“Tonight God Reveals to Us the Secret to Seeing Him”
Homily for Christmas Mass During the Night
The city of Rome is famous for its seven hills. One of them, the Palatine Hill, was known in ancient Rome as the neighborhood of the upper crust of society: poets, philosophers, people of great social influence. There is also on that hill the remains of a soldiers’ barracks. As one peruses through these remains, one will come across an etching in the wall covered by glass. It is etched in stone, so has been preserved to this day, nearly 2,000 years later. The etching depicts a donkey nailed to a cross, with the words inscribed underneath: “Alexis worships his God.”
The Pattern Set by Our Lord
This relic from a time far removed from our own gives evidence to the mocking to which Christians have been subject from the very beginning. Yet, this should come as no surprise, since it is the pattern that has been set by our Lord himself, and also from the very beginning – the beginning of his life in this world.
“Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.” This is the Psalm we just prayed in tonight’s Mass. A child is born, who is God’s own Son, and is our Savior. And yet, how does he enter the world? Not with the upper crust of society, with those who have great social influence. Quite the opposite: he is born into a simple, working-class family, who were even homeless at the time of his birth; he was born on a winter’s night, enveloped by darkness, quiet and cold. He sneaks from his world of eternity into our world of time almost imperceptibly, this God, Savior and Lord of ours. He identifies with the margins of society, with those who are outcast, and there he will stay for his entire earthly life all the way up to his death.
His growing up years in his family home are inconspicuous, indistinguishable from other families in his hometown of Nazareth. When he begins his career, he is content to remain an itinerant preacher, with no stable place to lay his head. And in his death he will accept the unjust verdict of execution, allowing himself to be mocked, spat upon, and disgraced. But we know where the story ends: in the glory of his Resurrection, his triumph over death.
In the Life of the Believer
That is where it ends, and this is where it begins. This is God’s gift to us, a child, His Son, our Savior. This is that “grace of God [which] has appeared, saving all” of which St. Paul writes to his disciple Titus in our second reading. It is the grace of salvation, the grace of God’s love, a love so great that His gives His Son for us unworthy sinners. But it is also a lesson, “training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires” as St. Paul goes on to write. Yes, we are unworthy sinners, but this grace which has appeared, if we allow it to work within us, can make us worthy. And how do we do that? St. Paul also gives us the answer, right here: by living “temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age.”
In other words, a rightly ordered life: temperately, that is, with regard to oneself, exercising restraint in order to discipline the will so as to avoid harmful, self-centered, immoderate indulgence; justly, that is, with regard to others, always respecting the innate human dignity of others, and never using them for one’s own purpose but rather giving them what is due them; devoutly, that is, in relation to God, offering Him our worship and all the best that we have, never allowing anyone or anything to take His rightful place as the first priority in our lives, adhering always to His teaching and His example.
As St. Paul admonishes us, though, we cannot think about this in a godless or worldly way, as if living with these virtues of temperance, justice and devotion will open doors for us to positions of social influence and give us access to the circles of the socially elite. The Church, in fact, continues to be subject to the mocking it has known from the very beginning, as we are witnessing in our own time attacks on church property and the defacing of sacred objects all across our own county, not to mention the persecution of believers in many other parts of the world.
The point is not to work out a comfortable, or even safe, convenient lifestyle. That is beside the point. Rather, it means living these virtues in one’s actual circumstances according to one’s state in life. One’s state in life might give one access to circles of social influence, and by living temperately, justly and devoutly, one can influence those important areas of society for the better. It’s what we do with, and how we live in, our everyday life circumstances that is the lesson he teaches us, not trying to get to some type of circumstance or another.
The Secret Revealed
This happens in a myriad of simple, everyday ways, in addition to the big moments of life. Take all of the holiday festivities which we all enjoy at this time of the year, for example. If one goes about it with a sense of duty and drudgery, an inconvenience to be put up with and checked off the to-do list as soon as possible, one is left empty and uninspired. But if one goes about it with love, it changes everything. It’s not the monetary value of the gift that counts, but the thought that goes into it. Preparing meals and setting up decorations as a family or with friends is a way we live in keeping with our human need for communion, and helps form our heart for communion with God.
This is the secret that God reveals to us through His Son, the secret to seeing God. Who were the first ones to see God when he appeared on the earth, who went to see him and worship him? Our Gospel reading for this Mass during the Night tells us: shepherds. Shepherds were poor, they were dirty, they had to live outside of polite social circles. But these were the ones who received the message, and were the first ones to see God on earth. Love conquers all, and love is how we see God. And here, too, the secret is revealed to us: a life of love means living a rightly ordered life, with regard to oneself, with regard to others, and most of all with regard to our relationship with God.
Christmas time is certainly a special time of year, even if stressful at times. Let us lessen the stress and preserve throughout the year the sacredness of this season by living temperately, justly and devoutly in this age. Then we will prove ourselves Christ’s faithful disciples, who know God’s love and share God’s love, those for whom God’s grace, which appeared on this night, is at work to make them worthy to see Him and, ultimately, to share His Son’s victory over death in His world of eternity.