Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Christmas and Holy Family

Father John J. Lombardi

A poem by Bl.. Elizabeth of the Trinity and reflections Christmas

"To pour out floods of love for us--this brought the Almighty from above. A heart to understand this He has sought; to fix in it the dwelling of His love. In heaven's depths the gap from Him forgot, He dreamt that we'd be joined with Him, and thus… Ah, see Him come here, like an arrow-shot! To consummate that fusion here with us.

Oh, mystery; oh, depths no one can scan-
That Uncreated Being turns to me!
At ev'ry moment-on earth, yet-I can
Look on Him clear! In faith's own clarity…

Oh, mystery; oh, depths no-one can scan:
Consider! The Eternal bending near
To me! Whatever comes, by faith I can
Touch, and unite myself with him, and here…

Oh, mystery; oh, depths no-one can scan-
This Being, Infinite, wrapped up in me!
Whatever comes by faith, on earth, I can
Be lost in Him! enfold Him, utterly!

You seek that I (O Master and Adored) Be like an altar-host. In charity You want to live on earth for ever, Lord, Incarnate, here among humanity!". …

This Christmas and all thru the year, fuse your Soul with the Christ-Child-the Uncreated Being--Infinite, wrapped up in time, the little Baby-Jesus Christ! Seek Him, love Him and follow Him…Out of the CrPche and into my heart.

Holy Families and Christmas: I met three holy families recently. One is homeless-a single mom and her daughter -who live in a shelter. Upon seeing them recently they emitted cheer despite so many economic and emotional battles. In their shelter recently, though, they decorated for Christmas. Mom told me, prior to a Grotto Mass, that they wanted to decorate their shelter room and door. Amidst the generalized "Season's Greetings" that were prevalent, she and her daughter placed, rather a "Happy Birthday Jesus!" sign on their shelter door, as they explicitly remembered, and wanted to remind others, just Whose Birthday they were celebrating. Homeless like the Holy Family-Jesus, Mary and Joseph-they were still striving for holiness!...I know another family and asked them what they were doing on Christmas day. They told me they were planning to cook a meal at their small restaurant near Washington and then serve it to the homeless on the streets-with the whole family involved. They obviously had experience-they had cooked free meals before and also knew places to find the homeless…Another family related how one son-Peter--got a gift from grandparents. So? He opened it ecstatically and announced innocently--he now had money to buy gifts for his brothers and sisters--all nine of them-one on the way. His brother, too, was giving: Michael saved money from cutting summer lawns and said he was going to give a bunch of that money to the poor: Are you practicing selflessness by receiving His benefits and passing them on to others? Remember: "God so loved the world He gave His only-begotten so whoever believes in Him might not perish but might have Eternal life" (Jn. 3:16). It's one thing to hear this, another to really believe it, and yet another to extend this Promise to others!

"Does Christmas Need to Be Saved?" I read this evocative headline in New York Times (Dec. 19). It was an excellent article about ordinary and extraordinary Christians who have had enough of secularizing things, like "Trees of Life" (instead of Christmas Trees-see Pope's comments below), and "Seasons Greetings". Part of the sad-yet-inspiring story: "In Mustang Oklahoma parents last week voted against a $11 million bond for schools after the superintendent of schools excised a nativity scene at the annual Christmas play. They then erected their own manger outside the auditorium, with signs saying: 'No Christ. No Christmas. Know Christ. Know Christmas.'"…So, what is your response? We Catholics and all Christians need to first really believe Christ is Christmas; second that He saves souls; and third, people are trying to illegitimately remove God from the marketplace. Write to your schools, local legislators and others to Keep Christ in Christmas. It works!

Christmas is about Beauty: Christmas is beautiful-bright tinsel on deep green trees, lights amidst deep Winter darkness, presents wrapped elegantly; churches decorated with poinsettias; glittering new clothes and broad smiling faces. These are like facets of a diamond which kinda' resemble God-the All Beautiful Light-alluring and evocative. Christmas is beautiful because life, frankly, can sometimes be ugly. Earthly life can be a veil of tears, for we are outside the Garden of Eden. We need God to save us from our messiness. God became Man-to beautify our fallenness and save us from ugly sin. God gives us the opposite of that-Jesus Christ and the Virgin: the embodiment of Divine Life. St Mary Magdalene apparently overcame great sensual sins by Christ's Grace and Love-and so can others. Mary Magdalene is sometimes portrayed in beautiful long hair at the Foot of the Cross: Christ makes people beautiful in the right way. Jesus, the God Man came to show us the Realm of the Beautiful: the Kingdom, foretastes of Blissful Heaven, and Union with Him. But He also came to show us how to pass thru this life: loving God and neighbor--heroically. This is True Beauty. Everything else is counterfeit. St Thomas asked: "Lord, How can we know the Way?"

The Blessed Lord replied: "I AM the Way, the Truth, the Life" (Jn. 14:5-6). No confusion. As a matter of fact: like Bl. Elisabeth's poem above, He wants us to enter a Divine Fusion with Him. St Thomas Aquinas and other saints said it this way: "God became man that man might become God" (see Ps 8; II Pt. 2:4). God did not just send another prophet or a messenger or Book of the Bible (as necessary as these are). No, in the fullness of time, He sent Jesus, the Radiant Incarnation-"the refulgence of God's- Glory" (Hebr. 1:1-5). Now, there is no mistake: God has spoken, He has visited His people, He radiates His Divine Life to us. Recently Pope John Paul told the young people of Catholic Action that he hoped that Christmas, "with its spiritual allure, might arouse in you the desire to get to know Jesus Who came to the world to save us." So: turn from the ugliness of sin and cultivate spiritual allure-attraction to God-the-Radiant-Trinity. Live Holy Beauty in your life. Saint Gregory of Nyssa sums all this up for us: "Every desire for the Beautiful which draws us on in the ascent to the infinite is intensified by the soul's very progress towards it. And this is the real meaning of seeing God: never to have this desire satisfied. But fixing our eyes on those things which help us to see, we must ever keep alive in us the desire to see more and more. And so no limit can be set to our progress towards god, because no limitation can be put upon the beautiful."

The Nativity and Christmas Tree-Symbol Of Christ:

Pope John Paul said that "Christmas, the celebration that is perhaps dearest to popular tradition, is rich in symbols linked to different cultures. The most important is certainly the nativity scene, as I underscored last week. Next to the nativity scene, such as we find here in St. Peter's Square," the Pope continued, "we find the traditional Christmas tree. This is also an ancient custom that exalts the value of life because during winter, the evergreen fir becomes a sign of life that does not die. Christmas gifts are usually placed under the Christmas tree. The symbol thus becomes eloquent even in a typically Christian sense: it reminds us of the 'tree of life', a figure of Christ, God's supreme gift to all of mankind." John Paul II pointed out that "the message of the Christmas tree is thus that life is 'evergreen' if one makes a gift, not of material things, but of oneself: in friendship and sincere affection, in fraternal help and in pardon, in time shared and in reciprocal listening." (Source: Vatican Info Service)…So: keep up your Christmas tree until Christmas ends, officially, Jan 9-the Baptism of the Lord. Keep celebrating Holy Beauty!

Keep Celebrating: Did you know that the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as one of the "catechism songs" to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their Faith - a memory aid, when, to be caught with anything in writing indicating adherence to the Catholic faith could not only get you killed or imprisoned? The "true love" mentioned in the song doesn't refer to an earthly suitor, but to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ. In the song, Christ is symbolically mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings. The other symbols mean the following: 2 Turtle Doves - The Old Testament; 3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity (the virtues); 4 Calling Birds - The Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists. 5 Golden Rings - The First Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch" which gives the history of man's fall from grace….6 Geese a laying - The Six Days of Creation…7 Swans a swimming - The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit…8 Maids a milking - The Eight Beatitudes…9 Ladies Dancing - The Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit …10 Lords a leaping - The Ten Commandments . 11 Pipers Piping -The Eleven Faithful Apostles. 12 Drummers Drumming - The Twelve points of Doctrine in the Apostle's Creed." So: Don't take your Faith-or Christmas-for granted! Beauty sometimes remains hidden-but it always radiates. Call it "spiritual camouflage"!

Roses in the Snow: Last Sunday afternoon I walked to the Grotto cave-it was snowing: beautifully delicate, seeming like a frosting from Heaven. Then, as I looked around the flurried environment and coldness, I saw five dozen roses on the Grotto altar and around it, underneath the lovely statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. All fresh, bright and bountiful amidst Winter's bleakness, I wondered: Why? After all, it's so cold, it's December, and it's Jesus' Birthday which is coming up. Then I thought: Pilgrims love the Virgin, for she sacrificed her life and gave us Jesus, and the First Christmas, and souls want to thank her with the best-Roses-all the more poignant and beautiful in the winter snow!...Don't forget your Heavenly Mother-say a decade of the Rosary to come closer to her Son!

The Madonna and Child is one of the most beautiful-and reproduced-subjects of art. Christmas reminds us of this. Recently the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York displayed its recent acquisition of a famous Italian Duccio "Madonna and Child" painting-bought at a price of $45 million--perhaps the most expensive painting ever. It's only "pint-sized". Duccio di Buoninsegna lived 700 yrs ago and the painting, in its golden, ethereal background, and the large Madonna (Mother Mary) holding an Infant-yet-Chrsitly Jesus-Him reaching up to touch her face, is tender, and both affectionate and classical-earthly-yet-transcending time. A human-spiritual mix. And yet isn't that what God is all about-always giving us Jesus-eternally begetting Him, offering Him to us, especially in the Mass? I recall one statue of the Virgin in Bruges, Belgium: Mary is holding the Baby Jesus and yet is still pregnant-as if she's still giving birth, always fertile. Michael Kimmelman writes eloquently (NYT: 12-20) about the Met's "gamble" on the Italian painting: "It turns out not only to lift the heart but also to break it."…Now, let your open heart receive the beautiful Lord and Lady.

Celebrate Christmas and Holy Family thru the Year:

Mass is Deep Down Divinity: receive Him in His Sacred Presence frequently thru this Year of the Holy Eucharist (cf. Jn. 6:56!)…Pray: St Teresa of Avila says the Lord brings us into the Mansion of interior love and life, the soul, to wed Him-into His "Presence- Chamber". Enter into that sacred place-your immortal Soul. Take time each day to pray!...Scripture: Read the Bible daily-especially. in the Christmas Season read the Infancy Narratives of Saints Matthew and Luke (ch's 1-3)...Serve others: Jesus comes in His disguises not only at Christmas Time but all thru the Year-He is awaiting you, so do not neglect Him…

-Remember the Three' S's of Family life: Spend time with your family: this is the best Gift you can give them-the presence of yourself…Support families: nurture and encourage them to sacrifice for one another…Supplicate: pray for families that they be the "building block of civilization (Pope John Paul II).

Blessed and MaryChristMass and Holy Family to all!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi