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Monday, December 26, 2005

Incarnate Love

Fr. Paul Scalia

Just for fun, the next time you hear people refer to the "Christmas spirit" or the "spirit of Christmas," ask them what they mean. By "spirit" they usually mean a vague attitude or a warm feeling surrounding a holiday that falls in an otherwise grim time of year.

Rarely, if ever, does this "spirit" refer to anything specific or concrete — which makes it the very antithesis of Christmas. Because Christmas is about something amazingly and gloriously concrete, specific and particular: the birth of Christ.

"And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14). The One Who dwells in inapproachable light became visible. God Himself took on our human nature and was born of the Virgin Mary — in a specific place and at a particular time. He lived and worked among us, shared our joys and took on our suffering. He spoke to us directly — spoke specific words with certain meaning. He offered His life as the definitive sign of His love. Now we know His love as a concrete and tangible reality. His love is not just a concept or a theory; it is as real and living as the Baby in the manger.

By His birth, our Lord teaches us this truth: love seeks to be concrete. We cannot love in a general sort of way. Rather, true love expresses itself in concrete ways and toward particular persons. No lover is ever satisfied with a fuzzy feeling of affection for his beloved. He wants to display his love by specific acts that can be seen, heard and felt. So he calls her on the phone, sends cards, brings flowers, gives her a kiss, embraces her. It is not enough for him to say, "I love you." His words must become flesh.

For some, the particularity of love might cut too close to the bone. We may regard God’s love as a nice idea, a wonderful notion — provided He makes no demands. As long as He stays up above and does not interfere, we rejoice in His vague, unobtrusive love. But if He comes to us and makes His love visible and concrete, we may have to respond. We may have to change. So we dodge the specifics and talk instead about the "Christmas spirit." But we never allow that spirit to become flesh.

The same danger exists with human love. It is a demanding thing to love specific, particular persons. They can be so uncooperative; they may reject us. We find it easier to keep our love for others vague, to keep love of neighbor on the level of an idea and never display it by concrete acts of love. And so we are tempted to pay lip-service to love, but never allow it to become flesh in our lives.

"And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." God’s love for us became flesh, even a child — someone we can see, hear and touch. By this He sets the standard for all love. And it is fitting that a child should challenge us in this way. With every new child in a family, the husband and wife give a concrete, specific, living, breathing expression of their love. Their love truly becomes flesh. (And what is contraception but a couple’s way of saying, "Our love will not become flesh"?)

So we return to the manger and allow the Christ child to instruct us. He silently but powerfully appeals to us — teaching us by His very presence that the prodigious love of the Father is real, is present and has come into the world for the salvation of our souls. "In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent His only Son into the world so that we might have life through Him" (1 Jn 4:9).

  • Fr. Scalia is parochial vicar of St. Rita parish in Alexandria, Virginia.

    (This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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