FR. William Baush tells of a cartoon first published in the magazine The New York World in 1925 to celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. The cartoon has become a classic. In it two farmers from Kentucky are chatting over a fence. One says, “What’s new? Anything new happened lately?” The other farmer answers, “Oh, nothing much. Just a new baby born in Tom Lincoln’s place last night. There’s really nothing new around here.” Then Fr. Baush delivers the punch: “I’m sure there were folks who said the same thing in Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born. I can picture them—can’t you?—standing on the corner, just outside the inn. ‘Anything new happened around here?’ ‘No, just a baby down in the stable. Nothing much ever happens around here.’”
In other words, we tend to miss the point of Christmas or even, to a degree, New Year. Just as Americans in Lincoln’s time didn’t realize his greatness when he was born, we Christians in our time don’t realize the awesome significance of the birth of Jesus. We tend to notice the sensational and basically what pleases us. We miss the real LIGHT and LIFE wrapped in the utter simplicity and poverty of the manger and the swaddling clothes of Baby Jesus.
These first few days of 2011 we will be greeting one another, as in every circumstance years earlier, “Happy New Year!” Maybe we should ask why we have such a fetish for the new. New pieces of news, new clothes, new shoes, new ideas etc. I believe it’s basically because we are seeking the transformation that satisfies our inner desires for goodness, beauty, truth, justice, peace, all the absolutes in life. Since nothing earthly really brings us contentment, we settle for the sensational and whatever catches our attentions at the moment. Result? We miss the eternal and the lasting.
All the more reason then for us to hear the late John Paul II’s plea that we work for a transformation of our culture and society, such that lasting values start to put on flesh. “And the Word was made flesh”, so declares St. John’s gospel that we read on Christmas Day (Jn 1:14). The Eternal conjoined himself with our mortal nature. Isn’t that enough indication of the direction of true transformation? That direction must, to read the mind of John Paul II, lead us to the “Gospel of Life”, Jesus Christ himself (Evangelium Vitae, 29). The Incarnation is our clue. He must also take flesh in our daily life. Only he promises Life and fulfills it too. “I came that they may have life and have it to the full”, says he (Jn 10:10).
I believe that in re-reading Evangelium Vitae we get ample guidance on how to live the Incarnation and have newer, happier lives.
First step: Develop a “deep critical sense, capable of discerning true values and authentic needs” (EV 95). His quote from St. Paul is extremely helpful: “Walk as children of light…and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph 5:8, 10-11). Is this decision/action/object my family and I have chosen following the Gospel or pleasing mostly to my friends at the office or my political circle?
Second step: Unite your faith and your life, starting at home, in your own choices, in your own family, in your community (EV 95). I remember a lady who works for a Catholic institution and very proud of it. But she is a firm advocate of the RH Bill. People ask in whispers: “Hello, don’t you see your slip showing?” Why declare yourself Catholic Christian but deny it by what you do?
Third step: Submit to conscience formation that must include two important criteria: (a) inseparability of life and freedom; and (b) inseparability of freedom and truth (EV 96). That is to say, whatever hurts life, hurts freedom, and vice versa; whatever is not based on objective truth does not lead to true freedom. If I say that my shirt is white when it is black (objective truth), then I’m not free from having told a lie. If I say happiness means good sex and material comfort (lie) instead of union with God (objective truth), my freedom suffers from slavery to false values.
Fourth step: Submit to, and work for, an education towards respect for life from its origins, sexuality according to its objective meaning fulfilled in the gift of self to another in marriage, chastity respecting the ‘espousal meaning of the body’ as well as responsible parenthood founded on moral values (EV 97). In a word, listen to the many ways the gospel of Jesus Christ is being made flesh in our life today.
Fifth step: Promote a “new lifestyle” following the primacy of being over having, of the person over things (EV 98). Am I or is my family/community more concerned with being good human beings and Christians rather having more money, earning, profits, possessions? Am I or is my family/community more into improving relationships among ourselves and with other people rather than into achieving the best financial status or the most number of projects?
Sixth step: Reconcile people with life and give witness to the true meaning of love in self-giving and in the joyful acceptance of others (EV 99), Do I see other human beings, even babies, as threats to my space and my share of the earth’s goods? Or do I feel a genuine sense of brotherhood with them because of my faith in Jesus Christ who dwells in every human being and to whom I owe the gift of myself no less?
Again let me illustrate a bit. A boy of ten went caroling with friends one December night in a far barangay. When he came home, he didn’t have as much money or goodies as other kids of other groups. But he was surprisingly happy. His mother asked him why he seemed happier. He said, “Because we gave more tonight than we received, Nanay. Most of the houses we went to said, ‘Utang la anay’ [Waray for ‘Patawad’ (We owe you)…” He realized he was giving when he sang carols receiving nothing in return.
Who says it’s impossible to understand the true meaning of Christmas and Happy New Year?