A Contemplative Christmas

Fr. Gary George C.Ss.R.
Pastor of Our Lady of Lebanon Millbrae, CA
Youth & Vocation Director for the

Eparchy of Our of Lebanon of Los Angeles

Each year I take time to leave behind the ordinary responsibilities of daily life and go away to a place of silence and solitude to refresh, replenish and nurture the calling to work with youth and those discerning their vocation to the priesthood and religious life.  This year was no different, but I felt a deeper longing and hunger for silence and solitude than ever before.  

While walking one morning I came across a little chapel in the mountains with a very simple statue of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus in a basket with an unlit candle next to them.  I sat in awe at the simplicity, and suddenly became deeply aware of my own yearning to understand what it must have felt like for these two simple parents to hold God in their arms.  I reflected on the internal ambiguity they must have felt when faced with an immeasurable task. I sat contemplating and comparing our sophisticated contemporary lifestyle with all its technology, education and knowledge with that of their very limited education, experience and amenities. 

Why would God choose a period with no form of expedient communication, or travel, to reveal Himself in the Incarnation of Jesus. Why would he choose to rely on limited resources and people to spread His message over the course of two millenniums? Was there a value in time and simplicity that would have been lost in the age of technology and social media? How did the apostles, and others with limited knowledge and literacy, comprehend such a profoundly complex mystery? What did they have that we’ve lost today? From this experience I mapped out a reflection on the Christmas poverty and contemplative hunger, which Mary and Joseph epitomized in their existence.

Christmas poverty doesn’t mean lack of material goods or money, Christmas poverty means the emptying of self to receive something greater. It means during the advent season to once again prepare our hearts and soul for the indwelling of God’s Spirit to be born anew. Christmas poverty means to let go of what we want and allow our Creator to give us what we need; to allow the infant Jesus to grow and mature within, in order to finish God’s work and desire for each of us. 

Christmas poverty means, in humble obedience, to step away from the loud noises of technology, worldly opinions and pleasures where God is not heard, and seek a place of silence and solitude where the voice of the Lord can be heard. This is contemplative prayer in which contemplative hunger arises. This is the point in which our Lord is able to then fill, nourish, strengthen, and refresh us. A place in which he can communicate His will for us without the distractions of contemporary life. Without entering into the stillness and solitude of silence we will not comprehend or fully understand the mystery and gift of God; why He chose to become an infant in order to reveal Himself and His plan for us. 

This is what Mary and Joseph had and how they were able to carry out God’s purpose for them in their simple way. No, they did not have the education, experiences and technology we have; but what they had was the ability, in spite of the difficulty of their ordinary daily responsibilities, to sit in silence with great faith, trust and contemplative hunger and listen for His will and desire. Their whole being was caught up in contemplative hunger for the coming of the Lord with pure hearts filled with faith, hope and love. They didn’t need education and technology; they had God and a savior to help them know and fulfill their purpose. 

Today, it has become increasingly easier to rely solely on technology and human wisdom for help and answers. The Holy family, apostles, disciples and eventually the saints relied solely on God. That is how God was able to manifest Himself. When we turn toward the earth for answers we seemingly multiply our problems. When we turn towards heaven, as did the simple parents of Jesus, the Lord is magnified and we are glorified by His response. 

Knowledge, education and technology have shown to be a tremendously valuable gift, as long as they do not become a substitute for God.  As long as they do not cause us to lose the ability to hear and respond to His call or become like many who at one time said yes to His call, but walked away due to materialistic temptations propagated by technology.

I find today that our youth and young adults are confronted with what we might call “fake spiritualities,” because they are unable to turn away from self and the false god being created through relativism.  God, truth and faith are progressively being replaced by subjective opinions that permeate many social media outlets. I believe it will take a great deal of self-effacement, self-surrender and self-concealment as prominent attributes toward a successful contemplative vocation.  I have come to understand that God’s hunger for us is infinitely greater than ours for him; that God sees something beautiful in us —which we cannot yet see in ourselves — and that God yearns for us. During this season of announcements and preparation for the birth of our Lord, let us be brave and put aside the business of our world, the fake spiritualities of our lives and put on Christ.  Let us become like Joseph and Mary and sit with awe at this wonderful gift God is bringing to us.  When we do this, then every earthly gift becomes insignificant compared to the hope offered by the simplicity of the stable and manger. 

I would like to put a challenge out there for all our youth and families, especially those contemplating their calling, to take twenty minutes each day without phones or other technology, to sit in silence.  I also challenge you to put aside these same technologies to truly listen and share your care and struggles with each other.  Lastly, I would like to challenge you to spend at least 5 minutes before each liturgy begins in silence contemplating this wonderful gift you are to receive.

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