Merry Christmas – Divine Compassion

Why do we celebrate Christmas?  Of course today, there are many nostalgic reasons.  It’s a cute story.  This baby Jesus is born in a manger.  Shepherds celebrate with joy, kings come with gifts, and Angels sing Glory to God in the highest peace to people on earth.  But we don’t celebrate it just because Christmas is a cute story.  We celebrate it because God did something truly amazing and special.  Maybe the better question for us to ask, is why would God even become one of us in the first place? Why would be his motivation? Why does God’s incarnation matter? I think the answer is God’s compassion.

The Christmas celebration is all about God’s divine compassion because it is his why.  The Divine Compassion is what motivates God to send his son Jesus into our human world.   I learned recently the differene between sympathy, empathy, and compassion.  Sympathy is when we express pity for someone in an unfortunate circumstance. Empathy is when we express concern for someone’s unfortunate circumstance, and we share the experience, but because we went through it too. Compassion can be sympathetic or empathetic, but compassion moves us to action. I see your unfortunate circumstance, and I want to do something about it.  God sees us and knows that we need to be convinced of God’s love and care, so he does something.  He is motivated to action.  He comes to live among us in our human life. 1) Jesus comes into our lives.  God seeks us. God does not want to be socially distant from us.  He wants to be with us. For ancient jews, the idea that God could enter into our humanity and become like us, would have been heresy.  God is totally other.  He is not the same.  There will always be a great distance between divine and the human. But God sees that humanity was starving for a closer relationship with him, is longing for a deeper connection with God.  So he is motivated by compassion, through Christ’s incarnation closes the distance between God and us.  Christ has closed the gap and we are no longer “socially distant” from our God, thus we can now experience intimate friendship with him. 

2) Jesus reaches out to us to live in our physical world – he desires to touch our lives! God wanted us to be able to experience him through our senses.  Now we can see him.  Now we can hear him.  Now we can feel his embrace through the love of Christ.  We can literally experience God through our senses.  

3) The Divine Compassion sent Jesus into our midst to heal us. Those of us who are burdened with anger, unforgiveness, and sin can be healed by Christ’s grace.

4) By Christ’s incarnation, He desires to convince of God’s love and intimate friendship with each of us.  He wants to give us a spiritual hug.

The challenge for all of us is to allow ourselves to be wowed and to be in awe that our God would dare to enter into our human life.  But the challenges also is for us to open our eyes and see that the incarnation is not merely a past event – It is an event in the present!  God is incarnate among us today. Isn’t this really the great question that we all? Sure, God came 2000 years ago to live among us, but does he really live among us today? Can I, can we, really experience him today in the flesh?

There is a beautiful When Jesus came down from the mountain … And then a leper approached, did him homage, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus went to him, stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I will do it. Be made clean.” His leprosy was cleansed immediately. ~ Matthew 8: 1-3.  This scene may not seem like it, but it has Everything to do with Christmas, everything… It God’s divine compassion at work, and shows us why the incarnation matters; why God would become one of us.  

Leprosy was highly contagious and ostracized people from society.  It even caused death. People who contracted this disease in the biblical world were isolated from society.  Even people exposed to it are unclean. Those with leprosy experienced social distancing, they had to live separate from the world.  They lacked physical intimacy that expressed love and concern.  They were sick and in need of healing.  And because of fear, they were cast out of society.  They were unwanted and worse felt unloved. Sound familiar?  Just like the leper, our world is full of sick people.  And of course, it’s full of sick people because of COVID but its also full of sick people because we have all experienced in some way spiritual leprosy.  has caused not only those who are sick to be socially distant but all of us to practice social distancing.  And this social distancing, though necessary to keep us safe, has had some profound negative effects. The social distancing has caused many to wonder if God or even those close to them remember them. People have struggled with being alone and isolated because they cannot be in the same space. And finally, due to the distance between us during this pandemic many have felt unwanted, forgotten, and unloved. The biblical world’s experience of leprosy is familiar to our experience of the COVID 19 pandemic. This pandemic has showed us how important it really is for us to be in person with each other.

Our lives have been lived through a computer and the internet more in the past year than ever in human history bringing us out of the real world and into a virtual one. For example, our children have spent time in virtual classrooms, with mom and dad as the primary educators at home – all while trying to maintain their full-time jobs. In a humorous way, People have even maintained their gym memberships virtually, ‘zoom for Zumba.’ Birthday celebrations, thanksgiving, and for many, even this Christmas season people are only able to celebrate virtually hoping to remain safe and healthy. Truly, it is a miracle that we as Catholic Church in the diocese of Grand Rapids have found a way to connect virtually. What’s my point? 

Its that invisible sickness that makes us feel isolated, unseen, disconnected, unwanted and unloved. Covid has taken us out of our human world, and put us in the virtual, and the result is spiritual leprosy. Many of us are spiritually sick and need healing.  Many of us, struggle being alone and forgotten because of social distancing.  Many of us crave the chance to hug our loved ones again.  Many of us, want to know that we are loved.  Our virtual world has contributed to our spiritual leprosy.

This is the point.  To be together in person matters.  We need and crave physical proximity with each other. This is the gift of Christmas. This is why the incarnation matters.  Because our God wanted to be among us in person – and we crave and long to be close to our God!

And its this personal encounter between Jesus and the leper that shows us how much we needed Christ to become one of us.  This moment where Jesus heals the leper is no small act of kindness, No.  This moment gives a window into the soul of Christ – into what motivates our God. What motivated God to not only heal a leper but come into our world is God’s Divine Compassion. 

There are key moments in this exchange between Jesus, the son of God, and the leper that manifest God’s Divine Compassion.  1) Christ goes to him.  No one in their right mind would ever willing go close to someone sick with leprosy.  And yet – Jesus does! 2) Jesus reaches out and touches him.  Christ’s touch manifests God’s grace.  3) Our Lord heals him.  Finally, 4) the Lord embraces him and in that moment of embrace convinces the man, this former leper, that God loves him and has an intimate friendship with him.

Christmas is God coming into our world, he reaches out and touches our lives, heals us, and embraces confirming for us that we wanted, that we belong, and that we are loved more than we can ever imagine by our compassionate God.

Our responsibility then is to imitate God’s compassion for us to others. Jesus is the Sacrament of God the Father à Church is the Sacrament of Christ à Mystical Body (us) are sacrament of Christ for the world. We now are Christ incarnate in our world. We now are the means by which God continues to show his divine compassion to others; especially those who a longing to meet their savior and haven’t yet.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Spiritual Vigilance

Its hard to believe that it has already been a month since I was on quarantined.  But it was also eye opening.  I became much more vigilant and aware about COVID-19.  Here’s what I mean: For the first couple of days after my exposure to the virus every decision I made became more scrutinized.  For example, the day after Fr. Colin, the pastor of Holy Redeemer and my good friend, called to see if I wanted to watch Monday Night Football with him.  I said, we probably should not since I was in a soft quarantine.  Then the next day, I needed to go to Costco or Meijer to purchase some food.  Normally, that does not require much thought, but this time, I had to stop and ask myself, “is it appropriate for me to go shopping right now? Am I putting others at risk if I leave my house?”  Because I was exposed, I became hyper aware of COVID-19 and was even more vigilant with every decision I made.

The coronavirus has been a nightmare, and regardless where each of us stands personally with this health crisis, it does offer us an interesting insight into the first weekend of Advent.  Christ is asking us to watch closely for the second coming.  He wants us to be awake and alert for the coming of the Lord.  In other words, Jesus wants us to be hyper-focused on his second coming and to be vigilant – to be on the watch! 

And our protocols and procedures, our carefulness and vigilance with COVID-19 can show us how to be spiritually vigilant for Christ. 

During this pandemic we have become accustomed to many things, but these three things in particular: 1) Hand Sanitizer, 2) Masks, and 3) Social distancing.  We wash our hands and use sanitizer often, why?  So that we can protect ourselves from germs.  So that our hands to become an avenue for germs to make us sick.  We are more vigilant and cautious about going out into public without a mask, why? Not because we are afraid of others, because it’s a small thing that we can do to love the other person.  Just in case I have the virus and am unaware of it I will wear this mask, this uncomfortable thing, in order to love and protect others. And we are vigilant about keeping our distance from one another, why? So that we don’t spread the virus and so that one day soon we can be close with out families and friends again.  The vigilance we have right now towards COVID is about reaching the end of the pandemic, so that we can be reunited once again with our families and friends. The end goal is to get past this pandemic so we can live our lives together again.

And so now, here we are, and Christ is asking us to be vigilant, to have a careful watch for his second coming, why for the purpose of Social Communion. For us to have Social Communion, Christ too wants us to have spiritual vigilance.  He invites us to use spiritual hand sanitizer, to wear our spiritual masks, and to practice spiritual social distancing so that we can be a united family in heaven.  So, what is spiritual hand sanitizer? In our first reading we heard how our sin makes God angry and makes us unclean.  Christ is calling us to repent.  He wants us to take our spiritual hand sanitizer so that we our hearts can be made pure – that we love God above all things.  What does our spiritual mask look like? Our spiritual mask is our willingness to love others as God Loves them.  Our spiritual mask reminds us that our lives are not about us, but about God.  Our spiritual masks motivates us to make sacrifices to love the other person in front of us. And finally, what does Spiritual social distancing look like?  Spiritual social distancing is about separating ourselves from negative habits, vices, things, and at times people that keep us from God.  Jesus invites us to be vigilant about all three of things so that we can have Social Communion.  So that on the day of Christ’s coming, we may be aware and ready to see him, so that we can be with him and all the saints and angels in a beautiful social communion in heaven. 

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen