How can you be happier this Christmas?
GOD'S WORD TODAY - Francis D. Alvarez S.J. (The Philippine Star) - December 23, 2012 - 12:00am

In our Gospel two Sundays ago, we heard John the Baptist crying out in the desert and exhorting the people to metanoia, to conversion. Last week, he expounded on what metanoia means. Today, John the Baptist exits the stage and the Virgin Mary enters, but the message of metanoia still rings out loud and clear.

Metanoia can be translated as repentance, but if we break this Greek word apart, another translation can be formed. Meta means beyond; noia is a form of nous, which means mind. Metanoia, therefore, can be taken to mean beyond the mind or beyond the self. To repent, one must first step out beyond one’s self. Then, and only then, can one re-turn to the Lord.

Mary typifies this kind of metanoia in our Gospel today, a story we have come to know as the Visitation (Luke 1:39-45). Mary was in the early stages of her pregnancy, and as we saw in the case of the recently hospitalized Kate Middleton, this can be a very delicate situation. But still, Mary went out in haste to help her older cousin Elizabeth, who was also with child. Mary could have just stayed in bed and rested, or hidden in her room and agonized over the rumors that were bound to haunt her. But no. Mary went beyond herself and reached out to another person in need.

Many times, when I find myself depressed, it is because I am locked in myself, preoccupied only about my concerns, worried only about my needs, anxious only about my problems. The solution, I have often been reminded, is not to continue wallowing in self-pity and drowning in selfishness. I must step out of myself and enter the world of others.

If you are getting the Christmas blues and blahs, perhaps it is because you have boxed yourself in your frustrations about not getting what you want. Metanoia — go beyond yourself and help others get what they need. Or if this Christmas has found you merry, be even merrier by venturing farther out of your comfort zones and entering more deeply into the lives of those around you. This is the secret of happiness; this is the meaning of Christmas.

Christmas is when we celebrate how our God was not contented with just staying in heaven. He became man, rolled up his sleeves, and dove into our messy and troubled lives. Two and a half months from now, when we celebrate Lent, we will be reminded of the mess and trouble Jesus got himself into. Somehow, the 40 days of Lent are already present in the 12 days of Christmas. The baby in the manger is the man on the cross.

How can we go beyond ourselves and reach out to others when our own problems are sometimes so overwhelming? I cannot really tell you how. Perhaps it is a supreme act of the will. Perhaps it is grace. Perhaps it is both. Perhaps it is somewhere in the middle. Or perhaps a supreme act of the will is actually grace received and embraced. I do not know how it can happen, but it does. I have seen it and been touched by it many times.

When I was still a seminarian, I had a classmate who shared with me the last moments of his mother’s life — last moments which epitomized how she had lived. My co-seminarian told me about how he entered her mother’s hospital room on the day she died. It was a little bit past noontime. Right after our last class, he had rushed to the hospital because of a feeling that this was going to be goodbye. He saw his mother with all sorts of tubes attached to her. Her eyes were closed, and she was barely breathing. But somehow, she must have sensed that her son was near, and she opened her eyes. With great effort, she beckoned her son to come close. It was obvious that she was in great pain, but it was also obvious that she had something very important to tell him. Her son bent towards her and leaned close to hear what he thought would be his mother’s last will and testament. She opened her lips and whispered what he would always remember as her final words: “Kumain ka na ba?

“Have you eaten?” There she was in the throes of death, and what was she concerned about? Not her sickness. Not her suffering. But only this: Had her son eaten lunch? This, for her, was what was most important. Going beyond our selves can sometimes be beyond our minds to understand.

This Christmas, I hope you get a chance to stop for a few moments and ask, “Why?” Why do we make such a big thing out of December 25? Why all the lights and the trees and the presents and the belen? Why? What are all these for? And what is most important? Why did God trouble himself with the messiness of our lives? A simple answer inspired by the love of a mother for her son: God became man so he can ask us up close, “Kumain ka na ba? Have you eaten?” May we be able to ask others the same. May we join them in their hunger. As God has done, and as he is still doing, may we feed others with our very selves.

 

AS GOD BEYOND CHRISTMAS JOHN THE BAPTIST KATE MIDDLETON KUMAIN MARY METANOIA THIS CHRISTMAS VIRGIN MARY WHEN I
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