At dusk, a very young, very pregnant woman rides on a donkey led by her husband, a man whose full beard already shows quite a bit of grey. She is protected from the chill by heavy blankets, well made by family, perhaps by herself. She says something, he responds curtly without turning to look; after a moment she flicks the corner of one of her blankets at him and he turns with a sly smile. The donkey sidesteps a bit, as if in on the joke, but otherwise moves steadily on the road south to Bethlehem.
Not a complaint, though in her condition she could have had many. He might have had a few as well. Each of their worlds had changed radically not even nine months before. You might not see the peace and love between them so much as a stoic determination to safely reach the City of David in time for the census. That’s if you even thought to look.
You would not know that this unborn child was the Messiah, the Son of God. He was already feared by the king, who was sending agents out looking for the one — “the king of the Jews” — whose arrival was foretold in a prophecy. You wouldn’t see that the woman was the only one who understood — to the extent that she could have gathered in those eight-plus months — that her child would change the world.
But what if you did suddenly know who Mary and Joseph were, and you knew that you were witnessing the arrival of the One who would bring salvation to mankind? What if you had a place to stay and saw them turned away from other lodgings; wouldn’t you insist that they take your room? Wouldn’t you make sure that they had everything they needed and that the room was cleaned and ready? Wouldn’t you ask for help from your family on the outskirts of town, and make sure that they knew how important it was that this baby arrived safely? Wouldn’t you have the greatest gift you could gather ready when He arrived?
This is where we are today. We know that Christ is coming, and that He is looking for room in our hearts. Still, many of us postpone the cleaning, or even let the room fill up with other things, so that there really isn’t room for the Christ child. We may even be shy about reaching out to friends and family, so we don’t let them see the urgency and joyful expectation that they should see in us.
Don’t you know who this child is? We must prepare our hearts and homes, and make Him room, starting today. And we must do all we can to know that those around us know Him as well, and see Him in our love and action.
We have been talking for weeks about the need to be people of true Christian hope, united in charity and truth, so that we can respond adequately to the needs around us. We have spent some time — though surely not enough — looking at some of the key teachings of the Church as they relate to life and the way in which these teachings have been rejected not only by society, but even by some within the Church. This rejection has blinded many to the true causes of the problems that we all see around us, and has fractured our families and communities. It is up to us to respond in charity and truth.
In other words, the task before us remains urgent and must take shape in the circumstances around us. We form ourselves in the Sacraments, the truth of the Gospel, in the teachings of the Church, and we ready ourselves to be Christ for one another. We make Christ visible to those around us by our example as people of true Christian hope. We reach out in charity to our own communities and let our neighbors know that we are there for them, that they are not alone, that there is room for them.
We must also remember that contraception — the divorce between the unitive and procreative aspects of human sexuality — must be addressed if we are to expect any lasting victory in the fight for life and family. Open to life is essential. Treating life as simply a convenience and valuing only the “wanted” in society inevitably leads to abuses such as abortion and euthanasia. Indeed, Salvation Himself entered the world through the birth of a child.
With God’s grace, we strive to become the kind of people that we find in the Saints: passionate, fearless, honest and generous, and unflinchingly in love with Jesus Christ. We cannot get lost in the urgency of the chaos around us, lest we lose our hope and our focus. We engage these evils, to be sure, but we do so with hearts formed in Christ, ready to respond in real charity and His truth.
While this column marks the end of the series on the task before us, there is obviously much ground to cover. We haven’t yet touched on Familiaris Consortio, Saint John Paul II’s wonderful teaching on the family, and related teachings from him and Pope Benedict XVI. We will do this in the new year, as the joyful defense of traditional family is how we will best protect our children and recover the foundation of our communities and society. But we will also be looking at how the fight for life and family fits in with the Church’s social doctrine, following the heart of the Church on these questions up through the great work of Pope Benedict.
It seems like dusk in our nation and in the world, but Christ is right before us, brought to us by the Holy Family. All for the Glory of God, and the defense of life and family, as Father Marx put it in laying out HLI’s mission. For now, let’s focus on preparing Him room in our hearts and homes. Let’s offer the Christ Child the greatest gift we can offer Him, hearts that are ready to receive Him, and families that know Who it is we celebrate during this Holy Season.