My Christmas Reflection for 2012


This time of year is intense for lots of different reasons. Since Ruth died, it has been a period where Lou and I have experienced a heightened sense of loss. There are hundreds of people in similar situations and even in the weeks leading up to Christmas this year, each story of tragedy on the news, the shooting in Connecticut, the war in Syria, the conflict in Afghanistan, the pensioner attacked and killed on his way to midnight Mass on Christmas eve, even the terrible car crash on the M6 on Christmas day itself all bring with them a terrible heightened sense of anxiety and empathy for the effect and terrible grief such life-changing events will wreak on the families. 

For many of us, Christmas is like this. A reminder of who is not there, a reminder of grief and pain and heart ache. On Christmas eve, Lou laid out the children's presents in sacks each bearing their own monicker. She used Ruth's sack for Mary, even placing it in the right order (W, M, R, J) and we both stood and had a tear. A tear of sorrow that Ruthie wasn't there, but also (and strangely) a tear of joy that Mary was. We thought Ruth would be exuberant, in that way only Ruth could be, to think her little sister was using her sack for Christmas presents.
The night before Christmas—melancholic Reflection.
Part of getting through this for the past few years has, for me in particular, been about laying it all at the foot of the Cross: in other words, I have needed, very strongly, to go to Mass whenever it feels particularly impossible. There is the opportunity to throw my sorrow before the LORD:
The righteous cry for help, the Lord hears;
    and delivers them out of all their troubles.
 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
 Many are the afflictions of the righteous;
    but the Lord delivers him out of them all;
 he keeps all his bones,
    not one of them will be broken.
 Evil shall slay the wicked;
    and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
 The Lord will rescue his servants;
    none of those who takes refuge in him will be condemned.—Psalm 34
There is an opportunity to be close to those I have lost in Holy Communion as well. The religious dimension really is the whole of Christmas. It is about a fundamental connection with God quite literally 'born' of the Incarnation. The highlight of Christmas for me is always Mass. The expectation that builds throughout Advent finally brought to reality in this earth shattering idea: It astonishes us, again and again, that God makes himself a child... so that we may love Him, so that we may dare to love Him. Perhaps in this year, the year my daughter Mary Thérèse was born, a new dimension has opened up to me in considering the redemption possible through the birth of a child. A renewal of a bond, almost covenantal, between God and myself. A redemption, a reaffirmation of love, a forgiveness washed over me through the safe arrival of this child. A heavy weight was lifted and the sense that she is here for some reason is inescapable. She represents the reality of my relationship with God in so many secret, private conversations we have had I cannot begin to explain it really.

Perhaps it is enough to say that this year, we have experienced our own, extremely real Advent and Christmas which has added new depth and a new dimension to our reflections over Christmas...Much of this is summed up in the words of Johnny Mathis Christmas song:
...And all of this happens because the world is waiting, Waiting for one child. Black, white, yellow, no-one knows. But a child that will grow up and turn tears to laughter, Hate to love, war to peace and everyone to everyone's neighbour  
And misery and suffering will be words to be forgotten, forever 
It's all a dream, an illusion now It must come true, sometime soon somehow All across the land, dawns a brand new morn This comes to pass when a child is born.
How extraordinary is this idea? So fantastic that it simply must be true, for who could make it up? So radical, so illogical to human minds. God entered time in a specific manner; this journey of God from the everlasting into the transitory, this stride across the border into history, is something no human intellect can altogether grasp. The mind might even oppose the apparently fortuitous human aspect of this interpretation with its own 'purer' idea of godliness; yet precisely here lies the hidden kernel of Christianity. Before such an unheard of thought the intellect bogs down. Once at this point, there is only one insight that offers a way out: the reality that love does such things. These words may not explain anything to the intellect, yet somehow they make sense in this context and allow the mind to take the necessary leap across the intellectual impasse. These words arouse the heart and enable it to feel its way into the secrecy of God. The mystery is not understood, but it does move a little nearer.

The historical reality of the birth of one child, preceded by great portents, prophecies, astrological alignments and historical events, into poverty, fear of persecution, helplessness, seems incredibly at odds with what one would expect for the coming of greatness. Yet this child changed the world to an extent unprecedented in history, without ever writing a single word, or commanding an army, or running a country. How was this event, so mundane, so normal, so efficacious? Because it reveals a truth about the nature of God: love is the deepest reason behind God's every action and this is true principally in the Incarnation, the greatest communication of God. The old adage Bonum est diffusivum is born out in this reality: Goodness spreads itself. Every action of God ad extra is simply a communication of His goodness and of His perfection.

Mary Thérèse's birth has been salvific for me and indeed, I think for all of my family. I feel saved by the arrival of this gorgeous baby. The darkness has lifted somewhat and I can breath again, rejuvenated by the new life I have to care for, almost shocked by the love a child brings into one's life. The birth of this child has been a very real answer to prayer. A resounding, definitive answer, in love, from God. An answer that proclaims trust in Him is justified and that He acts through love. It speaks of the fact that we do not need to be afraid. That the terrible things that happen will ultimately be renewed in Him. All we need do is love.

The greatest gift imaginable.

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