The continuing birth of Christ
We are all meant to be mothers of God. For God is always needing to be born.” Thus wrote the German mystic, Meister Eckhart. In these two sentences there is a powerful but essential challenge to our spiritual strivings. And on the need to give birth to Christ in our hearts and in our world, our tradition is constant and rather ecumenical. Without appropriating the meaning of the birth of Christ and inserting ourselves in His very person, the “good news” quickly evaporates.
Following the teaching of Vatican II that Mary is the model of discipleship, we naturally look to her to help decode the dynamics of giving birth to Christ in our contemporary world. And as we read the first chapters of Luke we find a clear outline. Mary heard the Word of God. She believed its truth and its power. She nourished the Word within her. And she brought forth Christ to a needy, but also to all appearances indifferent world -- a world which still hailed Augustus as “son of God.”
Born in a stable,
Cradled in a manger,
In the world His hands had made,
Born a stranger.
(From Christina Rossetti’s, “Before the Paling of the Stars”)
Two thousand years later, I believe that we can find a parallel situation. So often, our society is drawn to secular saviors, especially those who devise blueprints and timetables to achieve “progress” in our world. And so often the voices of secular infallibility (i.e. -- the press and universities) dismiss the Christian value system. In a way, the simplicity of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint so intimately associated with Christmas, serves as a guide calling us to our redemptive roots: “We are the mother of Christ when we carry Him in our heart and body by love and a pure and sincere conscience. And we give birth to Him through our holy works which ought to shine on others by our example.”
In looking to Mary, I believe the words of her own prayer, The Magnificat, can aid us in our pursuit not only learning to give birth to Christ in our world, but also of our own growth in holiness. Naturally, I do not intend to give a verse by verse commentary. Rather I would like to focus on certain key concepts which I have personally found helpful.
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” Mary’s soul and her whole being were focused on the Lord. This was the key to her spirituality. And for most of us, it is a struggle even in our own prayer life to move beyond self. The Gospels themselves provide numerous examples of this. We have the disciples in the storm-tossed boat crying out to the Lord about His seeming indifference to them: “Do you not care about us?” And we have Peter, the prince of the Apostles, in his dialogue with the Lord complaining about all he left behind and wondering what will be his reward.
True prayer demands that we entrust our cares and concerns to the Creator-Sustaining God. He cares about the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. How much more must He care about ourselves and our concerns? And if He has such care, cannot I leave my immediate concerns, hopes and cares in His hands?
I believe that reflecting upon God’s “greatness” can help us in this endeavor. When we think of God’s greatness, we almost instinctively begin to reflect upon God the creator and sustainer of this vast, complicated universe. We are then led to concentrate upon His omnipotence, His infinity, etc.
Hidden in sacred Scripture there is another interpretation of the meaning of God’s greatness. Through a complex linguistic development, the word “glory” came to mean divinity itself -- with all that that concept entails. Ezekiel saw God’s glory removed from the Temple. But he prophesied its return. The Gospel of John notes that God’s glory returned to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. And then at the miracle of Cana -- when Jesus changed water into wine -- His disciples first glimpsed His “glory.”
In a beautiful way, John is telling us about the greatness of our God. He is seized by our concerns, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant compared to the rest of the miracles in the New Testament -- the fact that the family ran out of wine pales into insignificance. Yet this is the precise point: our God is One who cares about every aspect of our lives. Because God is attentive to our needs, we must be attentive to the needs of others, especially the poor. Such is an essential characteristic of bringing Christ (who remains with us) to birth in our world.
Msgr. McDonnell is a senior priest of the archdiocese and is in residence at St. Mary, Dedham.