In his book The Universal Christ Richard Rohr writes, “God loves things by becoming them.” Rohr explains that while we think of the Incarnation as the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Incarnation began with the first instant of creation when God united with God’s creatures. God’s “Let there be light” after billions of years would be articulated in Jesus Christ who claimed, “I am the Light of the world” (Jn. 8:12).
When I was a little kid, I knew God was ubiquitous (but I didn’t use that big word). I knew God was “around” and could see what I did and hear my prayers. Now decades later I try to wrap my head around God’s presence in everyone and everything. Some scientists called this the “God particle.” Rohr writes, “Long before Jesus’s personal incarnation Christ was deeply embedded in all things—as all things!” This universal presence was in Mary’s flesh giving flesh to Jesus’s flesh. Consider for a moment: At the Annunciation when Mary said her yes, the Incarnation of Genesis chapter 1 became the Incarnation story of the Gospels. The Word spoken in Genesis became flesh—the Son of God and Son of Mary. So for billions of years before this time and for billions of years after this time, we can say with Saint Paul “There is only Christ. He is everything and He is in everything” (Col. 3:11).
If everyone realized that the Christ is the shepherd and wise men of Bethlehem, the Christ is sacristan arranging the manger scene in church, the Christ is the tired clerk, the friend wrapping our gift, the one lighting the Christmas tree in the park, and the homeless person on the park bench, then that would really be putting Christ back into Christmas.
In the discussion of nature versus nurture, nurture has my vote. Christmas cards of Mary, Joseph, and the Infant Jesus indicate the artists feel the same. Certainly, Mary’s genes had much to do with Jesus’ physical appearance. But beyond that, the portrayed emotions convey nurture in the tenderness, care, and love of the parents. More frequently greeting cards with Joseph replace a rather stoic older man with a younger man sleeping peacefully after fatiguing days of travel and tension. One can imagine Joseph’s relief in finally finding a place to stay. Mary has given birth, and the guardian of the Holy Family can breathe again. No staff with lily props up the foster father. Yet the artist portrays Joseph’s attentive love even in sleep.
The love of Mary for her Child is palpable on that Hallmark card. Mary who was filled with grace and never sinned throughout the course of her young life had only purest affection for her baby. How was that pure love nurturing her Child? What was Mary’s impact on her Son who would tell of his heavenly Father’s unconditional love? What did Jesus learn from his parents’ prayer, observance of the Law, forgiveness, service, and kindness? I imagine Jesus imbibed a spirituality that formed his Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes, his care for the blind and lame, his self-sacrifice to the point of death.
Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Now that’s genius! The holiday season is a time for miracles. Make a miracle happen at least once a day. (Might make a good Advent practice.) Surprise someone with Christmas cookies, offer free childcare, offer to store someone else’s Christmas presents and wrap them, take someone who doesn’t drive to a concert or play, include in your Christmas cards a note about how much the recipient means to you, offer to clean a teacher’s classroom on the last day of school, shovel the next-door neighbor’s sidewalk or driveway, get involved in a community or parish project. While performing such an activity, pray for the recipient(s). That will make each act a double miracle.
A bumper sticker reads “If you want justice, work for it. Anyone can honk.” In the past few years, many more of our Sisters are involved with social justice issues. The range of involvement extends from educating ourselves on issues and -isms to contributing to worthy causes. Our Sisters make sandwiches and deliver them to the homeless, write congresspersons and go to the border. Our work in education gives primacy to schools in the central city. Some tutor and teach English as a second language. In other ways, Sisters give power to the powerless, voice to the voiceless. While not every sister has the ability or time to devote to social justice issues, our Liturgy of the Hours (Morning and Evening Prayer) has daily petitions under the umbrella of justice: care for the environment, just legislation, food security, protection, care for babies and children, peace, and more. Whatever path to justice we choose in prayer or in action, we “should do all things in the name of Jesus” (Sister Maria Aloysia, July 13, 1881).
Harry S. Truman claimed: “There is enough in the world for everyone to have plenty to live on happily and to be at peace with his neighbors.” As Christmas approaches, numerous organizations, schools, and towns collect toys, clothes, and food. Gifts for the less fortunate fill semis, overflow collection areas, and fill car trunks in amazing abundance, proving that there is enough when we are willing to share. It’s in the sharing that we can be at peace with ourselves and with our neighbors.
Here are a couple ways to give Christmas gifts so that others beyond the circle of family and friends can share in the plenty.
Consider foregoing the annual gift exchange at your place of business. Instead of giving to fellow employees, each person wraps a gift for a good cause. All can still enjoy opening gifts, but nothing is kept for oneself.
Instead of a gift exchange, put the agreed amount of money toward a charity such as Heifer International, St. Jude Hospital, Boys Town, or a local need.
Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all the others.” How is gratitude the progenitor of all the other virtues? Probably because the focus is not on ourselves. We have done little or nothing to receive our material and spiritual gifts. Moving the focus away from ourselves to the givers removes egotism and suppresses selfishness, leaving room for the gratitude the giver should receive from us. Many spiritual writers place thankfulness as the first ingredient in maturing our spiritual lives. God has given us everything. When doing so, Genesis claims that whenever God created, God’s response was “That’s good!” It’s almost as if God gives the creature (light, trees, animals) the credit for its goodness. When God created us, God said, “That’s good.” And ever since God has delighted in our goodness. Of course, we pray our gratitude to God for all God’s gifts, especially our being. But no matter how often we say “Thank you, God,” God has outpaced us in smiling upon us as we use God’s gifts and hear God say “Thank you” to us.
Throughout his journeys Jesus freed people of their sin, shame, or illness. He freed the lame, the blind, the adulteress, the miserly to start a new future. Perhaps in that momentary encounter these persons let go of the past, not letting anything hinder their new future, their new perspective, the new hope and dreams Jesus provided.
God is always at the ready to do the same for us. Just as we cannot relate only to the past deeds of others, we must be ready to release our past, forego negative thoughts, relinquish old habits to take steps beyond where we are now. We need resilience and courage to create the next moment of our lives. Today think new thoughts, create a new future, and become a new you.
Whenever our community of three sits down to watch news, we choose a channel that nightly ends with a heart-warming story of altruism. It’s those last two minutes of good deeds, those selfless acts, the events that uplift others that offsets a bit the tragedies of the previous 25 minutes. Ilia Delio writes: “The more one affirms life in one’s fellows and gives oneself to enhance their lives, the more one is truly alive and thus truly oneself.” This is witnessed on the nightly news when the givers seem happier and more radiate than the jubilant receivers.
The Notre Dame Sisters in the United States have many experiences to enhance the lives of others. Some have spent time helping migrants at the border, others serve meals to the homeless, several give time to tutoring, and others assist in group homes. These Sisters typically claim, “I received more than I ever gave,” which is another way of saying, “I became more me.”
Our Immaculate Conception Province (AKA SNDUSA) is blessed with a marvelous leader. Sister Margaret Mary Gorman has spent the past week in the Toledo area. Our little community of three in Waterville, Ohio, was pleased to have dinner with her one evening. Conversation was relaxed, nothing forced or artificial, yet appropriately deep and light in turn.
We know of about ten meals that Jesus had—and certainly he had hundreds of other meals in his childhood home, at neighborhood gatherings, and on the road. I imagine that Jesus had a way of making everyone feel comfortable as they ate. There was freedom that allowed conversation to be a catalyst toward community and communion. For Jesus “table sharing is more than feeding. . . It is the way of becoming nourishment for one another, so that life may become more abundant together” (Ilia Delio). Ultimately Jesus gave himself as nourishment with the words “This is my Body. . . This is my Blood.”
I imagine that the meals we shared with Sister Margaret Mary have drawn our region of the province into more unity, more love for Notre Dame, more appreciation for its leadership, more eagerness for mission—just as those who dined with Jesus probably felt. That’s a great return for the little, unnecessary worry over sweet potatoes being done on time and a pie crust looking golden brown.
Ours in an “incarnational” spirituality-
A way of prayer and living like that of the Word incarnate,
Like that of God being everything human (except sin, of course).
We are called to incarnate the love of our good God who sees everything as good.
We see God in all things.
We see good in all things.
We see the possible in every person, every situation,
We bring life and hope.
We live our relationship with God in human ways.
We make God’s love visible.
We build relationships.
We connect with others.
We speak and act with Spirit-life.
We live in communion with all creation.
I hope my life looks like this.