Praying with the Aftermath of our Christmas
Alexander, Andy, S.J.
Waldron, Maureen McCann
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Instead of the Light of Christ filling our Christmas, we sometimes just experienced lightning. It is a very common experience. We were tired. We were out of our patterns. There was lots of emotional baggage there. Everyone seemed "on edge," "a bit testy," and "sparks just seemed to fly." And, instead of responding out of the graces of the Nativity, all we seemed to have been able to do is regress. We acted like children - badly disciplined children at that. A little "Christmas spirits" lubricated the bad spirits. We said things we shouldn't have said. We got hurt by sharp things others said. We "retaliated in kind" or we did the "punishing pout" or smiled and held it all in. We feel wounded and we did some wounding. And we did it in front of the children, or turned our frustrations on them. It wasn't good, and we know it. How do we pray in the aftermath of a day like that? Though we may have had some version of something like this, and feel very far from the graces we experienced in Advent, we aren't really far from the grace we need. Jesus comes to be our Savior - but, not saving us once and for all, so that we get it and we've got it for good. By his coming and his death, resurrection and gift of the Spirit we are surely saved. But, we need continual saving as well. Sometimes we need an experience of how badly things can go before we really know how much we need our Savior. In the aftermath of conflict and division, Jesus can shine a light into the dark corners of our hearts. Right at the time when we might feel most down on ourselves, and most angry at others, Jesus can reveal to us deeper and deeper love. He loves us precisely where we are unreliable, precisely in those places where our ability to love others unselfishly is still quite shaky. And, it is precisely into those places where we are most disappointed in and angry at loved ones, that Jesus desires to embrace us, to still our hearts and give us the grace of reconciliation. Right after Christmas is the perfect time to look back and examine our hearts. What is Jesus saying to me these days after Christmas? What is he asking me? What is he inviting me to do? He won't be asking us to repeat our account of what happened, in terms of who was right and who was wrong. Jesus will always draw us to himself, always inviting us into the mystery of the power of surrender. Jesus is offering us a chance to stay longer in that stable, next to the manger, to draw deeper from the mystery of his self-sacrificing love. What do I do with my angry and hurt feelings? What if the other person isn't sorry, because this was just the way they are? What if the other person isn't "turning to Jesus"? This is the time we need to let the Lord's love for us to heal us. That is the deepest healing. To hold on to the resentment and anger is to let it become like a cancer in our hearts. To surrender these feelings to Jesus is to taste the freedom he is offering us. This doesn't mean that the bad didn't happen. It means that I let what happened be transformed in my heart, from hurt that festers, to something bad that he died to set us free from. As Paul says, this is how God dealt with sin. He nailed it to a tree. Jesus takes away the sin of the world and he gives us a peace the world can't give. It is only in this peace that we can let the other be a fellow sinner loved by the same Lord and Savior. Jesus doesn't love us, on the condition that we get our act together first. He doesn't wait until we become holy to love us. He loves us because we need loving, and we need it now. The more deeply we experience this love, the more completely we will be able to let the other be loved by Jesus. In the process, we grow in com-passion for them - an ability to suffer with them. We can begin to see them as Jesus sees them. We can grieve for what they suffer. We can feel sadness for whatever insecurity handicaps them. We can even become their ally - turning to God and begging God for the graces they need, for the healing they can't ask for themselves. Perhaps this week, we can let these new faith-filled feelings grow in us. Whether we are the kind of person who tends to be stirred up by conflict, or the type of person who tends to avoid it until things die down, we can let this peace fill our hearts. Then we can plan to make peace - to use the healing grace we have received to be a healer ourselves. Once we have prayed for someone, it is much easier to love them. Perhaps we will know how to do that right away. Perhaps it will take some careful reflection. Some of the time, it will take some acknowledgement of sorrow for our part in what has happened. But, most of the time, it will just take care. Most likely, what the other needs is some attention, some affirmation, some gentle care. We may not see the fruit of our efforts at reconciling love, right away or ever. Jesus understands. We can be assured that our attempts at healing love will set in motion a process of healing. We can be assured that the Redeemer of the world can redeem even a rough Christmas day. Keep coming, Lord Jesus. Having awaited your coming, we beg you to keep coming to set us free - freer to receive your love, freer to forgive, and freer to love even more self-less-ly. Thank you, Lord. Thank you.