The following is taken from a meditation given by Fr. Bruce Wren L.C. at Catholic Professionals of Illinois Advent Retreat 2015 (Part 4)
If Christ has come to us, then he also calls us (or “attracts us” is perhaps a better way to say it). Faced with the absolute impossibility in which mortality enchains us, faced with this boredom, “the ugliest, nastiest, and most foul” than any other vice, that Baudelaire speaks of in the post-Christian modern man, God incarnate in Jesus Christ presents another possibility which becomes an urgent appeal: this call is expressed in different ways:
Anyone who wants to follow me, let him deny himself.
If you love me, feed my sheep.
There is no greater love than to give one’s life for those who you love…
But in the end it’s the same thing: become “children of God” by accepting the law of charity in our lives.
And charity is not easy. Jesus said: “I have come to bring fire on the Earth, and how I wish it were already ablaze.”
In one of his writings, Origen wrote about an apocryphal phrase of Jesus (which perhaps was not said by him, but approaches his words reported in the Gospel): “whoever approaches me, approaches fire.” This is true. But this is not the fire that destroys.
Mallarmé, a French symbolist poet of the 19th century, said, “destruction was my Beatrice,” [recall Dante’s Inferno] and this is in some ways the kind of motto of modern man, it is the spirit that has rejected Christ. But the fire of Christ is not destructive; it illuminates, purifies, liberates, makes us grow. It is light and heat to the point of purification, but light and heat nonetheless.
If we remember the Burning Bush of the Old Testament, we see the same image: God in a burning Bush that burns without consuming attracts Moses to meet him. Christmas is the same call. This is a real option put before our eyes: Christianity or return to a world without Christ. Christmas is a call to what is deepest within us: we want to be happy with a happiness that is authentic and lasts, based not on illusion (e.g., drugs) or feelings or pleasures that pass, not on a desire to enjoy in the most selfish way of this world, but on the contrary to seek happiness in the faith that captures the truth, and love that, as St. Paul says, builds up to the eternity, and never fails (1Cor. 13:8). “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
What is amazing to me about Christmas is that despite how much we love it, it only becomes truly loveable when we take it seriously! To become a child of God is not easy or free. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why modern society has rejected Christ. Today we no longer want to see Christ as the path of humanity, because it’s too hard, or at least it seems to be. Christ said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” but the modern world does not accept this: it is too cowardly, or lazy… Baudelaire wrote in his poem “the taste of nothingness” (le Goût de Néant):
Morne esprit, autrefois amoureux de la lutte,
L’Espoir, dont l’éperon attisait ton ardeur,
Ne veut plus t’enfourcher! Couche-toi sans pudeur
Vieux cheval dont le pied à chaque obstacle bute.
Résigne-toi, mon coeur; dors ton sommeil de brute.
[Poor weary soul! To think how you would plunge and leap
When the bright spur of Hope into your flank was pressed!
He has unsaddled you for good. Lie down and rest,
Old decrepit horse, old nag not worthy of your keep.
You, too, my heart, lie down and sleep your bestial sleep.]
But this is not Christian language. After Christ, life has become divine, it has become a promise of immortality, a hope of salvation! It is worthwhile to save it, and it is worthwhile to fight for it. The price of Christian life is effort, and the true peace of the human heart is won through combat! (A silly but true example is dieting… we moderns want our cake and to eat it too, and so we do eat it. And afterward, one is worse than ever. A diet is not easy, but it gives us a better life, peace).
What is the price of a truly human life for us, our children? The moral effort and courage of the faith. [If we] Do not have the moral effort to let us fight; do not have the faith to let us hope… and we return to Baudelaire sooner or later.
The price? It is the cross. But a cross which begets love, and life. The fantastic and wonderful thing about Christmas is that it is not a myth!
It is the historic beginning of a true story of a man who knew that He was God, and opened up the path for man so that he also could open up a path for himself, the way of love, truth and virtue. Until we have accepted this kind of man, we are never truly human (“lie down and sleep your bestial sleep”), it will be quiet, perhaps, but a quiet that is more death than life. Christmas and its meaning bring us peace, a peace that is life, and the promise of still more and a better life to come.
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.