CATHOLIC HERALD, i "
John Gallagher SJ reflects on the image of the Nativity, and on its spiritual inspiration to renewal
CHRISTMAS implies renewal. Christ coming into the world brings new life, reviving, rejuvenating, reinvigorating, restoring. This does not mean violence or agitation. Renewal in Christ is always a peaceful experience. As peace is the tranquility of order, so renewal can never mean disorder. It means quietly upholding the values of Christ today, and doing so with confidence. "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong," said St Paul.
True renewal means closer attachment to the supernatural sources of life, the sacrifice of the Mass, the sacraments, scripture and tradition as the sources of our faith, liturgical and private prayer. Our faith, hope, charity, obedience, humility, zeal, patience and all the other Christian virtues should be intensified by the coming of Christ. "Yesterday is experience, tomorrow is hope, today is getting from one to the other," someone said.
The Baby in the crib gives us this new hope. The vital words at Christmas are "for us". Christ comes purely because of His love
for us. We don't know we're lovable until someone tells us. Christ couldn't tell us more clearly than this. Especially later, when He dies for us. "God becomes man so that man may become God."
In his book A New Pentecost, Cardinal Suenens writes: "I have now come to a clearer realisation that Christianity is not an `ism' but a Someone. And that Someone is the living Jesus. At the same time I felt that I was being asked to open myself more to Him, in readiness for prayer. And prayer is becoming more of a listening to Him, to hear His voice, to look upon His face."
A new Pentecost is needed, is possible and is taking place. Pessimism and a sense of defeat are prevalent and even Christians incline to be depressed. It is a time of denial of Christ as the unique Son of God and refusal to accept the Church as the sacrament of salvation.
"A tidal wave of immorality has swept through the world, the mass media have brought into the limelight the moral decadence of our age, and a permissive society reacted not at all, while all too many Christians by saying nothing, lent their support, so anxious were they to appear broadminded," writes the Cardinal. There has been a decline in religious practice, along with a drop in vocations, the departure of some priests and religious, and young people's abandonment of the Church.
But all these negative indicators should not be allowed to stifle Christian hope. The Holy Spirit is still the life-breath of the Church. The Mother of God too, especially at Christmas time, will not abandon us. "The Lord is near, God is not dead, Jesus is alive, the Spirit is faithful; in the heart of our 20th century, Pentecost remains a reality", the cardinal stresses.
He urges us to pray daily. If we are too busy to pray then we are too busy. The sight of the Baby in the crib, with Mary and Joseph in attendance, should inspire us to turn to Him.
Prayer has been defined as "keeping company with God". It is not another human skill to master. It is a relationship, and a relationship with God. We insist on living in a world of our own making, with occasional advertence to God, generally to ask Him to do our will.
We think that we see but in many respects we are still blind. We must open our eyes to reality, to appreciate the "spaciousness of the Gospel". We have to want what God wants. We are not alone in this.
The Fathers of the Church, the saints and martyrs, the great theologians, the vast mass of the faithful who are now with God, support us by their prayers and example. It is remarkable that Christ wrote nothing. The revelation of God was not a book but a Person, born in a stable.
Christ reminds us to think of the future. We are about to begin a new year. While the Bible is rich in passages about human immortality and the afterlife it is not specific about what that life shall be. We are told that we will "live life to the full" and be completely and supremely happy. The source of our happiness will be our vision of God, for "we shall see Him as He is", says John.
St Paul says: "Now we see indistinctly as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face." Revelation promises us that "there will be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away."
Peter writes: "What we await are new heavens and a new earth where, according to His promise, the justice of God will reside." The general opinion is that somehow we will be reunited with those we love. There is an interesting tradition that our loved ones in Heaven know when we are due to arrive and make preparations for us. The Holy Family at Christmas will surely help us to look forward to the future with confidence.