Christmas: three-dimensional spiritual empathy


(from Alphonsian Academy blog)

St Alphonsus’ incarnation and three-dimensional spiritual empathy

In the context of the 150th anniversary of Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori as Doctor of the Church, I invite us to grasp Saint Alphonsus’ thought from a new perspective, starting with his Novena before Christmas. In his spiritual experience, St Alphonsus understood and felt the depth of the incarnation’s work of unconditional love and empathy. Indeed, we can appreciate the importance of this theme in his Advent and Christmas meditations.

1. The triple empathic and spiritual dimension of incarnation 

In the light of his loving and affectionate relationship with the Father and the Son, it can be said that St Alphonsus, through his mystical life and intuitive psychology, experienced and felt in his gut a threefold empathic and spiritual dimension of the mystery of the incarnation:

1) The Father’s spiritual empathy towards us: The Heavenly Father manifests an empathic love towards us through the gift of his only Son to make us participants in his life and salvation (empathy 1).

2) The Son’s spiritual empathy towards us: The Son of God, the Divine Child Jesus and Redeemer, adopts an empathic attitude, accepting to embrace our human condition, to reveal to us with compassion and mercy, the Heavenly Father’s unconditional love for us (empathy 2).

3) The spiritual and charitable empathy of Christ’s disciples: Finally, as Christ’s disciples, we are invited to develop a relationship of empathic love with the Father, welcoming in faith the Son of God, our Redeemer, who helps us to live a relationship of charitable empathy with our brothers and sisters (empathy 3).

2. Towards a new understanding of the Incarnation 

We analyse some of the holy doctor’s meditations, intending to identify these three aspects of the spiritual empathy of the incarnation as a key to understanding.

In the third meditation of Advent, The Gift of the Heavenly Father, St Alphonsus writes:

Consider how the Eternal Father, in giving us the Son as our Redeemer, [empath 1] […] could not provide us more substantial reasons for hope and love [empath 1], to give us confidence and to oblige us to love him [empath 3]. […] This gift, which God has given us of his Son, is a gift given to each one of us [empathy 1]; […] so that each one of us can say: Jesus is all mine […], his life is mine [empathy 3]. […] Therefore […] each one can say: my Redeemer loved me [empathy 2], and because of the love he bore me, he gave himself entirely to me [empathy 2][1].

In the prayer Jesus Light of Peoples that follows the Christmas meditation, St Alphonsus writes:

My dear Jesus, […] since your Father gave you to me [empathy 1] you are mine [empathy 3], for me, you were born, for me, you are given [empathy 2]. […] And if you are mine, who can take you from me? [empathy 3] […] I thank you, O Eternal Father, that you have given me your Son [empathy 1]; and since you have given him all to me [empathy 1], I give myself all to you [empathy 3]. […] And you, my Saviour, if you are all mine [empathy 2]; know that I am all yours [empathy 3][2]

3. Conclusion

These Alphonsian meditations offer us keys to further deepening the richness of Christian empathy. They can help us intensify and deepen our empathic love relationship with the Heavenly Father, with the Child Jesus, our Redeemer, and our brothers and sisters. Thus, the compassionate and charitable experience of Christian empathy will enable all of us to be witnesses and sowers of the Hope and Salvation that the birth of the Redeemer brings to the manger in Bethlehem and to all humanity.

Fr. Mario Boies, C.Ss.R., M.Ps.

(Original text is in Italian)

[1]    A.M.dde Liguori,Natale: meditazioni e poesie(Edition edited by Oreste Gregorio, C.Ss.R.), Vol. 57, SanPaolo, Milan 20033, 20-21

[2]    Ibid., 61-62.