When I lived in Philadelphia for two years before I entered the monastery, I saw a great deal of snow during the winter. It got old pretty quickly. And of course, it got old because I saw it every day. As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.” But when I went up there recently for my retreat and saw the new snow, I ran out there and played in it like a ten year old. It had become new again. It had become fresh. It was no longer familiar, and I was able to see an old thing in a new way.
I think that something like this can happen at Christmas. We have heard the story of the virgin heavy with child so many times that it no longer amazes us and fills us with wonder. But what does it take to see something with new eyes? I think that is a question worth asking.
First of all, I think it requires a little grace. We need to remember that faith is a great deal about perspective. It is a gift from heaven. And because it is a gift, we should be asking for it to be given by God through the Holy Spirit. I know some children at Christmas who aren’t really impressed with the gifts that their parents and relatives give them–and do you know why that is the case? It is because those children are spoiled, and they think that they deserve those gifts. This is not the right attitude to have before God. There are two kinds of children. There are the spoiled ones who are surprised by nothing, and there are the innocent ones who are surprised by everything. Wouldn’t you rather have the heart of that second kind of child? “Unless you become like this child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven…” Does that sound familiar? We need to ask for the gift of wonder.
Secondly, I wonder what sort of things we surround ourselves with? What sort of things do we take into our homes? Are we all about cellphones, television, noise, business, distraction and clutter? If so, is it a wonder that Christmas is not filling you with wonder? Maybe an advent wreath, some blessed candles, appropriate music, PRAYER, a family get together to talk about maybe the best and worst parts of the year, some spiritual reading, some SILENCE… Indeed, what do we take into our homes? Do you have holy objects in your home? Do you actually revere them, maybe bow to a picture or have some holy water and make the sign of the cross? People, we are bodily creatures. We need signs like this to remind us of the sacred, and if we perform sacred actions, then maybe we will feel sacred feelings–wonder, hope, joy? I do things like this every day. I have to. Otherwise, it becomes too easy to feel the spirit draining from me and allowing the spirit of the world to seep in like a poison, stealing my joy and making me look at everything with a negative, whiny, jaded spirit.
With this in mind, let me read to you my favorite paragraph of St. Francis’s new letter on evangelization where he talks about this spirit of negativity that can come when we fail to struggle for the newness of faith that I am talking about. He writes:
And so the biggest threat of all gradually takes shape: “the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness”. A tomb psychology thus develops and slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum. Disillusioned with reality, with the Church and with themselves, they experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope, which seizes the heart like “the most precious of the devil’s potions”. Called to radiate light and communicate life, in the end they are caught up in things that generate only darkness and inner weariness, and slowly consume all zeal for the apostolate. For all this, I repeat: Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the joy of evangelization!
What do we take into our homes? How about the rosary? How about Mary? Let me bring to your attention something that I discovered in the readings.
When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, he said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home.” And at the end of the gospel today it says, “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” When scripture repeats itself, we need to stand up and take notice. And you know, this reminds me of another scripture passage. Recall Jesus on the cross, and now let me remind you of the words of St. John: “When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” took her into his own home.”
(It’s really kindof weird actually.)
I have a game that I like to play. It’s called “Where is Jesus?” It is simple and child-like, but again, we won’t enter the kingdom unless we become like children, full of wonder and surprise again. Every day I like to ask Jesus where he will show up, where he will surprise me next. Just for example, I had a woman just walk up to me in Winn Dixie and tell me that she prays a rosary for me every day and wanted me to know that she had my back–that’s Jesus himself right there. He showed up. And it makes me smile. And it fills me with wonder again. And good lord, do we need that in this world today. Because he WILL come again, but will our eyes have grown so cloudy and our ears so full of noise that we will not recognize him when he comes?
I want to share with you a quote by G.K Chesterton about the spiritual superiority of the child: