Well, this is kind of an interesting week, between January 1st and Epiphany. The magic seems to go out of things–the world goes back to its business. The lights and wreaths and candles start to come down.
We Catholics keep our decorations up, I’ve learned, till Epiphany (January 9th this year)–or depending on whom you consult, is it The Baptism, which this year falls the day after Epiphany (January 10th), or is it January 5th which is technically the twelfth day of Christmas, or is it January 6, which is the day the three wise men are supposed to have arrived in Bethlehem)?
In short, just leave them up for now. And maybe this week can give us a little breathing room to meditate upon, savor and incorporate the graces of the season.
Here’s a site I came upon with sacred music for the Twelve Days of Christmas. (Keep in mind it’s from 2021 so the days of Christmas don’t exactly correspond to the dates, but you’ll get the idea). For years I would play Bach’s Christmas Oratorio over and over again (along with “The Messiah”), but this year I’ve discovered Corelli’s Christmas Concerto and Saint-Saëns’ Christmas Oratorio. And obviously there’s way more!
Other things that have been roiling round:
Over Christmas, I heard from a friend with whom I once spent the better part of a day in Columbus, Ohio. I was in town to record a video interview and had booked a room for a few extra days in order to explore the area and to meet in person this friend I’d known up to then only from emails.
We started out by going to Mass, then she took me for a delicious breakfast at a homey, stylish cafe. And then we went to Boyer Preserve and the Glacial Kettle and I think another botanical garden. We walked, and observed, and admired the beauty. We didn’t do anything cataclysmically “exciting” or “interesting” and certainly not expensive. We were simply present to one another. We both went out of our way and beyond our comfort zones to meet. We were “in nature”…which works its own mystery.
And for both of us, our relatively short time together is firmly entrenched in memory. I find it interesting that even a single meeting with someone can form such an enduring and meaningful bond. Then again, are not these seemingly unremarkable yet deeply rich get-togethers–at which women, I must say, excel–really kind of the heart of the Eucharist, or the fruit of the Eucharist?…
Maybe as well they’re tied in with Matthew 25–when at the end of the age, Christ will say “I was naked and you clothed me; in prison and you visited me…and we will say, “We did? Really? When?”…Maybe at the end of the age all the things that are noteworthy to “the world”–board meetings, summits, treaties–will be revealed as essentially meaningless. At the end of the age, maybe we’ll learn that it was people taking time to have coffee and chat and take a walk in a garden that availed.
Simeon and Anna in the temple.
What struck me here was that Jesus chose OLD people to prepare, stand watch, hold his place, and welcome him to the temple. He was a newborn baby and he chose two elderly people, a man and a woman. Anna , a widow, was 84 and had been fasting and praying and hanging about the temple for years. Simeon was clearly ready to kick off, too.
The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins rose to mind. These two had their lamps in oil, man! They were keeping watch and had been, patiently, steadfastly, for ages! Waiting for just this occasion. Waiting, longing, peering around every pillar…
And he came. HE CAME! What person past a certain age doesn’t tear up at Simeone’s response: Now you let your servant go in peace. The Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).
Simeon and Anna waited all their lives, and now they can die in peace. Jesus was destined to die young but he is in total solidarity with those of us who don’t, or haven’t. He loved us, he had profound compassion for us, and he trusted us. Look around at the average age of those who attend daily Mass. A lot of us, often most of us, are contemporary Annas and Simeons–waiting, peering around every pillar, still holding a place for him in the temple.
I had a nice reflection during Advent, per the Ignatian Exercises, imagining myself present and playing a role at the stable in Bethlehem. Specifically, I cast myself in the role of the servant girl who had accompanied Mary and Joseph from Nazareth, maybe leading the ox. As Mary gave birth, I thought about how I often feel incompetent at hands-on tasks: not good with children, not a bandager. And then I realized others do what I cannot do, and I do what others can’t. I go to Mass and write and visit and pray for those who can’t do those things. I bear fruit in my solitude and others bear fruit for me, raising kids, working in the medical field, organizing to encourage people to get out and vote.
What qualifies us for a place in the Kingdom isn’t competency: it’s our heart. My heart is (usually) oriented toward love: that not only counts; it’s all that counts. Just as the Sacraments act ex opere operato: i.e. automatically, assuming that we have the right intention and disposition–just so do our oriented-toward- love hearts automatically bear fruit, whether or not we can see, feel, or recognize the fruit. Thus, my spirit, body, and soul were wanted, needed, and in fact ESSENTIAL around the manger at Bethlehem. So there!