This Christmas, I hope you are feeling the deep joy of Jesus’ presence. I also pray that you allow that joy to stay with you for many days!
For me, the place to start is the stable in Bethlehem. St. Ignatius of Loyola suggests imagining yourself as a participant in the story. Taking off my shoes—it’s a holy place—I slip into the corner of the stable. Mary is shivering from the cold, but clutching Jesus close to keep him warm. Joseph is there, attentive to Mary’s every need. This tiny baby, powerless, totally dependent on Mary and Joseph, is also God. God become human—not as an emperor or a scholar—but as a baby. From my corner of the stable, I can only be silent in amazement.
St. Francis of Assisi wanted to experience the poverty and hardship that Mary and Joseph felt that first Christmas. He asked a friend to set up a manger with straw, an ox, and a donkey on the hillside at Greccio. The brothers and townsfolk came with torches to light the night. At the manger, they prayed before the image of the baby. Later, they adored his real, true presence at the Christ-Mass.
Good Will to All
Christmas seems to pass so quickly. Gone for another year is the graced time of family love and togetherness—the spirit of good will. The Church extends the celebration for eight days. But when the poinsettia petals fall, Christmas trees come down and lights are stored away, it seems that Christmas is gone. If only we could hold on to Christmas!
But what part of Christmas can’t we continue to enjoy? Jesus is the heart of Christmas; he stays with us. With him and our faith community, we will share the Last Supper, the agony in the garden, his passion, death, and triumphant resurrection. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8).
Even though Christmas will be over in a couple of days, we can actively gift our loved ones. We continue to celebrate Christ’s presence and action in our world. We can express our Christmas spirit in being gracious to coworkers and to all who assist us. The homeless are still with us. Soup kitchens need our help. Our donations to the refugees from Syria and Iraq honor Mary and Joseph fleeing with their son to Egypt.
“With Christ, joy is constantly born anew,” Pope Francis insists in “The Joy of the Gospel.” Emmanuel—God with us! We have the opportunity of joining with our high priest in giving thanks and praise at every Christ-Mass.
Dear Friar Jim: It is with such relief that I read your E-spiration about God never giving up on a member who is lost. Our adult son, who has bipolar disorder, seems to have rejected the Catholic Church. I do not even know if he prays. I have been praying for him since he was diagnosed, and I wonder if the seeds sown in his pre-diagnosis years will ever bloom. I fear he will not be in heaven with us, and your E-spiration gave me great comfort. Please keep him in your prayers. Fran
A: Dear Fran: Be at peace and know how much God loves him. We are all sheep, wandering because we are frail human beings. My E-spiration about the shepherd is true: God never gives up. He is a merciful redeemer. The Lord has his arms around your son. Friar Jim
Dear Friar Jim: I appreciated your most recent E-spiration: “Many people see God as a judge. Not true. Ultimately, we all judge ourselves. God is a loving Father who is all about finding us when we are lost.” What a profound statement to help me through the day! Thank you, Friar Jim! James
A: Dear James: You are exactly right. So many people fear God and see God as angry. How unfortunate an image that is! Jesus, God in the flesh, was nonjudgmental toward those who thought of themselves as lost. That’s why he embraced them. That’s the image we need to remember. Friar Jim
Dear Friar Jim: Thank you for the wonderful words about the lost sheep. I pray for my children that they will return to God and the Church. You have given me hope to continue to trust that God will bring them back. I constantly worry about their souls, and I feel that I am not doing enough to help bring them back to their faith. My husband and I did what we could in raising them and bringing them to Mass. Three of them follow their faith; three do not. Your words give me hope to wait and trust in God’s timing. Claire
A: Dear Claire: It is the most normal experience for a mom to worry about her children. I’m sure Mary worried for her son, Jesus, when she heard how he was criticized and threatened. Your worrying doesn’t mean you don’t have faith. It means you are a mom! Give them over to the Lord in your prayers. Trust that Jesus is always with them in their struggles. It’s what the Lord does best. Friar Jim