Fr. Bryan Howard
The Nativity of the Lord – 25 December 2018
Merry Christmas! We’ve finally made it to another Christmas and are once again gathered around the altar of the Lord to celebrate the incarnation, the becoming flesh of Jesus Christ and His coming into the world. For Christianity, today is perhaps the second most important day of the year, second to Easter, but culturally, and, of course, economically, it’s probably the most important day of the year. It’s almost like there are two different celebrations of Christmas, the Christian one and the cultural one which is influenced by Christianity but is participated in by many non-Christians as well.
The incarnation is one of the great acts of God’s love for us, along with the Creation of the universe and the death and Resurrection of Jesus. The incarnation is a sign of God’s love for us, showing us that God desires so much to be with us, to be close to us, that He came down to become one of us and open the gates of heaven so that humanity sits at the right hand of God in the person of Jesus Christ. When you love someone you desire nothing more than for them to love you in return. So, why should we love God?
Should we love God because of everything that He’s done for us? We should certainly be grateful to God for creating us, redeeming us, sending His Holy Spirit to be with us, and calling us to heaven, but that’s not why we should love Him. I say that for two reasons. First, if I love God because of what He’s done for me, then I might stop loving God when bad things happen to me. More to the point, though, is that that’s not what love is. If I love God because of all the good things that He’s done for me, then it’s not God that I love, it’s myself. Love isn’t about what I can get from you, but what I can give to you. Love always seeks to do good for the beloved, not to take from them.
Should we love God because of His majesty and power? We should respect God because of His majesty and power, but that’s not why we should love Him. The Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It’s the beginning of wisdom, not the end of wisdom. When we’re immature in the faith we need to learn the Ten Commandments and the punishment due to sin to begin to learn discipline, but if we stop there we remain immature in the faith. As we mature in the faith we move on to the Beatitudes, the virtues, and the laws of love. We avoid sin and strive to do good not because we’re afraid of being punished, but because we’ve grown in our love for God. It’s like the difference between respecting your parents as a child because they’ll punish you if you don’t and respecting your parents as an adult because you don’t want to hurt or disappoint them.
We should love God for the same reason that we should love anyone, because of Who He IS. God is the source of life, goodness, and truth. He is all good, all loving, all powerful, all knowing, and all present. He is perfectly just, giving to each one what they deserve, but He is also all merciful, showing mercy to all. He cannot be contained by the entire universe, and yet He was contained in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and held in her arms. He is more powerful than all the armies in the world, and yet He came to us as an infant. He is the king of the universe and all riches are His, and yet He was born to a poor carpenter and lain in a feeding trough for a bed. He is no fairy tale that happened a long time ago in a land far, far away. He was born to Mary and Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem in the land of Judea about the year 2 B.C. and lived and died in Palestine, and yet He is the unchangeable God, the same yesterday, today, and forever. If we can learn to love God for Himself, then that love will be an immovable rock, and when the wind and rain of the trials of life come, that rock of God’s love will always be there.
So, get to know who God is. You cannot love what you do not know, but the more you get to know God, the more you will love Him and want to be near Him. We get to know God first by spending time with Him. Though He ascended into heaven, He didn’t leave us, but He left us His presence in the Most Holy Eucharist. We have Eucharist adoration here every first Wednesday from 8:30 AM to 7:00 PM and every Friday from 7:00 AM for an hour before the 8:00 AM Mass. You also get to know Jesus by talking to Him and listening to Him, that is by praying. Spend some time in prayer every day, and try to do it at the same time every day. Make that God’s time. Read the Bible or pray the Rosary or just talk to God, just pray. Finally, make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we hurt someone we love we have to go apologize to them and try to repair the damage we’ve caused, and it’s the same with God. God has given us the Sacrament of Confession so we can be assured of His forgiveness and receive the grace to be strengthened against sin in the future. There are many other ways to grow closer to God, but these three, staying close to the Eucharist, frequent confession, and daily prayer, are the most important and the most powerful. We know that God loves us, not least of all because He came to live and die for us, so we should also learn who God is personally, so we can learn to love Him better.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.