Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Christmas Reflection

Mother and Son with Aunt
Badjaos begging infront of the Church
in Balayan, Batangas

The following is a Christmas reflection written in December 2001 by the late Fr. Anthony R. Ceresko, OSFS for a handout of Simbang Gabi homilies.

So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the
manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds (Luke 2:16-18).
Some years back I had the opportunity to attend an audience with Pope John Paul II. I was not able to come near to the Pope because of the crowd. But I remember how the Pope entered the place of the audience on foot, walking down the aisle taking the hands to the pilgrims and blessing each one, especially the children.

But the Pope's favorites were the small children and infants. When he saw an infant being held out to him by the mother, the Pope loved to take the child into his own arms and embrace the child affectionately as he gave it his blessing.

There is something in all of us that is drawn to the simplicity and vulnerability of infants. We instinctively feel an attraction and desire to protect. Thus the centerpiece of our Christmas season is the infant Jesus lying in the borrowed bed in a borrowed shelter, watched over the protected by his young and perhaps bewildered and anxious parents.

In the midst of our Christmas celebrations, perhaps it is good to fix our attention on that vulnerable babe lying in the dark and damp stable lighted only by one or two lanterns and reflect on the children of our world today.

It may be good to remind ourselves that so many, too many, children who are born this very day face similar precarious and anxious circumstances as this child born more than two thousand years ago in Bethlehem.

Traditional Belen (Nativity Creche) inside Hesus Nazareno Church
an SVD parish in Dasmarinas, Bagong Bayan, Cavite

A speaker at an international conference on the plight of millions of underprivileged children made a moving call. She said,

We are guilty of many errors and many faults but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things that we need can wait. The child cannot wait. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, and his senses are being developed. To the young child we cannot answer, "Tomorrow". His name is "Today" (repeat): His name is "Today".
The children born into poverty, the children born into anxious and trying circumstances call out to us in the person of that child of poverty born at Bethlehem. "Today" is the name of the poor, and we are called upon to respond to them as a community of the disciples of Jesus, who preached about the coming of God’s kingdom to the "poor". How do we respond to their cries? How do we hold out some hope to them?

I would suggest that, one way would be in examining the priorities in our decision making during the coming year – our decisions as individuals, our priorities as a society, our decisions and priorities as a people. Our former President is on trial at this moment, charged with violating the public trust. What are the criteria by which we make decisions regarding the guilt or innocence of an individual? What are our criteria and priorities in choosing public officials and leaders?

As a nation we face difficulties in the future in the economic sphere, and the challenges and pressures with regard to globalization. How do we establish criteria and decide on the priorities for our economic arrangements?

For ourselves as individuals or as families, what are our criteria and priorities in our decision-making? Certainly the example of the patience, the simplicity, the mutual love of the manger scene at Bethlehem offers us one example: no throne or sumptuous palace for this new born messiah-king. But for so many millions of children born into our world today, a single night’s shelter is not enough. The child of today, needs food and clothing and shelter, clean and safe water, health care, education: "TODAY" is the name of the poor. When we talk about priorities and criteria for decision-making, we can see here the logic and wisdom of the Church’s “option for the poor” – the poor, especially the children, cannot wait until tomorrow.

This is the criterion that the Church offers for our decision-making, our priorities our policies – in the government, in society for our national leaders, for our economy, and in our personal lives. This is the criterion that Jesus proposed: I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; naked and you clothed me, a stranger and you took me in, like the innkeeper in Bethlehem who offered that poor family shelter from the cold night almost two thousand years ago this very day.

When we gaze with wonder on this manger scene and the young couple with their newborn child, poor and helpless, we also see ourselves, our own poverty, our won helplessness in the face of so many challenges that confront us as individuals and families, as a society and as a people. But the message that this poor child brings is that we are not alone. God has not abandoned us despite our blindness, our selfishness, and our failures. Emmanuel, "God is with us," is the name that the angel proposed when his birth was first foretold.

Today’s reading from the letter to Titus sums it up beautifully:
But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because
of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through
the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on
us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life (3:4-7).

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