By Father John Bayer
Special to The Texas Catholic
With the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 and Christmas on Dec. 25, my thoughts were drawn to think about how remarkable indiviudals shape our lives.
It is safe to say that all of us know a few of those special people whose charisms — whether it be their joy, compassion, sensitivity, intelligence, good humor, virtue, discernment, or something else — enrich the lives of all those blessed to stand in solidarity with them. Mary and Jesus are such special people. They are graced with tremendous gifts of the Holy Spirit (Mary: Mt 1:18; Lk 1:34-35; Acts 1:12-2:4; Jesus: Lk 3:21-22; Acts 10:38); and, thanks be to God, they enrich our lives as intimate members of the human family, for Mary is truly our mother (Jn 19:26-27; Rev 12:1-17) and Jesus is truly our brother (Mk 3:35; Rom 8:29).
There is a dynamic in Scripture, according to which a gift given to a single member of a community redounds to the benefit of all. In the Book of Judges, for example, we see Israel fluctuating between fidelity and infidelity, prosperity and disaster; and each time the community returns to the Lord and is rescued, they are led by someone chosen by God, a “savior” that God “raises up” (Ju 2:9) and blesses in order to save his People. One such savior, the warrior Gideon, is told, “The Lord is with you, O champion! […] Go with the strength you have and save Israel from the power of Midian. It is I who send you!” (Ju 6:12-14). God chooses these special people; he remains with them and works through them. And just like for Samson, another savior in the Book of Judges, the Holy Spirit is a familiar companion for these special people; he moves them and enables them to accomplish great deeds for the glory of God and for the peace of his people (Ju 13:24; 14:6; 15:14).
This dynamic of solidarity — where one member of a community is given gifts by God for the sake of the salvation of all – is perhaps nowhere more powerfully stated than in St. Paul’s teaching about the “last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45), Jesus Christ. St. Paul believed all human beings were part of a single family (Ac 17:26). For him, as for the rest of Scripture, we all stand together before God. God looks at us together, never considering anyone as an isolated individual but always as an individual member of an all-encompassing community. Precisely this solidarity explains why we all suffer for the sin of Adam, and why the love Christ manifested on the cross has the power to save us all from the chains of sin and death: “If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all” (Rom 5:17-18).
What a gift! Because God wills to see me in union with others, I can share in the atonement of Christ and in the gifts given to the community of the saints. Let us cherish this solidarity! Let us embrace it by allowing our lives to be entwined with the lives of others, learning to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2), “rejoice with those who rejoice, [and] weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). Let us begin with our neighbor but remember that this solidarity is as far-reaching as the great web of human relations, stretching through time and space to embrace every human being. For in this Christmas season, we remember that Jesus stretches thousands of miles and years from Bethlehem to stand in solidarity with us today. Inspired by his love, let us strive to overcome all borders of race, age, sex, status and culture in order to live in union with others. Let us hear the call of Jesus to live like “yeast” (Mt 13:33), “salt” and “light” (Mt 5:13-16): to become the special people through whom God raises, seasons and enlightens the world.
Father John Bayer, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column will appear occasionally in The Texas Catholic.