Fr. Ivel Mendanha C.SS.R., the General Consultor, presided over the Christmas Vigil Mass at the Shrine of the Mother of Perpetual Help in Rome, concelebrated by members of the General Government and the St. Alphonsus Community together participated by the religious and the faithful.
We publish the full text of his Christmas homily 2023.
Celebrating the greatest Gift, God made human for us
Christmas is very much about giving gifts. This is an important part of our celebration of Christmas. Charles Dickens summed it up best when he said: “Christmas is the one time in the long calendar of the year when people open their shut-in-hearts to one another.”
Christmas could be said to be the season of gifts, even though some of our giving may be trivial and routine. A gift points beyond itself. Gifts are a way of telling others that we love them. They have a little to do with justice, and everything to do with love.
The giving of gifts takes us back to the origin of the feast itself, the very basis of Christmas. Christmas began as a gift and created by a gift. It was God who started it all. “God so loved the world that he gave/gifted us his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
The entire scene of Christmas, the Crib of Bethlehem speaks to us of Gift. God gifted the world struggling in Darkness with the gift of all gifts, his Son, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) and then to the Shepherds “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Lk 2:11). The Child is the GIFT. God makes a Gift of himself in and through his only begotten Son to the world.
The Child is Gift to his parents Mary and Joseph who may not have understood that the child they gazed at with awe and wonder despite the challenge and threats and pain and gloom all around, was God in a baby: as the beautiful Carol echoes, “Mary, did you know that your baby boy Would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy Would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy Has come to make you new? This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.
Mary, did you know that your baby boy Will give sight to a blind man? Mary, did you know that your baby boy Will calm the storm with his hand? Did you know that your baby boy Has walked where angels trod? When you kiss your little baby, You kiss the face of God.”
Yes, we celebrate today the Gift of all Gifts, the One who is our Gift, the Giver and the Gift. Our God: Father, Son and Spirit now present in the baby boy of Mary with Joseph at her side.
The hallmark and key of the Gift of Christmas is the Person of Jesus in Mary’s Baby Boy. Our Christmas gift is not a thing but a Person, not an abstract concept or ideal or sublime thought but God in person, the person of his Son, Mary’s baby boy, Jesus our Lord. This is what challenges us and motivates us to take another look at the reason and motives of our giving gifts at Christmas. Our gift giving must be different. It has to carry the very spirit and essence of Christmas, Giving of our Persons to one. This is Christmas giving.
Yes we give presents or gifts to each other, but the optimum giving is the giving of self to one another. Its more about being PRESENT – which means giving of ourselves. The quality of our present is not in the value or the beautiful gift wrapping but in Being Present of our personal presence, this is what makes our Christmas giving beautiful.
There is a presence which is remote, watery, lukewarm – like that of the sun on a winter’s day, which comes and goes without even defrosting the ground. And then there is a presence which is close, warm, affirmative – like that of the sun on a summer’s day, which brings life to everything it touches.
At home we make a gift and present of ourselves this Christmas day by making sure your presence as spouses, as children to your parents, as parents to your children, as grandchildren to your grandparents, as siblings to each other is not remote but rather close, not lukewarm but rather warm, not scary and terrifying but rather affirmative and encouraging. This is how The Gift of Christmas, the Present and the Gift, Jesus whose amazing presence in our world empowers us to be a gift and present through our life-giving presence to each other.
The giving of gifts is important, but the receiving of gifts is just as important. Christmas is also a time for receiving – receiving the gifts others give us, and especially the gift God offers us. God did not give us a present of a thing; he gave us a present of a person. Jesus is God’s gift to the poor and the lowly, the weak and forlorn, the frightened and in suffering and pain to assure them that love has not passed them by.
When we give presents, we cover them in fancy wrapping, even though we know the wrapping adds nothing to the worth of the gift, and will be torn off and thrown into the trash bag. When God made us the gift of his Son, his gift didn’t come in fancy wrapping. He came wrapped in the cloak of the weak, fragile, vulnerable, moral human baby needing acceptance, caresses, kisses, hugs, being breast fed, protection from the jealous and envious. In this we see the depths of God’s love for us.
Though Jesus came among us weak and empty-handed, he brought us priceless and everlasting gifts. He came to teach us that we are not specks of dust, but sons and daughters of the heavenly Father destined for eternal glory.
What kind of disposition do we need to be able to receive the gift of God? We turn to Mary and Joseph. They did not know that their baby boy was Lord of all creation? That their baby boy Would one day rule the nations? That their baby boy was heaven’s perfect Lamb? That the sleeping child they were holding was the great, I Am. They did not know but they believed and opened their hearts to accept with gratitude and respect, with awe and wonder, with warmth and hospitality, with tenderness and love their baby Boy, Heaven’s perfect Gift, God himself.
It is this same disposition that each of us must have to receive the gift that is being given us this Christmas in the person of your spouse, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, kind hearted neighbour. We receive their self-giving, their person with warmth and hospitality, awe and wonder, gratitude and respect. To reject a gift is to reject the person and to reject the person is to manifest supreme hardheartedness which is the opposite of Christmas.
As we open our hearts to receive The GIFT Mary’s Baby Boy Jesus Our Lord, he empowers us to both give of ourselves to one another lovingly and to receive with open hearts the Gift of the other and his or her presence in our lives. Perhaps in our world where we use and dispose, where people too are so often used and disposed like things, we need a true Christmas Spirit of giving and receiving for as we give of ourselves of our very person we give to our God present in the person of the one we give to, and as we receive from another we receive from our God present in the other, this is the Spirit of Christmas giving. We learn from the crib, Mary’s Baby Boy gave himself and Mary opened herself to receive … let the words of the carol resound in our hearts, the carol that sings of the one who is Gift
“The blind will see, the deaf will hear, The dead will live again, The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, The praises of the Lamb
Mary, did you know that your baby boy, Is Lord of all creation? Mary, did you know that your baby boy Would one day rule the nations? Did you know that your baby boy Is heaven’s perfect Lamb? That sleeping child you’re holding is the great, I Am.
Mary, did you know that your baby boy Would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy Would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy Has come to make you new? This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.
Mary, did you know that your baby boy Will give sight to a blind man? Mary, did you know that your baby boy Will calm the storm with his hand? Did you know that your baby boy Has walked where angels trod? When you kiss your little baby You kiss the face of God.”