“Our humanity were a poor thing but for the divinity that stirs within us.” +Francis Bacon
As the season of Advent draws nearer its conclusion, we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation: that miraculous birth of a child who was both wholly God and wholly man. We can experience Christ in the Holy Eucharist and hear him preach and teach and speak his mind in the Scriptures.
Yet, we are aware that knowing his divine nature is far above our comprehension in this mortal life. And at the same time, if you are like me, we can easily fall into a lax association with Jesus. He becomes distant and removed, inhuman and impersonal. At most, we might recollect him as just another historical figure of great repute but nonetheless of the same caliber as other subjects on a long-undusted bookshelf.
This is not who Christ is to be to the Catholic individual. He is a living God, and – while remaining a wondrous mystery – we ought to acknowledge Christ’s simultaneous humanity. More than that, we are called to dwell upon the life of Christ, upon the human dimension of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. The Son of Man came in order to be the ultimate figure of relatability, the primary example of a life well-lived, the perfection of the human person.
Christ’s Physical Experiences
Christ came among us to show us the way to perfection, to be authentically and fully human. In contemplating Christ’s life on earth, we grow in an understanding of who Christ is and what he expects of us. Since a full comprehension of the divine nature of Jesus Christ is unreachable, we can grow in a relationship – a familiarity and empathetic association – with him by contemplating his very relatable human nature and all that it entails.
For instance, think of the fragility of the Christ Child on Christmas morn. His head and neck had to be supported by his caring mother. Like each one of us, he had to take his first sharp breath of air after leaving the womb. During the dedication of Jesus in the Temple, 40 days after his birth, he was circumcized. Doubtlessly Jesus cried as a baby and as a young child. He was not immune to physical pain and discomfort. As he learned the art of carpentry under the tutelage of St. Joseph, he would have discovered sweat, blisters, and abrasions. During his forty-day trial in the desert, including fasting from food and drink, the lips of Jesus would have dried out and cracked. He knew heat upon his back at noonday and the cold of night. He knew thirst as well as satisfaction.
Christ’s Spiritual Experiences
Even more than the experiences he had through the physical senses, we must acknowledge the spiritual and emotional depth of Jesus in his humanity. Christ experienced happiness, and he experienced sadness too. He was human; he had feelings. He gave love and, like any human being in the history of creation, he desired love.
Take as a specific example this relation that highlights the emotional dimension of Christ’s human nature. Following the decapitation of St. John the Baptist, “…his [John’s] disciples came and took the body and buried it; and they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place…” (Matt. 14: 12,13).
In a concise snippet, we get the drift that John’s death has phased Jesus. It is a loss which he confronts and mourns in silence and solitude, yet one which clearly affected him personally.
During his earthly life, Christ was no stranger to disappointment, sorrow, and heartbreak. In attending a talk at Benedictine College given by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, author of 33 Days to Morning Glory, the topic of loneliness came up. Fr. Gaitley said that in a sense Jesus is the loneliest man in the world. This extremely personal representation struck me and has never left.
Why might we call Jesus the loneliest person in the world? We understand why when we take some time to ponder the events in Christ’s life surrounding his passion, death, and resurrection and how people have responded to his endeavors toward their salvation.
Think about it. Jesus Christ is betrayed by one who is especially dear to him from among his inner circle of disciples. Peter denies friendship and any association with him. Almost all his other companions ditch him as he braves the road to Calvary. He must abandon his mother Mary in the midst of his passion, and still he pushes on. The depths of spiritual and physical torment into which the Son of God was plunged knew no limits.
That is not the extent of Christ’s suffering. For all eternity, the Son of God knew who would choose to accept the graces of his passion and death and who wouldn’t. What extends the loneliness of Christ even to this day? It is the souls who deliberately refuse to acknowledge him. Jesus has sent invitations to every single person born into this life. His sadness comes from the overwhelming droves who reply that they are simply too busy or who send no word at all. The communion and ultimately the feast to which Christ has invited the entire human family displays a severe lack of attendance. Christ’s love is shunned. He opens his heart to share himself with us and is met with refusal after refusal. How would that make you feel?
Reminded of the Communion Christ Wants with Us by the Incarnation
The celebration of Christmas should lead us to specifically recall the human nature of Christ, God made man, enfleshed in a human body. The orchestrator of the universe from all of eternity is born into time. Here is humblest theophany in all of salvation history.
Remember the relationship Christ desires with you. The Second Person in the Trinity took on physical form. He tries to become tangible for us. Ultimately, he manifests himself in the most personal, physical, and spiritual way possible – giving himself in the Eucharist. As Christmas Day approaches, we are called to ready our hearts in anticipation for a personal coming of Christ in each of our hearts. We are called to a deepening of our relationship with God.