I LOVE THE days surrounding Christmas for several reasons. Some relate to wonderful memories of celebrating Christmas with my mother, father and sister from the time I was an infant right up to the age of 30, which was my age when my sister died. In addition to those memories, I experience deep joy reflecting on and celebrating the Incarnation.
This year in several homilies I tried to articulate why Catholics should experience joy because of their faith. In my efforts to articulate a few profound mysteries that should color our consciousness as Catholics, I mentioned in homilies four mysteries central to our Catholic faith.
The first mystery is that God freely created each person out of love. I very much like a line I read many years ago in a book entitled “The Metaphysics of Love,” written by Frederick Wilmhensen. The line is: “What being-loved makes being do is precisely: be.”
When God loves, creation appears. God’s act of creating is an act of love. We should not think that God merely created a large group of people, a crowd of more than millions. No. God freely created the individual Robert Lauder. Out of billions and billions of possible persons, God freely and lovingly created me. Every person reading this column can make a similar statement. We should never believe that we are insignificant. Each of us is special, precious in God’s eyes.
The second mystery is that God’s love was not just present when I was conceived in my mother’s womb. God loves me while I am writing this column. God loves you while you are reading this column. God loves us when we are working, recreating, dialoguing, eating and sleeping. God’s love surrounds us and will never be withdrawn. If I commit the most horrible sin conceivable, that act will not stop God from loving me. God’s love is a gift that we don’t have to win, earn or merit. God did not ask any of us if we wanted God to love us. To love us was God’s idea.
The third mystery is the mystery of the Eucharist. Every belief that we have as Catholics is summed up in a celebration of the Eucharist. Probably a great danger for Catholics – and I include myself as subject to this temptation – is to allow celebrating the Eucharist to become routine. There is a danger that we will lose our sense of awe, our sense of wonder.
I read somewhere that when Martin Luther was saying his First Mass, he almost could not finish it because he was so overcome by the mystery of what he was doing. We should remind ourselves often that the main priest at every Mass is the Risen Christ. A Eucharist is primarily Jesus’ offering Himself to the Father. We can participate in that offering.
In his magnificent encyclical “Laudato Si’” (“On Care for Our Common Home”), our Holy Father Pope Francis wrote:
“It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. (I)t is the living center of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love. … The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation.”
‘Act of Cosmic Love’
I hope that the next time I celebrate a Eucharist I will recall these two marvelous insights of Pope Francis, namely that in a Eucharist the whole cosmos gives thanks to God and also that I will be celebrating an “act of cosmic love.”
If these two truths do not cause awe and wonder, then I don’t know what might possibly cause awe and wonder. Why should I have the privilege of celebrating a Eucharist? Why should any of us have the privilege of expressing the thanks of the whole cosmos to God? Why should any of us be able to offer an act of cosmic love? The only answer that I can find to these questions is that God loves us.
The fourth mystery is that because we have received God’s infinite love we can become gift-givers to others. Whatever our vocation, whatever we do with our lives, we should be gift-givers. That is the basic vocation of every human person. The gift we are called to give is ourselves, our love, which because of God’s love for us receives a new power. In our loving, we become like co-creators with God.
Christmas provides a golden moment of possible renewal and re-commitment.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).