Christmas For Me, Today
by Fr. Fio Mascarenhas
St. Ignatius Loyola, in his wonderful book, The Spiritual Exercises, proposes the following objective for the meditations on the Incarnation: "This is to ask for what I desire: an intimate knowledge of our Lord who has become man for me, that I may love him more, and follow him more closely." He then encourages the retreatant to reflect and draw some spiritual fruit from the Christmas narratives.
In fact, the season of Christmas is a time of kairos to do just that! So the Scripture text I focus on every Christmas is this one:
"God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that Jesus can be the eldest among many brothers and sisters" (Rom.8:29).
That Jesus is "the eldest among many brothers and sisters" means that he is our next-of-kin, our closest relative, our goel (see Ruth 4:6-10) or "redeemer." You and I are his spiritual siblings, and through our new birth of baptism, are fashioned to resemble him (in our character/spirituality). No wonder that the saints of the Church made strenuous efforts to personalize/interiorize his intimate relationship with the Father, his whole-hearted love for humanity, and his courageous dedication to building the Kingdom of God. With Paul, they too could dare to say, "become imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (Phil.3:17).
We all share in this heritage, through the Communion of Saints. Hence we too, modern Christians, can say to God in prayer at Christmas, "this exactly is what I desire." Our active cooperation with the Spirit (see 2Cor.3:17f) will then bring us three important graces which can manifest more clearly our own resemblance to Jesus: the graces of contemplation, compassion, and courage.
Jesus was a contemplative, which means, he habitually and constantly gazed at his Father with love, admiration, and gratitude, while simultaneously experiencing his Father looking at him with love and delight. Jesus is ready to share this grace with all whom the Spirit has made his siblings and co-heirs. Hence, Fr. Willie Doyle (the famous Jesuit chaplain to the armed forces who was killed in action in France, 1916) advised, "Make your prayer simple, as simple as you can; reason little, love much, and you will pray well!" St. John Vianney too once questioned a woodcutter who used to sit before the Blessed Sacrament for hours at a time, "What are you doing, just sitting like this for so long?" The answer was, "I look at Him, and He looks at me!" Such is the essence of contemplation, and it spills over to the whole of one's existence in the grace of prayerfulness.
I received something of this gift at my "baptism in the Spirit." Although I had asked many times for it since 1963 in Jesuit retreats, God surprised me with it in 1972, after my time of brokenness and my infilling with the Spirit. And for the last 33 years, this gift has brought me strength and joy in good times and in bad, enabling me to become aware of God always looking upon me with delight "as a son first, a sinner second," not because of my merits or worthiness but because Jesus has made me forever his brother and co-heir. It has enabled me in turn to steadfastly look at God with love, admiration and gratitude.
"Compassion" is a word which, I believe, summarizes all the nine fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22). It enables one to feel with others in their joys and sorrows, and to act in a Christ-like way when relating with them. Because Christ became a human person, he is able to sympathize with us in our every weakness (cfr.Heb.4:15). So too, our own ongoing experience of love, joy, peace, goodness, and kindness enables us to empathize with others. Likewise, patience, self-control, gentleness and forbearance can prove very helpful to relate with certain people who otherwise might bug us! To become more recognizable siblings of Jesus Christ, we must ardently desire, seek, and receive the grace to be consistently compassionate. (Compassion authenticates the gift of contemplation, for a true contemplative cannot but be compassionate).
Lumen Gentium, n.40 declares: "Saints are those who hold on to, and perfect in their lives, that holiness which they have received from God." To hold on to the gift of holiness (received in baptism), and to develop it, we need courage in our daily following of Jesus. Our world is in need of prophets, people of courage, who will step out and take action against evil in the world. Even to ask forgiveness of a family/community-member, or a co-worker, requires moral courage; and it becomes prophetic, because God uses it to touch others, creating a ripple effect. Courage therefore means taking initiatives of love! Whether in works of mercy (offering service to the needy), or in practical efforts against the reign of evil and injustice in the city, nation, or parish, such initiatives are urgent and imperative, if we wish to be like Jesus. "Love, like bread, must be baked fresh every day!" is how a poster put it, and the Spirit of God is more than ready to help us take daily initiatives of courageous love to build God's Kingdom on earth.
To sum up, for me, Christmas is an anointed time to desire, to ask, and to receive afresh those graces which will mould me into the image of Christ, my eldest sibling: authentic contemplation, leading to compassion, and to a courageous life of many loving initiatives for the sake of God's Kingdom. Christmas reminds me that Jesus Christ "has become man for me" for this very purpose!
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