Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Midnight Mass 2013: The Christmas of Essentials

Praised be Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

“Do not be afraid! Behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the city of David, a savior has been born to you who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” The words of the angel tonight tell us of a Christmas that seems to be so far from what we know of it today. Indeed we all acknowledge the fact that this night is a night of great joy. But for many people, joy would mean merrymaking: food, wine, shopping and revelry. We all come here to church in our best look: new clothes, and even shoes. There is great expectation for gifts and of course, lots of love…love as in hugs and kisses.

But the good news of great joy is not about food, gifts and good company. It is about the birth of a savior, who is both Christ and Lord. The angel does not invite us to attend a grand Christmas ball. He tells us to go to the City of David, not to search for some celebrity wrapped in finery but for a new-born baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Christmas is not about glitter and tinsel. Rather it is about the darkness of the night made radiant by choirs of angels praising God as they sang: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests! Christmas is not about parades. It is about a procession of shepherds to Bethlehem to see for themselves whatever the angel told them. And it would all be in accord with what they were told: a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. They would behold him: Savior, Christ, Lord, Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. They would behold him not wrapped in finery but in swaddling clothes, not in comfort but in a manger.

Padre Pio said: "The heavenly Babe suffers and cries in the crib so that for us suffering would be sweet, meritorious and accepted. He deprives himself of everything, in order that we may learn from him the renunciation of worldly goods and comforts. He is satisfied with humble and poor adorers, to encourage us to love poverty, and to prefer the company of the little and simple rather than the great ones of the world."
Christ made himself poor to be close to the poor. Pope Francis wrote: “ God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that he himself “became poor” (2 Cor 8:9). The entire history of our redemption is marked by the presence of the poor. Salvation came to us from the “yes” uttered by a lowly maiden from a small town on the fringes of a great empire. The Saviour was born in a manger, in the midst of animals, like children of poor families; he was presented at the Temple along with two turtledoves, the offering made by those who could not afford a lamb (cf. Lk 2:24; Lev 5:7); he was raised in a home of ordinary workers and worked with his own hands to earn his bread. When he began to preach the Kingdom, crowds of the dispossessed followed him, illustrating his words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Lk 4:18). He assured those burdened by sorrow and crushed by poverty that God has a special place for them in his heart: “Blessed are you poor, yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk 6:20); he made himself one of them: “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat”, and he taught them that mercy towards all of these is the key to heaven (cf. Mt25:5ff.).” (Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 197.)

“God shows the poor “his first mercy”. This divine preference has consequences for the faith life of all Christians, since we are called to have “this mind… which was in Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:5). Inspired by this, the Church has made an option for the poor which is understood as a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness”. This option – as Benedict XVI has taught – “is implicit in our Christian faith in a God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty”. This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.” (EG, 198.)

The Pope does not speak only of activities or programmes of promotion and assistance. Above these, he is speaking of loving attentiveness to the poor. “This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith. True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances: ‘The love by which we find the other pleasing leads us to offer him something freely’. The poor person, when loved, ‘is esteemed as of great value’, and this is what makes the authentic option for the poor differ from any other ideology, from any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest. Only on the basis of this real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor on their path of liberation. Only this will ensure that ‘in every Christian community the poor feel at home. Would not this approach be the greatest and most effective presentation of the good news of the kingdom?’ Without the preferential option for the poor, ‘the proclamation of the Gospel, which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communications’. (EG 199)

The Lord Jesus said: I will be with you until the end of times. He also said: The poor you will always have with you. Both are connected: Jesus will always be with us…not just through his abiding presence in the Blessed Sacrament, but also in and through the poor. And so if we are attentive to the poor, we become attentive to Jesus. Let this be our gift to Jesus: a Christmas closer to his Christmas…a Christmas of essentials, a Christmas of sharing, a Christmas for the poor. May our parish be a place where the poor feel at home for it is only in being so that we can truly and effectively proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom.

Jesus, I trust in you. o Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

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