Dear Brothers, Associates and Collaborators:
Christmas provides us with the time and space to contemplate what is really important in our lives as believers. The profound mystery we are about to celebrate -the encounter of the God of love and mercy with human life – offers us great hope. A world torn by violence that is inflamed by fear and hatred desperately needs hope.
During Christmas I pray that each of us in the Xaverian family brings the world’s pain – the suffering in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, the poverty and starvation experienced in more than half the world as well as the sometimes silent suffering of all our loved ones- to our contemplation of God’s mercy and to our prayers and actions.
Stand ready to answer God when God asks you if you are
available for Him to become more present through you to the world. (FP)
The above words from our Fundamental Principles capture the movement of the deep mystery we celebrate each Christmas. These simple words reflect the profound spiritual journey to which all in the Xaverian family commit themselves. I’ll share part of my recent letter to our benefactors with you, which includes the story of the first Christmas.
A young maiden. A hardworking carpenter. A compassionate innkeeper. Poor shepherds. Three wise men. Ordinary people like ourselves. All stood ready even if they did not understand what was happening. All were attentive to God’s mysterious call to them. All listened to God’s voice. All responded by allowing God to disturb their lives. All let God break into their lives. We know how the story ends.
Mary was greatly troubled as she listened to the words of Gabriel who said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:29-30). “How can this be,” replied Mary, “since I have had no relations with a man?” Gabriel simply replied, “The Holy Spirit will come to you.” Gabriel’s reply called for a leap of faith on Mary’s part. “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). The Holy Spirit also comes to us each day. It is the promise Jesus gave us. We just have to listen for the Spirit. Do we believe we have found favor with God? We have.
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into you home, for it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her” (Mt. 1:20).
“There is no room in my courtyard, but I will give my manger in the cave up the hill so you can have privacy and warmth” (Apocrypha).
The shepherds were struck with great fear and the angel of the Lord said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold I proclaim good news to you of great joy that will be for all people…and this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Mt. 3:9-12).
The wise men said to Herod, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw a star in its rising and have come to do him homage. Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, the wise men went home another way” (Mt. 2:2-3, 12). The wise men read the signs of the times and risked following them.
In my reflection, I entered the scene and spent time studying each member of this first Christmas community. I asked myself how I would have responded in each instance. Would I have had the faith and trust of Mary and Joseph, the simplicity of the shepherds, the humility and wisdom of Magi, or the hospitality and goodness of the Innkeeper? In my reflection I relate most to the innkeeper. I am pretty sure I would do everything I could to make room for Mary and Joseph. As for the others? I am not too sure what my response would have been. Would I have the needed faith, trust, and humility?
After some time, I realized that God is found even in my questions. “Nothing is impossible with God” (Lk 1:37). We are never completely alone in our desire to respond to God. All God asks of us is simply, “Stand ready.” Gabriel’s answer to Mary reassures me: “The Spirit will come to you.”
Recognizing the Spirit in our lives requires the conscious practice of being present to God, to my Brothers in community, to my family and to all those I meet each day. To be present, that is to say, to listen fully to the other. To recognize God in the common, ordinary, and simple way of life, our Fundamental Principles advise us to “abandon ourselves to God who will gradually convert us to Himself.”
Christmas invites us to contemplate the gift that God gives us in each moment of our existence.
God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so that everyone
who believes in Him may not perish but might have eternal life. (Jn 3:16)
I believe as members of the Xaverian family that we are a Christmas community. It seems to me that the following words capture the Spirit that enlivens our community:
The gift you have received, give as a gift. (FP)
I pray that we continue to respond “Yes” when God asks us to stand ready as He asked Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the innkeeper, and the Magi. Whether we live in Congo, Belgium, Kenya, Haiti, or the United States, we share the common call to manifest God’s mercy as Jesus did in particular among the poor and those on the periphery, as Pope Francis often reminds us. I pray, then, that we take the needed time to discern how we can do something concrete right now, especially for the refugees fleeing war and persecution. How are we going to respond? Can we respond together?
I also pray that we experience the joy of our vocation and that our way of living be a sign of hope to the world. I wish each of your a joy-filled Christmas. Let’s pray for each other.
In Christ’s love,