Some of you may have heard me talk about Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., no relation to Eliot. He’s a very smart guy, a great teacher; he has a website (www.spitzercenter.org) and has written some really good books. In one of them, Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life, he recalls a childhood incident that shaped his entire future. He was twelve years old at the time, and it was Christmas. I’ll let Fr. Spitzer tell the story in his own words.
“One particular Christmas, when we had completed opening our presents and my siblings and I were going to Mass with my mother, I felt an unusually acute happiness that I couldn’t ignore, and so I said to my mother, ‘Mom, I’m feeling very happy, but I’m not sure why.’ She responded, ‘Well, it’s probably because you received all the presents you wanted.’ But I answered, ‘Mom, I did get all the presents I wanted, and I’m very grateful, but I don’t think that’s what’s making me happy. This is different.’
“She thought for a moment, then said, ‘Well, maybe you’re growing up and are thinking of things beyond presents. Maybe you’re happy because you’ve grown to appreciate your family and you’ve had an extra intense experience of them this Christmas.’ Now I was lucky to have had a really great family, but I said to my mom, ‘Uhhh, I really don’t think that’s it.’
“So my mother looked at me and thought about it some more and then, as if inspired, said, ‘Well, maybe it’s the joy of the whole communion of saints coursing through your veins, as they celebrate the birthday of Jesus.’ I have no idea why she said this, but somehow I knew she was right. ‘Yep,’ I said, ‘I think that’s why I’m so happy’”
Over the course of more than 38 years of priesthood, I’ve seen quite a few children who seemed especially touched by God and His grace, children like Fr. Spitzer when he was just twelve years old. He realized something all the world seems intent on missing, something even many of us Catholics are in danger of losing at our own terrible peril.
Yes, Christmas is about family and friends, presents and parties, music and merriment, but a lot of people don’t have any of these; and in heaven, the angels and saints are celebrating not these things, good as they are, but a birthday, the greatest, most important birthday in the history of the universe. They’re celebrating Jesus.
As a boy, Robert Spitzer was given the privilege of participating in some small earthly way in the joy of that celebration. Some of that joy coursed through his veins, and he knew that there was something more than presents, or even family and friends. There was Jesus and His saints and the joy they shared and were willing to share with us. It’s a joy available to the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the sick, the loneliest of the lonely. It’s a hint of what’s in store for us for all eternity, unless we give our hearts over to lesser things.
Go home tonight, my brothers and sisters; enjoy your presents if you have them; enjoy your family if you have any. They’re gifts from God. But don’t forget His greatest gift. Don’t miss the chance to let the joy of the angels and saints in heaven course through your veins. Remember what it is that they are celebrating this day.
Happy Birthday Jesus! May He bless and keep us all.