What is the special significance of the Birth of Christ for this year?
The first thoughts about Christmas usually centre on feasts, celebrations and the giving and receiving of gifts. I wondered this time whether we could go beyond the giving and receiving of gifts to a deep reflection on ‘self-giving’.
Christmas stands for God’s self-giving to humanity in a way that we could never have thought possible. That sets us an example of what we could and should do to each other. Self-giving is far more difficult than gift giving. It is easier to part with something that we have than something of which we are constituted.
What does this self-giving imply?
Undoubtedly it implies that we could surrender a little more of ourselves to other people, to society, to the larger interests of humanity, to the cause of peace, justice, probity in public life, wellbeing of people.
In a world where a person’s worth is measured by what he or she owns, it is amazing to think of the Son of God who “emptied himself” and took the form of a servant. There are times when this self-emptying calls for giving up some portion of our personal pride and many things that we consider central to our lives. But most of all it means that we place all our energies, time, talents and all that we are at the service of the Kingdom and the betterment of humanity. It is a challenge to our societies too. Is not some sort of self-emptying needed today: shedding of the attitudes of covetousness, anger, vindictiveness, over-ambition, and deadly competition?
These are days when vested interests of strong communities and over-assertion of weaker groups collide, when violence and corruption can be noticed at every level of society in various forms. If societies do not feel the need for some sort of transformation, of self-emptying, they will be destroyed by these very forces. We need today people who think about others and the common good, who place themselves at the service of others; bring in amity, understanding, mutual respect, and happy relationships. We begin to understand the meaning of self-giving only by doing it. The joy that this self-gift generates is not easy to describe. And that joy, nobody can take it away from us.
How would you express this idea of self-giving in the context of everyday life?
We have the wonderful example of Mother Teresa who had made a gift of herself to Calcutta’s poor and to the poorest of the poor of the world. She did not become less of a person for her self-giving; she grew from day to day until she emerged as a towering personality on the world scene. Even the most powerful on earth bowed to her.
The task of the missionary is just the same. It would seem that one has surrendered one’s rights over one’s time, energy, skills, resources to others in such a way one does not belong to oneself any more, but to the people. They seem to have all rights over us. And one is happy that this is so.
We have just concluded the Archdiocesan missionary congress with much fanfare and celebration in Guwahati. The message of the Congress was be the “Light to the World”. But it is not a message about self-advertisement. It rather refers to a self-effacing announcement of the One Who is the Light of the World.
Can such words be made meaningful in today’s world?
I can never forget an experience I had when I was looking after a hostel of some 160 young people. One day I found a young boy of class seven sitting on a pile of stones in the playground reading a thick book. What was my surprise when I found that he was reading the Bible precisely where it said, “He who follows me will never walk in darkness, he will have the light of life (Jn, 8:12)”. I could see that this young ‘theologian’ of 12 years was wrestling with this idea—the ‘light of life’. I felt so small before this Middle School wonder. He was from Arunachal Pradesh and had just accepted the faith. Certain truths that seem logically un-analysable are intuitively perceived by people who are open to God.
Is there any way that the deeper Christian truths can be made intelligible and acceptable to the people of our day?
In this secularised world, sharing a religious message is becoming more difficult, for sure. However, wherever there is genuineness and relevance, people look up and listen.
What people find boring are the things that surround the real truth, not the truth itself, e.g. the personal façade we put up, the unfamiliar vocabulary we use, the inner Church concerns that we are busy with, the inner tensions we reflect, the un-evangelical image that we project.
At times, the things that we say do not seem to have any relationship with the world they live in and the thoughts that fill their mind. Jesus began with the life-situation of people, not analysing ideas.
Once they are with you, you may take them to where they are willing to come. But the skill consists in entering into their world of interests and speaking of things that seem to matter to them.