Dear Brothers, Associates and Colleagues,
The Christmas spirit is something I look forward to every year. Perhaps it is the child still in me! Something magical seems to fill the air. People seem kinder and more aware of others, and more caring about those in need. Even strangers seem friendlier. No doubt that the sounds of Christmas carols, the scent and sight of the pine trees decorated with brightly colored lights fill my senses and bring out the child in me. Yet, I also know there is something deeper to the Christmas spirit.
We know that the Christmas spirit is something that touches the heart very deeply and gives meaning to our lives. It feels warm, it uplifts the spirit, and it needs to be shared with others. Among the rituals that help me experience not only the Christmas spirit, but also the mystery of Christmas, is my visit to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York during Christmas week. I attend the noon Mass and make a prolonged visit at the crèche, a beautiful life-size representation of the birth of Christ.
The cathedral is usually packed with people from all over the world. The visitors are speaking Spanish, German, Japanese, French, etc. Many stop and take pictures at the beautiful crèche. I ponder the scene. Wasn’t this child meant for ‘all who believe in God’? What attracts these visitors? No angels appeared to them, yet one can sense they too are moved. Perhaps they recognize in the Child Jesus the innocence, trust, vulnerability, humility, and openness to love that we all long for.
Gazing at the Child Jesus, my own reflection goes to children who are also innocent, trusting, vulnerable, and spontaneous. I think of children of my former students. The sparkle in the child’s eyes or the open smile when the child recognizes their Mom or Dad. Children I met while I was in Bolivia or those I met on visits to Likasi or the Ryken Centre for Hope come to mind. All simple, open, happy and vulnerable in the poverty that surrounds them.
This year, my reflection will have to include the innocent and vulnerable children who are suffering because of an indifferent and violent world. Children in Syria, fleeing violence as the Holy Family was forced to flee to Egypt. I cannot help but think of the 40 children in Yemen killed when their school bus was bombed by Saudi planes. Nor can I forget the 85,000 Yemeni children who have already died of starvation. Or the children separated from their parents on the Southern border of the USA where Brother Brian Vetter is ministering. The stories of the thousands of vulnerable children who suffer today as adults because they lost their innocence to sexual abuse by priests and religious disturb me. Jesus calls us to care for and protect them.
As Xaverians, our Fundamental Principles call us to integrate our contemplation with action. What is the spirit of Christmas asking of me, asking of us? How do we respond?
In His adult life, Jesus talked of the qualities needed to enter into a love relationship with the Father, those of a child.
He called a little child over, placed the child in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child like this in my name, receives me.”Matthew 18:2-3
What was Jesus telling us? Simply that His relationship with His Father was that of a spiritual child: trusting, open to His Father’s love, humble, and vulnerable. It was not cluttered with the desire to have power over others, self-aggrandizement, prestige of title or social position. Those of us who had Brother Cosmas for theology will remember the name of Hans Ur Van Balthasar, whose tomes were rather dense. Van Balthasar wrote a very clear monograph entitled Unless You Become Like This Child, in which he shared the conviction that we cannot really be followers of Christ unless “we enter deeply into our transformation from ‘world-wise, self-sufficient adults’ to loving and trusting children of the Father through the grace of the Spirit.”
As a child, I hated the day we took down the Christmas tree. I wanted Christmas every day (still do)! I realize now we can have the spirit of Christmas every day. I found this writing by Howard Thurman, an African American professor and pastor who mentored Martin Luther King, Jr.:
When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart.
My prayer is that you know in your heart once again that God so loved you that he gave His only Son that you may have life more abundantly, and work so all peoples have the same. A Merry and Joyous Christmas and Happy and Healthy New Year.
In the Child Jesus,
Brother Edward Driscoll, CFX | General Superior