I had a lot of nice boxes of stuff to donate to people this Christmas-- re-gifting. People sent me lots of candies and cookies. all with sugar... which I don't eat. So I gave them away to people who love goodies with sugar. I have a tray of brownies cooling on a rack in the over. The smell is so good. And I used stevia and tiny bit of maple syrup instead of sugar. People who sent me boxes of cookies and candies don't know me. They meant well. And just about everyone who I spoke to on the phone for the last few days asked me what I'm doing for Christmas. What can I say... the same thing I do every other day. Maybe I'll spend a little extra time communing with Jesus before I do some laps. I hope so. I'm pretty sure this was done at my suggestion:
Last week I finished watching the 5th and final season of Ertugrul, the smash Turkish TV series. (There are 3 seasons of Osman, the sequel, and I've been asking the Turkish producers and Netflix to show it here in the U.S. I get the idea they have no intention of doing so. That means I have to watch what I can online.) I came to Ertugrul for the history and stayed for the spirituality. I've been pretty steeped in the Muslim faith this year. Today I'll be thinking more about Jesus than Mohammed. On Friday, Pope Francis gave a very Francis-like speech in St Peter's for a couple thousand people who heard him talking about how people who are indifferent to the poor and wretched offend God.
Jesus, after all, was born poor and a refugee to boot. Pope Francis told the curia that it is in the poor that God wants to be honored. "On this night of love, may we have only one fear: that of offending God’s love, hurting him by despising the poor with our indifference. Jesus loves them dearly, and one day they will welcome us to heaven."
[I]f we had to express the entire mystery of Christmas in a word, I believe that humility is the one most helpful. The Gospels portray a scene of poverty and austerity, unsuited to sheltering a woman about to give birth. Yet the King of kings enters the world not by attracting attention, but by causing a mysterious pull in the hearts of those who feel the thrilling presence of something completely new, something on the verge of changing history. That is why I like to think and also say that humility was its doorway, and invites us to enter through it. I think of that passage of the Exercises [that says that] one cannot advance without humility, and one cannot advance in humility without humiliations. Saint Ignatius tells us to ask for humiliations.
It is not easy to understand what humility is. It is the effect of a change that the Spirit himself brings about in us in our daily lives. Such was the case, for example, of Naaman the Syrian (cf. 2 Kings 5). In the days of the prophet Elisha, this man enjoyed great renown. He was a valiant general of the Syrian army who had on many occasions demonstrated his bravery and courage. Yet together with fame, power, esteem, honours and glory, Naaman was forced to live with a tragic situation: he had leprosy. His armour, that had won him renown, in reality covered a frail, wounded and diseased humanity. We often find this contradiction in our lives: sometimes great gifts are the armour that covers great frailties.
Naaman came to understand a fundamental truth: we cannot spend our lives hiding behind armour, a role we play, or social recognition; in the end, it hurts us. The moment comes in each individual’s life when he or she desires to set aside the glitter of this world’s glory for the fullness of an authentic life, with no further need for armour or masks. This desire impelled the valiant general Naaman to set out on a journey in search of someone who could help him, and he did this at the suggestion of a slave girl, a Jewish prisoner of war, who told him of a God able to bring healing to hopeless situations like his own.
Laden with silver and gold, Naaman set out on his journey and thus came to the prophet Elisha, who laid down for him, as the only condition for his healing, the simple gesture of disrobing and washing seven times in the Jordan River. Nothing to do with celebrity, honours, gold or silver! The grace that saves is free; it is not reducible to the price of this world’s goods.
Naaman resisted; the prophet’s demand seemed to him too ordinary, too simple, too easily attainable. It seems that the power of simplicity found no room in his imagination. Yet the words of his servants made him change his mind: “If the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, ‘Wash and be clean?’” (2 Kings 5:13). Naaman gave in, and with a gesture of humility “descended,” took off his armour, went down into the waters of the Jordan “and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (2 Kings 5:14). A great lesson, this! The humility of exposing his own humanity, in accordance with the word of the Lord, gained healing for Naaman.
The story of Naaman reminds us that Christmas is a time when each of us needs to find the courage to take off our armour, discard the trappings of our roles, our social recognition and the glitter of this world and adopt the humility of Naaman. We can do this by starting from a more powerful, more convincing and more authoritative example: that of the Son of God who did not shrink from the humility of “descending” into history, becoming man, becoming a child, frail, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger (cf. Lk 2:16). Once we strip ourselves of our robes, our prerogatives, positions and titles, all of us are lepers, all of us are in need of healing. Christmas is the living reminder of this realization and it helps us to understand it more deeply.
Dear brothers and sisters, if we forget our humanity, we live off the glitter of our armour. Jesus, however, reminds us of the uncomfortable and unsettling truth: “What will it profit you to gain the whole world and forfeit your life?” (cf. Mk 8:36).
...All of us are called to humility, because all of us are called to remember and to give life. We are called to find a right relationship with our roots and our branches. Without those two things, we become sick, destined to disappear.
Jesus, who came into the world by the path of humility, has opened a way for us; he indicates a way and shows us a goal.
Dear brothers and sisters, without humility we cannot encounter God and experience salvation, yet it is equally true that without humility we cannot even encounter our neighbours, our brothers and sisters next door.
...In conclusion, my desire for you, and for myself, is that we may allow ourselves to be evangelized by the humility of Christmas and the humility of the manger, by the poverty and simplicity with which the Son of God entered into the world. Even the Magi, who were certainly of a higher social position than Mary and Joseph or the shepherds of Bethlehem, fell to their knees in the presence of the Child (cf. Mt 2:11). They fell to their knees. To do so is not only a gesture of adoration but also a gesture of humility. When they fell to the bare earth, the Magi put themselves at the same level as God. This kenosis, this descent, this synkatábasis, is the same that Jesus would make on the last evening of his earthly life, when he “rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded” (Jn 13:4-5). Peter’s response to that gesture was one of dismay, but Jesus himself showed his disciples the right way to interpret it: “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:13-15).
Dear brothers and sisters, mindful of our own leprosy, and shunning the worldly thinking that deprives us of our roots and branches, let us allow ourselves to be evangelized by the humility of the Child Jesus. Only by serving, and by seeing our work as service, can we be truly helpful to everyone. We are here-- I myself before anyone else-- to learn how to kneel and adore the Lord in his humility, not other lords in their empty trappings. We are like the shepherds, we are like the Magi; we are like Jesus. This is the lesson of Christmas: humility is the great condition for faith, for the spiritual life and for holiness. May the Lord grant it to us as a gift, starting with the primordial sign of the Spirit’s presence within us: desire. And to ask the Lord for the grace to wish to desire it, to become men and women of great desires. What we lack, we can at least begin to desire. And that desire is already the Spirit at work within each of us.