-By Fr. Dominic Gomes, Vicar- General
While Christmas is so familiar that we sometimes wonder whether anything fresh and true can be said about it, there is a way to explore its meaning that may seem new to us today, yet in fact quite traditional, dating back to the Middle Ages and the ancient Fathers of the Church.
Modern interpreters often argue about whether a given Scripture passage should be interpreted literally or symbolically. Medieval writers would question the either/or approach. They thought a passage could have as many as four right interpretations, one literal and three symbolic.
These were: (1) the historical or literal, which is the primary sense on which the others all depend; (2) the prophetic sense when an Old Testament event foreshadows its New Testament fulfillment; (3) the moral or spiritual sense, when events and characters in a story correspond to elements in our own lives; and (4) the eschatological sense, when a scene on earth foreshadows something of heavenly glory.
This symbolism is legitimate because it doesn’t detract from the historical, literal sense, but builds on and expands it. It’s based on the theologically sound premise that history too symbolizes, or points beyond itself, for God wrote three books, not just one: nature and history as well as Scripture. The story of history is composed not only of events, but of words, signs and symbols. This is unfamiliar to us only because we have lost a sense of depth and exchanged it for a flat, one-dimensional, bottom-line mentality in which everything means only one thing.
Let’s try to recapture the riches of this lost worldview by applying the spiritual sense of the Christmas story to our lives. For that story happens not only once, in history, but also many times in each individual’s soul. Christ comes to the world but He also comes to each of us. Advent happens over and over again.
There are two ways to connecting the historical and the spiritual senses. The Jesuit method, from St. Ignatius Spiritual Exercises, tells us to imaginatively place ourselves into the Gospel stories. The older Augustinian method tells us to look for elements of the story in our lives. We shall be using this latter method as we survey the scene in Bethlehem for the next four weeks.
Look at the Nativity set. Around the Christ Child, we see four people or groups: Mary, Joseph, the wise men and the shepherds. We are all around the Christ Child, defined by our relationship to Him; we are all Marys, Josephs, wise men or shepherds.
May this Christmas help us to realize that each one of us has a mission: to experience God’s love and share it with others, especially with those in need, in a thousand different ways, every day, every moment, making such sharing, giving and serving a way of life and the result of such a way of life will be peace and joy! May this peace and joy be yours this Christmas and every day of your life.
Wishing you all a Blessed Christ centered Christmas and a prosperous New Year 2016 with all its blessings.