Have you ever received a gift you’ve never forgotten and you know you’ll never forget? I know it is true that it is more blessed to give than receive, but getting an awesome present is pretty sweet.
When I turned forty, a very good friend of mine gave me a $1,000 Best Buy gift card. That was an awesome present. A priest friend gave me a pilgrimage to Fatima. That was an awesome gift. One Christmas, my wife bought me a flannel comforter – so warm, so soft. That was an awesome present.
But in 2007, I received a present that was better than all of them put together. Are you ready for this? For Christmas 2007, Pope Benedict came to my house. Not only did he come to my house, but he took a 2×4 and smacked me right between the eyes with it. It hurt like nothing else I had ever felt. But it was the perfect present – just what I needed.
Before you write me off as delusional allow me to explain. In the weeks leading up to Christmas 2007, I was tired and my prayer life was lagging. I had lost focus on some very important things and was beginning to lose focus on a lot of other things. I had become spiritually complacent and lazy, I was not praying like I should, I was not using my time wisely. This had been going on for a few months but had peaked near the end of Advent.
But, then I read Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas Eve homily and it pierced me to the heart. His whole point was: Is there room for God in your life? It is a simple question that should have a simple answer. The correct answer is, “Yes.” I had to answer, “No.”
Here are a few key quotes from his homily:
“In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him.”
“Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?”
“Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven. And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven. Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God’s humility, God’s heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant. Amen.”
The spiritual dryness that I was struggling with that Christmas was a symptom of a larger spiritual problem. For many years I believed that I was all-filled with the Holy Spirit, that I was truly experiencing the fullness of God. In reality, I was as filled as I could be.
Let me explain: I had carved out a space for God, and God, because He is love and desires communion with me, filled every bit of the space I gave Him. But I had given Him limited space. I was enjoying a pint of God and He wanted to give me the ocean. I was not giving God the space HE desired.
I was also too attached to my ego, too filled with ministry, too filled with love for the world. I was too attached to sin and disordered desires. I would find myself, in the midst of a thriving ministry, being pulled by my attachments away from God. I would neglect God, neglect my prayer, and neglect Christ. In the end, I would find past habits and sins creeping into my life or just coming back with a vengeance.
My fervent prayer for myself and for each of you this Advent is that God would expand our capacity for Him. The ultimate benefit to this is a deeper union with Jesus. Happiness in life is not found in money, power, or position. It comes from our union with Jesus. Our self-sacrifice, our being more open to God, making more room for God is the path to deeper union that has no short-cut.
The Catechism teaches us:
The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle (CCC 2015).
If you want deeper union with Jesus this Christmas, use your Advent to detach from the love of things, love of praise, and love of self. Go to Confession and turn from your sin. Commit yourself to prayer and ask God to expand your capacity to know and experience His love. Then when Jesus comes on Christmas, He will find room to dwell in you more fully and you will receive an abundance and joy and peace.
God bless you.