I recently read an old story entitled, “The three Godfathers.” It was written in 1912 by Peter Kyne. It takes place in the desert of Southwest United States during that “Wild West” period of history. It begins just a few days before Christmas and four men are robbing a bank. But before escaping with the money one is shot dead and another is wounded in the shoulder. They lose the stolen money but the three remaining men escape into the desert. They have very little water.
At first these three men are not identified by name, they have no humanity. They’re only known as The Worst Bad Man, The Wounded Bad Man, and The Youngest Bad Man. They are in trouble, they need water and so they make their way to a known water hole. It takes them a whole day to get there and when they arrive they are greeted by a dying woman in the back of a covered wagon. She is pregnant and about to give birth. Plus there is no water; the watering hole is totally empty.
With the three men’s help the woman gives birth to a baby boy. And knowing that she’s not going to survive she asks them to take her baby to a little town called New Jerusalem. There are relatives there that can care for the baby she says. It would be a 3 day journey through the desert. After much discussion the men promise to deliver the child to safety. The dying woman then asks for their names. The worst bad man is Tom, the wounded bad man is Bill and the youngest bad man is Bob. “I’m going to name by baby after the three of you,” she says. His name is Robert William Thomas. She then asks, “Will all three of you be my Baby’s Godfather?” They answer yes and with that peace of mind the woman soon dies.
The men search the wagon and find baby clothes, condensed milk and a Bible. Ready, they now begin their trek through the desert and at the same time they begin their conversion. The baby becomes their priority. He gets the water. It’s not about them. It’s about the baby. While resting at the hottest part of each day they read the Bible and are drawn back to the faith of their childhoods. They are drawn by grace, they remember.
At the end of the first day the wounded man, Bill, succumbs to the hostile desert. On the second day the worst man, Tom, succumbs to the hostile desert. Both die contrite and reconciled. The third day the youngest man, Bob, is very close to New Jerusalem. He stumbles and falls many times but each time he manages to keep the baby safe. He has a hard time seeing and thinking. It’s so very hard! He eventually stumbles into town. He finds a woman and hands her the baby, safe and sound. He then collapses at her feet. He too dies contrite and reconciled. It is Christmas day.
Those three bad men were saved by a little baby. A baby saved them. That baby reminded them of their humanity, reminded them of goodness and selflessness and love. Through a little baby God drew the three men back to Himself.
It’s Christmas and through a baby God draws us back to Himself, to draw us into His love. The early Church Fathers talked and preached often of the incarnation of Jesus. And when speaking of God becoming man they spoke and taught of the great exchange. The great exchange is this: “God became man that we might become God.” We give Him our humanity through our singular boast the Blessed Virgin Mary and He in return gives us His Divinity. That we might live in the midst of Divine love.
Bishop Barron wrote a book entitled, “The strangest way, walking the Christian Path.” And in that book he writes of a conversation he had with an elderly theologian by the name of Godfrey Dickman. Barron asked him, “What would you fight for in the Church today, what would you make people aware of?” He said, “Deification, becoming divine. The entire purpose of the Christian life is not simply to make us better people, but to make us divine to conform us to a participation the very life of the Blessed Trinity. We will not be mere spectators in Heaven; we will live within the midst of the love of the Trinity. God became man that we might become God.
Because Jesus is divine, time and place cannot contain Him. He is not confined to the Middle East of 2000 years ago. Every Mass makes present to us, as if by time machine, our Lord’s incarnation, life, passion, death and resurrection. We might say that every Mass is Christmas and Easter all rolled into one.
During the Eucharistic prayer I call upon the Holy Spirit as I hold my hands over the bread and wine. This calls to mind the Annunciation where Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and Jesus was conceived. He began life as a man. And while my hands are held over the bread and wine I will pray: “Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the incarnation, made present to us now in the 21st century, God becomes Body and Blood, and this is Christmas, right there on the altar. And then we receive Him, body, blood, soul, and divinity. To receive him is to live in His divine love.
To come to Mass every day would be to celebrate Christmas every day. God always wants to share all that He is with us. At that first Christmas 2000 years ago, and every day since, God has been making a proposal to us. Through his son Jesus he is saying to each and every one of us: “You give me your humanity, I will give you my divinity. You give me your time, I will give you eternity. You give me your bonds; I will give you my omnipotence. You give me your slavery; I will give you my freedom. You give me your death; I will give you my life. You give me your nothingness; I will give you my all.”
“The Son of God became man so that man might become God”. We are saved by a little baby.
The best Christmas gift ever.
Pax et Bonum,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley