We rejoice in recovering the valuable possessions we have lost. But how much shall we greatly rejoice in regaining those that have been irreparably lost?
At this time of the Christian liturgical calendar, the whole of Christendom awaits the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ that He might destroy the works of the devil (1 Jn. 3.8). God's coming to our lives brings to us our real image and with it the restoration of our dignity once shattered when we rebelled against the order God has designed for us. He came to His own... as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in His Name... (Jn. 1.11,12).
Once, He called us to His sons through Baptism. This time, He calls us to perfect that image and likeness. For us His Teresian Carmelite religious children, this is through a very special way of life which is but an intensification of the new life in Christ we already received through Baptism, recovered through the Sacrament of Penance, and nourished in and sustained by the Holy Eucharist. God calls us to shine forth more like the noonday sun amidst the Church and the world now becoming more and more effaced of the signs and symbols of His image and presence.
... To be made* the sons of God... (Jn. 1.12): To live according to this image is demanding and testing because of the 'severities' it imposes or rather the way it should permanently imprint on our souls. This is the reason why God gives us the power (ibid.), that is, His grace - through prayer, the Sacraments, and by the use of Sacramentals (such as the wearing of the Scapular, the religious garb or "habit" of us who belong to the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel). God begins this restoration, supplies all that is needed, and the only One still Who perfects what He has begun. On our part, we have to work with determination and abandonment on what He supplies us and listen to His foreman (that is, the Church, but through her orthodox pastors and spiritual directors).
* The "New" versions all render it "to become" as if this spiritual regeneration and transformation is by our natural powers and not by the operation of the Holy Ghost [thus paving the way to the Pelagian heresy of the 5th century which "held that by nature, man can perform good works that merit salvation without the grace of God with the role of Christ as only that of an "example" or "instruction"; that the prompting of God's grace is not necessary, either for the beginning or the accomplishment of a meritorious act; that man chooses virtue by his own natural power" (T. Nelson, "Which Bible Should You Read," p.89); and, to the Semi-Pelagian heresy which "held that grace is necessary for the accomplishment of good works, but not for their initiation or beginning, which man initially chooses by his free will unaided by God's grace" (ibid.).].
As sons, we are given again the right and privilege to participate (to share) in the life of God through Our Lord Jesus Christ. As heirs, we take possession of no other inheritance but God. When God comes, He embraces and takes possession of us once more as His long-lost sons and we have to run towards Him, to embrace Him, and take possession of Him in return simply because we have no other one to turn to. Truly, what a rejoicing reunion. However, this perfect union and rejoicing can be realized only in heaven.
| Novus Ordo Discalced Carmelite priests and their|
church - a "new/updated image"
Now, merely to view God's advent in our lives this way and to experience at this external level of religious life the joy this holy season brings is to miss the whole picture and to reduce the expression of the profound Christmas joy into a sentimental one that quickly pops off as the season folds up. We shall only and surely miss the salvation of God if we do not take heed the other part of the equation, so to speak, of God's birth into our lives: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths. Every valley shall be filled; and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight; and the rough ways plain... (Lk. 3.4-5). Conversion shall be the test as the necessary indication and expression of God's intervening and transforming Incarnation. For, as Archbishop Fulton Sheen puts it, "the nearer Christ comes to a heart, the more it becomes conscious of its guilt; it will either ask for His mercy [and pardon] and find peace, or else it will turn against Him because it is not yet ready to give up its sinfulness."
God disturbs and confronts us to subscribe to God's light or to our own light, to the highest (spiritual) good - God Himself, no more no less - or the good we fancy, to God's absolute and eternal truths or to our own relative truths ("As for me..."). And there can be no midway in which we could play safe before the presence of God for I would you were cold or hot (Apoc. 3.15). No man sews a piece of raw cloth to an old garment... and no man puts new wine into old bottles (Mk. 2.21-22). The Lord at His coming provokes us to be not conformed to this world (Rom. 12.2), to be renewed in spirit of your mind; stripping the old man, who is corrupted according to the desire of error, with his deeds and put on the new man who is Christ... (Eph. 4.22-23; Gal. 3.27). For as the life of the Lord, through His image and likeness, His words and works, so much opposes the world's and the maxims which govern the latter, so must we who have opened our minds and hearts to Him and followed Him.
Do religious men and women rejoice at the divine image Our Lord redeems for and imprints in us? If we say we are just being "broadminded" which means we are being "practical", that is, just flowing according to the current of the times, then we become seasonal, occasional, and ceremonial religious who, according to our holy Mother Teresa of Jesus, "enjoy God up there and the world down here." And like the godless that "create" their own image, we would end up disowned by God before His presence: I never knew you... (Mt. 7.23).
God comes to disturb us to clarify where our hearts are set upon. If we choose to set our hearts upon Him, then as His sons we must strive to meet the demands of His Heart by following the enduring path opened to us by the Child Jesus: conformity with God's eternal truths, commands and designs.