There is so much to take in over Christmastide, with all its feasts and images — not to mention the temporal responsibilities undergirding “the holiday season”—that years (even decades) might pass without taking the opportunity to really ponder some of the underlying themes that the Nativity reveals to the faithful. As the decorations are reboxed and stored, it may be a good time to meditate on how to make the new year different, really different.
We’ve seen anew how the Child was given, the Virgin embraced Him, the humble rejoiced, and then the hostile world intervened. We know that Joseph prayerfully put one foot in front of the other, leading his family into the desert, and then to the unfamiliar town of Nazareth. The birth of Christ destabilized his family and changed the trajectory of their lives. They took it in stride, because they had long been in conversation with God, and the story of their very people was often punctuated by radical movement amidst the shifting sands of strife and crisis. Tevye of Anatevka offered a stark image, indicating that pursuing a life of faith mirrors a fiddler on the roof, who is “trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck.”
Even in ideal circumstances, the birth of a child requires a total reorientation within the home. The needs of the parents are subsumed by the needs of the child, and any lingering self-absorption is swamped by quotidian demands. Ironically, the baby rules by means of an overwhelming vulnerability, and parents discover a strength and stamina they never knew they had. God willing, they also develop a new appreciation for what was done for them, and eventually they’ll sift through the accumulated wisdom of previous generations to tackle the heretofore unimagined questions and dilemmas hurled at them with astonishing speed.
Having just paid homage to the birth of Christ, consider the curious conversation between Nicodemus and Our Lord, who insisted that all believers must be reborn. In an excellent new book, “Mary’s Voice in the Gospel According to John,” author Michael Pakaluk reminds us that the verb used in the exchange (gennēthē) could either mean “to be begotten” or “to be born,” but he insists that it’s less about the birth canal than “the sense of being brought forth from one’s mother.”
It is that “bringing forth” that surely encompasses both destabilization and reorientation, but more importantly provides the true paradigm for motherhood and fatherhood. It is essential that we recognize that the rebirth brought about by Christian Baptism is as much an initiation, a “bringing forth from one’s mother” as is physical birth. Here is where we return to the words of St. Cyprian: “He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his Mother.” Martyred in 238, he indicated even then that the Church was the essential “sacrament of unity” needed to orient believers towards eternal truths that would assure their Salvation. Beyond the gift of regenerating the soul, to be “born again” is to overlay an existing physical relationship with a filial regard for the institutional Church as our new mother.
In this regard, as we ponder what the family is meant to show us Spiritually, we might make a New Years resolution to study at least one long-standing teaching of Holy Mother Church for greater insight into how to live, how to choose well, and how to witness to Spiritual realities in a culture that has rejected not only motherhood and fatherhood, but the existence of truth itself. Choose a topic, roll up the sleeves, and get reading. Two millennia of wisdom are easily accessed, and have been carefully preserved specifically to guide those who have been brought forth into the light of Christ.
Anchor columnist Genevieve Kineke is the author of “The Authentic Catholic Woman.” She blogs at feminine-genius. typepad.com.