Christmas means a lot of things to a lot of people. For me, December 25th is a holy, miraculous day. It is a time, a season to prepare ourselves. To truly believe that God became man makes the commemoration of this most important day and most important moment in history imperative. Of all the moments, of all the days, this one is most important. The God man is born. What a loving God we have who humbled Himself to become one of us. Imagine the love! Imagine the humility! Of all the kindnesses, all the wonderment, all the beautious moments in life! May my heart and all hearts welcome Him!
If we are to believe all the commercials on television, we will have friends, prosperity and a great life if we just buy their products…their cars, their lipstick, or their steamed vegetables. They continually guarantee a better life by flying to a resort for a wild vacation, or getting the right hair color. Life seems like a series of spending sprees and wild relationships. If one never went outside of the house, they might believe it.
However, those of us in the real world have to get out of a perfectly comfortable bed to go to a job where we are unappreciated and underpaid. Perhaps the car won’t start or our children continue to fight and make a mess of the house. Maybe we are afraid that we are going to lose our jobs and will fall victim to a life of total fear with no money in sight. Whatever our dilemma, we know better than to believe what we are sold about life. But, if that is all you see, it can seem like you are out of step with the rest of the parade.
If we go through life the hard way, like most of us do, we learn that we have to depend on a power greater than ourselves. On our own, we will not make it. God is the power I seek because without God I am just another blade of grass with no purpose. When I connect with God and, more, when I give my life over to God and ask Him to guide my thoughts, my words and my actions. I must die to myself (realize that of myself I am nothing…the opposite of all the commercials) and live in Jesus. I must take on the armor of God and face the world with hope, love and the gift of faith. I must add to the world. I must not take advantage of people or try to outsmart the Creator. Each day this is an important decision…to humbly ask God to take our lives and bless them and make them holy by His grace.
When I am conscious of this in the early morning before the world actually wakes up, I get the right start. This right start is more than a nutrious breakfast cereal that gives us important vitamins. It is the right start on yet another journey – one I hope to live in peace following the love of my life.
St. Paul said “Let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven…but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” We are joyous in knowledge of the truth. There are many happy moments in life, but the Paschal joy is solidly grounded on the knowledge that we are in the truth, the truth which Jesus the Christ brought to the world and which is confirmed by His resurrection. The Resurrection assures us that our faith is NOT in vain. The Resurrection assures us that we do not hope in a dead man, but on a living One, whose life is so strong that it enlivens us. He said He was the Resurrection and the Life and he that believes in Him, although they die, will live.
When we see ourselves as we truly are…sinners with many faults and deficiencies…we long to be converted into the new life offered firstly by the Cross and finally by the Resurrection. We cannot do this ourselves…for we are limited. But, with God, all things are possible. With a sincere resolve to purify our lives and be renewed completely, we can come into union with all that is holy. Believing in truth and living out its instructions will bring us joy. Not simply happiness (which is fleeting), but joy which is everlasting. Joy in truth, that is the promise for us.
“That I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weakness, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” (2 Cor 12- 7-9)
We are weakened by the knowledge of our shortcomings. It seems that no matter how often I pray for a clean heart, I find myself filled with the sharp pain of jealousy or a mean thought. My prayers for a clean tongue find me cursing over a small problem or speaking ill of someone. It is not easy wanting to be a saint and living as a sinner. The good side of all this work is the knowledge that of myself I am nothing. Another good aspect of living this way is that I come to depend on the grace of God and not on me. I always fall. When I think of Christ’s passion and his three falls that are part of the Stations of the Cross, I am amazed that he continually got up again.
Some of the people I talk to think of religious people as self-righteous, pompous. Maybe some are. I think most of us are so cognizant of our weaknesses and our dependence on God that it comes across differently to those who don’t even know what we’re talking about. The world preaches self-sufficiency. It never worked for me. Alone I am in bad company.
I am so happy to be a Catholic Christian. I am so happy to be a member of the universal church He established which continues to teach me as I age and allows me to go deeply into intimacy with Jesus Christ. There is no end to the wisdom of our faith…no end to the beauty that lifts me up and asks nothing of me but to follow the still, small voice to the journey’s end.
I lived a life of discouragement. I never seemed to be able to succeed at anything I tried. Most of my life I thought of myself as handicapped either mentally or physically. In truth, I know today, I was handicapped spiritually. I thought I had to depend on my own strength. My pride always deceived me. And, I didn’t think to rely on God in times of trouble or in times of opportunity. In other words, I tried to succeed alone, I failed alone, and I reviewed my actions alone. I was always discouraged to try again. How could I expect to garner strength when it was my own lack of strength that made me fail?
St. Theresa of Jesus said: “The soul must sometime emerge from self-knowledge and soar aloft in meditation upon the greatness and the majesty of its God.”
The greatest acknowledgement of self I ever made is that I have been wrong about almost everything. I am wrong so often, I wonder how I ever had an ego. Today I realize that I am merely a mortal being. I will be here for a while and then I will not exist. I realize I know only a little…and what I think I know is based on my logic – which is often skewed. I have lost my opinion about things in this world. Political figures come and go, national problems come and go, wars and enemies come and go. We are passing through this world at lightening speed. What was cool one day is considered weird another day. One only has to look at hairstyles and clothing styles to have a good laugh. However, in their hayday they were considered the latest, the greatest of all time.
With St. Theresa I pray: “Yes, oh my God, I am happy to feel little and weak in Your presence, and my heart remains in peace.”
Today I am encouraged by God’s mercy and grace on His people.
My story is not more important or deeper than any other person’s story. Every wall I banged into and every bridge I crossed brought me to this moment. I continue to seek and to find and to seek again. As I went along on the road to today’s faith, I tried to solve the great mystery of God and what my place in God’s world could be. As I went deeper into my Catholic faith, I found that not only was the mystery of God more than I could ever grasp, but that the mystery of myself was just as great. Who am I that God could love me into existence?
On seeking an answer to the two mysteries (God and self), I would get to a place in my faith where a veil would lift. I’d gasp in response and meditate on the beauty and wonder of it all. For instance, I just read a small publication from Paulist Press called “Poverty of Spirit” by Johannes Baptist Metz. In it Johannes says there is more to being a human being than conception and birth. He says we are challenged to accept ourselves. He said “assent to God starts in our sincere assent to ourselves, just as sinful flight from God starts in our flight from ourselves. In accepting the chalice of our existence, we show our obedience to the will of the Creator in heaven; in rejecting it, we reject God.
I never looked at myself in a good light. I mistook this as humility. I didn’t realize I was telling God he made a mistake when he made me. Today I know when I start the negative self talk that I am complaining about God’s handiwork. I must accept the chalice of me.
Another point brought out in this little book concerned the three temptations of Christ and the devil’s underlying intention of tempting Christ to let go of His human nature and utilize His divine nature. It would have made the Incarnation “an empty show” and would have lessened His sacrifice. When I read that, I understood for the first time the reason for these temptations. And the obedient Christ did not falter, but rather won for us forgiveness of sins right up to His death on the cross.
Each epiphany lifts a veil. God is being revealed to me moment by precious moment. I seldom find anything if I am not first seeking the answer. I know I will never totally know God in this life, but nothing beats seeking Him. “Seek and ye shall find.”
Bread is the one common food that transcends boundaries. Most cultures have their bread. It is the world’s life-giving food.
Jesus calls Himself “the Living Bread come down from heaven,” and says in Luke 4:4 “One does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
The “bread” in our Sacrifice of the Mass is “the Bread of Angels.” The word Eucharist means “to give thanksgiving.” The sacrament of the Eucharist is the sacrifice of Calvary, the same sacrifice that Jesus offered on Mount Calvary. It is not another sacrifice. It is the original sacrifice. The Church finds its center and most intense expression in the celebration of this sacrament. It is the Sacraments of sacraments. It is not just a sign. It is the true presence of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. He instituted the Eucharist as the memorial of His death and resurrection. He fulfilled the Passover. It is not just a recollection, we are present at Calvary. The Paschal mystery is not repeated. It is present now. The Last Supper was the first Mass. The Eucharist is also a sacrifice. “This is My Body which is given for you.” He gives us the very body which was sacrificed on Calvary. The priest says Mass “in personae Christi.”
Just as bread can give us life-giving strength, the Eucharist can give us the spiritual life. Jesus is still alive and comes to us in the humble form of bread. This is the sacrifice of the New Covenant. This replaces the bullock, lamb or a pigeon in the Old Covenant. In the New Convenant, the Lamb offers up Himself.