Resolution at the Circumcision

Circumcision of Christ

Tomorrow is the day our Lord was given His Holy Name, Jesus.

Let’s turn to our Blessed Mother. Let’s see her holding the eight-day-old baby. The first drop of His Precious Blood has just been shed by the knife that circumcised Him.

Our Lady is contemplating the destiny that lies ahead of her newborn son. She does not know exactly what His mission will require. But somewhere deep in her unimaginably pure heart, she knows that this little drop of His blood that just fell to the earth is just the beginning.

On the other hand, she also knows this: The brightness of the Holy Face in front of her will never be dimmed. She sees that a new light has come into the world, and the darkness will not overcome it.

ihs1How do we know, then, what resolution to make for AD 2015?

If we make a lot of New Year’s resolutions, we won’t follow any of them. Neither does it make sense to resolve to do something that is too hard, or something that is too easy. This narrows down the possibilities.

Of the remaining possible resolutions that I could make, there is one which is both the most difficult and the most full of hope. There is one which will cost me more than I think I can give, but fulfilling it will give me great happiness. If I really can do it, with God’s help, I will be a better man.

Let’s think of our Lady holding her baby on the eighth day–His name day, His circumcision day. Let’s contemplate that moment, and try to imagine all that she had in her heart, and then make a good resolution for 2015.

…If I might, a couple suggestions (if you are drawing a blank):

1. In 2015, I will pray every day, no matter what.

2. In 2015, I will go to Confession every month, no matter what.

3. Every month, I will give away something that I have—time, money, stuff—every month I will give away something to someone who could make good use of it.

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Holy Family

Everyone knows that our readings for Sundays and holy days follow a three-year cycle? The second reading always comes from the ____ Testament. Most of the time, the second reading at Mass comes from a letter written by St. ______. He wrote letters to the Romans, the Corinthians, Galatians, Thessalonians, Philippians, Ephesians, etc.

Paul himself was none of these; he was, in fact, a descendant of Abraham, a ______. Jews were also known as H_________. Sometimes we read from St. Paul’s letter to his own people.

Twice during the three-year cycle we read from chapter 11 of Hebrews. Once during the summer, in Year C. And once every three years on Holy Family Sunday.

Now, obviously, the Bible contains many inspiring chapters. To claim that any particular chapter qualifies as The Most Inspiring Chapter of the Holy Bible! would involve a lot of hubris. But Hebrews 11 will give any chapter a run for the money. If you only intend to read one single chapter of the Bible between now and the end of 2014, and you decide to make it Hebrews 11, I congratulate you on a good choice.

illuminated-bibleWe hear in Sunday’s reading how the paragraphs of Hebrews 11 begin with the phrase “By faith, So-and-so did such-and-such.” By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to move to an unknown land. By faith, Abraham received the power to generate offspring, even though he had passed the normal age, and had a sterile wife. By faith, Abraham, when put to the test, offered up his son Isaac.

Now, Hebrews 11 recounts not just Abraham’s faith. The chapter chronicles the faith of the successive generations of Israelites who awaited the fulfillment of God’s promises. The chapter exhorts the Christian Church to unswerving faith.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, practically based his whole encyclical Lumen Fidei on Hebrews 11; he quotes the chapter thirteen times in the encyclical. Like when he writes:

If we remove faith in God from our cities, mutual trust would be weakened. We would remain united only by fear, and our stability would be threatened. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read that ‘God is not ashamed to be called their God…’ (Heb 11:16)… The intention is to say that God, by his concrete actions, makes a public avowal that he is present in our midst and that he desires to solidify every human relationship. Could it be the case, instead, that we are the ones who are ashamed to call God our God? That we are the ones who fail to confess him as such in our public life, who fail to propose the grandeur of the life in common which he makes possible? Faith possesses a creative light for each new moment of history, because it sets every event in relationship to the origin and destiny of all things, in the Father. (paragraph 55)

Anyway, one particular verse of Hebrews 11 struck me, and I will tell you why. In the section of the chapter after the part about Abraham and his sons, St. Paul considers the faith of Moses. We read:

Pope-Francis-Lumen-Fidei“By faith, Moses left Egypt, not fearing Pharaoh’s fury. For Moses persevered as if he could see the invisible God.”

Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, marching towards the sea, with chariots in hot pursuit. No earthly consideration could have made the situation hopeful. Didn’t look good at all. But Moses marched forward as if he could see the invisible God.

We see the baby Jesus, a baby, a boy. A human being, like us. But, by faith, we look at the infant in the manger as if we could see the invisible God. The Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, the shepherds: gazing at the baby, adoring Him, as if they could see the invisible God.

Nothing will evangelize like this. The world needs the Good News of Christ. And nothing will convince like the witness of people who speak and live as if we could see the invisible.

Let me quote Pope Paul VI:

The world shows innumerable signs of denying God. But, nevertheless, she searches for him in unexpected ways. She painfully experiences the need for Him. The world is calling for evangelizers to speak of a God whom they know and are familiar with, as if they could see the invisible. (Evangelii Nuntiandi, paragraph 76)

For us, this requires discipline. It requires constant engagement with Christ, through Scripture and the sacraments. It requires renouncing the “concupiscence of our eyes,” which grasp like desperate babies for stimulation.

Moses did not lead the Israelites to the Promised Land by pulling out his smartphone all the time and checking his e-mail or facebook. Moses could see the invisible because he had conquered the concupiscence of his eyes, by denying them the immediate satisfaction that they crave.

Let’s think of the long, slow nights which Mary and Joseph spent with the baby. Hours of quiet breathing, little baby noises, in the pitch-black night. Totally unexciting. Except that they could see the invisible God.

That’s how we can learn to see the invisible, too. By embracing quiet, and solitude—and not running away. By becoming people who are not afraid to pray, to pray with reckless abandon to the unseen God–Who, in Jesus Christ, we can see and know.

Christmas in the 21st Century–as it could have been, and as it Is

God came to visit His people by His holy Incarnation, by becoming one of us. Let’s consider for a moment the difference between what could have happened when God did that, and what actually did happen. Then I would like to add something about Christianity in the 21st century.

pantocratorFirst: what it could have been like, when the God-man came. He could have arrived full-grown and terrifyingly stern, intent on executing the strictest, most righteous judgment. He could have come on a black cloud, with a scales for balancing in His hand. In one pan: What the Creator has given us, namely everything. On the other pan, what we have given back–as far as religion, obedience, and eager service.

The judge would justly have condemned us all. Christmas could have been very different. It could have meant that we all got judged and sent to hell.

We might say, “That’s so depressing! Even God would be sad if Christmas meant nothing but strict justice!” But: We would only say that because we happen to know the real, true account of what Christmas is. Jesus has taught us to believe that God loves us and wills our happiness. So we think that God Himself would be sad if Christmas were the day when we all got sent to hell.

That, however, is not exactly true. Almighty God has always been and always will be perfectly happy, with or without us. He didn’t come to save us because He was lonely and sad. No. He came to save us because, in His infinite, endless happiness, He is perfectly selfless.

So He gave us Christmas as it actually is. He did not come the first time as a terrifying judge, six-and-a-half-feet tall, with eyes of fire. He came as a cooing baby, born of the sweetest, humblest, gentlest mother imaginable. He came as a poor child, of poor parents, with no clout whatsoever in this world.

God incarnate arrived with a clear and detailed mission. Namely, to do every single thing that needed doing for our salvation. He came to teach us the love of God, to show us how to live in a way pleasing to God. He came to offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice—as our perfect sacrifice, the perfect sacrifice that we, as the human race, truly have made to God. And He came to conquer death and pour out His undying grace upon us from heaven.

columba-marmionWe believe that what the first Christmas could have been—that is, a day of judgment by the God-man; we believe that such a day will come. But we need not fear such a day, because the first Christmas came to pass the way it did. Christmas saw the birth of a divine Savior, a divine Redeemer, a divine king Who rules by offering Himself as our Priest and gently shepherding our souls.

…The other morning I re-read the preface of one of the books of Blessed Columba Marmion. My mind lingered on the date when he wrote the preface, 1922.

In case you don’t know: Dom Marmion is like a latter-day Father of the Church. His books are comprised of notes people took while he talked, explaining, in retreats and sermons, the Good News of Christ, based on the teachings of Scripture.

Anyway, it struck me as altogether stunning to imagine that on the very day when Dom Marmion wrote the preface to this particular book of his, F. Scott Fitzgerald sat in his Long-Island home, writing his novels. The spiritual crisis of the western world caused by World War I was setting in.

angels nativityIf I might put it like this: the 20th century became a century of uncertainty about God. Does He exist? Can we really believe what the Bible says? Can we trust the teaching of the Church? Twentieth-century man had the idea that ‘I have to decide for myself what is true and what isn’t true, when it comes to God.’

Our grandparents—some of them anyway—imagined such systematic doubt to be a noble undertaking. But: Doesn’t doubting like that—doesn’t it really condemn you to the first kind of Christmas that I described? Setting myself up as the ultimate religious authority means: on Christmas Day, I have nothing but a God of strict justice to judge me.

Because the wonderful mystery of the real Christmas, the Christmas of my salvation—that good news comes to me as a gift that transcends my capacity to comprehend. A gift that I can only receive like a child receives something from his mother.

Now, the good news for us is that the spiritual struggles of the last century do not have to be ours. We need not get bogged-down in questions that have grown obsolete. We can hold the faith of the Church with childlike hearts, without giving a second thought to whether or not we are “modern” enough. We are plenty modern, whether we want to be or not. We don’t need to work on ‘updating the Church.’ We need to work on giving the next generation of Catholics the ancient faith that we received.

The Christian life is actually a lot simpler than many 20th-century people thought. We just have to be prepared to be martyred. Our true Christmas merriment comes from our knowing that the only life worth living is one of total fidelity to this particular baby. He gave me His life. I owe Him mine. We all owe this baby, Who founded our Church—we owe Him our lives.

But that, after all, is the greatest gift of Christmas, the real Christmas: It gives us a chance to live a life worth living. To live not for myself, but for Christ.

The Vague Pope Francis Myth

We present a particularly stunning example of journalistic buffoonery.

One can read a translation of our Holy Father’s talk of yesterday in less time than it takes to watch this.

An impression that I have gotten from reading the contemporary version of the newspapers is: dear Pope Francis does a lot of scolding.

Now, I think that, perhaps, he does scold from time to time. In a way that disturbs my English blue-blood sensibilities.

But His Holiness certainly does not scold anywhere near as much as his breathless (supposed) advocates in the press would have us believe.

The Fix

At one point in the interview above, Ms. Ifill asks the ‘expert,’ “So what’s the fix?”

That is: The ‘fix’ for what? Being the evil Catholic Church? The journos of today seem to have the idea that the doctrines contained in the Catechism come from the ‘entrenched Italian Curia.’

Traestevere home of some Curial offices
Traestevere home of some Curial offices
As any checker of facts could tell you, the Curia is by no means ruled by Italians (other than the Italo-American who does, in fact, rule it.)

But the idea that the poor souls who sit at desks in places like the Palazzo San Callisto could, if they wanted to, announce that it’s okay to perform acts of sodomy, marry someone married to someone else, fall into Onanism, etc.–the idea that such a thing is even possible? Anyone who has ever attended Mass, like, once could understand, I think, that it does not work that way. Is this what the reporters mean when they speak vaguely of Pope Francis’ ‘reform?’ I think it is. But nowhere in any of Holy Father’s scoldings do we find real evidence for this.

But the irony of Ms. Ifill’s question goes oh, so much deeper. “The fix?” Holy Father’s talk, as he expressly declares at the beginning of it, proposes an examination of conscience to prepare for a Christmas-Eve Confession. Mr. Eckstrom refers above to the importance of our Holy Father’s being a Jesuit. Indeed. Jesuits have, since the days of St. Ignatius himself, taken upon themselves the duty of helping us sinners examine our consciences so we can make good confessions. Papa Francesco is about as old-fashioned a Jesuit as you are gong to find. He makes the hardass American Jesuit who brought me into the Catholic Church (may he rest in peace) seem like a lame pussycat by comparison. If that’s the Francis Reform, bring it on!

(I also think that Mr. Eckstrom’s insistence that the new Archbishop of Chicago could never! be characterized as a careerist or climber–I think a few people might want to pull us back from the brink of such a kneejerk canonization. I point that out even though I am by all means a Cupich man, having quoted him repeatedly on the subject of immigration reform.)

But anyway: The Fix. The fix, dear friend, for our sins: To repent of them and seek the mercy of Christ.

Why waste more time, brothers and sisters of the press, treating holy Mother Church as if she were some kind of Fortune 500 company? 1978 and -79 saw many similar breathless storylines, chased by reporters with no understanding of their subject matter. This time, the whole thing sounds even stupider.

“Greatest Pastoral Document”

Pope Paul VI 1975

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, loves Blessed Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi. And we do, too, in our humble parish cluster!

The Church holds that these multitudes [of non-Christians or nominal Christians] have the right to know the riches of the mystery of Christ–riches in which we believe that the whole of humanity can find, in unsuspected fullness, everything that it is gropingly searching for concerning God, man and his destiny, life and death, and truth.

…The religion of Jesus, which the Church proclaims through evangelization, objectively places man in relation with the plan of God, with His living presence and with His action. The Church thus causes an encounter with the mystery of divine paternity that bends over towards humanity. In other words, our religion effectively establishes with God an authentic and living relationship which the other religions do not succeed in doing, even though they have, as it were, their arms stretched out towards heaven.

This is why the Church keeps her missionary spirit alive, and even wishes to intensify it in the moment of history in which we are living. She feels responsible before entire peoples. She has no rest so long as she has not done her best to proclaim the Good News of Jesus the Savior. She is always preparing new generations of apostles. Let us state this fact with joy at a time when there are not lacking those who think and even say that ardor and the apostolic spirit are exhausted, and that the time of the missions is now past. The Synod [of Bishops, of 1974 has replied that the missionary proclamation never ceases and that the Church will always be striving for the fulfillment of this proclamation. (para. 53, from chapter five)

Perhaps, with the Christmas rush, you do not find the time to read an entire document of the papal magisterium. Your humble servant sometimes finds himself in similar straits.

We present these brief selections…

1. Particularly interesting paragraphs from chapters one and two.

2. Inspiring paragraphs from chapters three and four

3. Helpful passages from chapters six and seven

Our Lady Awake

The Lord promised king David that the Messiah would spring from his loins. The house of David would produce the Savior and Redeemer, the everlasting king whose reign of peace would endure with the perpetual youthfulness of God Himself.

But, the prophet told the king, it would all come to pass at a future time, when David himself slept. Slept in death with his fathers.

king davidOn the other hand, when the time came, a thousand years later, for the fulfillment of this prophecy, the Blessed Virgin Mary was very much awake.

We don’t know what hour of the day or night the Archangel Gabriel arrived. Whenever it was–early morning, midnight, late afternoon, evening time–whenever it was, Mary was not snoozing.

The idea of the Blessed Virgin Mary sleeping–actually, it’s hard to picture. Did she snore when she slept? Hard to imagine the Blessed Virgin snoring. I, for one, do not think she snored.

Certainly, our Lady slept sometimes. I mean, people need sleep. Sometimes she would close her eyes for a little while, and St. Joseph would hold the baby.

But, of all the people who have ever lived, the Blessed Virgin Mary may well be the one we would least associate with the idea of snoozing. Lounging. Lolling around. Vegging. Binge-watching whole seasons of Law and Order, supine on the couch for hours. No.

When he came to speak with our Lady, the Archangel Gabriel found her alert and recollected. Reading, perhaps. Or meditating. Or praying for her family, or neighbors, or future husband. Reflecting on a passage of the Torah, or one of the books of the prophets. Or quietly chanting a psalm to God.

espressoNot anxious. Not agitated. Not stressed. Not buzzing on the first-century-Palestine equivalent of Starbucks or 5-Hour Energy. No. Calm. But altogether awake.

“Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord has chosen you.”

She didn’t say, “What’s that?” or “Come again,” or “Huh?” She heard it very clearly the first time.

Now, what does it mean for a member of the human race to be truly awake?

Our survival of course demands our taking action to provide for our sustenance, so we cannot sleep all the time. We have to wake up and do something to keep from starving to death.

When we bestir ourselves, what do we perceive? Family, neighbors, the world around us. The buzz of tv or the ambient muzac. My own appetites. My own thoughts, my own meditations. My memories. My anxieties.

What about being awake like the Virgin Mary, at the moment the archangel chose to visit her?

Seems like she perceived all the elements of her environment, and her interior life. She perceived it all, and she perceived something else, too.

alarm clockSeems like Mary perceived that the day–or the night, whichever it was, at that moment; she perceived that the walls around her, her house, her town, her homeland, her family, her thoughts, her desires, her imaingation; she perceived that all of this had a Master. Everything has a Source and Guide and Goal. It all has a oneness, because everything is the work of the hand of one great Artisan.

And this Artisan communicates. This Artisan converses. This Artisan expresses with consummate eloquence the true meaning of… of existence, of why I am here, of why there is something, rather than absolutely nothing. Why there is light, and not absolute, endless darkness.

Listen, I am all for the traditional forms of Christian art and the famous depictions of the Annunciation. If we had eyes to see the Archangel Gabriel, we would probably see that he looks a lot like Fra Angelico painted him to look.

But angels are not material creatues, after all. And they communicate with each other in pure light, with a kind of harmony that makes the beautiful sounds, the most beautiful sonatas and symphonies we have ever heard sound like jangling gongs.

So, maybe when the Archangel came to the Blessed Virgin, it didn’t look like anything we have ever even imagined, nor did it sound like anything we have ever heard. Because we tend to snooze through life.

Maybe what happened was: She was awake and alert enough to hear a harmony in all the things she perceived. In what she could see and feel, in what she could remember and imagine and believe–in all of it, she heard a single song. All the elements of history produced at that moment a song, a sweet lay that opened the next moment up to her, like an eternity in an instant, with this invitation:

“Give birth to the One Who made all this. Give birth to the One Who will bring it all to fulfillment.”

She was awake enough to hold all this in her perception, awake enough to respond with everything–her entire self, completely at her command.

That’s who we are, as a race–the human race. Creatures who can wake up like the Virgin Mary. Who can be awake, like her, to God’s eternal Word.

El Greco Annunciation

The Christmas the Lord has Planned

Every year, at Holy Mass on December 19th, we read from Luke 1. And we confront the question: Why did Zechariah get punished for asking the Archangel Gabriel a question about John the Baptist’s birth, but Mary did not get punished for asking about how Jesus could be born?

And the answer is?…

–Zechariah—a wise, old priest—should have known better than to doubt.

–St. John the Baptist got conceived according to the traditional, birds-and-the-bees method, so Zechariah’s question was petulant. Whereas Mary asked a perfectly honest question.

–Zechariah was a chatterbox who talked too much anyway.

Remember how, two years ago, a lot of people worried about the Mayan apocalypse? And fifteen years ago, a lot of people worried that Y2K would crash everyone’s computer? 1,015 years ago, most of Western civilization sat waiting for the world to end at the turn of the first millennium.

New Agers Mayan templeI don’t mean to make fun of any of these people. In a way, they had the right idea. Zechariah failed to give God credit for being able to do something totally unexpected.

Do I know what Christmas is supposed to be like for me spiritually? Aren’t I supposed to have such-and-such feelings, such-and-such ‘faith experiences’ at Christmas? That’s the way it always is. It’s traditional. Christmas is a time for my traditional emotions.

For me personally, Christmas is traditionally a time to be tired and out-of-sorts. Because I have a cold. Because Our Lady decided to appear to St. Juan Diego in December instead of July. Thereby turning Advent from difficult to practically impossible for the Martinsville/Rocky Mount/Roanoke-Catholic priest to manage.

Traditional spiritual experiences.

But what if these are not what the Lord has planned for us for Christmas AD 2014? What if this Christmas will involve spiritual graces for me unlike any I have ever received before?

Lord, help us open ourselves up to the future that You have planned for us! Open us up to the Christmas that You have planned for us! We don’t know how to plan like You do. What You have in mind is much better, much more interesting, and much more wonderful than anything we have ever thought of.

“The Interview” Mistake

The Interview Rogen Franco

I have no brief for Sony Entertainment. No doubt they make money selling a lot of trash. I don’t really have much of a brief for Seth Rogen. (But he did give me the biggest laugh I have had watching a movie this millennium.*)

Anyway, The Interview probably sucks. Or maybe not; maybe it’s funny. I give Rogen and James Franco credit for having the–whatever you would need–to pull it off, if anyone can.

But the question is: What kind of world is this?

Is this a world where you get to make mistakes? Make stupid movies that mock Asian dictators, just for the hell of it? Is this a world in which we are allowed to be the totally foolish goofballs that we are–and then get another chance to find the meaning of life, when we screw it up the first time?

The Enemy: he leads us into fear. Into thinking that this world has no give. Brittle. Can’t hold our weight. Everything can break! Any second!

And when I say “the Enemy,” I don’t mean the North Korean fellow, whatever his name is exactly.

I don’t like profanity. I don’t like the F-word. I don’t like indiscreet jokes about people’s private parts.

But the silence of this situation with this movie is worse than profanity and bad jokes, projected on a thousand screens in a thousand depressing multiplexes. I never would have gone to this movie (though, if it landed in the library…) But I don’t mind saying:

The devil has had his day on this. Big time.

Because Infinite Mercy made this world. We can make mistakes. And then recover.

_______________
* I cannot recommend watching this, since profanity flies like pollen through a situation that is immoral coming and going. But 50/50 is one of the things that helped get me through my dear departed aunt’s struggle with cancer.

Seth Rogen creates a character that I really would want to have for my best friend, if I had cancer. So, even though (like I said) The Interview probably stinks anyway, I feel duty-bound to give Seth Rogen some props. He doesn’t exactly deserve to be nominated as the next Free Speech Hero of the West. But I can’t write him off completely, even though he says f– every other word.

Do not watch this if you are a child. I’m serious.

Human Nature, “Thus Deified to Its Root”

In Christ, God and man have exchanged the ultimate gift: both live together now in one Person. (Reason 4 for the Incarnation: That we might partake of the divine nature.)

Here is Blessed Dom Marmion on this ‘admirable exchange’ of gifts, the divine nature and the human nature exchanging themselves with each other on Christmas morning:

In us likewise there will henceforth be two lives. The one, natural, which we have by our birth according to the flesh… The other life, supernatural… It is this life that God communicates to us by His grace, since the Incarnate Word merited it for us.

God begets us to this life by His Word and the infusion of His Spirit, in the baptismal font… It is a new life that is superadded to our natural life, surpassing and crowning it… It makes us children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, worthy of one day partaking of His beatitude and glory.

Dom Columba Marmion
Blessed Columba Marmion, Abbot
Of these two lives, in us as in Christ, it is the divine that ought to dominate–although in the Child Christ the divine life is not as yet manifested, and in us it remains ever veiled under the outward appearance of our ordinary existence.

It is the divine life of grace that ought to rule and govern, and make agreeable to our Lord all our natural activity thus deified in its root.

Oh! if the contemplation of the Birth of Jesus and participation in this mystery by the reception of the Bread of Life would bring us to free ourselves, once and for all, from everything that destroys and lessens the divine life within us; from sin, wherefrom Christ comes to deliver us… from all infidelity and all attachment to creatures; from the irregulated care for passing things… from the trifling preoccupations of our vain self love!

If we could thus be brought to give ourselves entirely to God, according to the promises of our baptism, when we were born to the divine life; to yield ourselves up to the accomplishment of His will and good pleasure, as did the Incarnate Word in entering into this world; to abound in those good works which make us pleasing to God:

Then the divine life brought to us by Jesus would meet with no more obstacles and would freely expand for the glory of our Heavenly Father; then we who are bathed in the new light of the Incarnate Word should show forth in our deeds what by faith shines in our minds; then our offerings would befit the mysteries of the Nativity.

[I have taken the liberty of rendering what, to me, are the most sublime turns of phrase in bold.]

Four Reasons, Four Points for Meditation

My favorite points for meditation at this time of year are the four reasons for the Incarnation, as explained in the Catechism, paragraphs 456-460.

God became man in order to…

1. Save us by reconciling us to God.

2. Reveal God’s love.

3. Be our model of holiness.

4. Make us partakers of the divine nature.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchNow, no one can prove that God has become man. We can only grasp the truth of Who Jesus is by faith.

But these needs we have, as a race, which our heavenly Father addressed, by sending His Son to live a pilgrim life like ours–these needs can hardly be denied by a rational individual.

We don’t naturally find ourselves in a state in which we can claim to be ‘right with God.’ We don’t even know what that means, without Jesus showing us, by making us right with Him on the cross.

Are we born knowing that God loves us the way Jesus has shown us that God loves us? Hardly. We get born terrified and hungry. We desperately need someone to teach us that God loves us.

Do models of holiness grow on trees in this world? Even non-Christians acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth has offered mankind a uniquely sublime path to follow, has taught mankind what selflessness is.

As to the fourth reason for the Incarnation: no sane person can begin to maintain that mankind ‘partakes of divine nature’ naturally. Yes, we have unique capacities, as creatures go. No dog ever painted a Mona Lisa. Fish can’t do calculus. Plants don’t write poems.

But: That we would share in the eternity, the simplicity, the infinite beauty of the genius Who made everything; that every human being, no matter how humble or downtrodden, could hope for everlasting peace in a kingdom of undying friendship: Until Jesus came, mankind had never dared to imagine that we could possess such a destiny–and that we all possess it, as a united human family.

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment when the Son of God was born of the Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold!