Sunday, January 6, 2013

No Room at the Inn (and, Yes, It is Still Christmas)


Again and again the beauty of this [Christmas] Gospel touches our hearts: a beauty that is the splendour of truth. Again and again it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him, and as a child trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms. It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.

I am also repeatedly struck by the Gospel writer's almost casual remark that there was no room for them at the inn. Inevitably the question arises, what would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door. Would there be room for them? And then it occurs to us that Saint John takes up this seemingly chance comment about the lack of room at the inn, which drove the Holy Family into the stable; he explores it more deeply and arrives at the heart of the matter when he writes: "he came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (Jn 1:11).

The great moral question of our attitude towards the homeless, towards refugees and migrants, takes on a deeper dimension: do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof? Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself? We begin to do so when we have no time for God. The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have.

And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full. But matters go deeper still. Does God actually have a place in our thinking? Our process of thinking is structured in such a way that he simply ought not to exist. Even if he seems to knock at the door of our thinking, he has to be explained away. If thinking is to be taken seriously, it must be structured in such a way that the "God hypothesis" becomes superfluous.

Homily, Midnight Mass, Christmas 2012

Reflection – Well the secular world has long moved on from Christmas, which ended at midnight December 25. There was nothing more to buy at that point, and buying and selling is the true driver of secular Christmas. But in the Church we have one more week of the Christmas season, so let’s keep the holly and mistletoe up here at LWAGS and pour another round of eggnog. It is still Christmas.

And so this beautiful homily from midnight Mass, which I would have gotten around to blogging earlier if I hadn’t been away so much this season, is still quite topical. I love the way Pope Benedict links the ‘no room at the inn’ with our modern world’s studied indifference towards God. One of the pitfalls of living in a place like MH is that the young people who come here already, by definition, have an interest in or at least an openness to God. He has a  place in their thinking, or they wouldn’t have found their way to us. We can forget how very foreign all that is to so many today.

On the long train ride back from Halifax I picked up a copy of ‘Canada’s national newspaper’ – essentially our version of the New York Times for youse Americans (and no, I’m not going to dignify it with a name). Faced with 30 hours of traveling, I’ll read anything. On one of its back pages it has a regular feature anyone can write for, a sort of do-it-yourself column. The author of the one I read was a young man essentially agonizing over the meaning of life and his long (25 year!) quest to discover this meaning. He detailed all the different ideas he had come up with for what life might be about, and the inadequacy of them all. He was in a state of some despondency.

Now, at no point in the column—not even in passing, not even to dismiss it—did he so much as broach the idea of God, of religion, of Christ. It was as if that dimension of the question didn’t even suggest itself to him. It was really very striking to me, coming back from a university student conference where 200 of his peers had just given their lives to Jesus. Talk about no room at the inn!

Some of my younger directees have assured me that this is fairly normal. For many young people, God and religion just are not on the menu, not something to even be considered. Even driven by despair, even seeing the futility of all human quests for meaning, as this young man had, there is no room for God. Better to despair than bow down in worship, I suppose.

Meanwhile it is Epiphany, when these wise men, these masters of human learning and lore, did just that—bowed before the foolishness of God which surpasses all human wisdom, the day when ‘those who had worshipped stars learned through a star to worship you, O Sun of Righteousness,’ as the Byzantine hymn puts it.
 
So it is worth taking this last week of Christmas to ponder with the Pope these matters, and in that to make room for God in our own minds and hearts. And that’s quite enough—too much, really—for one day. See you tomorrow!