Yesterday, as our Eastern Catholic brothers and Sisters celebrated Christmas, I was reminded of one of the most meaningful messages of Christmas: Emmanuel - God with us.
Since I was a little child, I've known this. I always knew the meaning of the name Emmanuel, because that is my middle name: Pedro Emmanuel Guevara-Mann.
At Christmas time, I am also reminded of those things that we desire, that we need or wish we'd have.
What do you want most in life, what would it be? Success? Happiness? Love? I would venture to guess all the answers would be something like those. When I used to do Communication and Conflict Resolution workshops at Covenant House, I always asked the kids what our basic human needs are. Undoubtedly they would say, food and shelter. Undoubtedly there was always someone who would say, "money." And it's true: in this world we live in, in our society, we do need money. But if you think about it, it's not money that we need. We need money so we can have other things. After talking about it a bit more with the Covenant House kids, we always came to the subject of love.
Everyone needs love. There have been unintentional experiments done in orphanages in eastern European countries where, because of lack of resources, the babies were only fed and given basic care, but they were not held. Many of these babies became sick or even died. Why? Because we all need to be held. Why? Because we all need love. If you really think about it, do you think you could say that you don't desire love? Maybe some of these kids at Covenant House say that they need respect. But this is a form of love. They need validation. They need to feel like they are worth something, that they are valued. We all need this. Jean Vanier says that we all have the right to love and to be loved and to know that we are loved. I think it's true. This is one of our inalienable human rights. How do we know this? Because we all desire it.
But you know what is more true? Not only do we desire love. We desire complete, eternal, absolute, unconditional love. No holding back here. Maybe some of you are thinking, "I don't need unconditional love." Or, "Yes I desire it, but unconditional love doesn't exist." Boy do I have news for you!
I know unconditional love exists because, if we all desire it, if we are wired to desire it, it must exist. Those of you, who believe it doesn't, and still believe in God, have become cynics or believe in some sort of divine irony: God has created us to desire this thing that doesn't exist. Or, we've evolved this way to desire something that doesn't exist. But, that doesn’t make sense to me.
So. Let's back up. How do we know that we desire unconditional love? Well, not only do we desire unconditional love, but we desire unconditional justice, absolute goodness and beauty and truth. Don't you agree? This is something that all of us have wired into our beings. Think of a little kid: Their desire for absolute truth is endless. Anyone who has a three year-old can attest to this: Why, mommy? Why is that? How does it work? And little kids are not satisfied with just the superficial "don't bother me" answer. They want all the knowledge. Some of us lose this as we grow, when we realise we can't have it.
It's the same with our desire for absolute justice. How many times does a child complain to his parents, "it's not fair!" As adults we know, of course it's not fair. Life is not fair. But as children, we long for absolute perfection in everything, "What do you mean it isn't fair!?"
It's the same with love. We all long to be loved, absolutely, eternally and unconditionally. Everyone. Kids want your full attention all the time (some adults want your full attention all the time). It just depends what you define as love, right? Like those kids at Covenant House, for some of us, it's respect, for others it's physical love, or love that provides or nurtures. Not only do we desire it, we need it.
If we desire love, truth, goodness and justice, all these things that we equate with "happiness", then, how do we get it? Is that what life is all about? Well… this is where Aristotle's levels of Fulfillment come to play. What I like about this, is that some Christian didn't come up with it. It's not "religion". Aristotle came up with it. It's logic. It's philosophy.
A reminder about the Four Levels of Fulfillment: If we put all our efforts to seek happiness (our quest for love, goodness, beauty, justice and truth) on things of the senses (Level 1: gratification), we'll never be satisfied. If we put all our efforts on achievements and personal gain (Level 2: ego), we'll also never be satisfied. There's always going to be someone better than us, and someone worse than us. If we put all our efforts into Level 3, which is serving others, doing good and bringing justice and love to the world (doesn't sound that bad, eh?) we'll never be satisfied because there is always going to be poverty, injustice and brokenness in the world. That's trying to fill an unconditional need with a conditional supply. We can't do it. So we have to seek happiness in the fourth level, which is God.
This, to me is one of the greatest proofs that God exists. It goes back to our human nature. If it is in our human nature to desire the ultimate: absolute truth, beauty, goodness, justice and unconditional love, then those must exist. That is what will fill us completely. And that, my friends, is God.
And if God is all those things, then God is perfection. If God is perfection, then God must include all those things (get it?). And if God is perfection, and God is love, then God's love must be perfect, which means it must be unconditional. Which means, no matter what you do, or don't do, or how bad you are, or how much you screw up, God still loves you. Can you handle that?
(For more on Aristotle's 4 Levels of Fulfillment, on which Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ fashioned his Life Principles, visit HERE
So, this is where I am going. If we can only find happiness in God, how do we get to God, to find happiness? We can't. We can't get to God on our own. We can't do it. Impossible.
But God can come to us.
Why would God want to come to us? Well, did you forget? God is love. God desires to be with us. That is the whole story of the Bible: the story of God's love for us. God pursues us like a lover. God is passionate in his pursuit. And his pursuit is unconditional.
So… God loves us unconditionally, no matter how imperfect we are. God wants us to be happy. God knows we can't come to Him, so He comes to us. God becomes Emmanuel: God with us.
God is with us, because he loves us unconditionally, but for us to be with Him, He has to come to us. And that is the mystery (although not a mystery because we can't understand it, I think we can understand it quite well - it's a mystery because it is so awesome, almost hard to put to words). That is the mystery of Christmas: Emmanuel.
Image: The Epiphany is depicted in a mural titled "Adoration of the Magi" in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at Conception Abbey in Conception, Mo. Painted by Benedictine monks in the late 1800s, the artwork is the first appearance of the German Beuronese style in a U.S. church.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: firstname.lastname@example.org