This has been quite the year for violence in the world. Just looking at the past six months, we have seen the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East and the barbarism that has resulted from its insane campaign to spread its hatred throughout the world. We have witnessed their war on Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq, and their pledge to carry this violence to the rest of the world, most chillingly, even to the Vatican.
In the U.S. and even in our own backyard, we have witnessed the horror of the Brown case in Ferguson and the Garner case in Staten Island. What should have been peaceful protests for civil rights have, in some cases, quickly disintegrated into chaos in the streets which, at times, even involved physical assaults on police officers.
We are perpetually aware of the violence that is done to the weakest in society, the unborn, and the attacks on religious freedom that the HHS ruling is on so many ministries and apostolates in the Church. We have become more aware of the plight of the immigrant, the abused and these are just some of the first injustices which come to mind when we reflect on the soon to be completed Year of Our Lord 2014.
One can grow angry or even fall into despair if we were not people of hope. The world in which we live is fallen and yes, we suffer from the effects of original sin, both personally and collectively. Yet, we are a people redeemed by the Precious Blood of the Lamb who became one like us in all things but sin, bathed in “Love’s pure light,” Jesus our Lord, whose birth we commemorate this Christmas day. Things are bad, and there’s no denying this fact. But, maybe, just maybe, if we stopped and realized exactly who and what it is we celebrate this Christmas, things can get better.
No, it’s true, we can’t change the world all by ourselves; but we can change ourselves. We can realize that each of us is created in God’s image and likeness and each of us have a tremendous dignity as a child of God.
“God so loved the world that he sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but to save it.” (John 3:16). And not just the world in general, this means us as individuals. Every human being is walking around, shining like the sun. The 20th-century spiritual writer Thomas Merton came to this realization one day:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
— (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 1968)
This Christmas, under the weight of the world groaning under the weight of its need for redemption, go around telling people that they are shining like the sun. Tell them to shine like the Son, the Light of the world! That’s the greatest Christmas gift one can give and it’s free of charge!