Now that Christmas Day has arrived, we can look back on the last few weeks and appreciate how truly hectic they have been for many of us. We managed competing obligations that demanded our time and attention, often making it difficult to immerse ourselves in the true meaning of Christmas and the many blessings of this season.
The distractions we face are also tied up in a net of our own making, given our growing dependence on cell phones, emails and social media that are always buzzing and demanding our immediate attention. Even the landscape of public discourse, that has grown more polarized and even militarized via social media, is a growing distraction, rendering us unable to access unbiased information with which we can understand the depth of the challenges we face in our contemporary society.
Given our lives filled with such distractions, how do we discover and enjoy the true meaning of Christmas? How can we build a personal and communal spiritual life in the midst of such constant “noise”? As I reflect upon my own busy and sometimes distracted life, it seems to me that these questions will not have an answer unless we intentionally rediscover the power and necessity of silence.
For it is in the quiet whispers found deep within our hearts that God speaks powerfully to you and me. It is in the quiet that God reminds us that He is always with us, inviting us to draw closer to Him. For the child of Bethlehem is Emmanuel, which means “God-is-with-Us.”
If we summon the courage to face the power of silence, we will also rediscover a new clarity of vision. In Proverbs 29:18, we read, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.” Other translations of this proverb are more direct. They suggest that people perish when they lack a common vision. While this admonition clearly applies to the responsibility shared by leaders of all faiths, it is a question that each person must address in his or her own life.
Perhaps Christmas, more than most times of the year, offers us a glimpse into a vision that can transcend political and personal divisions. Its meaning is universal and enduring: peace on earth, goodwill to men and women, and hope for the world because of God’s love for us!
As Christians, we celebrate this great festival of love, and we find ourselves joining the shepherds and the magi as we adore the infant in the manger who is love incarnate. Who are we to receive such a divine gift from our God who loves us so unconditionally that He walks with those whom He created?
However, to welcome the gift of God’s love born in Bethlehem, we must be able to recognize His presence. This means we need to turn down the volume of the noise around us, allowing silence and true rest to enter our lives. Can you remember the last time you took a few hours to just sit and reflect? In the silence of your soul, are you willing to let go of whatever anger and resentment you may be feeling, and replace it with the light of God’s love?
The Christian mystic, St. John of the Cross, once taught: “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” At first glance, it may seem strange that he makes no mention of orthodox faith, faithful attendance at Mass or even observance of the commandments as the main criteria for judgment, as important as they are. However, all these righteous and necessary acts must flow from a life that has encountered, embraced and lived love fully in every circumstance that we find ourselves. For if they do not flow from love, they will not give honor and glory to our God, who is Love Himself.
We encounter many people who have good intentions and believe that they are doing the right things but act without love. Such people may seem righteous, but their efforts will bear little lasting fruit. In our digital world, where we are encouraged to “react” to anyone who has offended us, we should pause and reflect. We must learn to resist the temptation to lash out in anger or vent our frustrations. In the face of hatred and division, we must learn to stop, take a moment to sit in silence and offer only love in return. Those are the “actions” that can help us to rebuild our fractured society.
There is no doubt that we will face many challenges in 2019, for each of us personally, as a nation and as a community. In this Christmas season, let us reject all division, anger and contempt that is found in our world. Let us seek to love our neighbor as the Lord loves us and leave everything else behind.