No, I’m not talking about the ups and downs of family dynamics during the holidays. I am talking about the very interesting Christmas liturgical calendar.
On Christmas day we celebrate the birth of our Savior. It is, by any measure, a true celebration, a day of joy. So much joy that it can’t fit all in one day. Liturgically, Christmas “Day” actually lasts for an octave, or eight days!
Amidst this octave of celebration and pure joy are four very interesting feast days. The day after Christmas is the Feast of St. Stephen the first martyr, followed by the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, then the Feast of the Holy Innocents and then the Feast of the Holy Family.
Why would the Church do this? Why go from the high of the birth of Jesus to the low of St. Stephen’s death? From the only Apostle not martyred, to the death of the innocent children killed by Herod. Finally to the Feast of the Holy Family, a remembrance of life and death.
All this and we are still within the Octave of Christmas. Do you see what I mean by a roller coaster? What’s the connection here? Is there one or was this just a chance occurrence that these feast days occur back to back? Perhaps the Church, in her Spirit led wisdom, has a reason to lead us from joy to persecutions.
The theme of martyrdom runs through each of these days. St. Stephen desired and endured martyrdom. St. John desired martyrdom, but did not have to endure it. The Holy Innocents never desired martyrdom, but endured it anyway. The Holy Family, the cradle and model of martyrdom, were each willing to surrender their lives for the other, with Jesus ultimately surrendering His life for all.
In Romans 6:3, Paul says, “Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” The Church is reminding us here that the wood of the crib becomes the wood of the cross. Martyrdom is the call of every Christian. We should all desire it out of love for God. And some of us may even have to endure it.
Venerable Pope John Paul I writes, the “manger and Bethlehem are only a beginning. Nazareth, Jerusalem, Calvary, the cross, the Resurrection complete it and say to us, “He has done so much for you. You, what will you do for Him?””
So, yes, celebrate Christmas fully! Embrace the joy. And remain sober enough to know that we have been baptized into His life and into His death. And praise God for that.
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines meditation as “a form of mental prayer consisting in the application of the various faculties of the soul, memory, imagination, intellect, and will, to the consideration of some mystery, principle, truth, or fact, with a view to exciting proper spiritual emotions and resolving on some act or course of action regarded as God's will and as a means of union with Him.” Wordy, but good to know that meditation is perfectly Catholic!
With that in mind, consider giving yourself a gift this Christmas by meditating upon the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation. After you read each section, close your eyes and recreate the scene in your mind. See the words come to life. Let the Holy Spirit guide your mind, body and soul. Let us be like our Lady and Saint Joseph, let us contemplate the Babe in the manger.
Imagine yourself to be one of the shepherds herding your sheep that night. Take in the sights and sounds and smells of your surroundings. Feel the wind, smell the crisp, chilly air, hear the silence, see the dark night sky illuminated by an unusual star.
There you are minding your own business, when suddenly and Angel of God appears.
"Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
You head to the stable or cave that night, as you approach you see first see St Joseph. He appears to be a proud father, yet more than that, he is a humble father. A strong, powerful presence, a man who is both at peace and concerned about his family. See how he looks at Jesus and then at Mary, watching, waiting, wondering.
You next spot the Blessed Mother. You are struck by her simple beauty, her purity, her grace, her humility, her joy. You also notice a motherly concern in her face, as if she is already beginning to sense just who this child is destined to be and what He is destined to endure. Yet her heart is filled with joy, rejoicing in God, her savior.
You now see the Baby Jesus.
You notice His wobbly, oversized head, wrapped in a swaddling blanket, not yet wearing a crown of thorns.
His tiny body, not yet scourged and beaten.
His skin, beautifully smooth and pink, not yet bruised and battered.
His tiny hands and feet, not yet nailed to the cross.
His Spirit, not yet burdened with sin, not yet experiencing the Agony in the Garden.
You even notice the wood of the crib, not yet the wood of the cross
Then you notice His eyes, big, bright and beautiful. They sparkle and shine. They give off a heavenly light. You feel at once attracted to them and, at the same time, unworthy to look. They draw you in, seemingly penetrating your very being.
He can’t speak, but you know He is calling you to gaze into His eyes, the eyes of Love Incarnate. Let Him love you with His eyes.
You look into the eyes of love and you feel love beyond description. You feel transformed. You feel you have just encountered the true and living God.
Now say something to Jesus. Speak to Him as if you are there witnessing this moment as it took place 2000 years ago. Close your eyes and speak from the heart.
Speak now to Our Lady and to St Joseph. Listen as Our Lady says something back to you. She says, “Do whatever He tells you.” St Joseph nods in affirmation. “Do whatever He tells you,” she repeats.
Feel the presence of Divine Love filling your heart to overflowing. This year there is room at your inn. Praise God for He is good.
As you slowly turn to leave, do not be sad. Do as the shepherds did. Return to your home, singing glory and praise to God. Share with all you meet the Good News that has been proclaimed to you.
Remind yourself that He is with you always. He’ll abide in you and abound in you, if you’ll continue to make room for Him.
Rejoice, for unto you this day a Savior is born.
What is the draw, the attraction of the Christ child?
Who can make kings visit? Turn shepherds into evangelists? Bring amazement to those who hear? How could this infant inspire such intensity, both positive and negative?
Remember the kings of those times were not exactly benevolent. Even if these specific Magi were, they were not use to placing themselves in a position of condescension – especially to an infant.
The shepherds, as Aquinas spoke of them, they were to the desert what the tax collectors were to the city. They were not the image of the loving good shepherd we have in Jesus, they were more like outcasts and loners. Poor, yes, but misfits, often antagonistic to all but their own. Much like ourselves….
So again, what is the draw, the attraction of the Christ child?
Imagine the newborn Jesus in the manger. See him in His full fleshy humanness. See His folds of skin that newborns abound in, see His huge eyes searching, trying to focus. See His wobbly head, His tiny fingers and toes. Hear His cries of hunger, of cold, of needing His mother. Is this the one the star shines upon? Is this really the sign we are waiting? What can He possibly do for us?
One word: Love.
Love Incarnate arrived that first Christmas morn. He came in love, for love and He came as love. He came so we might love Him. Love is the attraction, love is the draw. This love was, is and will always be, the sign.
From his Midnight Christmas Mass Homily, Pope Benedict XVI said, “God’s sign is a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Nothing miraculous, nothing extraordinary, nothing magnificent is given to the shepherds as a sign. All they will see is a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, one who, like all children, needs a mother’s care…God ’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty…God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby, defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. God made Himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him.”
This Christmas season, will there be room in your heart for Jesus? Amidst the busyness, the festivities, the gifts, the greetings, the visits, this question get right to the core. Will I allow Jesus to be born in the Inn of my heart this Christmas, or will I force Him to be born in the stable outside my heart? You get to choose which sign adorns your heart, Vacancy or No Vacancy, and which kingdom you will honor. Christ’s coming had two opposite effects upon the people of His time and in does in our time as well. Consider:
Mary had room. She said yes. She humbled herself. She obeyed. She surrendered. She pondered. She trusted. Joseph, because he feared, at first thought he had no room for Jesus. After the angel appeared to him he realized he did have room for Jesus. The shepherds had room for Jesus. They heard the message, acted upon it, went to see Jesus, spread the good news, returned home and gave glory and praise to God. The three kings had room for Jesus, traveling many miles and months to pay homage to the one King. By God’s grace they did not fear; they chose to embrace God’s will.
On the other hand, the inn keepers had no room for Jesus. They said no to love. King Herod had no room for Jesus in his heart; Herod feared Him and tried to kill Him. The chief priests and the scribes, whom Herod gathered together to determine if this Jesus could be king, didn’t bother to see for themselves if the king was born. His own people had no room for Jesus, eventually putting Him to death. Whether out of fear, indifference, envy, pettiness or arrogance, they chose to ignore God’s will.
In many ways, that is ancient, though obviously important, history. What is relevant today and no less important is this: Do you have room for Jesus today? Will you allow Jesus to be born in your heart this Christmas? Will you allow Jesus to enter into your heart and change it? It’s still early, we have time to prepare.
How do you prepare your heart to receive Jesus? Three simple steps. Prepare to receive our Lady into your heart first. Then beg God for the grace of the Holy Spirit to visit your heart. Then move forward with expectant faith and await the arrival of the King.
From O Little Town of Bethlehem
O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Remind yourself that Jesus is waiting to be born in you. He wants to come into your heart, into your life and live with you always. His peace will be your present. His Body and Blood will be your feast. He’ll abide in you and abound in you, if you’ll make room for Him this Christmas.
For it is God who works in you, both so as to desire, and so as to act, in accord with his good will.
So much of what we are called to do in spiritual warfare is intercessory prayers for others. If it seems like your prayers go unanswered, or perhaps more accurately, unfulfilled, there may be a good reason. You find yourself praying for others, praying for their conversion, and yet it seems as if there is no change in their behavior. They are still not attending Mass, they are still drinking, they are still involved in the New Age or the occult, they are still engaging in immoral sexual activity, etc. What could be wrong? Doesn’t God want them to change? Doesn’t He want them to grow closer to Him? Doesn’t He want them to live in His will? Of course He does; He is, after all, our Father.
So, then, what is the problem? The “problem” may just be in how you are praying. When you pray for someone to return to the Church or to repent of their sins or to turn from drugs or alcohol you may be praying against their free will. For while God desires the person’s conversion, He does not desire a coercive conversion; He desires a cooperative conversion.
If I choose on some level to engage in sinful behavior, God is not going to contravene my free will decision. He is going to allow me to choose to sin, all the while supplying me with sufficient grace and every opportunity to avoid making the wrong decision. What, then, can be done? Are we to stop praying for others? Are we to despair? No, we are to do neither. What we can do is pray differently.
Adding that one word to your prayer opens up whole new avenues of grace for you and for those for whom you are praying. That one extra word can make all the difference. As Saint Teresa of Avila reminds us, “Christ does not force our will; He only takes what we give Him.” So help that person give their will to God by praying for them to have the desire to do so.