Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Things Yet to Come

Advent has my heart about ready to explode. Truly, I have this spiritual throbbing sense that I imagine is comparable to what kids feel when they really hope for some wish to be fulfilled by a Christmas present on Christmas morning. Except that I know what my heart senses near and longs for is eternal, doesn't break or get boring. But I also have the feeling that the root joy is exactly the same.

What fills me with this throbbing sense of joy is the sense that events in my life converge with meaning. The biggest thing is always that I remember my conversion to the Catholic faith with such wonder. I hear the prayers of Mass and of Liturgy of the Hours these days, and I just know that these same prayers were offered for me, for my conversion, by people I didn't even know. They prayed and sacrificed for me so that I could experience a dramatic and total conversion on that Christmas Eve in 1991. God had led me to that point, but it was such a total surprise and shock, and so powerful. I'm sure it will only be in heaven that I will see the prayers that brought down those graces for me.

And now here I am, praying the same prayers, earnestly entreating God for graces of conversion for other people. Don't ever write off anyone when it comes to praying for their conversion. I had been anti-Catholic and had long wrestled with a kind of animosity towards Christmas that was born of a host of bad theology and sad memories. God instantly and completely changed all that.

I got this little note in a Christmas card from the Camaldolese Hermits today. It hits the nail on the head:

A good thought on Christmas comes down to us from Pope St. Leo the Great in the fifth century, via his successor Pope Benedict XVI. "That day has not passed away in such a way that the power of the work, which was then revealed, has passed away with it... All things therefore that the Son of God did and taught for the world's reconciliation, we not only know as a matter of past history, but appreciate in the power of their present effect."

In the liturgy, we do not just recall past events, we relive them. The spiritual excitement and gratification we feel are not imaginary. Rather, the saving power of the mystery becomes present to us today.

This is true of every experience of the liturgy, but for me it is particularly true of these days of Advent, and especially of the Christmas Mass. I experience not only a reliving of Calvary, but a reliving of that particular moment when Jesus first revealed Himself to me as present and real in the Mass, which prompted my conversion. Spiritually I go back to it, and it blows me away all over again.

It makes me stand in awe at where God has led me. More than that, it makes me stand in awe, realizing that it really has been God that has led me, even when I thought I was just floundering around, alone. It fills me with courage and faith. And I am aware that this is not from me; it is a gift from God. I am surrounded, enveloped, in gifts from God. I am freed, knowing that I'm not alone, that my spiritual excitement is not imaginary. God is real -- my life is proof! It makes me want to tell everyone everything that has ever happened to me.

Like a little child, my eyes keep gazing under the "spiritual Christmas tree" for a special gift I am asking for from the Lord. I've been asking basically the same thing for several Christmases now. This year, my request has special meaning, and a heightened sense of anticipation. Little children, even loaded down with gifts and lavishly provided for, can still have that special place in their heart for that one thing. So do I. Just as I'm writing this I'm wondering to myself how I might respond if Christmas comes and goes without my seeing there what I hope to see. I do see that each year my desire and request has upgraded. But it hasn't gone away. Maybe that's how it has been answered each year so far. What I do know is that my heavenly Father couldn't possibly be unmoved by my desire. And He certainly can move heaven and earth to give me what I desire, if indeed my desire has finally gotten grand enough for Him. Either way you slice it, I am excited. Jesus has told mystics and saints in private revelation all over the place that heaven participates in giving gifts at Christmastime, too. "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32) God certainly is not going to stop being generous with me any time soon. If only my heart can delight with Him in real time as He gives... and see what He is giving. Oooh, I'm happy already!

December 20, 2012
P.S. You know, Lord, I've been thinking about this. I do get excited about what I want. But I've learned something about your gifts. Sometimes their beauty plays to my weakness, and my distractable heart goes off after them. Lord, I'd rather not have your gifts if it could mean my heart moving off from you. What I really want is you, Lord. So, attach my wandery heart to you by whatever means works best. "Being with you, I desire nothing on earth..." If you give me a gift, please draw me up on your lap and hold me close there, first. I don't want to get scared of your gifts, but I'm gonna need a lot of help...

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