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Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre where the Lord has planted me to bloom by his grace in the charism He gave me as a Maltese Franciscan Capuchin brother priest to dedicate my life for him in the sick has been a continual source of personal and ministerial renewal for me as well as for the new approach to pastoral care here. Pastoring by walking has been the pivotal pastoral principle that the Holy Spirit has been directing me to follow. Much on the same lines of Jesus and the Fathers of the Church.
In fact, when the Lord recently gave me the grace to visit the Paediatric/Adoloscent Ward one of the staff took a photo of me with the statue of the Baby Jesus at the main corridor of the ward. Although in my hands I had a statue of Baby Jesus I could still feel his immense tenderness. And, precisely at that point, came into my heart those beautiful words which Pope Francis pronounced during his homily of Midnight Mass of December 24 2104 when he said:
The message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God: God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness. On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close? “But I am searching for the Lord” – we could respond. Nevertheless, what is most important is not seeking him, but rather allowing him to seek me, find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply by the Infant’s presence is: do I allow God to love me?
More so, do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today! The patience of God, the closeness of God, the tenderness of God.
The Christian response cannot be different from God’s response to our smallness. Life must be met with goodness, with meekness. When we realize that God is in love with our smallness, that he made himself small in order to better encounter us, we cannot help but open our hearts to him, and beseech him: “Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict”.
And, the Infant’s meekness and tenderness made me more aware that this Babe is none other than God himself, beyond the Cherubim and the Seraphim. Moreover, by his humble tenderness he raises up! Let us appreciate what Saint John Chrysostom writes about this:
Behold on Christmas a new and wondrous reality. The angels sing and the archangels blend their voices in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt Christ’s glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth and man in heaven. He Who is above now for our redemption dwells here below, and we who are lowly are by divine mercy raised up. Bethlehem this day resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices. Ask not how. For where God wills, nature yields. For He willed. He had the power. He descended. He redeemed. All things move in obedience to God. This day He Who is born and He Who is becomes what He is not. He is God become man, yet not departing from His Godhead.
His infinitely sweet tenderness of an Infant makes us appreciate the joy He has brought to us by His very presence! Yes! He is the Divine Grace Incarnate thanks to whom sin is blotted out! Death and the devil are conquered but the sinner is saved! Reflecting on this view of Christmas Pope Saint Leo writes:
Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life. For the Son of God in the fullness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered.
Jesus’ tenderness as a child is our impetus to go back to God. In Christ made man we live! In Him there is that much-needed healing we all need! Thus, Saint Gregory of Nazianzius writes:
This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating today, the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God – that putting off of the old man, we might put on the new; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him. For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and as the painful succeeded the more blissful, so must the more blissful come out of the painful. For where sin abounded grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more does the passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him who is ours, or rather as our master’s; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation. –
The Infant’s most sweet tenderness makes us wake and rise up because by his birth we have been freed from our sinful flesh. His Incarnation is His greatest act of mercy ever recorded in the entire human history! Thus Saint Augustine notes:
Wake up, O human being! For it was for you that God was made man. Rise up and realize it was all for you. Eternal death would have awaited you had He not been born in time. Never would you be freed from your sinful flesh had He not taken to Himself the likeness of sinful flesh. Everlasting would be your misery had He not performed this act of mercy. You would not have come to life again had He not come to die your death. You would have perished had He not come.
Jesus holy tenderness drove away the ancient slavery, the devil is confused, the demons escaped, the power of death defeated and heaven is wide open. In other words, a heavenly way of life has been planted here on earth! Saint John Chrysostom comments:
Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.
What a great privilege for me to hold, in my hands, the One who is beyond the Cherubim and Seraphim, that Incarnated joy that liberates the oppressed from the devil and death, the Motivator behind any sincere conversion, the One who opened for all of us heaven. On Friday December 24 1984 Our Lady said: Dear children! I would like for all of you to be like a flower, which is going to open at Christmas for Jesus; a flower which does not cease to blossom after Christmas. Be the good shepherds of Jesus.
Lord Jesus, Babe of Bethlehem, help me be, by the intercession of your and my dearest Mother Mary, a flower that opens for you Jesus, as present in the patients, families and staff at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Help me be that flower which does not cease to blossom every day of my life. Help me be the good shepherd for you there O Lord Jesus. Amen!
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap