I saw my grandfather forty years after he died. I loved him with all my heart, not because he gave me toys, bought me ice creams or took me to the Fun Fair, but because he loved me so much. I was only eight years old when he died of a heart attack and I cried myself to sleep. The next day my mother told me that he loved me very especially, so much so that he made special plans for me and so I should always pray for him each day when I said my morning prayers. That’s why I felt so guilty when I saw him again forty years later. The truth of the matter is, I had forgotten to pray for him as often as my mother wanted me to, as often as I should have done. It was Christmas Eve when I saw him. I usually shaved in the morning, but as I was going to midnight Mass I thought I better make myself a little more presentable. I had removed all the shaving cream off my face apart from a white moustache under my nose, about the same size as the white moustache my grandfather always wore, that tickled me when he kissed me. I had never thought I looked like him, but there he was looking at me from the bathroom mirror. Oh yes it was him all right, but he didn’t look as kind or as loving as the man I remembered!
When my mother died thirty or more years after him I was devastated. I not only missed her more than I could say, but I particularly missed her help and encouragement when I was going through the most difficult period in my life. I not only felt spiritually bereft, but I was physically bereft too without a home to call my own. It was then that my grandfather came to the rescue. When my mother said that he loved me very specially I knew what she told me was true because I had felt his love, but what she said about his plans for me meant nothing at all, at least until a letter arrived. It came from the family solicitors, with news I had known nothing about before. He had left all his money directly to me. My mother only held the capital for her lifetime so that she could live off the interest which in those fairy tale days was considerable. Now everything came to me. At last I was safe and secure, at last I could have a home to call my own, but more important still I felt loved, even though those who loved me were dead, their love lived on and I could now live on to begin a new life. Thanks to them, to their tangible love for me all went well, better than I could ever have hoped, so well in fact that self-absorption and self-satisfaction had made me forget those who had loved me most. That’s why the face that looked back at me from the mirror that Christmas Eve might have looked like my grandfather, but it was covered with a guilt that I had never seen on his face.
When I went to midnight Mass it was to realize that I had forgotten Someone else too. Just as my Grandfather had given me all he could to show his love for me, God had done the same. He had not shown how much he cared for me by the money he left me, but by the love he left me – his own personal love made flesh and blood for me in Jesus, who was born on the first Christmas day. This enabled God to do through Jesus what he had never been able to do before. God’s infinite love which was in the past too powerful to enter into finite human beings, could do so in the future, thanks to the birth of Jesus. Once his human being was filled to overflowing with God’s infinite loving, it was transposed into human loving in him. This enabled all other human beings to receive God’s infinite loving through him.
I once nearly blew up our kitchen when I tried to plug my twelve amp kettle into the mains! I soon discovered that 240 volts into twelve volts will not go, at least without a transformer. Jesus is God’s transformer, born to enable him to transform infinite loving into human loving, so that we can receive from Jesus what we were never able to receive before. That’s why Christmas is such a sublime and inspiring feast, because in the baby in the crib we see the beginnings of God’s plan for us that was brought to completion on the first Pentecost day. It was then that for the first time on earth his human nature became ‘radio-active’ with the infinite loving mercy of his Father, so that on that day and on every day he can pour that loving mercy out, onto and into all who are open to receive it.
The metaphysical poet John Donne put it this way: – ‘Twas much that God became like man before, but that man should become like God much more’.
First published in The Catholic Universe Friday 25 December 2015