Father John A. Hardon, S.J. Archives
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Our Lady of the Rosary - Marian Retreat
The Birth of Jesus
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Our present meditation is on the Third Joyful Mystery, The Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. We shall take the whole story of Our Lords Birth at Bethlehem as one unit and concentrate on certain features of the event. Features, I should add, that now for centuries the great spiritual masters of Christianity have identified with Bethlehem. The features of Bethlehem on which we shall prayerfully reflect are: the Significance of Bethlehem, the Silence of Bethlehem and the Simplicity of Bethlehem. I find over the years whenever is possible to use alliteration it helps people remember.
Turning Point in Human History
First then, the Significance of Bethlehem. The first twenty verses of St. Lukes narrative of Christs Nativity mark the turning point in human history. Historical events are important, or better, events become historical according to the influence which those events have had in shaping lives and history of individuals and of whole nations. But no event in the annals of the human race, absolutely none - indeed, all other events recorded in human history put together; individually, no event has and collectively all the events have not had as profound and widespread effect on mankind as the Birth of Jesus, in an obscure hamlet called Bethlehem, in what we now call Asia Minor. All of the human race, and this we should keep telling ourselves, the whole human race - even people who are not Christian; indeed, people who may have calendars of their own, like the Muslims - the whole human race dates human history as either before Christ, B.C. or after Christ, Anno Domini, A.D. What I will now share with you, in the first third and the longest third of our meditation, is the fruit of over thirty years in studying, teaching, and publishing about the non-Christian religions - I would never have touched the Koran, or the writings of Buddha, or the (Baghdadi) Veda of the Hindus unless I saw and it became clear with the passage of time: Christ has profoundly affected all of the human race. What I would have never known otherwise but Ive learned since, what we may call the sacred scriptures of other religions. Everyone has been deeply affected by the teaching and the life of Christ. Lets be more specific. What are we talking about? Were addressing ourselves to the influence that Christs Birth in Bethlehem has had on the human race ever since. And I have it in ten parts.
God is not a Solitary Being
Number one. The Birth of Christ provided the human race with access to such knowledge as the world had never possessed before. No philosopher, no human genius, all of them, indeed, put together have not provided one small fraction of the knowledge that the world has acquired with the coming of Christ. Secondly, what kind of knowledge has the coming of Christ given to the human race? The knowledge of Who God is. That God is not a solitary being but that God is the Eternal Infinite Society of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Indeed, we believe that unless God was from all eternity a Society; there would be no society on earth today.
God Created the World Out of Love
Third, the coming of Christ has given the world the knowledge that God created the world out of Love. I go back to what Ive said before; this is no mere footnote. Billions of people in our world whove never heard the names of Jesus and Mary. You read their writings, the best of them; they do not know (I mean it!) they do not know where the world came from and why the world exists. This will be a footnote. And if theres one thing, we better pray and ask God to protect our country from being infected by this massive deluge of error that is flooding our country under the guise of oriental mysticism, oriental philosophy, oriental religions. I couldnt believe my eyes when I saw this; a woman in Detroit gave me a copy of the catalogue for the New Age Movement. Youve heard about New Age. Its a catalogue not just of books but of publishers. One statistic Ill never forget: There were this year over twenty-four hundred stores in the United States selling New Age books and everyone of them is the opposite of Christianity. As though were still searching for the meaning of life.
God Took on Our Own Human Nature
How has the coming of Christ influenced the world? Christs coming has taught the world that God so loved the world that He took on our own human nature; was born of a human Mother, ate bodily food, breathed our material air, was tired and was thirsty, was offended, misunderstood, persecuted, unjustly condemned to an agonizing death. All for us. I go back for the third time on thirty years immersion in the non-Christian religions of the world. God is either an impersonal force or somehow the universe and even God is spoken of as a personal being. Nothing of the crystal-clarity of our Faith.
Christs Birth in Bethlehem Gives Us a Purpose in This Life
Number five. As a result of Christs Birth in Bethlehem, not only we but the whole human race (thats why God was born at Bethlehem) so that those who believe might share their Faith with others, that we have a purpose in this life: To know this Loving God, serve Him faithfully here on earth and thus be at peace in this world and perfectly happy in the world to come. What Bethlehem gives us is finality, purpose, a goal. And theres one danger as we all know is to cast our eyes down or be diverted by something else, instead of always keeping in view why were here. All of this was taught us beginning at Bethlehem.
Church Is Mother and Teacher of All Nations
Moreover, the Birth of Christ has placed into the world a Society which is the Church founded whose purpose is to be the Mother and Teacher of nations. Let me repeat. The Church which Christ founded is meant to be the Mother and Teacher of all nations. And we, in greater or less measure depending on our state of life, our condition, are meant to be part of that Church in mothering and teaching the whole world. Who else in the world today, tell me - who else, what organized body still defends the sanctity of unborn human life except the Catholic Church? Who still defends the stability and sanctity of marriage? Who else except the Catholic Church? But I must add, and within the Church, only those who are not nominal but real Catholics. Oh, dear Lord, how much hypocrisy there is in the Church You founded. The teaching of this Church under the Bishop of Rome is meant not just for pious, simple, unlettered believers. Oh no! Its meant for everybody and the last thing that we Catholics should ever do, ever do, is apologize for our Catholicity.
The Birth of Jesus - As Profound an Impact on the Human Family
We go on. All of this is on the level of significance. Since the coming of Christ, all human beings are to be judged according to the norms set down by Christ and as explained by Him through the Church which He founded. Let no one tell you that abortionists because are either not Christian or Catholic that theyre not responsible. Sure they are! Sure they are! There is no other birth of any other person in the annals of mankind that has shaped and changed and affected and benefited the course of human history as has the Birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. No Socrates or Plato; no Aristotle or Alexander the Great, no Caesar or Cicero, no Charlemagne or Dante, no Napoleon or Washington, no Shakespeare and, surely, no Queen Elizabeth has had as profound an impact for good on the sons and daughters of the human family as has the Birth of Jesus Christ.
My tenth and final observation on the significance of Bethlehem Ever since Bethlehem we have a perfect and infallible norm by which to judge the beneficial influence of anyone in world history, Everyone, and insofar as, anyone who has been faithful to the life and teaching of Jesus Christ has been a source of great blessing to the human race. We are as great benefactors of mankind as we are followers of Jesus Christ. All of this is locked up in the significance of the Birth of Jesus. Surely, we who have been blessed with the True Faith - oh, how casual we can be, how blind to the Divine Treasures that Christ entrusted to us who believe and please God are faithful to the Son of Mary.
Not One Word of Mary Recorded at Bethlehem
Second area of reflection. Silence. When the Holy Spirit inspired the writings of Scriptures He made sure that every detail of what they said and what they did not say should be deeply meaningful. It is surely providential that the one person who is most responsible (what am I saying?) the one person who is most responsible for Christs Birth, namely, His Mother, should not have a single word recorded in St. Lukes narrative of Her Sons Nativity. Did Mary have ideas? Did she ever have ideas! Could she express herself? She sure could! Yet, the Holy Spirit made sure - there is not one recorded word of Mary at Bethlehem. I submit: that is not coincidental.
God Became Speechless for a Reason
We believe that the One born at Bethlehem was the Almighty Word of God. As we read in Genesis: God spoke and the world came into being. Yet, there He was. All the major Fathers of the Church in their homilies on Christs Birth at Bethlehem, all of them that Ive read - some preach whole lengthy homilies. By the way, in those days a two hour homily was normal; for your consolation. They would preach long homilies on the paradox of the Infinite Word of God who brought the world and keeps the world in being. Lying there - speechless. Which, as we know, is what infant means. God became speechless for a reason. And Mary is not recorded as having said anything at Bethlehem - for a reason. What did Christ do?
Incidentally, I think I should put this in and this is a footnote. In the Koran Mohammed drew heavily, especially, on the apocryphal both Old and New Testament writings. Mohammed, in the Koran has Jesus getting up and giving a speech. Not so.
Mary Left the Publicity up to God
Christ, the King of the angels by His Divine Power - His coming was made known but not by Himself. Ah, what were being taught! Self-advertising, self-publicity - look at me! Gaze on this object of whatever quality we think weve got. Mary did not publicize who she was or Who Her Son was. She left - and this is the first lesson from the silence of Bethlehem that I want to share with you - Mary left the publicity up to God. Get It! God, then, because He was God did the miraculous thing of sending His angels to a group of shepherds to announce the Birth of the Eternal Son of the Almighty Father. How stupid we can be to try to do Gods work for Him! I have a rhetorical question. What a litany of lessons for us the silence of Bethlehem should teach, especially in our media and publicity intoxicated age. Silence, as we know, is selective conversation where we choose by preference to communicate in our hearts with God, instead of talking with our lips to our fellow human beings. Indeed how hard this would be to put into practice that we never open our lips in conversation with others until and unless and insofar as we had first opened our hearts in conversation with God! This is where Mary, the Mother of Silence, has so much to teach us talkative, too talkative human persons.
The Most Momentous Event in Human History
Our third level of reflection. Simplicity. Everything about Bethlehem was uncomplicated. There was a decree from Caesar Augustus. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem. There was no lodging in the public inn. So they went, instead, to a stable for the night. In the stable, JESUS was born. It is important and the reason for this meditation. It is important for us to re-examine our own lives. Everything that happened, as we casually say, in Bethlehem was the most momentous event in human history, yet to use the verb, enacted in utter simplicity. Only after His Birth did the angels appear - notice, not before - and then speak to the shepherds in the fields. But the shepherds too - compare the stable, the trough called a manger - shepherds too were very simple people. They came to see the newborn Babe. They believed. And they reported to others what they had seen. Ive said this before and Ill come back to it: God works miracles for those who believe. Why not provided that I believe that God is Almighty? And I believe that this Almighty God became a Child. If I believe in Him, I believe in His Omnipotence. And whatever He wants to do, provided I believe and trust in Him, He will do. I repeat: Miracles are meant to be part of our lives as followers of and believers in Christ. If I didn't believe that, I wouldnt dare say it. And I sure would not be here. We go on.
We Have Only One Purpose in Life
We are reflecting on the Simplicity of Bethlehem. We ask ourselves what a library of lessons Bethlehem should teach us about simplicity. That it is, first of all, the opposite of duplicity. It is also the opposite of complexity. Bethlehem tells us that life is very simple. Weve only one purpose for living in this world - one purpose. And that is the fundamental meaning of simplicity. Weve only one purpose in this life: To believe as the shepherds did, to keep as Mary did (she in her mind, we in ours) the thought of her Son and to keep in our hearts (again as Mary kept in her heart) the love of her Divine Son. Everything else in life is meaningless. This is the simplicity taught us by Christs Birth at Bethlehem. We have come into this world only to know and love God and to show our love for Him by following in the footsteps of His Son become Man.
Lord Jesus, protect us from being mislead by the world in which we live. Help us, dear Lord to make sure that we see meaning in nothing unless it leads us to You; believing in You and serving You faithfully here on earth: Then enjoying You and Your Mother in that heavenly Society for which we were made. Amen. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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