Fr. Charles Irvin
As a young man, St. Augustine lived a hedonistic life, one in which sensuality and self-indulgence reigned supreme. Along the way, prior to his becoming a Christian (his mother, Monica, prayed for his conversion for over thirty years) he had a son by a woman to whom he was not married. He was brilliant and renowned. By worldly standards he lived a spectacularly successful life.
But all the while Augustine’s heart was hungering for something. He experienced his inner self as something that was empty. Even though his life was filled with sensuality and pleasure, fame and popularity, he knew there was something more. He also knew that nature of the human heart was destined for the transcendent. In his classic work setting forth his odyssey to Christianity, known now as The Confessions of St. Augustine, he wrote: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and they will not rest until they rest in Thee.”
This hunger for something more than what this life offers is a hunger found in all of human history, in all of its many cultures. All of us long to escape the prison of the now; all of us are in search for lives of meaning and purpose beyond with is merely immediate; all of us are attracted to handing our lives over in the service of some great and noble cause.
In our Christian view of things, aided by God’s revelations in Jesus Christ, we see that God made us so that He could love us, and that in giving our love to Him in return we experience more and more of His love. Love is at the core of our Christian faith; love is at the core of our being human; love is our drive and our destiny. We were made to love and be loved in return.
If all that is true (and I am convinced that it is) it is hard to imagine that a God of love would remain distant, aloof, and unattainable. Love craves union. God would, it seems to me, be compelled to come to us and be present to us. Human history is, therefore, replete with instances wherein we built temples, shrines to the Deity, as well as our designation of certain places and spaces as sacred. What anthropologist has not studied these sacred buildings and places? What human culture is devoid of myths and epic stories of our human attempts to place ourselves in God’s presence?
What is unique for us as Christians, however, is the notion that God has sought us out first. The enterprise of religion, in the Christian view, is that religion is not something we have fashioned, it is something rather that God has fashioned. God first loves us and it is then that we respond.
The fact that God first loves us and then looks for our response cuts to the core of all that causes us such pain and suffering, namely it cuts away human arrogance, human egoism, and human pride. That’s what the biblical story of the Tower of Babel teaches us. For Babel’s tower was built according to human specifications, human standards, human expectations, and our own human agenda. In its collapse we learn that the real impulse is the other way around. Religion is not something we fashion, it is rather something that God fashions.
To return to my main point, I want to assert that Christmas is the fulfillment of what is in God’s heart. Christmas is all about God’s coming to us in love so that He and we can live in each other’s presence. But that is not all. There is more – a whole lot more.
Christmas is but a starting point. It is the starting point of our human saga, both collective and personal, in which our hearts finally find rest in the Presence of God. The fantastically wonderful thing, however, is that this happiness is found in the truth that God comes to us not just to become present to us, but to live in us!
What a wonder that is! God joins himself into us so that he can live in our very own lives It is God’s intention to dwell and abide (make His home) in us. No more need now for our efforts in building temples in which we can search out and find Him. No more need now for endless and unsatisfying searchings for God. He Himself has done the searching out; He Himself has first come to us so that we can respond, and in our response have the wonder of God Himself dwelling and abiding within us.
Our human response to God is initiated in the fiat of a little virgin girl named Mary, living in a remote little Hebrew village named Nazareth.
Imagine for a moment, if you will, an hourglass. The top half begins with wideness and is fashioned so that the impulse of each grain of sand it directed to a tiny, central point. All of the grains of sand must pass through that one point, and when they do the glass expands out once again into the wide area that comprises the bottom half of the hourglass. The critical thing, however, is that tiny, central opening, a sort of birth canal, if you will.
The Blessed Virgin Mary is that point for us. It was because of her openness, her virginal openness, that all of our religious prehistory comes to us. And it is likewise that through her, all of God’s love is poured out and made available to us.
The great wonder of it all is that in Jesus Christ, who is at once both God and Mary’s son, each one of us can be another Mary. Each one of us is now a temple not only of God’s love but God’s very life living within us. Each one of you here is a sacred space. In each one of you others can enter into the presence of the Living God. Like Mary, the living presence of God the Son abides within us, not just for our own sakes, but so that we, like Mary, can give Him to the world around us.
Each one of you, and myself along with you can make an infinitely significant response to God’s offer of love. When we are told that we are loved, and we respond with a “yes”, our lives are changed. Something is placed within our hearts that never goes away.
This Christmas, give God a most precious gift – some of your time. Give Him your undivided attention, a period of time in which you do nothing but open yourself up to His presence. Even if you think that nothing happens, something will happen. We are all so concerned about what we must do, particularly at a time when we’re so caught up in doing things. The best thing we can do is to do nothing – do nothing but simply be in God’s presence.
Think of three good things about you, three really good things. Then thank God individually and specifically those three good things. They are God’s gifts of love to you. Wouldn’t it be a nice gift to give Him your gratitude? Wouldn’t that be a nice gift to give Him for this Christmas? There’s a hidden benefit for you in doing that. If you have an attitude of gratitude you cannot at the same time have a sour or negative disposition.
Also you could ask God what He wants for you. Ask God to reveal what He wants to say to you, what He wants to show you or give you. That’s another wonderful, precious gift to give God. He isn’t interested in a lot of memorized prayers, or a list of things you want Him to do for you. He’s more interested in having you simply give Him your inner self, your undivided and uncluttered attention, your loving presence to Him.
When you’re with a friend, what do you want? Isn’t it simply to be with your friend? We all know that being is more important than doing; that it’s who we are that’s more important to those who care for us than what we accomplish. Well, that’s true with God, also.
God has gone to great lengths, unreasonable lengths, to be your Friend. This Christmas, why not let Him?