One of the masters of spirituality, Lorenzo Scupoli, taught that there is a twofold foundation to the spiritual life. On the one hand, those who wish to grow in holiness must have a profound distrust of self. One the other hand, it is necessary to have a complete confidence and trust in God. If we have one without the other, we become lopsided in our spiritual lives and fail to grow closer to God.
This same wisdom is reflected in the liturgical life of the Church. On the one hand, corresponding to distrust of self, we have the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. On the other hand, corresponding to trust in God, we have the festive seasons of Christmas and Easter. As Christians, we both fast and feast.
We are coming to the end of our Advent season of fast in which we have acknowledged our sins, done penance, and asked for God’s mercy and forgiveness. We are now on the verge of entering into a season of feasting, with rejoicing and gladness, because God, indeed, has been merciful to us and called us to share in the glory of his only begotten Son.
As we transition into our Christmas time, I invite us to reflect on how it can be a season of Godly joy. We need to look no further than our Infant King in the manger. As we reflect upon the One wrapped in swaddling clothes, we see love outpoured. God chose to humble himself, to become small and poor, to become week and fragile in order to bring healing to our souls. God’s gift of self is the source of true joy.
Godly joy is the precious fruit of sacrificing for love of others. To this day, one of my most joy filled Christmases was spent not merely in good food and drink, music and games, family and friends (though all this was plentiful too), but joining my local parish in preparing and serving a Christmas dinner to those on the margins of society: the homeless, the lonely, the poor families and individuals who could not afford to provide a rich meal on Christmas day.
Providing a meal for those in need is only one example of how we can experience the joy of Christmas. Any act of sacrifice for love of others will produce this same fruit. For most of us this year, the opportunities to manifest this sacrificial love will be in our homes. The examples are manifold: helping to clean or cook, making guests feel welcome, speaking gently even when feeling overwhelmed, creating opportunities for a spouse to rest and enjoy some quiet.
The concrete expressions of this love will be different for each of us, but we can more easily be aware of them by asking a simple question: “What can I do to make this Christmas a joy for those I encounter today?”