Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas
Scripture Readings: 1 Jn 2:12-17; Lk 2:36-40
Our opening prayer asked that we be free from servitude to sin. We want to be free from false ideas about what will make for happiness. St. John’s letter gives us a guiding principle. He writes, “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” He gets more specific about the worlds false ideas about happiness: “For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world.” And, as such, it won’t last. These compete with the Father for our hearts sense of importance, for making a difference. So how do we keep the love of the Father alive and important in us? Anna the prophetess gives us a direction.
Anna worshipped in the temple night and day with fasting and prayer. It was spiritual practices that engaged the senses and let her see the difference the Father made in her life. She nurtured her heart on the important-in-itself rather than the merely satisfying that the world offers.
Spiritual Practices or Exercises nurture the reason and the will. Their purpose is to deepen ones relationship with God and avoid attachment of affections to temporary earthly things. They help us increase charity and promote awareness of God’s presence. Thus we stand ready to respond to Him. Our purpose in life is to give God glory and these practices enable us to do that by preferring the important-in-itself to the satisfying. Then one’s life becomes about God rather than self; then one lives in the truth…the truth that endures.
In the Rule for our way of life St. Benedict fills our day with communal spiritual practices that form our reason and our will and remind us that what we have in common is what is deepest in each of us. And it is most important.
Inspired by the communal practices, each monk has personal practices that strengthen his reasoning by developing prudence and his will by acting in accordance with what the Rule & customs identify as a proper response to the important-in-itself.
Ch. 4, “The Tools of Good Works”, is a good example of the emphasis on spiritual practices. The practices throughout the Rule form the body through Observances; the mind through Lectio Divina/Prayer; and the Spirit and heart through Humility of Heart.
Thus, we see what enabled Anna to recognize the child Jesus. It will do the same for us.
Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas
[Scripture Readings: 1 Jn 2:12-17; Lk 1:36-40]
“The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (Lk 2:40). Reflecting on this brief statement about the first twelve years of Jesus' life, St. Bonaventure writes, “Take notice that his doing nothing was itself a kind of wonder.”
The apocryphal writings about Jesus couldn't accept a divine child doing nothing. The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew narrates a story about the Holy Family's journey to Egypt. Along the way Mary wanted to pick some cherries but the branches were out of her reach. The infant Jesus speaks to the tree and commands it to lower a branch down to his mother. Another story tells us that when Mary and the child Jesus passed by a pagan temple in Egypt all the idols prostrated themselves on the ground before him. In the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas when Jesus is five years old he fashions twelve sparrows from clay, and then with a clap of his hands they fly off into the air. In another episode when Joseph is making a bed, one of the boards is too short. The child Jesus stretches the wood so Joseph can finish the project. Yet another story tells of Jesus playing with lions and guiding them up to the city gates, frightening the townspeople.
All of these stories give witness to the truth of St. Bonaventure's reflection: “Take notice that his doing nothing was itself a kind of wonder.” We expect a divine child to do divine things! Instead, the divinity of Jesus was hidden in his humanity for thirty years. And that prepares us to believe in the real Presence of Jesus hidden under the appearances of bread and wine. And it also helps us to believe what is presently hidden from our eyes, that Jesus has made us sharers in his divinity. Take notice, that our doing nothing divine is itself a kind of wonder, but after our hidden years are over we will be manifested to the whole universe as sharers in the glory and divinity of Christ Jesus.