St. Mary’s Hermitage Nr. Canterbury
On the Feast of Saint Peter Canisius SJ
“If Christ were born in Bethlehem a thousand times and not in thee thyself; then art thou lost eternally.”Fr. Angelus Silesius S.J.
My Dearest brothers and sisters,
Christmas: is a feast of listening! This is what the German priest, mystic and poet Fr. Angelus Silesius OFM reminds us with his aphorism with great effectiveness. The birth of the Child in Bethlehem is that great mystery of our faith: God made man, God with us, God in our midst! God is our friend: he loves us so much, that he took our human flesh: “he became man among men, to conjoin man to God,” says Saint Irenaeus of Lyons. This Christmas is a celebration of listening. It may be that, over the years, we have become accustomed to a certain ritual, which does not involve us personally and yet for us Christians this feast has a profound significance: God comes to be with us within the poor and weak Child of Bethlehem. Let us then approach the weakness and fragility of this little one and listen attentively to his cries.
Like all newborns, Jesus too will have taken his first breath to dilate the tiny air sacs of the lungs to allow the passage of oxygen. And it is precisely at that very instant that he will have cried for the first time. His mother Mary and father Joseph will have looked upon him with the same tenderness and joy with which all new parents admire their newborn babies. In Bethlehem, in the silence of the night, the first breath of a child banishes away the darkness and brings light to the whole world. Joy and emotion become lasting form of listening. That crying will have accompanied the days of the Nazarene family, whilst the awareness began to grow that this birth will change the course of humanities history. That same cry becomes a whisper for all of us and pushes us away from our acquired certainties. Therefore I ask you to listen out, so that Christ may be born within each and every one of us. What is it telling us today? Particularly this year, once again characterised by this continuing global pandemic, the cry of a baby becomes a lesson of life. What a wonderful mystery!
Care and custody: these are the first two words. The embraces and caresses of his mother are not just a simple act, but a profound sentiment. They express the heart that expands far beyond the limits of mindfulness and care. They show intimacy, participation, responsibility and commitment. These are the acts that synthesise the human essence; indeed, they make existence possible precisely as human beings. In order not to get lost, this whisper must reverberate within us: its an appeal to every person; a challenge to renain human! Our medieval predecessors gave the word “cure” an imaginative, albeit evocative, etymology: quia cor urat, “so that the heart is warmed.” If Christ is born within us, we have to warm the hearts of our brothers and sisters. Particularly of the poor, those who are weak, those who suffer and those who need help.
Gaze: Mary and Joseph look at their Newborn infant; the shepherds run to the manger to gaze upon Him, the Son of God, and it seems as though the Child reciprocates. As we pause in front of the cribs within our homes to recognize an intertwining of glances, which becomes an invitation to enter the mystique of the hut. In yesterday’s morning meditation, we concluded with this prayer: “Father, you are here among us. Fix your gaze on me and tell me what I should do; how I should cry for my mistakes, my sins; the courage I need in order that I may go forward onto the path that You Father, have taken first.” It is this gaze that traces the path for us.
Poverty and vulnerability: something that we are all experiencing during this time of pandemic. In this year’s pastoral letter “for a ministry of care,” I recall “if in our corporeality we, the human person, are always within the limits, in our hearts we are always beyond ourselves and that being so, that right within the awareness of our own limits, we will find the push to open ourselves to the Other, to discover the Other”. Poverty and vulnerability are extremely unsettling, irritating because they compromise our states of life. However, they are an indispensable condition for entering within ourselves. It is the appeal of the Child. The manger was not a casual choice, but an essential reference.
Essentiality: this year we learned about the many subtleties of this word. Clearly with Christmas for us Christians it begins to acquire a particular character and its meaning is: “our relationship with God is crucial. And all too often we seem to forget this, as though we were afraid of going directly to that place, where an encounter with the Lord is, with God.” Within ourselves! The words of the Fr. Angelus Silesius OFM again spring to mind. There is no better angle of view than one’s heart to experience Bethlehem. Essentiality is immersing oneself within life. That’s why Christmas is a celebration of listening.
My heartfelt best wishes to you and your families for Christmas and the New Year!
May the Lord watch and guide you always.
Fr. Ugo Maria ESB