I hope God greatly blesses your celebration of Christmas. I hope too that the holyday provides a moment when you can take the long view when you can review your year’s choices in the light of Advent’s readings.
In this chapter of our human existence, our goal is to make choices that align with God’s hopes. But how do we know if our choices are truly inspired? How can we tell if they truly line up with God’s hopes? Scripture and our Catholic tradition provide invaluable insights. If our choices satisfy the standards set forth in scripture and our tradition, then we can be pretty sure those choices also align with God’s hopes.
Human experience provides another way to review our choices. This Advent’s Sunday readings remind us that we can trust our choices, we can surmise they align with God’s hopes if they:
Lead us toward an experience of true spiritual consolation rather than toward desolation (Dec. 3)
Arise from an experience of true interior freedom rather than from disordered attachments (Dec. 10)
Improve others’ experience of life, especially the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives andthe prisoners among us (Dec. 17)
Cause us to credit God, at least interiorly, for the good that flows through us – i.e., the goodthat we experience flowing from God, through us, and into God’s world (also Dec. 17)
Optimize our experience of dependence on God and our willingness to cooperate humbly withGod (Dec. 24)
The Christmas midnight readings then remind us of an ironic experience: even though certain choices satisfy all or most of these criteria, they can still be very inconvenient. Inspired choices are sometimes like that.
They sometimes complicate rather than simplify our lives.
True inspiration prompted Joseph to honor the angels and Mary, even though doing so was an inconvenience. True inspiration led Mary to say yes to God and yes to the journey to Bethlehem, even though doing so was inconvenient. True inspiration prompted the second person of the Trinity to become a human and to be born in a barn, even though becoming human was the ultimate inconvenience. Just about every person in the Christmas story made a very inspired choice, even though doing so caused major inconvenience.
You do the same thing. You're regularly making inspired choices even though doing so is inconvenient. In the language of Isaiah 9, you bring light to those who “dwell in the darkness” of isolation when you reach out to them and honor them and share laughs with them. You do that even when doing so is inconvenient. You bring others “abundant joy and great rejoicing” when you take the time to multiply their joy – even when doing so is inconvenient. And you “smash . . . the rod of their taskmaster” when you help them find freedom from bad habits or stultifying choices – even when doing so is inconvenient.
Go ahead. Get specific. Name several of the choices you made in 2017 – as priest, prophet, and king – that were both inspired and inconvenient, that imitated the people who gave us Christmas.
How about your choices as a person of prayer? What about the times when your prayer life frustrated you and you stuck with it, despite the inconvenience? What about the times when you persisted in praying for others, despite the inconvenience. And try not to forget the times when you got your family to church, despite the inconvenience.
How about your choices as a prophet who consoles and challenges others? Surely you offered much consolation and a good deal of challenge in 2017, even though doing so was inconvenient. You did that through your ministries at church and you did it in 101 other ways. Name a few of those ways.
And you made inspired choices to build up your communities. You participated in parish functions or family events or charitable groups even when you didn’t really feel like it. Can you name a few of those times?
Christmas happened because Jesus, Mary, and Joseph made inspired choices, choices that lined up with the Father’s hopes, even when those choices involved inconvenience. You have imitated their Christmas choices many times this year. Go ahead and name a few. Thank God for the ability to have done so. Ask God for the grace to keep doing so. Your choice to take the inspired path – even when doing so is inconvenient – renews the face of the earth, makes the angels sing, and gladdens our savior. Every time you make the inspired but inconvenient choice, you are perpetuating the Christmas miracle.
May God bless your celebration of Christmas and may God bless your effort to notice the moments when you have imitated Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And for what it is worth, know that it is a privilege and an enormous blessing to be your pastor.
With love, thanks and admiration,