Each Christmas Season can draw us deeper into the mystery of God‘s great love for us and so it can evoke by its very celebration an encounter with the Most Blessed Trinity: GOD the Father, GOD the Son - the WORD made Flesh in Jesus Christ - and GOD the Holy Spirit. This encounter becomes all the more awe inspiring when we take time to contemplate it within the quiet gaze upon the Crèche. It is here that we come to appreciate all the more that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took on our lowly human flesh in order that He might redeem us and sanctify us. And yet, there is more!
When our eyes fall upon the beautiful figures of the Holy Family within this scene of our family Crèche, often keeping pride of place throughout the Christmas Season in our living room, on our dining room table or in another significant place in our home, we begin to ‘see’ the deeper reality of the Incarnation: we see that in Jesus’ humanity, He has truly become “like us in all things but sin” (cf. Heb 4:15). It is in this subtle but profound truth that we begin to ‘hear’ again that our own humanity is ‘very good,’ that we are not just one of many creatures or a clump of random cells. Neither are we the sum of our sins but in fact every intentional smile, sincere word, or ardent act of charity can transform our soul and the soul of another, which reveals that it truly can be so: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). In fact, the Son of Mary reveals that our humanity - with all of its idiosyncrasies (speaking for myself!) - is important and that its perfection through a graced-filled virtuous and holy life will attain it’s true end for which we were redeemed by Christ: eternal life with the Most Blessed Trinity!
In seminary formation at Saint John’s Seminary, we know that the gift of priestly formation is to aid a man in becoming “a ‘living image’ of Jesus Christ, ... seek(ing) to reflect in himself, as far as possible, the human perfection which shines forth in the incarnate Son of God” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, “I Will Give You Shepherds,” 43). A seminarian’s time and focus on the life of Christ from the Crib to the Cross is the daily thought and prayer of his priestly formation. This is most seen in how he develops a pastoral heart for the people he (eventually) is sent to accompany, one day nourishing them in Sacrament and WORD, and “guiding the Christian community in charity” (cf. PDV, 43).
A seminarian’s humanity must fully develop in time in order to genuinely reflect Jesus Christ the High Priest in all of his thoughts, words and deeds. This becoming fully alive is what is often called affective maturity, and when this lives in the priest, he acts more beautifully in persona Christi (“in the person of Christ”) and becomes more of an alter Christus (“another Christ”) in service to and in loving the People of God. This way of living is so integral to being a priest of Jesus Christ that we begin to see this in him: a ‘happy, healthy and holy priest.’
This important aspect of formation for which his affective maturity is most directed - developing a pastoral heart - not only relies on the grace of GOD, his own personal effort and the work of Seminary formation itself, it also relies upon your support for him each and every day. And we thank you!
During this Christmas Season, when by Church tradition a priest blesses family homes, please know our prayers for you, your family and you loved ones. And may the Holy Family continue to bless you long after the Crèche is put away for another year. Merry Christmas!
Reflection by Fr. Edward Riley, Dean of Men | Director of Pastoral Formation