How can we connect the theme of the Holy Family with our annual thanksgiving? It is worth looking at, first, the theological content, then what our ‘emotional intelligence’ is saying.
Today’s feast celebrates the human family unit, as well as the ultimate family unit: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The Feast of the Holy Family is not just about the Holy Family, but about our own families too. The main purpose of the feast is to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families, and for domestic life in general. We celebrate the ‘dialectic’ of grace: our family life becomes sanctified when we live the life of the Church within our homes. This is called the "domestic church" or the "church in miniature." St. John Chrysostom urged all Christians to make each home a "family church." And in doing so, we sanctify the family unit.
Just how does one live out the Church in the family? The best way is by making Christ the center of family and individual life. Ways to do this include: reading scripture regularly, praying daily, attending Mass at least on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, imitating the actions of the Holy Family, receiving the Sacraments frequently, all done together as a family unit. Just as parenting requires effort and sacrifice, living as a Christian family is a similar toiling but hugely rewarding work. And the good news is that it does not matter if one lives in a single household. In the ‘church family’ we are always partners of grace.
Let us also look at the ‘emotional content’ of the feast when we relate it to our annual thanksgiving. Of course, we are giving thanks for the many gifts of God from the past year. Our health, our work, the time we enjoyed together, and the things we used, which sustained our lives. Today, we are gathered again around the Crib, with the Holy Family. So let the message to our ‘emotional intelligence’ come through. What are we giving thanks for at the end of the year – as individuals and as a ‘Church family’? And this message is the miracle of the Crib. Our thanksgiving is guided by how the members of the Holy Family look upon each other. Let us pause for a second, and connect our hearts with Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus. (…) In the light of their love for each other. Let our heart speak and pray.
So personally, this light has taught me to see all of us as ‘extended’ members of the Holy Family. Today I most of all give thanks for incredible gifts of the member of this congregation. Today, as your priest, I can realise and see clearly how much extraordinary talent, experience of life, and goodness is in you. I am really amazed and humbled by the love and faith you have for Jesus, and each other, and for our community.
I am sure, that our hearts have said the same or similar prayer in front of our mirror, the Crib with the Holy Family. If this vision gets blurred, if we our confidence in our or other’s goodness is fading, no worries. In those moments, let us reconnect with the ‘mental image’ of the feast. Let us recall this crib in front of us and let us listen to the prayer it has taught our hearts today.
Happy Birthday! We have come to wish you, our Lord and Saviour, a happy birthday! The conjunction of planets Jupeter and Saturn, just few days ago, on Monday, was the same sight that led the three magi to the crib. Friends sent me photos of the bright star, it was shivering to see the lights of the first Christmas.
Now we are gathered around the Crib as God’s family. The newborn baby is loved by Mary and Joseph beyond all words. Like in every parents’ life, the birth of a child changes everything. It brings out the best of a mother and a father. Jesus is loved wholeheartidly. Contemplating this love, the chief commandment comes to mind, as the source of this love. ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ Mary, just like Joseph, loves Jesus with all her heart, all her soul, and all her mind.
The birth of Jesus, the second divine person, the Son becoming incarnate, mobilies not only human love, but Divine Love itself. The Father, our heavenly Father, is also leaning over this spot where we are standing right now. All his love is poured out on this child. This is on outpouring love. The fullness of Love is focused on this family; and we are standing in this limelight. Jesus is loved, fully, we are loved, fully by the Father.
Pope Francis, in his Christmas Eve homily said that in today we are told by God, the same thing, as the Divine Child is told: ‘I love you so much. You are so precious. Don’t ever be tempted by the thought that “I am a failure”’.
Let us allow ourselves to be washed by this shower of love. Let it remove our anxieties, our worries about the pandemic, and make it bearable. God knows that our worries and challenges are real. Today, however, and in this Christmas season, he wants us to pray differently. Whenever we share with him our innermost needs, let us keep our eyes on the joy of the Holy Family. Let us make our requests and prayers in the experience of being loved. We stand in front of the crib as God’s family. Let it remind us, that this is a place, where God looks upon the Saviour. It means that all situations where this Child and Teacher is present are redeemable! There is no lost cause in his presence. So, let us learn to pray as God’s family, drawing strength from the crib’s message: from now on, the Redeemer walks by us.
This Christmas, just compared with last year’s, feels so much different. All of us know why, because of the global pandemic of Covid 19. However, Christmas always is the same. We celebrate the wonderful news, that the Saviour of the World has been born! Like children, yearning for truth, we contemplate the Crib.
We need this good news more than ever. What is different, perhaps, that the familiar words this year have regained their full weight. We are in such a need of our Saviour, and our Healer, the Incarnate Son of God. Today, on this Holy Night, we can share the expectation of past generations. People cried out to God in times of crisis. For them the Saviour was real. Let us cherish this gift of faith, that God, the Christian message of Christmas has become real for us.
God was always real, true, and faithful. It was us who have chosen to be ‘unreal’, unfaithful, and self-centered. Tonight, we celebrate that the Angel’s song is real. The pastors are real. The manger, with the animals, with the Mother of God, and Joseph, and with the Baby Jesus is real. Just as we are present for him now. All we have is the gift of our presence. Our prayer is the shortest this evening. Let it echo in us in the coming days. Newborn King, child-Jesus, ‘Save us. Use us. Use me’. We all want to be yours. Let this prayer echo in us, in this Eucharist, and on our way home, and when we awake tomorrow morning to savour the good news of tonight: ‘Let us all rejoice in the Lord, for our Saviour has been born in the world. Today true peace has come down to us from heaven!’
‘Look, I am living in a house of cedar while the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ David was concerned that God does not have a proper abode among his people. Let the king’s desire to provide God with a Temple, which can express and worship His beauty and power, be our desire, too. On the threshold of Christmas let it be our concern, too. How can we welcome our Creator and Redeemer?
Is it a physical abode? Partially, it is, as we have to give expression to the Sacred. When we build a church, it is a witness to God’s life-giving power. We need the temple also as the expression of our ability to welcome what is Sacred. The physical building is always a reminder to preserve in us this capacity of welcome.
Yet, Christmas Eve will teach us, that God shows us the most important way, his way of building the Temple of His presence. God will choose to live and serve among us. To love among us, literally, us. So let us see in the Christmas story not God’s poverty but something even more powerful than his kenosis (self-emptying). It Jesus’ ability to show God as Emmanuel, the Sacred as our companion, and real friend.
Suddenly things have their stakes. It has been always the case in personal life. Finding a job, finding a school for our children, learning of someone’s being unwell in the family. On this level of everyday existence stakes were higher or lower: our story always felt like real.
When a society lives in peace, and wars do not affect it directly, history becomes somewhat ‘weightless’. An undisturbed local culture, like that of the privileged West, glued to the screen, loses the sense of history. It no longer resonates sensitively in all of us, we no longer feel how sensitively all of us vibrate along its joint strings. It is only a matter of time when ‘the real strikes’ again, and history becomes painfully real. Covid-19 entered our life, and we are aware of our vulnerability again. In parallel, however, we again awaken to solidarity, that history embraces us all - and is formed by all of us.
I don’t know if there is a connection with this sudden change, but a parallel fact is also certain. God, whom now generations found (missed out?) as ‘weightless’, can enter our collective life again. Yep, we Christians are convinced that this sudden straightforward return would be beneficial for us. We could see things more clearly and could make better decisions. We could handle conflicts better on an international level.
Yet, the big question is there. Can, will the Lord return into our lives, with all the benefits only He can bring? The prophet makes us cautious. ‘And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple’ (Malachi 3:2) At the same time, he leaves this question open. Is it only for the seekers, who will experience the Lord’s return to his Temple (Church, and History)? Or is it through the faithful waiting of those who have faith, that hastens and welcome this Return? Or our world simply will remain alone with all the pains which the aforementioned ‘weight of history’ brings along? And we shall be without God’s helping hands, just because we did not contact him in time?
Advent’s wisdom helps us to converge our answers. ‘The Lord will suddenly enter’ history again. Thus, the real question is how shall we respond to this big change, the arrival of his Power?
One of our major experiences of Advent should be by now the diminishing distance between us and our Lord. At least spiritually, we feel closer to Him. This effort of thinning what separates us is the great lesson of Advent.
The coming of the Lord (close to us) shows that it is possible to blend, in an organic way, the sacred and the profane in our lives. It is possible - says Advent - to undo the painful contrast, nay, division between them. ‘God is present only in the church but not in real life.’ Advent has shown us that it is no longer true. ‘Christians behave differently in the temple than in their real life’. No longer true. Moreover, this reconnecting the two can be done joyfully and in peace.
Advent wants to become a permanent feature of our life and thinking. As we prayed, Incarnation is real, and our unum necessarium, our only vital need. ‘O God, who, seeing the human race fallen into death, willed to redeem it by the coming of your Only Begotten Son, grant, we pray, that those who confess his Incarnation with humble fervour may merit his company as their Redeemer. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.’
Some people talk to their plants. And, in their recollection (science seems to confirm it), they respond. The plants perceive and react to this positive confirmation of their identity. This is the key: a human being pays respect to their life. They acquire an added quality of life ‘being loved’. The plants belong to someone who cares for them.
A similar ‘deep-conversation’ can, is taking place in creation. Talking to God, the Creator, brings about a real change. He is present in things, particularly in situations. When we talk to Him, a person, a situation, nature, even our things and household can change.
In our Covid-19 stricken world, something similar happens - or is waiting to happen. We are surrounded by yearning for health and wholeness. That is why, we Christians believe, it is so important to pray to the Lord, to his potential healing arrivals.
Today’s Advent reading, the vision of the Beloved’s arrival, can inspire us to this time of ‘prayer of invitation’. This is a song which reveals the ‘hidden DNA’ of God’s Presence in all what surrounds us. Let this beautiful song sustain our hope in the hoped transformation of the present situation. ‘I hear my Beloved. See how he comes leaping on the mountains… For see, winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The season of glad songs has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land…Come then, my love, my lovely one, come.’ (Song of Songs 2:8-14)
We tend to think of Jesus’ childhood as something of a nice prelude to his adult work. We relegate it to an almost ‘sweet phase’ of his life, perhaps because of the sentiments that are attached to it at Christmas. The finish of Advent, and Christmas in particular, however, wants to get the balance right. The birth and the childhood of Jesus are far more significant that we think. On the fourth Sunday of Advent, when we read of the Annunciation, we are invited to contemplate an important question. What does God want to communicate through this divine childhood? Why this ‘prelude’ is so important for Him?
I found a useful and thought-provoking idea in Julia Kristeva and Philip Soller’s new book, Marriage as Fine Art. When two adults who fell in love meet, in retrospect they recover their childhood. Love opens up the newly formed couple to each other. All of us can recall, that indeed, strangely, in the time of courting, people share their childhood stories. We not simply reflect on our past but revisit those formative years and events since childhood. Couples share how they become the persons who they are. These memories of formation and bonding, with all the positive experiences, are retrieved, revealed, and intensely renewed. This sharing and openness bond the lovers, and form a ground for their later life-covenant.
Why not contemplate the scene of the Annunciation in this light? Jesus wants to share this formative event of his life with us. By telling the story of his conception owing to the yes of his Mother, he wants to share with us how wonderful it was to be embraced by the Father’s love - and become incarnate in human flesh. How joyful it was for the Second Divine Person, the Son, to undertake the journey to save us. He tells of his positive experience, however unconscious it was, of his conception, birth, and real childhood. Jesus wants to share how fully he could rely on his mother’s love and care, and his Father’s providence.
Through his story telling and sharing his ‘invisible story’, we are invited to a similar exercise. In the upcoming three days leading up to Christmas Eve, why don’t we share our own childhood, and positive, formative events of life with God? Just as we opened up in love to the beloved one, let us be interested in the life of our ultimate partner and friend, Jesus Christ himself. If he shares his story wit us, if we share ours with him, what a covenant of love shall be renewed!
Last night, I read a brief meditation entitled ‘With Catholic Eyes’ from Janos Pilinszky’s Collected Writings. I had a look at the date of the entry: 17 March 1968. It was a moving realisation that I was only few days old, living a totally unconscious life, when someone was observing the world, including my world. The poet, a profound thinker, was thinking responsibly about human affairs.
What Pilinszky writes there about Lent, perfectly applies to Advent, too. Thus, ‘Advent, in a certain sense is nothing else than the school of divine humility, the story of God’s descent in the world. When we speak about “ascent”, we often forget that the safest way of (a moral) ascent for us is the way of humility. Humility is the counterpart of our moral sinking, as it were, with a positive sign in front of it. While the two types of descent are leading seemingly to the same direction, in fact they are complete opposites. One of them is Kain, the other Abel.
The trajectory of humility goes higher than any ascent… The history of divine salvation among us is the eternal example and witness of this “ascending descent”: our most human and divine school and possibility.’
Let us think of this long list of Jesus’ genealogy as the school of God’s humility. God, like the responsible and mature poet, is thinking about us and our world responsibly, with full commitment. Our Creator and Redeemer, was reading out loudly this saving list over our cribs; and has been reading it over our lives - however unprepared and immature we are.
There is very little serious talk about God. Which is surprising in view of the ordeals we are facing during the global epidemic. It tells a lot about the mindset of an age, nay, that of a whole civilisation. This silence just a good hundred years ago would have been unimaginable. True, the earlier we go back in time the less devices and power we had against disease. So today, our culture’s ‘background knowledge’ is that we are self-sufficient.
Isaiah’s passage, in a masterly composition, reveals what is beneath the surface. (Isaiah 45:6-8. 21-26.) Not only that God’s Word is the very ground of culture and the human self, but also, our unconscious and suppressed desire to articulate these inner voices.
‘Apart from me, all is nothing. I am the Lord, unrivalled, I form the light and create the dark. I make good fortune and create calamity, it is I, the Lord, who do all this.’ To this ‘ground Presence’, our self (cultural and individual) responds: ‘Send victory like a dew, you heavens, and let the clouds rain it down. Let the earth open for salvation to spring up. Let deliverance, too, bud forth, which I, the Lord shall created.’ No, we are not mistaken when we see it as a dialogue. In this latter request our soul, our culture, speaks and yearns, literally, in God’s words. Let us get stylish, again. Facing the newest waves of the epidemic, it is time to pray. Not in our own words, but in the words that the Spirit teaches us to ask for.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..