The treasure of the traditional piety surrounding Christmas is immeasurable. I dug a bit into it and found some thoughts of St. Ignatius of Loyola that I adapt to our days.
St. Ignatius showed that the birth of the Divine Word in the Manger of Bethlehem signified the defeat of the egoism of man. He said that the self-love of men could be divided into three major types of idolatry: the love of wealth above everything; the love of pleasures above everything, and the love of honor above everything.
Who should be included in each of these categories?
First, the ones who love wealth above everything. By wealth St. Ignatius means money. This is the avarice of those who seek money, not for the pleasures that money can bring – in that case, the money would be a means rather than an end. This kind of person has the mania to possess money, to be rich for the sake of being rich, to be secure with the knowledge of having a fortune. Sometimes a person like this can live in an obscure and modest way; his joy is to have the continuous sense that he possesses a large amount of money.
Second, the ones who love pleasures above everything. This group includes those who seek the pleasures the five senses can bring. Foremost the sensual pleasures, then the pleasures of the palate, the eyes, the nose, and the ear. It includes the ensemble of pleasing and delightful things that the life of luxury can give.
Third, the ones who love honors above everything. These are the ones whose first concern is neither money nor the good life, but rather the consideration and esteem of others. They want to be recognized as the first in this or that field and then receive due honor. They want to be the object of great homage, attention, and reverence. They seek prestige.
Our Lord came to show that all of these idols are worthless, and He was born in the manger in Bethlehem to defeat them.
With regard to wealth, Our Lord is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the One God Who created heaven and earth, the whole universe, and, therefore, all the richness that it contains. Everything marvelous, beautiful, and good that constitutes the basis for the wealth of man was created by God. No one can equal the treasure that belongs to God. Further, since He is Omnipotent, He could create at any time and without effort whatever quantity of riches He so desires. When one gazes up at the stars in the sky, one can imagine the richness each one of them represents and can envisage the facility with which God created them. For Him it is as easy to create a star as a grain of sand. Therefore, one can conclude that God is infinitely rich.
Those whose main concern is to make money
are unwise before God
This infinitely rich God wished to come to this earth as the Son of a poor carpenter and a mother who did her own household labors. He decided to be born in a manger, that is, in the poorest place one can imagine, to be warmed by the breathing of the animals and the modest little clothing Our Lady had prepared for Him. He found asylum not among human beings, but in a cave where animals ate and slept. Doing this He wanted to show us how man should be indifferent to wealth in comparison to the service of God. Therefore, man was born not to be rich, but to love and serve God on this earth in order to adore and serve Him for all eternity.
So, all those men we see around us who run without stop after money, who make the possession of money their main concern, who only find pleasure in talking and thinking about money, who love the feeling of security and knowing that they will never be poor more than anything else, these are truly unwise men. Because before God, all the wealth they can accumulate is but a grain of dust.
As for pleasures, if He had so desired, Our Lord could have commanded the Angels to bring to the place where He was born beautiful soft fabrics: silks, velours, brocades; the most fragrant perfumes. The Child Jesus could have had the warmest clothing and the most delectable foods one can imagine. In short, He could have been born in a magnificent palace, surrounded by luxuries and the most refined of ambiences.
Our Lord, however, did not choose to be surrounded by pleasures. He chose to sleep on a bed of straw, a rough material that does not provide soft comfort to the body. He was born in a manger that normally does not smell good. It was piercing cold when He was born. That is, He wanted to show men the madness of making pleasures the first concern of life. He gave us the opposite lesson. If it is for the glory of God and the good of the soul, one should leave aside all the pleasures this life can provide us.
Regarding honors, Our Lord is God, and all the honor and glory men can give to Him is insufficient. Notwithstanding, He wanted to be born unknown and forgotten to all. Further, His parents were despised and turned aside by the inhabitants of Bethlehem, no one wanted to host the Holy Family and provide them a room for the night. By this, Our Lord wanted to show us the folly of those whose first goal in life is to achieve public recognition and prestige.
Each one of us, following the counsel of St. Ignatius, should apply these considerations to ourselves and others. We should use this meditation as a criterion to judge our relatives, neighbors, and colleagues.
The Adoration of the Child Jesus by Fra Angelico
But principally, we should apply this meditation to ourselves. Which current of self-love does each of us best fit into? Which form of egoism do we need to be vigilant against so we do not make it a false idol in our lives?
We should have such conclusions day and night before us to wrest from our souls the proud and worldly thoughts and ways that lead us to adore money, pleasures, and prestige.
We should also direct our prayers toward this end, asking for the supernatural discernment and strength to know our defects and combat them.
This is a meditation according to the great school of St. Ignatius. I am an enthusiast of this method. It is clear, logical, consistent, and orders the soul to be like unto God and to glorify Him above all things.
It constitutes, in my opinion, a bag of gold, a bowl of incense, and a chalice of myrrh that we can offer, along with the three Wise Men, to the Newborn Child at this end of the year 2003.
To you, my readers, and to your families, I wish a Holy Christmas.
Posted on December 18, 2003