“Christmas Day Mass: A Share in the Son’s Receptivity, Full of Blessing” (12/25/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
In the mystery of Christmas, we celebrate the three births of God the Son. The Son is begotten of the Father from all eternity. The Son is born of the Virgin Mary 2,000 years ago. And the Son is born in us now. Aquinas observes in a sermon of his that the Son’s coming as man, as he says, “leads to another coming of Christ, which is into our soul. It would have been worth nothing to us if Christ had come in the flesh unless, along with this, he would also come into our soul, namely, by sanctifying grace” (Legge, 55).
St. Thomas’ words here echo the words of our Gospel from the Prologue of John: “But to those who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, born not of flesh, nor the will of man, but born of God.” We are made children of God by the Son being born in us by grace.
Our entrance antiphon for the Mass echoes this and proclaims, “A child is born for us, and a son is given to us.” The Son is given to us and he is born in our souls so we may share in his life and his identity as Son.
These words from the Prologue and from the entrance antiphon made the Church in the Middle Ages see our third Christmas Mass as focused especially on the third birth of the Son: his birth in our souls. The 14th century Dominican John Tauler sums things up in this way:
“We celebrate these three births today with three Masses.” “The first and most sublime of these three births which we celebrate today is the birth, within the Godhead, of the only Son of the Heavenly Father, divinely begotten by Him. The second is His human birth, when Mary became His mother without any loss of her virgin purity. The third is the spiritual birth; every day and at every hour God is born into the souls of all the just, through grace and love.”
He continues, “The Son will give Himself to us as our own, more completely ours than anything we have ever called our own. The text [of the entrance antiphon] says: ‘A child is born for us, and a son is given to us.’ He is ours. He is all our own, more truly ours than anything else we own, and constantly, ceaselessly, He is born in us” (153-4).
This is a beautiful way to reflect on this Christmas Mass. The Son comes close to us in the Baby Jesus so we will approach him confidently and feel him close to us. Yet he becomes even more intimate in being born in our souls. More intimate to me than I am to myself.
We might ask, then, well what does this birth effect and bring about in us? Well, it makes us more like Jesus, the Son. The one thing I’ll single out in this Christmas homily is the Son effecting in us spiritual childhood. As the Son is born in us, he makes us like himself, as Son. From all eternity, the Son has received everything from the Father. And when the Son becomes man, he receives everything from the Father as a human being. He receives everything from the Father with great trust, with simplicity, with a poverty of spirit, with gratitude, with confidence, with joy, and with great love. This is a big grace of Christmas for us: Growing in this spiritual childhood as the Son is born in us anew.
The Son comes into our world as man, still in this radical state of receptivity. He’s a little child. He’s so dependent. He receives all from his Father in heaven, now through the hands of Mary and Joseph. The Son’s receptivity from the Father from all eternity becomes visible before our eyes in the Babe in the manger. And as the Son is born in us anew, he draws us more deeply into this mystery of filial receptivity.
The poverty of the manger, the poverty of the stable in Bethlehem, the poverty of Nazareth, all show us the poverty of spirit that we are called to in sharing in the Son’s receptivity, receiving all from the Father. It often means we have to be stripped. Only then will we come to depend more radically upon the Father. The Son draws us into this radical dependence and receptivity. The Baby Jesus makes us childlike in this trustful surrender to God. This is the spirituality of childlikeness. We receive all from the Father like Jesus did, with great trust, with simplicity, with a poverty of spirit, with gratitude, with confidence, with joy, and with great love.
The Son is born in us anew and we are given a greater share in his utter receptivity of all from the Father. We are receptive not only of our daily provisions but even more so we are receptive in prayer. Receptive in the deepest levels of our being. Just as the Son received his being from the Father and lived out of that deep spring of life, so in prayer we enter into those depths to live out of the life we find there, gushing forth into our souls. Deep prayer is that radical receptivity in the depths of our spirits.
But it’s not always easy to live out this childlike trust and surrender. Catherine Doherty, the founder of Madonna House, said she had one prayer that was her favorite and that she most often prayed. Isn’t it interesting to know what prayer most often sprung out from this holy woman’s soul? She said her soul most often cried out this to the Lord, “Give me the heart of a child, and the awesome courage to live it out.”
Some people might think, What kind of courage does having a heart of a child require?! Isn’t it taking the easy way out? What’s so hard about having a childlike heart. I think all we can say is, Give it a try and you will see how hard it is. It does take courage to go about our daily duties and to take care of our responsibilities with the heart of a child. To have that trustful surrender, that joy, that humble receptivity, in all that we do and in all our responsibilities. We need the grace of God to do this. We need the Son to be born anew in our soul. Lord, “Give me the heart of a child, and the awesome courage to live it out!” Father, give me the heart of your Son, and the Spirit, the Encourager, to live it out!
And where does the poverty and receptivity of Christmas leave us? Cast down? Where did it leave the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God? Mary the lowly handmaid of the Lord was empty of herself and, as a result, she was filled with God. Our emptiness and poverty too creates a receptive womb for God’s fullness. “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven” (Jn 3). And when we are entirely dependent on what comes from heaven, the floodgates of heaven open.
Mary sings of this. The Lord has filled the hungry with good things. He has come to the help of his servant Israel. He has mercy on those who fear him. He has lifted up the lowly. He has looked with favor on his lowly servant. Jesus too says the same, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus, the Son, was born of Mary’s womb but Jesus, the Son, was also born in her soul. The Son was born most perfectly in Mary’s soul. St. Augustine notes, “Mary first conceived the Son in her heart by faith and then in her womb.” The Son was born in her soul by grace and so Mary became more and more like the Son. She was poor in spirit and received all from the Father heaven.
The depth of Mary’s spirit was receptive to the Lord. And so, she was filled to overflowing with the Lord’s blessings. “Most blessed art thou among women,” we say. And even she says, “All generations will call me blessed. The Lord has done great things for me and holy is his Name.” Yet in all this greatness, Mary remains the humble vessel. She remains the humble handmaid of the Lord. She remains the simple child who receives all. Ah, the simplicity of the child!
So, to close, we look to Mary as the perfect image of this third birth of the Son, the birth of the Son in our souls. Poor and totally dependent upon God, she shared most in the radical receptivity of the Son. And this humble receptivity made her transparent to the greatness of the Lord. As a result, Mary’s humility radiates greatness. And Mary’s greatness radiates humility. She’s totally open and transparent to the birth of her Son from within her. She receives it most completely and radiates it out.
So, Mary’s humility radiates greatness. Mary’s greatness radiates humility. Quite simply, Mary radiates God. As the Son is born in her soul, Mary radiates him out completely, manifesting him to the world. It’s all about her Son being born in her soul and her Son radiating out of her soul. So Mary radiates God.
We contemplate all this in the manger scene as we ourselves are drawn into the Mystery of Christmas. Mary’s humility radiates greatness. Mary’s greatness radiates humility. Quite simply, Mary radiates God. May we radiate Mary, and her Son. Amen.