Madonna House

The Source of All Renewal

by Fr. David May

Late evenings in December have a special beauty here at Madonna House in what we call “the Main House.”

For most of Advent, the décor is kind of spare and simple. Unlike many folks today, we don’t decorate for Christmas until about a week before the actual feast. Still, the house has a warm and welcoming atmosphere, nicely heated against the cold’s encroaching from outside.

By early to mid-December, we usually have a good amount of snow, so our dark evenings are never completely dark, as long as there is a moon or stars or lamps in windows burning brightly until bedtime.

Come Christmas, of course, the house is fully decorated, with all manner of traditional (in our MH family) crèche sets, wall hangings, straw stars, and of course the Christmas tree has pride of place near the center of the dining room/library.

The tree benevolently overlooks a special crèche set always placed under the tree, along with the St. Lucy wheat planted on December 13. And of course, there are all manner of lights along walls, over windows, arching doorways, as well as vigil lights carefully placed before icons and statues.

It is a pleasant way to end a busy day by quietly taking it all in after the family leaves for their various dormitories.

For a few, all the fuss, with every corner decorated, is a bit much stimulation, but most of us seem to enjoy it and find it a fitting way to celebrate the coming of God in the flesh, born for us as a child.

Naturally, all of this domestic beautifying, decorating, and “prestidigitating” of the ordinary until it appears to be quite extraordinary is not meant to hide anything. Nor is it meant to distract us from the purpose of this particular birth.

Rather, it sings a song of silence. (Mercifully, we are spared the Muzak version of Christmas here.)

It is also a song of truth: the coming of Christ has in some way made all things new, and in contemplating a symbol of this in our humble Christmas decorations, we are being urged and encouraged to bring this “Good News to all the people”—to paraphrase the Christmas angel.

These days it is difficult not to be continually aware of just how desperate our situation, internationally and otherwise, has become. Interesting, eternally intriguing, that God’s answer to the wreck of the human race begins with … a Child. At first glance, it doesn’t seem to be much of an “answer” at all.

I’ve often been reminded in the last year of chapter 6 of the book of Revelation, which deals with the Lamb breaking open the seals of the mysterious scroll that contains the secret destiny and meaning of the world. For example:

When he broke open the second seal, I heard the second living creature cry out, “Come forward.” Another horse came out, a red one. Its rider was given power to take peace away from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another. And he was given a huge sword (vs. 3-4).

Or this one: When he broke open the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature cry out, “Come forward.” I looked and there was a pale green horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades accompanied him. They were given authority over a quarter of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and plague, and by means of the beasts of the earth (vs. 7-8).


The context for these terrible events is the rebellion of mankind against God’s plan and the purification that was destined to precede the full revelation of the victory of the Lamb of God and of his kingdom.

Rebellion, war, plague, famine, persecution of Christians, culture of death. Sound familiar? And yet, astonishingly, all of this tragedy and cosmic devastation culminates, after further trials, in a great victory:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will always be with them.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away (21: 1-4).”

The only way there is through a Child, this Lamb of sacrifice. Only he, God incarnate, has the keys to peace on earth, reconciliation among peoples, and the end to the culture of death. This is what our Christian faith assures us is true.

Thus, at Christmas, in simple and childlike faith, we turn our gaze and our attention to this One who is born for us. If we listen well and obey him, all manner of gifts will be ours, both to savor and to share.

Catherine Doherty taught us by word and example to bring the whole world to Christ at Christmas.

She detested it when we in our narrow self-centeredness, tended to turn the feast days into excuses for self-indulgence and the relaxing of spiritual discipline.

Yet what she aimed to teach us was so much more than a pious prayer for peace on earth while kneeling dreamily in front of our favorite crib scene.

She expected us to carry the suffering world with Christ in compassion and deep concern. Prayer in such a context is passionate, even urgent, in its seeking a response.

The Christmas feast is not only a joyful celebration but also an invitation to generous love and service, the giving of oneself in imitation of this Child who came to give his life for us as Lamb of God.

Yet at the same time, this Child teaches us to rest, to abide in his ever greater, divine love for us. How small we are compared to him! How miniscule our love, how puny our wisdom, how narrow our minds!

Those who pause to contemplate him, to adore him with shepherds or wise men, with Joseph and Mary, find that gradually, slowly, their horizons are shattered and new ones created, vaster, without limit, factually.

Yet all is still, calm, bright. You find your fears melting away in his presence. Your busy mind quiets down a bit. Your worries diminish.

Whatever mission he may have in mind for you recedes for a few moments and is replaced by the overwhelming sense of oneself being simply a child of the Father, cherished and cared for, no matter what happens in life.

You sense somehow that the wellspring of all renewal is right here with you, with him and from him. You have only to follow his lead while resting deep in the eternal mystery of a Child empowered to wipe the tears from every eye.