Christmas morning Mass. I can’t even begin to describe how much I love it! The lit up evergreens behind the altar, the brilliant red poinsettias surrounding the sanctuary, the gorgeous and uplifting music that FINALLY replaces weeks of singing various verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” over and over and over… Seriously, are there no other seasonally appropriate songs for Advent?? I just love the joy and excitement contained in every moment of Christmas Mass.
This year, it was an especially challenging holiday season, as our family was missing a couple of key members. As I walked into the Church, knowing that our arms should have been much fuller that day, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness, which seemed especially odd on such a beautiful and joyous day. My attentions were quickly diverted to my almost two-year-old, who has decided recently that the pews in Church are, in fact, his very own jungle gym. I can’t say that I caught much of what the priest was saying… I can’t say I ever really do these days… but there was a moment, when “Destructo” actually sat quietly – I can only imagine the fantastic tricks his guardian angel was performing to capture his attention for those few seconds – and I heard one clear message from what could have been (and probably was) the most beautiful homily ever given. The priest was discussing the disconnect that Christians can often feel when their faith doesn’t make their suffering disappear, when we are offered the opportunity to CHOOSE hope, rather than feeling drenched in the joy of Christ, as we might have preferred. When trials and true crosses come our way, I think that sometimes we can have this unrealistic expectation of our faith – that it will absolve us of any pain or grief. In reality, our faith is beautiful because it offers us the person of Christ to suffer WITH us as well as a reason and a way to suffer well. The priest explained in his homily that the reason for our suffering here on earth was because of our fallen nature, and that, while God allows us to suffer, He does not desire it. He then quoted St. Augustine’s famous catch phrase, “my heart is restless until it rests in You,” which has been one of my favorite prayers during the darker times of my life. Then came the kicker – the one line that knocked the wind right out of me and gave me a new perspective on an old prayer. The priest continued, “But we are not alone, and today is the greatest testament to that. The incarnation is a sign to us that God’s heart, too, is restless until our hearts rest in His.”
Woah. That idea hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s just not something I’ve ever really imagined – God’s heart restlessly trying every single option, leaving no stone unturned, no possibility untried – not even the Incarnation and death of His own Son – to draw our hearts to His. As if the prophets and the signs and wonders of the Old Testament weren’t enough, He even sacrificed His beloved Son for the sake of our sorrowful souls. How much more hopeful the wandering soul, when he knows a tireless search party combs the wilderness for him – and, not just any search party, but one with an Omniscient Being at the helm. For that one quiet moment, I didn’t miss the little faces that were missing from our pew because they were there with us. We felt their presence, and not only theirs but Christ Himself, drawing us, even in our suffering, to the heart of His Father. He was there, reminding us that God’s own heart was restless for us, aching as we ached, longing for us to enjoy the peace of Heaven, just as we longed for it.
As the tears began to fall, I had to snap out of my prayerful gaze as my little boy had begun throwing his toys into the pew behind us. He’s still working on silent meditation. In the meantime, I’ve learned to cram my prayers into intense one minute moments of silence that come along very infrequently, but just when I need them. God is good like that – You can’t always get what you want, but you always get just what you need. What prophets, those Rolling Stones.
I suppose that moment of prayer, that experience of unity with Christ, was the perfect Christmas gift from God at the end of a really tough year (and by tough I mean one of those years that just repeatedly kicks you in the shins, and just when you think it’s over, it punches you in the kidney). It was the perfect and oh-so-necessary reminder that God isn’t some watchmaker, who wound us up and watches us go from afar, but an all-loving Father, who is intimately involved in our lives, suffering with us, holding us in the most difficult moments, and loving us through it. Here’s hoping for a better year, but we’re quite confident that, should this year rival the last in its crosses, God will be there in each moment with exactly the grace we need to find Him in all of it.