The first is from the Gospel of St. Luke:
As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28)
There is a lot to be said about the how fitting this beatitude is for the Blessed Virgin. According to the same Gospel, she kept all she had experienced with Jesus in her heart (see 2:19, 51). Our Lady had the Word of God alive in her body and then embodied in her presence for so many years. She had a very personal experience of God’s Word. We might say that she was privileged because of that. If we consider the privilege as being with Jesus, then, Our Lady was very privileged indeed. At the same time, she still had to make a decision to follow God’s will. One should not say that she would naturally follow God’s will because she was physically with the Son of God. There were those who had experienced Jesus personally and yet not follow Him.
We have a similar privilege as Our Lady. We know our Lord personally. There are many who have heard of our Lord but do not know him personally. Some of them belong to other faiths and religions. Quite a number of them profess to be Christian. These are probably those who treat Christianity as a system of beliefs and rites – merely a religion and nothing more. For those of us who know the Lord personally, Christianity is not merely a religion. We have faith in the beliefs because we have a personal relationship with our God. Our belief is not in a system or an impersonal deity but a person. When we believe in a system, we rely on the set of processes determined by a set of rules. In Christianity, there is an added element of a person who loves. Our God has a special and personal relationship with us. He treats us like persons. He respects our freedom and He loves us. It is true that he allows evil and its consequences to occur. It is true that He will refuse us anything that is not right for us. He made the rules and He does not contravene those rule indiscriminately.
The rituals we go through are expressions of our faith. The official Liturgy is an expression of the faith of the whole universal Church. That is why being free and easy with the rubrics can be wrong. The Liturgy is not merely the expression of the local community. The rubrics do allow for flexibility in certain parts of the Mass. These parts are available for the specific expression of the local community. This include the language to be used at the Eucharist. That is why I am not against the celebration of the Mass in Latin. There are people who feel that they can pray better in Latin. There are also people who are more comfortable celebrating the Eucharist in a language that they normally use. These people are not prevented from celebrating the Mass in the vernacular and should not be looked down upon. I know many people who prefer Latin who considers the vernacular contemptible. I pray for these people. They have loved their preference more than their own brothers and sisters. There are also parts of the rubrics that should not be changed. I know of a particular parish priest who decided that everyone should stand at the consecration and when he renovated his parish church building, he removed all kneelers. It seems he had quite a following in his parish. When a new priest was assigned to that parish, part of the congregation refused to kneel even when the new priest tried to explain that the previous priest was mistaken. It seemed that the previous parish priest claimed that he was trained in Liturgy and those parishioners considered the new priest as infringing on their liturgical rights. Even the bishop did not move some of those parishioners! I don’t envy that new priest. It wasn’t an easy situation to manage.
We receive the Word of God through our reading of Scripture and through the Church. We need to keep this Word within us. Besides meditation and reflective prayer based on the Word, we could also do Bible Sharing as a way to keep this Word within our hearts. This keeping of the Word is a lifelong activity. As we would be celebrating the birth of the Word of God as a human being, let us hope that this Word remains alive in our hearts as we keep it.
St. John also has a few beatitudes in his Gospel. One of them is found in his resurrection accounts:
Jesus said to him [Thomas], “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (Jn 20:29)
I was about to write a lengthy reflection of this beatitude. I happened to be listening to an Old Time Radio Programme as I was typing this. When I heard the ending, I realised that no matter how much I wrote, it was not going be as effective as listening to this programme. The programme is called Dragnet from 22 December 1953. The show dramatises true case files. If you could listen to this show, you can listen to an MP3 file (to be downloaded) or a streaming M3U file or a Real Player file. Then move to the last paragraph as the following paragraph is a spoiler. If you do not want to listen to the show, then you can read on.
Actually, I subscribe to podcasts from Mevio. All you have to do is search for “Old Time Mystery” or “Old Time Detective” to get some of the best mystery or detective radio shows.
WARNING ** SPOILER ALERT **
The show is about two detectives who were called to a Catholic Mission Church because the baby Jesus in the crib was missing. It was supposed to be based on true case files. Listening to the dialogue, it is definitely from that time period. It wasn’t the gritty type of dialogue you’d expect from the television shows of today. The detectives couldn’t find the statue before morning Mass. In the end, a poor child returned the statue because he wanted to let baby Jesus take the first ride in his little red wagon that the nearby firehouse gave him for Christmas.
** END OF SPOILER **
Children believe easily any representative of what is real. Baby Jesus is but a figurine in the story but the child treated as the real Jesus. I am sure the child knew that the Jesus that died on the cross several months before is that same Jesus in the crib at the baby. The child could not be bothered by small details. All he knows that Jesus is alive and that Jesus loves them. In bringing baby Jesus for a ride, he expresses the belief that Jesus would allow him to look after Him. Christmas is a time when we celebrate the arrival of salvation for the world. How often do we realise the great responsibility we have to ‘look after’ Jesus. So often the name of Jesus is derided and disrespected in our presence. Are we willing to look after Jesus? More importantly, do we believe that Jesus is real and He is depending on us? That boy had not seen Jesus in physically. Yet, he believed in the Son of God.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”