25 December 2011

Maternal Abstractions

Last year I attended my first ever carol service -- I'd attended Christmas concerts in the past, of course, but never a designated carol service. It was at an evangelical Anglican church where I used to go with friends, and out of a spirit of curiosity and a desire to understand. Afterwards a friend asked me what Catholic carol services were like. I said I didn't no, but that they were probably much the same, though there was a chance that Adeste Fidelis would be sung in Latin, thus skirting the problem of old translations sounding rather odd to our prosaic ears.

A few days later I went to my first Catholic carol service, and indeed it was much the same, albeit with Adeste Fidelis in Latin, and Stille Nacht in German. The priest who presided over the ceremony gave a remarkably wide-ranging sermon, and though much of it's lost to the mists of memory, I remember one detail.

In his book Motherhood of the Church, Henri de Lubac tells of how the Belgian Cardinal Suenens had told him of a conversation he'd had with Karl Rahner:
'I asked Father Rahner how he explained the decrease of Marian piety in the Church. His reply is worthy of attention. Too many Christians, he said to me, whatever their religious obedience, have a tendency to make an ideology, an abstraction, out of Christianity. And abstractions have no need of a mother.'
At Christmas we remember how God became flesh, how he became as puny and frail and vulnerable as we all are when we enter into this world, how he couldn't stand on his own two feet, much less feed himself or wash himself or speak; this weakness, this absolute dependency on others is part of the human condition, and it's a part of it that God took on. 

For many Christians, Christmas is the only time of the year that any thought is given to Mary at all; in pushing her aside so often, they ignore what it means for the world that the Word became flesh, failing to engage with the fullness of Jesus' humanity, which deserves our embrace as much as does his divinity. In so doing, they reduce Our Lord to an abstraction and turn Christianity into an ideology. 

God deserves better than that. He isn't an idol. Stronger than all of us, he became as weak as any one of us. Christmas, as much as Good Friday, allows us to contemplate just how weak and helpless he was; in meditating on the fullness and the weakness of his humanity, we enter into a profound understanding of the value and worth of every single one of us, no matter how weak and helpless we might be.

Happy Christmas.

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