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The Finest Gift We Bring
By Felix Carroll (Dec 19, 2016)
You know the players. A Child born in Bethlehem in a cold, uncomfortable manger. A mother smitten. A foster father whose eyes and allegiances are firmly fixed. Angels of Heaven with a proclivity to startle. Three magi at the point of no return. A worldly king enraged.
In the chill of a high desert evening, the world comes to a standstill, but not for long.
You know the story. The Child is the Son of God, our Savior, born of the Virgin Mary. Joseph, the humble carpenter, has been chosen by God to be the protector of the Holy Family. The magi are sent by King Herod on a not-so-benevolent reconnaissance mission to size up the situation.
When they arrive at the manger, it's clear this newborn King will baffle the world. They themselves are stirred to bow before the Infant Jesus. Then, obeying the injunction of an angel, they make haste for their homelands, refusing to aid and abet Herod and his ill intent.
Joseph himself is then summoned by an angel of the Lord to gather his young family and flee to Egypt because Herod, realizing that the magi had deceived him and fearing the Child may jeopardize his reign, orders the massacre of every boy in Bethlehem under the age of two. He figures one of them has to be the Christ Child.
From the darkened world of 2016, let's be reminded that the drama of the ages begins in Bethlehem. To this very day, all manner of disorder, pain, or peril can best be understood by stepping toward the manger, whose humble inhabitants kindly bid us forward — we who are encumbered with mad tidings, our news disheartening, appalling, and unparalleled.
Indeed, more than 2,000 years after the birth of Christ, the Herods of the world are still having their way.
Persecution of Christians, for instance, "is stronger than in the first centuries of the Church," says Pope Francis. From North Korea and Indonesia, through the Middle East, Africa, and all the way to the Americas, there are mobs, militias, assassins, and entire regimes intent on wiping Christianity off the map. Each month, more than 300 Christians are killed for their faith; more than 200 Christian properties are destroyed; and more than 700 forms of violence are committed against Christians, such as beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests, and forced marriages — this according to Open Doors USA, a watchdog group that advocates for Christians around the world.
More than 2,000 years after the birth of Christ, the weak are still forced to flee their homelands. More than 60 million people are now displaced, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That's four times more than merely a decade ago, a result of land grabs, pogroms, and civil wars, most especially affecting our non-Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East and Africa.
More than 2,000 years after the birth of Christ, the innocents are still being slaughtered — but at a pace Herod himself could never have imagined. Each day, approximately 125,000 babies are aborted, according to the World Health Organization. Moreover, according to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.
More than 2,000 years after the birth of Christ, two armies continue to square off, each with its own factions and followers. We are obligated to choose a side.
The Herods of the world still seek to slay the essence of love. The magi still summon the courage to thwart them. The Herods anchor themselves to the possessions and obsessions of the material world. The magi open their treasures for the weak and the meek.
The Herods take the torch of their ancestor to scorch the earth. The magi understand the Herods may know not what they do. The Herods are found in high places and low, everywhere that hatred is given a dwelling place. The magi are found in all who listen to the voice of Heaven spoken through Scripture and the witnesses of the saints and martyrs.
The magi of the world know they, too, can be led astray. They recognize the Herods of their own hearts. They know they are susceptible to the temptations to double back toward the monarch's earthly palace. But they prayerfully recall the radiant face of Mary who stands beside the Christ Child. They know that at Fatima and elsewhere, she attempts to checkmate the Herods of the world through her instructions to love through prayer and penance.
The magi of the world have felt the bitter blows. They've experienced the loneliness of the outnumbered. They know faith is not for the faint of heart; that we may be asked to pay in blood; that the earth is not our final resting place; that by joining the army of angels, we arm ourselves only with love, forgiveness, and compassion — weaponry that leaves us vulnerable.
This Christmas, let's step from the shadows and present ourselves before the Child who summons all. As St. Faustina writes in her Diary, Jesus wants "aching mankind to snuggle close to [His] merciful Heart" so that He "may fill it with peace" (1074).
Let's place before Him all our fears, sorrows, frustrations, weaknesses, and humiliations. Let's sit by His fire and listen to the choir of angels sing of He who brings peace to earth to men of good will.
For the Child who awaits us, the finest gift we bring is ourselves.
To be remembered at the three Christmas Day Masses at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, visit our Masses and Novena page.