You will have to forgive me. Getting sentimental about Christmas has never been part of my repertoire. And this year, I will miss one of the three people with whom I have spent every one of the past 39 Christmases. My dear aunt is spending this Christmas in her newly sealed grave. Not to mention all the little ones from Connecticut who spend this Christmas that way, too.
But: Can we find some sentiments that suit the holy Solemnity of the Nativity—sentiments that fit, year in and year out, in good times and bad, no matter how cold the outside world may seem?
Yes, we can. We can find joy that conquers every evil. We know right where to look for it. In the immaculate heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council explained that Mary offers to the Church our perfect model, our consummate example, the full flowering of all our efforts to believe, to hope, and to love like Christ. In Mary, we the Church see ourselves as we most want to be.
One phrase which the Vatican-II Fathers used to describe Mary takes on, I think, a special light at Christmastime. They refer to Mary as—above all others and uniquely—the “generous associate” of Christ.
Generous associate. Now, my dad was a lawyer. So the word “associate” makes me think of the name of the law firm he was in. Jones, Day, Reavis, Pogue, and Associates. Smart lawyers, savvy and streetwise. Brooks Brothers and BMWs—these “associates.”
But the pre-eminent “associate” of the divine firm, the firm founded and run by the Son of God: we find this generous associate tonight, suckling the little chief executive officer at her breast. This is obviously a different kind of association. There is no custom-designed postmodern office furniture and no state-of-the-art IT. Just the dusty stable, bad-smelling shepherds crowding around, and the queen of the whole enterprise quietly nursing her mewling baby.
Quietly. Our role-model speaks only infrequently. When she does speak, her words are few, and carefully chosen. The Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the quietest women who has ever lived. Forgive me, ladies, for taking note of this. Mary stands out among women for many reasons. But maybe we have hit here on the most remarkable one. Talks very little.
Anyway, Mary kept in her mind all the mysteries of her Son’s pilgrim life. She pondered them in her heart. We read in the gospels that Christ declared to be blessed not His blood relations, but rather all those who “hear and keep the Word of God.”
Here the Vatican-II Fathers achieved perhaps their greatest tour-de-force of Biblical interpretation. They pointed out that, when the Lord spoke of the blessed who hear and keep the Word of God, He referred first and foremost to His own Mother. She faithfully did precisely that. After all, it was by her hearing and keeping the Word of God that the Lord came to be conceived in her womb in the first place.
The Vatican-II Fathers also recalled the fact that God’s plan of salvation involved Mary’s presence at the foot of the Cross just as much as her presence at the manger. In agony, she consented to her Son’s sacrifice. In so doing, she received, at the Lord’s command, all of Jesus’ disciples as her own children, too.
Likewise, Vatican II recalls that just as the Father was not pleased to send His Son into the world by any other means than by the faithful, prayerful, freely given consent of Our Lady, He likewise was not pleased to send the Holy Spirit by any means other than her persevering prayer as the queen and mother of the Apostles, gathered together in Jerusalem.
In other words, the quiet contemplative lady played her decisive role in all the mysteries of human salvation, from Christmas to Pentecost. She found her joy and glory not in anything fleeting or shallow, not in any trappings of glamour, but rather in the revelation of God’s infinite love, which occurred by the Incarnation of the Father’s only-begotten Son.
Maybe we want to try to give some particular people a really special Christmas present this year. Well, it doesn’t get any better than saying some Hail Mary’s with and/or for them. Maybe even a whole Christmas Rosary, recited on our knees in front of the Nativity set, before we even think about opening any of the gorgeously wrapped prezzies under the tree, or eating Christmas dinner. The world needs us to say as many Hail Mary’s for it as we can. And when we do, we find the true joy we seek.
As the Fathers of Vatican II put it:
The Mother of Jesus, glorified now in body and soul in heaven, shines forth, until the Day of the Lord, as a sign of sure hope and solace to the People of God sojourning on earth. (Lumen Gentium 68)
May we draw near to her heart by prayer and meditation. We can be sure that she will share her own unique Christmas joy with us. And no merriment is more sublime or more enduring.