Thursday, January 5, 2012

A New Softness Enters In

Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half metres high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half metres has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our ‘enlightened’ reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis – the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions – the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby. In this spirit let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night, let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart. And let us also pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they – and we – may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable. Amen.
Homily, Midnight Mass, December 25, 2011
Reflection – The Holy Father, having laid out a lovely vision of the child, the manger, the stable, having invoked the great and very beloved St. Francis of Assisi and his love for Christmas and the crèche, now does what every good homilist does.
He now brings this around to us, lowering the boom on us with his typical direct gentleness. Our ‘false certainties, our intellectual pride’ – this can take many forms, you know. It is not only the pride and certainty of the scholar, the theologian, the academic. There is the false certainty of the shrewd person who ‘knows how the world is.’ The intellectual pride of the one who always has everyone figured out, and knows just what end is up. The false certainty of the mover and shaker, the intellectual pride of the competent sensible person who knows exactly what to do in most situations.
Out with it all, when we enter the stable! No room at this inn for any of that intellectual pride or false certainty! When we bow down to enter Bethlehem, we enter into a totality of mystery, a reality that surpasses all human understanding.
I don’t care how smart you are, how knowledgeable you are, how old and experienced you are, how shrewd and jaundiced you are, how competent you are. There is a baby lying on straw here, and that baby is God Almighty. No room for human intellect and its calm ascendancy here, no room at all. All of that falls away in the presence of this little one who is immense, this weak one who holds the universe in the palm of his hand, this poor one to whom all heaven and earth bows in worship.
So if we don’t park our high horse, the symbol of mastery and control, outside the stable, we simply will not find the God who came to us this way. We simply will not find God, period. There is something greater here, and we must bow very low before this greatness.
It seems to me that, as we bow down low before this, there is a great blessing for us. All of that false certainty and intellectual pride, even if it is relatively benign, sort of hardens us, don’t you think? The person who always knows the answer, always knows what needs doing, always knows which end is up, tends to become a bit hardened, a bit closed to anything outside of that knowledge. So when God smashes all our pride and certainties, painful as that may be, a new softness enters into us, a new openness to what is not us.
I’m not so smart, after all. This little baby is so far beyond my comprehension, that I’m just not such a smart capable guy… and out of this bowing, this mystery, I become more childlike, more open, more receptive. Humbler. And this is joy and wonder for us, awe and delight. Not just a smashing of pride, but a gift given to us. The permanent Christmas gift of God to the human race—‘give me the heart of a child, and the awesome courage to live it out.’

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