Christmas Reflections


Christmas Reflections, December 2004

12/01/04

The human person longs to be happy, to attain the perfection it desires. But because of one man's weakness, his pride, he kept himself from attaining it. So that man can achieve this happiness, God emptied Himself. In order for man to reach God, God had to reach down to man. On that special day, He entrusted Himself to the care of Mary; there is no limit of how far His love can reach down to us. He became like us. He reaches down-- down to the point where He became weak, so weak that the Lord God Almighty depended on the protection of a carpenter and the arms of a young Lady. He could not walk. He could not speak. He could not use His hands to create something as He did when He created the world. It was a form of weakness which prefigured the Cross where He was weak to the point that He would not allow Himself to be taken down. Here He was on the Cross, weak and abandoned by His friends. Yet, it is this weakness where I get my strength from. It is from His weakness that His Church grows. It was through the weakness of Adam where humanity fell and it is through the weakness of the New Adam where humanity will be restored.

If we are going to imitate Christ this Christmas, we have to love God and one another the way Christ does. And to love God with all our mind, heart, and soul is to become weak. It is not pride which makes a Christian what he is. It is acknowledging his weakness and become even more weak to the point where he would put himself down for another. And that is what love is. Love is to weaken oneself to make another strong. Love is to weaken yourself so that you will glorify God: I must decrease so that He may increase. It is only through weakening ourselves, imitating the weakness of Christ that we will attain the perfection we all desire.

12/03/04

"I would rather boast most gladly of my weakness, in order that the power of Christ may dwell in me." (2 Corinthians 9:2)

Love demands nothing less than one's whole self. Christ Jesus, unlike Adam, "did not regard equality with God" and "emptied himself" (Phil. 2:6, 7). Adam failed because he wanted to be equal with God without weakening himself. He did not realize that it is only through humility, only by becoming a "slave" and being "obedient to death" that he can be exalted. Christ Jesus, however, "though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave....he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him" (Phil. 2:6,7,8).

Though Jesus Christ emptied Himself for us, He did not do it primarily for us but "to the glory of the Father" (Phil. 2:11). This is something which may make us uncomfortable, but it is the truth of the Christian faith. Glorifying the Father is more important than the salvation of a soul. And there is no better way to glorify the Father than emptying Himself, accomplishing the works the Father gave Him (John 17:4), and obeying Him to death. It is a great mystery and paradox that Christ manifests His divinity more by emptying Himself than by performing miracles; taking the form of a slave manifests the form of God.

Origen said:

"One must dare to say that the goodness of Christ appears greater, more divine, and truly in the image of the Father, when he humbled himself in obedience unto death-death of the Cross-than he had clung into his equality with the Father as an inalienable gift, and had refused to become a slave for the world's salvation." (In Joannem I. 32)

And Gregory of Nyssa:

"In the first place, then, that the omnipotence of the Divine nature should have had strength to descend to the humiliation of humanity, furnishes a clearer proof of that omnipotence than even the greatness and supernatural character of the miracles....In like manner, it is not the vastness of the heavens, and the bright shining of its constellations, and the order of the universe and the unbroken administration over all existence that so manifestly displays the transcendent power of the Deity, as this condescension to the weakness of our nature; the way, in fact, in which sublimity, existing in lowliness, is actually seen in lowliness, and yet descends not from its height, and in which Deity, en-twined as it is with the nature of man, becomes this, and yet still is that." (Oratio Catechetica 24)

The glorification of the Father consists also in sharing in His Son's glory: "Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave to me" (John 17:24). The first thing we must recognize is that whenever we love Christ, whenever we partake in His sacrificial meal, whenever we visit Him in the Eucharist, whenever we help the poor, it is not because of our own doing. It is because the Father has given us to His Son and therefore: "Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:2). Not only did Christ gave Himself as a gift to the world on that Christmas day, but He also receives us, not because of our own nature, but because we are His Father's gift.

In order that we become a gift to Christ, we must not regard equality with God. There are too many times in our lives, even those of holy saints, when there is a tendency to think that all of our successes are the doing of ourselves. There is a tendency, because we are humans, to become like a god. There is nothing wrong with this since we are called into communion with God. Where we go wrong is when we think we can become a god without God. This is the root of pride. To become like God without God is to regard equality with God. It is to believe that you can ascend to infinity in your finitude. The only way we can truly become like God is not by ascension, but by God's descent towards us. That is really the essence of Christmas. God has come to us and keeps on coming to us. He is truly with us: God-with-us.

But to be a Christian is not to simply be passive. To be a Christian is to be like Mary when she was faced with a message from the angel, faced with a mystery: "May it be done according to thy word" (Luke 2:38). It is a paradox of the Christian faith that whenever we empty ourselves, we become filled with joy just like Mary: "For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed"-"He has....lifted up the lowly"-"The hungry he has filled with good things." The beauty of the Christmas season is not that we can light our houses. It is not that we can listen to music which can only be listened to in one season of the year. It is not that we can exchange gifts. The beauty of Christmas is to see the big black sky at night, to look at the stars, and to see how small we truly are compared to the universe. Yet, though we are small, we are worth the smallness of the Child in Bethlehem.

12/09/04

One of the most influential person in my life is Fulton J. Sheen. He proclaimed the Gospel, proclaiming that God continues to reveal Himself to us through Jesus Christ. There is no other person who has given me the assurance that God loves me and that He is near me than Archbishop Sheen. He was the one who inspired me to write, inspired me to go to Eucharistic Adoration everyday, and inspired me to strive holiness. His method is my method, which he got from Cardinal Mercier: know the modern world and "Thomistize". If you ever read any of my writings and it reminded you of someone, it is probably Fulton J. Sheen. My writings are nothing but a footnote to his.

Thoughts of Fulton J. Sheen

"Suppose you were saddened by the way dogs were treated, beaten by strangers, starved, and driven from the company of men. To teach mankind to love dogs, further suppose that you divested your body and put your soul into the body of a dog. That would mean that inside the organism of a dog was an intellect capable of knowing God and a will capable of loving Him. Suppose that when you took on the form and habit of a dog, you resolved never to transcend the limitations of that animal organism. Though you had a mind that could scan the finite, you would never speak, you would not utter a word but would limit yourself to a bark. Though you were an artist, you would not use a brush to create. Second, suppose you resolved to subject yourself only to the companionship of other dogs, sharing their lives just in an effort to try and help them in virtue of your superior mind. That would indeed be an act of humility and a humiliation, particularly if you died defending the animals whose nature you embraced in order to save." (Life is Worth Living, page 44)

"In the filthiest place in the world, a stable, Purity was born. He, Who was later to be slaughtered by men acting as beasts, was born among beasts. He, Who would call Himself the 'living Bread descended from Heaven,' was laid in a manger, literally, a place to eat. Centuries before, the Jews had worshiped the golden calf, and the Greeks, the ass. Men bowed down before them as before God: The ox and the ass now were present to make their innocent reparation, bowing down before their God. There was no room in the inn, but there was room in the stable. The inn is the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world's moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But the stable is a place for the outcasts, the ignored, the forgotten. The world might have expected the Son of God to be born--if He was to be born at all--in an inn. A stable would be the last place in the world where one would have looked for Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

"No worldly mind would ever have suspected that He Who could make the sum warm the earth would one day have need of an ox and an ass to warm Him with their breath; that He Who, in the language of Scriptures, could stop the turning about of Arcturus would have His birthplace dictated by an imperial census; that He, Who clothed the fields with grass, would Himself be naked; that He, from Whose hands came planets and worlds, would one day have tiny arms that were not long enough to touch the huge heads of the cattle; that the feet which trod the everlasting hills would one day be too weak to walk; that the Eternal Word would be dumb; that Omnipotence would be wrapped in swaddling clothes; that Salvation would lie in a manger; that the bird which built the nest would be hatched therein--no one would have ever suspected that God coming to this earth would ever be so helpless. And that is precisely why so many miss Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

"If the artist is at home in his studio because the paintings are the creation of his own mind; if the sculptor is at home among his statues because they are the work of his own hands; and man is at home among his vines because he planted them; and if the father is at home among his children because they are his own, then surely, argues the world, He Who made the world should be at home in it. He should come into it as an artist into his studio, and as a father into his home; but, for the Creator to come among His creatures and be ignored by them; for God to come among His own and not to be received by His own; for God to be homeless at home--that could only mean one thing to the worldly mind: the Babe could not have been God at all. And that is just why it missed Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it. The Son of God made man was invited to enter His own world through a back door. Exiled from the earth, He was born under the earth, in a sense, the first Cave Man in recorded history. There He shook the earth to its very foundations. Because He was born in a cave, all who wish to see Him must stoop. To stoop is the mark of humility. The proud refuse to stoop and, therefore, they miss Divinity. Those, however, who bend their egos and enter, find that they are not in a cave at all, but in a new universe where sits a Babe on His mother's lap, with the world poised on His fingers." (Life of Christ, pages 27-29)

12/16/04

A Marian Christmas Reflection

The human person stands in the midst of mystery. Everything around him remains ultimately unsolvable. He looks for answers but falls short because of his limitations. He tries to look for answers about how the world is the way it is; how the stars twinkle at night; what makes a tree a tree; why there is evil and suffering in the world. He tries to understand each person he meets, and most of all, himself who is the closest to him and who is mysteriously the hardest to understand. Though he falls short in understanding, he remains longing for truth. He does not cease to ascend to truth; he tries to overcome the obstacles he faces, to exceed his faculties and limitations. Yet, with all of his searches, he still falls short in looking for that profound thing which seems to be worth looking for.

A young girl 2,000 years ago was faced with a mystery. She was greeted by an angel: "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). "She was greatly troubled at what was said" and the mystery became more mysterious: "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him a throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:31-33). How can a virgin have a child? How can Yahweh have a Son? And of all people, why Mary? The angel explained that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her and she responded: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

In the face of mystery, the Virgin submitted to God's Word. She did not try to rationalize what has been said to her. She was silent. When we are faced with a mystery, such as the mystery of suffering, we tend to be troubled like the Virgin. Yet, we have to know our place. We are in God's story. We are in God's palms. It is Providence that rules our lives. And when we abandon ourselves to Divine Providence, we get a better understanding of the purpose in our lives. Mary knew that everything was in God's hands. And because she knew that her whole life rested in God's arms, she did nothing else than obey. Because of that, she was given the gift to hold God in her arms.

A Liturgical Christmas

The Annunciation should be read in a Liturgical context. At first, we see the Angel pronouncing God's Word to her. She listened. Then, the Angel told her that she will receive God Himself. She submitted. She gave her "Amen" as we do when we receive communion. We then read her Magnificat, her thanksgiving. The Annunciation is truly a Eucharistic event. Like the Annunciation, let us focus on God's Word and His Incarnation this Christmas. We must remember that whenever we go to Mass, we receive Christ Himself in the Eucharist, a continuation of the Incarnation. Like Mary, let us receive Him in silence and in reverence.

Fear!

We read in the Magnificat: "His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him." In an age where fornication, homosexuality, abortion, and embryonic stem cells research is being accepted, it is the obligation of Christians to ask for forgiveness. And to ask for forgiveness, to receive the mercy of God, we must fear Him. We must give the fear He deserves. In the words of our Holy Father John Paul II:

"In order to set contemporary man free from fear of himself, of the world, of others, of earthly powers, of oppressive systems, in order to set him free from every manifestation of a servile fear before that "prevailing force" which believers call God, it is necessary to pray fervently that he will bear and cultivate in his heart that true fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom."

12/20/04

His own people did not accept Him

Who is the most important person in your life? Who is your best friend? Who is your husband or wife? Imagine that person whom you love. Imagine that person whom you have spent a lot of joys and hard times together with. Now imagine him betraying you. Imagine him rejecting your love. You did nothing wrong. You gave your whole self to him but he rejected you. A friendship that you thought were strong, that lasted for many years, is broken because of his betrayal. The joys you had together in the past cannot help you now. He truly broke your heart. What will you do?

In the beginning, man betrayed God. Imagine a creature that would do something to offend the Almighty! Yet, though it was man's fault, it was God who went after him. God was the one who made the first step to heal the relationship. He came after you. He came after your love. He "enslaved" Himself, took the form of a slave, for you.

"He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him" (John 1:11). Here was the loving God who desires for our love and we rejected Him. God the Almighty became man, became one of us, and we spat on Him, we betrayed Him again, and we crucified Him. But He still loves you. He is still "stoops" down for you. Oh how far God's love will reach down for you!

What are we doing this Christmas? Are we going to reject Him like we did the first time He came down for us? Will we be distracted by the commercialized "Christmas" and spend our time worrying about material goods?

God gave us the gift of having a day to spend time with our families to exchange gifts. We may not even think about Him, but He is still present, He is still smiling because of the love we give to each other. He smiles at our happiness. It's His birthday, and we do not adore Him. Yet, He still smiles at our happiness.

Oh God! How far will your love reach? We reject you and you still love us. We have forgotten the essence of Christmas, which is your presence with us, but we do not appreciate it. If only we can recognize your love for us. If only we can be silent at one point in Christmas and reflect on what you have done for us. If only we can be "with-You" as you are "with-us" this Christmas.

I know that this is nothing big. I know I can do more. But I want you to know that I do appreciate what you have done for me. I may not understand how much you love me, how much you had to sacrifice in order for you to become a little child, but with the angels, I would like to say: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!"

This Christmas, may I glorify the Father through and in You, Christ Jesus, with the work of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord God work in His Trinitarian way through me.

Merry Christmas!!!

12/24/04

This will be my last Christmas reflection this year. I pray that it will make one soul closer to God. If it does, then it is worth writing it. May all of you have a Blessed Christmas!

"Rise, take the child and his mother...." (Luke 2:13, 20)

Women have the genius to recognize the dignity and sanctity of human life. They have a capacity to accept the person, not just as individuals, but persons. The difference between individuals and persons is that individuals are replaceable and persons are not. For example, if I was at the store and was to buy apples, I can say, "No, this one is bad. Give me another." But you cannot say this about persons. Every person is unique and has dignity all his own.

A woman can recognize persons as persons because they can see through things. They can see past the bodies. They can "see" dignity in each person; they have in-sight. If you notice, this aspect and other aspects of the feminine genius make up what it takes to be a mother. Every woman ought to be a mother either physically or spiritually. She has the capacity to give herself for the other, to nurture, and to suffer with others. Men have trouble holding a baby, but women do not. Their gentle arms shows that they were made to hold a child. When a mother just finished giving birth and holds the baby in her hands, she sees that the baby is naked; the baby does not have jewelry, money, clothes, or any material thing, but she still sees the beauty in him.

A mother sacrifices her time and her bodily strengths when the child wakes up late at night and she has to take care of him. A mother teaches her child to walk without her hands and to pick him up when he falls. A mother is usually the person the child goes to when he is afraid; her arms is his "place of safety," believing that his mother will never abandon him and will protect him. Motherhood requires a sincere giving of self, to sacrifice our wants for the good of the other. It puts primacy on love of the other. Motherhood is the reason why houses are called homes and it is also the reason why love starts at home.

A mother's life revolves around her child. Her child is her universe. This starts at the prenatal period. At this period, she has to be fully conscious of what she does to herself because everything she takes in affects her child. Whatever she does to herself, she does to her child. She and her baby are "one." She exists with and for the other. Motherhood takes on a new meaning in Mary. The best way this can be shown is in the Revelation of John. St. John says, "She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth" (Rev. 12:2). Mary was "with child". The child is not like any ordinary child. The child is the Eternal Child, the Eternal Son. The child is Christ. Mary can literally say, "I no longer live, but Christ who lives in me."

"She was with child." Is this not part of Christmas? Is not the essence of Christmas "God-with-us"? God is not abstract. God is personal. He lets Himself exist in the community of sinners. And He did this through Mary, His mother. And every time we say our fiat, we too become like Mary. Like Mary, let us be "with Child" this Christmas.

The Church has marked the 25th of December every year so that we can go back to where it started. The Church knows that Christmas is not something that can be forgotten. The Church lives in the presence of God, which is a life of mysteries. She keeps on going back to where it began and renews her faith by reliving the mystery of Christmas. She does this by contemplating the child being held by His mother. Mary, the icon and model of the Church, is in a sense, already the Church. She came not as a member of the community of sinners, but as a member of the community of saints. She was the first believer. She was the first Christian. And that is why she is, in a sense, already the Church. She is the "pre-Church" or the "baby Church." In Bethlehem, we meet the baby Jesus and the "baby Church."

Mary, who is the first Christian, is a mother. And that is why the Church is also a mother. She participates in the motherhood of Mary. The world back then was looking for hope in darkness and Light came through a Mother. Today, we are living in the culture of death. And today, the Church still has that Light Mary had on Christmas day. She always points to Christ. She still teaches us that we must become like Mary, we must have humility, we must recognize our weaknesses in spite of the technologies we have produced or how much we have progressed in our sciences. She still teaches that all of us really need a savior. There is no such thing as being an "independent person." Too many times, we tend to want to become independent when in reality, we really need a savior. It takes humility to acknowledge that you really cannot do it on your own. It takes humility to ask someone for help. And if we cannot be humble enough to realize this, then let us simply look at the Child in Bethlehem and see if we can bear the humility He went through.

"And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son...." (John 1:14)

The meaning of Christmas is this: By the work of the Holy Spirit, the Father sent His only Son Jesus Christ so that He may glorify Himself and we might partake in his glory. Jesus came to this world not just as the Messiah, not just as the Savior, but as the Son of the Father. Every work of His a glorification of His Father. His primary concern is to glorify Him. His glorification is more important than the salvation of our souls. And it is only through realizing this that we may share in His glory. It is through glorifying the Father through and in Jesus Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit that we can achieve the glory and joy we desire.

Too many times we emphasize on "giving" on Christmas. We, however, emphasize on the wrong kind of giving: the "exchange of gifts." We emphasize on our giving instead of what the Father has given us through the work of the Holy Spirit. What really did He give us? The Father gave us His only Son. This act is a kenotic act, or an act of self-emptying. The Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. They are so much "part" of each other that they are one substance. And the Father is willing to give His only Son, Someone whom He shares His essence with, for us.

According to Aquinas, the Son is the Eternal Wisdom and "man is perfected in wisdom (which is his proper perfection, as he is rational) by participating the Word of God" (ST, III, q. 3. a. 8). Man, as a rational creature, desires to know God. His desire to know God does not simply mean knowing God in an abstract way. It is not the same as knowing about God. The desire to know God is to know him as a Divine Person. It is must be personal. It must be striving to see Him in our everyday work no matter how small it is. It must becoming like the wise men who looked for Wisdom 2,000 years ago, to prostrate ourselves and worship Him (Matt. 2:11) so that we can glorify the Father through and in Him.

The Father gave His only Son so that we can become like Him. As Aquinas said, the reason for the Incarnation is for "the full participation of the Divinity, which is the true bliss of man and end of human life; and this is bestowed upon us by Christ's humanity; for Augustine says in a sermon (xiii de Temp.): 'God was made man, that man might be made God.'" (ST, III, q. 1 a. 2).

When we were children, we always looked forward to receiving our presents. We may have even tried to find where our parents or guardians hid them. We looked everywhere for them. The surprised killed us. We could not wait. This Christmas, let us become like children again looking for the true present of Christmas, the Presence of Jesus Christ. Like the wise men, let us put our treasures in Him. And just like when we were young, we will be surprised. We will be so surprised on what we have or rather, what we have become, that we will find what we all are looking for. What that surprise is I do not fully know. What I do know is that when we put our hearts in the Child Jesus, we will receive the rest we all look for that only He alone can make it rest. We will find out that Christmas is God resting in our restless hearts so that we can receive rest in Him. And then behold! You will receive Joy!

A Blessed Christmas to all. God love you!

A.L. III


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