Throughout history, people have puzzled over fundamental questions: Why was I born? What happens after I die? Does life have meaning? In 2006, Every Day Catholic will address these questions and explore the fundamental beliefs of the Catholic faith.

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Why Did Jesus Come?
 
By Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M.

It happened some years ago on Christmas Day. As the members of the congregation came out of church after Mass, a woman approached me, all smiles, and said, “This is such a beautiful feast! I’m not sure exactly why God did it, but I certainly am glad!”

Christmas focuses our attention on the mystery of the Incarnation. From the Latin word for “flesh” (caro/carnis), we affirm the “enfleshment,” the “In-carnation” of the Word of God. This doctrine, which is at the center of our faith as Christians, upholds the mystery that Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, is one divine person but possesses both a divine and a human nature.

So, as it turns out, we do have some idea why God did it.

The Creed tells us that the Incarnation was “for us and for our salvation.” Before the birth of Jesus, Joseph is told that Mary will bear a son and “you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). It is the Incarnate Jesus who then saves or delivers us from the condition of sin and death. This includes creation as well. As St. Paul tells us, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains” in hope that it too “would be set free from slavery” (Romans 8:20-23).

But can this be the whole story? Does the Incarnation really depend on sin? It would seem that the Word of God became human not because of sin, but rather because God, from all eternity, wanted Christ to be the most perfect work of creation, the goal and direction of creation.

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Overflowing Love

In a real sense, the Incarnation is connected with the very life of the Trinity. The inner life of God is a life of ever-giving love. The second person, the Son, is at the center of this flow of love. God freely chooses to let this love overflow outside; creation flows out of this fountain of divine goodness. Here too, the (incarnated) Son stands at the center as the focus of God’s outpouring love and the one capable of directing and returning that love back to God.

The Prologue to St. John’s Gospel affirms that the Word was in the beginning before all things; that all things were created through him and that this Word became flesh in our midst (1:1-18). The hymn in St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians is similar: He (the Incarnate Jesus) is before all things; all things were created in him, through him and for him; in him all things hold together (1:15-20; see also Ephesians 1:3-14).

In other words, everything that exists is always in relationship to the Father, through Christ and in the Spirit. Because of sin, the Incarnation took the form and shape that it did, but the Incarnation itself is primary.

Viewing the Incarnation in this way can help us to appreciate and share the insight of St. Francis of Assisi: All parts of creation—sun, moon, stars, air, water, animals, other persons—are our brothers and sisters, children in Christ of the one Creator God. Each creature is a unique embodiment and reflection (St. Bonaventure would say “a footprint”) of God and deserves our care and respect.

Because the Incarnation represents and embodies the goal of creation, we affirm the basic goodness of creation (Genesis 1) as the good gift of the good Giver. Ours is not simply a “vale of tears.” In the beauty of creation (a sunset, music, art, dance, love and relationships) we see reflected the beauty of God and of the Incarnation.

Aesthetic Adventure

It is only in this light that we can recognize sin and brokenness as a disfiguring of the beauty of creation. Through sin we are like the deranged man in Rome who took a hammer to Michelangelo’s statue, the Pietà. The Incarnation does deliver us from sin, but in so doing it restores the goodness and beauty of creation intended from the beginning. In our living of the Christian life, we are embarked, in a real sense, on an aesthetic adventure: to live into the beauty of the Incarnation.

The woman on that Christmas morning years ago spoke more truth than she realized. It is indeed a beautiful feast, but we do have some idea why God did it. And we—each of us and all of creation—are certainly glad!

Father Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M., is a professor of Old Testament, Semitic Languages and Biblical Spirituality at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, California.

Next: Why Believe in the Holy Spirit?

Questions for Reflection:

• How has Jesus been a part of your spiritual growth?

• Is the idea that the Incarnation was always a part of God’s plan new to you? How does this affect your spirituality?

FAMILY CORNER
Jesus: The Light of the World
By Judith Dunlap

Jesus changed the world. He brought strength to the weak, courage to the fearful, consolation to the sad and hope to the abandoned. Jesus brought light into the darkness.

Throughout the New Testament, especially in John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus referred to as “the light.” We can understand this metaphor when we contrast the gift of light to darkness. Nothing changes when the lights go out, but in the dark we feel disoriented and vulnerable, sometimes even afraid. Turn on the lights and we regain our sense of place and position. This is precisely why Jesus came to earth.

When the world was created, it was good. The universe was filled with peace and harmony. When people were created, they were also created good. Scripture tells us that humans were created in the likeness and image of God. God shared with people the ability to love and to create good out of that love. People are the only creatures who can take the things God created and create new things.

Somewhere along the way people forgot to love, and evil moved in. The lights went out, and disorientation, vulnerability and fear followed. Love became tarnished, and what humans designed and created was not always good.

Then came the first Christmas, and a new light came into the world. As John tells us in his Gospel (1:12-13), those who accepted the light were given the power to become the children of God. They regained their sense of place and position. The darkness had no power over them: They knew who they were and whose they were. For Christians, every day is Christmas as we celebrate Jesus, the light of the world born in Bethlehem—with us today and yet to come.

For Family Response:

As a family, come up with as many titles for Jesus as you can. Have all family members pick their favorite title and explain why they chose it.

Media Watch
Chicken Little
By Frank Frost

The familiar story of Chicken Little is given a twist with a moral lesson in the latest Disney animation feature, which Disney proudly trumpets as its first fully computer-animated release and a technological breakthrough. However, the success of the film, for children and adults alike, is dependent less on technology than on good storytelling.

The film first takes us through the story we already know in order to introduce us to the characters and the next level of dramatic conflict. Chicken Little is bonked on the head with “something” and rushes to ring the school bell and alert the town that the sky is falling. Instead of being treated as a hero for saving the town, Chicken Little finds himself an outcast for his ridiculous claim.

The most painful blow is that his own father does not believe him. Chuck Luck, once the baseball hero of the town, finds his son a profound embarrassment. Other kids, like the jock and bully Foxy Loxy, taunt him. The only ones who stay friendly are other town “losers”—Abby Mallard (Ugly Duckling), Fish Out of Water and overweight Runt of the Litter.

Frantic to redeem himself in his father’s eyes, Chicken Little sets out to overcome his utter lack of athletic skills. (This riff on the movie Rocky is only one of several allusions to other movies, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars and War of the Worlds—a way to give the elders in the audience something to chuckle over.) Chicken Little becomes an unlikely hero by hitting the decisive home run in the championship game, and at last all is well. Or is it?

He is soon bonked on the head again by a curiously transparent object, and discovers that the sky evidently really is falling! But now he is reluctant to risk losing his father’s approval and again become a laughingstock by alerting the populace. When Chicken Little and his outcast friends discover that the piece of the sky is actually a fragment from an alien spaceship, he faces a dilemma—to do what is right or to protect his pride.

What follows is a lesson in misunderstanding that subjects the town to an alien attack. In this barnyard version of War of the Worlds, Chicken Little and his outcast friends rise to the challenge of saving a soft fuzzy baby alien, communicating with its alien parents in the face of great personal danger and truly saving their world from having the sky cave in.

Youngsters may take for granted the film’s extraordinary animation, but they will love the characters and the humor. Disney makes the story a transparent vehicle for strong parent-child values that are both explicit and palatable: Parents, listen to what your kids are trying to tell you. Kids, talk to your parents.

Chicken Little is a father-son communication story wrapped in a delightfully animated nursery story wrapped, in turn, in war-of-the-worlds action.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

Sts. Cyril and Methodius (Ninth Century)

If they hadn’t been born into a family that spoke Slavonic, Cyril and Methodius would have lived far different—and probably far easier—lives. The two brothers paid a price for their pioneering missionary work, much of it in what is now the Czech Republic.

Born 11 years apart (Cyril in 826; Methodius in 815), both men were called to share the faith among the people of Moravia. The call came from a local ruler, who—for political and ecclesiastical reasons—preferred them over the German missionaries working among the people. Cyril, already ordained, invented a Slavonic alphabet to help preach the Good News. He and Methodius translated major portions of the Bible and the liturgy into Slavonic.

The German bishops, however, opposed the brothers’ use of the local language. Effectively barred from serving the people, Cyril and Methodius left the area. But they found support in Rome from Pope Hadrian II, who approved the Slavonic liturgy and ordained Methodius. Fifty days later, his brother died at age 42.

Not long afterwards, Methodius was made an archbishop, but again he encountered opposition—this time from German bishops and Hungarian clergy. He was exiled for several years until the new pope secured his release under one condition: that he stop using the Slavonic liturgy. Several years later permission was restored, but Methodius continued to face enemies from Church and state. During the last four years of his life he translated the remainder of the Bible into Slavonic.

Cyril and Methodius are the apostles of the Slavs, co-patron saints of Europe (along with St. Benedict) and the patron saints of ecumenism. Their feast is February 14.

Msgr. Frank Gaeta

“The peace of Christ be with you. God bless you, my dear caller.” Over the past eight years, 80,000 people who have dialed (631) 667-5569 have heard those welcoming words and the voice of Msgr. Frank Gaeta, pastor of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Parish in Deer Park, New York.

But it’s not the parish they’ve reached. It’s “Dial a Moment With Jesus,” the daily recorded phone message accessible through the parish 24/7.

Instead of Jesus on the other end of the line, callers hear the veteran priest offer a three-minute spiritual message designed to proclaim the timeless message of the Good News through an answering machine that rings about 100 times a day. Surely Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who proclaimed the Gospel in Slavonic centuries ago, would approve of Msgr. Gaeta’s more modern methods.

“I’m not gifted in cyberspace things, but this works,” he told Every Day Catholic. He feels it is especially helpful for the homebound and “for people who are going through struggles and need a prayerful moment alone with the Lord.”

By 11 each evening he prepares the message for the following day, typically turning to the Old or New Testament. Using a special microphone attached to the machine, Msgr. Gaeta tries to find “a word, a line that helps people have an experience of the gospel message, of what Jesus is saying to us each day.”

“There are so many things I could be doing to proclaim the Good News,” he said, but “Dial a Moment” has become his trademark. (He gives full credit for the idea to the late Redemptorist Father Denis Kelleher.) But Msgr. Gaeta is open to new ideas—whatever helps people feel the presence of the Lord in their hearts and their lives.

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