By Fr Hedwig Lewis SJ –
St Ignatius of Loyola views the Incarnation of Jesus from a unique perspective. In the Spiritual Exercises, as a prelude to contemplation on the gospel narratives of the Nativity, he instructs retreatants to use their imaginations to visualize the following scene that takes place over 2000 years ago:
The Three Divine Persons – Holy Trinity – are on their royal throne or seat of their Divine Majesty looking on planet earth and all of humanity. They see widespread chaos. People in their blindness are hurting each other through words and deeds, persecuting and killing… and consequently damning themselves. They are deeply concerned. They discuss the matter and arrive at one unanimous and definitive solution: to send the Son as their Ambassador of Mercy.
Christmas signifies the re-entering of God into the “chaos” of Creation, – to restore Life to its Original Goodness. The Son’s mission is to appeal to the innate goodness in the heart of every one of God’s children, to heal themselves, their neighbours and to heal a broken world. The angels trumpeted the message of Peace-Joy-Goodwill to all… at the birth of Jesus.
Christmas reminds us to look at our world once more through the perspective of the Trinity. For humanity has still not fully responded to the Healing Power of Jesus. Chaos persists today in different ways. On TV screens we witness raging forest fires and militant firing squads. We encounter people, the aged and toddlers, fleeing in panic from threatening winds and water, or from oppressive governments. Modern Herodians slaughter innocent victims. We find vengeful attitudes in our neighbourhoods, even in our families, and – God forbid – in our own hearts and minds!
The Ignatian exercise shifts from contemplation to action. We do not remain agitated or overwhelmed by the shocking state of humankind. Just as the Holy Trinity does not stop short with mere observation but responds with the Incarnation, we are motivated to do likewise: to rescue Creation from chaos.
Like Jesus the Saviour, each of us is called to bring God’s Merciful Love to humanity, to translate the Christmas message of Peace-Joy-Goodwill into compassion and selfless service. James F. Keenan SJ (The Works of Mercy: The Heart of Catholicism), describes mercy as “entering into the chaos of another”.
The Trinitarian Way of entering the chaos is threefold: Observe, Empathize, Act. First, become aware of the situation (chaos). Second, genuinely resonate with the sufferings of the victims: not merely sympathize, but truly feel what it would feel if you were in their shoes (Incarnation). Third, respond in an appropriate manner – even, if necessary (miracle), in an unspectacular way (no hypocrisy, no showing off). Jesus does not force; he attracts us by his compassionate and compelling presence. Here’s a simple story to illustrate the “Trinitarian’ approach:
In a nursing home for the aged, resided an elderly woman who was totally despondent – preoccupied with her own “chaos”. Neither would she speak to anyone, nor would she make a request for anything. She merely existed – rocking in her creaky old rocking chair. Every other day, a concerned and wise young nurse would go into her room. She did not try to speak or ask questions of the old lady. She simply pulled up another rocking chair beside the old woman, rocked with her, smiled and left. This went on for months. On a visit during the Christmas season, the old woman finally broke the silence: “Thank you,” she whispered to the nurse. “Thank you for rocking with me.” She had turned from chaos to look into the eyes of love. It changed her life.
In August 2010, an old copper-gold mine in Chile caved in, trapping 33 miners 700 metres (2,300 ft) underground and about 5 km from the mine’s entrance via spiralling underground service ramps. Seventeen days after the accident, a note written in bold red letters appeared taped to a drill bit when it was pulled to the surface after penetrating an area believed to be accessible to the trapped workers. It read simply: “We are well in the shelter, the 33 of us”. After 69 days they were rescued, with the help of sophisticated technology. While trapped underground they sang hymns and prayed. One of them revealed: “There were actually 34 of us, because God never left us down there.”
At Christmas we are reminded that Jesus is Emmanuel – “God-is-with-us”. The Holy Infant entered our chaos never to abandon us. He is the Way and invites us to hold each others’ hands and walk with him out of chaos to freedom.
Fr Hedwig Lewis SJ is the author of “Christmas by Candlelight”. Published by <firstname.lastname@example.org>. This article has been retrieved from the author’s Christmas archive – The New Leader, 2013.