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The Incarnation is “The Thing”
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.- John 1: 1-5
This has long been one of my favorite passages from the Bible. I picked it as my Confirmation quote back in eighth grade.
It’s much harder to explain why I liked it so much. I think it comes from such a different place than anything else in the Gospels; reaching out to us from a place outside of time and human existence and yet at the same time brings us more deeply into the great mystery of God reaching down into our own history and taking on a human body, human emotions and a human nature. Really it’s a bit like the Incarnation itself – presenting the limitless to the limited, the infinite to the finite. Besides, sometimes I find my mind just completely blown by the concept that “Jesus has a body.”
“The Son of God… worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin.” – The Catechism of the Catholic Church #470 (quoting Guadium et Spes)
This really is a stunning concept – and rather a gritty one – that Christ took on a human body. He needed to have his diaper changed as a baby. He nursed at Mary’s breast. He was tempted. He was tired. He had to be taught things. Doesn’t it just pulverize any human conception of pride in being above menial tasks or dealing with gritty reality?
And at the same time the Incarnation is a most sacred reality, made manifest in each Sunday Mass when the congregation is instructed to bow during this part of the creed.
Bishop Robert Barron’s book, Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith has an introduction entitled, “The Catholic Thing”, in which he explains that the Incarnation is the Catholic “thing”. This really surprised and amazed me when I first read it because not only did I not have a clear sense of the unifying principle of Catholicism, but I don’t think I had ever really, truly considered the question before.
Not only is the Incarnation, God becoming one of us, central and essential to our faith, but it has numerous manifestations (as Bishop Barron explains in his Catholicism book and DVD Series) which are critical, not only to our own faith, but to the way in which we share the faith in a world greatly in need of truth, hope and love. What this means, in a nutshell is that Christ is present to us today, not only through the historical enfleshment of Jesus in a human body and in the Eucharist throughout the ages, but also in more subtle ways, through things like Sacred Music, Catholic art and architecture, and most especially, through other people.
This brings me to a paradox that I find to be rather poetic and interesting: that we are both supposed to find Christ in others (Matthew 25:40) and to be Christ for others (Corinthians 12)…
Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world. — attributed to St. Teresa of Avila
Bearing Christ to the World, Like Mary
One thing that the modern feminist movement doesn’t “get” about the Catholic faith is that the Church teaches that “the highest honor of our race” is a woman. It is Mary, who willingly first gave Christ a real human body and thus bore him into our world, who is the perfect template for our role in changing the world.
We are all asked if we will surrender what we are, our humanity, our flesh and blood, to the Holy Spirit and allow Christ to fill the emptiness… What we shall be asked to give is our flesh and blood, our daily life – our thoughts, our service to one another, our affections and loves, our words, our intellect, our waking, working, and sleeping, our ordinary human joys and sorrows – to God. To surrender all that we are, as we are, to the Spirit of Love in order that our lives may bear Christ into the world… Our Lady has made this possible. Her fiat was for herself and for us, but if we want God’s will to be completed in us as it is in her, we must echo her fiat. – Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God
We need to be Christ to our families first. Not only does this build a foundation for the rest of our relationships and provide a “school of relationships” for ourselves and for our children, but it strengthens all of society, which is so desperately in need of the simple witness of happy, loving families.
We know by faith that Christ is in our own family; it is He whom we foster in our children. When you tell your child a story, when you play a game with your little son, you tell a story, you play a game with the Christ Child. – Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God
Isn’t it a wonderful thing that these simple little things, like reading a story or playing a game, are good and important? When I was a young wife with two small children, there was a particular moment, that it first really hit me that: “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do to me,” applies to my husband and children. I stopped right then and there to bake chocolate chip cookies to surprise my husband with when he got home from work.
Of course this great concept of bringing Christ to others goes beyond our families too. I have long thought that the best and most powerful way to make our country more pro-life, is to become more pro-life people ourselves, by treating every person that we encounter with the kind of reverence with which we would treat Christ.
This reverence is a very important starting point. From it naturally follows many other things, especially the willingess to share the burdens and sufferings of others, to console them, as was so eloquently expressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical On Hope:
Indeed, to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word con-solation, “consolation,” expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude.
This kind of love, both rooted in Christ and Christ-bearing, is a transformative, restorative love. It authenticates our beliefs to the world (think of Blessed Mother Teresa). It is a powerful weapon against relativism and despair. It is not dependent on wealth or intelligence or beauty or worldly success or peaceful life circumstances.
Only Christ-bearers can restore the world to life and give humanity back the vitality of love. – Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God