As we move forward in our spiritual journey, sometimes God takes away things that we rely on.
It could be the loss of a loved one, or maybe we lose our health. Sometimes we are shocked by news that we could have never expected, or something changes in our lives that we thought would always remain the same.
Some of the saints speak of a “dark night of the soul,” feeling like God has left them alone. I think every one of us has felt this way at different times in our lives.
It is hard in these moments. But everything in God’s creation happens for a reason, and God’s plan is always a plan of love for us.
This is the meaning of Christmas. Jesus is coming to redeem us, to give us a new beginning and new hope.
There is a beautiful reading we hear in the liturgy during this time of year. The prophet Zephaniah says, “He will rejoice over you with gladness, renew you in his love. He will sing joyfully because of you.”
What a beautiful thought! Imagine: God loves you so much that he will sing with joy to be with you. This is Christmas!
Yet for many, this time of year is mixed with sadness — there are loved ones we miss or worry about, old wounds that have not healed, relationships that still need repaired.
Why do these feelings come to people at Christmastime?
I think it is because with the Incarnation, the coming of Jesus Christ in our human flesh, we see the glory and joy and love that God intends for us.
We realize at Christmas how very much we want the gift that Jesus comes to give us — the Spirit that restores us as God’s children, that takes away our shame and fear, and sets us free to return to our Father in confidence and love.
We want this gift from God so much. But we are still learning, year after year, how to receive it.
St. John of the Cross was one of those saints who lived through and wrote about the dark night of the soul.
Earlier this month, the Church celebrated his feast day. A friend told me about receiving a text that day from one of his friends. It read: “I’ve been using St. John of the Cross email anti-virus security for years: I delete all attachments.”
It was a funny message with a profound spiritual point. Through the trials in our lives, through our struggles, God is teaching us to “delete” our attachments, to let go of anything in our lives that is keeping us from relying totally and only on Jesus, only on God.
I think of Mary and Joseph. We can forget that they were human like we are — a man and a woman expecting their first child, with all the anxieties that come with that state in life.
Christmas is the story of their total trust in God. They followed God’s will for their lives, even though their lives were turned upside down by events beyond their control.
First, an imperial census forces them on a journey that means their baby is born in utter poverty and uncertainty. Then they are forced to flee their home country in the midst of political violence and chaos caused by a ruthless king.
I think of how frightened, how alone they must have felt.
It is hard not to compare their plight to the millions of refugee families today who find themselves homeless, living in poverty and uncertainty in a strange land — including thousands this Christmas who are camped just beyond our country’s southern border.
My point is not about politics. It is about trust. When we lose our supports, what do we lean on? Who do we turn to?
God alone — God and only God — he is the answer.
A brother bishop reminded me recently of this beautiful truth. He sent me a quote from Blessed John Henry Newman: “Life passes, riches fly away, popularity is fickle, the senses decay, the world changes, friends die. One alone is true to us; One alone can supply our needs.”
God alone is enough. We can find the happiness he wants for us in letting him guide us, living always in his loving presence.
We all need to better practice detachment — putting our lives in his hands, wanting only what he wants, doing everything only to please him. Trust in God’s loving will and it will be OK.
It is not easy. It is the work of saints, the work a lifetime. But each of us is given a lifetime to love God and to become the saints that he created us to be.
Pray for me this week, and as we continue through this holy season and into the new year, I will be praying for you.
And may the Holy Family teach all of us to trust totally in God.
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