Friday, January 4, 2013

Am I, or Was I, Changed by the Christmas Season?

Christmas Day has come and gone; New Year’s Day has come and gone. This is still the Christmas season. We know it is when Jesus, the Son of God, born of the Blessed Virgin, was born to redeem us. But does this really impact me? Does it really bring joy? Everything is getting back to routine. Nothing has really changed. But it should have. Hence, I went searching the Church Fathers, and I found a sermon by St. Leo the Great.

St. Leo said, “Our Savior, dearly-beloved, was born today: Let us be glad, for there is no proper place for sadness when we keep the birthday of Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity.” What is “life”? I don’t mean the condition of living, but what is true life, the life that Christ brings? So often in the past, I tried to be “spiritual.” I put a lot of work into it. The usual result was: pride. I think back to my Baptism. There was no noticeable change at Baptism, but it was at that time that “life” began.

Life has no connection with death. The ante-Nicene Fathers knew this. Listen carefully to St. Leo, “…the birthday of Life, which destroys the fear of mortality” (emphasis added). It was for this reason that many of them readily accepted martyrdom. They realized that, because of the Nativity, “the Son of God…has taken on Him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered.” Today, many just want to go to heaven. They believe that if they live a “good” life – in their eyes – they will go to heaven. Others believe that they will go to heaven because they believe in Jesus. We often forget that Satan knows Jesus better than we do. Some believe they will go to heaven because they have been baptized. Judas was baptized also.

Before we can grasp what life truly is, we must understand death and dying. Dying is reality to us. When we exited our mothers’ wombs, we began dying. It is all we know. Webster defines dying: “losing life; perishing; expiring; fading away; languishing; mortal; destined to death – as dying bodies.” Death was brought on in the Garden by Satan, through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Death and dying brought on greed, envy, covetousness, lying, murder, rape, etc. Death brought on everything that is contrary to life: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, heresies, envyings, drunkenness, revelings, and such like.

I do not know, but it is also possible that ownership is a result of death and dying. St. Chrysostom preached against ownership. He said that, prior to the Fall, there was no ownership. We know that ownership does not bring contentment; it only makes us to want to own more. We know this, yet we desire that our children have more than we. We want them to have “good” careers, careers that earn much money. I am not being critical; I just want us to realize that this is not life but death. There are many doctors in the mission field. Many of the saints worked in hospitals, not for “good” careers but because of life. Many lawyers work pro bono – because they seek justice. I have a good job. I must answer for what I do with my money. That is terrifying to me. May God have mercy on me! Do I need the things I own? Would something of lesser value have been sufficient in order that I could have given more? Fear is also a factor. I might need that money in the future. Emergencies do occur. All of this is a result of death and dying, not life.

Jesus’ nativity destroys the fear of mortality. At His first Advent, He came to save, not to condemn. At His Passion and Resurrection, He conquered death and dying. Yes, we remain in mortal, dying bodies; but, nevertheless, we are not dying. The mortal body is dying, yet we are growing, living. St. Leo said: “There is for all one common measure of joy because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon.”

Life is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance. You will recognize these as the fruit of the Spirit. Christ brings us this as a result of His nativity. St. Leo concluded his sermon: “Let us then, dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit, Who for His great mercy, wherewith He has loved us, has had pity on us: and when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together in Christ, that we might be in Him a new creation and a new production. Let us put off then the old man with his deeds: and having obtained a share in the birth of Christ let us renounce the works of the flesh. Christian, acknowledge your dignity, and becoming a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct. Remember the Head and the Body of which you are a member. Recollect that you were rescued from the power of darkness and brought out into God's light and kingdom. By the mystery of Baptism you were made the temple of the Holy Ghost: do not put such a denizen to flight from you by base acts, and subject yourself once more to the devil's thralldom: because your purchase money is the blood of Christ, because He shall judge you in truth Who ransomed you in mercy, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reigns forever and ever. Amen.”  T.T.