Life and death: A Christmas Reflection, EDante, Perth, Australia, 26 December 2010
The missalette at St. Gerard Parish, located in a small suburb, north of Perth, for the feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth (26 December 2010), carried a quote by Fr. Stephen Freeman, "Christ did not come into the world to make bad men good, but to make dead men live."
The “dead men” reminds me of the famous dry bones vision in the Book of Ezekiel (Ch. 37). In that vision, the people of Israel was liken to dry bones, completely devoid of organs, flesh and skins critical to support human life. It was to show to Ezekiel that the people of Israel are dead. It was not a physical death, but rather a spiritual one brought about by sinful life.
In the book Poem of Man-God, Jesus explained the meaning of life and death. He said that man falls into error when considering life and death. Man calls “life” the period of time in which, born of his mother, he begins to breathe, to nourish himself, to move, to think, to act; and he calls “death” the moment when he ceases breathing, eating, moving, thinking and acting. But it is not so. Life is not existence. Existence is not life. A plant or an animal exists but they do not possess the life which I am speaking about. The life of which I am speaking does not begin with the existence of the body and does not cease with the ending of the flesh. It does not start in the mother’s womb.
Life begins when a soul is created by the Thought of God, and when infused or injected into the fetus inside the womb of the mother. This fetus plus the soul injected with life makes up a man, created in the image and likeness of God. The destiny of this man is heaven. Now listen, life never ends because the soul does not die. But life can die to this divine destiny if sins kill it and then the soul suffers eternal punishment in hell.If preserved as such, this life reaches the perfection of living, by becoming eternal, perfect, blissful like its Creator.
The dry bones vision followed God’s promise of a new life based on fidelity to God. That promise was fulfilled through the birth of Jesus. St. John the Apostle declared to us this beautiful truth through his famous words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Furthermore, he explained that Jesus’ presence in us is true life, “Whoever has the Son has life, and whoever has not the Son of God has not life.” (1 John 5:12). Christmas is indeed the fulfillment of God’s promise for a new life.
The celebration of Christmas these days is far too remote from its spiritual origin. Christmas has now turned into a major secular celebration. It now bears the words “Holiday Season” and marks with secular message of “Season’s Greetings”, with no regard of the birth of Jesus. Christmas party is now called “Year-end party” as a pretext that the former is offensive to non-Christians. Little time is spent for prayers and the sacraments. Meanwhile, worldly matters occupy our mind and time. At Christmas day, shopping malls are filled, new products are launched and big parties are held. They seem to promote a spirit of joy, but they give a bad aftertaste of emptiness and selfishness. They do not produce the kind of joy that brings peace in the spirit.
The following parable suggests an insight of what might had happened over the years:
“A father had a son whom he was extremely pleased. The son has brought great joy to the father and to all his friends, relatives and servants because of the son’s obedience, humility and great love to all. To honor his son, the father decided to appoint a special day of the year for his son. On this special day, the father threw a big feast for all the people of his town. Everyone is invited. The father, who was so talented, rich and very generous, know how to make a very good party that give great joy and merriment to all people. Everybody loves the party. The spirit is so beautiful and gives great joy to one’s heart. As years pass, people who come to the party came to enjoy the food, dancing, laughter and the whole ambiance much more than the honoring of the son. Until such time that people no longer recognize the son in the party. The day is celebrated but the son is forgotten.”
At the Christmas Eve mass in St. Gerard Parish, Moonyeen and I, with our children, witnessed signs of hope. In spite of the blistering summer heat, and with no air-conditioning, the chapel was filled with parents and their children. The church had never been so packed with people as we understood it from our daughter. Even the least sought front seats were completely occupied. The priest gave a very inspiring sermon about the birth of Christ and the love of God. I still recalled his powerful words, “God is much closer than you think”. His words were so nourishing to the spirit and brought so much joy in our hearts. The church choir sang beautiful Christmas songs reminding us of that special night of the birth of Christ, the glorious hallelujah of the angels, and the visit of the shepherds, the first among those who venerate the body of Christ apart from Mary and Joseph. The Christmas story is indeed amazing.
In the midst of secularizing and spiritual dryness, God continues to shower His graces upon us. His promise of a new life is eternal. It was truer at that time of Ezekiel as it is now. There is hope for those who allow God to fulfill his promise in them according to his words, “l will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees. You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:25-28).