By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 11 January 2013 in The Madera Tribune
During my 10th year under the light of the sun, I decided there could be no better age to be. A child no more, I had two proud digits to express the number of my longevity. Without regret, I left the children’s menu behind when ordering food at restaurants. I had reached the pinnacle of my existence.
The seemingly sturdy boat of my being seemed a great seafaring ship compared to the simple and trembling raft of my earlier self. The fickle waves and storms brought by the winds of puberty had not yet wrestled with me, and I had not the sense to fear them.
I kept a diary that year, though not with any faithfulness. I barely filled a handful of pages within the tiny notebook. Yet I sincerely wanted to record summaries of my days. I would be a famous poet and novelist someday, and people would want to know my tale.
With the boldness of innocence, I confided to my diary on July 8, 1984: “Today is Sunday (and) this morning I went to Mass. Today they talked about sainthood and so I am going to try to be a saint. Don’t you tell, okay?”
A spontaneous online reflection of mine on another Sunday, May 13, would unintentionally comment on my progress 23 years later. Still a poet, I responded to a forum discussion: “Every boy dreams himself a hero / and sees his face in every epic life. / Yet what changes within our hearts / that we rise less and less when called?
“The day may come when true heroes unmask / the villainy of the child grown / so selfish now. But wasn’t he always so? / Perhaps he sees what always was.
“We find ways to cope with forgotten dreams / and cease to struggle as we slowly numb / to all the gifts we bear and yearn for. / But spare us mirrors about our selves. / We do not wish to see.
“Even so, I pray to God / for mercy on this villain, I, / too weak to stand for long / upon his feet God-given. / Teach me to walk and see / the hero in me.”
Some bristled at my labeling myself as a “villain,” but don’t we all encounter within us at times someone contrary to the hero we’d like to be? As the apostle Paul admitted in a letter to Christians in Rome, “For that which I do I understand not: for what I would do, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” (Romans 7:15)
Moments of ineptitude aside, sometimes we freely choose to act wrongly or to neglect to do what we should, even though we know better. Paul’s answer and my far less inspired response to this self-contradiction are the same: God. For what moral law and conscience fail to achieve in us due to our weakness, “God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh…” (cf. Romans 8:3) So Christians believe.
As a medieval Gregorian chant exclaims, “O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
This unearned gift of divine help -- to love as God loves -- is cause enough for hope.
For Roman Catholics, the Christmas season lingers on the church calendar a few more days. For others it might persist only in memory. But for all Christians the true joy of Christmas, this “marvelous exchange,” should never be far from our hearts.
For that to be so, we must never cease to participate in the exchange it celebrates. We must daily offer to God our all-too-human self as a sincere gift, as completely as we can, and in return we will receive God.
“But as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become children of God…” (cf. John 1:12)
“At that time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and Jesus said, ‘Verily I say to you, unless you turn and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-3)
It is no accident the festival of Christmas is associated with children. For we who claim to be born of God, the mystery of Christmas is only fulfilled when Christ is born in us.