Reflection: The Divine Gift

John Heffernan, OFM Features

As Christmas approaches, a friar invites readers to reflect on the signs of winter days and to see Christ in the faces of those who need shelter, help, and love.

There was a violinist who played a magnificent prelude on the Second Sunday of Advent, at the 9 a.m. Mass. The sweetness and beauty of the music startled all in the nave. My first impression was that this sound — this voice — was saying: if you think this is wonderful, there is more and it is even better. I heard it call me like John the Baptist; simply pointing the way beyond itself.

That impression, however, would miss all that I hope to experience and convey this season. I am not simply waiting for something else. I am not simply preparing so as to increase the wonder of the Christmas mystery.

My hope for my brothers and me, and for our parish community, is that we find the beauty and the invitation of the incarnate Christ in each step of our lives. I see Advent this year as an intense practice of what we practice all year.

Pope Francis inspires me in this regard. Good Jesuit that he is, the pontiff would describe seeking God in all things, so much like Francis of Assisi who found God in all Creation, especially the poor and infirm. So it was when a few weeks ago, after visiting refugee camps in Bangladesh, Pope Francis declared that, “The presence of God today is also called Rohingya.” With those words, he challenges us to regard the world around us, all life around us as we read the signs of these winter days.

Looking at the Faces of Forgotten Ones
The pope states that God continues to walk in the midst of God’s created order, among all God’s creatures. He tells us that God’s countenance is recognizable and that we must receive and honor him. This seemingly simple phrase beckons us to look in the faces of forgotten ones, of the unwanted and abused, of the suffering homeless ones who are in all of our neighborhoods. In addition to Rohingya, one of the many uprooted cultures on Earth today, the presence of God today is found with ‘all of these little ones.’

No question, the Lord has come. God is incarnate in Jesus Christ. While Christmas is right around the corner, what we await is Christ’s coming again. We are the people who desire to celebrate well this season of joy. And we are the ones who long to see the face of this Christ today and each day. We need to know that God is still with God’s people and is moving us toward the goodness of God’s Reign of Justice and Love. The question is how to hold onto faith in this reign of God and how to be faithful.

We began Advent after hearing the account of the Great Judgment. Matthew’s Gospel recognizes that acts of hospitality develop a community of God’s faithful ones. In his account, Matthew describes an encounter with another in personal need as an encounter with Christ, himself. In this so-called judgment, Jesus does not threaten punishment. Rather, Jesus offers fine detail for how society is to undergo a cultural change. The Reign of God is this changed culture. It is marked by an interest in another and response to any need that person may experience.

Overcoming Loss of Richness and Possibility
Trusting that God guides this transformation is indeed a challenge. The news we read and hear in the media is filled with accounts of the abuse of the dignity of colleagues and companions; of destructive fire and hurricane; of violence, terror, and war; political intrigue and deception. Faithful, good people desire to overcome such misuse of human dignity, such loss of richness and possibility.

This desire is a good start. Reaching out, moving beyond one’s usual space and meeting another, coming to trust another, a stranger is the beginning of knowing Christ. People who live in the street or public refuge are not simply homeless; they are people who need shelter, help, and love. Likewise, those in need of medical attention are people who are ill and in need of personal attention befitting their status as the beloved of Christ.

The challenges we face today place us on the threshold of a cultural shift. There is prodigious need to change the way we as a nation relate to one another in politics, professions, and religion. As Christians, we are guardians of the treasure of human dignity, of being the image of God. The very incarnation of Christ, God become human is the plan we pursue in this hoped-for transformation. For this reason, we see Christ’s face in another, for this Son of God, born in time, draws us into the very divine life of God.

This divine gift is the miracle of this blessed season of our lives. Embracing this gift is the only hope for God’s people.

— Fr. John is stationed at Holy Name of Jesus Parish on the Upper West Side of New York City where he recently led an Advent series. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he has also worked at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle, Va., and in Lima, Peru. David McBriar, OFM, wrote the previous reflection, titled “Joy, Not Fear”.

Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, current event, holy day, or other seasonal themes – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at Additional reflections by friars can be found on the Spiritual Resources page of the HNP website.

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