Love must be made manifest. Love must be made known. As it is at the center of our lives and our longed for destination, love must be discovered and cherished. While it is impossible to define, as difficult, to capture as a wisp of wind, love moves and shapes us like nothing else. It is both ethereal and as a real as anything we have known. Love leads no armies and possesses no land, yet it is the most powerful force in the world. It is all that we were made to strive for. We attain and try to fill ourselves of practically everything else; knowing ultimately that only love satisfies and truly fills us. At our best, it is how we understand each other, and how we understand ourselves. Love is the harmony that holds everything together. All we value ends in love. If you raise beauty to its limit, you have said love. If you have invested fully in hope, you are immersed in love. If you seek to create, you can only do so in love. Whatever is good culminates at its best in love.
Love must be made manifest. Love must be made known. Perhaps because it resists definition, love must always takes on a person. Who changes everything for the concept of love or its theory? For us love is defined by the people who have loved us and whom we have been blessed to love. We know love because it is embodied. It has a face. When we think of love, we think of those of have shaped our lives by love, whether they have gone before us or are still with us. Those people we cannot help but think about at Christmas.
Love must be made manifest. Love must be made known. We know love because someone loved us into being. We know love for the sacrifice that has been made for us. We know love in the thrill of falling in love, in the maturity of being in love, in the surrender we give to our children. We know love from the gift of friendship when our anxieties melt into the peace of our friend’s care.
Love must be made manifest. Love must be made known. If God is love (and God is love) then God must be made manifest. God must be made known. And that is Christmas. Divine love showed its face in Jesus Christ. A love at once precious, immediate and eternal. That love came subtly and humbly, as love sometimes does, in a manger to obscure parents. And that love came dramatically, as love sometimes does, with a host of angels giving glory to God. But that love came definitively. In the love of Jesus Christ, we know what it means to love without all the things that blur or block our love. He showed us to live for another. He taught us what it means to die for everyone and in the resurrection proved that love could not be defeated. With nothing more available to him that we have, he showed us how love can be radically lived with abandon and true joy.
And, if the love we have for each other, with its imperfections, its sloppiness and selfishness, its possessiveness and all its other faults, can still shape our lives, how much more can divine love shake us. It must have the greatest impact. Having been this loved and this chosen, we must look at ourselves differently. We cannot think of ourselves as not worth it when such a price has been paid; we cannot think of ourselves as incapable when such a way has been shown. Having been loved so completely in Jesus Christ and having his spirit fill us is the defining moment of our lives. This is who we are, the beloved of God who has treasured us. We can no longer look at ourselves the same way. We cannot look at others the same way either.
This is what we celebrate today -that God’s love has been showered upon us. It has been manifest in the person of Jesus Christ. It has been made known because Jesus made it known. This is what we celebrate – that our brother Jesus has known us and loved us.
This is what we celebrate – that love is still alive. It is worth everything. It is why choirs of angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on whom his favor rests.”
Mary-Margaret came into the world with much commotion. There were two crash
teams in the room: one for me and a neonatal intensive care team for her.
Despite the drama of her arrival, she was a healthy and happy baby.
Unlike her older sister Mary-Margaret slept in her crib contentedly, happily
ate, and thrived. As her first Christmas approached she was a healthy cherub
like six-month old. She looked like the perfect doll: porcelain skin, pink
cheeks, dark curly hair, and blue eyes.
Christmas was going to be amazing for her father and I. After years of being
barren like Elizabeth and Zachary, we miraculously welcomed Mary-Margaret’s
older sister Kathleen into the world three years before. There was no way we
had ever thought that we would be blessed twice; and yet now we had two
A week before Christmas Kathleen was sick with what appeared to be
bronchitis. Since she had been exposed to pertussis we had to treat her for
the disease. Babies born prematurely are at risk of serious lung infections
during their first year of life. Given Mary-Margaret’s preterm status we
were told she too needed to be treated for pertussis.
As Kathleen got better and waited anxiously for Christmas, Mary-Margaret got
worse. Her cough was horrible, she couldn’t keep her feedings down, and her
fever slowly crept up. By 2 a.m. on Christmas Eve she no longer cried tears
– a sign of dehydration in a baby.
The emergency room nurse completed her triage evaluation and we immediately
were placed in a room. For the first time ever I didn’t have to produce
insurance cards or talk about money – this was serious.
My poor baby was hooked up to an IV and oxygen.
A few hours of IV fluid, a new antibiotic, and a nebulizer improved her
dramatically. We would not be spending Christmas in a hospital.
That evening Kathleen and her father went to celebrate with family.
Mary-Margaret and I stayed home. The Christmas tree was our only light and
she slept peacefully in my arms.
I thought about how fortunate I was to have given birth to Mary-Margaret in
a hospital with resources to help a newborn in need; to live in a time of
medicine to help sick children; to have heat to keep my baby comfortable. I
reflected on what it must have been like for the Blessed Mother to live in a
time without these things. I prayed the Rosary in thanksgiving for my
daughter’s improving health.
That Christmas Eve was a quiet retreat for me. I have no memory of the
presents any of us received that Christmas. I will always remember how
connected I felt to the nativity scene and the gratitude I felt for the gift
After wrestling with the readings for a couple of day this week, I came upon what I knew to be the perfect theme. Joy. Listen to the enthusiasm of the people as they exalt in God’s saving action so much they simply must break in to song. Paul simply states, “Rejoice.” And then, as if he cannot wait to exclaim again, “I say it again, rejoice.” With Christmas so rapidly approaching the Church gives us this day we call “Gaudete Sunday” the joyous Sunday of Advent. And I knew I would be rocking my rose colored vestments and we could simply speak of joy.
Then I heard the news from Connecticut and I thought that I must choose another path. How could one speak of joy in the midst of such suffering? But I corrected myself. I made a mistake so many of us make. I had confused happiness with joy. Happiness is by definition a temporary state. It would be the height of insanity to be happy all the time. Joy however, comes from a place somewhere deeper. It is a gift that God has given us and it can never be taken away. It is that which allows us to know how blessed we are regardless of the shadow of the circumstances around us. Happiness is laughing at a joke. Joy is making a friend.
Perhaps a good analogy would be our lawns. We try to keep them pristine as possible in the summer. We water them, protect them and cut them; all the while knowing they can never look that good permanently at least not in upstate New York. But we do what we can to extend the season. Ah the foolish things we do for happiness to make that which must pass, last. Joy is like a tree. Even when its leaves have fallen and its beauty has been diminished, there is still life within it; it is still a sturdy shelter. It roots run deep and breaths in life in the midst of winter. And when the wind buffets and the storm approaches, would you rather be a blade of grass or a tree?
Look at the cross. Why does it stand as the great sign of our salvation? There is nothing happy about the cross. Jesus is in pain. He has been betrayed and abandoned. He sinks nearly into despair, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Yet, he is able to say at the end, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.” He is able to trust his God will love him, take care of him and save him. That is joy. That is the source of Christian joy.
Christian joy is simply this: that we know we are loved. Loved beyond all telling. Christian joy is knowing we are never given up on. That love endures. Happiness is vulnerable. Perhaps that is why we do so much to defend it. But joy is always present. It gives us courage and strength and faith and hope. That is why the churches of Newtown are filled. That is why last week they filled churches in Clifton Park. That is why so many people in our parish who have felt the searing pain and have had the darkest of darkness descend upon them still come, because the need the inevitable consolation of Christian joy. We need to know we are loved.
It why we gather around the table of God’s body and blood and around his word. We need to remind ourselves of the endless promise of God’s love and dip into Christian joy so that we can attain what Paul speaks of in the second reading, “Peace beyond all understanding.”
So even in the midst of our hurt and pain, we rely on Christian joy. How blessed we are to have a God who have given us inexhaustible love, who has promised to embrace us for eternal life. Let us thank God for Christian joy. In the summery days of our life it gives us the shimmer of exhilaration and a gleam in our eye. Let us give thanks for Christian joy that in the most challenging of times, we have courage that only being loved can give us. A determination in our Spirit and a sturdiness in our legs. And let us give thanks for Christian joy that gives us consolation in the midst of heartbreak and hope that surmounts the most terrible of losses. Let us give thanks for Christian joy for we are always blessed. We are always loved.
Sr. Catherine Mary, a Dominican Sister from Sparkill, NY, first told me the story of Juan in the 5th grade. I thought Juan was 10, like me. I imagined him thrilled but a little scared to tell the bishop of his important task. But I felt the heart-sickness at not being believed. I already knew this story motif, this theme of so many apparitions – how Bernadette, and Joan of Arc (who saw saints) and probably even the famous children of Fatima. They too had not been believed by the grown ups for some time
But in recent years I’ve been reading the story over and over as the Nahuatl people, the Aztecs, tell it. I’ve read this first written version translated to Spanish and then to English in the books by Virgilio Elizondo, a Mexican-American priest who grew up in and then pastored the people of San Antonio and now teaches at Notre Dame. He also makes a point of meeting with Latino clergy and religious, on a regular basis, to talk more about how we can learn from this deep and important story to which our Church and World are still awakening almost 500 years later.
From Fr. Virgil I learned that Juan was more like my age NOW. In 1521 when Hernán Cortés first arrived with his conquistadors, Juan was in his late late 40s. I see Cortez, a man of 36, arriving full of ambition and zeal. He came with priests, yes, but soldiers and weapons too, to bring Christianity to a pagan land and to take back to his beloved Spanish homeland whatever WEALTH they could find. To accomplish those two tasks he robbed and destroyed all the sacred places of the Aztec people. He and his men fought and killed many many native people and, pretty much forced Catholicism’s on Juan’s people.
BUT our Juan Diego, a man whose name, in his own language was called Cuauhtlatoatzin, a name meaning “talking eagle, was already a believer in what he called Teotle – not the name of “a god” but the word for the GREAT ONE, the Mystery, the inexplicable Divine.
So when the Franciscan priests said, “YES, they came from the ONE God, the Creator, the Great Divine – Juan was ready to sign up. He listened to the story of God Father, Son, and Spirit. He heard tell of the VIRGIN Mary who gave birth to GOD in human form, the man named Jesus who died so NO OTHER HUMANS would have to die again in sacrifice to any god. And so Juan was BAPTIZED. He committed to walking 15 miles before the dawn to come to morning mass. I imagine when the Franciscans heard that this ready-to-commit good 40 something man said his name meant TALKING EAGLE one quick-thinking priest or brother said, “Wonderful! We will give you the Christian name JOHN – Juan in Spanish – for our great Evangelist John – who spoke the gospel and whose symbol is a great eagle with wings like an angel.
So, no Juan was not 10. He was not young in years, but he was NEW – he was new to the faith, and – as Jesus reminded his apostles, “Let the children come to me/ because they open-hearted, innocent, NOT set their ways. Juan was that – open-hearted, childlike – despite all that had happened to his people. So who else would Jesus’ MOTHER choose? This good indigenous convert, walking to morning mass. – over those miles to what is now Mexico City – and when at first Juan heard celestial music, he was READY to BELIEVE. …….True, the story tells us he did ask himself – Am I Worthy of this? Am I DREAMING? Have I been brought to the land of my ancestors? Is this the land of FLOWER in the earth of our flesh? Am I over there inside heaven?
But no, he was simply walking along the road that passed by the Hill of Tepayac, the very hill on which the aspect of the feminine side of God – what our Eastern Rite Catholic sisters and brothers call Sophia, Wisdom. That feminine side of God had been revered by his own people right on this hill. Her temple was gone now. But what did the beautiful woman whose image we are astounded by today say to him?????
She called HIS NAME – Our Mother Mary, speaking in Juan’s own Nahuatl language called, “Dignified Juan, Dignified Juan Diego? And he followed the music and her celestial voice to the top of the hill. When he saw her great beauty – her dark skin like his own – and her beautiful clothing and the sunlight surrounding her, she told him:
Know and be certain in your heart, my most abandoned son, that I am the EVER VIRGIN HOLY MARY MOTHER OF THE GOD OF GREAT TRUTH, TEOTL, THE ONE THROUGH WHOM WE LIVE, THE CREATOR, THE OWNER OF WHAT IS NEAR AND TOGETHER, THE LORD OF HEAVEN AND EARTH
Juan had no trouble believing. He was ready for this new way of understanding God. This was the Mother of the great divine. He was no longer feeling unworthy. This beautiful young woman, pregnant with new life, told him, “Tel the bishop to build me a hermitage, a home, yes, a temple, right here. (NO WONDER the bishop wasn’t quick to jump at that request! Coming from an Aztec Man, albeit one who had been wiling to convert.)
But the bishop was convinced in time – we know the story of the roses falling to the ground and the bishop crying, asking for forgiveness for his unbelief. And that temple was built – a small house, a hermitage, to be the shrine for Mary’s beautiful image imprinted on Juan’s tilma. In time a bigger church and now a great Basilica! And Juan, now our St. Juan Diego was its caretaker and the storyteller who told every one who came to see the beautiful Virgin as she appears to us today.
Juan lived just 17 more years to the age of 74. But he remained like a child, believing with all his heart. Today MILLIONS of pilgrims this very week are at Tepeyac, singing her praises, asking her to bless them, their families, the work of love they are committed to, the poor and marginalized who Mary continues to watch over and calls to us to support. And all those pilgrims BELIEVE that she is listening and will be with them in all their trials and all their good work.
Let us too, find that childlike place in ourselves and with all our hearts believe.
St. John of the Cross, who has a Feast Day this Friday on December 14th, said that the language of God is the experience God writes into our lives. St. John of the Cross was a mystic, so he had his share of visions and extraordinary encounters with God. He is not discounting these transcendent moments, but let’s face it…not many of us have mystical visions! St. John of the Cross says that God comes to us in the ordinary stuff of our lives. God loves us so much that God wants to be in the details…driving to basketball practice, doing the dishes, folding the laundry. If we pay attention, we can see how God writes into our lives.
Maybe that’s how Advent can speak to us this year. Let God become real for us. Jesus was born and became God enfleshed. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be…And the Word became flesh…” (John 1:1-18). Jesus wasn’t simply born in history…He is born in us every day! Emmanuel means ‘God-is-with-us’. How will God be with you today?
Don’t worry if your life is a mess, you still have to write Christmas cards, you haven’t gotten your tree yet, or you haven’t even started the shopping. It will happen. Don’t worry if you haven’t made Advent this time of peaceful waiting like we’re encouraged to do. Take God with you in all you have to do. God writes in the life you are living now, even in the folded laundry. Rejoice in that!
When I was in the fourth grade, we lived in Kaiserslautern, Germany for a
few years and one of my most treasured memories of this time was celebrating
St. Nicholas Day! In fact, to this very day I still visit my mother on Dec.
6th to see if St. Nicholas visited my shoe with either candies or twigs!!
Who was St. Nicholas, you might be asking yourself? He was actually a
historic fourth century saint and Greek Bishop of Myra, Turkey. His whole
life he helped those who were less fortunate and needy. As a Bishop, he was
beloved and revered as a protector of all in need and he died on Dec. 6th in
In Germany, it is a special time to celebrate “Sankt Nikolaus Tag” with
children not only cleaning up their shoes or boots and placing them outside,
but also with children waiting in anticipation of St. Nicholas to come and
visit their home. As a child, I can remember going out with my family to a
festival that had a bonfire, hot chocolate, and St. Nicholas going around
visiting each child with a small gift. It’s amazing how good memories can
affect us in such a positive way many years later! I hope to continue St.
Nicholas Day traditions with my own family for years to come!
So, on the evening of Dec. 5th, don’t forget to leave out your shoe or boot
and say a little prayer that St. Nicholas comes to visit you with pretty
little candies! 🙂
By: Anna E. Denney