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11 Jan 2009

“[Simeon] came in the Spirit to the Temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus … [Simeon] took Him into his arms and blessed God …”  (Luke 2:27-28)      

  In the name …

Last Sunday after reading the Gospel-story of Herod’s massacre of the Holy Innocents at Mass I picked-up my Sunday Boston Globe as I always do.  After making my way through all the depressing news of constant wars, crimes and atrocities, I finally came to the Globe Magazine.  On the cover of this glossy, full-colour newspaper-insert was a picture of six-year-old Jessica Leahy.  Jessica suffers from a rare nerve disorder and must constantly rely on a respirator to help her breathe.  The respirator looks huge and cumbersome next to this little girl.  She’s attached to the machine by three separate air hoses, which all converge at the tracheotomy cut into her throat.  But the photograph is not about a girl who is physically handicapped.  It’s about a little girl caught-up in her dream. Her eyes are closed.  Her feet are in the position of a ballerina.  Her arms outstretched.  Her head tilted gracefully back.  At that moment she’s on stage with the Boston Ballet, and no respirator, no air hoses, no tracheotomy, no strange nerve disorder can hold her back from dancing.

The photographer’s assignment was to take pictures of children who live on respirators.  He tells the reader that he knew he was in for some pretty sad situations, but in his words, “Meeting Jessica changed my perspective.”  You look at that little girl in her flower blouse and her starfish shorts, you see her lost in the moment of her dream, and gradually the respirator and the air hoses look smaller and smaller, until all you really notice is the face of a little, spellbound ballerina.  That’s the power of this child.  That’s the power of her boundless hope. Some extraordinary children are so gifted that no limitation can hold them back.  In some children it can be so powerful, that we end up believing and hoping along with them.  They can change us. 

All of the horrible stories that I read up until Jessica’s felt so heavy, just in that one day’s paper alone, the wars in Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia, an earthquake in Indonesia, an 18-year-old who died of alcohol poisoning at a fraternity hazing, a 20-year-old girl who was murdered by her boyfriend.  I had to read of women and children killed in Israel’s war against Gaza, hopefully unintentionally, and then hear the head of Gaza’s Hamas government say in response that because of those deaths it is now legitimate for them to intentionally target Israel’s women and children.  Amid all of this savagery and tragedy, that little girl’s picture was an extremely welcome message of resilience and hope.  That child could do that just by the confident, assured look on her face.

Two thousand years ago in an equally devastated world, an old man by the name of Simeon was in the Jerusalem Temple.  On that same day, Joseph and Mary enter that hallowed space carrying their newborn son Jesus.  Inspired by God, Simeon is drawn through the vast space of the Temple-complex, looking for something, wondering what God would have him notice, and then he lays his eyes upon the child Jesus.  Simeon rushes over to the astonished parents, takes the child in his arms, holds Him close, and thanks God saying, “‘Now Master you may let your servant die in peace … for my eyes have seen your salvation …’” (Lk. 2:29-30)  All of the poverty and depression of living in a conquered land must have weighed heavily upon Simeon, and yet when this old man looks upon the face of the child Jesus, hope was renewed. 

That’s not such an unbelievable story after looking at the little ballerina in Sunday’s paper.  I can imagine that Jesus’ face even as an infant was serene and holy.  That’s one of the messages behind the Gospel stories of His birth.  Jesus didn’t grow into becoming the Christ.  It wasn’t something that dropped down upon Him from heaven at His baptism by John.  It wasn’t a full reality of His only once He emerged from Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb on Easter.  Jesus was born as our Saviour.  Jesus was born as the incarnate Son of God.  Jesus was carried into the Jerusalem Temple and Simeon saw in Him the promise of God, a promise that was so strong that all his real world problems had to give way to the hope that just looking upon this child brought into the world.  Just as you look at Jessica’s face and the respirator and the tubes begin to disappear, so when we focus on Jesus the tragedies and atrocities of this world, real though they are, become more and more manageable as Jesus becomes more and more the center of our lives.  His birth, His humanity right alongside of ours, gives us hope that we can be more than all the nonsense the world repeats generation after generation.

And I think that’s why we’re also asked to read today of 1 Corinthians 13, the Christian Hymn to Love.  We too often read it in isolation at weddings, but it’s meant to be read in the context of Paul’s writing about spiritual gifts.  He speaks of the church as a body where everyone has a different gift but all are to be used for the common good.  He speaks of church leadership saying:  “First, apostles; second prophets; third, teachers” (1 Cor. 12:28),  but he finishes by speaking of “a still more excellent way” (12:31).  That’s where Paul includes the hymn to the virtue of love.  Without it, he says, we are nothing and we gain nothing.  But how do we love in a world that reinforces hatred so vigorously?  How can Christian love be anything but naïve on a large scale or limited to weddings on a small scale when the world is just so messed-up?  It can’t be unless we close our eyes and look for Jesus.  Let His gift of hope change us.  The resilience of that little girl Jessica lightened all the horrible news that I read before her in the newspaper.  Likewise let the presence of Jesus also strengthen us to fight the nonsense of this world so that human hatred for each other doesn’t always have to be the norm, and so that Christian love doesn’t have to be naïve.  That’s the power of the message of Jesus’ birth.  May we truly and actively believe in it.  For this we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (+)


Fr. Randy Calvo


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