Christmas in our hearts

Its back to work for most people this week. Our airports have been busy this weekend as Filipinos go back home from vacations or go back to work here in the Philippines or abroad. Most of us think that the Christmas season, which liturgically for Catholics began with midnight mass on Christmas Eve, has officially ended with the Feast of the Epiphany, more commonly known as the day of the Magi or Three Kings, celebrated last Sunday. But actually, the Christmas season has not yet ended.

As my fellow columnist in The Standard and my Dean in the San Beda Graduate School of Law has repeatedly reminded us these past years, Christmas will end on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the first Sunday after Epiphany. This has been  the case since the  revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969. The liturgical season known as Ordinary Time begins the next day, typically the second Monday or Tuesday of the New Year.

There are those who would even argue that the traditional and official end of the Christmas season is in fact February 2nd, or 40 days after Christmas, which is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord or Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (commonly called Candlemas). Imagine still listening to Jose Mari Chan’s Christmas in our Hearts or any version of Pasko Na, Sinta, for another month, followed by all the hoopla around Valentine’s Day.

In this spirit, that Christmas continues, let me summarize and quote once again from Pope Francis. In his homily in Saint Peter’s Basilica last Sunday, to celebrate the epiphany, he emphasized the following themes: light, journey, and gifts.

The Lord is the light, not us and certainly not the most famous, wealthy, or most powerful people in the world. According to Francis: “We might think that it would have been better had the star of Jesus appeared in Rome, on the Palatine Hill, where Augustus ruled over the world; then the whole empire would immediately have become Christian. Or if it had shone on the palace of Herod, he might have done good rather than evil. But God’s light does not shine on those who shine with their own light. God “proposes” himself; he does not “impose” himself. He illumines; he does not blind.“

It is not Duterte or Joma Sison that will bring peace to this country. It is not the Sys, Ayalas, or Uys of the world that will bring out people out of poverty. It is not Trump or Putin that will solve the challenge of climate change.

According to the Pope, “It is always a very tempting to confuse God’s light with the lights of the world. How many times have we pursued the seductive lights of power and celebrity, convinced that we are rendering good service to the Gospel! But by doing so, have we not turned the spotlight on the wrong place, because God was not there. His kindly light shines forth in humble love. How many times too, have we, as a Church, attempted to shine with our own light! Yet we are not the sun of humanity. We are the moon that, despite its shadows, reflects the true light, which is the Lord. He is the light of the world Him, not us.”

It is a people converted who see the light that will bring peace, prosperity, and a safer world for all of us.

Conversion requires embarking on a journey, which is what the  Magi did. As Pope Francis urges, we must arise, get up from our sedentary lives, and prepare for a journey. He says: “We must not  stand still,: like the scribes that Herod consulted; they knew very well where the Messiah was born, but they did not move.” We also need to shine and be “clothed in God who is light, day by day, until we are fully clothed in Jesus”. But to do this, it is  necessary that we cast aside our pretentious robes – “Otherwise, we will be like Herod, who preferred the earthly lights of success and power to the divine light.”

We must be like The Magi and undertake a journey  to find the mystery of God. As described by Pope Francis: “They arise and shine, and are clothed in light. They alone see the star in the heavens: not the scribes, nor Herod, nor any of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”

Like the Magi, we must travel a different road, the path of humble love, became pilgrims on the paths of God and leave behind our worldly attachments.   Francis urges us to imitate the Magi: “They do not debate; they set out. They do not stop to look, but enter the house of Jesus. They do not put themselves at the centre, but bow down before the One who is the centre. They do not remain glued to their plans, but are prepared to take other routes. Their actions reveal a close contact with the Lord, a radical openness to him, a total engagement with him. With him, they use the language of love, the same language that Jesus, though an infant, already speaks. Indeed, the Magi go to the Lord not to receive, but to give.”

Pope Francis ended his homily last Sunday with a question: “At Christmas did we bring gifts to Jesus for his party, or did we only exchange gifts among ourselves?”

If we have forgotten Jesus in our gift-giving,  the story of the Magi in the Feast of the Epiphany remedies that. Their story gives us what Francis describes as a little “gift list”: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Gold is the most precious of metals and reminds us that God must be first and center in our lives. That means we must displace and renounce our own selves.

Frankincense is used for prayer;  “just as incense must burn in order to yield its fragrance, so too, in prayer, we need to “burn” a little of our time, to spend it with the Lord.

Myrrh is the ointment that will be used to wrap the body of Jesus taken down from the cross. Pope Francis reminds us to have compassion, that “the Lord is pleased when we care for bodies racked by suffering, the flesh of the vulnerable, of those left behind, of those who can only receive without being able to give anything material in return”.

Officially, there will an end to the Christmas season – be it next week or in February 2, but if we bring these gifts of the Magi with us every day of our year, then truly Christmas is in our hearts and will never end.

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