In my previous entry I shared some thoughts that occurred to me on my annual retreat that were inspired by something I saw on a window outside my room at the retreat center. There was another window scene that sparked my imagination and reflection, too. Maybe the theme of the retreat for me was noticing the windows of insight God sends our way to grow in our spiritual life.
There was an nativity scene positioned just outside the windows that lined one side of the hallway that lead to the dormitory, main conference room, and dinning room. It had snowed about 12 inches the day before retreat began, so as you can see in the picture, the statue of Jesus had been totally covered. A lot of the priests on the retreat, including me, made some jokes about it. “Where’s Jesus?” or “It looks like Mary is saying, ‘Where’s the baby? He was just here!’” Someone suggested we should take bets to see if the snow melted enough to see the infant before retreat was finished. We priests aren’t always serious, you know, and have a sense of humor that can keep us humble in the face of the mysteries we’re permuted by God to mediate to humanity.
The “missing” Jesus in the crib got me to thinking, though. People often want me as a priest to help them “find” Jesus in the midst of the circumstances of their life. So often the hurtful circumstances of life prevent people from seeing the presence of God in their life. God seems hidden or distant or even not to exist. I tend to believe that a lot of folks are looking in the wrong place or for supernatural in your face kind of signs. Where’s the big booming voice or the bolt of lightning? It would be so much easier to believe if Jesus appeared in front of us looking like the pictures we had hanging in our homes of a guy with long hair and wearing a robe.
Jesus still chooses to appear in the flesh, as we celebrate in the Christmas nativity scene. The flesh he uses is the members of his Body, the Church. He appears in the love, compassion and selfless service of people in our lives that he has given us to interact with in good times and bad. St. Paul said in one of his letters, “Now I see dimly, then (in the resurrection) we shall see him face to face, as he is.”
When we are grieving and mourning the death of a family member, Jesus is there in the people who keep vigil with us, telling us they morn with us and will support us to carry on with hope in the promise of resurrection.
When we’re sick, Jesus is there in the health care workers that treat the illness and family and friends who take care of us, prepare meals that we aren’t up to fixing for ourselves.
When someone can’t afford to buy enough groceries to feed the family, the people at the food bank and the folks who donated the food are the human face of Jesus who feed the multitudes with fish and bread.
Jesus is there in our midst because spouses in the Sacrament of Marriage sacrifice for each other and love each other no matter what, forgiving each other when they hurt one another.
Jesus is there in the young son or daughter who says “I love you mommy” even when mom has been crabby with the child earlier in the day.
Sometimes the snow cover of our self-pity or insufficient understanding of the incarnation and the teaching that the church is the Body of Christ hides the presence of Jesus to our human senses. It is then we must ask for the grace to see with the eyes of faith. “I will be with you, always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)
On the last day of the retreat, one of the retreat house employees went to the crib and dug out Jesus from the snow and “revealed” the Christ to us priests, employees and visitors at the facility. Such is the mission of the Church. This is the vocation not just of priests but of all the baptized. Show in your words and deeds the presence of the Word made flesh at Christmas, who suffered, died and was buried and is now risen from the dead and will come, again.