It is a sign of the length of winter this far north, at the end of the shortest day of the year when we had barely seven hours of daylight, that today would be the beginning of longer days – yeah, by 8 seconds!
Contrast that with the approximately 12 hours of daylight in Somalia, with the attendant heat!
Famine still stalks that land and its people, though hardly a news outfit in the world, at least the major ones like BBC, CNN, seem to mention it anymore.
Egypt and Syria have around ten hours of daylight being further north than Somalia, while North Korea these days they get about 5 hours of daylight, though many would say the people live in perpetual darkness.
I mention those odd bits of information simply because, as we await the birth of the Holy Child, Light Himself born to shatter all darkness, in my prayer here in the hermitage I hear the cry of human beings for hope, for light, for love – these great yearnings only Jesus can truly satisfy so I pray, let us all pray, everyone will come to know Him, welcome Him into the manger of our hearts.
In the media these days, stories about economic matters seem to dominate, stories too about how anxious ‘the world’ is about what lies ahead: will the world economy collapse, will the Arab spring turn into an Arab winter, will North Korea start a war, will……………O Jesus how we need you!
Each day I walk a different area of the city, praying everyone will come to know him and yesterday I was wary of the ice on the sidewalk,[ the older I get the more cautious I am about ice when I walk, falling at my age leads to serious broken bones] so I was increasingly irritated at the man approaching, riding his bicycle towards me.
Irritated that someone would place my arthritic knees at risk by invading MY space with his bicycle.
As the man got closer I noticed he had the facial features common to a particular type of mental handicap and became more interiorly irritated, this time against myself for being such a sidewalk hog.
In that same instant the man past me, at a clip, as he said, with a great smile on his face: “Hello there! How are you? “
Not only a gift of light bursting into my interior self-preoccupied darkness, but a reminder the only way out of any darkness, economic crisis, oppression by dictators, step back from the precipice of war, to feed the hungry, is if, like that beaming man on his bicycle, my focus, our focus, like Jesus’, is on other and not self.
My youngest sister is clearing out my parents’ home, going through everything she keeps sending me packages of letters, photos, etc., she feels I might be interested in.
One such package contained the remains of my ration book from the war.
Millions of Americans today depend on food stamps, a modern variation of the old ration books.
We serve hundreds of hungry homeless people in the soup kitchen where I volunteer.
Over two millennia after the birth of Jesus, after Light Himself shattered the darkness, after the Holy Child came to teach us who we are, how to love, how to lay down our lives, how to touch and love Him by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, welcoming the stranger we remain a world obsessed with power, money, pleasure and wonder why we are so anxious.
We live in a cult of celebrity so much so I dare say the average Catholic knows more about Jersey Shore than the great desert of the early hermits and monks, knows more about Lindsay Lohan than the Little Flower, more about ………………….
It is not simply that we Christians fail to tell the story of salvation, which granted in this culture takes great effort, but we fail to tell our own story, our own history, to each other.
Check, for example, how often from the pulpit you hear a homily about applying the Gospel to some social justice issue and how often you hear the story of the life of a saint!
I am not suggesting either/or, rather we need both.
How can we have a sense of purpose, courage, possibility to preach the Gospel with our lives without compromise if we are unawares other human beings like ourselves have lived such light filled, joyful lives, all the while embracing the cross, the ordinariness of human life?
Few days remain before the Holy Child will be placed in our midst, in the manger of our hearts, anew by our Blessed Mother.
Here are just three examples of faith lived:
He lived until he was over a hundred years old. He was born in Egypt of Christian parents but orphaned at an early age, with a younger sister to care for. One day in church his heart was broken open when he heard the words of the Gospel, spoken by Jesus to the rich young man. So moved, he immediately gave away all but what was needed to care for his sister. He gave away what was left, and went deep into the desert.
There he became the greatest of all spiritual warriors.
He is ABBA ANTHONY.
Divine Wisdom was fused into his heart in the crucible of decades of solitary life in the desert, battling evil spirits, being emptied of his false-self by the Holy Spirit, who illumined Abba Anthony and, with fire, configured him to Christ, so that this saint became known as ‘the friend of God!’
Abba Anthony famously said when asked about the future: A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us. ‘
Does the surrounding culture think we Christians are mad because we are different or have we become so like others we pass among the throng unnoticed?
The Communion of Saints is part of the living treasury of the Church’s life, the storehouse of wondrous works of grace from which the Church brings forth models of hope and holiness for us, which are ever ancient and ever new.
Closer to our own time another saint emerged from that great tradition which has streamed across the millennia, developing into various forms of monastic-desert life, as well as various forms of religious orders of teachers, nurses, etc., and the modern new forms of consecrated community life in the Church today.
One of the more ancient, tracing itself back to Mount Carmel and Elijah, at least within pious memory if not hard fact, is the Carmelite order, from whose religious sisters in nineteenth century France came a woman known popularly as the Little Flower, whom Bl. Pope John Paul II made a Doctor of the Church, namely: St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.
On my journey of return to the faith, before I entered the seminary, her autobiography “The Story of a Soul” became a source of hope and courage.
A few words of wisdom from her: How sweet is the way of LOVE...True, one can fall or commit infidelities, but, knowing HOW TO DRAW PROFIT FROM EVERYTHING, love quickly consumes everything that can be displeasing to Jesus; it leaves nothing but a humble and profound peace in the depths of the heart.
This is the most difficult truth about actual conversion for many souls to accept: It is not the length of the journey, but the inward depth of the journey; it is not the quantity of the battles but the willingness to open wide the doors of our being to His transfiguring touch which enables us to become what He infuses within us at baptism, His own Light so we become light in the world.
Too often, infected as we Christians are with the Zeitgeist egocentric selfishness pervading our culture, we deny the reality of configuration to Christ by the Holy Spirit as meaning cross and death precede tomb and resurrection.
That contemporary Zeitgeist flays about in the quicksand error of love as what I experience from another, rather than soaring into the communion of joy which knows and lives love’s truth: love is gift of self to another first in imitation of God who is Love and first loves us, makes Himself First Gift!
St. Therese shows us how to respond to the culture of death, darkness, greed, power: In order to live one single act of perfect Love, I OFFER MYSELF AS A VICTIM OF HOLOCAUST TO YOUR MERCIFUL LOVE, asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your love, O my God!
In the lives of the Saints we see in concrete terms of human life the marvellous deeds of the Holy Spirit, brought to ultimate fruition in a manner which should encourage our wounded souls and hearts with the joyful acceptance in our own beings that nothing is impossible to God.
An even closer contemporary of this generation, whose importance in the deepening of Gospel life in the lives of ordinary Christians cannot be overly stressed, and herself a pioneer of the new forms of consecrated life in the Church, is the Servant of God Catherine Doherty.
Born in Czarist Russia, forged into adulthood as a nurse in the bloodletting of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, she was led by the Spirit into the desert of external poverty and service of the poor. Through those experiences she also was plunged into the purifying fire of internal poverty.
Often referring to herself as a poor woman, she was incredibly rich in her passionate love of Christ and all human beings, especially the anawim, those bent over by the burden of external or internal impoverishment.
From the mystery of Christ in the desert, through the life of Abba Anthony, the self-offering as victim of the Little Flower, to the treasury of practical spiritual wisdom from her own heart, Catherine Doherty poured herself out in service of the poor and filled with illumination from the Holy Spirit in her days spent in contemplation in her hermitage — always called by her according to its Russian name: Poustinia — comes clear wisdom: When God becomes a Child, then the wrong image of ourselves vanishes. Because in a cradle, in a crib, we see Love…..we look…and ask ourselves, “Why do I think that God does not love me? Here He is.”
Let us pick up the Holy Child and follow Abba Anthony into the solitude of our hearts and there pour ourselves out in prayer, with and through the Holy Child, for suffering humanity.
Let us hold the Holy Child deep in our hearts and with St. Therese offer ourselves, with and through the Holy Child as holocaust of love for those who do not know they are beloved.
Let us carry the Holy Child as Catherine Doherty did, bringing Him in person where possible, and always through ardent prayer, to the furthest corners of the earth to the homeless and hopeless, to the hungry and oppressed, bring He, Holy Light, to the places of darkness – yes – let us be so unlike others they shall declare we are mad!
And we will be absolutely, totally mad, nuts, crazy, insane, WITH JOY, and look, the Child is smiling upon us!