Our God ‘emptied’ himself to become one of us. Each Christmas, we celebrate the ultimate Good News that the Word has become flesh and joined the human race as our brother and Saviour.
And we, his disciples, must also ‘empty’ ourselves in our daily lives. We draw closer to the source of divine love, whenever we give of ourselves for the love of others.
That is why careerism and arrogance can have no part in being an authentic disciple.
Actually, no one can ever really be ‘promoted’ amongst the followers of Jesus of Nazareth…
For only someone who is grounded as a person and pastorally present with people can be trusted with the mission of servant discipleship.
I was reminded of this when someone recently pointed out to me the difference in context between the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
In Matthew, “Jesus ‘came up’ on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he began to teach them.” (Mt 5:1).
In Luke, “Jesus ‘came down’ with them and stood on a level place … Then, raising his eyes to his disciples, he said …” (Lk 6:17).
Jesus ‘came down’. Those simple words of Luke the Evangelist say so much to us as Catholics.
For living the Gospel today is not about being promoted, taking the ‘higher’ place and ‘succeeding’. When any disciple become ‘pedestalised’ – when others exalt or adulate them beyond who they really are – the Holy Spirit has a way of teaching us in the Church, usually through humiliation and pain, that we are all merely servants, not masters.
Not to name names, but even the history of our wounded but graced Catholic Church, over the last 2000 plus years, has many very salutary examples of this!
Let’s never forget that real development and growth, the mystical tradition of the history tells us, comes from ‘falling downwards’; from failing and yes, from painful reversals.
And Christian ‘perfection’ is echoed best in the person who can forgive and include imperfection, not the one who thinks he or she is totally above all the necessary messiness of being a ‘graced sinner’.
On his 54th birthday, the great pastoral priest Henri Nouwen reflected upon his life and the restlessness that beset him still.
“Very little, if anything, has changed with regard to my search for inner unity and peace. I am still the restless, nervous, intense, distracted and impulse-driven person I was when I set out on this spiritual journey.”
Nouwen’s honesty is refreshing for all of us on the journey inspired by Jesus of Nazareth. None of us is whole, at least not yet. We are a damaged, broken and wounded lot.
And we Catholics are all very ordinary; most of us are not particularly ‘successful’ nor particularly gifted. Yet we are indeed blessed to serve Christ Jesus present in his people. Our only ‘glory’ is that the Word became one of us!
As we ponder the humility of our God this Christmas, we are reminded that all of us are fragile ‘wounded healers’ and are all ‘falling downwards’.
Yet we are each very blessed because “The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut 33:27).
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar of Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.
This article was originally featured in the Summer 2020/2021 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.