespers and penance services. With the Fourth Week of Advent being only one day this year, the Third Week of Advent makes Christmas very near. What do you need to complete? Baking? Grocery shopping? You might be ready for the big day celebrating Jesus’ birth. But don’t forget that the Incarnation needs to be completed in us.
The Church designed Advent for inspiration, but often December is a time for frustration. Tangled strings of lights, tilting trees, off-key concert pieces, burnt cookies, and long lines at the cashier cause more than one frustrated “Bah! Humbug!” Someone told me that she starts Advent in mid-November regardless of the real date. The extra two weeks give her some quiet time before Advent coincides—or clashes– with holiday busyness. That’s something I’ll need to remember next year—taking time for some extra inspiration. And maybe there will be a little less frustration.