Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena

A Parish of the Archdiocese of New York served by the Dominican Friars

December 17, 2016

Unwrapping the Whole Christ at Christmas – Pastor’s Reflection (December 18, 2016)

Those familiar with the devotion we call “the Angelus” will recognize the collect, or opening prayer for this Sunday.

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of His Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the
Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Grace holds this prayer together. The flesh taking of Christ, His fleshly death on the Cross, and the
glorification of that same flesh each constitute a favor, or gratuity, on the part of God: at Christmas and at Holy Week we celebrate gifts received, not rights won. To leave things here would make us grateful spectators of God’s unfolding kindness, but in fact He has made us partners in it.

At Christmas we perceive the Infant Jesus as God’s tender and adorable present, then in the
Crucifixion we behold the same gift, as He allows His son to undergo the Passion. But joined to God’s gift is the gift Jesus makes of Himself with all His adult freedom. In him the loving intent of God has begotten a completely harmonious will-to-give in a human being. Thus the incomparable grace of eternal life can claim a divine and human root, and this reveals the dignifying purpose of God making us

What God does with the humanity of Jesus, He intends to accomplish also with ours. As you hear the Christmas story again this year, you will see the plan at work already in Mary and Joseph. Indeed, each
member of the Holy Family features as God’s willing collaborator in the extraordinary work of the
redemption. So for ourselves we may surely celebrate the truth that Jesus has come as a gift that we might ourselves become a gift alongside Him, as God will direct. The result is real lives lived beyond contract and beyond job description, at home and at work.

Thus the “gratuity” in grace means more than a kindness received. As the prayer suggests, grace enters us and reorients the whole of our character. We are to take our conscious place in God’s economy of gift. There is no moment of life in which we are not recipients of God’s life-giving love and sustenance, but we are also able to relay this favor to others in very specific ways and these patterns of service not only give us the
satisfaction of virtue, which is real, they also fit us for heaven. God’s renovation of us has this eternal purpose; that He does not simply let us into heaven as a kindness, but through His sanctifying work, we become
genuinely comfortable in that place beyond imagining.

We treat the gift-giving of Christmas as an annual splurge but actually its the most real time of the year. This feast opens up a window onto the true state of our affairs. The transactional economy of earning, paying, and dealing, shows itself to be illusory, even though it preoccupies us much of the time. Here is the lesson learned by Ebenezer Scrooge; he discovered the goodness in Christmas, and Christmas laid bare the goodness in him.

I hope that all of this teaching takes visible shape in the creche at the Holy Name Altar in St. Vincent Ferrer. The infant lies directly under the image of His presentation in the Temple, as rendered in the triptych. Joseph and Mary, having received Him as a gift make of Him a gift. Below, on the face of the altar, the crown of thorns manifests the implication of that gift.

This year, may we each grow closer to the economy of gift, and to the discovery of our truest selves.

Have blessed days of preparation.
Fr. Walter