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December 1999


Father Paul Crane, S.J.

There was very little in the stable where Christ was born; about it no trace of the affluent society. The standard of living of the Holy Family was a poor one. Its members, nevertheless, were at peace. They had, in their poverty, what men try in vain today to derive from material possessions alone - complete and absolute contentment.

The reason for the contentment is clear. For the three in the stable on the first Christmas night nothing else mattered but their possession by love of the truth of God, incarnate now and lying in a manger's straw. In the light of that reality all else was as nothing. Having that, they had all that men on this earth could ever desire. That is why they knew joy. The secret of Christmas is here. It is in seeking the truth alone that we find all else besides, forgetting ourselves for God's sake that we achieve self-realisation, bearing the burdens of others for the sake of Him Who bore His cross, that our own steps are lightened. Happiness is never to be had when grabbed at directly for its own sake. It comes only from love given to others for God's sake, which means, in fact, with deepest reverence for themselves. When the baby of Bethlehem had grown to manhood He said that anyone who wanted to find his life could do so only by losing it. It is plain now what He meant. One gets only by giving without hope of getting at all, finds fulfilment by shedding self in surrender to truth through love, possesses all when one snatches at nothing for oneself. That is the lesson of Bethlehem.

Mostly, today, we do not see this. Mere material possession is thought of as the key to happiness, which is considered as complete only when a man has all in the material sphere he could be thought of as desiring. Life becomes a game of snatch and grab. The result is frustration and restlessness, the constant searching in the material sphere for something which is essentially a by-product of love quietly given to others without thought of self. There will be empty hearts this Christmas. And they will be restless this coming year. Their owners have all, but possess nothing. They are without that understanding which leads through appreciation to the fullness of love. One thinks of them constantly searching, moving from one snatched enjoyment to another, crowding the resorts, adopting the latest fashions, striving always to keep up with the crowd; each, in his own way and according to his degree, seeking ultimately only himself, finding himself and being left with the frightful frustration which this kind of discovery necessarily entails. One is so sorry for these poor people, for the selfish litter of their empty lives. They have nothing, absolutely nothing. The more they get the less, subconsciously, they know they have. The tragedy of their materialism is that the only effect of such knowledge is to drive them still further along the empty road of their own lonely selfishness.

They would give so much to find the secret of happiness. To do so they need only turn to look at the crib this Christmas - at the Child who was God emptied out of Himself to take our flesh, at the girl who forgot herself to be His mother at an angel's bidding, at her husband who thought only of the Child and of her. These had nothing but possessed all because they saw God's touch on everything, which claimed, in consequence, their reverence and, thereby, drew their love.

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