By Miriam Hogan, O.C.D.
In thinking about Christmas, I am drawn to reflect upon the silence that precedes the mystery of Christ being born into time. St. John of the Cross expressed it thus: “The Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence must It be heard by the soul.”1
This year as Christmas approaches my heartfelt desire is to enter more deeply into silence. The kind of silence that St. John of the Cross describes being experienced in a “tranquil night.” A night of “silent music and sounding solitude.”2
In the midst of all our preparations, all our parties and all our concerns and prayers for the world situation, one can ask, “Is it still possible to enter into the silence?” How does one prepare one’s heart for the freshness of the mystery? We live in a world of politics. Yet, Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem because of the politics of their nation. We live in a world that is highly competitive. The person that gets there first, or has influence, gets the best accommodations. Yet, we know that Mary and Joseph settled for a stable. We have the riches of cell phones, computers, and rapid transit. Yet, even with all of these things we can only wonder about the heavens opening and the angels singing to a few poor shepherds.
Perhaps, in attempting to enter into silence we can ask Our Lady to intercede for us as we begin the journey to a place of stillness within. She sought out the silence of the night in order to focus on her child within. Thus, while it is true that we are called everyday to focus on the God within us, it is especially true in times of crisis. The darkness of the night can make the light that we carry within us daily, all the more evident.
Also, we might recall the graces of Christmas Eves in our past. For example, as a child I watched my own mother prepare for Christmas. She worked hard making old toys look new, hand-crafting items that she could not afford to buy for a large family. Yet, after the tree was decorated and the toys were wrapped she had the custom of going quietly to church on Christmas Eve, for confession and for a bit of quiet before coming back for Midnight Mass. I now know that this was her way of giving her heart to Jesus first. Years have passed, and the once delightful toys are woven into history, yet what remains and inspires my brothers and sisters and myself is the example that we experienced of our mother’s deep faith.
Further, we might read a favorite passage or poem to help us meditate on the mystery of this holy night. For example in the book A Woman Wrapped In Silence, Lynch, the author, poetically tells the gospel story through the eyes of Mary and focuses on the Incarnation in the person of Jesus.
It is in the presence of Mary that the Incarnation first becomes common and everyday mysticism. She invites us to know a Christ who accepts our human love and cries our human tears.
To give another example, the New Catechism assures us that just as Christ experienced the fullness of our humanity, we are invited to share in His divinity. The section on the Christmas mystery states that: “Only when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled in us....We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”4
Finally, in order to be formed in Christ we become vulnerable as children. This is perhaps the key and most difficult part. In fact, St. Edith Stein once observed: “It is easier to be crucified with Christ on the cross than it is to become a babe with him in Bethlehem.”5 Edith wrote these lines while facing an uncertain future in the darkness of Germany’s politics before WWII, when the cross was very much on the horizon. We also face the darkness of war and an uncertain future. Yet, we are also aware that: “To become a child in relation to God is the condition for entering the kingdom. For this, we must humble ourselves and become little. Even more to become ‘children of God’ we must be ‘born from above’ or ‘born of God.’”6
I believe that it is God Who places the desire for silence within us, and it is God Who speaks to us in the silence. One of the great joys of Christmas is that we can come to Christ, whatever our circumstance in life. And, while it is always a bit frightening to humble ourselves, we can take a fresh look upon the gentle scene of mother and Child and come to know deep within our own heart, that it is God who first took on our own littleness and humility. With Mary as our older sister and guide, we dare to enter more deeply into the silence, realizing that still, after all we have tried to do and say, “ the language that God best hears, is that of silent love.”7
1The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1973), p. 675
2 Ibid. p.412
3John W. Lynch, A Woman Wrapped In Silence (New York, N.Y.: Paulist Press, 1968) p.45
4United States Catholic Conference, Inc. — Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Catechism Of The Catholic Church, (Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications 1994) # 526 p. 133
5 Edith Stein adapted
6United States Catholic Conference, Inc. — Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Catechism Of The Catholic Church, (Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications 1994) # 526 p. 133
7The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1991), p. 95
Christmas Articles | J&J Main Page