One of the classic Catholic spiritual practices, developed in the 16th century and spread by St. Ignatius of Loyola and his Jesuits, is a sort of thought experiment performed by entering into the character of one of the figures in Scripture while contemplating biblical passages.
Among the many benefits of this practice of “visual imagination” is that the immediacy of the sights, sounds and smells of the passage contemplated strips away the haze of 2,000 intervening years. It draws us into the gritty reality of the events of the Incarnation, life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it helps us orient our lives today with the defining events of salvation history.
Perhaps more than any other, our reflection on Christ’s birth needs this purification. All of the good things associated with Christmas — the carols, the decorations, the food, the shopping, the cards, the gifts — risk overshadowing the profound mystery of God’s incomprehensible gift to us — here in December 2009 — of his only Son. The Incarnation is an event that, if taken seriously, must have a profound impact on the way we conduct our lives.
Christmas is a celebration of life, not only in the newborn Christ but in spiritual life and the material detachment into which he chose to be born. Christians are called to proclaim that Good News.
Reflecting on the Nativity reveals modern echoes of the drama surrounding Jesus’ birth: Even as most of the Western world focuses its attention and festivities this season upon a baby, ironically, today’s King Herods are setting about what amounts to a new slaughter of the innocents.
Just weeks ago, the United Nations’ Population Fund released a report calling increased population a threat to the world’s climate and called on wealthy nations to funnel contraception and access to “reproductive rights,” understood as abortion, to developing countries (see story, Page 4).
Catholics take it for granted that caring for the earth is part of our religious portfolio. But as Pope Benedict XVI said on the eve of the U.N. climate summit this month in Copenhagen, Denmark, protection of the environment requires rediscovery of the “moral dimension” of development.
“The protection of creation demands the adoption of lifestyles that are sober and responsible, especially toward the poor and future generations,” the pope said at his noon Angelus prayer in early December. What better invitation to a “sober and responsible” lifestyle than reflecting on the humble birth of our Savior.
In his ground-breaking encyclical earlier this year, Caritas in Veritate (“Love in Truth”), the pope noted that “openness to life is at the center of true development.”
Despite what some policy wonks would like to think, respect for all human life and every human life is the key to true development and environmental conservation. The pope pointed out: “When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.”
The celebration of Christmas is a celebration of life — both spiritual and physical. May we immerse ourselves — in our own lives, in our families, in our parishes — in finding opportunities to foster life.
We at Our Sunday Visitor wish our readers a holy, happy, reflective — and life-giving — Christmas.
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