In his contemplation on the Nativity, Saint Ignatius wishes “…to observe and consider what they [Joseph and Mary] are doing: the journey and suffering which they undergo in order that our Lord might be born in extreme poverty, and after so many labors; after hunger and thirst, heat and cold, insults and injuries, He might die on the cross, and all this for me. I will then reflect in order to gain some spiritual profit.”
This again is a simple and clear illustration of Christmas as the compassion of God—the Divine Son takes on human flesh and the whole human condition precisely because each human person, in distress and in eternal peril, is already loved by God. The Trinity eternally decrees that the Son will offer divine goodness, beauty and life to each and every fallen man. The compassion of God is revealed in the suffering-love of the Son, Who takes on our sin and death to reveal that we have, as I have said, an identity, dignity and destiny that is greater than even our own evil. What is the proper response to such an absolute and unmerited gift from God? (Hint: It has nothing to do with Black Friday or singing “Jingle Bells.”)
What we celebrate (or, better said, should be celebrating) at Christmas, is Jesus, Who is the Word-made-Flesh, Who is spoken by the Father, Who is the voice of a divine and stubborn love. What matters most about us is not our sin or our sickness but that we are comprehensively and compassionately loved by a divine love that embraces all of who we are—body and soul. We should never tire of recalling and retelling that story of divine compassion, just as we would never tire of telling again and again how we were rescued from a burning building or a sinking ship. Likewise, we would never tire of retelling a beloved child of the joy we felt at his adoption. And the account of our amazing rescue and adoption will be all the more amazing when we admit that the one who rescued us and adopted us is the one whom we had first betrayed.
The power of telling that story, rather than repeating nonsense about magical snowmen and reindeer, cannot be overestimated. Let me offer a small illustration. My paternal great-grandmother left Ireland as a little girl, a few years the Marian apparitions at Knock. As an adult, she required all of her children and grandchildren to recite this verse to recall her birthplace, in the hopes that someday, someone would go back: “Number 10, Knock Street, the flat over the shop, Village of Ballyhaunis, County Mayo—God bless me—Ireland.”
My father taught that verse to me. As a young Jesuit, I went back to her village and found her home—125 years after she had left. That illustrates the power of a merely-human word. How much more powerful is the Divine Word spoken by our Heavenly Father—the Divine-Word-made-Flesh Who is both Son of God and Son of Mary! What a tragedy it would be if we made ourselves (and our children!) deaf and numb to that Word Who was spoken to us to prove the Divine Compassion for us!
How can this Christmas season be different for us and for our children? First, in our prayer, we need to understand the Divine Compassion. And we need to call to mind, with the guidance of Saint Ignatius, contemplations of the Incarnation and the Nativity. Turning from that prayer, wherein we saw, held, heard and loved the Word-made-Flesh (1 John 1:1-4), we can turn to our loved ones and recount to them how God decided to prove His compassion by choosing to save us from ourselves by becoming one of us, body and soul, and how He chose to adopt us even after we had rejected Him.
Speaking of the compassionate Divine Word—telling our children over and over that they have always been abundantly loved, wanted, and provided for—such stories will form life-changing, soul-saving memories that will endure long after the tinsel fades and the latest plastic toy is tossed and forgotten.
When I write next, I will discuss how to enlist the wisdom of Saint Ignatius Loyola to fight against the scourge of discouragement. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
Father Robert McTeigue, S.J.is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both Rhetoric and in Medical Ethics.