The Human Condition


T’is the season of gifts.  To be successful in giving was to present a sentiment behind a gift:  the totality of the gift was in the sentiment.  That was the sacramental.  The significant was more than the material thing.  The outward sign. 

At a young age, I spent a fair amount of time dealing with folks at times of loss.  There had been people crying about losing a ring, however the circumstances.  Weeping.  Somehow in comparison to the magnitude of real loss after an experience, I never could quite appreciate the loss of just sentiment.  Not after what I had witnessed in a community somewhere near Devils Lake, North Dakota.  The worst loss I ever had to attend to was a man who lost his home and 5 sons in a fire about 4 days before Christmas about 20-some years ago.  I don’t recall ever seeing his wife.  That day was heart breaking.  I have thought of that event each December ever since. 

People pray a lot for “blessings.”  God is asked day in and day out to “bless us.”  The request is nothing but for a share.  To have a share, of Him and His goodness.  To be a shareholder in this planet was to be invested in what happens.  To read a quote from Father Karl Golser in the National Catholic Reporter from December 5, 2008 from John Allen, Jr.:


“All of creation must be reborn and presented anew to the Father through Christ.  In their cosmic dimension of the faith, the Eucharist is about offering the earth itself back to God, in the consecration of bread and wine.  Sunday is the day we live the joy of redemption.  Sunday is the day we also express a new relationship with space and time.  It’s about the return to God.  It is about the return to Christ, the parousia.”  

God was, as always, just waiting.  It was the Advent season.  In the cosmic dimension of things, the nights were long in real life.  When did God mostly meet people in real life?  In critical times:  in birth, in death, on a wedding day.  But in the stories of the New Testament, Jesus mostly met people in conditions that people wished they did not have.  Sick.  In sacramental encounters.  In conditions of sin—when most people wished they were different.  With a bit of shame.  In real life.  Seldom did Jesus meet people in the temple.  That bit of shame was why half the world did not worship much.  I had my own sense of shame about the past.  How could I have missed so much?  Wrestling with the question, Who am I?  Am I good enough?  And coming to realize that it was I that needed a savior.  Yeah.  Even me. 


This time of year was one about sentiment.  In the reality of things, sentimental gifts took some thought to touch the heart of someone of significance.  It was not until the days just before Christmas when we trimmed the tree on Grandma’s birthday, celebrating people in the past, in an ornament from a year remembered, that the sentiment hit home.  I did not care to do Christmas things too early.  It was hard to remember the sacredness of each ornament, the stories behind how they got here.  Those symbols of Christmas for adults only worked with sentiment.  People whose lives I had had a share.  And true sentiment could not be lost. 

There was way too much to take in, with imagination, with this Incarnation.  I seldom think of it until the horns blare on Christmas Eve in church at “Oh Come All Thee Faithful.”  And then my heart leaps.  Each year. 

Larry Gillick, S.J., describes Advent as “when we were waiting for His taking birth in our stables, taking flesh in our persons.” God in human form.  Visible.    Approachable.  In real life.  


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