Miriam Hogan, O.C.D.
Christmas is often associated with the word Glory. We have the angel's statement: “Glory to God in the highest.” Lk 2:14 Then, on the other hand, we sometimes talk about a person entering into glory meaning that they have died and are now with God. Either way, it seems that glory is most commonly used to indicate the presence of God in our lives or in the lives of those we love. Perhaps Christmas is always a good time to reflect on the occasions when we felt like singing the Gloria, or to ask ourselves what we might consider glorious moments. Sometimes, perhaps in fact most often, we are reminded of Glory in unexpected ways and circumstances.
The Simple Gift Of A Stranger
For example, there are many stories in the south-west about kindness to strangers. Nevertheless, a personal experience caught me by surprise. It happened when I was younger and working my way through college, I used to take time off and travel by car to Texas to be with family for Christmas. One year, while traveling in the late evening, I was extremely tired and a bit weary. So about half way through the journey, I stopped to get coffee and a sandwich. The restaurant was in some out of the way place, high up in the mountains, and there was only myself, the waitress, and another customer in the whole place. I had forgotten all about it being Christmas Eve. Yet, when I finished supper and went to pay at the register, the waitress said it had already been paid for. Umm…? The truck was pulling away and was almost back on the highway, as I went to the door and waved a thank you. The driver may have never seen my gesture of gratitude, yet, the simple gift of a stranger had made the night holy for me again!
The thought came to me that maybe the driver didn't want to be thanked that night. Perhaps in his own way he was giving glory to God.
Now, in our Carmelite tradition, we know that St. John of the Cross understood a lot about God's glory. In The Living Flame of Love, we find the lines:
Filled with good and glory,
How tenderly You swell my heart with love.
Of course this is God mystically entering into our lives and drawing us to enter into the Life of God. In faith we respond, seeking to live our life for the honor and glory of God. John recognized that this involves one's whole life and includes mostly ordinary simple experiences. As Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., explains in John of the Cross, Doctor of Light and Love :
“We are called for the purpose of glorifying God. Words spoken in set patterns of praise glorify God. Praising God is not, however, accomplished only in the assembly or in preset patterns of prayer. In the New Testament, followers of Christ are enjoined to give glory to God not only in prayer but with their whole lives. There is the injunction in 1Cor. 10:31 that ‘whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.'” (page 102)
The Heavens Opened
Further, we know that Jesus in the form of a tiny babe was the ultimate revelation of God's glory. So holy was the presence of this unique Child that the heavens opened and the angels announced his birth. What until this time in history only happened at the end of life, occurred at the beginning. By the Incarnation, God entered into our human life and experience so that we might share in God's Divinity.
St. Irenaeus is credited with the statement that “the Glory of God is man fully alive.” In the past this was an especially popular quote for those who were in formation or involved in formation work. Currently, aside from the obvious difficulties making it “fit literally” with the feminist view, it is quoted less frequently. Perhaps it is also less quoted for a more serious reason. The statement can, and has in the past, been misinterpreted to mean that human life and the full development of one's talents and potential are the most important values one needs to consider. At best, this interpretation can foster narcissism, and at the worst, draw one away from focusing their attention on doing the will of God which may involve service, suffering and sacrifice. John of the Cross was clear that the glory of God for us on earth is to be doing God's will and that one who “seeks not the cross of Christ seeks not the glory of Christ.” (Maxims on Love # 23 ) * The cross can be encountered in many different forms. Briefly stated, human limitations such as sickness, poverty, old age etc. and even dying are experiences that cannot exclude the glory of God. The Gospel of John, Chapter 17, records Christ stating: “ I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do... the glory which thou hast given to me I have given to them…."
This Christmas, then, let us rejoice and again celebrate by giving our lives to God, knowing that the God we love, is always seeking to become part of our own personal story, and to draw us into the heavenly rejoicing.
* The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross , trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., and Otilio Ridriquez, O.C.D. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1991)
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