Blessed Christmas. This I mean for every reader, today, tomorrow and always. Do you wish a blessed Christmas for yourself? How can you wish this and make it happen?
I think of two retreats I made.
One was many years back in the 1950s, at St. Patrick’s High School in Newburgh. Every year the Christian Brothers brought in a spiritual director to give a retreat. I don’t remember Father’s name and I recall just a small part of one of his talks. He proposed that we think about a hit song of that year, Floyd Tillman’s “If You Loved Me Half as Much as I Love You.” He asked us teenagers to imagine Jesus saying that to us. Father recited some of the lyrics: “If you loved me half as much as I love you, you wouldn’t stay away half as much as you do. You’re nice to me when there’s no one else around. You only build me up to let me down.”
I think it will help us to see what “Blessed Christmas” means if we ask ourselves this question: What would happen to me that’s new and different if I woke up—really woke up—to how much God loves me?
Tonight I urge you to ask yourself: How much does God love you?
Imagine Bethlehem, 2,000-plus years ago. Think of yourself peering into the cave. A man has hung a flickering lamp so that you can see if you look closely. His young wife is quietly singing to her newborn. It’s cold; she is holding Him close. Who is this helpless child? Nobody could have imagined it. Many do not grasp it even now. It is God, the Eternal Son. That is how much God loves you.
Think of a hill, a few miles north of the cave. Thirty years have passed. The mother, no longer young, is there, and so is her Son. She can’t hold Him anymore. The life she worked with God to give Him is slipping away. Because she brought Him into the world as one of us, He can die. Nobody could have dreamed that God would do this. Is this how much God loves you? Yes.
On the eve of His agonizing death, He took bread and wine and declared them His own Body and Blood. And since His victory on Easter, his family the Church has, each Sunday and Holy Day, been meeting to carry on His direction, “Do this in memory of Me.” When those who grasp that these appearances of bread and wine are Himself and honor His words, “Take and eat,” they are united with Him as the most wondrous gift we will ever receive in this life. Is this is how much Jesus the God-man loves you and me? Yes.
In my 2003 clergy retreat at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, I saw a strange cross. It was wide, and there was no figure of Jesus on it. But at the part where the two beams join, the surface was scorched. And on that charred surface, there were dozens of small nails. By chance I came across an adviser who worked on the retreats, and I asked her about the cross. The people making the retreat would attach scraps of paper to the nails. The scraps represented their sins. They burned the papers as they hung on the cross. The lesson is about a great gift from Jesus, confession, the sacrament for healing souls. He burns away our sins in His love, so that—like the bits of paper—they are gone forever. Is this how much God loves you and me? Yes.
Think of Mother Teresa. In September, she officially received the title of Saint. During her life, she woke up to how much the Lord loves her: enough to be born for her, enough to die for her, enough to promise her God’s own perfect happiness. She decided she must, in her own words, do “something beautiful for God.” She started caring for human beings left alone in the streets to die, persons with no hope. It is as if she had heard the question, “What would Jesus do?” and proceeded to do it. Soon hundreds of men and women began working along with her.
Because of what one person did—one tiny woman who woke up to God’s love for her—the world is better.
Better, yes, but still scary, still a world so lost in ways we can’t begin to count. I don’t have to list the reasons I have for saying this.
One more time, picture in your heart the manger at Bethlehem two millennia ago, or the heart-rending scene on the hill 30 years later. Suppose everybody, you and I, woke up—really woke up—to how much God loves us…And then add the lyrics of Floyd Tillman’s song, especially, “If you loved me half as much as I love you, you wouldn’t stay away half as much as you do…”
Father Lynch serves as administrator of Immaculate Conception parish in Woodbourne. Ordained a priest of the archdiocese in 1965, he holds a doctorate in Philosophy in Classics and a master’s in Divinity.