Meditating the Nativity of Jesus Christ
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Meditation on the Nativity

 O Lord,
 how often we think we are rich,
 living in plenty,
 but our hearts, instead,
 are living in the barrens,
 a desert haunted
 by dry winds ripping at our souls,
 waiting for the rain from Heaven
 that makes the desert bloom,
 that brings the peace we long for,
 looking for it in so many wrong places,
 forgetting the source,
 forgetting the call,
 forgetting you.
 So much like how the world
 once turned its back
 on a stable,
 and a child,
 and the song of angels,
 leaving no room at the inn
 like we too often
 leave no room in our lives,
 though how our hearts long to be filled,
 were made to hear that song,
 to know that child.

 Touch our ears, O Lord,
 that we might hear that song,
 Touch our hearts, O Lord,
 that we might realize the emptiness,
 Touch our  eyes, O Lord,
 that we might realize the true poverty
 which is life without you,
 This day, and always,
 Amen.


A Christmas Meditation:
 The Prayer of the Shepherd


 St. Ignatius used to have a simple man who carried the modest baggage of his small group. During their journeys, this man would observe St. Ignatius and members of the Company of Jesus profoundly recollected in their long prayers. Filled with admiration, he thought to himself, What beautiful things they must be saying to God! He was certain their prayers were far more elevated and superior to those he was capable of making.

 So he decided to offer to God those beautiful things he imagined they were saying. Watching them pray, he would simply make their prayers his prayer. Doing this, the simple man thus achieved the grace of elevated prayer.

Shepherds come to adore the Christ Child.

 I once read a beautiful meditation on the Nativity that imagined one of the shepherds who came to adore Christ in a similar attitude. Imagine a poor shepherd, like the servant of St. Ignatius, distraught because he lacked the words to express the sentiments he felt. The shepherd saw the Divine Christ Child, so beautiful and amiable, and he discerned that this Child is Goodness itself. His forehead furled in wrinkles of concern. What could he say before the glory and grandeur of this Infant?

 And then a thought occurred to him, like a grace that God always gives to simple souls:
Why don't I offer to the Divine Infant what His Blessed Mother Mary and adoptive father Joseph are expressing to Him? They are so perfect, so far above me, and they love Him as no one can love him.
Fixing his gaze on the three sublime figures, he murmured in the interior of his heart to Jesus:
O divine Infant, I say to You everything that they are saying to You, because they seem to me so holy and so profoundly recollected. By their countenances, I see they are immersed in divine mysteries that I cannot even imagine. Even though they are dressed simply, everything about them is noble and sublime, while everything about me is low and common, my body as well as my spirit.

I sense that the things they are thinking and saying to You give You pleasure. The pleasure that they give to You is the pleasure that I myself desire to give to You. Receive, then, those tender endearments and profound consideration that they are making to You as if they came from my own heart and mind.
He would have passed a long time in this simple, mute meditation. And almost without realizing it, his heart was overcome with tenderness for the God-Child. His soul, raised to the heights through Mary and Joseph, was filled with unknown lights and ardor. With one eye on the hidden God, the other eye on the two grand adorers, that simple soul was nourished incomparably by the incomparable Trio.

A shepherd before the Christ Child

 The meditation then invited each one of us to apply the case to himself. Why shouldn't I have recourse to the shepherds humble prayer when I draw near the Creche and feel within myself no elevation of spirit or profound thoughts? At times when I am preoccupied and tired, or suffering from heavy weights and trials? Despite my distractions and inertia, here is a means to forget myself and draw near Him.

 I will contemplate Thee, O Virgin Mary, and you will open to me the unfathomable depths of your respect, your love, and your enthusiasm for Jesus. I will contemplate Thee, o Joseph, and the sentiments revealed on your countenance of such great purity, tenderness, and dedication, sentiments that I would like to have. In both your expressions and ways of being, I see complete abnegation of yourselves. Filled with admiration, I ask that your prayers become my prayers, that the pleasure you give the Child Jesus in your contemplation of him, I might also give Him.

 This was a meditation I heard some years ago, and it has remained with me. When I approach the Christmas crib and find myself empty, tired, discouraged at my own inadequacies, unable to find the spirit of the Christ Child because I am weighed down too much by the world and myself, I remember the humble prayer of the shepherd. He forgot himself, and looked to Joseph and Our Lady. Admiring them in contemplation before the God-Man, he entered into their spirit and invited Jesus to reign in his soul.

 It is not always the profound thoughts or original meditations that bring the soul to greater intimacy with the Christ Child. Sometimes a simple vantage point is the best one that gives the greatest benefits. 


Christmas: Victory over the Three Egoisms


 The treasure of the traditional piety surrounding Christmas is immeasurable. I dug a bit into it and found some thoughts of St. Ignatius of Loyola that I adapt to our days.

 St. Ignatius showed that the birth of the Divine Word in the Manger of Bethlehem signified the defeat of the egoism of man. He said that the self-love of men could be divided into three major types of idolatry: the love of wealth above everything; the love of pleasures above everything, and the love of honor above everything.

 Who should be included in each of these categories?

 First, the ones who love wealth above everything. By wealth St. Ignatius means money. This is the avarice of those who seek money, not for the pleasures that money can bring in that case, the money would be a means rather than an end. This kind of person has the mania to possess money, to be rich for the sake of being rich, to be secure with the knowledge of having a fortune. Sometimes a person like this can live in an obscure and modest way; his joy is to have the continuous sense that he possesses a large amount of money.

 Second, the ones who love pleasures above everything. This group includes those who seek the pleasures the five senses can bring. Foremost the sensual pleasures, then the pleasures of the palate, the eyes, the nose, and the ear. It includes the ensemble of pleasing and delightful things that the life of luxury can give.

 Third, the ones who love honors above everything. These are the ones whose first concern is neither money nor the good life, but rather the consideration and esteem of others. They want to be recognized as the first in this or that field and then receive due honor. They want to be the object of great homage, attention, and reverence. They seek prestige.

 Our Lord came to show that all of these idols are worthless, and He was born in the manger in Bethlehem to defeat them.

Those whose main concern is to make money are unwise before God

With regard to wealth, Our Lord is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the One God Who created heaven and earth, the whole universe, and, therefore, all the richness that it contains. Everything marvelous, beautiful, and good that constitutes the basis for the wealth of man was created by God. No one can equal the treasure that belongs to God. Further, since He is Omnipotent, He could create at any time and without effort whatever quantity of riches He so desires. When one gazes up at the stars in the sky, one can imagine the richness each one of them represents and can envisage the facility with which God created them. For Him it is as easy to create a star as a grain of sand. Therefore, one can conclude that God is infinitely rich.

 This infinitely rich God wished to come to this earth as the Son of a poor carpenter and a mother who did her own household labors. He decided to be born in a manger, that is, in the poorest place one can imagine, to be warmed by the breathing of the animals and the modest little clothing Our Lady had prepared for Him. He found asylum not among human beings, but in a cave where animals ate and slept. Doing this He wanted to show us how man should be indifferent to wealth in comparison to the service of God. Therefore, man was born not to be rich, but to love and serve God on this earth in order to adore and serve Him for all eternity.

 So, all those men we see around us who run without stop after money, who make the possession of money their main concern, who only find pleasure in talking and thinking about money, who love the feeling of security and knowing that they will never be poor more than anything else, these are truly unwise men. Because before God, all the wealth they can accumulate is but a grain of dust.

As for pleasures, if He had so desired, Our Lord could have commanded the Angels to bring to the place where He was born beautiful soft fabrics: silks, velours, brocades; the most fragrant perfumes. The Child Jesus could have had the warmest clothing and the most delectable foods one can imagine. In short, He could have been born in a magnificent palace, surrounded by luxuries and the most refined of ambiences.

 Our Lord, however, did not choose, to be surrounded by pleasures. He chose to sleep on a bed of straw, a rough material that does not provide soft comfort to the body. He was born in a manger that normally does not smell good. It was piercing cold when He was born. That is, He wanted to show men the madness of making pleasures the first concern of life. He gave us the opposite lesson. If it is for the glory of God and the good of the soul, one should leave aside all the pleasures this life can provide us.

Regarding honors, Our Lord is God, and all the honor and glory men can give to Him is insufficient. Notwithstanding, He wanted to be born unknown and forgotten to all. Further, His parents were despised and turned aside by the inhabitants of Bethlehem, no one wanted to host the Holy Family and provide them a room for the night. By this, Our Lord wanted to show us the folly of those whose first goal in life is to achieve public recognition and prestige.

The Adoration of the Child Jesus by Fra Angelico
 
 Each one of us, following the counsel of St. Ignatius, should apply these considerations to ourselves and others. We should use this meditation as a criterion to judge our relatives, neighbors, and colleagues.

 But principally, we should apply this meditation to ourselves. Which current of self-love does each of us best fit into? Which form of egoism do we need to be vigilant against so we do not make it a false idol in our lives?

We should have such conclusions day and night before us to wrest from our souls the proud and worldly thoughts and ways that lead us to adore money, pleasures, and prestige.

 We should also direct our prayers toward this end, asking for the supernatural discernment and strength to know our defects and combat them.

 This is a meditation according to the great school of St. Ignatius. I am an enthusiast of this method. It is clear, logical, consistent, and orders the soul to be like unto God and to glorify Him above all things.

 It constitutes, in my opinion, a bag of gold, a bowl of incense, and a chalice of myrrh that we can offer, along with the three Wise Men, to the Newborn Child.  

From St. Ephrem of Syria's First Hymn on the Nativity of the Lord

This is the night of the Sweet One; let us be on it neither bitter nor harsh.
 On this night of the Humble One, let us be neither proud nor haughty.
 On this day of forgiveness let us not avenge offenses.
 On this day of rejoicings let us not share sorrows.
 On this sweet day let us not be vehement.
 On this calm day let us not be quick-tempered.
 On this day on which God came into the presence of sinners,
 let not the just man exalt himself in his mind over the sinner.
 On this day on which the Lord of all came among servants,
 let the lords also bow down to their servants lovingly.
 On this day when the Rich One was made poor for our sake,
 let the rich man also make the poor man a sharer at his table.
 On this day a gift came out to us without our asking for it;
 let us then give alms to those who cry out and beg from us.
 This is the day when the high gate opened to us for our prayers;
 let us also open the gates to the seekers who have stayed but sought forgiveness
 This Lord of natures today was transformed contrary to His nature;
 Today the Deity imprinted itself on humanity, so that humanity might also be cut into the seal of Deity.

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